On Feb. 21 in London the world lost an anti-communist warrior. Sadly, Guillermo Cabrera Infante's name and contribution to the struggle against communism were known to few ordinary Americans.
He was 75 when he passed on, having spent his life as a film critic, a journalist, a revolutionary, a counterrevolutionary, a historical essayist and a novelist. He was Cuban — among the outstanding personalities produced by that island of passion and sacrifice.
After making his mark as a young writer and doing jail time under Fidel Castro's predecessor Fulgencio Batista, Cabrera Infante joined the ranks of the Castro rebels. With the victory of the guerrillas in 1959, he and a colleague named Carlos Franqui produced a daily newspaper, "Revolución," which gave the new regime a high profile for sophisticated, intellectual polemics among political radicals worldwide.
But by 1965 Cabrera Infante had enough of Castroism, and after his posting to Belgium as a cultural attaché, he defected. He went to Spain only to find that the right-wing dictatorship of General Franco was no less oppressive than the communist domination of his homeland.
He moved to Britain, with occasional trips to the U.S., working as a writer in residence at universities — including West Point — and indulging his love of movies. But mainly, he dedicated himself to relentless criticism of the Castro horror. He was an inspiring figure for generations of Cuban exiles and Cuban Americans many of whom have contributed so much to life in Miami. But his works were also secretly copied and passed from hand to hand in his native land. His colleague Franqui joined him in exile from Castro's "paradise."
In 1971, one of the great satirical classics in Spanish was published in English. His "Three Trapped Tigers" detailed Havana's famous and infamous nightlife. His other volumes included a rollicking book on the culture of the cigar called "Holy Smoke" (1985). Written in the English he mastered, "Holy Smoke" was a "Marxist" masterpiece — it had a photo of Cabrera Infante's ideal hero on the cover — Groucho, not Karl.
Cabrera Infante was widely respected throughout the Hispanic world, and in 1997 he was awarded the Cervantes Prize. Of course, news of this high honor went unmentioned in Cuba's official media.
Guillermo Cabrera Infante swore he would outlive the man who drove him into exile. He failed in that goal, but left all the world's readers a great literary legacy. Of what might be written about him after he died, he once commented, "Literary posterity does not interest me in any way...What I love is celebrating life and everything related to it."
Knowing his work, I imagine him lighting a fine cigar and savoring the smoke as it dissipates into the air. But freedom, unlike cigar smoke, must be fought for and preserved. Upon hearing of Cabrera Infante's death, Cubans would do well to rededicate themselves to the salvation of their island from the plague of communism.