By ANITA SNOW | Associated Press
A celebrated Cuban writer whose book tour in Europe has turned into a yearlong stay outside his homeland insisted he has not defected, but said he will return to the communist-run island only on his own terms.
Amir Valle, now living in Berlin with his wife and their 5-year-old son, said he planned to return to Cuba in a few months when he left the island last fall for a book tour in Europe.
Despite differences with his government, “I had decided to remain in Cuba because I feel that from there my way of thinking and acting is most valid,” Valle said this week.
“My intention has not been to ‘stay’ in the classic sense,” Valle wrote in an e-mail exchange with The Associated Press, referring to Cubans who use trips abroad to leave the island for good.
But a year later, the 40-year-old author said he lacks papers from his own government allowing him to return. Citing national security concerns, Cuba is among few countries requiring citizens to obtain a government “exit permit” to leave, both for temporary stays abroad and to emigrate. For those planning to return, the permit includes a specific period of time they are allowed to be gone. If it expires, it must be renewed or the returning Cuban citizen risks being denied re-entry.
Valle blames the paperwork problem on official displeasure with his book about prostitution, recently published by Planeta of Spain as “Jineteras.” And after months of confusion, Valle now says that if he is allowed back in Cuba, he will return only on his own terms and timing.
“Many Cuban intellectuals have spent years asking for this absurd regulation for entering and departing the country to be annulled,” Valle wrote from Berlin. “We have not received any answer, except for the classic, ‘It’s under discussion.’”
Valle said he agreed to be interviewed in hopes of clarifying his position and dispelling recent reports that he defected. He said comments earlier this month at the Frankfurt Book Fair were misquoted, leading some to believe he was seeking exile.
Rather, Valle said, he demands “my right to return to Cuba when I deem it convenient in accord with my current international commitments.”
It is not uncommon for Cubans to overstay exit permits, creating problems with immigration authorities back home that can take years to resolve.
Valle said he applied in time to renew his exit permit for a longer stay, but the government never contacted him directly with an official response.
The Cuban government has not officially commented on Valle’s case, but a woman in the international relations department of the official Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, which handled the paperwork for Valle’s trip abroad, disputed his story this week.
Declining to give her name, she insisted that Valle’s exit permit was extended in March and the documents delivered to the Cuban Embassy in Madrid. She offered no details, including how long the extension was.
Valle’s dark novels describing prostitutes, drug dealers, black market vendors and others on the margins of Cuban society have received official acclaim and several won national awards in Cuba.
But “Jineteras” is about real people, and includes extensive interviews with some involved in illegal ventures on the island, including a prostitute Valle says was famous in the 1990s.
Author Amir Valle from Cuba poses for the photographer next to a bookshelf with his books at his apartment in Berlin on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006. The Cuban writer of detective novels and a new nonfiction book about prostitution on the communist-run island says he has not defected to Germany, but he doesn’t know when _ or if _ he can return home.(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Valle said he planned a three-month trip when he left Cuba in October 2005 to promote his new detective novel, “Santuario de Sombras,” or “Sanctuary of Shadows.” After the book tour, the novel’s publisher Almuzara of Spain invited Valle to stay for a literary jury and Valle requested an extension on his exit permit in late December.
Meanwhile, the buzz over “Jineteras” was heating up and Valle said he gave several interviews in which he criticized his government.
Valle said his friendships with several well-known dissidents probably have not endeared him to officials, either.
“Although he has publicly criticized the government, he has always told me that he wants to stay in Cuba,” said Manuel Cuesta Morua, a dissident historian who called Valle one of the most important Cuban writers of his generation.
“I am not asking the Cuban government to let me enter the country,” Valle said. “I am demanding my right to enter and leave when I decide and am in condition to do so — just like any other citizen of the world.”
Associated Press Writer David McHugh in Berlin contributed to this report.