The So-Called “San Isidro” case
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
I believe that what is happening there is a consequence of not having taken care of four fundamental issues in time:
1- The marginal conditions of some of our neighborhoods in Havana.
2-The lack of attention or delay in recognizing and using the Social Sciences.
3- In spite of Fidel’s early warning, having neglected, for a long time, the racial question.
4-Some deficiencies in our political-ideological work.
On the last three points, I have warned enough.
But as a result of my warnings, I was never called to the Round Table, and when the faces of its protagonists appear, mine is never there. In spite of having been, individually, among those who have attended the Round Table the most.
None of those who used to publish me now publish me. They have not called me anymore to Cuban Television. Luckily TELESUR gave me a job.
I have also written many works on the racial question, three books and dozens of articles, always warning about the role that the Social Sciences should play and about the importance of ideological work. I am sure you have read some of them. In them, I have had to fight many battles, so that they do not accuse me of being a racist, accept my criticisms as necessary and do not believe that because I have traveled a lot to the United States, I have brought these things from there. Of which I have been accused more than a few times. Racism and discrimination were not brought by anyone, from anywhere. They are here, because they were born, with us, as a nation. And from here we will eliminate them someday. For the glory of all Cubans. We are already working on it within a Governmental Commission, presided over by Miguel Diaz Canel, President of the Republic.
We have slums, which I know very well, because I have visited them, so that no one can tell me about them. And, in addition, because when I had to come from my town, to Havana, in October 1958, I lived, beyond the triumph of the Revolution, in the Jesus Maria neighborhood, in Vives Street No. 258 between Alambique and San Nicolas. I know the neighborhood very well, because I participated in the La Coubre, joined the Young Rebels there and worked in the Provincial Directorate of 26th of July, which was on Arroyo and 27th.
In those neighborhoods, the standard of living is very low, it always was. They are plagued by delinquents, prostitutes, and poor people, who live on the day-to-day things they can get. It does not mean that all their neighbors are prostitutes, antisocial and delinquents.
Many decent and revolutionary people also live there. But this is the environment that has always tended to dominate. In general, social relations, forms of behavior and mentality are still far removed from what is reflected in our journalistic, radio and television media. The state of the houses, the streets, the material conditions, do not contribute to generating a healthy social environment. As a result, many families struggle to move to other neighborhoods and the worst remains in the neighborhood.
Thus, attitudes, forms of behavior, colloquial language, philosophy of life are generated, all of which are very different from the environment in which most of us live and develop.
In general, there are no reading habits, interest in studying is very low, the sense of intellectual and cultural improvement is also very low. Access to the University is very limited.
Most of them are interested in earning money, or rather in having it, even if they do not seek it by lawful and moral means. Therefore, whoever offers them money, buys not a few, with relative ease, even if it is to carry out antisocial activities, and sometimes even counterrevolutionary activities.
Excessive drinking is very common among the type of person who live in this neighborhood. Rather, not a few of them are interested in partying and getting drunk. As a result, the vast majority of them, within the environment in which they live, are not interested in standing out for the positive, but for the negative, which not a few exacerbate. In their dress, their speech, their behavior, the way they behave socially, the way they treat women.
So then, the people, let’s call them normal, who live there, suffer a kind of cornering. That forces them to move away, so as not to suffer the negative consequences of being forced to live under such conditions.
The environment in which they live, tends to generate an ethic of permissibility, before any crime. A similar type of behavior is the treatment that women generally receive. Women often react in the same way, with a tendency to associate with these types of men, who some consider more “macho”. Generally, this type of woman, when receiving from the man any cultured attention, respectful treatment or delicacy, confuse them with homosexuality, as a lazy and effeminate type. This serves to fuel rude and disrespectful behavior, with a tendency to brutality towards them. Without realizing, sometimes, that they themselves contribute to the worse treatment they are subjected to. So then, feminism, the struggle for equality and recognition of women’s status, does not have much space among many of them.
They despise the laws, those who apply them, the police, in particular, they hate them and do not deserve any respect. They see them as their enemies and never as agents of order or guardians of good morals. For this reason, the tendency is not to inform on anyone, regardless of the crime they may have committed. This is considered as an act of “snitching”, lack of manhood, which many consider should be punished, even with a beating or death. Revenge is a typical phenomenon of social behavior.
They were not born this way, but, not infrequently, the example they receive at home, is forming them in this way; because, not infrequently, the same parents, inoculate them with customs, forms of behavior, values, ethics, inverse to those that the average of the society demands of them. From here also, sometimes, developed their behavior regarding education, respect to teachers, authority and government institutions.
In their eyes, the ideological work that is done is looked down upon, the work of the UJC seems to them as elitist and that of the rest of the organizations do not manage to attract them to good manners.
Fidel was very concerned about this, when he spoke several times about the racial question and generated the “Social Workers”, in view of the reality of the number of young people who neither studied nor worked. It was said that there were about 80,000 in the province of Havana. I also oriented to make investigations to know what was happening with the children in these neighborhoods. If the mothers had enough money to buy food for them, if the children had a television set and toys, etc. Trying to alleviate a social situation that could already be considered critical.
But all this remained in Fidel’s good intentions and the work that was being done was not continued. We were coming from a situation in which prostitution, drugs and these social problems were not considered to have a place in our society. But Fidel perceived them clearly from the beginning and oriented work toward them.
Today then, these neighborhoods are affected by delinquency, drugs, people without ideology, the unclassed, the marginalized, to whom we have already arrived too late. The consequences are manifesting themselves.
In these neighborhoods, in general, the revolution has not been able to reproduce itself and the counterrevolution, which has always stalked them, does not find it very difficult to attract them. If we add to this, the Pandemic and the difficult economic conditions we are going through today, I would say that we are in the most complex situation to address their problems. Although I am sure we are going to do it. Because our social policy and the interest that “no one is left helpless” are real. And they are being reinforced within the current economic policy.
They would not have been counterrevolutionaries, in their immense majority, but we, with our inattention and deficient political-ideological work, have been giving them away to the counterrevolution. Perhaps, without realizing it. So, if the revolution had managed to work more strongly against inequalities, the racial question, marginality, invisibilization; if our television and our media in general, had always been more visible of the differences, had debated more our problems, of things about which we are only beginning to talk about now, it would have been less difficult to fight against that environment and rescue its victims from the problems that now afflict them. And that the counterrevolution takes advantage of.
But we concentrate on the advances, neglecting the fact that not all of us have arrived in the same way to the current Cuban society and those have been left behind. Being the majority, blacks and mestizos, unfortunately, poor in general. They are the ones who were more directly affected by the “starting points”, farther away from the social and cultural welfare that the revolution, from the beginning, has lavished on many.
San Isidro is not the only neighborhood in Havana with these inequalities, marginalities and social disadvantages that have degenerated into the counterrevolutionary attitudes of a few.
There are other neighborhoods. And not only in the Capital.
What should we do now?
I believe that we should pay attention, with urgency, to the following issues:
1- We must pay attention to the material needs of those neighborhoods, in order to improve them. No promises, no propaganda. Just start. To make people see that their material situation begins to improve.
2- It is necessary to work on those neighborhoods with quality ideological and cultural work. Not with speeches or talks. Nor with master classes.
3- The situation of all those neighborhoods, Cuasi cuaba, La Lisa, Siboney, Atares, Luyano, etc., must be reviewed. If they have not turned around, it is because there are community projects and positive neighborhood leadership.
4- It is necessary to dust off everything that the Social Sciences have investigated and put it into execution. Formulate new projects and finish giving the Social Sciences the place they deserve, within the general scientific work and in the treatment of problems, in particular. There is scientific potential to do so.
5- The party must thoroughly review the work of the Ideological Apparatus and turn part of the tasks of its cadres in the directions that this situation demands.
6- The neighborhood of San Isidro, it is necessary to negotiate with them. See what they want. Take them to the logic of what they can ask for. And try to convince them of what cannot be given to them.
7- Formulate a strategy to help the nuclei of the party in situations of this nature. Because I am convinced that this struggle continues. And the insurmountable ones, already on the side of the counterrevolution, will continue, as long as they can, taking advantage of the complex situation the country is going through, to fulfill their purposes linked to the current US policy towards Cuba.
Biden already gave them the human rights policy, in his recent report, with which they will continue to pressure and perhaps do nothing to help the country solve its difficulties. On the contrary, they will try to exacerbate them. Generating a waiting period to see how the story ends.
Havana, April 18, 2021
Published: Thursday 07 January 2021 | 08:06:05 pm.
Elier Ramírez Cañedo | firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Front page of Granma:
By Orestes Pérez Pérez
August 12, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
On four occasions, Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro Ruz was in Argentina. His last trip abroad was precisely to that country, on the occasion of a Summit of Mercosur Presidents, held in the city of Córdoba, in July 2006.
Wearing his inseparable olive green uniform and almost without warning, Fidel arrived at the Ingeniero “Ambrosio Taravella” International Airport in Córdoba at around 8:30 pm on Thursday, July 20, 2006, where he was received by then President Néstor Kirchner.
Some witnesses tell of that historic visit, that until the last moment there was no news of the Cuban president’s arrival, which took place amidst the strictest security measures.
“This must be the only meeting in which I was not made a plan of attack. I had to disinform even my friends. I don’t think anyone knew if I was coming, not even me”, he commented in a speech delivered at the so-called “Summit of the Peoples”, on a cold night, typical of these southern winter months, at the University of Cordoba, the same one that was the scene of the remarkable University Reform of 1918, more than 100 years ago.
“You made a reform that made history, which was the most important, I am about to say the only one. But time has passed, and the world study system must be reformed,” said the Historical Leader of the Cuban Revolution, who was accompanied that night by Hugo Chávez and Hebe de Bonafini, head of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, the group that organized the event.
Thousands of people from Cordoba and other provinces of the country listened attentively to Fidel, who spoke with them for three hours about the most varied issues, including the urgent need for Latin American and Caribbean integration, social programs in Cuba, public education and the literacy campaign of the first years of the Revolution, among others.
Chavez, for his part, had promised to be brief. “I told Fidel, I’m just going to be his host,” he said to the crowd that applauded him and repeated his last name over and over again. Nevertheless, he reflected for several hours on the “Cordobazo”, the challenges of Mercosur and American imperialism. “Only the people make history,” he said that night in Cordoba.
The Commander-in-Chief had been in Argentina on three previous occasions: in 1959, invited by then-President Arturo Frondizi, at the Ibero-American Summit (1995) and in 2003, when he attended Kirchner’s inauguration, when he delivered his memorable speech on the steps of the Law School of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), before around 30 thousand people.
In this last trip Fidel visited -together with Chávez- the house where Che lived in Alta Gracia, where they shared anecdotes of the Heroic Guerrilla’s childhood and got to know closely the spaces he lived in during his childhood.
The peaceful mountain village, which enjoyed a sunny and somewhat hot day, unusual for the season, saw its usual mid-afternoon rest interrupted by the unexpected visit.
Since very early in the morning, that July 22nd, the people from Alta Gracia took over the streets of this mountain village, with 45 thousand inhabitants, 35 kilometers away from the capital of Córdoba, to take pictures, hug or -simply- shake hands with these two world leaders.
A sea of people, all surprised and incredulous, shouted and applauded the presence of Fidel and Chávez. For them, it was the most transcendental event in the history of that small town. For Fidel, perhaps without knowing it, his last trip abroad.
By Graziella Pogolotti
June 20, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
For work reasons, there was a time when I traveled with some frequency to the Isle of Youth, then known as the Isle of Pines. On one occasion, I took advantage of the stay to get to Punta del Este and see the mark left there by the first settlers of Cuba. The famous caves of Altamira keep the expression of a representative art. The caves of Punta del Este, on the other hand, seem to announce the appearance of geometric abstractionism.
Weakly built, our first inhabitants arrived from South America, after traveling in fragile canoes through the arch of the Antilles. They planted yucca, lived in huts, produced articles necessary for life, along with some that were not of a utilitarian nature. These words were incorporated into the Spanish language, to which the word allusive to the most feared natural phenomenon, the hurricane, was also added. Its testimonial mark in the cave of Punta del Este raises many questions about the meaning of the work. Perhaps it was a way of averting the threat of an event of mysterious origin that regularly struck men and destroyed their meager possessions.
In any case, in the beginning, art, philosophy and literature were closely intertwined. With the passing of the centuries, as the division of labor was imposed, they gradually became independent. But artistic creation has not ceased to be a specific means of access to knowledge, indissolubly linked to a conception of the world, to the cult of the dead in ancient Egypt, to the rescue of the human dimension of motherhood in the Gothic cathedrals.
The rise of capitalism led to the conversion of art into a commodity. Like a condemned man at hard labor, always persecuted by his creditors, Honoré de Balzac had to submit to the rules established by the publisher. Each chapter of his novels had to close with a question that imposed on the reader the need to acquire the next publication in order to find continuity and an answer.
He turned that experience into LOST ILLUSIONS. As an aspiring writer, the main character Lucien de Rubempré goes on a pilgrimage through publishers reduced to the condition of pure manufacturers of goods. In the 19th century, gallery owners appeared who would buy works that would reach millions of dollars in value for pennies. In modern times, when the value of money is subject to economic crises, investing in art means acquiring a good with a lasting and often growing value.
Adventure of knowledge, artistic creation explores the conflicts and twists and turns of the human condition. In the words of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, we are a drunken boat rocked by storms of all kinds. In the course of history, the works that retain a living presence revealed to us the serene harmony of the mother with the child in her lap.
The baroque fracture showed the tensions generated by power, the image of the Pieta, a painful mother with her son collapsed on her knees, the passing of the ages in the beautiful adolescent body of David and the venerable old age of Moses, brought to light the underground universe of begging and picaresque, the tricks of the Tartuffe climber, sharpened Quevedo’s satirical whip, while the renewal of the codes of architecture showed the precarious balance between illusion and reality. The incision in the depths of our individual and social being has a liberating function, based on the recognition of what we are and is therefore an indispensable springboard for our full emancipation.
Since the conversion of art into merchandise, capitalism castrates the emancipatory function of art. Under the guise of neo-liberalism, with its imposed hegemony over the media, it advances even further in the perverse sterilization of the role of art. An ephemeral fair of show business vanities, which has become a disposable consumer good, produces shows designed to subject and seduce, from a one-way transmitter, a recipient modeled on their whim. It thus undermines the essential nature of artistic creation, its dialogical character open to multiple meanings, a guarantee of transcending from the local to the universal, from yesterday to today and tomorrow. For this reason, despite the millennia that have passed, we are still moved by Oedipus Rex’s tragic confrontation with his destiny. He had to tear out his eyes because he did not know how to recognize the reality that comprised his existence, that of his family, that of the citizens of Thebes.
In this month of June, we have evoked the 90 years since the birth of Armando Hart, a protagonist of the historical vanguard of the Revolution and lucid manager of our cultural thought. It is about to be the anniversary of the [speech] Words to the Intellectuals, given by Fidel in the National Library. This is not the time for routine recounts. The perverse use of culture with the purpose of manipulating consciousnesses, calls for a broad and deep discussion on the role of art in the struggle for human emancipation. [This is] a decisive issue in these days, when the death of art, the disappearance of the species in a process of accelerated climate change and increased poverty threatens us. Taking into account the current panorama and the experience acquired, it is urgent to design integral strategies to offer an adequate response to the great challenges of contemporary life. I will return to this subject in the next issue.
By Fernando Cardenal was a Nicaraguan poet and priest, one of the main exponents of Liberation Theology. Author of “Gethsemani Ky”, “Hora 0” and “Epigramas”.
August 13, 2009
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Taken from Juventud Rebelde
For those of us who have known Fidel Castro (and love and admire him) it is difficult to give a brief portrait of him. Because contrary to what those who only know him from the newspapers (often hostile to him) may think, he is not a simple character to define, but a highly complex one.
Above all, it must be said that he is a brilliant personality. But he is not only a genius, but many geniuses. He was first known as a guerrilla genius. Later he proved to be a genius as a statesman, too: one of the greatest statesmen of his time, standing out from them all for having ruled for so many years with great skill, or if you like with great success, facing the greatest power in the world under such unequal conditions.
We must also add that he is a great genius of oratory, I would say that he is not only one of the greatest orators of his time but of all history. It is amazing to see how he captivates the audience, in Cuba and in any other country, speaking for hours and hours, without having the speeches written as Demosthenes did, and sometimes without even having prepared them, completely improvised.
Unlike his rivals, the presidents of the United States, who, according to Gore Vidal, cannot write their own speeches if they do not have someone to write them for them, and sometimes they cannot even read them. He is also a genius with a great deal of knowledge. He is profound in agriculture, in medicine, in economics (perhaps the world’s greatest expert on foreign debt), in electronics, energy resources, and many other things.
Gabriel García Márquez told me about the success and depth with which he analyzed in the morning a novel of his that I had just read the night before. A few years ago he decided to study Liberation Theology, of which he knew nothing. Some theologians of this tendendy have told me how he had become an expert in it. I might also add that he is great in memory: I myself witnessed how an unfinished business he had discussed with me ten years ago was taken up again when he saw me again ten years later (there being so many people he sees). He is also famous for his ability to retain numbers and to do instant mathematical operations.
As someone who has treated him personally on occasion, I can attest that he is a fascinating personality: affectionate, very soft-spoken, polite, and even tender. He is familiar with anyone from the very first moment. He is witty, witty, and always makes you laugh… All this explains why he has been an indispensable character for the people of Cuba, why he has ruled for so long (not by force of arms, because he doesn’t rule by force of arms) and why he is so popular. And also that he has the enemies that he has.
Gallery: Fidel in the eyes of the artists
Selection of paintings made by great Cuban and international artists, dedicated to Fidel Castro. This exhibition is part of the collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts.
Gallery: Fidel Castro, photos by Liborio Noval
Selection of photos of Fidel Castro taken by Liborio Noval, one of the most recognized professional photographers in Cuba. Liborio is a National Prize of Journalism and a collaborator of Cubadebate.
By Equipo Editorial Fidel Soldado de las Ideas
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
On the occasion of Mother’s Day, Cubadebate and the site Fidel Soldado de las Ideas share images of Lina Ruz, Fidel’s mother, whose children “(…) treated her more naturally and confidently. She established order and schedules, wrapped them under the blanket at bedtime, bathed them and dressed them, guessed their spirits, and even ran after them or slapped them when they had gone too far in their mischief. But this happened if she managed to reach them, if she managed to capture them, because the boys, especially Ramon and Fidel, already knew her and escaped the slightest evidence or threat of punishment. All her kindness, Lina dumped in loving care and sleeplessness, without forgetting her obligations at the front of the house”.
Excerpt from the book Todo el tiempo de los cedros: Family landscape of Fidel Castro Ruz, by the author Katiuska Blanco Castiñeira.
To learn more about the ideas of the leader of the Cuban Revolution, visit our site Fidel Soldado de las Ideas. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
“Tell me about your mother”, was the request of journalist Ignacio Ramonet to Fidel
Author: Fidel Castro Ruz | email@example.com
August 12, 2018 18:08:16
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
She brought into the world seven children, all born in that house, always assisted by a rural midwife. There was never and could never be a doctor there, it did not exist in all that remote region. No one tried so hard to get her children to study, she wanted for them what she didn’t have. Without her, I, who always felt the pleasure of studying, would still be functionally illiterate today. My mother, even if she didn’t say it every minute, loved her children. She had character, she was brave and self-sacrificing. He knew how to bear with integrity and without hesitation the sufferings that some of us involuntarily caused her.
She accepted the Agrarian Reform and the distribution of those lands, which she undoubtedly loved, without bitterness.
Extremely religious in her faith and beliefs, which I have always respected, she found comfort in her sorrow as a mother, and she also accepted with motherly love the Revolution for which she suffered so much, without having had the slightest possibility of knowing the history of humanity and the deepest causes that the events she experienced so closely in Cuba and in the world originated, due to her origin as a humble poor peasant woman.
She died on August 6, 1963, three and a half years after the triumph of the Revolution.
Jesus Christ, Revolutionary
Frei Betto: Now, I’d like to hear your views on somebody else, somebody much more important, much more universal, and also much more discussed and much more loved than the pope. What are your views on Jesus Christ the person?
Fidel Castro: Well, I’ve already told you the story of my education and my contacts with religion, with the church. Jesus Christ was one of the most familiar names to me, practically ever since I can remember — at home, at school, and throughout my childhood and adolescence. Since then, in my revolutionary life — even though, as I told you, I never really acquired religious faith — all my efforts, my attention, and my life have been devoted to the development of a political faith, which l reached through my own convictions. I couldn’t really develop a religious concept on my own, but I did develop political and revolutionary convictions in that way, and I never saw any contradiction in the political and revolutionary sphere between the ideas I upheld and the idea of that symbol, that extraordinary figure that had been so familiar to me ever since I could remember. Rather, I concentrated on the revolutionary aspects of Christian doctrine and Christ’s thinking. Throughout the years, I have had several opportunities to express the coherence that exists between Christian and revolutionary thought.
“I’ve cited many examples; sometimes I’ve used Christ’s words: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” I’ve heard various people, including a priest, say that Christ wasn’t referring to the small needle we know now, because it’s impossible for a camel to go through the eye of that kind of needle. Rather, it meant something else; it had to be interpreted differently.
Frei Betto: Some biblical scholars take, it to mean the narrow corners in Jerusalem, Palestine, and the heart of Beirut, for it was very difficult for the camels to turn those corners. Why doesn’t anybody question how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? That’s unquestionable. Comandante, from the theological point of view, it doesn’t mean that Jesus discriminated against the rich; it means that Jesus opted for the poor. That is, in a society characterized by social inequalities, God decided to assume the likeness of Jesus; he could have been born in Rome, to a family of emperors; he could have been born to a Jewish landowner’s family; he could have been born to the middle strata of parishioners. Instead, he chose to be born among the poor, as the son of a carpenter — one who certainly worked on the construction of the Brasilia of his time, the city of Tiberias, built as a tribute to Emperor Tiberius Caesar in whose reign Jesus Lived. It’s interesting that Tiberias is on the banks of the Lake of Gennesaret, where Jesus spent most of his life and carried out most of his activities. In the Gospels, he doesn’t visit that city even once.
So, what do we say? We say that Jesus unconditionally opted for the poor. He spoke to everyone, both rich and poor, but from a specific social stand, from the social stand of the interests of the poor. He didn’t speak in a neutral, universalist, abstract way; rather, he reflected the interests of the oppressed strata of the times. If a rich man wanted to have a place next to Jesus, he had to opt for the poor. There isn’t a single example in all the Gospels of Jesus’ welcoming a rich man beside him without first making him commit himself to help the poor.
I can cite three examples: first, that of a rich young man who was a saint because he observed all the Commandments, but in the end Jesus said that the man had to do one more thing: go and sell what he had, and give to the poor before he could follow him. I believe that many priests today would say, “Look, If you observe all the Commandments, come with us; stay here next to us; and in time you’ll improve!” But since Jesus was a little more radical than we are, he told the man, “You go honor your commitment to the poor and then come.”
The second example is that of the rich man whose home Jesus visited. Jesus had no prejudices but he was consistent so he went to Zacchaeus’s home not to praise his ceramics, which may have come from Persia, or his Egyptian figurines, but rather to tell him that he was a thief because he’d stolen from the poor. And Zacchaeus, who wanted to be at peace with him, said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” That is, the practice of justice was the basic requirement for following Jesus.
The third example is the preaching of John the Baptist, who prepared for Jesus’ coming. His preaching began with the practice of justice. The people who wanted to be converted didn’t ask what they should believe; they asked what they should do and John replied, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”
The universality of Jesus’ preaching must also be explained; it is a universality that derives from an option and a very specific social and political stand: the cause of the poor.
Fidel Castro: I’ve been listening to you with great interest, because there’s a lot of substance in what you’ve said, However, I could make a mathematical objection: a rich man could never give back four times what he’d stolen, because everything a rich man has must have been stolen. If he didn’t steal it himself, it must have been stolen by his parents or grandparents, so it’s impossible — if everything he has is stolen — for him to return fourfold what he’s stolen, for he’d probably have to steal four times as much again to keep that promise.
Frei Betto: You’re repeating something that St. Ambrose said in the early centuries.
Fidel Castro: I’m glad to have coincided with him. So what do I think? It may be a bad translation of the Bible; maybe the translators are to blame, because they didn’t take into account the meaning of the eye of a needle, I realize that many of the phrases in the Bible are related to that environment, to the society and customs of the times; but I don’t know how this could be proved in this case. Anyway, somebody well versed in religion, somebody well versed in languages, must have interpreted, with quite some grounds, that it was the eye of the needle that everybody knows about in our language, because we don’t know of any other, for the people in Spanish-speaking countries don’t knew the first thing about camels, even though we do have an idea of what camels are.
In any case I liked the interpretation that the translators gave to that phrase, as I understood it, and I also believe the interpretation is absolutely in keeping and is consistent with all the other things that Christ preached. First of all, as you said, Christ didn’t choose the rich to preach the doctrine; he chose 12 poor and ignorant workers — that is, he chose the proletariat of the times or modest self-employed workers, some of whom were fishermen. They were poor people, very poor, without exception, as you said.
At times I’ve referred to Christ’s miracles and have said, “Well, Christ multiplied the fish and loaves to feed the people. That is precisely what we want to do with the revolution and socialism: multiply the fish and the loaves to feed the people; multiply the schools, teachers, hospitals, and doctors; multiply the factories, the fields under cultivation, and the jobs; multiply industrial and agricultural productivity; and multiply the research centers and the number of scientific research projects for the same purpose.” At times I’ve referred to the parable of the rich man who employed several workers: he paid some of them one denarius for a full day’s work; to others he paid one denarius for half a day’s work; and to yet others he paid one denarius for half an afternoon’s work. The parable implies a criticism of those who didn’t agree with that distribution. I believe that it is precisely a communist formula; it goes beyond what we say in socialism, because in socialism each should be paid according to his capacity and work, while the communist formula is to give to each according to his needs. To pay a denarius to each one who worked that day implies a distribution more in keeping with needs, a typically communist formula.
Also, I believe that many of the passages of the preachings of Christ, such as the Sermon on the Mount, cannot be given any interpretation other than what you call the option for the poor. When Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” it is obvious that Christ didn’t offer the kingdom of heaven to the rich; he really offered it to the poor, and I don’t think that the preaching of Christ is also a case of mistaken translation or interpretation. believe that Karl Marx could have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount.
Frei Betto: In St. Luke’s version, not only are the poor blessed, but the rich are damned.
Fidel Castro: I don’t know if the phrase is in any of the versions of that preaching. You say that it’s St. Luke’s version. The one I recall doesn’t damn the rich.
Frei Betto: That’s the St. Matthew one, which is better known.
Fidel Castro: Maybe that’s the one that was more convenient at the time, to bring us up in a more conservative spirit. You said something profound: that the difficulty lies in understanding how a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven, if you consider many of the things that go with the mentality of the rich: insensitivity, selfishness, lack of solidarity, and even the sins of the rich in all spheres. I really believe that what a rich man had to do to be a good Christian and reach the kingdom of heaven was expressed clearly. It was stated repeatedly in Christ’s preachings.
You should also take into consideration that we read many books of history and literature – some written by laymen and others by clergymen – that reflected the martyrdom of the Christians in the early centuries. Everybody’s had the opportunity to learn about those events, and I think that one of the things the church felt most proud of during the years when I was a student – I remember this clearly was the martyrology of the early years and throughout the history of the church.
Fidel & Religion: Conversations with Frei Betto on Marxism & Liberation Theology; Castro Talks on Religion and Revolution with Frei Betto. Introduction by Harvey Cox. Simon and Schuster (1987), pp. 267-271