Showing posts with label Youth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Youth. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Translation: A phone call from Fidel

Now for something different. A few days ago the communist youth daily Juventud Rebelde published the following account of Fidel's conversations with a group of journalism students from Havana University, as related by the students themselves. 

Admirers of Fidel, myself included, can take heart from what this exchange reveals about the man in his 86th year. There can be little doubt that he's still in possession of his formidable mental faculties – not to mention his irresistible charm and wry humour  and that his passion for social justice burns as fiercely as ever, a flame that his enemies have tried in vain to extinguish.

We cannot understand the Cuban Revolution yesterday, today or tomorrow without understanding the phenomenon of Fidel. It seems to me that this account bears out my judgement that:
While there has never been a personality cult in Cuba, Fidel’s influence among many of his followers transcends politics. More than a political leader, Fidel is a spiritual leader in the secular sense. (Cuba's Socialist Renewal, p. 25)
This can be seen in the way these students relate to Fidel. Beyond respect, he elicits awe and reverence. It's difficult for anyone who hasn't been a partisan of a socialist revolution like Cuba's to empathise with these sentiments. Isn't this simply a creation of state propaganda? No, that would be far too cynical, as the most intelligent and well-informed of the Revolutions' enemies have long understood. 

A socialist revolution is more than a system, a social order. It is also a just cause, a noble crusade, and it seems to be a law of history that just causes throw up one or a few leaders who embody them. Fidel is an example par excellence in our times. Fidel symbolises a dream and a struggle that belongs to many millions of Cubans and their supporters around the world.

A phone call from Fidel 

By various authors, 
Juventud Rebelde, November 19, 2011 

Translation: Marce Cameron

On Sunday October 9, Juventud Rebelde published “Strange disconnection”, a report by students from the Faculty of Journalism about the problems associated with the use of the new technologies in the universities. The last thing they imagined was that this would lead to one of the biggest surprises of their lives.

During the past few d
ays, some of my friends have been annoyed with me because they’d heard from others about something that, they tell me, I should have told them myself. They’re probably right. I’ve tried to explain away my attitude with words such as discretion, lack of time, etc. But the truth is that I preferred to keep quiet about it because if I told the story, they’d surely think I was joking. On Sunday October 9, Juventud Rebelde published “Strange disconnection”, an article written by students from the Faculty of Journalism, one of which was me, about the problems associated with the use of new technologies in the universities. The following day I was surprised to receive an unexpected phone call. 

“Good afternoon, is that Luisa Maria?” 


“Hold on, I’ll put you through...” 

“Luisa, it’s Fidel.” 

These three words left me petrified. Was it really Fidel on the other end of the line? Fidel! I couldn’t be sure. I cannot recall precisely what happened in the minutes that followed. But I do remember that he told me he was calling about the article “Strange disconnection”: “I thought it was very good, very critical, especially because you’re able to criticise yourselves, the students.”

At the beginning of the conversation he stressed his interest in the problem discussed in the article, namely the use of technologies in the universities and students' needs. He commented on the new information and communications technologies in society today and recalled the efforts that have been made in Cuba over several decades so that the country wouldn’t be left behind, despite the difficult conditions. Nevertheless, Fidel told me, we know that unfortunately the state of many of the higher education institutions is not the best, “so I want you to tell me what the situation is, I want to listen to you, and for you to tell me how you see things as a student. Go on, over to you.”

What to say? Of the thousand ideas that besieged my mind, where to begin? Three or four seconds of silence elapsed, after which at the other end of the line I heard a gentleman say: “Go on, don’t be nervous, tell me the first thing that comes to mind”. I began – where else? – at the beginning.

“Look, Comandante, the situation regarding technology in the universities is not the best. At present there are very few computers given the demand for their use. We students have a lot of learning activities that require the use of computers. What’s more, those we have are very obsolete and tend to break down often.”

Then he interrupted me, as he would on innumerable occasions, to ask: “How many students are there in the country? How many computers are there? What do you use the computers for most often?” There was a whirlwind of questions. He asked about the cost of the computers, of associated devices such as printers and scanners, of the quality of the equipment we have, among other related questions. So we ended up talking about gigabytes, RAM memory, hard discs, microprocessors. At one point in the conversation el Comandante commented on the importance of technology in keeping ourselves informed about world affairs. I think this is one of his latest obsessions.

“The people cannot live without knowing what is going on in the world. Do you think it’s possible to live calmly without knowing about the disasters that are happening all over the planet, the war in Libya, the great strikes. And we don’t have any TV programme dedicated to talking about these things. There’s the Hilo Directo (Direct Line) section in Granma. I’m going to read you what they published today.”

He read all the headlines for today, Monday October 10, then asked: “Do you think this is sufficient? No, surely not? The people need to know much more”. We spoke a lot about the international situation, which concerned him greatly, then returned to the topic of computers. He asked about my compañeros:

“Tomorrow, around this time, will you be meeting? Because I’d like to talk with all of you.”

“Yes, Comandante, we’ll be together all day.”

“OK, so we’ll talk tomorrow. Thanks very much for your time.”

“Thank you for calling.”

“See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow.”

The following day, Tuesday October 11, at 3pm, we were all in my lounge room. We couldn’t decipher what Fidel had meant when we said “around this time”, if we’d talk with him now at 3.30pm or afterwards at six. I need hardly explain that every time the phone rang we all jumped and there was a stony silence. 

The minutes ticked by slowly. Around 5.50pm we began to worry and wonder if he’d ever call. At six on the dot: Riiiiiiinnnnggggg! It was him again. By the look on my face my friends understood that the call had finally arrived. Very informally, Fidel asked me what was happening. I told him we were all here, ready to talk, and that the others were aware of our conversation the previous day. I also told him about some new information that we’d gathered together. 

He had also checked up on many things, and he told me one-on-one that we’d talk about the cost of computers, about why it’s better to use the computer labs than laptops. One thing led to another and somehow we got around to talking about agriculture. “Did you know” – he said – “that I’ve been compiling information on crops of great economic value that can contribute to the nutritional levels and the health of our people.” He spoke in detail about the agricultural situation of our country and of the world. I listened, and it seemed like I was hearing an expert on the agricultural problems of today. Once again I was astonished. Fidel certainly knows all about this topic. I still haven’t been able to absorb the experience of these days, and I probably never will.

When we ended our conversation I remembered being a child, a socialist Pioneer. In those days, in which life seems an adventure, I had the privilege of attending the Third Pioneers Congress held in 2001. In the plenary session, el Comandante was there all day with us, listening attentively to what we, some kids who had barely begun life’s journey, had to say. He gave a terrific speech as we were accustomed to. I’ve never forgotten the final moments: his happy eyes, those of a proud father, his firm hand waving goodbye and that beaming smile. I had tears in my eyes and I feared it would be the last time I’d see him in person. But no, life has many surprises!

He wanted to know everything in great detail

For any Cuban youth, conversing with the Commander in Chief Fidel Castro, as well as being an honour, is also an immense pleasure. Especially when the conversation is about a topic of great sensitivity for university students, such as the importance of the new technologies in our education and our capacity to make use of them, in an underdeveloped country such as Cuba, as much as we need to.

If we add to this the importance of an internationally recognised personality such as Fidel taking an interest in something that, for generational reasons, he hasn't had much to do with, then the experience is unique. This world of gigabytes, networks, software and hardware that is part of daily life for those who have grown up with this technology is a novelty for those who, like Fidel, grew up with and were educated with large encyclopaedias, books and typewriters.

Listening to him was like having him there in front of me and while it may seem strange, I felt as if we’d spoken many times before. It still seems incredible that he called me by name, Ana Lidia, which made me laugh every time, and that we spoke about things that affect the Cuban people in daily life and in particular the new generations. He wanted to know everything, right down to the smallest detail.

How can we make the most of the available resources, how do we do our class work and what do we use the Internet for? A flurry of questions. We barely managed to respond. At this point I recalled the many times I’d seen Fidel on TV asking questions, and more questions. I never imagined that one day I’d be in this position. But despite the stress, we were able to convey our most immediate concerns to him, the real deficiencies and the vicissitudes we deal with in educating ourselves as professionals that can keep pace with an ever-more digital world.

We also spoke about the vocational interests of Cuban journalism students, and he was surprised to learn how frequently we meet to work as a team despite living all over Havana. “Hey, La Lisa, Alamar, Parraga and Vedado are very far from each other!”

Suddenly he changed topic: he was concerned about the Cuban people's lack of information on international politics. He asked about the impact and usefulness of programmes such as Dossier, hosted by the Venezuelan journalist Walter Martinez, and others included in the selection of programs of the Caracas-based channel Telesur that are shown daily on Cuban TV. He then commented on the need to take up vitally important issues such as agriculture in the Cuban press. It was then that he referred to research being done by our scientists to identify food alternatives in accordance with the environmental situation and Cuba’s economic conditions.

Ever curious, his comments were as sharp as ever. With the vision for the future that he has always had, Fidel was interested once more in national and international topics and the everyday needs of those who, day after day, attend university classes to become Cuban professionals.

On the Hill of the Cross

Great news! When I left for the Faculty on Tuesday October 11, I never imaged what was about to transpire. Not even in our dreams would we have hoped for this.

We couldn’t wait to finish our classes. We had to arrive as early as possible at Luisa’s house. The corner of 23rd Avenue and F Street was packed with people and I had no idea if the traffic would ease any time soon, so we separated – Ibis and Anita hitched a ride, Luisa would wait a little longer while Hector and I decided to walk there (from the corner of 23rd Avenue and F Street to the corner of 15th and 24th!).

At six he called. This time there was no doubt that at the other end of the line was Fidel, our Comandante! Sharing ideas with us, a team of rookie journalists, still students. My turn came, and during the first few minutes of the conversation I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up the dialogue, but the warmth of his voice was so down to earth and I felt so comfortable that time could have stretched like a rubber band. For his part, Fidel also enjoyed the exchange: “I’m very pleased to be able to converse with fifth year students who will soon graduate and begin their professional lives as journalists”.

So perhaps the occasion was conducive to tackling a very wide range of both domestic and international topics during our phone conversation, though we also touched on personal matters:

“And you, Nadia, where are you from?”

“From Holguin, Comandante.”

“But what part?”

“The city centre, close to San Jose park.”

“There was an important dance event held there a little while ago.”

I perceived that he attached great importance to being well informed. Given this, he doesn't limit himself to the news and the mass media but makes use of every possible source of information at his disposal. He asks, comments, suggests, makes value judgements and is capable of directing his attention to distant places without missing the smallest of details. Like compatriots living abroad, we refer to a symbol of our city, the Hill of the Cross.

Having taken the stage, his questions never end: “How many times have you climbed it? When was the last time? How long does it take you to get to the top?” He even asked very specific questions in an effort to hone in on the answer he wanted. “It’s a high hill, how many steps are there? There must be around 500...”.

Then he’s interested in where we’re living, the Lazaro Cuevas residential college on F Street and 3rd Avenue in Vedado. Then he tries to locate it, referring to landmarks and calculating distances. According to the directions, he places it in the student district and maps out a possible route to the Faculty. He suggests this little walk would be good exercise for me. But his tone hints of reproach when I explain to him that most students catch the P2 bus to the University, just a few blocks away.

Later on in the conversation, he makes a proposal that takes us back to the beginning: “If you walk from the college to the University and then you go up the Hotel Colina, it’s almost as if you’ve climbed the Hill of the Cross.”

Comandante, I don’t think I have to go so far because I walk up the stairs of the college every day.”

“On what floor do you live?”

“The 13th.”

“So you should be happy, because those on the second floor don’t get any exercise.”

We laugh. Since then, every time I walk up those stairs I remember his words and I smile, as happened when we spoke.

Fidel is always thinking about the future

A serious tone, familiar and deliberate. This was the first thing I heard when I could barely understand his words. A captivating and cordial voice. What to say? What to do? I was amazed and emotional, glued to my seat, short of breath. “How are you Comandante?” was the only coherent phrase I managed to articulate.

But within a few minutes the tension receded and it was as if we were taking up an old conversation that we’d left unfinished some time ago. He asked me: “Well now Ibis, where do you live?” It was incredible that Fidel knew where Parraga [a Havana locality] was, that he laughed at how distant it was and wanted to know the bus routes between here and there! And I admired still more his ability to tackle everything from the big issues to everyday occurrences, those of the daily routine.

Then I heard a distant rustling of papers and I imagined him seated in front of a big table cluttered with papers and books. His voice changed to a more serious tone. He told me that he was reading about Mexico and he was worried about the high indices of violence in that country, because they were rising every year and the situation was beyond the ability of the authorities to control. He also referred to the constant migration of entrepreneurs from the countryside to the cities, especially [Mexico City’s] Federal District; and the grave consequences this could have for the country’s economy.

We also spoke of how these scenes of violence are common in a number of Latin American countries. A note of alarm could be heard in his voice when he pointed out that thousands upon thousands of people die as a result of criminal activities such as drug trafficking. But his anxiety was not confined to the problem, it went beyond it to the quest for solutions. I think Fidel is always thinking about the future, in a holistic way, and struggling so that this thought is transformed into deeds that benefit the masses.

To speak with Fidel was like conversing with a part of our history (and when I say our, I mean all of Latin America). I believe that I now truly understand the meaning of that phrase so beloved of [Sandinista movement co-founder] Tomas Borges: I now know that “all the glory in the world can fit into a kernel of corn”. 

We’ll see each other soon

In my head, images of my whole life began to flash by, as in a film – the placed I’d been to, the things I’d done – as I reached out to take the phone. Finally, it was my turn!

We all looked at each other. The images didn’t stop. I saw myself as a naval fitter and turner, a tyre repairer, fumigator, bank clerk and, suddenly, everything froze upon hearing his voice! So familiar. The same voice that generations of Cuban have listened to for decades...

“Hello Hector, how do you feel?”

Comandante, I’m emotional, because I never thought I’d speak with you.”

To which he responded with this wise craftiness:

“Ahh, well! I never thought I’d speak with you...”

I had to burst out laughing as you do when a friend tells you a joke. And there was Fidel, el Comandante, the man of a thousand battles, on the other end of the phone, concerning himself with and asking me about things in my life about which not even I have any qualms: he wanted to know if I watch TV, and when. However, he was mostly interested in the topic of the Cuban Five, about which we spoke at length. Perhaps many will not understand and may even criticise my astonishment, this stubborn amazement that erased from my mind ideas, questions and concerns that I would have liked to share with him. But then it’s not every day that one receives a call from the historic leader of their country. With great tact, and indicating that our chat was drawing to a close, he said:

“Well, I’ve taken up a lot of your time today...but don’t think you’re going to escape from me.”

“Don’t worry Comandante, we’ll see you soon.”

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Translation: Alfredo Guevara & students 4

Here is the final instalment of my translation, slightly abridged, of Alfredo Guevara’s candid dialogue with students and staff hosted by the Faculty of Chemistry of Havana University. Guevara comments at some length on the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR and how this contributed to the miseducation of communist cadres in Cuba.

It’s worth noting that he does this without once mentioning Leon Trotsky, the key leader in the struggle against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state and Communist Party. This may be because Guevara is unfamiliar with the role of Trotsky in this struggle. Trotsky’s works have not been widely available in revolutionary Cuba and only recently have a few of them been published on the island. Or, it could be that Guevara felt that given decades of Stalinist demonisation of Trotsky, this is a controversy best left for another occasion. It may, of course, have been purely incidental and one should not read too much into it. What’s important is that Guevara’s analysis of Stalinism converges with that of Trotsky on key points, and Guevara makes these arguments explicitly and publicly.

If Cuba were really ruled by a Stalinist bureaucracy, as some leftists imagine, it would hardly allow a prominent public figure such as Guevara to say what he says here. Nor would such a ruling bureaucracy allow Cubadebate, a semi-official website hosted by distinguished Cuban journalists based on the island, to transcribe and publish such an exchange. In other words, Cuba’s working people have an ally against bureaucracy in the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership.

Guevara also touches here on an important debate that took place in the 1960s between Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and Che Guevara on economic management in socialist-oriented Cuba, and praises the PCC secretary for Granma province, Lazaro Exposito, for his energetic efforts to clean up the city of Santiago de Cuba and provide decent dining out options at affordable prices. Rather than cloning Exposito, as his admirers suggest on a blog, what really needs to be cloned is Exposito’s work methods, says Guevara.

He begins here by answering a question put to him by Alejandro Fernandez, a professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at Havana University. Unfortunately the transcript of Fernandez’s question is incomplete because, as the transcriber notes, the recording equipment malfunctioned momentarily. This makes it difficult to follow what Fernandez was saying. His question had something to do with the distinction between the Marxism of Marx and Lenin, and Soviet “Marxism-Leninism”.

Debate Forum dialogue with Alfredo Guevara in the Faculty of Chemistry, Havana University

Part 4

(Part 3, Part 2Part 1)

Cubadebate website, June 22, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Alfredo Guevara: This is a big topic. I assure you that dogmatic ideas do not prevail at the highest levels of leadership today, but for years we had a formal school of Marxism-Leninism in which Marxism was officially studied as Marxism-Leninism, that is, as a Stalinist catechism.

Many cadres have been schooled in this. Some cadres, among them some who still hold important positions, studied in the Soviet Union in schools where the curriculum was based on the Soviet manuals on Marxism-Leninism. This greatly discredited a book that had not circulated widely enough, Che’s “Critical Notes on Political Economy” – I don’t know if you’ve made a study of it – in which there’s an in-depth analysis of the Manual of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In reality, the content of the Soviet manual was a new, falsely Marxist theory of “Marxism-Leninism”. Not because Leninist thought – which in some cases is an important aid to political thought and to the analysis of the evolution of capitalism and of imperialist power – is false, but because there are some political positions that applied to very concrete situations faced by the first country that tried to build socialism.

Certainly while Lenin was alive there was an open debate in the Soviet party and only when Lenin became ill did this debate subside. It should be recalled that Lenin died in 1923, didn’t he? OK, at the beginning of 1924. So Lenin’s last instructions to the party leadership were written in 1923. Lenin died, and the line of succession he proposed, more or less as an anxious reflection on the dangers of ... etc. etc., was not implemented. But despite appearances it wasn’t Stalin who replaced Lenin, due to Stalin’s ignorance it could be said. Lenin was replaced by a triumvirate. This happened gradually because these were struggles for power. Stalin goes about destroying those who could have been an obstacle to his absolute power until this was achieved, that’s to say, there was a transition period. But in the end, once he’d attained absolute power, he elaborated a philosophy, a philosophy that overlaps here and there with Marxism, here and there with Leninism, but it’s a Stalinist philosophy aimed at consolidating absolute power, because it may be that Stalin wasn’t as monstrous as history will portray him, but perhaps there’s a mixture of nationalism and power, because if you compare two episodes in Russian history you’ll find a close similarity between Stalin and Ivan the Terrible.

Sergei Eisenstein, the great film director who was almost the originator of cinematographic technique given his contributions to editing and form, made a film titled “Ivan the Terrible” that was censored because Stalin was portrayed in “Ivan the Terrible”, in other words Stalin ended up becoming – excuse me for going on about this a little because I’m going to relate it back to Cuba, I’m just beginning but I won’t go on too long – Stalin ended up being the great defender of Russian nationalism, that of Russia prior to the Soviet Union, and don’t forget that at the Yalta meeting [of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in February 1945 – translator’s note], Stalin decided to annexe all of the countries under the influence of the Soviet Union [i.e. of the Soviet Red Army], except for the Slavic countries.

At one point Lenin had said that the worst Russian chauvinists, that’s to say nationalists, were non-Russians, because Stalin was Georgian. Lenin said this and he also said something else. I’m not saying that what he said was valid, but he was a participant, a protagonist, and he clarified many things. Lenin said that the triumph of socialism – he said this before the October Revolution – that the triumph of socialism in Russia would be a barrier to the spread of oriental barbarism. Stalin was the oriental barbarian.

Unless you study and grasp the history of the Communist International you can’t understanding the early period of the Cuban Revolution, you can’t even begin to shed light on certain mistakes, among them the education that was given in the Schools of Revolutionary Instruction for a long while. These schools have a new leadership now, I’m sure they’ll change some things, though I still don’t know if they've done so.

The old Popular Socialist Party (PSP) was under the influence of the Communist International, and the International became – secretly, silently, stealthily, by means of assassinations – dominated by Stalin. This old PSP was full of good people, marvellous people of very high calibre. Some were Stalinists in good faith, and the PSP trained Stalinist cadres who formed a part of our [post-1959 revolutionary] leadership and occupied high positions in our political life.

I don’t think this is the time – maybe someone will tell me this, who knows – this isn’t the appropriate time to be dedicating ourselves to digging up this history, but the researchers have to delve into it, since history cannot remain in obscurity either. And those of us – I still feel like a professor, I’ve been a professor at this university – those of us that have an interest in these things have to make sure that the youth understand them, given that we’ve studied these problems and we’ve searched for the documentation that backs up what we’re saying.

We must convey it to you as I’ve done many times, or on certain occasions. We have to transmit this and the researchers must take it up: you won’t understand anything unless you study the International, because the International was the Communist Party International, that is, it condemned nationalism. There were many mistakes that have to be corrected, aren’t there, and because of this many things remain in the dark.

We’ve contributed two outstanding Latin American thinkers. One, Julio Antonio Mella [1903-29, a founder of the original Cuban Communist Party in the early 1920s – translator’s note], didn’t live long but he lived intensely the whole of those five short years in which he accomplished everything. He was a founding member of the Cuban Communist Party; he went to Mexico, the Latin American headquarters of the International; he was a member of the Mexican Communist Party, he worked for the International, he established the organisation in solidarity with [Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto] Sandino, etc., etc., the Anti-Imperialist League of the Americas. He attempted, like Fidel, an expedition to invade Cuba and topple the Machado dictatorship, against the wishes of the International and the Mexican Communist Party. Where can one find out about all this? Where can one find the information about Paul Lafargue whom I spoke about earlier? Why isn't it more readily available?

Right now I’m trying to fathom, I’m coming to understand it more and more, why Paul Lafargue, who married one of Karl Marx’s daughters, the first deputy elected to the French parliament, a Cuban [by birth], why is it that we know nothing about Paul Lafargue? Ah, because the old PSP imposed ideological lines to ensure silence. We must study these things.

Raul [Castro] said that we’ve made mistakes. Why have we made these mistakes, what are they and who was responsible for them? Do any of you know – you knew there were debates, perhaps – about the profound debates on economic management between Che and [former PSP leader] Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, the two lines? Would I say now that Che was entirely correct? I don’t think so. Would I say that Carlos Rafael was entirely correct? No, but boy, was there was a debate about the economy. Che ran a cadre school for the training of managerial cadres. What manager from any enterprise, from any entity, from any ministry, has had managerial training? This is why I say that we’ve no right to be ignorant of others’ experiences.

Why are there scarcities, is everything a result of what we know? No, it’s also because of what we don't know. Because I’ve just returned, three weeks ago I was in Santiago de Cuba. My secretary pointed out to me a blog on the internet called, “Let’s Clone Exposito” [Lazaro Exposito is the Cuban Communist Party secretary in Granma province – translator’s note]. Lazaro is the new leader over there, he was also in Bayamo and he sorted everything out in Bayamo, and Santiago de Cuba is a marvel, except for transport which has not been fixed, everything is clean, everything is … you were there, weren’t you? … everything’s clean, no [old] buildings are collapsing, the footpaths are free of cigarette butts and waste paper. Let me tell you, the last time I was in Santiago de Cuba it was filthy. How did they get everyone to stop tossing cigarette butts and bits of paper on the pavement? This is an example of dignity, the recovery of dignity. It’s going to be hard given everything we've been through, but that’s how it is in Santiago de Cuba.

But I haven’t told you everything. Walk down the street in Santiago de Cuba and you can buy bread with beef steak in regular [rather than convertible] Cuban pesos. Walk two blocks further and you can eat bread with suckling pork, also sold in regular pesos. In the next block you can eat a plate of prawns, sold in regular pesos, and a lobster, in regular pesos. All this in regular pesos, and I say OK, why? Ah, let’s clone Exposito, as the blog suggests, but I’d say we should do something even better, or more critical, to complement what you’re doing, Exposito. And why Exposito? Why the devil does it have to be just one person whom we can trust in to set things right? No, let’s clone a work method, and this work method is a shipment of truth, honest and clean truth, because this is how he works. It may shorten his life, he’s still a young man.

Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, who is naturally very alert to everything that happens in Bayamo, when Exposito was in Bayamo the Monsignor told me: “Alfredo, it’s as if we were in another country”. He talked about things there the way I’m describing Santiago de Cuba. […]

I was worried they might be teasing me, so I had to go and take a look with my doctor and my son, because as you can see I’m somewhat frail, and they told me: “Go and have a look and tell me if everything I see there is real when I’m not there.” It was real, it’s magic. And why? I know Havana has 2.2 million inhabitants and is invaded by internal migrants, but OK, it’ll be more difficult but we must clone a method. First comes the method, the plan, rigour in the planning, in the method. (Applause).

Chair: Well Professor, thank you very much, I never thought we’d be able to have you come and speak to us here. I hope it won’t be the last time given what I said in the introduction about what we’re trying to do with this debate space, which is not to create it for one occasion but to maintain it, which is the most difficult thing to achieve. And another time, when you have a bit more of an audience, when we have electricity, when all this is OK, then we’d like to invite you to come again because it’s very enriching to converse with you. We’ve brought you a little present, a very humble one, in the name of the organisers of this forum.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Translation: Alfredo Guevara & students 3

Debate Forum dialogue with Alfredo Guevara in the Faculty of Chemistry, Havana University

Part 3 (Part 2 is here

Cubadebate website, June 22, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Alfredo Guevara: Look, I’m someone who’s said more than once that I’ll never advise you to keep quiet, but OK, I get very comfortable speaking my mind because I’ve spent my life confronting everything human and divine, I’ve never shut up, but I’m in a privileged position because from the first day of the struggle I’ve never weakened so it’s very hard to beat me down. I’ll also say with complete frankness that I believe Fidel took it upon himself to look after me, because I’ve had to cope with the ideological directives of the Party and only once, during the Congress discussions, did I really challenge the party line, because I’ve always been very disciplined. I’ve been disciplined as I’ve had to be, internally. Only now that time has passed have I published, in my books, the political ideas that I’ve had and that I defend, and don’t imagine that I haven’t had to cop it, I’ve been hit, but not a knock-out. So I’ll say to you what I want to say: you have to stand up for what you believe in.

Now, if you’re a student and you’re thinking of becoming an intellectual, if you’re thinking about criticism and commitment, you have to play with intelligence rather than clumsiness. You don’t have to play to be defeated. This is like chess, you have to know when and how to play the move.

You began by recalling my inaugural lecture in the forum on Sartre in the Great Hall [of Havana University], I don’t know how many years ago. But do you know what? There’s someone who interests me even more, [Italian Marxist Antonio] Gramsci, study Gramsci and study him in depth, and you’ll find – remember, too, that many of his reflections were written from prison – you’ll come across his writings on the organic intellectual. One has to be so immersed, so intricately involved in society in the course of history, in the political struggle of the day, so as to wage the battle for the right to criticism – which is a right – criticism that improves things. If your criticism – and this applies to everyone – if your criticism comes from the heart of society in order to improve it, then I don’t think anyone will be able to beat you down, it will be harder for them each time.

When I talk about the progressive disappearance it’s not going to happen overnight, but the more we struggle the quicker the bureaucratic state apparatus will disappear. The state is all-pervasive, especially the bureaucratic state apparatus, and the time for dismantling it is approaching. Now, I’m going to tell you something someone may not like one bit: the bureaucratic Party apparatus must also disappear. I’m not going to talk about the Party because it’s better to wait for the Congress and the Conference, etc, events which will take place in the coming months. It must be completely de-bureaucratised.

But I’m going to relate an experience I had with the Union of Young Communists [UJC]. I’m not going to name names, but how is it possible that every time I phone certain cadres they’re always in a meeting? A meeting at eight o’clock in the morning, one at ten, another at five and I don’t know how many, it’s like this all day. So when do they get time to think, at what time do they study, when do they have contact with the other youth? It’s impossible. But it’s like this in every apparatus, it’s not as if we have to wage a struggle against meetings, it’s that we must wage a struggle for interaction with real life. I know of a respectable person, a top leader of the UJC at Villa Marista. If I go to Villa Marista I’m not going to give the name of this person, but a leader of the UJC didn’t know about the things that were happening in the street among the youth, he found out in a meeting. Look, what’s going on here? I think the first thing we need to ask ourselves is what is the UJC, what is the Party, what should the social organisations be, including the leadership of the Confederation of Trade Unions? This is the vanguard, and those who are part of it must be the best.

: Good afternoon, my name is Omar Gonzalez, I study French at the Faculty of Foreign Languages. Just now, when you were talking about ethics and morality, you said that you thought that today in Cuba there are, finally, citizens, people with the consciousness to make People’s Power the power of the people. I found it surprising that you said this, because my own experience in the society in which I live is that there are many economic problems. There are many political problems, there are the country’s enemies, all these things, but there’s a big internal problem which is precisely the consciousness of the people. I see that the people have grown up in an education system that almost promotes deceit, that when these people graduate and begin to work they steal from their workplace. The majority do it, unfortunately, for personal economic reasons and because of the education they’ve had. I see a lot of hypocrisy in the wider society and a lot of apathy, of which you also spoke. So I’m shocked to hear you say that finally we have citizens. Can you really tell me that you believe this?

Alfredo Guevara: No, I agree with you. I think we’ve been creating conditions that help, but only as a potentiality that could allow the unchaining of citizenship. For this to happen we must resolve a whole host of problems that we’re proposing solutions for, the project led by Raul [Castro] must really succeed. Nobody can raise their hand and declare themselves free of sins, that they haven’t participated in some kind of illegal activity. To steal is something else, outright theft is different, isn’t it? But since everything’s illegal, how can anyone survive? We can call it this or that, but let me say this: I’ve been able to avoid certain things, today, not always, but when I was younger, now I’m old, but when I was ten years younger, my grandchildren’s school was just around the corner from my house. You’re still a long way off this, but grandparents are always fussier than parents, so when the grandkids went off to school, which was just around the corner, I got up at 7am and waited in the doorway until they went into the school.

Well then, at 7am men and women began to come past my door with big bags selling frozen chicken wrapped in cling wrap, just like the stuff they sell in the convertible peso stores, and boxes of strawberries that I hadn’t seen for donkey’s years, in other words the most unusual things, all kinds of products. Well, I didn’t need to buy these things at the time, but there were moments in which one’s hand is forced, because if you have two grandchildren ... the chicken I didn’t have to buy, but a box of strawberries, it was extraordinary to see a box of strawberries. OK, who has clean hands in this, who didn’t take advantage of the black market, who didn’t participate in it? This is impossible, because if we’re talking about a good salary lasting less than a week, the first thing we have to do is recognise reality.

[Translation to be continued]

Monday, July 18, 2011

Translation: Alfredo Guevara & students 2

Debate Forum dialogue with Alfredo Guevara in the Faculty of Chemistry, Havana University

Part  2 (Part 1 is here

Cubadebate website, June 22, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Student: Professor, I’m a fifth-year computer science student but I’ve come along to this discussion [organised by the Faculty of Chemistry]. I’ve always wanted to meet you and hear what you have to say. Now, I’m not sure about something you said. I’ve written down my question so I don’t make an ass of myself, which I’ll now read out: Professor, I’d like to know, given what our president Raul Castro has said, and what you have said about the need to graduate ever more technicians, and the policies of countries such as Canada and Germany that now offer many jobs to our young graduates, or rather they steal our brains so that we can go there and make a lot of money and so on, yet nobody has come up with any proposals or ideas for how to prevent such things, which are despicable but real, from happening. Thank you very much.

Alfredo Guevara: My goodness, that’s a difficult one isn’t it. Because when you graduate – you’re a student aren’t you? – when you graduate and they offer you a marvellous salary of 400 or 500 [Cuban regular pesos per month] and ten days into the month you’ve spent your salary and you haven’t covered half the cost of living for the whole month, and along comes a man from Canada who knocks at your door and offers you a salary of two thousand Canadian dollars, it’s hard not to think about it. The only solution is to solve the problems of this country and of daily life. When 500 pesos doesn’t get you anywhere…

I can tell you that I have other sources of income due to my being an author and because my works are published outside Cuba, but my case is exceptional, or different, and I earn 700 pesos a month. Because of my age, I’m 85, and my ideas about health, I’m not a vegetarian but I know it’s healthy to base one’s diet on vegetables. In less than ten days, in a week I can spend my 700 pesos in the agricultural market. Sure, I have family members with incomes … I receive income from outside the country, but this is only a limited percentage of the population. It’s calculated that 51% of the population, of families, receive some income from outside the country [mostly in the form of remittances – translator's note].


It’s not only the fault of the Canadians, they are partly responsible, and let’s not put the blame solely on the political weakness of the one who leaves. Let’s accept that the responsibility is one third the Canadians, one third the one who leaves and one third our own, and the Cuban state, Cuban society, must resolve the problem, the problems must be resolved urgently. And I, at this age, feel responsible for everything that has happened in Cuba, both good and bad, and I say to myself: all of my hopes lie in the de-statisation and de-bureaucratisation of Cuban society, leading to a society in which people’s creativity is unbound and is taken seriously.

There is an experience – excuse me for commenting on this, but I take an interest in everything – there is a tremendous experience that we’re not copying 100%, through there are many aspects that have already been tested. Vietnam did this and took off. That’s to say, Vietnam has 80-something million people and in Vietnam, it could be said, they broke the barriers that we’re trying to break, and this resulted in an explosion of internal capital, that is, not foreign investment capital but internal capital. We need foreign investment as well, just as they do, but the initial impetus caused an explosion of national wealth.

The first speeches of Raul [Castro as acting president in 2006-7] were framed by what even the inhabitants of Havana, the city folk, knew something about, namely that the countryside was overrun with marabú [a weedy tropical thorn scrub that is the Cuban farmer’s nightmare and has become a metaphor for neglect and decay in recent years – translator’s note] and that the farmlands were abandoned, that the land wasn’t producing, and this was opened up [i.e. the government began leasing idle state-owned farmland to producers] … there, we’re moving forward without yet producing what we need to, but in the countryside this is happening, the de-statisation revolution is proceeding very slowly. I think we must transform society, if we don’t then we’ll inevitably be prey to the theft of brains.


Participant: I’m a professor in the Faculty of Chemistry, and my question has to do with how to create a new kind of socialism, because as you said we’ve been improvising for the last 50 years, and we do see the deficiencies, that there are many problems. So we’d like to ask you in particular, because we know that you’re a visionary, that you have ideas, that you don’t fear these kinds of questions. I especially would like to ask you how you would see true socialism being constructed because, in particular, I note that the way in which the worker is employed in this system, alienated in their labour, is almost the same as that in a capitalist system. In a capitalist system you have a capitalist who appropriates the labour of the worker and gives the worker a salary; here the state does the same, the state appropriates the labour of the worker and gives them a salary. Consequently, I don’t see great differences and for me, to build socialism would be to give, or to get closer to, the earnings from work going to the worker. In other words, can you tell us a little about your idea of how to go about this, because I don’t know, it seems … it seems as if this is something we need to think about in planning a better system.  

Alfredo Guevara: I think that if we were in a society that had already been de-statised and de-bureaucratised then the state, that is, if the state were dismantled – I’m a partisan of the state, but not of this state that we have – I think that the state is an integrating institution in this period [of socialist construction] …well, I really don’t like submitting myself to those I’ve had to debate on occasion, but OK, in this period of transition, to what I don’t know because the truth is I don’t really know what communism is. And because of this I laugh at the great theoreticians of the Cuban transition because it’s the transition of folly, it’s the transition of absurdity towards a socialist society. I do see socialism, I understand it, I believe that socialism is possible. Someone will have to explain communism to me, but explain… OK, it doesn't matter, I’ll die before then, I’ll leave communism to you who come after me, but socialism, maybe.

So, what you say is valid, or I consider it to be valid for the situation we have, because who confiscates the work of the worker? The bureaucracy and absurdity, and worse still they don’t make good use of it but squander it through inefficiency, but in all fairness the state, if it were the state that it could be, doesn't exploit the worker, it’s not exploitation, it takes part of the earnings to redistribute in the form of social services, if the social services are maintained and if they’re  how to say it?  made more efficient. In any case, the social services that we do have depend to a large extent on taxes, if you want to call them taxes, now we’re going to call “taxes” what the self-employed have to pay, but in any case we’re talking about a social contribution that is later redistributed. 

I think your concern is just and the way you have described it is fair, in so far as it is squandered, because while everything is administered by an absurd and inefficient bureaucracy then it’s valid what you say, but I don’t think we can change quickly by really immersing ourselves in this [renewal] project. So this idea needs to be changed.

This project, initiated by the current top leadership and materialised as a program in Raul’s interventions – I appreciate Raul’s speeches more and I think they’re clearer than the [Economic and Social Policy] Guidelines, especially the speech marking July 26, wasn’t it? in the National Assembly. I believe that if we really implement all this then we’ll have ourselves another kind of state, that is, the de-bureucratisation and the de-statisation will allow the state to concern itself with regulating – the state apparatus that must result from elections and People’s Power – what it needs to in order to serve as a mediator through the apparatus of formal justice founded on laws, rather than through the will of individuals, and will be reduced.

I don’t think we’re talking about hatred of the state in this period of our history, it’s about giving it the form that it really needs, not this where the state is everything, the corner store is the state, this shop that steals a little of the product from you then they sell it to you on the black market; the baker who steals the flour and then the bread is no good, etc. etc. This is the state, so it should not be the state, it should be private, they should be private and nothing more … when it is privately administered you can be sure that nobody will steal a sack of flour because they’d be robbing themselves. So this is what we’re talking about, destroying this huge apparatus which has seized society, the problem is that it has seized society.

Participant: Good afternoon, my name is Michel, I’m also a professor in the Faculty of Chemistry. My question is about something that has been happening and something that the leadership of the country has thought about, or that is the slogan of the day, which is that the future will belong to the youth which are going to lead the country, which is logical, however at present there is still a big generational gap between the current leaders who, in my opinion are almost all over 50 years old, and the youth who will lead our country in the future. How much longer are we going to say that the leadership of the country is going to be in the hands of the youth, if the youth still don’t hold the reins of leadership and there is still no sign of a youth leader capable of leading this multitude of youth. Unfortunately, those that have arisen in recent years have become corrupted in one way or another, so I ask: how much confidence can the leadership of the country have in the youth if in one way or another they become corrupt? [...]

Secondly, I’d like to emphasise what you said regarding People’s Power. At present People’s Power needs more power while being less popular...

Alfredo Guevara: Both, it needs both...

Michel: Yes, but more power in this sense, as I see in the creation of the new province of Artemisa, for example, where I observe that not even three months have passed and the self-employed do as they please, and neither People’s Power nor the [Communist] Party take action in the interests of the people. So to what extent is People’s Power popular, we have the Party to represent the people, what does it do for the people and does it act in their interests?

Alfredo Guevara: On the last point you made, I don’t know anything about the new provinces. I do know that there are abuses all over the country, and when there has always been so much abuse and arbitrariness then it’s going to continue for a bit longer and we’ll have to put up with it. In any case, I think that none of the things that may be happening should lead us to condemn self-employment. OK, the word “self-employment” is a little strange, it doesn’t convey much sympathy. In Spain they’re called – and I really like this word – autonomous, and it’s true that they’re autonomous, that is, they work for themselves but they also run risks themselves, and this has to be respected, and I think it’s useful, in defending this sector, to recall - as I’ve done on other occasions but I haven’t used this argument for a while - that in the works of Karl Marx, not those that appear later in Volume II of Capital based on his notes which were written and revised by Marx himself; in his studies of the pre-capitalist modes of production the artisan appears, and the artisan is nothing more than pre-capitalist, because the artisans aren’t the only ones who make little rag dolls are they? A good baker is an artisan, a good pastry chef is an artisans, the competitive difference between two artisans is of this nature.

In the same neighbourhood or in the same block, or two blocks, is the quality [product or service] and, what’s more, the approval of the customer who prefers this flavour of a chef in a little restaurant in one block to that of another, or the specialty of the other. All these are artisans. And not only did Marx recognise that this was a pre-capitalist form of production, it’s not capitalist, capitalism comes into being with mass production and therefore commodity fetishism where commodities are overvalued, from which arises the drive to production for its own sake, which is productive, but it’s forgotten that the labour of the producer is stolen and that work is alienated. Because of this I say that we’re unchaining creativity, because a chef who works better than the other chef three blocks away will win customers through competition, s/he is a creator. OK, a good painter is also a creator, but a chef is a creator; the cabinetmaker who works the wood better than the other is a creator, etc. 

This is a principle of Marxism, what was the negation of Marxism was to persecute individual creativity, so that the chef was considered almost a delinquent; and the painter, who probably earned much more, is not a delinquent. No, no, no, we must think more and put things in their proper place.      

You speak of generations, well look, I’m of the first generation, you’re looking at the devil (Laughter). But I think it’s been good – I could be wrong but I’m going to tell you what I think – I think it’s been good, fortunate for the history of Cuba, that the remainders – we’re the remainders, the survivors of the first generation and I take on the responsibilities I do because I have no official post now, nor do I want one – it’s fortunate that the survivors of the first generation are the ones who are proposing this transformation of society.

I believe it’s been good, there are some negatives, but it’s been good to have this group of old people – you’ve been very generous in saying they’re in their 60s, we’re all older than 70 and some of us are more than 80 – have taken this initiative. It would be terrible if this generation hadn’t done so, it would be terrible for us, for history. But I think the time has come again – I said that an opportunity would be lost – the time has come and it’s up to you... after the [6th Communist] Party Congress that will be held in 15 or 20 days, and the Conference, which is when? In October, isn’t it? You don’t remember? [The PCC Conference is now scheduled for late January, 2012 – translator’s note]. These gatherings will begin to make changes in this direction. I believe it’s essential, it would be crazy to not do so, because we’re going to die... we’re going to start dropping off like ... I don’t know, I don’t want to make ugly comparisons, but we’re going to die off steadily in the coming years. Can someone who is more than 80 keep on living for much longer? Ten years more in some cases, or five years for some of our generation, this is not talked about publicly because ... we’re already out of print mentally (Laughter).

So I don’t know, I began by telling you that you’re looking at the devil because imagine, I’m in between, but I think the time has come and that the time comes unavoidably, unavoidably, dictated by biology.

Participant: Good afternoon, my name is Jorge Gonzalez Arocha, I’m a Professor with the Faculty of Philosophy, History and Sociology. I’ve heard you speak in other meetings, in other spaces, in which you've referred to the general concept of freedom, specifically to a French thinker, Jean Paul Sartre, the theme of freedom in Sartre’s thought. For us here in the Faculty, French existentialism, the theme of freedom, is a fascinating one, above all in the times we’re living in, no? To study this thought and to try to uncover within French existentialist thought and OK, in general, all this cultural context of the 1960s, to fathom clues to help us understand the present reality.

Listening to you speak today reminded me of what you said in the Great Hall [of Havana University], I think it was in 2005, in a forum for the centenary of the birth of Sartre, in which you referred to an interview of Sartre during the French May [i.e. the pre-revolutionary crisis of May-June 1968 in France – translator’s note], in which he outlines his definition of intellectual freedom, or rather, the scope of freedom for the intellectual, but the intellectual as a subject who is pulled in two directions, towards commitment on the one hand and criticism on the other, in other words one cannot see this person as being absolutely committed to a system, or to a collection of social or political norms and rules, or only as someone who is hypercritical of their reality.

My question relates precisely to this, to criticism and commitment, but above all the question of criticism in Cuba today from the point of view of the youth among us, especially, taking into account the changes – pardon me, I don’t like calling them changes, I prefer to speak of movement because to talk about change implies a level of consciousness at the level of civil society that it seems to me is still absent in Cuba at present, rather it seems to me that there are movements in the economy and timid ones politically.

With this in mind, I’d like to hear you view on the degree to which, in Cuba today, the youth can exercise a right to criticism, also taking into consideration that we confront a bureaucracy, as has been said here; we have a system that rewards ... this is a little harsh, but OK ... the dumbing-down of the youth, the dumbing-down of society, that sponsors banality, I don’t think I need to mention here the soap operas, you already spoke about them in the lecture, I don’t know, in relation to art, everything. That is, there are several conditions which in some way are influencing the lack of criticism but, at the same time, the criticism that exists is not heard, so I’d like hear your opinion on this, on the topic of criticism and the youth, and what we the youth can do to break this cycle of contradictions in which we’re immersed.

[Translation to be continued]

Friday, July 1, 2011

Translation: Alfredo Guevara & students 1

Regular readers of my blog need no introduction to Alfredo Guevara, a key figure in the Cuban Revolution from Fidel's generation. I translated an earlier exchange between Guevara and Cuban university students here and made some introductory comments on Guevara's role in the Cuban Revolution historically and today. This one is just as interesting and informative, if not more so, and covers new ground. It took place in March at Havana University in a forum hosted by the Faculty of Chemistry, the first in a series of such forums students from the faculty have initiated by creating a "Debate Space".

This in itself reflects the gradual opening up of more spaces for public debate on internal problems and the renewal of Cuba's socialist project. Equally interesting are the words of introduction by one of the student organisers on behalf of Debate Space, which I include in the translation. Given the length of the Spanish transcript, some 14,000 words, I've heavily abridged the translation to focus on what I think would be of greatest interest to readers of this blog, leaving aside the many detailed anecdotes and explorations of various topics related to cinematography and other cultural themes. I've tried to convey as many of the nuances and as much of the style of the original as possible. 

This is the first instalment of the translation. In the next instalment I'll post a selection of questions or comments from members of the faculty, both students and teaching staff, and Guevara's responses. I'm really looking forward to sharing these with you, I hope you find them 
as fascinating and encouraging as I do.

Debate Forum dialogue with Alfredo Guevara in the Faculty of Chemistry, Havana University

Part 1

Cubadebate website, June 22, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Debate Space: OK, I'm going to start by reading out what we prepared, it's a bit all over the place so let's see how we go.

Since the collapse of the USSR and the disintegration of the Soviet socialist model, which many saw as based on scientific principles, our society has been experiencing, or has experienced, a marked economic deterioration. This has led to a serious economic and spiritual crisis among adults and youth alike. These harmful consequences have caused a great deal of uncertainty among everyone who lives in this marvellous archipelago, having waited for so long for a promised future that didn't materialise. At the same time it created an ideal breeding ground for all those who want to see the country torn apart, for all those who want to hand over their sovereignty on a silver platter in the glare of the great spectacle of global capitalism, the same capitalist world that has in recent years dispatched some of its most loyal lackeys against the social project we've been trying to advance.

It's because of this that the Cuban reality must be urgently changed by us Cubans, and in this task the country's youth have a protagonist role, not because somebody important says so but because it's in their nature to do so, and we are reminded daily that the life of a human being is ephemeral and it cannot, nor should it, be associated with the life of an entire country. To ensure the spontaneity of the social system we're building will be our great challenge, a system that doesn't depend on a single individual, a transparent system of which we would speak well not because it would be morally correct to do so, but because we believe it to be so. 

It's for all these reasons and many other that we've decided to create a forum for debate in the Faculty of Chemistry of Havana University, to which we'll invite intellectuals and well-known Cubans so that through a lively and uninhibited discussion with the public we'll be able to take up the key themes of national life. It will aim to be a tolerant space where reason and the truth prevail over forcefulness, or the truths of each participant, over the harmful pretence of unanimity.

The fundamental objective of this space is to stimulate the thinking and action of Cuban youth. The only idea that its tries to defend as immutable is the need for constant change. Our future socialist model will necessarily have to be distinct, different from that conceived by our principal historical leaders. Because of this, apathy must be killed. The youth of today cannot wait to receive orientations, they have to promote their initiatives even if these are not fully understood by others.

The creation of this space was an initiative of our Faculty, but this acknowledgement is purely formal since this space will belong to everyone, embodying the necessity to involve all those who feel themselves to be revolutionaries in this modest and sincere initiative for transforming Cuban citizens, above all the most youthful.

Our first guest could be no other than the compañero militant, film maker and professor Alfredo Guevara. This is not a happy coincidence, but is due to the fact that Professor Alfredo has been involved in the Revolution for more than half a century, and is one of the few revolutionaries to have been a protagonist in the most important events in the history of our homeland during this period. What's more, he has a magical touch when it comes to relating to young people, whether by conversing with them and drawing them in with his wonderful chats, or by listening to them attentively, understanding them and putting himself in their shoes.

When we went to see him to ask if he'd come and speak with us he had no objection, and what was going to be just a brief formal meeting turned into a very informative half-hour chat. The list of his merits is long and numerous, but since Alfredo is part of Havana University the only thing we're going to say in introducing him is that before us today we have a piece of the living history of our country, and we need to take maximum advantage of this so don't hold back from your questions because Alfredo won't hold back in responding to you. This is what I wanted to say.

Welcome, professor.

Alfredo Guevara: Well, good afternoon again. Thanks everyone for coming, I know everything's been a little stormy, as it is for me. It's tempestuous for me because for a year or so I've been having these kinds of meetings in various faculties and high-level study centres on my own initiative, and also by invitation, but always in some way making myself available. Because I believe that at this point in my life, after so much living and so much seeing and doing, this is a time in which I want to be, above all, bound to the youth, to the university youth in which I see hope for the future, all the more so in recent times, when I feel — I had felt it approaching — that perhaps we're going to find the path, the path out of this long period of difficulties.

Difficulties that aren't going to cease, of course, because they don't depend on us, but I think that the decisions taken, already taken publicly since December, and which we're in the middle of — I don't see everything I'd like to see now in March, but I don't lose hope — lead us to a situation in which, by necessity, these decisions will have to bring about profound changes in the structure, the functioning and the goals of our society. Since the meeting with the students at the Central University in Santa Clara, I've taken to calling these changes "destatisation", a word that hasn't been picked up by anyone, but I love it. In any case, somebody has said to me: "OK, this is your language and this is how you express yourself".

I believe that if we really want to de-bureaucratise and de-statise Cuban society — I'm not going to repeat what I said in Santa Clara — if we really achieve this, by necessity, society as a whole will show another face which will be, to me, that of the true society. That's to say we'll rediscover it, not because it existed before, but because it existed in the dreams, in the proposals of the Revolution since the beginning, we'll rediscover the true face of the society that my generation dreamed of.


I believe, and I don't want to avoid saying it in broad terms, I believe that the country regressed with the fall of the false socialist bloc, it was already beyond false when it collapsed, including the Soviet Union, false in terms of socialism and in terms of society ... we painted it as having certain characteristics that were completely nonexistent, and I can assure you that this is not theoretical speculation because I knew intimately and experienced first hand the nomenclatura of those countries.

I remember when I visited the USSR and Czechoslovakia every two years for the Moscow and Karlovy Vara Festivals, on these occasions we'd meet with the ministers — that's the title they were given — of cinema, and I realised then that apart from the Hungarian minister they were real phonies, real fakers, I had to go along with it. They were declaring victory as if we were beating Hollywood, and not only were we not matching Hollywood, but we haven't been able to and it won't be easy to do so because there are two Hollywoods: the B grade stuff which is what our TV is full of, and which poisons and stultifies everyone with the complicity of our media directors, but there's also a marvellous Hollywood of extraordinary films, artists, directors and screenwriters.


The collapse of the socialist bloc in 1990-1 led to the situation we find ourselves in today. At that time our leadership already had a mass — the word "mass" is awful, there were a sufficient number, I withdraw the word "mass" — a sufficient number of specialised university graduates, of young cadres that they could have handed over the leadership to, or rather they could have begun the transition from our generation to the young generation. But as you know, this collapse destroyed the basis of our economic development momentum, which was not great but we felt that we were advancing cautiously, but we had a structural dependence on the Soviet bloc's Council of Mutual Economic Assistance that meant that the leadership of the Revolution had to above all find ways of surviving.


I've said it before and I'll repeat it now, the greatest crime we could commit would be to accept that ignorance occupies leadership posts, ignorance embodied in people, that ignorance has power over others. There's still too much ignorance in our state and social organisations, including the Communist Party, there's too much ignorance with power over people. I think this is a state crime, and it's a crime that we must fully rectify: No to ignorance! To be able to have power over others one must have, above all, true knowledge about what one is going to lead and, of course, an ethical training. I'll dwell for a moment on ethical training and I'll try to finish up so I can hand over the floor to you.

We constantly talk about cadres here and there, of a crisis of values, of the neglect of certain formative values. I share this concern, and I think everyone has to be concerned about this and put as much emphasis as possible on the solution to the problems implicit in this. But it has to be said: the problem is not talking about a concern, the problem is finding solutions. Of course, one of the ways is addressing, in a most serious manner, education from the bottom up, from primary education and even at the preschool level. [...] An education that is not only patriotic but I'd say an education for civility, for living in society.

Our country, thanks to this enormous effort we've made during the past half century, with mistakes but with some virtues and this is one of them: we've reached this point where it can be considered feasible to have citizens, not just people who vote in elections if there are elections, or that give an opinion somewhere, and I hope that such opinions are acted on, because one of the principals to arrive at true citizenship is that People's Power is no longer simply popular but has real power.

I think we can hope that the proposed changes in the social fabric, that need not be eternal, can be modified and enriched and they must be modified and enriched permanently, the social fabric of popular power already exists, and for what purpose? I don't know where you all live, but I'm sure that if your parents or you yourselves actively participate in your neighbourhood, if someone contacts their People's Power municipal delegate it's because they're an extreme optimist, because the poor delegate is a poor devil who has had the courage to accept the role of delegate because surely nobody in the neighbourhood would want to be a delegate and do it under Party discipline, or state discipline or whatever, because he or she knows that it serves no purpose and all the citizens know it's useless. 

But if we reinvigorate this fabric that is actually embedded throughout society, if we reinvigorate it and instead of being People's Power it would be popular and have real power, I believe that we'd be taking a critical step towards socialist democracy which cannot be top-down, or bottom-up but constrained by 17,000 transmission belts. The transmission belts [i.e. the discouragement of grassroots initiative by Communist Party or state directives via a highly centralised administrative apparatus — translator's note] have become, instead of transmission belts, given that they encroach on everything, a true hindrance. In other words, a thick jungle in which nothing can be cultivated. I think this is the right moment to change this.

At present I'm studying with my team, a team of youths, a personality that I'd like to revive the memory of, that nobody here has heard of but that the whole world admires, Paul Lafargue. Lafarge was the first Cuban socialist, a native of Santiago de Cuba who later went to France and ended up becoming the son-in-law of Karl Marx, married to Laura, and Marx's representative in some of the gatherings of the First International, founding organisation of the socialist movement in Spain and other countries, and so on. Yet we've forgotten him, and he could be a treasure and an example for us.


I'd be very grateful — I know we've only just met — to hear any observations you may have, it may not be about the things I've said, we could take the discussion wherever we want, any question or opinions you'd like to express because I too must learn from you. I don't come here as a teacher, I come here to learn from you.

[Translation to be continued]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Translation: Max Lesnik dialogue with youth 2

Here is Part 2 of my translation of an interesting exchange between Max Lesnik, a Cuban-born journalist who lives in Miami, and Cuban students from La Joven Cuba website. Part 1 is here. Note that this is an abridged translation of the Spanish transcript due to its length. Gaps in the translation are indicated with ellipses (...).

Why include Lesnik's views in a blog about Cuba's socialist renewal, you may ask? For two reasons, one of which has to do with the weight of US-Cuba relations in the present and future of the Cuban Revolution and the importance of the Cuban-American constituency in influencing these relations. The other has to do with something US ecologist, Marxist and Cuba solidarity activist Richard Levins touched on in an email he sent me recently, from which I'll quote a few lines:

"I am particularly interested in the question of how revolutionaries outside of Cuba can contribute to the Cuban process beyond the obvious defence of Cuba against all forms of aggression and support for particular programs such as in health and education, and in educating people in our own countries about Cuba. People everywhere look at the world from a particular viewpoint, which includes powerful insights and blindnesses. For instance, Cubans are dealing with their economy from the vantage point of urgency, and urgency tends to narrow the time and scope horizons. Foreign revolutionaries are more likely to have broad horizons that undervalue urgency and the measures to meet urgent needs, but more likely to worry about the "collateral damage" to the revolution and long term consequences of measures that encourage individual businesses or expand inequality. Foreigners have been particularly helpful in combating homophobia and racism. Immersed in a neo-liberal environment, we can more readily pick up when Cuban economists use the vocabularies of bourgeois economics such as "price distortion", "efficiency" and "competitiveness". In one sense, the Cuban revolution belongs to the Cubans to solve their problems and make their own decisions. But it also belongs to all of us. We could be helpful, but especially if we look at both our own and Cubans' typical errors from the vantage point of solidarity."

I agree, and I'd add that those who view things sympathetically from the outside can sometimes see things more clearly than those at the coal face. Whether the content is interpersonal relations, political struggles or the expanding frontiers of scientific knowledge, different vantage points round out the picture. Cuban revolutionaries can benefit from seeing things from your "vantage point of solidarity", as Dick Levins puts it, or mine or Max Lesnik's, just as we can benefit from seeing things from theirs.

By the way, here's a link to Levins' terrific commentary How to Visit a Socialist Country, which is all about Cuba, socialism, ecology, dialectics, democracy, solidarity and much else. The kind of thing I like to contemplate on a Sunday morning with a freshly brewed coffee at arm's reach and a small dog snoozing on my lap.

Max Lesnik: dialogue with Cuban youth, Part 2

La Joven Cuba (The Cuban Youth) website, May 11, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Joven Cuba: What are, in your judgement, the key dangers threatening the Cuban Revolution?

Max Lesnik: Fidel has already referred to this. The great danger is that within the revolution, there could be a break with ethical principles. Every revolution has a morality. One cannot be a revolutionary and live a dishonest personal life, it has to be lived austerely. The great challenge is how to maintain an uncontaminated life despite the necessities. There are people in this country that do things to make a living that don't correspond with the ethics of the revolution. For me the great challenge is to remain incorruptible, that others "resolve" [i.e. turn to the black market to make ends meet], as it is said, but that those who aspire to lead the country are as honourable and as clean as those they're going to replace.

Those who are going to replace them will replace them, the calendar is unforgiving, the lives of the current leaders could evidently last years longer into their old age but in terms of their ability to function [as leaders] we're talking about three or four years, no more. This is the challenge, we're not talking about a timeframe of 20 years, the physical or practical disappearance is going to be immediate and there must be young people capable of replacing them.

The relay of the revolution is undoubtedly the greatest of the challenges, a question that confronts every Cuban today. From outside Cuba they say that Cuba is led by the historicos, Raul, Fidel, that there aren't any youth. They ignore the fact that the youth exist. Above all they make this criticism.

There's the problem of the low profile of the principal cadres of the country in the various provinces. Some do good work in their regions, others not so good. These days the Cuban people need to know a lot more about these leaders. Here there's a kind of curtain. Once when I was in Havana a policeman stopped me, I was travelling by car. After checking my license I asked him if he knew the name of the national police chief. He said he only remembered Salas Canizares under Batista and Efigenio Amejeriras just after the revolution. This police officer didn't know the name of the current chief of police.

There's a need, in one way or another, for the political leadership of the country to take into account that beyond Fidel, Raul, Ricardo Alarcon and the better known leaders, the party and other political leaders should have a higher profile. So that the people know if they do bad things or good things, and if they do good things then their merits should be acknowledged.

JC: What do you think about Cuban journalism at present and what are the challenges ahead?

Well, there are three journalists here (referring to those present). The journalism done in Cuba today is, first of all, very boring, and this has nothing to do with the ideological line of the [Communist Party] Central Committee via the ideological department. I think that apart from maintaining the political presence of the single party and defending the revolution against its enemies, information policy could be more strategic.

In my opinion the column that's most read in Cuba is that of Ciro Bianchi Ross [in Juventud Rebelde]. Why? Because it's a good read, it doesn't fall into the counterrevolution but says things everyone wants to hear about history. On TV, what's the most-seen programme? Pasaje a lo Desconocido [Journey into the Unknown] and now the one hosted by Amaury. Pasaje a lo Desconocido, by Taladrid, is not about politics and now there's the one by Amaury.

Journalism can be lively, vibrant, entertaining, political-historical analysis that doesn't rub the ideological department up the wrong way. Why aren't there other things in the pages of Granma or Juventud Rebelde? They can offer other things to the public.

Why the success of the magazine Bohemia, the old one for which I wrote? The editor of Bohemia is a friend of mine and they don't let him do more. It's a publication that must be rescued. In my time you could buy the Friday edition of the magazine on the street, we're taking about a country of seven million people at the time and 300,000 copies were sold on the street, if you do the maths there wasn't a Cuban that didn't in some way enjoy the magazine. Those who couldn't read looked at the pictures and called out to others to ask them what was written there.

There was a section of the paper dedicated to national politics where all the secrets of political life were told. Commentaries could be written by intellectuals from the centre, the left, [bourgeois liberal] Jorge Manach and [pro-Moscow Popular Socialist Party leader] Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and a good part of the intellectuals of the time. It was a leading publication. It had the horoscope for those who believe in the stars, it had jokes, cartoons, stories by Marcelo Salinas, it had everything it needed to and was many Cuba's entertainment from Friday to Monday.

I ask: why does TV have to be so boring? Why can't there be a higher quality Bohemia magazine? Why can't there be a more lively journalism?

The answer lies in the young journalists. At this point we're not going to convince an old journalist who's banging on and on about the same thing that he has to change his style. This is the task of the young journalists. If they reject the article and this goes on the record, at some point this will be the justification for why it wasn't published.

JC: In our country we're trying to construct a more just socialist society, where the fruits of work are distributed as equitably as possible and giving to each according to their efforts. Now, our country is a poor country, with limited natural resources and suffering a cruel economic blockade. All this makes the task of minimising inequalities, and of providing a quality of life to the people that is acceptable in terms of our principles and commitments, a titanic one. How can our country insert itself into such a cruel and exclusive global economy without ceding one iota of our sovereignty? What role can the ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for Our America] countries play in this? Could we be more active in ALBA?

Max: I think that the Cuban economy in its first [revolutionary] period went from traditional capitalism, that of free enterprise with all the defects that go with it, to a state-centric model that in my opinion is not really the socialism we aspire too. It's state capitalism and the objective is socialism. It's not about replacing the capitalist exploiters with a state that doesn't aim to exploit but that cannot encompass everything. What does a take-away food stand have to do with socialism?

In an emergency situation the state assumed not only the management of the big enterprises, the basics that there was always an aspiration for the state to manage to allow the country to progress, if you can call progress expropriating the hairdressers, barbers, boot cleaners. I'm not going to talk about whether this was done well or poorly, I agree with the 1968 offensive [that expropriated Cuba's urban small businesses], here you couldn't allow puppets with capitalist heads because they were a means to divide the revolution.

Now, today the dangers are different and for this reason I believe that the state must drop everything it can't run efficiently. [...] The revolution is strong enough to drop things it can't run. The revolution is much more important than worrying about the development of a minor entity where someone is looking to steal four pesos but one has to be vigilant and send in an inspector, then find another inspector to watch over the first inspector, and so on until you end up with a bureaucracy that only results in inefficiency. 

JC: One of the themes that comes up most frequently to demonstrate the supposed lack of freedoms in Cuba is the prohibition on Cubans travelling outside the country freely. What do you think are the motives behind the country taking such a decision? What's understood then by freedom to travel, the formal declaration that one can do so or the actual of possibility of travel?

OK, I think the white card [i.e. the Cuban exit permit] is something they should have got rid of some time ago. Every Cuban ... if I were the government and I gave them a permit that would be a symbolic passport, and told them they could apply for a visa to visit any country in the world, and when they grant it they take your passport and you're going to travel, permanently or temporarily, what would happen?

The consulates aren't going to give the visa, and these days Cubans say they can't travel because the government doesn't give them the white card, in reality if they were granted one neither the Peruvian nor the Argentinean nor the Chilean consulates are going to grant a visa simply because they have no reason to, because it's one more immigrant and they don't want this, which is why I think the white card is obsolete, because the difficulty is in obtaining the visa.

You know that in Miami, among the Cubans that have arrived there are dozens that want to return and now they can't do so. They believed in the story of the American dream and the American dream doesn't exist. The Cubans here [in Cuba] known that 10% of the Cuban population lives outside the country but also 10% of Mexicans and of the populations of many other countries. Cubans aren't the only ones who emigrate. The white card does more harm to the Cuban government, to the revolution, the supposed travel prohibition than allowing anyone the right to travel.

S/he who leaves here and sees the troubled and brutal world that surrounds us is going to return here and is going to embrace this country that is theirs, regardless of the difficulties they may have here because the problems elsewhere are worse, because there is no solidarity.

Here if you're sick your neighbour takes you to the hospital, it's true that over there there are ambulances to bring you but your neighbour doesn't care. That solidarity is here and it has always been. I see no reason to delay the disappearance of the white card, and I tell you that I don't know why the state maintains it, honestly I don't know. There were reasons before, today there aren't. Why? If you say: all Cubans can apply for their passport and travel with such and such exceptions, because its neither honest nor fair that they pay for a youth to graduate as a doctor and then they ask for the white card to leave the country with their certificate in their pocket and earn in the US or somewhere else $300,000 or $400,000 a year when the Cuban state spent something comparable on their training.

They must set up, in my opinion, mechanisms that require someone [with a professional qualification] to work in the country for at least ten years. Today it's a common practice to study medicine, go on [an international cooperation] mission and in less than six months [quit the mission] and remain there. There are exceptions, doctors, engineers, armed forces personnel. They cannot leave Cuba just because they want to. [...]

JC: Many go off in pursuit of the American dream, the problem is that you have to be asleep to believe in it.

Max: Claro, this is the problem.


JC: Let's say that tomorrow they allowed Cubans who live outside the country and that haven't participated in actions against the revolution to be able to have private businesses on the island. Would this benefit the national economy and the people in general? Would it be fair for those Cubans who have remained loyal to the revolution for all these years?

There was a debate about this in the National Assembly. A brother of [former Council of Ministers executive secretary] Carlos Lage said that Cuban-Americans couldn't invest in the country. Alfredo Guevara responded by saying that they can't be excluded and everyone agreed. If you are a counterrevolutionary they're not going to allow you to come and invest here, but the majority of Cubans, who do not have a counterrevolutionary position, are allowed under Cuban law [but not US law given the US blockade — translator's note] to invest here. Though they'd come from outside the country to invest, their Cuban origin is no limitation, of course the investment will only be allowed if the country considers it necessary for its development.

They're not excluded because they were born in Cuba, you're a Cuban of foreign nationality who can invest, the state views you the same way they view a Galician, you were born in Cuba but you don't come here to invest as a Cuban because then we'd have two classes of Cubans, those who are here, yourselves, and those who left in search of greener pastures, made money and now come here as foreigners to invest in Cuba, there wouldn't be a veto simply on the basis of origin, this is what the current Cuban law stipulates.

I know Cubans in Miami that have invested here, despite their status as foreigners.