Cuban author Amir Valle: I'm not defecting

October 21, 2006

Miami Herald- Anita Snow

HAVANA - 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.

'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 supposedly short 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 government 'exit permits' 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. Overstaying those periods risks being denied reentry.

Valle blames his problem on official displeasure with his book about prostitution, Jineteras, recently published by Planeta of Spain. 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 authorities back home that can take years to resolve. Valle said he applied in time to extend his permit, but the government never contacted him with a response.

The Cuban government has not officially commented on Valle's case, but a woman in 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.

Valle's dark novels describing prostitutes, drug dealers, black market vendors and others on the margins of Cuban society have received official acclaim and won national awards in Cuba.

But Jineteras is about real people and includes extensive interviews with some involved in illegal ventures.

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. Afterwards, the novel's Spanish publisher invited him to stay for a literary jury, and Valle requested an extension on his exit permit in December.

Meanwhile, the buzz over Jineteras was heating up, and Valle said he gave several interviews in which he criticized the Cuban government. He said his friendships with several well-known dissidents probably have not endeared him to officials.

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