As a journalist, there were several occasions when I visited groups of Ukrainian children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Tarará, a beach east of Havana.
Fidel had conceived a program of medical care and rehabilitation for those victims of exposure to radiation from the accident nuclear plant. Almost all of them were Ukrainians, and some Russians and Belarusians.
I was also able to witness the admiration and gratitude to Fidel from the families of those children, whom the Commander-in-Chief visited on several occasions, after having received the first group on the steps of the plane that took them to our country. He signed his olive green cap and gave it as a gift to a Ukrainian girl, he inquired with doctors and directors about the whole program of attention to the minors, their most common pathologies and about their evolution during their stay on the island.
Thousands of Cubans were involved in the program, and more than 25,457 people, including 21,378 children, received specialized medical care.
Our country placed its health institutions at their service, and more than 300 children were treated for hematological diseases, mainly leukemia, 136 for different tumors, and 14 complex heart surgeries, two kidney transplants, six bone marrow transplants, among many other treatments, were performed.
Everything was done free of charge, as an expression of love and solidarity, attributes that contrast with those who today send thousands of tons of weapons to Ukraine, a country that has become hostage to the hegemonic policy of the u.s. and nato, to confront Russia.
On April 2, 2010, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Program for the care of children affected by radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in a ceremony in Havana, the former Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, recognized Fidel as the greatest inspirer of a human work that meant the care of these Ukrainian minors.
On the occasion, Kuchma announced the awarding to Fidel of the Order of Merit of the First Degree, and to then-President Raúl Castro, the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, of the First Degree.
He awarded distinctions to doctors, diplomats and collaborators who contributed to the successful achievement of that program, all in order to save the lives of children and young people, those who will forever carry in their hearts the indelible mark of the friendship between the peoples of Ukraine and Cuba.
Today, when that country is going through difficult times in a war provoked by the United States and NATO, we remember those moments of tears and joy of children who came with their families from that distant country, to whom Cuba gave part of what it had to save their lives.
We remember those Ukrainians at moments like today, and together with them, we ask for the war to end and for that country to join the international community without warlike aspirations and with a neutral character that should not change, no matter how much the promoters of hatred and confrontation, that is, the U.S. government and nato, want to take it down the wrong path, as a hostage of their expansionist policies.
By Agustín Lage Dávila
December 28, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
This (No. 25) is the last note of 2021 and it is unavoidable to use it to summarize the message of what we appreciate has been essential in this difficult but also glorious year.
Cubans, each one from his or her position, with his or her ideas and values, but essentially all of us, have been involved in three great battles that will decide our future:
The control of the COVID epidemic.
The confrontation of the media and cultural aggression against our project of society.
Economic development, even in the context of the blockade.
These posed enormous threats to us: the first one threatened our health, the second one, our thinking, the third one, our material sustenance. The three together threatened our Nation.
In the first two we won, unquestionably. We must consolidate them and project them into the future, because they can continue, but they are essentially victories. In the third one, we managed to resist, which is no small thing, and it is the indispensable step to win, but the great victory still requires a lot of effort and intelligence.
The control of the epidemic of COVID-19 was achieved this year with biotechnology, science, the strength, and the experience and universality of our health system, and the educated participation of the people and their institutions. It validated the fertility of the scientific development strategy implemented by the Revolution for decades, and the importance of the connections between science and production that were built since the founding moments of the Scientific Pole, under Fidel’s leadership.
It validated the concept that health cannot be merchandise, and that the budgeted or entrepreneurial institutions on which health services depend have to be the socialist property of all the people. This is not only for moral reasons (which is the main thing) but also for reasons of efficiency. This battle will leave experiences for the improvement and development of both actors, industry and the health system, which we must apply immediately because the global pandemic context will continue in 2022.
The media and cultural aggression, with which, especially this year, an attempt was made to divide the people and erode their collective capacity to respond to the challenges of the moment, was defeated. Its implementation and financing (we know well by whom), in combination with the reinforcement of the blockade, precisely at a time when we were facing a dangerous epidemic, will go down in history as one of the greatest political immoralities of this century. It will be remembered in the gallery of shame, together with the Weyler reconcentration, the Nazi holocaust, the nuclear bombing, the Vietnam war, the support to the dictatorships of the South American cone, the South African apartheid and the murders of teachers by counterrevolutionary gangs in Cuba. History will not absolve its articulators.
The media and cultural aggression against Cuba is a war of thought. We defeated it, as Martí wanted “with thought”. The encouragement of violence, the promotion of selfish appetites, the distrust in the future of the country, and the dissemination of intellectual superficialities, crashed against the wall of Cuban culture, now solidified by six decades of massive and free access to education. They gambled on finding many influential fools in Cuba, and it turned out that there were very few.
This battle also leaves us experiences for the improvement and development of political and cultural work, which must be well analyzed because this episode of 2021 is part of an historical dispute of more than two centuries.
The third battle, that of economic development, has not yet been won. And it would be superficial to attempt a simplifying analysis in the space of 4 pages of a blog. But there are some things to say:
The first is that we have resisted the longest economic onslaught in world history (60 years), articulated by the largest economic and military power in world history; and we continue to resist 30 years after the collapse of the allies we had in Eastern Europe. And here we are, our people without hunger, without mafias, without housing evictions, with all their children in school, with our people’s government functioning under the socialist Constitution that we made and approved ourselves. This capacity dor resistance makes us proud, not only because of the resistance itself, but also because it indicates our capacity for development. Without sovereignty and national unity, no economic strategy, no matter how “technically brilliant” it might be, could work.
The second is that we are not frozen in old economic strategies, which worked at the time but have already fulfilled their historical role and exhausted their capacity to adapt to the changes in the world economy. We are in a moment of legislative and organizational creativity to adapt our development model to the new realities, without ceasing to be sovereign, equitable, educated and socialist.
The third is that the road to economic and social development must be traveled in a world context that is not the one that existed in the 1960s, when the Revolution made its first plans for economic take-off. We must now work in a globalized economy, which depends much more on the external economic balance, and on the capacity for international insertion, especially for small countries. It is also in an economy of rapidly changing technologies, which demands a higher dynamic of creation of diverse enterprises and connections between enterprises and scientific and educational institutions, as well as a higher dynamic of diversification of products and services of high added value.
All this requires managerial as well as technological creativity, and it is necessary to create the regulatory context that allows and stimulates it; and to train the young cadres who will play a leading role in it.
The fourth is that, with few natural resources and scarce domestic demand, and with a blockade that will continue (because our historical adversaries do not know how, nor can they do otherwise), our audacity to build material prosperity based on social justice and access to knowledge is essentially a cultural challenge. It will be culture, ethical, legal, scientific and technical, that determines our capacity to decouple economic growth from the expansion of inequalities, that expands the space of the possible, and establishes the speed of our progress.
The battles of this year 2021 prepare us to continue building the possible country that we Cubans want. Not the one that others want to impose on us, but the one we Cubans want.
Agustín Lage Dávila is a prominent Cuban scientist. He was the Director of the Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana for 25 years. Advisor to the President of BioCubaFarma. He has received numerous national and international distinctions. He was Deputy to the National Assembly for several legislatures.
By Salim Lamrani
August 15, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Photo, Carlos Rafael Diéguez
“In reality, the United States expects a total and definitive surrender from the Cuban people.”
Born in 1930 in Cuba, in the small town of Vueltas, to a Polish Jewish father who fled the anti-Semitic persecution of his country and a Cuban mother, Max Lesnik became involved early, at the age of 15, in political militancy. He frequented the ranks of the Orthodoxo Party founded by Eduardo Chibás, a symbol of the struggle against government corruption, and quickly became the national secretary of the Orthodoxo Youth in the 1950s.
Max Lesnik acquired fame throughout the country and became friends with Fidel Castro, whom he met at the University of Havana. Fidel was also a member of the Orthodoxo Party and even presented his candidacy in the 1952 elections for the Congress of the Republic before Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état put an end to constitutional legality.
Lesnik, like many young Cubans, revolted against the military dictatorship of Batista, supported by the United States and was part of the leadership of the Second Front of the Escambray, led by Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo in the activity of ideological, political and propaganda work.
At the triumph of the Revolution, on January 1, 1959, Lesnik was the first revolutionary leader to be interviewed on television by journalist Carlos Lechuga. With the installation of the new power, Max Lesnik resumed his work as a journalist, publishing chronicles in Bohemia magazine and hosting a daily program on the National Radio Station Cadena Oriental de Radio.
But Lesnik began to criticize the hegemony of the communists in power. He opposed the alliance with the Soviet Union. According to him, Cuba should be independent from Washington and also from Moscow. Total sovereignty.
In 1961, the situation was critical and Max Lesnik was forced to go into exile in the United States. But he did not join the ranks of the supporters of the old regime, nor did he accept the perks of the CIA, which sought to recruit political figures from exile in order to organize a movement aimed at overthrowing the Cuban Revolution. When he heard the news, Fidel Castro tried to convince Max Lesnik to return to Cuba through their mutual friend Alfredo Guevara, to no avail.
In Miami, Lesnik created his radio program in which he denounced the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 17, 1961 and accused the participants of being mercenaries in the pay of a foreign power. The next day, he was visited by several armed individuals who coerced him into making a live apology to the audience. Max Lesnik refused and saved his life thanks to hesitation on the part of the assailants who decided to leave the studio without carrying out their threat.
In the mid-1960s, Max Lesnik decided to found the tabloid newspaper Réplica, which would become a magazine a few years later with weekly print runs that could reach 100,000 copies. This professional adventure allowed him to acquire great notoriety in the Cuban and Latino community in the United States, as well as a certain economic tranquility.
In the late 1970s, Max Lesnik played an essential role in establishing a dialogue between the Cuban community in the United States and the authorities in Havana. He returned to Cuba and saw his friend Fidel Castro again after 17 years. The rapprochement with Havana was not to the liking of Miami extremists. Max Lesnik was the victim of a first bomb attack in 1979. In all, he was the target of eleven similar attacks. His magazine did not survive the intolerance and the last issue came out in 1990, after the abandonment of the main advertising sponsors, also threatened by the violent exiles from Florida.
Max Lesnik was also involved in the rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Cuban Revolution and in the origin of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba in 1998. “The man of the two Havana’s”, referring to the Cuban capital and Miami’s “Little Havana” where he resides, is today director of Radio Miami.
In these conversations, Max Lesnik talks about the history of Cuba, his personal trajectory, his ties with Fidel Castro and the Cuba of today.
SL: When did you meet Fidel Castro?
ML: I met Fidel Castro at the University of Havana, at the then Plaza Cadenas, in front of the Law School. We met on a bench where students met to talk about current political events and to organize demonstrations against the governments of the time, whether against the increase in the prices of basic necessities, the price of electricity, the price of public transportation.
I entered the University in 1948. Fidel was already in the Faculty and was politically involved in student life. I wanted to meet the different youth leaders who maintained a vertical position in the face of the corruption and gangsterism of the time.
Fidel was a young rebel with political concerns. I understood from the first moment that this was someone who would be the future leader of a different Cuba or a martyr. I believe I was not mistaken. Fidel entered the Pantheon of Latin American liberators during his lifetime.
SL: What were the main characteristics of Fidel Castro?
ML: Fidel was at the same time a politician of great magnitude, a thinker and a lucid visionary. He managed to build a different Cuba and a different Latin America. It is hard for us Cubans to realize that we are the engines of an emancipation process, with our successes and our mistakes. But there is a constancy in the path pointed out by José Martí at the end of the 19th century. Fidel Castro managed to catalyze the enthusiasm and frustrations of several generations to build a revolutionary Cuba.
SL: Could you tell us an anecdote that illustrates Fidel Castro’s personality?
ML: I remember that at the University, on this famous bench in front of the Law School, we fraternized in the foundation of a committee called “September 30th Committee against Gangsterism”.
It was the year 1949, under the presidency of Carlos Prío Socarrás, marked by clashes between violent gangs that fought in the streets of Havana for hegemony within the State bureaucracy. These groups came from the revolutionary elements that participated in the struggle against Machado and Batista. Then, they began to confront each other to get crumbs of power.
In order to obtain social peace, the Government established the “Pacto de las pandillas”, granting well-paid positions in the administration -botellas, as they were called at the time- to the leaders of those groups, who allowed themselves to be bribed. These groups then threatened the students of the University and the members of the Orthodox Youth, who were the only ones to denounce government corruption.
The University was the banner of the values of the Republic, inherited from Julio Antonio Mella, founder of the Cuban Communist Party and Antonio Guiteras, the soul of the Revolution of 1933. The Government wanted to crush this university resistance, using gangsters against the students. There were even some student leaders who allowed themselves to be bribed.
SL: What was the role of this committee?
ML: Its role was to publicly denounce the gangsterism and the threats against the university. We gathered an Assembly where all the student presidents of the departments were present. This Committee had a collegiate leadership made up of the leaders of the Orthodoxo Youth – of which I was a member – and socialist youth leaders.
Fidel Castro was a member of the September 30th Committee and assigned to denounce who were the ones receiving money from the Government. Fidel was always very skilled at uncovering what was behind the scenes. In this precise case, Fidel Castro took the floor on behalf of the September 30th Committee and denounced one by one all the corrupt and government-sponsored gangsters, even revealing the nature of the “botella”.
The gangsters were close to the University and found out the reality. It was a courageous denunciation on the part of Fidel, who listed names and showed documents to back up his claims. The bandits were enraged and informed the Committee members that they were going to pay with their lives for the denunciation. Fidel received the news as he spoke. But, far from keeping quiet, he spoke more virulently, insisting on the names of each corrupt person.
SL: What happened next?
ML: This generated an enormous scandal because we had unmasked the bandits. When the Assembly ended we met to find out how we were going to get out of the University. I was a leader of the Orthodoxo Youth and I had a certain prestige because I was linked to Eduardo Chibás. We had to save Fidel Castro, who was in danger of death. I knew that they would not take the risk of assassinating Fidel if he met me. Eduardo Chibás, the leader of the Orthodoxo Party, was alive at that time and had a Sunday radio program that all Cubans followed. Assassinating Fidel at the risk of killing the leader of the Orthodoxo Youth was too dangerous for the government. Finally we were able to leave the University without much trouble, although Fidel had to stay hidden in my house for several weeks.
SL: Where were you when the attack on the Moncada Barracks took place on July 26, 1953?
ML: I was in Havana, with two of Fidel’s friends, Dr. Aramista Taboada and Alfredo Esquivel. There was a lot of speculation about Moncada. Some thought that Colonel Pedraza had carried out a coup d’état, while others claimed that there had been an uprising by the garrison.
We analyzed the situation and wondered where Fidel was. We knew he was very bold. The “Chinese” Esquivel went to the house of Mirtha Díaz-Balart, Fidel’s wife, who informed us that her husband had not appeared for three days. At that moment, we were certain that Fidel Castro was involved in one way or another in the Moncada attack.
We then became active everywhere to prevent the dictatorship from assassinating Fidel and his comrades. He was captured and imprisoned for two years.
SL: Did you have any differences with Fidel Castro at that time?
ML: I had no disagreement in principle with Fidel. The problem was that he had carried out the Moncada coup on his own, without notifying anyone. It was a conspiracy that he organized alone, in which I was not involved. Until the last moments, very few people knew what they were going to do -I am talking about the participants-, maybe Raúl Castro, Jesús Montané, Abel Santamaría, that is, a very limited group. Fidel was always very discreet and his comrades had great confidence in him.
When he got out of prison, Fidel Castro began to meet with some people. I had introduced him to Alvaro Barba, who had been President of the Federation of University Students (FEU), as well as to José Antonio Echevarría, of the Revolutionary Directorate.
SL: What was your role in the struggle against the Batista dictatorship?
ML: When Fidel Castro disembarked on December 2, 1956, the political opposition was paralyzed by the great repression unleashed by Batista. The persecution was very strong and there was no space for civic and peaceful political activity.
I had formed a strong friendship with some elements of the Orthodoxo Party who had revolted in the Sierra del Escambray, in the center of the island, and who had formed the Second Front of the Escambray. When I arrived in the area, there was a division between the Revolutionary Directorate and the Second Front formed then by elements of Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement that had risen up, in which my friend Roger Redondo and Lázaro Artola, who was head of the Orthodoxo Youth in Camagüey, were included.
After the attack on the Presidential Palace on March 13, 1957, Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo arrived in the Escambray area to establish a guerrilla front to strengthen those who had already risen up there. I was appointed in charge of propaganda for the Second Front. I went back and forth to Havana to look for economic resources.
SL: Fulgencio Batista fled the country on January 1, 1959. How did you hear the news?
ML: I was in Havana when Batista fell. I had an important mission to accomplish as a plane loaded with weapons from the United States was to supply the Second Front. I was clandestine and a friend of the Orthodoxo Youth, Lucas Alvarez Tabio, nephew of a Supreme Court magistrate, informed me of the news. When Batista left power, he wanted to give a constitutional form to his departure and appointed Magistrate Carlos Piedra.
SL: What did you do after the triumph of the Revolution?
ML: Many tried to get a position in the new power. This was not my case. I dedicated myself to my profession as a journalist and wrote in Bohemia. I also had a radio program. José Pardo Llada, who was the most listened journalist in the history of Cuba, had his program after mine at one o’clock in the afternoon.
Then the Revolution was radicalized and the Communist Party began to establish its hegemony in all sectors. The United States opposed the new power from the beginning and this hostility led to its radicalization.
I was very critical on my radio program. I stated that I was against U.S. imperialism but I was not a communist either. I did not want to have an ideology imposed on me.
SL: Were you against an alliance with the communists?
ML: I was resolutely against an alliance with a group that had collaborated with Batista in 1944 and had not played a key role during the insurrectionary struggle against tyranny. The communists began to push aside all those who had taken a different position.
SL: Did you have relations with Raul Castro?
ML: We had common friends like Alfredo Guevara, father of the New Latin American Cinema, and Léster Rodríguez, who participated in the Moncada. Raul was Fidel’s younger brother. I remember that during my honeymoon in Mexico, on December 30, 1955, it was Raul who came to pick up my wife and me at the airport, Raul was not yet second in command. Fidel was very careful about hierarchies. He did not want any privileges for his brother. Raul later earned his positions fighting in the Sierra Maestra and the Second Eastern Front to become President of the Republic.
SL: Did you meet Che Guevara?
ML: I never talked to him but I know he had a negative image of me. He had been told that I was a dangerous guy. We met once from car to car but nothing more. It wasn’t my place to go to him and tell him he was wrong. It was not my style. I regret it because I think that if I had met Che in the Sierra del Escambray, things would have been different.
SL: Let’s talk now about your departure from Cuba, why did you decide to go into exile in the United States?
ML: In my radio program I was very critical of the communists and the security apparatus was in their hands. I had become a target and I could not stay in Cuba.
I decided then to leave Cuba clandestinely together with the leaders of the Second Front of the Escambray in January 1961. Actually, I think that someone in the intelligence services who was aware of our departure let us go. When we arrived in the United States, the authorities imprisoned us for several months in Texas.
SL: Was Fidel Castro informed of your departure?
ML: When Fidel learned that I was in prison in the United States, he sent Alfredo Guevara to tell my mother to send me the following message: “Let him cross the Mexican border and return to Cuba. He has no problem here”. I received the message later but, in any case, I would not have returned. But I will always thank Fidel and Alfredo for that.
Likewise, Fidel Castro intervened to allow my wife and daughters to leave the country. The Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs at the time, Carlos Olivares, refused to issue the passports because I had not signed the permission to leave the country, something I could not do since I was in Miami. Fidel personally phoned Olivares to give him the instructions.
SL: Were you at that time in ideological rupture with Fidel Castro?
ML: Not with Fidel, but with the process, yes.
SL: Did you meet with exiled political leaders in Miami?
Yes, with the Prío family, for example. I have an anecdote about that. The Prío family were close friends of the comedian Guillermo Álvarez Guedes. When a brother of Alvarez Guedes died in Miami, at the Caballero Funeral Home on 8th Street and 27th Avenue, we met there for the funeral. I knew Guillermo from Cuba. I went to greet him and offer my condolences. He was at the door of the funeral home with Antonio Prío, the brother of former president Carlos Prío Socarrás and we began to talk. An elderly lady arrived, who had been Orthodoxo and who knew me since my time as a youth leader, recognized Antonio Prío, who had been a candidate for mayor of Havana and Minister of Finance. He had been involved in a big scandal and had been accused of having stolen 7 million pesos, which at that time was equivalent to $7 million dollars and which today would be about 70 million dollars. It seems incredible, Max Lesnik, Orthodoxo leader, you are here with Antonio Prío Socarrás, the thief who stole 7 million pesos, who was punished by the people of Cuba, since he lost the mayoralty to Castellanos”. The lady gave us a tremendous speech.
Then Antonio put a hand in his pocket and said, “Madam, please, I am going to ask you a question: how many millions of inhabitants did Cuba have in 1950, which is when you accuse me of having stolen 7 million pesos?” The lady replied, “Well, seven million inhabitants”. Then Prío replied: “Well, take your peso and don’t fuck with me anymore”.
SL: You played an important role in the establishment of a dialogue between the Cuban community in the United States and the Government of Havana in 1978. Could you tell us the genesis of this historic process of reconciliation?
ML: In 1976, James Carter, former Democratic governor of the State of Georgia, won the presidency. He was a friend of Alfredo Durán, a Cuban involved in American political life, who became Chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. I knew him from my profession as a journalist and editor of Réplica magazine. All the politicians in the United States constantly asked me for an interview because our magazine was not sectarian and gave the floor to everyone, without distinction, open to democratic debate and a plurality of ideas. It was the Spanish-language magazine with the largest circulation in the United States.
One day, Durán asked me and explained to me that he was supporting a candidate for the presidency of the United States named James Carter. He was due to stop in Miami and Durán was in charge of his tour in the city. When Carter visited Réplica, I interviewed him and asked him what his Cuba policy would be. Surprisingly, he replied that he would establish communication with Cuba to improve human rights. It was the first time that a U.S. politician had such a constructive discourse towards Havana.
SL: How did the process unfold?
ML: Carter was elected president of the United States and began a process of discreet rapprochement. Diplomatic representations were opened in both capitals, which illustrated Carter’s willingness to establish direct contact with the island’s authorities and put an end to twenty years of confrontation.
Bernardo Benes, an eminent banker who was part of Carter’s delegation during his visit to Miami, traveled to Panama to see his friend Alberto Pons, a Cuban who had a successful guayabera business. A brother of Pons, who lived in Cuba, was also present and a discussion was opened on Cuba-U.S. relations as well as the human rights situation. Pons had read the interview with Benes in Replica about it and said the following to him, “Why don’t you talk about it with Fidel Castro?”
Benes laughed and replied that he was willing to talk to Fidel Castro. When he returned to Havana, Pons’ brother informed the authorities. Benes, for his part, brought this conversation to the attention of a prominent CIA agent in charge of Latin America, who was based in Mexico. As a banker, Benes had many contacts. He had worked for the U.S. Government at the Inter-American Development Bank. He was a very open man, with relationships all over the place.
The CIA agent informed the U.S. Government. Benes made contact with Bob Pastor, a close collaborator of Carter and got permission to explore the possibilities of rapprochement with the authorities in Havana. With Charles Dascal, a Cuban-Jewish president of Banco Continental, where I had all my accounts, Benes met several times with Fidel Castro and obtained the release of 3,500 political prisoners involved in the counterrevolutionary war in the 1960s.
SL: When did you return to Cuba?
ML: During one of those meetings with Benes, Fidel told him that he was inviting me to travel to Cuba. The whole thing was a secret operation because the extreme right in Florida was opposed to any idea of normalization. Only both governments were aware of it.
In 1978 we took a private jet from Fort Lauderdale to Havana. I was with Benes and Dascal. We landed discreetly at José Martí Airport. We were met by Abrantes, a general in the Ministry of the Interior, deputy minister of MININT and head of Fidel’s bodyguard, with him was José Luis Padrón, one of his top aides. I had known Abrantes since pre-revolutionary times, we lived in the same neighborhood in Old Havana, although we were not friends.
SL: How did your meeting with Fidel Castro develop?
ML: The next day, Abrantes came looking for me to tell me that Fidel wanted to see me. We went to the Palace and Fidel showed up. I remember asking him, “What’s the deal?”. It was about the President of the Republic and I had to respect protocol.
Notice that he answered me: “For you, Fidel”. The framework was then established. We began a dialogue that lasted several hours because we had not seen each other since 1960. We talked about the past, about our university days. Fidel likes to recall anecdotes.
Fidel asked me many questions about Réplica. He wanted to know all the details, the print run, the distribution, the technique, the publicity, its influence. It’s one of Fidel’s characteristics. He is very curious. Then, suddenly, he asked me: “But why did you leave Cuba?”. I explained that I did not agree with the Cuban communists and that I was opposed to an alliance with the Soviet Union. With much wisdom Fidel told me the following, “If you had held my position, you would have done the same thing to save the Revolution and prevent Cuba from losing its sovereignty.”
I think Fidel was absolutely right. Looking back on the events, I must say that his analysis was true. I had been wrong. If what I had wanted had been done, that is, to keep Cuba out of the alliance with the USSR, Washington would have crushed the Revolution. If Fidel had not accepted the hand of the Russians, the Revolution would not have survived.
I remember that when we said goodbye, Fidel gave me a painting of Portocarrero, which I still have in my living room and he said something like “you don’t look so old, but you are wiser”.
SL: What did Fidel Castro think about James Carter?
ML: About Carter, Fidel thought he was capable of carrying out the reconciliation process. The prospects were then encouraging.
Unfortunately, the Mariel migratory exodus in 1980 and the political crisis that followed put an end to the bilateral dialogue. People opposed to any normalization with Cuba gravitated around Carter. Zbignew Brezinsky, of Polish origin, a staunch anti-communist, was Carter’s Security Advisor. For him, no diplomacy with the communists was possible. He opposed dialogue and Secretary of State Salius Vans, who was in favor of a rapprochement with Cuba.
Then, when a group of Cubans forced their way into the Peruvian embassy, causing the death of a Cuban guard, the diplomats refused to hand over the refugees to justice. The Cuban authorities then decided to withdraw the custody protecting the embassy and the newspaper Granma published a note saying that all those who wanted to leave the country could do so through the Peruvian embassy. Thousands of people then entered the embassy. Brezinsky took advantage of the occasion to influence Carter and forced him to make that famous statement inviting Cubans to travel to the United States.
Fidel Castro then felt betrayed because the conflict was with Peru and not with the United States. He replied by saying on television that all Cubans who wanted to travel to the United States could do so through the port of Mariel. In total, 120,000 people left the island.
The story is well known. Reagan came to power and ended the policy of rapprochement with Cuba.
What were the consequences on a personal level?
ML: I was the target of the right-wing Cubans because I published articles and chronicles in Réplica in favor of dialogue. In the same way, I had denounced the horrendous crime committed in October 1976 against a Cuban civilian airplane that took the lives of 73 people. Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch had planted a bomb on board. I denounced these terrorist acts while the extreme right applauded them.
I was then the victim of several bombings, like other supporters of dialogue. In total, the terrorists carried out eleven attacks against Réplica. Nobody defended our right to freedom of expression, neither the Miami Herald nor the Inter-American Press Association. The only one who defended us was the Miami News, which does not exist today. We had to put an end to the Réplica venture because we no longer had advertisers.
SL: In 1994, another migratory crisis generated tensions between Cuba and the United States. You acted to avoid an escalation, could you remind us of the events?
ML: I was in Havana with Alfredo Guevara and Eusebio Leal. I expressed my concern about the crisis that could lead to a larger conflict. Clinton was a weak president and could get dragged down. Carter could be the solution and I could contact him through Alfredo Duran.
Eusebio Leal asked me to return to the hotel and wait for his call. At three o’clock in the morning, he called me and said, “Your college friend says to do whatever you want”. It was Fidel. I then informed Duran of the situation and asked him to contact Carter urgently. When I returned to Miami, we met in my office with Durán. On my side, I was on the phone talking to Alfredo Guevara who was with Fidel, and Durán, for his part, had Carter, who was in Atlanta. The former president then sent a message to Clinton.
SL: Let’s talk now about the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998.
ML: The pope had named Jaime Ortega a cardinal. I knew the apostolic nuncio in Havana, Monsignor Benjamino Stella. There was a tense situation with the Church. In addition, Ortega had been invited to Miami. In this regard, Fidel told us in a meeting in Havana that after Ortega’s visit to Miami, he was going to return as a counterrevolutionary. I remember saying to Fidel: “Why don’t we give him the benefit of the doubt? I will be there and I will tell you”, I told Fidel.
Fidel found out that I was going to attend the reception given by the nuncio the following day. He then asked Eusebio Leal and Alfredo Guevara to be present as well. The following day, during the reception, to which all the members of the Government were invited, only Isabel Allende, who was at that time Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, showed up.
At two o’clock in the morning, when the reception was over, the nuncio regretted the absence of the government authorities. I then told him that Fidel Castro had personally sent Leal and Guevara and that he wished to normalize relations with the Church. I told him everything, without betraying any secrets. I even turned to Jaime Ortega to tell him: “Fidel thinks you are going to come back from Miami as a counterrevolutionary”. But notice that Ortega behaved well in Miami and that opened the way to a rapprochement between the Vatican and Havana.
During the Pope’s visit in 1998, the Apostolic Nuncio invited me to Cuba. On the day of his departure, the pope received us privately with three other friends, journalists Alfredo Muñoz of Agence France Presse, Luis Baez and the historical commander Manuel Piñeiro Losada, also friends of the apostolic nuncio. The nuncio told the Pope: “Lesnik is from the house”. I remember telling him that I was not Catholic but Jewish and that I was not a practicing Jew. I also told him that my mother was Cuban and my father Polish. The pope said with a certain sense of humor: “God bless all Poles”. Of course, since he was Polish too….
SL: Let’s move on to another topic. As a Cuban journalist living in Miami, what do you think about freedom of expression in Cuba?
ML: It is worth remembering some elementary truths. Freedom of expression is directly linked to the security of the State. I am not referring to the police apparatus or the intelligence services. When a State feels secure, when there is no external or internal force capable of destabilizing it, freedom of expression is total. As soon as there is an internal or external threat – in this case, an external threat which is the United States and an internal threat which is the dissidents supported by a foreign power – restrictions on freedom of expression begin.
Take the case of the United States, which is the most powerful nation in the world. Despite the crises, it is still the richest country. It is said that there is full and absolute freedom of the press in the United States. I am a journalist. I know the subject. In reality, freedom of the press is in the hands of the media owners, controlled by capitalist forces to defend their interests. Media concentration has been reinforced in recent years. Before, a newspaper was owned by the publisher, as was my case. Today, the shareholders of the press belong to the military-industrial complex. Then, when a State feels threatened, it reduces freedom of expression, as was the case under McCarthyism, when fundamental freedoms were violated while nobody threatened the United States.
In Cuba, as the State sees the disappearance of external or internal threats promoted from outside, I am convinced that the space reserved for critical debate will expand.
SL: In a word, the degree of freedom of expression in Cuba depends on the degree of U.S. hostility towards the island.
ML: Exactly. As tensions ease and the U.S. stops using the internal opposition to destabilize the state, there will be more freedom of expression in Cuba. But it already exists. Of course, with its limits, but there is more freedom of expression in Cuba every day.
There is another problem. For years, Cubans, in the name of defending the Revolution, hid their mistakes so as not to threaten national unity. They thought that criticizing the defects of the system weakened them in the face of the enemy, when in fact it is a demonstration of strength. On the other hand, the enemy uses this facade of unity as an angle of attack. When an incompetent leader is criticized, the man is criticized, not the Revolution. Open and healthy criticism from the revolutionary camp to improve the system and denounce corruption does not weaken the process. Raul Castro is the perfect example.
I consider that one of the most important critics of the Cuban press has been and is Fidel Castro himself.
SL: What do you think of the single party in Cuba?
ML: The debate around the single-party and multi-party systems is interesting. Democracy does not arise from parties. It should be a process in which all points of view are debated, even if there is only one party or none. The party has nothing to do with democracy, which is more than 2,000 years old while the political party was born in the 19th century as an institution.
It is said that Cuba is a dictatorship because there is only one party. This is a simplistic reading. There are dictatorships in the world with a multi-party system. Under Batista, there were many parties and yet it was a dictatorship.
SL: What do you think of the opposition in Cuba?
ML: Unfortunately, since the triumph of the Revolution, the opposition is under the control of the United States. I would like there to be a true patriotic and independent opposition in Cuba. But, from the beginning, Washington financed the dissident groups.
If we take a look at history, through the whole Cuban revolutionary process, from the wars of independence to the struggle against Batista, no insurrectionary group was financed by a foreign power. It is important to point out this reality. Cubans fight for a noble cause, for patriotism, not for money. There were never people financed during the war of 1868, nor during the war of 1895, nor during the struggle against Machado or against Batista.
Since 1959, the United States has considered Cuba a threat, before the Revolution declared itself socialist or signed a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union. At that time, the “Revolution was as Cuban as the palms,” as Fidel Castro put it. Washington then began to finance internal groups. That was the opposition’s undoing because Cubans cannot understand that a fellow countryman would accept money from a foreign power to oppose their government. That is why the opposition is insignificant in Cuba and incapable of rallying the population around it.
SL: But there are dissatisfied sectors in Cuba that do not receive money from the United States.
ML: I am not saying that there are not dissatisfied people in Cuba. They must be substantial, especially since the Special Period following the demise of the Soviet Union. But transforming this discontent into political opposition against the government is not easy, because Cubans want to preserve their system and improve it. The vast majority do not want another model.
An honest political opposition must be in favor of national sovereignty and against U.S. economic sanctions. It must be willing to defend José Martí’s dream of a free and independent Cuba. It must seek Cuban solutions to Cuban problems and not look to the North. It must rid itself of its inferiority complex and of being submissive, which consists of believing that it always has to ask Washington’s permission to undertake an initiative.
SL: Why are there no revolts in Cuba, as there are in Europe and the rest of the world?
ML: The media dissidents cannot benefit from popular support. They have neither a defined program nor a leader. The fabricated opposition is caught in a contradiction. To fight for freedom, one must be free. However, the dissidents are prisoners of U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba. The day the annual budget of $20 million that Washington dedicates to it disappears, that opposition will also disappear.
SL: How do you analyze the changes in Cuba’s economic model?
ML: To answer your question, I must first define myself from an ideological point of view. I have always been and am a socialist. As a socialist, I consider that capitalism does not distribute wealth in society, but [gives] privileges to the richest. When capitalist society is transformed into a statist Revolution, as in Cuba where almost everything is in the hands of the State, the capitalist bureaucracy, which is efficient, is replaced with a party bureaucracy, which in many cases is inefficient.
Today, the Cuban process allows Cubans to work on their own and favors the cleansing of the State of this unsustainable bureaucracy that impedes development. But Cuban society should favor, in addition to individual work, cooperatives. In other words, socialism is not State capitalism. Socialism stipulates that the means of production must be in the hands of the workers. The role of the state is to carry out this process over the long term. When a license is given to a person to establish his trade, it is a positive step. But the State must be bolder and turn the enterprises over to the workers and transform them into socialist cooperatives.
The problem in Cuba, with the bureaucracy and paternalism, is that everyone considers that everything belongs to them. That is why there is so much theft in hotels and state enterprises. The administrator, in charge of the proper functioning of the structure, in certain cases is the first to steal. There is only one way to break this vicious circle: by bringing criminals to justice and, above all, by socializing the means of production. In a cooperative, theft is no longer possible because the workers are members and will not allow this type of criminal behavior. If a member of a cooperative, let us say of a restaurant, wants to take a ham home, it will be impossible for him to do so because he will run up against the opposition of his fellow members. Thus, the property of the cooperative will be better protected.
SL: Should the State leave the entire economy in the hands of cooperatives?
ML: No, the State should keep control of the big companies, of the country’s basic industry, as well as tourism and nickel. It should keep control of the nation’s strategic resources.
On the other hand, barbershops, restaurants and other small businesses should be out of state control. Economic reform should not be limited to small private enterprises but should also include cooperatives. This is a fundamental objective. I am quite optimistic about this and I hope that Cubans will feel, with each passing day, more proud of their nationality.
SL: What are the main obstacles to these changes?
ML: They are of two types: internal and external. Externally, the United States will take advantage of the new situation of free enterprise to use it against the Revolution and to destabilize the country. This is the first risk.
Then, Cuban leaders should not let the bureaucracy fabricate phantoms to preserve their power. They must differentiate an efficient official from an incompetent bureaucrat who pretends to scare the State in order to keep his position. Those are the two challenges.
SL: What do you think of the way the Western media portrays Cuba?
ML: I have been a journalist for more than half a century. It is clear that there is a double standard when it comes to Cuba. Some time ago, the media reported the story of an opposition leader arrested by the police and released a few hours later. That same day there was a demonstration in the Dominican Republic. The police fired and three people were killed. The Western press did not say a word [about that]. An event that goes unnoticed in the rest of the world becomes news when it comes to Cuba.
SL: Why does the United States continue to impose economic sanctions on Cuba, more than a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War?
ML: Initially, the economic sanctions were imposed following Cuba’s decision to nationalize some U.S. companies. But it is worth remembering that U.S. hostility, or at least distrust, of Fidel Castro predates the triumph of the Revolution. Washington did everything to prevent Fidel Castro from coming to power and supported Fulgencio Batista until the last moments. After the dictator fled, the United States imposed a military junta but it lasted only a few hours and was destroyed by the popular and revolutionary wave. It is important to remember this historical reality.
Since that time, the Revolution has been in power and the United States has taken every possible and imaginable measure to try to overthrow it. All the diplomatic rhetoric elaborated since 1959 to justify the state of siege against Cuba is a succession of pretexts that do not stand up to analysis. Washington thus evoked the nationalizations, then the alliance with the Soviet Union, then Cuba’s aid to revolutionary movements throughout the world, then the single party, then human rights. In reality, the United States expects a total and definitive surrender of the Cuban people, something that has not happened in more than half a century and which, in my opinion, will not happen.
SL: However, Washington normalized relations with China and Vietnam and ended sanctions against these countries. Why is it different with Cuba?
ML: The policy of sanctions against Cuba – the objective of which is to starve the Cuban people – has failed. And I think the United States is having a hard time being clear-headed about this and admitting this reality. The maintenance of the sanctions is aimed at preventing the country’s development and the neighbor to the North refuses to recognize its mistake and maintains an obsolete and cruel state of siege that arouses the opprobrium of the international community, even of the United States’ most faithful allies.
I believe that sooner rather than later the United States will have to lift the sanctions against Cuba. Even President Barack Obama has spoken out against those sanctions and now it will be up to the U.S. Congress to take the initiative by interpreting the sentiments of the U.S. people.
SL: What is the impact of the economic sanctions on the Cuban community in the United States?
ML: The economic sanctions constitute not only aggression against the Cuban people but also affect the American people. Preventing a U.S. citizen from traveling to a country 90 miles away is an attack on a constitutional human right.
Likewise, the Cuban community in the United States suffers because in order to travel to Cuba, the land of our ancestors where more than 80% of the Cubans living in American territory were born, one must face a whole series of administrative obstacles imposed by Washington.
For example, under George W. Bush, U.S. Cubans could only travel to their country of origin for two weeks every three years. This, at best, was because a permit had to be obtained from the Treasury Department. To obtain such authorization, one had to prove that one had a direct family member in Cuba. For everyone, an aunt, cousin or nephew is a direct family member. But the Bush administration gave a definition of family that only applied to Cubans. Thus, only grandparents, siblings, children and spouses were part of the family. So, a Cuban from Coral Gables who only had an aunt in Cuba could not travel to their country of origin. Imagine the impact it had on the Cuban family when we know that the family is the basis of society. In Cuba, the concept of family is important and broad because not only those who are linked by blood are part of the family, but also those who are linked by friendship.
This political aberration had the support of the Cuban extreme right-wing in Florida, which has a visceral hatred for the people of Cuba. It is not only a question of a desire for revenge towards the Castro brothers but of a real aversion towards the Cuban population since the majority of them support the Government.
SL: How do you respond to those who say that the economic sanctions are simply a bilateral issue between Cuba and the United States and that Havana can develop its commercial relations with the rest of the world?
ML: Those statements do not stand up to analysis even for a moment. To say that Cuba can trade with the rest of the world is to ignore the extraterritorial character of the economic sanctions. Let me give you some examples. Since 1992, any ship entering a Cuban port is prohibited from entering a U.S. port for six months. What is the consequence for Cuba? It must pay astronomical sums, above market rates, to convince international carriers to bring it goods. Remember that the United States is the world’s largest market.
Likewise, if a foreign company wants to export its products to the United States, it must prove to the Treasury Department that its products do not contain a single gram of Cuban raw material. How then can Cuba export its products to the rest of the world with such obstacles? Likewise, Cuba cannot import anything from the rest of the world that contains more than 10% U.S. components. Given the technical and technological leadership of the United States, they have a monopoly in many sectors. The most emblematic example is the medical sector. The United States is the world leader in this field and Cuba cannot import any medicine or medical equipment produced in the United States or containing more than 10% of U.S. components. Take the case of the aeronautical sector. The vast majority of aircraft contain U.S. products and cannot operate in Cuba. That is the reality.
SL: According to Washington, the sanctions policy is the best way to restore democracy in Cuba.
ML: It is ridiculous to think that economic sanctions can have positive results for the United States. It is a criminal weapon against the people of Cuba and will not have any favorable outcome. There will be no political changes in Cuba orchestrated from the outside. Cubans will never accept it. Even during the period of the Soviet Union, Moscow could not control Cuba’s domestic and international politics. To claim that sanctions will change the position of the Cuban leadership is ignorant. Changes in Cuba have taken place since 1959 by the natural law of life, but they have been made only by the will of the Cubans themselves.
As for democracy, what kind of democracy does the U.S. want to export, that of Miami where vice, corruption, vote-buying and selling are rife, where lobbies choose who will be the next president? I am sure Cubans do not favor this kind of democracy. They already experienced that when Batista was in power.
SL: Cuba has not compensated the nationalized U.S. properties.
ML: Let the United States present the account. The Cubans will also present the account of the damages caused by the economic sanctions and the policy of aggression since 1960 and we will get the true account of it all. I think it will be Washington’s turn to draw the check.
SL: What would be the benefits for the American people in the event of the lifting of economic sanctions?
ML: First, U.S. citizens would regain their right to travel to any country in the world. They have been deprived of this constitutional right for more than half a century. Next, it would restore the fraternal ties between the two peoples that a political dispute that divides the two nations has broken. U.S. citizens will discover that Cuba is undoubtedly the only country in the world where an American flag has never been burned. U.S. diplomats in Cuba walk the streets of Havana without the need for protection. The Cuban people have always shown goodwill towards the American people.
From an economic standpoint, American businesses would be the great beneficiaries of removal of sanctions and could enjoy the opportunities offered by a country of 11.2 million people 90 miles from Key West.
SL: The U.S. regularly brings up the human rights situation in Cuba.
ML: To talk selectively about human rights in Cuba as a political and propaganda tool is absurd and grotesque. Not a day goes by without massive human rights violations in the world, including in the United States, without any possible comparison with what could happen in Cuba, without any reaction from Washington or the Western media.
When a police officer in the United States commits an outrage against a citizen, the responsibility lies with the municipal services. On the other hand, when it happens in Havana, they immediately accuse the government of the “Castro brothers” and blame them. This double standard is not acceptable. A magnifying glass is used to dissect Cuba’s defects and we purposely forget that these same defects exist in the greatest Western democracies.
What moral authority does the U.S. have to lecture on the issue of human rights when it has set up a torture center in Guantanamo, secret prisons all over the world and carries out extrajudicial executions in Iraq and Afghanistan? All this is public.
SL: What is the main achievement of the Cuban Revolution?
ML: Without a doubt, sovereignty. If Fidel had to change its name, it would have to be called Sovereignty. For the first time in its history, Cuba is sovereign and independent.
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Twenty-one years have passed since the return to the homeland, on June 28, 2000, of that six-year-old boy kidnapped in Miami by distant relatives in collusion with the Cuban-American mafia, after losing his mother in the shipwreck of a boat that was trying to reach the U.S. coasts, as a consequence of the irregular migration encouraged by the Cuban Adjustment Act.
He was returned to Cuba under the guardianship of his father seven months after his kidnapping, after the mobilization of all the people of Cuba and a long judicial process, in violation of international law and U.S. laws themselves, since both legislations recognize that the jurisdiction over these cases belongs only to the courts of the country of origin.
Elián González Brotons was just a six-year-old pionero when, on November 22, 1999, his mother tried to smuggle him out of Cuba. The shipwreck of the boat in which they were traveling caused the death of 11 of the occupants except for Elián and two others. The boy, clinging to a tire, was rescued by fishermen and taken to U.S. territory, where he became, after the just demands of his father, the center of the battle of an entire people during seven months for his return.
Upon arrival in Florida, the child was placed in the care of Lázaro González, his paternal great-uncle living in Miami, who soon after, in open complicity with the anti-Cuban mafia, opposed any attempt to return him to Cuba.
Elián’s father, Juan Miguel González, was unaware of his son’s departure from Cuba and immediately requested his repatriation, an act that was supported by the Cuban Government and all its people.
In spite of the opposition of Elián’s distant relatives to his return to his country, on January 5, 2000, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) of the United States recognized Juan Miguel’s parental rights over his son.
The decision was endorsed by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and President William Clinton, and the child was scheduled to be returned by January 14. But relatives and anti-Cuban groups in Miami appealed the decision and took the case to the U.S. courts.
On January 21, Elián’s grandmothers traveled to the United States to look for their grandson. Five days later, after multiple steps, they were able to see him, but only for a few hours, and they had to return alone to Cuba.
Faced with the silence of the U.S. authorities, on December 5, young people from the Technical Youth Brigades (BTJ) protested in front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (SINA), against the child’s detention.
The action was the prelude to what would later turn out to be a wave of mass demonstrations, including marches of hundreds of thousands of people -the Marches of the Combatant People-, combative Open Tribunals in different cities of the country and the beginning of the Battle of Ideas.
On December 23, 1999, in front of a group of children who guarded the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on the occasion of the march for the child Elián González, in the José Antonio Echeverría social circle, the Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro, said: “What is beginning today is the second stage of the battle of the masses that we have been waging since Sunday, December 5. It has been and is a battle of ideas, of national and international public opinion, of legal, ethical and human principles, between Cuba and the empire, which in our Homeland is supported by one of the largest and most combative mobilizations that has taken place throughout our history”.
What the SINA officials could not foresee at that time is that this would be the most prolonged and massive popular movement, of those that had taken place since January 1st, 1959, up to the present day.
Elian’s father, Juan Miguel González, traveled to Washington on April 6, but it was not until 16 days later that he was reunited with his son after a federal operation rescued the boy from the kidnappers. The maneuvers reached the Atlanta Court, which in two instances rejected demands for political asylum for Elián, but not an injunction preventing his return.
On Monday, June 26, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in just two days, settled a case that had lasted more than seven months and denied all legal remedies to the abductors. On June 28, 2000, the boy and his father returned to Cuba.
“I feel happy in Cuba, that the result of that struggle led by the Cubans to which the American people and many personalities joined, led by Fidel, gave me the possibility to grow up here, to know him, to be his friend and it is my greatest pride,” Elián said on May 12, 2016.
In July 2010, Elián made public statements in which he thanked the people of Cuba and the United States for having achieved his release and supported his father Juan Miguel at all times; he also declared he did not to hold a grudge against his Miami relatives, protagonists of the kidnapping.
On December 6, 2018, the then President of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, congratulated Elián through his Twitter account on his 25th birthday, and recalled that the battle for his freedom, led by Fidel, showed how many challenges can be overcome together.
His hometown awarded, on December 29, 2019, the young industrial engineer Elián González the title of Illustrious Son of Cárdenas, conferred during the provincial act of Matanzas for the 61st anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution. The title of Illustrious Son given to the already militant of the Union of Young Communists coincided with the 20th anniversary of the emergence of the Battle of Ideas.
Youth is the present and future of Cuba, says Elián González
Elián González: “Young people are not the future, they are the present”.
Special program The Battle for Elián
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 | email@example.com
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.