Néstor Kohan – Rebelión
It’s an enormous loss. It seems as though it can’t possibly be true. Celia Hart Santamaría has just died, along with her brother Abel, in an automobile accident in Havana. We learned of it last night. Pablo Kilberg, the tireless friend of the Cuban revolution and of Celia (one and the same), called us and gave us the sad news. And just now, when she’s missed more than ever! Such a feeling of impotence. Such an ugly feeling in the mouth, in the throat, in the stomach.
Everyone presented her as “the daughter of…” Not that that’s bad. Her mother was Haydeé Santamaría Cuadrado [1922-1980], a revolutionary militant, emblematic and symbolic of the Cuban Revolution, comrade of Fidel Castro from the first days, assailant of the Moncada barracks, founder of the Casa de las Americas. Her father, Armando Hart Dávalos [1930 – ], historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, along with Fidel as well, the founder of the July 26 Movement, the Revolution’s Education Minister, and the inspirer of its celebrated literacy campaign. Besides her parents, Celia counted among her family Abel Santamaría Cuadrado [1927-1953], Fidel’s political collaborator since before Batista’s coup d’etat, later an assailant at the Moncada barracks, captured alive, tortured and killed by the Batista dictatorship.
But Celia was much more than “the daughter of” or the “niece of”. She had, has and will always have her own light and brilliance. Who could doubt it?
I came to know Celia through her father. It was Armando who was most insistent that we should get to know Celia. Between the two of them, father and daughter, there was a very strong relationship, affecting and emotional but also intellectual and political. Every writer, when they write, has in mind a dialogue with someone. It pleases me to say that Armando was one of Celia’s imaginary readers, along with Fidel Castro. She always had their opinions in mind, in a real or imaginary dialogue. Every time Celia wrote to me, she confessed: “I imagine what my father will think” or “what Fidel must be thinking of what I’m saying,” “I’m sure that Fidel will love it.”
I reached Celia through Armando. For more than a decade, in the middle of the moral and intellectual desert of the ’90’s, during the fierce and unrelenting reign of neoliberalism all over the world, Armando Hart wrote to us after reading a piece about Marx and the third world, published in the Casa de las Americas magazine. As enthusiastic as a boy, he sent us a lecture of his on the Communist Manifesto. A personal meeting followed an exchange of letters and articles, thanks to friend and comrade Fernando Martínez Heredia, as much a Guevarist as father and daughter.
The bond with Armando strengthened. He wrote a prologue for a book on Latin American Marxism that until now has unfortunately still not been published in Cuba (although it has already been prepared for publication). I in turn, had the honor of writing a prologue for his book Marx, Engels y la condición humana [Marx, Engels and the Human Condition]. Later in one of his visits to Argentina, Armando Hart came as guest lecturer for the Cátedra Che Guevara. In these conversations with the father, in addition to Martí, Ingenieros, the Reforma Universitaria, Mella, Guiteras and Fidel, Marx and Engels, Che y Freud, the subject of his daughter always came up. It was recurrent. Armando had an admiration for her that he never concealed. He told us, again and again, “Celia is like Haydeé [Celia’s mother], but of today, in postmodern times.”
The first time I saw her, Celia did not begin by talking about the Latin American revolution, of Fidel, of Che or Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. No! Before we’d even opened our mouths, the first words she said to us, smiling ear to ear, were: “I’m so jealous of your relationship with my father.” That’s how she was, tremendously ironic and tender at the same time, profoundly human, very lovable above all else. The living antithesis of the impersonal “machine” that transforms the politics of revolutionaries into something soulless, cold, administrative, bureaucratic. Filled with affection, tenderness, humanity, we could talk about any Latin American issue, of Chávez, of Cuba’s future, of the Miami gusanos or whatever, and in the middle, always, invariably, she’d crack a joke, a pun, something ironic or an unexpected allusion to her love, my friend. Celia spoke, presented, and wrote irreverently, breaking the molds and the rules of the road, breathing life into the fossilized, musty, boxed up discourse of the traditional left. She was a whirlwind of ideas. She spoke incredibly fast, sometimes so fast it was difficult to follow. She generated tremendous enthusiasm with young people. I witnessed it in Cuba as well as Argentina (a very short time ago, Chilean friends told me they were thinking of inviting her to that Andean country).
During these years, we talked about many things, about mutual agreements as well as various nuances. When the argument became heated, Celia shot me a smile: “Okay, well you know that I’m a physicist by profession.” And from there the laughter bloomed. We loosened up and carried on.
Celia played an enormous role in the battle of ideas of recent times, within and outside of Cuba. In my humble opinion, Celia Hart’s word was very useful and very effective. It served, as we say in Argentina, to “open heads,” or in other words, to make one think. Celia helped to think! She provoked the different Latin American leftist tribes, forcing them to listen to one another (a difficult job, for sure).
She pushed traditional communists, formed in the cultural world of the Soviet Union, against the wall and forced them to abandon unfounded prejudices and to read, at last, the “unnameable” and “demonic” Leon Trotsky, so often erased from photos and histories both through censorship as well as the self-censorship of various generations educated in Stalinism. Although it may have been only for the sake of argument, they had to read Trotsky. Some reacted with bitterness, but the majority adopted a different, softer, more rational attitude, taking Celia’s idea as a challenge and from there, they had to go back and rethink old dogmas, outdated and completely ineffective for today. Who could accuse Celia of not understanding the cultural and political world of Eastern Europe, after the end of the Soviet Union, which fell with the Berlin Wall, when she had lived for years and studied physics in the very German Democratic Republic (GDR)? Who could accuse Celia of being “counter-revolutionary,” “fifth columnist,” or whatever, knowing that she loved – not just admired, but loved – Fidel Castro?
Without mincing words, Celia corrected the Trotskyists of Latin America but also of Europe, speaking to them of Fidel and Che, with politically rigorous arguments, and also with love. She told them, again and again, that internationalism is not confined to pamphlets and university magazines, or salon rhetoric, that the Cuban Revolution sent almost half a million internationalist combatants to Angola and the rest of Latin America. Celia obliged them to call for the freedom of the five Cuban revolutionaries imprisoned in the United States. She asked them, every chance she got, to abandon crystallized formulas and look at Cuba and its revolution with different, less prejudiced eyes.
In the case of Maoism, some of its leaders were very upset with Celia for her criticism of Stalin (a figure also questioned, incidentally, by Armando Hart Dávalos in a piece where he commented the famous [Trotsky] biography by Isaac Deutscher, an author he gave his daughter to read at a very young age). In Havana, we introduced the Secretary General of the Argentine Maoist party to Celia so that he might speak personally with her and in this way understand who she was and how she thought, above and beyond her articles, in this way perhaps doing away with certain prejudices.
We insisted. Celia’s great virtue has always been her interventions, not always planned, nor serenely calculated (and always the cause of plenty of anguish and headaches when the bourgeois press tried to manipulate or misrepresent her), forcing the left to think. To think! That activity that is not always practiced when the alleged Marxist “orthodoxy” (whatever the ideological family in question, each to its own ghetto) becomes a safe conduct pass to ruminate and repeat slogans, without doing its own reflection, or critical thinking.
In the cultural world of the left, Celia was viewed as a “rare bird.” Fidelista Trotskyist? Critical of bureaucracy and the market and a defender to the death of the Cuban revolution? Guevarist on fire that doesn’t participate in official or institutional tributes to Che? How is that? More than one person has thought, “Explain that to me!”
What it is, is that the massacres and military genocides of Latin America, perpetrated under the mandate of North American imperialism, did not only burn bodies and make people disappear. They also burned books and tried to make thoughts disappear.
Celia’s iconoclastic and, at one point, ecumenical proposal, did not start from zero, nor was it the product of a new alchemy. It was a point of arrival. Before she propagandized with her very personal prose, whose literary brilliance was not indifferent to the dance of the muses, other comrades had tried to combine this synthesis of cultural traditions and diverse politics.
For example, in his 1970 book The Marxism of Che Guevara (various editions), Michael Löwy had tried to restore Che’s integrity – not only as a heroic guerrilla but also as a top-flight Marxist thinker – defending the Cuban revolution and promoting Guevarism while being inspired by Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and the young György Lukács. Very close to Löwy, in 1972, comrade Carlos Rossi (a pseudonym) wrote La revolución permanente in América Latina [Permanent Revolution in Latin America] (see http://amauta.lahaine.org/). There Rossi analyzed the entire contemporary history of our America from the theories of unequal and combined development and permanent revolution, while endorsing the strategy of Cuban and Guevarist style armed revolution on a continental scale. Two unambiguous antecedents of Celia’s proposals and political essays.
When Celia asked us last year, in June of 2007, to introduce her book Apuntes revolucionarios. Cuba, Venezuela y el socialismo internacional [Revolutionary Notes. Cuba, Venezuela and International Socialism]([Buenos Aires, Fundación Federico Engels, 2007], a collection of her internet articles, published in large part by our mutual friend and comrade Luciano Alzaga, who contributed greatly to distributing Celia’s thoughts and making her known outside of Cuba) we said this to her publicly. We were reminded of those two “forgotten” works, previous to Celia’s book and her precursors by thirty years. Far from any kind of presumption or self-regard, so common among certain gurus of the academic left, she was neither offended nor angered. She didn’t pretend to have discovered gunpowder for the umpteenth time. With extreme, almost exaggerated humility, Celia responded that she considered herself a “recent arrival” to the world of political and social theory and recognized that her unorthodox suggestions (however you wanted to look at them) didn’t spring from nowhere, but were instead an extension of previously established tradition.
That was Celia! That gesture is a complete picture. She didn’t need to boast of anything. Simply because she had a lot to say. Only the mediocre need cling to established forms, lacking their own content. That night, at the introduction of her book, there was an overflow crowd of nearly two hundred young people. Celia ended up speaking perched on a table, surrounded by a sea of militants from diverse tribes of the left (not only Argentine, but even Sandinistas, and Celia argued with them, without abandoning the 1979 revolution). She only managed to reunite the diverse chapels of our divided left, after years and years of populist, reformist, and postmodern hegemony.
Löwy himself made reference to Celia in his latest research about el Che and present Guevarism. When the Brazilian researcher sent us the proofs for a chapter of his book, seeking suggestions and opinions, we asked him, “Aren’t you going to include the current Guevarists in the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR) in Chile? And Celia in Cuba?” In the same way, with the same humility, the historian and researcher put them in the final edition. In writing about her, Löwy referred to the “incendiary writings of Celia Hart,” highlighting them among the recent expressions of contemporary Guevarism (See Michael Löwy and Olivier Besancenot: Che Guevara: una braise qui brûle encore [Che Guevara, an Ember that Burns Again] Paris, Mille et une nuits, 2007. Chapter “La herencia guevarista en América Latina.” [The Guevarist Legacy in Latin America] p. 153). When that book hit the street, both authors, inspired by Trotsky but also by Che Guevara, were immediately accused – as though it were something terribly serious – of being “Guevarists”…
Unstoppable, full of militant enthusiasm, Celia always wrote with urgency. She sent her articles to her friends, asking for comments at the last minute, asking on what page of what book this or that citation might be found, and that’s how we argued, with frankness, loyalty, fraternally, without double entendres, without calculating institutional favors or petty conveniences.
The last exchange we had was over a sub-variant of Argentine Trotskyism: Morenoism, the group that invited her for the last time to our country. When she asked our opinion, we said the same thing we’d always said. From a position of respect for the dedication of an often sacrificed militancy, we considered the enormous distance that separated the high-sounding rhetoric and incendiary literature of Morenoism from a prolonged, mundane, earthly, largely reformist history, as something unconcealable, and that’s how we put it to her. We provided concrete examples from Argentine history that Celia had no reason to know about. Behavior not always dignified nor decorous that, in our view, did not come from “evil” and even less from individual “treachery” by such and such a political leader – generally forceful and quite willing to sacrifice – than from a conception and a political strategy that we viewed as wrong, often uncritically institutional and electoral.
Apart from this timely example and many other questions shared over the years, with Celia we spoke about the historical polemics that at the time, pitted the followers of Nahuel Moreno against those of Mario Roberto Santucho, killed by the military dictatorship in 1976 (one of the main leaders of Guevarism in Argentina and in the Latin American southern cone – where he shared the trenches and organization with the Chilean Miguel Enríquez, the Uruguayan Raúl Sendic and the Bolivian brothers Inti and Coco Peredo). Celia always said the same thing to me, face to face, in more than one conversation, as well as in writing: “You know, my dear Néstor, that my party is that of Che Guevara and Robi Santucho.” She never ceased to repeat it to me.
Celia was insistent about a number of things. One of them was the necessity for a real dialogue and concrete unity among the diverse left. Not unity with power factions, but a unity of the left, where the differences are not always antagonistic contradictions.
For example, when in September of 2007, the Colectivo Amauta and the Cátedra Che Guevara organized a street shutdown (at Callao and Corrientes, in the heart of Buenos Aires) and a public class in defense of the political prisoners, Celia didn’t fail them. Together with messages received from around the world, the extensive, emotional and committed letter Celia sent on behalf of the prisoners represented the Cuban voice with dignity in this united effort, where very diverse currents converged. Celia acted while circumventing any temptation to be guided by reasons of state. She wasn’t thinking about nor prioritizing the diplomatic relations between the state of her country and Kirchner’s government, but was more concerned with the situation of the Argentinean political prisoners then on a hunger strike. She was most logical.
Later, the Colectivo Amauta and the Cátedra Che Guevara launched an initiative to organize an International Guevarist Seminar for June of 2008. Celia wrote us again. She told us that they’d invited her to inaugurate an official monument to Che in the city of Rosario (Argentina), where along with leftist sects, others associated with the Kirchner government and local social democratic currents would be present. As she told us, she declined the invitation. She clarified to us that she was not looking for the spotlight by the “use of a prestigious name.” Neither did she want official contacts with the Argentine government, nor did they interest her. She opted to support the initiative for the International Guevarist Seminar, but through her own suggestion. She offered to participate personally (a trip that couldn’t happen since the non-official organizers couldn’t come up with the money for her flight) and also promised to fight to convince the numerous sects inspired by Trotskyism to support the movement that was being made in defense of Che and the Cuban revolution. She clarified to us that probably these organizations wouldn’t support them, but she insisted and tried to convince them. So it became known to various comrades to whom she sent letters with her appeals. In front of the various picketing organizations, we read her letter of support for the event, with great enthusiasm.
Why did Celia support this other initiative? Had it been for reasons of personal friendship? I really don’t think so. I’m sure that she also had many friends and admirers in the official ranks at the event. Perhaps we’re wrong, but we suspect that her intention was always directed at removing Che from the poster and the statue, in order to recover who he really was, someone untameable, who didn’t generate condescending or nostalgic whispers, but rather, anger, diatribes and discomfort in official society as well as the reformist currents that insisted on defaming him.
In the last conversation that we had before this unfortunate accident, Celia called me by telephone from Buenos Aires. She’d been in Argentina a few days. When she told me that she was not going to be able to participate this time in the Cátedra Che Guevara, I insulted her affectionately, given the mutual trust we had. She laughed raucously. She asked forgiveness again and after that the conversation led to the problems in Argentine politics and the Latin American debate over the Colombian insurgency and Uribe’s attacks. Celia didn’t waver on this issue either. She began with her customary enthusiasm to defend the brothers and sisters of the Colombian FARC and put forward her belief that today more than ever, the Latin American left in its various forms and groups, must support the insurgency. We interrupted her to remind her that the phones in Argentina are tapped by the police and it wouldn’t be a good idea to talk about this subject this way. She laughed a lot when I reminded her that we were not in Cuba, and that it would behoove her to return to the practices of the times in which her mother and father had to protect themselves from repressive organizations, as well as intelligence. That was our last conversation, just a few days ago.
So that’s how Celia always was. A Vietnamese tank entering the Yankee embassy, a Soviet tank taking Berlin by storm. Unstoppable! No-one could stop her. A hurricane of militant energy.
She never assumed, nor was she interested in a “decorative” position. She might have lived comfortably, enjoying, far from the political realm, her prestigious surnames. This option didn’t seduce her in the least. What’s more, I’m sure that she despised it. Her interest was always in being a militant, no matter whether this brought “problems” as a result of the troubles in which she involved herself. Her preferred words were not “let’s see when we’ve had a few drinks” (although we also had a few) but rather, she prioritized political debate, the work, the militant challenges on a continental scale, without losing day to day humanism.
Nothing of nostalgia for the past, all the effort toward the future. Perhaps that’s why Celia loved Julio Antonio Mella so, who once wrote, “The future must always be better.”
So geographically distant from Celia but always close to her in the heart and in ideals, we send an enormous embrace to her father, Armando Hart, to her children, to all her family, to her comrades in Cuba and everywhere, who loved and will go on loving her.
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.
Dearest comrade Celia, hasta la victoria siempre!
Buenos Aires, September 8, 2008