Posted: Saturday 27 February 2021 | 08:16:08 pm.
Author: Marina Menéndez Quintero | firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Assets, buildings and even military bases. What no country would put at stake, should serve as a guarantee against possible legal claims…
Abusive demands, some said; others sniffed out a hypothetical ulterior motive, and third parties even concluded that such far-reaching forecasts showed too much distrust of the manufacturer’s own product.
What is palpable is that the revelations about the unimaginable conditions that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer has imposed on Latin American countries in order to sell its vaccine against COVID-19, are a clear illustration of the concerns expressed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by the UN Secretary General himself, about the difficulties that poor nations will have to face in order to immunize their populations.
“I must be frank: the world is on the brink of catastrophic moral failure, and the price of this failure will be paid in the lives and livelihoods of the poorest countries,” warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, last month, drawing attention to the huge inequality in access to vaccines around the world.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated warnings about how inequity caused by the unfair global economic order and lack of cooperation will once again prey on the poor – now in the face of a deadly threat as direct as the pandemic – when he criticized what he called the “grossly unequal and unfair” distribution of the vaccine.
At that time, he pointed out, only ten countries had administered 75 percent of all the doses distributed worldwide, while more than 130 countries had yet to receive a single dose.
In this context, the revelations made public a few days ago by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) – a news organization dedicated to investigative journalism based in London – and the Peruvian media Ojo Público, based in Lima, about the difficult negotiations of nations such as Argentina and Brazil to acquire the vaccine produced by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, acquire support.
Their harsh and unusual demands illustrate the additional obstacles that resource-poor nations, including those more solvent ones that have not produced their own vaccine, may face, beyond the lack of current money.
As the journalistic investigation acknowledged, “most governments offer indemnification (exemption from legal liability) to the vaccine manufacturers they buy from.”
That is, the government would pay for any lawsuits against the manufacturer that a vaccinated person might file. “This is fairly typical of vaccines administered in a pandemic,” he noted, even though adverse effects are very rare.
However, Pfizer’s demands for Argentina and another nation, whose representatives have remained anonymous because negotiations are continuing, went further, asking for additional indemnification against any claims, officials in Buenos Aires said.
After representatives of the southern cone nation had negotiated difficult requirements that demanded changes in its legislation, Pfizer went so far as to demand “that the sovereign assets be part of the legal backing,” said a participant in the negotiation.
This happened at the end of December. It involved the Argentine government putting up its sovereign assets – which could include federal bank reserves, embassy buildings or military bases – as collateral against potential claims.
“We offered to pay millions of doses in advance, we accepted this international insurance, but the last request was extraordinary (…). It was an extreme demand that I had only heard when it was necessary to negotiate the foreign debt; but in that case, as in this one, we rejected it immediately”, the source affirmed.
Similar conditions were imposed to countries such as Brazil, where there were no agreements until today.
According to a message on Twitter by Misión Verdad, nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have reached agreements with Pfizer.
Although the tweet states that “the terms of these commercial agreements are not known” -and in truth it is information that in many cases is confidential-, the investigation by The Bureau… and Ojo Público gives an account of the rigors faced by Peru, and the “set of binding conditions” that it had to sign to close the agreement.
These included a supreme executive decree by which the nation committed to submit to international arbitration if disputes arose in the contracts for the purchase of the lots. At the same time, Peru waived “the sovereign immunity of the State for the enforcement of an arbitration decision”.
Contacted by The Bureau…, Pfizer declined to discuss the ongoing private negotiations, but argued that it has allocated doses to low- and middle-income countries at not-for-profit prices, including an advance purchase agreement to supply up to 40 million doses to Covax: a UN-sponsored project, and the only one worldwide that aims to facilitate access to vaccines for poor countries.
Meanwhile, vaccines that were initially viewed with apprehension, such as the Russian Sputnik V, are increasingly being used in Latin American countries.
Although Mexico has also acquired the Pfizer vaccine, in a message published on Twitter on the 23rd, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard thanked President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Foreign Minister and the Ambassador in his country “for their support in making possible the arrival of Sputnik V vaccines to our country. Mexico-Russia friendship grows stronger,” he wrote. More than 20 million doses arrived from Moscow, far exceeding the thousands of vaccines from other companies that had arrived until then.
It is known that Sputnik V has also been acquired by Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia and Bolivia. In Peru its acquisition has been recommended and it has been reported that Brazil is planning to buy it, while it was expected to arrive in Chile. Reports state that in Ecuador contacts have been maintained with suppliers.
Meanwhile, reports from the Russian Embassy in Mexico state that the Russian Direct Investment Fund is looking for allies to produce Sputnik V in that Latin American nation.
In the midst of so much selfishness, the purpose could be evidence of humanistic logic. Mexico is the second country in the Americas with the second highest death rate from COVID-19.
But there is no shortage of people who appreciate the growing presence of Sputnik V as an expression of Moscow’s growing influence in the region.
Cooperation is needed
One hundred and eighty nations have endorsed the Covax initiative, which needs the help of rich countries to provide the funds to buy the drug. Ghana became the first country to receive a batch this week.
However, the pace may be very slow. According to officials involved in the initiative, the aim through Covax is to be able to vaccinate just 20 percent of the most vulnerable population in each participating country by the end of this year.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance coalition, a network of organizations including Amnesty International, Oxfam and Global Justice Now, estimates that nearly 70 low-income countries could vaccinate only one in ten citizens.
The response from potential donors is still not registering at the required level. Dr. Tedros explained that vaccines can only be delivered to Covax member countries if rich nations cooperate and honor contracts, referring to commitments made by the United States and the European Union to significantly increase their contribution.
On the other hand, regional solidarity initiatives are trying to help and could be very effective if they were more generalized.
An example of cooperation actions that could help is provided by ALBA-TCP (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and the Peoples’ Trade Agreement), whose Bank announced in December – by the decision of the most recent Summit – the creation of a modest fund of two million dollars as financial relief to member countries that needed to acquire the vaccine and had not concluded negotiations with the supplying companies due to lack of money.
The availability or otherwise of the vaccine by all nations will be absolutely decisive in the planet’s triumph over the pandemic. Faced with COVID-19, we will either all emerge or we will all stagnate.
Feb 18, 2021
By Carlos Alzugaray Treto
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
NOTE FROM EDITOR OF LA TIZZA
At the request of its author and due to the interest that the ideas presented here are of interest to La Tizza, we publish the following text by Carlos Alzugaray Treto, an expanded and revised version of his comments during the round table discussion “Dialogue in Cuba today”, developed in social networks on February 11, 2021.
I thank Julio for the opportunity he has given me to participate in this workshop with the presence of several people I know and others with whom I share for the first time. And I thank him first because I have always been a supporter of dialogue and I have never refused to participate in any dialogue to which I have been summoned, especially if it has to do with Cuba, as in this case. I come in the spirit not only of speaking and sharing my reflections, but, more importantly, of listening.
And, secondly, because it allows me to make known a series of personal reflections with which I have been grappling since November 27 last year, as a result of what happened at the Ministry of Culture that night. As some of you know, I live around the corner from that government institution, so when I say that these issues are close to me, I am not speaking in a metaphorical sense, I am also referring to a physical proximity.
It is clear that I belong to an older generation than the other participants in this workshop. Therefore, my life experience is not the same, which may inevitably lead to different conclusions. When I talk and exchange with the young people of today, I often compare what I had to live and do when I was close to the age of some of the participants here, between 15 and 35 years old (1958-1978), critical moments in the history of our country and its Revolution.
Among the events in which we were actors, participants or witnesses in a vivid way are the Bay of Pigs invasion, the October Crisis, the cultural dialogues of the 1960s – not only Words to the Intellectuals but also something so closely related to art in particular as the cinema debates – , sectarianism, the “Hard Years”, in the words of a collection of short stories by Jesús Díaz, Che’s “Socialism and Man in Cuba”, the Revolutionary Offensive, the magazine Pensamiento Crítico, the Tricontinental, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the internationalist deeds of the Congo and Bolivia, the Padilla case, the Zafra of the 10 Million, the Gray Five-Year Period, the terrorist attacks against civilian targets such as the Cubana flight in Barbados and our Embassies and Consulates, the internationalist epic of Angola. In short, the list is long.
At that time, most of us young people went to the calls of the revolutionary leadership imbued with a spirit of sacrifice and discipline -words of order-, convinced that in this way we were defending national sovereignty, constantly threatened by the United States, and we were building a better future for our country.
There was no lack of dialogue then. There was discussion and debate.
Of course, the way of thinking of today’s young people is somewhat different and I recognize and accept that. I believe that the same patriotism and the same commitment to social justice persist in them, but there are differences. In 2009 I wrote an essay for Temas magazine, entitled “Cuba fifty years later: a meditation on continuity and political change in a new historical moment”. There I argued that an important change was that today’s youth, even the whole society as a whole cannot be mobilized in the same way and that the words of order are others: autonomy and prosperity.
I do not reproach, I simply note that this is the case. You will tell me.
This reflection on what in my view are the two major issues in the national debate or dialogue, how to achieve autonomy and prosperity in these difficult times, also leads me to reflect on the obstacles that stand in the way, and from my point of view the policy of the United States towards Cuba with its two main aspects: economic, commercial and financial blockade; and persistent interference in Cuba’s internal affairs still carries a lot of weight. The latter is not only the governmental action legislated in the Helms-Burton Act, but it has become the center of the political practice of many groups and individuals living in South Florida, who were and are friends or schoolmates and even relatives of those of us who are here. Believe me, something similar happened to us – I personally had a cousin and several school friends who lent themselves to the Playa Giron invasion – .
I know that many will disagree and put in first place actions of the Cuban government as the culprits of our difficulties. And they have a right to think so because they are not wrong, there have been mistakes. But I believe that the evidence is there, particularly during the last few years under the previous US administration which tried, by all means at its disposal, to aggravate all the contradictions and internal tensions to achieve what was proposed in April 1960 in the infamous Mallory Memorandum: “to produce hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the Cuban government”. Even after losing the elections on November 3, that administration continued to sanction Cuba until shortly before the handover of power, and continued to grant funds to stimulate a social outbreak in our country.
So, even though I know that the new administration may change things and return to Obama’s policy, this is something that cannot be forgotten in any dialogue or political action today.
And this argumentation, which I do not ask to be shared, but to be considered, leads me to the main point I want to make in this pronouncement which is at the same time very personal. As it is common knowledge, I was among the signatories of the first document of “Articulación Plebeya”. I did so on Saturday morning, November 28, when it seemed that the dialogue requested after the San Isidro incidents had come to fruition. My purpose was to support that dialogue. Like Fernando Perez, I thought that I was traveling to the future.
I am one of those who think that some of the demands that were presented by the 30 who participated in that early morning meeting, related to Decree Law 349, are legitimate. In fact, if I were the Minister of Culture, I would have asked the President a long time ago to repeal that decree and would have summoned the whole intellectual community to a deliberation exercise to draft together a new one, or several, because, in my opinion, a defect of Law 349 is that it wanted to cover too much and in different fields.
The experience since November 28, and in particular what happened after January 27, reveals a bitterness and intolerance that is regrettable. I believe that, together with efforts to put dialogue on track by sectors in the government, there have been and there are also unacceptable mistakes and practices by others within the government that I respectfully invite to reconsider. But I also perceive that among those who call for dialogue there are behaviors of defiance and confrontation, which do not foster trust and facilitate the work of those who do not want dialogue. I am not going to point the finger at anyone. I am only inviting to reflect.
But the most serious thing for me is the perception that, stimulated by some external actors, they are not seeking an understanding but a protagonism that makes them visible in certain social networks, at a time when the country is facing four much more important challenges that I will enumerate:
1. Confronting the pandemic, in the face of which thousands of young Cubans risk their lives, on a daily basis, trying to save other lives. This is not a slogan, it is a reality and one that forces us to see things with more humility. There is a permanent dialogue between the government and the scientific and health community to find ways to solve this existential challenge. This is a dialogue that can be an example to be imitated.
2. The financial order that implies the transition to an economy with different rules of the game. Millions of Cubans are now struggling with salaries and pensions that are not enough for them, as well as having to wait in long lines. And yet, there are citizens who dialogue with the government, which has modified many policies after listening to them, such as, for example, electricity rates.
3. The expansion of self-employment, late and with many shortcomings, but which has also been the result of a dialogue between the government and the self-employed and economists who, with tenacity and patience, have been insisting on it over the years.
4. The transition from a confrontational relationship to one of understanding for the normalization of relations with the United States. This will not be an easy transition, although it is likely to end in a more favorable climate than the one that has prevailed. Supporters of what Mallory called the “overthrow of the government” in Cuba through hunger, desperation and social outbreak are relentlessly trying to influence the Biden administration to continue applying sanctions and funding these groups in Miami. 2] On this issue, the dialogue must go through something similar to what a group of people from civil society did several days ago with the leadership of the Editorial Board of La Joven Cuba to produce the Open Letter to President Joe Biden, which was published the day before yesterday and which several of us here have signed. This is an example of something that can be done to seek changes and that involves dialogue within civil society.
I think that relations with the United States are a key issue. Because the dialogues in Cuba today are crossed, whether we like it or not, by the problem of the relationship with our neighbor to the North, where close to 2 million Cuban brothers and sisters live.
By the way, a dialogue that has been postponed due to the pandemic but that the government has already expressed its willingness to have, is the dialogue with the emigrants, who are also part of the Nation and whose rights should continue to be expanded if there is a climate of understanding with the government of the country where most of them live.
For these reasons, I asked myself and I ask myself if I can continue to support in all conscience that document that I signed on the morning of November 28, which had the shortcoming, among others, of only touching on this subject in passing.
That document was modified, I was even asked for contributions and I gave them, but I have no longer signed the two new documents produced by Articulación Plebeya. I do not repudiate my signature. It is there. But I have decided to refrain from signing any other document of this Platform. It has seemed to me that for a problem of elementary loyalty to its promoters I should have come here today to say this, among other things.
I end this presentation with the following proposals:
1. Recently Professor Carolina de la Torre proposed in the social networks a truce. I support her. Let’s seek a truce while we deal with at least the first challenge I referred to: the pandemic. If the predictions of our scientists come true, and there is no reason to doubt it, vaccination of the entire nation will begin in the second quarter. Let us give ourselves that time.
Jurgen Habermas has elaborated a whole reflection on deliberative politics. There is a development of this modality of democratic procedure. There is a literature. Studies have been done. It has even been exercised with good results in other countries. The Cuban government has practiced it on occasions, perhaps imperfectly, but with important elements, such as when it submitted to deliberation or popular consultation the Social Security Law, and the guiding documents of its entire policy – Update, Conceptualization, Vision and Strategy 2030, and the Constitution -. Raúl Castro himself acknowledged this procedure when he stated a few years ago that the best decisions come out of the broad and deep discussion of the possible policies to be approved. In Cuba there are experiences of dialogue platforms, such as Último Jueves de Temas, Dialogar Dialogar of the AHS, or the Workshop on Socialism and Democracy of the ICIC “Juan Marinello”. Therefore, it should not be difficult to organize something like this with respect to Decree 349. Submit it to a broad deliberative consultation for which UNEAC and AHS can play a role.
Let us take advantage of the truce to organize it.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for reading! You can find our contents on our Medium site: https://medium.com/@latizzadecuba. Also, on our Twitter (@latizzadecuba), Facebook (@latizzadecuba) and our Telegram channel (@latizadecuba) accounts.
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Notes: All footnotes are after the February 11 discussion.
2] Such is the case, for example, of a letter that has been circulating since Monday 15 and which was published in the journalistic site Cibercuba, with a clearly destabilizing and tendentious orientation. It is self-titled Cuba-US Letter, but it is also known as the Cibercuba Letter and is full of lies and half-truths, all aimed at hindering the process of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States. Those who have signed it are playing into the hands of the policy of regime change with prejudice pursued by the previous U.S. administration. It can be seen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=109941937799814&id=108337137960294
3] I clarify, in case there is any confusion, that the truce proposed by Professor de la Torre and which I fully support in this way is a total truce that should include each of the actors involved in this process, the government, the N27 group, the official national media and the alternative media, both based in Cuba and abroad.
In 2009, Temas magazine published an extended commentary by Dr. Alzugaray entitled Continuity and Change in Cuba at 50. This essay was embedded in the version of THIS essay that appeared on La Tizza. It was also published, in English, in the journal Latin American Perspectives. Dr. Alzugaray has kindly shared the English version which appeared in Latin American Perspectives.
It is available here: https://walterlippmann.com/continuity-and-change-in-cuba-at-50/
Carlos Alzugaray Treto is a professor at the Center for Hemispheric and United States Studies of the University of Havana, a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, and a former ambassador to the European Union.
Translated by Victoria J. Furio
After Fidel Castro’s retirement from his main governmental positions, Cuba finds itself at a crossroads. Two main challenges emerge, one economic and one political. The economic one arises from the need to design a productive system that resolves the imbalance between workers’ salaries and the actual distribution of basic goods and the imbalance between different sectors of society without destroying the revolution’s social achievements. The political one must deal with the creation of a new form of governance and consensus building in the absence of the revolution’s founder and leader. The changes to be introduced require the broadening of democracy. These challenges entail a national deliberation process during the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party that will identify several fundamental issues.
Keywords: Cuba, Socialism, Political change, Democracy, Transition
What must be done at any given moment is whatever that moment requires.
Revolution is a discernment of the historical moment; it means changing everything that needs to be changed.
Fifty years after the successful rebellion against Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship and the start of the transformation process generally referred to as “the Revolution,” Cuba finds itself once again at a momentous crossroads. On the eve of his eightieth birthday, having governed for almost half a century, Fidel Castro temporarily transferred his duties as head of state to his constitutional successor, General Raúl Castro, on July 31, 2006, because of a serious illness. What was originally projected as a difficult and painful recovery process requiring several weeks of absence resulted in a definitive retirement. Some 19 months later, on February 24, 2008, the newly elected Seventh Session of the National Assembly of People’s Power appointed a new government, led up to that point by the interim president. A few weeks later, on April 28, during the Sixth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, in which that organization’s Sixth Congress was officially convened, Raúl Castro (2008b) stated: “The agreements we have approved close the provisional phase initiated with the Commander-in-Chief’s Proclamation on July 31, 2006, and ending on the eve of February 24, 2008 with the message in which he expressed his desire to be only a soldier of ideas.” This has opened an uncharted phase in recent Cuban history in which Fidel Castro has ceased to be the head of state and/or government for the first time since February 1959, when he assumed the role of prime minister, later becoming “Compañero Fidel.” At this writing, however, he retains the position of first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party’s central committee. This historic moment for Cubans raises the prospect of inevitable changes and the associated uncertainty.
THE CROSSROADS: CONTINUITY AND CHANGE
This essay is an attempt to reflect and meditate on continuity and political changes—on the challenges and opportunities of this period and their significance. My intention is not to pontificate or point to inevitable paths. Nor do I wish to propose fixed alternatives, because the issue requires reflection that is open to dialogue, debate, and deliberation. My essay is part of the process—also essential—of contributing from a social science and in particular a political science perspective to the national consultation launched by President Raúl Castro’s speech on July 26, 2007. As Julio Carranza (2008: 147) has put it, “Scientists and scientific institutions have a responsibility for public service, which consists of communicating specialized information and analysis directly to society not as political proposals but as well-founded interpretations that contribute to improving culture and public awareness on a variety of issues.”
The hypothesis that is the essay’s point of departure is that a predictable process of evolution toward new ways of governing Cuban society has begun. It is not what current political science has called a “transition” (giving rise to a whole school of “transitology”), although the need for adjustments, transformations, and changes within continuity may correspond to a broad sense of this notion. Paradoxically, the use of the concept of political and social transition appeared well before the current trend, being used in the Marxist literature to refer to the evolution of socialist society from an initial to a more advanced stage (Marcuse, 1967: 37–54). Today, however, the concept is too “loaded” and presumes “regime change” and, more important, the enthronement of political systems that Atilio Borón (2000: 135–211) has called “democratic capitalism” in societies previously governed by regimes labeled “authoritarian” or “totalitarian.” Cuba’s situation does not fit this description; neither its starting nor its ending point matches those of the political transitions most frequently analyzed in the current literature.
Some writers have insisted on labeling as “transitions” the processes of reestablishing capitalism in former socialist or European “popular” democracies, although it is appropriate to acknowledge that “transitions” has also been used to refer to the replacement of once-dictatorial, right-wing regimes in southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, and Greece) and in Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1970s by governments chosen through so-called free, competitive, and democratic elections (O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead, 1986; Huntington, 1991; Przeworski, 1991; Alcántara, 1995; Linz and Stepan, 1996). In many cases (as in that of Spain) the concept of “transition” has a positive connotation. In Cuba’s case, use of the term could cause additional misunderstanding because it is endorsed by a subversive and antinational project of the University of Miami, financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and in the designation by the United States of a so-called transition coordinator within the interventionist program detailed in the Assistance to a Free Cuba Report adopted by the Bush administration in 2004 and renewed in 2006.
The fact is that Fidel Castro has governed Cuba in a way that for obvious reasons cannot be replicated. Some leadership sectors in Cuba have affirmed on more than one occasion that Fidel’s absence will change nothing, to the point of including in the Constitution the idea that socialism is irrevocable. This is a reaction that can be logically explained by the need to emphasize the continuity of the project begun on January 1, 1959, as a counterweight to attempts to reverse it from the outside, precisely by the superpower that has most interfered in internal Cuban affairs, the United States (Alzugaray, 2007). This caution notwithstanding, it is obvious that changes must be made in politics and governance, although these changes will be a response to an internal dynamic rather than to demands coming from outside as has happened throughout Cuban history. This principled position, for which popular support is evident, was advanced on July 11, 2008, by President Raúl Castro: “I reiterate that we will never make a decision─ not even the smallest one!─on the basis of pressure or blackmail, no matter what its origin, from a powerful country or a continent” (2008c)
These changes are taking place, as they always have in Cuba, in the context of clear continuity, shattering preconceptions. This situation raises questions about the Cuban nation’s likely future in these new extreme circumstances. Calculations and conjectures are appearing, especially outside of Cuba, that are based on what appear to be similar processes in recent history. Once again, Cubans will probably provide their own responses to the current challenges, stamping their own imprint on the future—taking “the road less traveled” as in Robert Frost’s famous poem.
FIDEL CASTRO, THE REVOLUTION, AND THEIR PLACE IN HISTORY
The Cuban Revolution, creator of the political regime currently governing events on the island, was a necessary and original process. The need for it, in historical terms, was born of what could be called the four great national aspirations thwarted since the nineteenth century: sovereignty, social justice, sustainable economic development, and autonomous democratic government. The triumph of the revolution in 1959 was the result of specific internal circumstances and not, as with socialism in Eastern Europe (with the exception of the USSR) of foreign imposition.
After 400 years of Spanish colonial oppression and 60 years of U.S. domination, the Cuban people and its progressive political and social sectors had long demanded a truly free and sovereign nation. The recovery of national self-determination was therefore one of several driving forces—perhaps the leading one—in the process of radical change initiated in 1959. By that time it was clear that the principal obstacle to self-determination and national sovereignty was U.S. imperialism’s hegemonic designs on Cuba (Pérez, 2008).
Another vital demand of Cuban society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was social justice—the country “including everyone and for the good of all” that José Martí demanded. The nation was ill; it suffered from unbearable inequalities and inequities that the ruling oligarchy happily ignored.
Third, the political system created in the shadow of U.S. hegemony had demonstrated not only its total inoperativeness but also a perverse tendency toward venality and corruption. Throughout Cuba’s brief postcolonial and prerevolutionary history, between 1902 and 1959, three dictatorships (those of Gerardo Machado from 1925 to 1933, Fulgencio Batista (behind the scenes) from 1933 to 1940, and Batista again (now openly) from 1952 to 1959, had revealed the total inability of Cuba’s political class to generate a sustainable democratic capitalism. Worse yet, government largely amounted to political dishonesty and immorality. The few administrations produced by elections, rarely free and fair, were known for theft and embezzlement of the public treasury to such an extent that in 1952 the Party of the Cuban People, favored by the popular majority to win the elections derailed by Batista’s March 10, 1952, coup d’état, had a broom as its symbol and the slogan “Shame on Money.” Because of this, one of the unfulfilled demands of Cuban society was for “good government”—responsible, efficient, and honest public administration.
Lastly, and above all at the middle-income and professional levels, there was a need to transform the national economy. Although cold statistics reflected a relatively high economic level compared with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, three factors were worrisome. Cuba was a mono-producing and mono-exporting country whose wealth depended almost exclusively on one item, sugar, and one market, the United States. Martí had warned against such a situation, arguing that “the nation that purchases rules.” The great disparities in income and well-being dissolved any satisfaction over the gross domestic product (GDP), and, as a result of the intimate ties with the neighbor to the north, Cubans did not compare themselves with the rest of the region. Their reference point was the highly sweetened image of the “average American” conveyed to the island by the constant cultural and ideological presence of U.S. consumption models. And, finally, the vulnerability of an underdeveloped economy was a source of constant concern because of its dependence on the fluctuations of the world market, always unstable with regard to sugar and other staples of the developed capitalist world produced in what we now call the Global South.
The outstanding political success of Fidel Castro during his 47 years of governance was precisely his ability to lead the nation toward achieving these four historical aims. While not all of these demands have been met in optimal form and degree, there is no question but that Cuba’s situation today reflects a radical change from that of 1958. There is also no doubt that this change took place in the direction desired by the populace and its political vanguards despite the obstacles placed in its way, especially the constant hostility of its powerful neighbor, the United States, whose policy of “regime change” toward Cuba is almost a half a century old.
To illustrate this point, a lengthy citation of the Cuban-American Harvard University professor Jorge Domínguez (2008), a source hardly considered a supporter of socialism or of the prevailing model on the island, may be worthwhile:
“To honor another honors ourselves”: a noble quote from José Martí that entered the Cuban cultural vocabulary more than a century ago. Let us honor Fidel Castro, then, as we observe the twilight of his life, not only those who supported him, but also those, like me, who did not. He was the one who transformed a people into a nation, who decisively modernized the society, who best understood that Cubans wanted to be “people”, not just appendages of the United States. He was the one who understood that its hypochondriac population needed more doctors and nurses per square centimeter than any other on the face of the earth. He was the architect of a policy of investment in human capital, which transformed Cuban children into the Olympic champions of Latin American education and which, therefore, allows us to envision a better future for Cuba. He designed a policy that allowed Cubans of all racial characteristics to have access to public health, to education, to the dignity that belongs to every human being, to the right to think that I, my children, and my grandchildren, whatever the color of their skin, deserve the same respect and opportunities as everyone else. He was not the one who invented the idea that women had equal rights in society but was a promoter of gender equality in citizen endeavors.
He was the author of a gesture that humanity is thankful for: to have risked the blood of his soldiers for the noble cause that powerfully contributed to preventing the racist South African apartheid regime from expanding into Angola. It is also he who deserves recognition for contributing to ending apartheid in South Africa, to the independence of Namibia, and to defending the independence of Angola. The day that Fidel dies, the flags of those African countries should be lowered in national mourning.
It is highly improbable and indeed implausible that the Cuban people and its leadership would voluntarily and consciously abandon and renounce the achievements of these 50 years. Nevertheless, Fidel Castro’s successors face serious challenges in reproducing the system without him. The reversibility of the Cuban revolutionary process as a result of internal mistakes and not from outside pressure was dramatically presented by Fidel Castro himself in his speech to the university of November 17, 2005 (F. Castro, 2005; Guanche, 2007).
Among the strengths of the Cuban political regime in its current structure is, first of all, its high degree of internal and external legitimacy. Externally, this legitimacy stems from the well-known Cuban activism in the international arena and the broad network of foreign relations that has allowed the country to head the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations twice and to achieve a series of successes in the United Nations General Assembly on a resolution condemning and calling for an end to the U.S. blockade of Cuba. Having neutralized the policy of international and diplomatic isolation of Cuba begun by the Eisenhower administration and continued through the recent Bush administration has been one of the most important victories of the Cuban revolutionary leadership.
Internally, in addition to the majority recognition of what have been called the “conquests of the revolution,” legitimacy is conferred by an institutional framework upheld by two basic pillars: the Communist Party of Cuba and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias—FAR). It is a very common error in foreign spheres, especially among political scientists and analysts, to assume that the Cuban Communist Party is copied from similar ones in the Eastern European socialist countries. Despite the fact that the party’s leadership has committed widely acknowledged and/or rectified errors and that some methods and work styles—such as excessive centralism—bear the mark of their origins in the Soviet political model persist, in reality the Cuban revolutionary leadership has concerned itself, among other things, with two central aspects: the role as political vanguard of the activists who must be and have been at the forefront of any sociopolitical initiative and the struggle against any instance of corruption in its ranks. The honesty, simplicity, and sacrifice promoted by Che Guevara and not the privileges and benefits of a nomenklatura, as in the USSR and Eastern Europe during the socialist years, have been the paradigm of Cuban Communist behavior.
The influence of the provincial party leadership is also significant, as it is the most important sector of governance at the local and regional levels, in close coordination with the bodies of People’s Power (the provincial and municipal assemblies). Although this system generally functions satisfactorily, the contradiction must be pointed out that at the provincial and municipal levels, much more so than at the central level, the party openly and unapologetically plays a hegemonic role. At those levels, the first secretary of the local party committee is undoubtedly the most important political figure in the area, even formally assuming the presidency of the defense councils, the highest government bodies in cases of natural disaster or war. At the central level, however, it is much clearer because of the overlap of the positions of president/vice president with those of first/second secretary of the party.
Nevertheless— and this is an important challenge— we are still far from achieving a truly democratic culture. As Aurelio Alonso (2007) has pointed out, “The Leninist proposition of ‘democratic centralism,’ as a formula for proletarian power, has ended up establishing the centralist line for decisions and the democratic one for support when its merit would lie in all centralized action’s being subject to what is decided democratically.” In too many leaders there seems to be a common perception that the only purpose of debate is to convince the population that the course of action designed by the higher authorities at any given time is the only truly revolutionary one. “Bold attempts at analysis outside official discourse are stigmatized as immature, naïve, gullible, or simply provocative” (Fernández, 2007). According to the political discourse of many leadership cadres, those who dare to do so “are not adequately informed,” but the required information is unavailable because “disseminating it might be useful to the enemy.” Sometimes the paternalistic reproach is heard that anyone who disagrees or dissents is “naïve.”
In addition, Cuba has lacked a real culture of debate, dialogue and deliberation. Jesús Arencibia Lorenzo (2007) has identified seven “bricks” that obstruct the path toward truly productive deliberation within the national project: fear of risk, the siege syndrome, monopoly on information, unintelligible ambiguities, extreme puritanism, comprehensive planning, and the language of tasks.
Lastly, the need to defend the conquests of the revolution from imperialism’s increasing aggressiveness and the practices of property nationalization and centralization of the decision-making process over the years have led to what Mayra Espina (20070) has called the “hypernationalization” of social relations: “centralization, verticalism, paternalism/authoritarianism, distributive homogenization with insufficient sensitivity in dealing with the diversity of needs and heterogeneous interests (of groups, territories, localities, etc.).” On occasion one perceives a transformation of the relation between average citizens and those officials, also ordinary citizens, who hold some position in the state apparatus. These bureaucrats act more like bosses giving instructions on what can or cannot be done and enjoying that role, than like persons at the service of the people and subordinate to them. As early as 1963 Raúl Roa identified bureaucracy as “one of socialism’s worst stumbling blocks” (1964: 590).
NEED FOR ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CHANGE
In the absence of Fidel Castro’s power to mobilize and to build consensus, the need for a mind-set of respect for dialogue, debate, and deliberation will increase. It will entail strengthening real collective participation and the construction of what could be a democracy that is both participatory and deliberative. Some form of debate was not completely absent in the past, but it was always subject to the ultimate authority of Fidel Castro, who frequently circumvented it in order to create a consensus that often became unanimity.
It is impossible to discuss alternative democratic models here. Most of the left has contrasted “participatory democracy” with the traditional “representative democracy” typical of capitalism and its political institutions. The latter was closely associated with the idea of “procedural democracy” first presented by Schumpeter (1954) in his classic Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, with the addition of the requirement of deliberation and the idea that citizens should not only participate in making or implementing political decisions but also contribute to their design through a rational and informed dialogue about the possible options.
The concept of deliberative democracy has been the object of significant debates in contemporary political science. The promoters of this idea (Gutmann and Thompson, 2004: 3) have emphasized that in essence, it means the need to justify the decisions made by citizens and their representatives. It is expected that both will justify the laws to be enforced. In a democracy the leaders must therefore explain their decisions and respond to the points raised by citizens as retorts. But not all matters require deliberation all the time. Deliberative democracy opens up space for other forms of decision-making (including negotiations and agreements between groups and secret operations ordered by executives), as long as these forms are justified at some point by a deliberative process. Its primary and most important characteristic, therefore, is the requirement that explanations be given.
The FAR and its important sister institution the Interior Ministry (responsible for the country’s internal security but closely linked in its origin and composition to the Rebel Army, predecessor of the FAR), constitute the most effective and prestigious of the institutions created by the country’s historical leadership. Their popular origin, continual involvement in people’s problems, historic contribution to the country’s defense and the liberation of other peoples, and economic pragmatism, demonstrated by the introduction of “business perfection” into their industries, allow them to enjoy the trust of broad sectors of the population. The upper echelons of the armed services have amassed a tradition of heroism, pragmatism, reliability, and professionalism not often seen in Latin America and the Caribbean or in the world.
Cohesion between these two institutions, which must be constantly nourished, will depend on the prevailing tendencies in other important leaderships in Cuban society. On the one hand we have the important business sector, composed in part of high-level FAR officers but also of a young generation of economists and administrators. One might presume that there is a desire in this sector to maintain consensus, but within it we find demands for the flexibilization of economic policy also present in the upper-echelon military although for different reasons. Among the former, it arises from concerns about administrative effectiveness; among the latter, it is also due to the need to maintain social stability. It is not a question of establishing a market economy but rather one of adopting initiatives that grant more autonomy to administrators, as set forth in the business- perfection program begun in the military-industrial sector. The ultimate goal is to stimulate production and develop the productive forces. It also has to do with creating more opportunities for individual initiative, a concern dating to the reforms that lifted the country out of the Special Period in the mid-1990s. These demands have begun to be expressed publicly in several recent scientific works (Monreal, 2008; Sánchez Egozcue and Triana, 2008; Everleny, 2008).
Traditionally, youth, especially students, have had a central role in Cuban politics. Almost all of the high-level leaders in the country were members of and had their first schooling in public participation in the Federación Estudiantil Universitaria (University Student Federation—FEU). In recent years, this organization, along with the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (Union of Communist Youth), has been among the pillars of the social programs promoted by Fidel Castro. Its role in the transformation period, which will inevitably affect Cuban society despite growing demands for greater leadership opportunities, will have to take the policies articulated by the other leaderships into account. The difficulties of this process are not lost on the various social actors, as Carlos Lage Codorniú, former FEU president, noted in a symposium sponsored by the magazine Temas: “It is not about lack of communication, but there are many new ideas that must be allowed to be expressed. And ultimately, it is we young people who are responsible for this shortcoming. In order to strengthen the weight of the young generation we must push, be more visible. Some sectors have recognized the need for young people to take part, but others still have great reservations” (Hernández and Pañellas, 2007: 160).
The organizations that serve the working class and campesinos will tend to seek new positions within the structure. Under Raúl Castro they will foreseeably be afforded more leadership precisely because of the need to develop a new national consensus. Such is the case of the recently initiated process of granting lands in usufruct with a view to increasing food production, in which the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (National Association of Small Farmers—ANAP) has been playing an important role. (Granma, July 18, 2008; Lacey, 2008). For its part, the growing role of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (Federation of Cuban Workers—CTC) was demonstrated by the year-long national consultation on the new social security law that preceded its approval by the National Assembly in its final session of that year (Valdés Mesa, 2008). While there is no doubt that this process provided the opportunity for broad debate, the unanimous adoption by the Assembly was not a true reflection of the divergent opinions that existed.
Lastly, the Cuban intelligentsia, recently affected by the memory of the “gray quinquennium” (the phase in which the USSR’s cultural policy of the early 1970s was copied), will seek greater levels of autonomy and freedom while defending its commitment to the core objectives of Cuban society. This was evident in the recent congress of the Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (Union of Cuban Writers and Artists—UNEAC), which was an important example of deliberative democracy and of opening spaces for dialogue and public debate.
The most important internal challenge that the leadership initially headed by Raúl Castro will face will be to resolve the increasing demand for salaries and legal income that are sufficient to permit all Cubans to cover their most important daily necessities. As a result of the crisis of the 1990s and the economic policies adopted, two significant equilibriums prevailing until 1989 were shattered. One was the balance between people’s incomes and the prices of basic goods, in some cases rationed and in others subsidized by the state budget. The disappearance of the mutually advantageous relations with the Soviet Union and the socialist camp knocked this plan out the window.
The other equilibrium that unraveled during the Special Period was the one existing among the various sectors of the population. Although Cuba abandoned its egalitarian policies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a healthy tendency not to allow excessive inequality persisted. With the reforms introduced in 1993–1994, this balance disappeared; inequities arose that were the more unbearable because of the previous disparities between salaries and their purchasing power and the fact that many of these disparities were the result of illegal and corrupt practices.
Most Cubans aspire to maintain current levels of social security but would like to see Marx’s formula “from each according to his ability and to each according to his work” applied. This precept is not being fulfilled today. Although it is very difficult to determine the degree of national agreement on the issue, it can be said that Cubans, while maintaining an essentially socialist economy, would like to see more opportunities for prosperity, even at the cost of privatizing certain sectors.
This, of course, is nothing new. In 1973, during his speech on the twentieth anniversary of the July 26, 1953, assault on the Moncada garrison, Fidel Castro underlined it. After pointing out the need to “valiantly rectify” the “errors of idealism that we may have committed in handling the economy,” he stressed that communism “can only be the fruit of a communist education of the new generations and the development of the productive forces.” He continuted: “We are in the socialist phase of the revolution, in which, because of the material realities and level of culture and consciousness of a society that has recently emerged from capitalist society, the appropriate means of distribution is the one proposed by Marx in his “Critique of the Gotha Program”: from each according to his ability, to each according to his work!” (F. Castro, 1973). In his July 26 speech 35 years later (2008d), President Raúl Castro called this statement “fundamental”: “This speech, in addition to being a solid analysis of the past and present at the time, constitutes an accurate and precise appraisal of the harsh realities ahead and the means to deal with them.”
The situation described has led many Cubans to supplement their salaries with illegal activities in the so-called informal sector of the economy. This and none other is the root of the growing corruption at the lower and middle levels of business and services. The Cuban leaders have only recently understood that this is the most serious threat to the sustainability of the Cuban project, as Fidel Castro himself acknowledged in his speech to the university of November 17, 2005 (F.Castro, 2005). Nevertheless, despite some salary increases and other measures, the impression is that government responses are insufficient. The ideological consequences of the persistence and expansion of this phenomenon are the system’s greatest weakness.
This weakness is now intensifying. First of all, for the third consecutive year a GDP growth rate of more than 10 percent has been announced, creating even higher expectations, as yet unfulfilled, regarding personal prosperity for each individual. Second, Fidel Castro’s foreign policy involves increasing Cuban involvement in South-South cooperation, especially in the health sector, with repercussions at various levels. For example, in the medical arena there is a perception that domestic attention is being sacrificed in favor of international solidarity. Third, Cuba’s principal strategic allies in this phase, China, Venezuela, and Vietnam, albeit under different conditions, are implementing economic policies that provide more opportunity for individual initiative in achieving personal well-being.
In sum, in order to understand the need to deal with corruption and lawlessness and to preserve the revolution, we should recall an admonition of José Martí: “Being good is the only way to be fortunate. Being learned is the only way to be free. But, most often in human nature, one must be prosperous to be good” (1991 : 289).
The events of the past two-plus years since Fidel Castro’s illness and convalescence show that modest but solid changes are occurring in politics and in the search for solutions to the above-mentioned challenges. It is not just that Raúl Castro prefers to stress collective leadership rather than Fidel Castro’s high level of public and discursive leadership. Rather, as Cuba’s highest official, he has been developing and promoting a series of policies that go to the heart of the problems being faced by the country.
A smooth succession has been possible despite U.S. efforts to derail it for a number of reasons. The first and most important of these is, of course, the level of support and consensus that exists in Cuba around Fidel Castro and the strategic objectives of the revolution he has led. The second is the painstaking preparation displayed by the president to achieve it. This should dispel any doubts about the sustainability of the Cuban Revolution beyond Fidel Castro and his companions, the “historical leadership.” But there is another factor worth noting. The way in which this transfer of power took place, in which Raúl Castro established his own style and his own priorities with Fidel Castro still alive, indicates complete identification between them within diversity. We can surmise that there is a mutual recognition and acceptance of the respective roles they must play. While the first was the visionary who founded and designed the policies for creating an independent and sovereign Cuba, the second has been the guardian who has faithfully fulfilled his role as what he once called the “protector of the rearguard.” At the same time, by knowing when to withdraw and let his successor take the necessary measures based on his own nature, style, and tendencies, Fidel Castro has guaranteed the continuity of the project under the new conditions and the success of his heir in being what he must be, the transitional figure who will facilitate the transformation of politics and governance in Cuba.
The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in October 2009 should produce the identification and consolidation of some of the economic and political changes that will guarantee the process of transition within continuity toward more polished and successful forms of structuring Cuban society. They have been delineated in Raúl Castro’s major pronouncements throughout these two and a half years but are subject to the deliberation process convened by the party’s leadership. As the Cuban president has said, the congress “will be a magnificent opportunity to meditate collectively on the experiences in power during these years of revolution and an important moment to design the policies of the party in the various realms of our society, looking toward the future” (R. Castro, 2008b).
In these speeches and statements by Raúl Castro, the high priority given to the principal economic challenge, which also becomes a political one, is very clear: improving the living standard of the population through an increase in production and services. In 2008, after being elected president of the Councils of State and Ministers, he reaffirmed the following concepts in two key declarations— his speech upon assuming office on February 24 and his pronouncement during the First Session of the Seventh Legislature on July 11:
I reiterate that the country’s priority will be to satisfy the basic necessities of the population, both material and spiritual, through sustained improvement of the national economy and its productive base, without which, I again repeat, development would be impossible. . . .
Today it is a strategic objective to advance in a coherent, firm, and well-planned way so that salaries will recover their role and that people’s living standards will be in direct relation to their legal income—to the importance and the amount of the work that they contribute to society. (2008a)
Workers’ feeling of ownership of the means of production does not depend merely on theoretical explanations—we have been providing them for some 48 years—or the consideration of their opinions on labor matters. It is very important that their incomes match their personal contributions and the fulfillment by their work centers of the social objectives for which they were created—meeting the established levels of production or provision of services. . . . Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income. Equality is not egalitarianism. Ultimately, it is also a form of exploitation: of the good worker by the one who is not or, worse yet, by the slacker. (2008c)
Achieving these cardinal objectives implies a series of challenges of a practical and theoretical nature, with debates of great importance to the left at their core. On December 28, 2007, referring to the need to increase agricultural production, the president stressed: “We have made progress in studies and will continue to proceed as rapidly as circumstances permit, to have the land and resources in the hands of those who are able to produce efficiently, that they may feel supported and socially recognized and receive the material compensation they deserve” (2007b).
Previously, in his first major speech of 2007, delivered on July 26 in Camagüey, the then-interim chief of state, referring to the imperative increase in economic outputs in agriculture, stated: “To achieve this goal, we must introduce the structural and conceptual changes that may be necessary.” The central theme was “working with a critical and creative sense, without paralysis or preconceptions,” making it necessary “to question everything we do in order to do it better, to transform ideas and methods that were once appropriate but have now been superseded by life itself” (R. Castro, 2007a). Quite logically, these ideas have been implemented first in the agricultural sector, but they will likely also be applied to other productive and service sectors.
These proposals inevitably raise the question about what definitions the Party Congress will adopt regarding several classic debates within socialism: centralization vs. democratization, moral stimuli vs. material stimuli, reform vs. orthodoxy, development of the productive forces vs. development of a socialist consciousness. Also on the table will be the issue of the forms of ownership that will be adopted in the Cuban development model.
Finally, like it or not, there will also be discussion of the relevance of the development model adopted by the Chinese Communist Party to the future of the Cuban process, keeping in mind the criticisms being made by the left but also the visible results in development of their productive forces. As recently as November 17, 2008, the newspaper Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, published an article entitled “China Continues to Show the Validity of Socialism” in which that country’s economic successes were highlighted and Fidel Castro was quoted as saying that “China has objectively become the most promising hope and the best example for all Third World countries” (Sánchez Serra, 2008).
It is not hard to see that in terms of territory, population, economic and social importance, historical traditions, and cultural identity, the differences between Cuba and China are so great that it would be impossible to copy of the Asian giant’s development model exactly. Nevertheless, to achieve the objectives proposed by Raúl Castro, several aspects of the reform processes introduced in China are extremely important for Cuba. Among these are prioritization of the development of the productive forces as a principal means of achieving socialist goals; adoption of the principle that socialism is built according to the specific characteristics of each country and emphasis on results in the development of economic policy, in line with Deng Xiaoping’s “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white; what matters is that it catch mice”; recognition and use of monetary-commercial relations through the “socialist market economy” formula; and, finally, the constant review of the means and forms adopted for making the essential adjustments arising from the changes in social contexts and the unintended outcomes that all courses of action entail (Díaz Vázquez and Regalado, 2007; Bregolat, 2008).
Applying these practical principles, the Chinese leadership has managed to lift some 300–500 million people out of poverty and in a relatively short time to create a middle class estimated at 180–200 million that has given the country significant social stability. It is true that these achievements have not been free of negative aspects, but we must acknowledge, first of all, that there is no perfect society and, secondly, that the Chinese Communist Party leaders themselves are the first to admit these difficulties. Accepting the principle that everything should be repeatedly reviewed, as Raúl Castro is proposing, the Asian country’s leaders are in a position to introduce whatever rectifying policies may be needed at any time.
Another important element in the economic policy decisions tentatively made by the Cuban Communist Party leadership on the basis of President Raúl Castro’s major proposals is the one related to the United States’ economic, commercial, and financial blockade. Denouncing the pernicious and aggressive nature of the goals of this policy, the chief of state announced in July 2007: “We must all join the daily battle against the errors that increase the objective difficulties derived from external causes, especially those provoked by the U.S. economic blockade, which truly constitutes a relentless war against our people. The current administration of that country has fiercely sought to hurt us in even the slightest ways” (R. Castro, 2007a) In February 2008 he outlined this idea in the following terms (2008a):
We are conscious of the enormous efforts required to strengthen the economy, an indispensable condition for progress in any realm of society, due to the real war being waged by the government of the United States against our country. Its intention has been the same since the triumph of the revolution: to make our people suffer as much as possible until it desists from the determination to be free. The reality is that, far from intimidating us, it should make us stronger. Instead of using it as an excuse for our mistakes, it should spur us to produce more and provide better service, to work to find the mechanisms and means to eliminate any obstacles to the development of the productive forces and take advantage of the important potential represented by savings and the proper organization of labor.
In addition to containing a central element for achieving Cuba’s economic development, the notion that this could be attained under the severe economic, commercial, and financial blockade by the United States contains within it the seed of what could be called the benefit of economic invulnerability. This has particular importance when the changes occurring in this neighboring country with the inauguration of President Barack Obama could signify a change in the policy whose scope is hard to predict. To be able to affirm that the blockade, while damaging, cannot stand in the way of the country’s prosperity as a whole and of its citizens individually would take away from any administration in Washington what it has always considered a fundamental instrument of pressure and a key bargaining chip.
On a strictly political level, what has characterized President Raúl Castro’s major pronouncements has been the continual call to deepen democracy and dialogue, debate, and deliberation as irreplaceable tools for creating the consensus necessary for clarifying and advancing national policy, beginning with his speech on July 26, 2007, in Camagüey: “We should not fear discrepancies in a society like ours, which by its nature does not contain antagonistic contradictions because the social classes composing it are not like that. The best solutions come out of the intensive exchange of diverging opinions if it is guided by sound intentions and handled responsibly” (R. Castro, 2008a).
In his view, not even a proposal manipulated by imperialism’s propaganda machine should be excluded from consideration: “We are not going to refuse to listen to anyone’s honest opinion, which is so useful and necessary, because of the ridiculous ruckus it kicks up every time a citizen of our country says something to which those making the scene would not pay the slightest attention if they heard it anywhere else on the planet” (R. Castro, 2007b).
He thus invited every citizen to discuss even the issue of socialism and the ways of constructing it. In February 2008 he recalled that in his speech to the university Fidel had made the following self-criticism: “One conclusion that I have reached after many years: of the many errors we have all committed, the most significant mistake was to believe that anyone knew anything about socialism or that anyone knew how to build socialism” (Guanche, 2006: 42). He presented the matter to the National Assembly in the following terms (2008a):
Are we constructing socialism? Because to be truthful, I’m also saying that, besides these problems that we are studying in the new social security law, we’re not working much; we’re working less. That’s a situation you will find in every corner of the country. Excuse the bluntness of my words, you don’t have to agree with them. I am conveying these ideas first of all to make you think—not just you, compañera and compañero representatives, but all Cubans, the whole country. Some are personal estimations that should not be interpreted as unalterable. They are issues that we have the obligation to study and debate, deeply and objectively, as the only way to discover the most appropriate formulas for moving forward with the revolution and socialism.
This invitation to disagree even with his own proposals was reiterated in a striking way when he referred to the controversy aroused by the draft social security law (2008c):
Some viewpoints gathered regarding the social security bill demonstrate that it is necessary to continue informing people on this strategically important matter. The process of study and consultation with the workers that will begin next September, prior to the approval of the law by the National Assembly in December, will help clear up all the questions and provide an opportunity for the expression of opinions. Whether or not they agree with the majority’s view, all will be listened to attentively as we have been doing with the proposals resulting from reflection on the speech of last July 26. We do not aspire to unanimity, which usually is a fiction, on this or any other issue.
In his reflection on the need for ever more democratic processes during his inaugural speech as president, he did not exclude the party: “If the people are firmly united around a single party, it must be more democratic than any other, and along with it society as a whole, which of course, like any human work, can be perfected. But without a doubt, it is just and all its members have the opportunity to express their views and, even more important, work to realize what we agree on in each case” (R. Castro, 2008a). Shortly before that, in December 2007, in summarizing the conclusions of the national deliberation process around his July 26 speech that year, he had emphasized the need for all party or government leaders to stimulate the broadest debate and consultation among their subordinates (2007b):
This process ratifies something fundamental: anyone who occupies a leadership post must know how to listen and create a favorable environment for others to express themselves with complete freedom. This is something that must be fully incorporated, along with guidance, criticism, and timely disciplinary action, into the work style of every leader. Our people receive information from many sources. We are working to perfect them and eliminate the harmful tendency toward triumphalism and complacency in order to guarantee that all those who have political or administrative responsibilities systematically report what they should with realism, in a transparent, critical, and self-critical way.
Another issue that has received special emphasis in Raúl Castro’s speeches and statements since taking on the top leadership of the country is the institutionalization and efficiency of government bodies. This is a particularly important matter because of the discomfort created by bureaucracy, inefficiency, and corruption. In this vein, he has requested and obtained from the National Assembly authorization to modify the structure of the central government (2008a):
Today we need a more compact and functional structure, with fewer central administrative government bodies and a better distribution of the functions they perform. In sum, we must make the management of our government more efficient. . . . Institutionalism, let me repeat the term: institutionalism, is an important mainstay of this decisive proposal and one of the pillars of invulnerability of the revolution in the political realm, which is why we must constantly work to perfect it. We should never think that what we’ve done is perfect. Our democracy is participatory as are few others, but we must realize that the operation of the state and government institutions has not yet reached the degree of effectiveness rightfully demanded by our people. This is an issue that we should all think about.
These assertions on the importance of the institutions and their effectiveness (which is an essential part of their legitimacy) stand in contrast to a fairly widespread view that the best way to fight bureaucracy is to subvert the institutions and replace them with more informal mechanisms for making and implementing decisions. The truth is that undermining the institutions inevitably leads to the loss of legitimacy of the entire system. This would suggest that the correct policy would be to oblige those who direct and participate in institutions to act within the law and with accountability.
An element that has not been dealt with sufficiently in public, although it has been debated in more private and semipublic forums, is that of the role of social sciences in the process of debate and deliberation. There has even been a proposal to hold a national social science conference. In keeping with the call for dialogue that characterizes the president’s discourse, there is a need to stimulate more and better empirical studies of the social situation and to cause Cuban social scientists, whose international prestige is significant, to participate in popular consultation on their professions and specialties. Two initiatives would seem to be key: to convene the proposed conference and to give free rein to the creation of national associations of sociologists and political scientists similar to those already forming in other branches of science as well as among economists and historians. At the same time, there is a need for the stimulus of an autonomous social science committed to the development of its organic task.
The written press should play an important role. Cuba must be among the few countries where daily opinion pages hardly exist. As Carlos Lage (2008) pointed out during the UNEAC Congress, we have “a press that does not reflect our reality as we would like it to.”
Cuba finds itself at a crossroads at which changes must be made within continuity. These changes have already begun and are reflected in measures and declarations by the new administration led by Raúl Castro. They will inevitably mean a transformation of Cuban society, both economically and politically. The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party will be obliged to give a definitive response to the collection of problems afflicting the country. This is not a matter of denying the achievements made under the leadership of Fidel Castro but rather one of making the necessary adjustments and transformations. The next party congress will have to make decisions on key issues reflected in the following questions:
clearly identified as socialism? We must resolve the discrepancies between the different forms of ownership, between centralization and decentralization, between moral and material stimuli, between the development of the productive forces and the development of a revolutionary consciousness. What the history of Cuba and other models has demonstrated is that hypercentralization, underestimation of the laws of the market, inappropriate handling of the relationship between the different forms of stimuli, and underrating the efficiency and development of the productive forces lead to dead ends and are not conducive to the formation of “the new man.” While there are clear dangers in the unrestricted use of market mechanisms, to ignore people’s need for progress and prosperity, collectively and individually, is not a solution to the problem. As Martí would say, “one must be prosperous to be good.”
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Castro Ruz, Raúl 2007a “Trabajar con sentido crítico y creador, sin anquilosamiento ni esquematismos: speech delivered by the First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, in the main ceremony marking the fifty-fourth anniversary of the assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons, in the Mayor General Ignacio Agramonte Loynaz Plaza de la Revolución in the city of Camagüey, July 26, 2007, Año 49 de la Revolución.” http://granma.co.cu/secciones/raul26/index.html.
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2008b “Continuar perfeccionado la labor del Partido y su autoridad ante las masas”: intervention of the Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party at the close of the Sixth Plenum of the Central Committee of the PCC, held in the Palacio de la Revolución, Havana, April 28, 2008, Año 50 de la Revolución.” Granma, April 29. http://granma.co.cu/
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February 21, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
The family of Malcolm X released a letter written by a deceased officer claiming that the New York Police Department and the FBI were involved in the assassination of the famed African-American activist.
Malcolm X was an influential speaker who rose to prominence as one of the prominent voices of Nation of Islam, an African-American Muslim group that supported black racial separatism. He spent more than a decade with the group before distancing himself and finally cutting ties in 1964.
Shortly thereafter, he moderated some of his initial comments on the benefits of racial separation.
He was assassinated in New York’s Audubon Ballroom as he prepared to deliver a speech. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of shooting him to death.
The letter released at a press conference Saturday was attributed to former undercover NYPD officer Raymond Wood. His cousin Reggie Wood accompanied one of Malcolm X’s daughters at a press conference at the site where the Audubon Ballroom once stood to present the document.
Raymond Wood’s letter said he had been pressured by his NYPD supervisors to manipulate two members of Malcolm X’s security detail into committing crimes that resulted in their arrest just days before the fatal shooting.
Those arrests prevented the two men from taking over guarding the entrance to the event hall and were part of the conspiracy between the NYPD and FBI to assassinate Malcolm X, according to the letter.
“At the direction of my bosses, I was told to encourage leaders and members of civil rights groups to commit crimes,” Wood’s letter said.
Some historians and scholars have argued that the wrong men were convicted. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said last year that he would review the convictions in the case.
After Saturday’s press conference, Vance’s office issued a statement saying that “the review of this matter is active and ongoing.”
The NYPD said in a separate statement that it “has provided all available records relevant to this case to the district attorney” and “remains committed to assisting with that review in any way.” The FBI declined to comment on the matter.
Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, said she had always lived with uncertainty about the circumstances of her father’s death.
“Any evidence that provides further insight into the truth behind that terrible tragedy should be thoroughly investigated,” she told the news conference.
(With information from Reuters)
Why there will be no socialism (for now) in the United States
By Dr. Salvador Capote
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Please see the translator’s explanation below. Thanks.
The incoherence within the two major parties of the United States has never been greater than in these times. Roughly speaking, the Republican Party is divided between Trumpists, with their far-right extremism, and conservatives who follow the traditions of the “Grand Old Party” (GOP), while in the Democratic Party a left-wing has been strengthened whose most conspicuous figure is its independent ally, Senator Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden represents the mainstream, while Bernie Sanders represents the left of the political spectrum.
Translator’s comment: The author is someone I’ve never met. He is a Cuban-American living in Bentonville, Arkansas, according to his Facebook profile. He posts short and pithy interpretive essays on Facebook and Radio Miami TV. He has lived in the United States for a very long time (but just how long I cannot say because I do not know), but he always has something sensible and thought-provoking to say. Those who are wondering, after all the years of social support cutbacks and racist repression, why there is STILL no broad-based left-wing political opposition here in the United States, will, I think, find a lot here in Dr. Capote’s explanation to reflect upon.
By Posted on 31 July, 2016 – 17:00 by Raiza Arango Medina
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
Breastfeeding is the first act of love given by a mother; moreover, it goes beyond the emotional connection established between her and her child.
It is scientifically proven that breast milk is the only food that children require for the first six months of life. “Any other type of drink, including water, would increase the risk of diarrhea or other illnesses. Exclusive breastfeeding is therefore the baby’s first immunization; there are no alternative formulas for its protection at the beginning of life,” said Dr. Roberto Álvarez Fumero, head of the Maternal and Infant Department of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP).
It is necessary to reiterate to Cuban women and their families the advantages of this universal and scientifically proven nutritional practice. Unfortunately, this ideal means of protection is not being used in an exceptional way up to six months of age by 70% of women, said Dr. Fumero.
In this sense, World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) is dedicated to promoting this practice as the optimal mode of nutrition in infancy. Its privileged use is based on the fact that human milk is composed of 88% water, a characteristic that facilitates the filtering function developed by the kidneys, so that the baby does not need to be rehydrated with any other liquid other than what the mother can offer.
A method of salvation
“Exclusive breastfeeding also means food security for children, because it can reduce hunger, malnutrition and obesity,” says the World Health Organization (WHO) in its campaign to promote this experience. In Cuba, actions are prioritized so that the whole society understands the goodness and countless benefits of this custom, which is an essential factor to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in terms of health, explained the MINSAP specialist.
Earlier this year, the scientific journal The Lancet published a series of research studies, which show that increasing breastfeeding could save more than 820,000 children a year, nine out of 10 of them in the first months of life.
Fumero warned that infectious diseases are re-emerging in the world and there are others that -although our country has been able to control the hygienic-sanitary conditions that predispose them- continue to exist.
Its benefits for both parties are undeniable: it facilitates the development of the child’s intellect and protects it from possible chronic non-transmissible diseases; in women, it reduces the risk of hypertension, breast and ovarian cancer, postpartum depression, osteoporosis, and reduces weight gained during pregnancy.
The mother will help her health after childbirth with three balanced meals a day and two snacks; a nutritious formula sufficient to provide energy to the nursing mother.
According to studies, the amount of milk has nothing to do with the ingestion of beer or any other type of beverage perpetuated for generations as a stimulant to better flow the first food we receive in this world.
Similarly, Alvarez Fumero argued that investing in breastfeeding has a significant impact on the health of women and children and on the economies of families.
A guarantee from the start
Despite the persistence and vigilance on the part of MINSAP, Dr. Fumero stressed that Cuban mothers have to overcome a group of myths that unfortunately is passed on to several generations and more and more women are looking for a pretext not to breastfeed.
According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by the Ministry of Public Health between February and September 2014, only 33% of Cuban children received exclusive breastfeeding up to six months.
Regarding the issue, the scientist stressed that we cannot tolerate any excuse to stop breastfeeding when scientifically there is none that prevents it.
“This figure has a lot to do with cultural patterns in families that can be changed with the support of everyone, mainly family doctors, community organizations and the media,” Anna Lucia D’Emilio, representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund, once told the press.
For this reason, it is still a challenge to continue increasing actions to promote and encourage breastfeeding in Cuba, and this need is reflected in the MICS surveys, which indicate that 96.2 % of children born in the last two years have breastfed at some time. This percentage was 98% in 2011, according to these surveys.
According to the 2014 results, 48 % of infants breastfed within the first hour of birth, a figure that is also decreasing compared to the 77 % recorded in 2011.
Cuban medical institutions advise starting breastfeeding within the first hour after giving birth, breastfeeding exclusively during the first six months and continuing breastfeeding for two years or more.
The specialist concluded that guaranteeing optimal breastfeeding practices requires the support of the family and especially of the couple, who should share the mother’s sleepless nights and collaborate in every way. In addition, he added, it has been associated with long-term social behavior, which is more often adequate in those children who received exclusive breastfeeding.
By supporting and promoting breastfeeding, the nation complies with article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that infants should enjoy the highest level of health.
In this sense, the specialist underlined the importance of having Human Milk Banks (BLH) in the country. These are currently located in eight provinces: Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Las Tunas, Granma, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo.
It is essential to emphasize that the BLHs are attended by mothers with their partners as it is part of the responsible motherhood that is intended to be transmitted in the country. At the end of 2015 in Cuba, 3 thousand 19 mothers became donors, and thanks to this, 738 liters of milk were collected, which benefited 1 thousand 285 newborns.
This August 4, bank number nine will be inaugurated at the Camilo Cienfuegos hospital in Sancti Spíritus, with the aim of helping in the survival of newborns, especially those born with congenital malformations and those who present malnutrition in the first stage of life.
About the author
Raiza Arango Medina
Graduated in Journalism at the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana in 2014. Since then she has been dedicated to writing and research on social issues, aging and population dynamics. She is also one of the main editors of the Health page, specializing in topics related to health, science and technology. She has attended several postgraduate courses at the Center for Psychological and Sociological Research and at the International Institute of Journalism, related to the study of Cuban society.
By Rachel Pereda Punales
August 7, 2019
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Breast milk is the best food an infant can receive. It satisfies all the vital needs of the newborn, while also benefiting mothers.
“Breastfeeding is a social process and everyone must be involved. When the father, the family and the community intervene, the results will be better and represent a guarantee of health,” said pediatrician Pablo Carlos Roque.
The Coordinator of the National Breastfeeding Commission of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) said that “in Cuba we have the opportunity for successful breastfeeding, but many parents do not take advantage of it. The family’s own lifestyles sometimes hinder responsible breastfeeding”.
For the pediatrician who also holds a Master’s Degree in Comprehensive Child Care, old feeding patterns ingrained in Cuban society are also incorporated into the baby. “Some people think that it is correct to start feeding the newborn at 15 days of age and then give him juices and other complementary foods,” he said.
“Favorable views still continue around cow’s milk and many think that the child will be stronger if he/she drinks it. That mistake is still present today. The best milk is mother’s milk and it marks a person for life,” he added.
According to the doctor, cow’s milk can cause diseases and many imbalances in the long term. “Our country is affected by ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, myocardial cerebral infarctions and all this has to do with early feeding”.
In this context, the specialist assured that breastfeeding is related to social inclusion and to the role played by the father from the moment of birth.
As an objective, the Island seeks to promote the early initiation of breastfeeding -in the first hour of life-, achieving the accompaniment of the father and his equal participation in parenting issues.
Similarly, there are other barriers to an optimal procedure, and among them prevails the lack of support for mothers, fathers and families at work.
Maternity leave in Cuba is at the level of the most advanced countries, but on many occasions, women are unaware of their rights as workers and the laws that protect them in the important work of caring for the new member of society, the pediatrician stressed.
The protection of breastfeeding and support to promote more flexible and family-friendly workplaces is also the responsibility of the workplace as part of this joint process.
“Not only maternity leave, but also paternity or parental leave, are important tools to stimulate adequate breastfeeding in the best conditions,” added Roque Peña.
The specialist also mentioned the importance of milk banks, a new experience for Cuba. “A mother who is able to donate raises her child better, will give it more time to breastfeed, and will have more milk in her breasts”.
In this scenario, the campaign ‘Empoderémonos, ¡Hagamos posible la lactancia materna!’ [Let’s empower ourselves, let’s make breastfeeding possible!] invites to reflect and act so that families assume this healthier lifestyle in all senses.
Breastfeeding, as a challenge, requires teamwork, a collective effort, an alliance that supports the couple in the difficult and surprising journey of parenthood.
Taken from Prensa Latina
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
On the same day that the declarations of Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama were made public, announcing a path towards normalization between the United States and the uncomfortable neighbor located 90 miles from the Florida peninsula, the website Diario de Cuba published false news about the [supposed] sinking, by the Cuban government, of a ship in the bay of Matanzas.
Dozens of people who were emigrating to the U.S. were supposed to have died. In the midst of the announcement made by both presidents, the main information of that day, the “news” of Diario de Cuba passed without pain or glory to the history of falsehoods fabricated by a publication that, since its origin, has received several million dollars from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for propaganda against the Cuban government.
The NED’s web page contains these figures, and the most recent one, published there, establishes the allocation for 2019 at $600,000. The nefarious role of the NED is not communist propaganda, even the not at all leftist newspaper The New York Times has established its condition as a screen for the CIA and its involvement in the financing of coups d’état in dozens of countries.
When Trump won the elections for the U.S. presidency in November 2016, Diario de Cuba was among the media that disseminated a video where several Cuban “opponents” show their euphoria for that “resounding victory”. Their words are eloquent:
(Trump) The man we need to get out of this whole situation (in Cuba).
We dragged all the communists with us.
In Cuba, almost all the people who suffer the consequences of the regime are happy (with Trump’s victory).
Women have suffered a lot during these two years of the reestablishment of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Obama, you are finally leaving.
It was very frustrating to see how the Obama administration was allowing the regime to gain space and leave the Cuban people and their demands aside.
We cannot do it alone (decide Cuba’s fate).
President Obama’s legacy regarding Cuba is not positive.
With the election of Trump, hopes are reborn in those who had lost them.
(With) the arrival of Trump to the White House we can rescue that ally we always had in the struggle for freedom in Cuba.
There is a magnificent juncture for all democratic actors in the region to have a unique triumph, which is to finally and totally overthrow the military dictatorship of the Castro brothers.
Now we have to work with those political actors who are thinking about a real democratization of Cuba.
Mario Díaz Balart, Carlos Curbelo, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros, kisses, I love you all, gentlemen.
Congratulations from the bottom of my heart, and I say it with total joy, to the Cuban-American congressmen who are doing so much for the freedom of the Cuban people, I love you, I love you all so that you know and continue as you are going.
Such a background of the media, represented by one who wielded a cell phone in the face of the head of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, is a thing of no importance. Together with the correspondent, is shouting in his support someone who, against what he calls “pacification”. He has published in his social networks the need for a more economic blockade and a military intervention against Cuba. This is something that should not fail to be taken into account, because, more important is the way in which the Minister prevented the one paid by the NED from fulfilling his task: to weaken the Cuban position in any process of changing U.S. policy towards Havana, something Diario de Cuba has not ceased to advocate.
Those who say that a minister does not act like that in other countries are right. True: it is the police who “dialogues” -with clubs and water jets- against anyone who protests. Ultimately, it would be an escort who would undiplomatically put an end to any object unexpectedly placed in front of authority.
What would happen if the provocateur is paid by an agency historically associated with the efforts of a foreign government to change the current order in that country? One does not have to be very imaginative to imagine it, especially when every year journalists are murdered in double digits in the “democracies” around us.
That the libertarian correspondent insults, with all the repertoire of foul words in the Spanish language, the Minister that the private media system financed from abroad against Cuba has tried to lynch in the media, is not important either, much less if we take into account that, for this type of behavior, more than one rapper was sentenced to jail where Diario de Cuba has its headquarters: democratic Spain.
It is not very original either. The authorship of the insults belongs to another person who, in the 2016 video we mentioned before, was happy about the triumph of Trump and the anti-Cuban congressmen in Florida, exhibiting the emblem of the mercenary brigade 2506, defeated in Playa Girón, and requesting a tough hand with Cuba, precisely the one who expressed the tolerant phrase “We dragged all the communists”.
The correspondent of another media paid from the United States (ADN Cuba) acknowledges having received between $150 and $200 dollars for reporting from the Ministry of Culture on January 27, another unimportant thing.
This is who defends the model of free, democratic and independent press that Cuba must implement, nothing more: the yellow journalism that puts the superfluous in the foreground and hides the essential. Why be its unwitting victims, or worse, its accomplices, when what is really being demanded is not freedom of expression, but freedom for insults and lies turned into a business with foreign money?
August 5, 2015
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
More than 600 liters of breast milk have been collected since the opening four years ago of the Mother’s Milk Bank of the Doctor Agostinho Neto General Teaching Hospital, the only one of its kind in the province, which have been distributed among hundreds of Guantanamo’s children, mainly those admitted for low birth weight.
“Since last April, the collection was put into practice in the communities of the provincial capital, thanks to which there are currently about 125 donors, and only in July 15 newborns benefited from this important food,” said nurse Ada Lidia Leyva Crespo, head of this Bank.
Precisely because of the importance of exclusive feeding of newborns up to six months of age with this milk, the World Breastfeeding Week is being celebrated from August 1 to 7, which includes talks in the health areas, projection of audiovisual materials, dissemination campaigns, among other activities.
During the first six months of life, breast milk is the ideal food for children, since it provides all the nutritional substances necessary for healthy growth and protects them from infectious diseases, allergies, anemia and malnutrition; it also contributes to brain development, so it is not advisable to include other foods during this period.
Breastfeeding also helps to reduce bleeding after childbirth, to lose the fat acquired during pregnancy, prevents ovarian and breast cancer, and provides emotional satisfaction to the mother.
By Maribel Acosta Damas, Cuban journalist, specialized in Television. She is a professor at the Faculty of Journalism of the University of Havana and holds a Ph.D. in Communication Sciences.
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Lucía Topolansky is the most voted senator in Uruguay. She was vice president of the Republic between September 2017 and February 2020, the first Uruguayan woman in that responsibility.
It is a symbol of the country, and not a fashion star. Guerrilla who was imprisoned, who escaped and was imprisoned again until the end of the dictatorship; tireless social fighter until today, empowered woman in the Frente Amplio government, companion in struggle and life since her youth of former Uruguayan president Pepe Mujica. Lucia is a simple woman, with straight words, a warm voice, an impressive chronological and affective memory; of life anecdotes, and plans, dreams and actions in her 76 years …
I met her years ago in Uruguay. Now the challenge was to interview her on WhatsApp. The dialogue flowed between the Havana neighborhood of La Víbora and La Chacra de Montevideo. Communications were excellent! A kind of plan A, B and C, as we are trained in Cuba, they gave us several copies of the recording, just in case … My son, a young music student put together a whole tech racket… he was still excited! And when the phone rang, she was on the other end of the line with her invariable River Plata accent:
Lucia Topolansky-. Hi, how are you?
Maribel Acosta Damas-. How are you Lucia?
LT-. Very good. Here we are working a little at home, because as I am 76 years old, I still cannot participate myself to all the legislative activity.
MAD-. And is he in good health?
LT-. My health is perfect, what I try is to avoid getting infected with the pandemic …
MAD-. And how is Pepe?
LT-. El Pepe is phenomenal! The problem that he has, apart from his 86 years, is that he cannot be vaccinated due to a previous disease that he had, so those of us around us have to take great care not to infect him because he has no chance, even with the vaccine, and on the other hand, the vaccine will take a while to arrive …
MAD-. And how do you feel on the farm, are you very bored, because you are used to active social life?
LT-. No, I never get bored at home because I live in the rural area of Montevideo …
MAD-. … I was there with you in 2005…
LT-. Ah good!!! We here always have things to do. Now we have planted tomatoes, corn, sunflowers, we have chickens … There is always something to do here … The one who gets bored is because he is very clumsy … And later, with the computer, I work in the Parliament’s committees remotely, I do everything I can do with all those new zoom mechanisms that now exist and that … and I am following reality and we do some meetings in my house because we do them outdoors and from a distance, a few companions, but political activity is missed. We are now in the opposition and there are no demonstrations in the street, there is nothing. So it’s very, very difficult to keep up.
MAD-. And how are they handling the Covid issue in Uruguay?
LT-. From the health point of view, we have been quite good because our government left the current government with a very solid integrated national health system, which in Latin America is the one that invested the most in health with 9.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. That with a good computer platform that allowed telemedicine, helped a lot. We are also a country with little population.
Our biggest problem is the border with Brazil, which is where part of the pandemic and the people who came from abroad have come from. At the end of the year festivities, we had an increase in infections and now we are here in summer, that made the numbers of infections rise…
And what happened to the health system is that it lost the epidemiological thread. Now they are trying to take it up again and waiting to see if the world will deign to sell us a vaccine.That’s the reality. Derived from this, our biggest problem is not health, it is economic because there were many people who lost their jobs.
MAD-. In the midst of this complex scenario, you nominated Cuban doctors for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. How was this process?
LT-. We knew about the Cuban doctors program when it started. It caught our attention. We followed up. We saw what had happened in many African countries, in Pakistan and in other parts of the world. When in 2005 we won the government in Uruguay, the first delegation of Cuban doctors came here and there we met them live and direct. We met several delegations and they helped us to install an eye hospital because in Uruguay there is a quite aging population and one of the problems we have is cataracts. So the cataract operation was still not being done in Uruguay.
We were beginning to carry out health reform in the country; And the private ones charged a ridiculous amount, for each lens, for each operation! Then in an old hospital there was, the cataract operation was reformed and installed. The collaboration of the Cubans made it possible to perform almost 100,000 cataract operations and that was a marvel for the people who were practically blind, who had not met their grandson who had been born. That operation was called Operation Miracle. At the beginning, the operated ones traveled to Cuba but later the operation was done here, personnel were trained and that hospital is going very well.
MAD-. Does that hospital still exist providing ophthalmic services?
LT-. Yes, it still exists. The doubt we have now is that the opposition won the elections in 2019 and they do not have any sympathy for that service. We are going to fight for its defense, especially with the Retirees Association … And resuming the link with Cuban doctors, in our government, after Operation Milagro [Miracle], came the collaboration in prosthetics, uppers and lowers.
That was also wonderful because the possibility of being able to walk with a prosthetic leg changes people’s lives. Then we saw that this solidarity was a generous solidarity, because we were not in an extreme catastrophe as Pakistan could have been at the time with the earthquake, but it allowed us not only to set up these undertakings but also to train people and above all to solve the problem at a large number of Uruguayans. That for us is unforgettable!
And when we found out that he was in this process for the Nobel, we did not hesitate! What’s more, Pepe told me that he also wanted to join, what happens is due to a matter of paperwork, he did not reach the formal part of the application but he did start talking about the issue and also supports that I know about that award. The greatest importance of that award is symbolic.
It is for the world to recognize that there may be people who collaborate out of solidarity, out of vocation. We also saw everything that Cuban doctors did in Brazil during Dilma Rousseff’s term and how in those remote places of the deepest Brazil, where there is no medicine, doctors appeared who began to care for people. It was like night and day! Unfortunately, The current government of Brazil backed down with that program, but I think that when solidarity is so generous there is no doubt that it deserves the Nobel.
MAD-. You have visited Cuba several times, right?
LT-. Yes. I have been to Cuba about three times. I got to know Cuba in 2000. It was a difficult year. I was delighted because despite all the economic difficulties with this criminal blockade of more than 60 years, people were moving forward. Then I came back two more times and got to meet Fidel.
MAD-. How did you meet Fidel?
LT-. One of the times we went, Pepe was President of Uruguay. Fidel was already ill and we went to his house and he gave us a class on how to make sheep’s yogurt and the experiments he was doing. And the truth is that it was a pleasure to hear it. I had seen Fidel up close twice. In 1959 I was in the 3rd year of the Liceo and there were floods in Uruguay. The Cuban Revolution was just beginning and Fidel came to Uruguay; and with the one who was later the President of the Broad Front, General Líber Seregni,
Fidel toured all the places of the floods and later participated in a political act in the town square. I was a girl from the Liceo and I went to listen to him because at that time we did not really know what the process of the Cuban Revolution was like. Many years later, in 1985, when the dictatorship was no longer in Uruguay and Dr. Julio María Sanguinetti ruled, he invited Fidel to come and I saw him for the second time but I had never had the opportunity to speak to him until I met him in Havana. It is one of those experiences that I had that you keep for the rest of your life.
MAD-. You have always been a defender of popular causes, of the paths of the poor, your link with the city of Montevideo and its causes … and the question always assails me, how does a woman of a bourgeois origin like yours have given herself to social justice causes?
LT-. Look … when I was at the Liceo, I started going with a social worker to do social work in the peripheral neighborhoods of Montevideo, which were very poor areas, especially of people who in those years emigrated from the countryside to the city in search of Job opportunities. And there I realized that there were several Uruguay with people with different conditions. Then I got to know the world of cane cutters, which was one of the most exploited sectors in the country. And so I realized that there were other realities that not everyone was talking about and that were not headlines.
Those years were in turn of the rise of what was called the Church of the Third World, there were some in Uruguay of that line of work and we discussed a lot and there one began to become politicized, I was linked at the student level. We fought to make the bus ticket accessible to students and in this way I was getting closer to the political struggle.
What happened is that Uruguay until the end of the Korean War in the 1950s was quite good economically because the war favored commercial exchange prices and as the Colorado Party, ruling in that period, had a strong social democratic imprint, there was a certain margin of well-being and a series of interesting laws had been voted in favor of the workers such as the one known as the Law of the chair, so that people would not be standing for a long time in the workplace.
Women had won the right to vote, the right to divorce of their own free will for the woman; and this meant that Uruguay had a sui generis situation in the Latin American context. But with the end of the war that ended, here came the crisis, which later generated the dictatorship. In those years there was a lot of struggle … The economic deterioration hit the people a lot and we joined that struggle. In 1964 Uruguay had done something remarkable: the People’s Congress, where it brought together trade unionists, students, academics, small and medium merchants, small and medium producers; to all progressive people.
The discussion was, is there a possible Uruguay where we can live better? So we worked a government program. As a consequence of this, the unity of the Central Obrera was achieved in a single center, which was an enormous advance in the struggle. Afterward, the Broad Front was created. In other words, we found a formula to bring together all the forces of the left that allowed us to enter the government in 2004. We have just completed 50 years of that coalition and we hope to celebrate another 50 and more. This is how we were able to reach the government and generate changes in Uruguay, and it was within the framework of those changes that we were able to generate the programs with the support of Cuban doctors.
MAD-. Hasn’t so many years of struggle brought you frustrations or regrets?
LT-. Ayyyyy !!!! In fighting what you have to know is that when you fall you have to get up. The only fight that is lost is the one that is abandoned. We have that slogan and we have no intention of abandoning the fight because there is still a mountain of inequalities and equality is something that seems increasingly questioned in this world; the concentration of wealth in the world hits on equality and the rights of the people.
MAD- It’s true… I ask you then, do you consider yourself a feminist? He also defends the causes of women …
LT-. Look, there are tons of definitions of all kinds about feminism. I believe that what we should never forget is the class struggle. It is not just about women coming to government, political and leadership responsibilities. In some countries they put quota laws and others. However, there are women who will always be excluded due to a question of social class. So for me they are two struggles that go hand in hand; the class struggle and the feminist struggle. Not all definitions of feminism carry both components. I think we must rescue a bit of a manifesto from the French Revolution, The Manifesto of Equals, which says: “Equal even under the roof of the home”, speaking of men and women. I go for that concept.
MAD-. And has it been like this for you at home with Pepe Mujica?
LT-. Jijiji… Yes. I have been lucky in my life in that section, but we still see many situations of domestic violence in the world. Now with the confinement due to the pandemic, more have appeared. There is still trafficking in women and girls, sexual abuse … that happens and in Uruguay too. Although in Uruguay we advanced early in many aspects – in 1910 the woman in Uruguay voted and for some years the termination of pregnancy was approved – we must always be vigilant and it does not only go through the quotas of parliamentary representation … I fight there for times with my gender colleagues …
MAD-. Lucia, why didn’t you have children?
LT-. Because I was always running in life! Hehehehehe !!!!! I was very young the first time I fell prey, I escaped; later I fell prey again and spent almost 13 years in jail and then the times of life led me to other paths. I dedicated myself to the militancy but that situation did not shock me. One makes choices in life and I embraced a cause that to this day I consider fair, I have continued with it with successes and errors and I think it is worth it. That was my life option.
MAD-. Speaking of options… what is your assessment of Cuba? How do you look at it?
LT-. I look at Cuba from many angles: José Martí represented Uruguay as Consul between 1884 and 1892, when he lived in the United States; to tell you a historical fact. When I was about 10 years old I had the opportunity to meet the Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso. She danced at that time, before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, with the New York Ballet and they came to Uruguay. The tickets were very expensive but my grandmother decided that the three female granddaughters had to see that because it was wonderful. Then she got the tickets and told us, almost threatened us: “You guys take a good look at how that lady dances because you’re not going to see anything better in the world!”
And I still have those images in my memory to this day! That was a tremendous contact with Cuba! Then there was a Cuban exile in Uruguay named Juana Callorda, She was a nurse and at night she took care of my other grandmother who was very old, and at night we would go to talk to her and she would tell us about Cuba, who Fulgencio Batista was and she told us a lot of things … Those were the indirect approaches that I was having … I am also an inveterate reader of Alejo Carpentier, that wonderful writer … and then I started reading about Cuba and I read the history of Cuba.
And when Fidel starred in the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, I found out because they talked about it here … but of course, it was a quite distant world for me in those years! And after 1959 that world came closer because it was in those years that I met Fidel and then in 1963 at the Meeting of the Alliance for Progress in Punta del Este in Uruguay, Che Guevara came to Cuba. He later came to Montevideo and gave a talk in the Paraninfo of the University. The presenter of that talk was Salvador Allende and I was there.
We did not imagine that those two people; who presented Che and Che, were going to star in such important events in the history of Latin America! A Committee to support the Cuban Revolution was created. I was active there. I remember that we made a collection to buy a tractor and send a tractor to Cuba. I was following the process, reading, finding out about things … but it was almost just that I had the opportunity to get to know Cuba. I have always had that bond, I think it is a beautiful people, tremendously cultured, that has had to suffer more than 60 years of blockade… It is incredible because one reads things and cannot believe it !!!I know Nueva Trova and I would have liked to meet Haydée Santamaría … Cuba is a very valuable people that has been very cornered … One always hopes that it will end sometime …
MAD-. Do you think that the Cuban medical contingent Henry Reeve will receive the Nobel Peace Prize? Will they give it to them?
LT-. I would not know how to answer it because I do not know the composition of the Nobel committee well, but they would have to give it to them because I do not know another group of doctors from any other country that has had their attitude. I do not know. There are Médecins Sans Frontières organizations and others that are tremendously respectable, but I have never seen this deployment… If there is something left over for Cuba, it is doctors!
But that obsession with education and health in Cuba brought these results. And they also had the generosity of not keeping it at the borders, they spread it out to the world, even in countries far away from the island. I recently read an account of some Argentine doctors who met Cuban doctors in Africa when they went to fight Ebola, when no one wanted to get close … In those years when Pepe and I met Fidel, He was worried about the impact of Zika in Africa… Look, all the things that happen can be debatable for and against, but hitting Cuba for the solidarity of medicine is impossible. If I were the Nobel tribunal, I would have no doubts about the award for Cuban doctors!
MAD-. In general in these times of pandemic we have had more time to think. You, who have been more at home, who have surely had more time to analyze your reality, how do you reevaluate your political project, now in the opposition?
LT-. I still believe in my political project. Of course, many times the historical circumstances change and one adjusts the forms but the essences are the same. As long as there is inequality in the world, as long as there are so many people without eating and so much food wasted in the world, as long as there is a painfully long list of injustices; one cannot sit idly by. That is why I believe in my people and in my struggle.
MAD-. In these times of pandemic, the words solidarity and generosity seem to have been redefined. What do you think?
LT-. May the world learn from this shock! I think that from this shock we have to learn the meaning of solidarity and that there are things that cannot be commodities such as health and that we must respect nature. But I do not know if we will be up to reading the teachings of this time because the interests are incredibly powerful and with the networks, fake news etc … people get confused with colored balloons …
MAD-. How do you perceive the Latin American situation today?
LT-. The situation in Latin America is difficult but I never lose hope. I hope that the Chileans who are in the process of drawing up a new constitution, will finally put an end to everything that Pinochet left behind, and can move forward and make fundamental reforms that improve the living conditions of their people. I do not know what will happen in Peru, it is a waste country. Now we are expectant with Ecuador. I wish the best to the new Bolivian president Luis Arce and also to the Argentines who are struggling with a terrible economic heritage.
Let’s hope that the Brazilian people realize that this gentleman they have as president is not recommended. I think we are fighting and I believe in the ability of Latin Americans to fight. What hurts me the most is that we have not managed to maintain integration organizations; integrate, fight together. I believe in the great homeland, in the dream of the liberators! In America everyone is on their own and it would seem that we are angry with each other. It hurts me. The role of the OAS has been a disaster, UNASUR undid it. Let’s hope CELAC can survive. I have more questions than answers. These are the challenges we have.
MAD-. Do you know that Cuba has four vaccine candidates finishing their clinical trials and the Cuban government as well as the island’s scientific community have declared their willingness to put these vaccines at the service of the whole world, especially Latin America?
LT-. I knew they had a project called Soberana [Soveign]. I got some information on that. Unbelievably I got it through the BBC. I learned that test agreements were made with Iran. What I thought about that is that both Argentina and Mexico have vaccine production capacities and both are friendly governments of Cuba. After the investigations are done, large-scale productions are necessary. We in Uruguay have a significant number of scientists who have been working. We do not have the capacity to produce vaccines because the laboratories have closed them. Our scientists gave information about what Cuba was doing, what happens is that there is a lot of censorship at the level of the information world …
MAD-. We can send you information about Cuban vaccines. There is a lot of public information about this …
LT-. Yes. We are interested in having direct information on the countries. Knowing how far you have advanced because if there is something really important it is the exchange between scientists.
MAD-. I admire your work as a senator at this time … the work in the opposition must be very difficult when you have been a government for so long …
LT-. When I entered Parliament I was in the opposition. I worked for 5 years as an opposition in Parliament. After I worked the 15 years in our government and now I am back on this journey. Our fundamental role is to control that we do not go backwards in what we have advanced, to be able to put the needs of the people in the resonance box, which is Parliament. Now we are presenting fifteen laws that have to do with social projection, because they talk a lot about the fiscal deficit but they do not talk about the social deficit.
Also, we are collecting signatures against a very nefarious law that had the votes to approve it and we are working to see if we can repeal it through the referendum mechanism. I have fought in many different circumstances, this is one more. This opposition situation hit the younger people more because there were comrades who were 10 or 15 years old when the Broad Front won and they don’t know any other government than ours. That has been rough for them, but for those of us who are old and have many scars in our history, we know with which oxen we have to plow … hahahahahahaha …
MAD-. How is your day and Pepe’s there on the farm in times of Covid?
LT-. Well, we have many agricultural activities, what’s more, we have collaborated with the popular pots, because there are neighborhoods where it was necessary to organize soup kitchens and popular pots. So you have to help supply them because the government provides very little, and with products from our farm and from our neighbors we always bring a pumpkin, vegetables, tomatoes, eggs … also that is a motivation that one has … And we also do the work for internet and reading, studying …
We don’t waste time here … We also have three advantages: We do not have economic distress like many people who have had to go through this pandemic; second, here we have space and life. It’s not a tiny apartment where you’re locked up, is it ?! And besides, we have many years in prison, so we know what it is to be locked up !!! Hahahahahahaha !!!!!!Wherever you look at it, we have an advantage !!!
MAD-. Don’t you and Pepe fight with so much time together?
LT-. No, not at all, quite the opposite !!!! Hahahahahahaha… !!! We talk a lot… In the morning, Uruguayans drink mate, so that is a good time for conversation because mate makes sense when one takes it shared and on the road. Now inside the house there are no problems but when you go out they ask you not to share it because of the risk of contagion. That has been something hard for the Uruguayan and part of a culture and a feeling.
Pepe and I get up early because we like the morning, the most beautiful time, less hot … And in the morning when Pepe and I drink mate, we talk a lot and then when we close the day we also talk … My house, along the entire trajectory of Pepe and me, it is a house where many people come. Now we have to regulate it a bit … some come to consult something, others to talk, others to take a photo … to the point that I call our house the Oracle of Delphi hahahahahahaha … despite the pandemic that has not stopped although there are fewer people who come from abroad, because normally everyone who comes to Uruguay passes through our house…
MAD-. What is the first thing you will do when the pandemic ends and you can go out?
LT-. To fully integrate myself into my parliamentary work as a first duty, and then continue with that plan of mobilizations, we have to hold a congress of our Broad Front … There are many things ahead !!!!!
MAD-. Do you think Pepe can give me an interview too?
LT-. Yes. We can combine it. There are no problems. We combine it and it is done. Sometimes during the day he has several conversations. The other day he was speaking with the President of Mexico. And then we try to make an agenda. This phone I’m talking about is from the companero who supports us. It’s like a seven jobs because he runs errands for us, if we have to fix something at home he helps us hahahahahahaha… everything… you fix it with him who takes the agenda to Pepe… and that’s it !!!
MAD-. Thank you Lucia, for such a beautiful afternoon …
LT-. I want to give a hug to you and in your name, to all the Cuban people … do not let up, the fight pays and for Latin America we hope that better times will come!
(Taken from Cuba in summary )