Today, a two-part special: An interview with Fidel earlier this month by the Argentine sociologist Atilio Boron, which appeared on Boron’s blog and was also published at Pagina 12.
Fidel and Boron discussed the G-20 meeting, and the motives for inviting Argentina, Brazil and Mexico to dine with the adults. And Fidel talked about the recent cabinet changes: “If I expressed an opinion about the change in the cabinet,” he said, “it was due to the necessity to cut off at the root the talk about a conflict between Fidel’s men and those of Raúl. I couldn’t endorse this stupidity by my silence…Raúl is the one who is governing. In Cuba, many people paid with their lives for the victory and consolidation of the Revolution, not just in the Sierra Maestra and in the struggle against Batista. Afterwards, they also killed our literacy teachers in Cuba, and they are still doing it outside of Cuba. The same thing goes on with our doctors, who risk their lives to make socialist internationalism a reality.”
Finally, they discuss the ominous possibility of a rightward political swing in Latin America as a consequence of the economic crisis.
Following his meeting with the Cuban leader, the Argentine sociologist, Atilio Boron, talks about how “Fidel lives surrounded by books and papers. Daily press summaries keep him informed about what’s happening in the world, and in his ever-present notebooks, he jots comments, ideas or questions which go on to make up his Reflections,” he says.
By Atilio A. Boron – Pagina/12
English Translation: Machetera
Fidel doesn’t rest. He remains steadfast in the gap. He hasn’t abandoned, nor will he abandon the struggle. Warrior of so many battles, he continues his relentless hounding of imperialism. His will is indomitable, and as with the best steel, the passage of time, far from nicking it, has only made it harder. He knows that to build a better world, a decisive battle must be won: the battle of ideas. As the faithful heir of Martí, of whom he has not coincidentally spoken as the intellectual author of the attack on the Moncada, he knows as well that one must be cultured to be free. But this culture which leads to liberty should be nourished in the best traditions of critical and emancipatory thought, of which socialism is an indispensable and irreplaceable component.
His prolonged convalescence, which has allowed him to regain his health in a dramatic way, and his distancing from government functions has made it possible for him to cultivate his insatiable intellectual curiosity. But his is not a solipsistic attitude, as it is always guided by the necessity to change the world, not just contemplate it. Few such as he are as aware of the catastrophic outcome that capitalism is pushing upon us, converting the human race and nature into simple commodities to be traded in the marketplace, with the exclusive purpose of making a profit. An intellectual curiosity, we’d say, in which his solid humanistic formation has been enriched by an exceptional political experience, all of which is then socialized in the periodical articles in which he analyzes the most pressing issues of the contemporary scene.
As before, Fidel lives surrounded by books and papers. Daily press summaries from the most diverse countries keep him informed in detail about what is happening around the world, and in his ever-present notebooks he jots his ideas, comments or questions which go on to make up his “Reflections.” As in the past, his hunger for knowledge is inexhaustible, just like his passion for accurate and precise information. Soldier in the battle of ideas, it takes a special character – rare among politicians – to govern the destiny of his homeland for such a long time and then renounce his duties and engage himself, body and soul, in his current mission. “At this time, the responsibility for governing is that of my brother, not mine.” A certain disbelief reflected in my face, perhaps motivated by his harsh public statement in regard to the ministerial re-organization, did not pass his attentive gaze unnoticed. “If I expressed an opinion about the change in the cabinet,” he said, “it was due to the necessity to cut off at the root the talk about a conflict between Fidel’s men and those of Raúl. I couldn’t endorse this stupidity by my silence.” And he repeated, “Raúl is the one who is governing. In Cuba, many people paid with their lives for the victory and consolidation of the Revolution.” And, he continued, “not just in the Sierra Maestra and in the struggle against Batista. Afterwards, they also killed our literacy teachers in Cuba, and they are still doing it outside of Cuba. The same thing goes on with our doctors, who risk their lives to make socialist internationalism a reality.” I gather that this reflection was meant to contextualize the ministerial changes of recent days and dismiss the accusation that in Cuba there’s only one generation, that of the Sierra Maestra, which risked its life and therefore would be the only one with the right to govern. There are several generations that have won this right and, added Fidel, “one of the greatest successes of the Revolution is the huge quantity of well prepared and well educated young people that we have.”
But the old warrior is waging other battles, far from day to day governance. He followed very closely, on Cuban television, the discussions which took place at the Eleventh International Economists Conference on Globalization and Development, organized by ANEC (National Association of Cuban Economists and Accountants), a unique event in the world, where neoliberal, Keynesian, post-Keynesian and Marxist economists debate without any restriction whatsoever. At this conference there were three Nobel prizewinners in Economics, and a plethora of economists linked to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and various economic ministries. Fidel received the papers presented there, and taking time out of his regular work, read a variety of them with his proverbial meticulousness. It was he who, with that eagle’s eye that Lenin so admired in Rosa Luxemburg, put together these meetings in mid-1998, because he could see the approaching crisis and exhaustion of the neoliberal model. At that time, he gave the ANEC president, one of his closest collaborators, Roberto Verrier, the assignment of calling together the widest possible conference of specialists in order to discuss the crisis that was already underway. The first conference took place in January of 1999, and Fidel was there, seated in the first row, taking notes on all that was said, speaking occasionally, either with intelligent commentaries or with pointed questions. These conferences were repeated, year after year, but his health problems deprived us of his presence in the latest ones. Nevertheless, he always kept abreast of what was discussed, and read the papers. I could see mine: whole lines underlined, words or phrases circled, comments in the margins, or above or below. Overall, the work of a methodical and diligent reader, who knows of what he speaks and who is very aware of the subjects that interest him. The level of information he manages is just as impressive today as it was before, when he was head of state.
It’s due to the fact that he saw the crisis coming well before anyone, and now knew before anyone else how to warn about the barbarous forms that the capitalist “resolution” to the crisis might assume. He seemed convinced of the argument I elaborated in my paper about this crisis being more serious than the two great crises that preceded it: the “Long Depression” of 1873-1896 and the “Great Depression” which erupted in 1929. The present crisis is an explosive combination of economic, ecology, energy and food crises, which are unfolding within the context of the ominous consequences of climate change. “The people don’t realize what’s happening,” he mused, while raising his substantial eyebrows, “and the media aren’t reporting what they need to report.” A crisis that is an update of the old dilemma that in a dark period of history, Rosa Luxemburg popularized as “socialism or barbarism,” and nothing is closer to it than the ecologic and climactic catastrophe that today puts in question the very survival of life on the planet. But there’s no capitalist solution to this crisis. Already in his participation in the First ANEC Conference, Fidel had shown, with the rigor of a mathematical theorem, that the capitalist crisis in gestation would not find a solution within capitalism and that therefore, one had to think otherwise. Socialism is now more necessary than ever before.
“Do you think by any chance that the G-20 might find a solution to the crisis?” he asks, taking my negative response for granted. “And why do you think they are inviting Argentina, Brazil and Mexico?” I respond: It’s a tactic to try to distance them from Chávez, giving them a scenic and rhetorical role, but not a real one, and whose latent message is “Forget about ALBA. You’re big countries and you ought to play with us, not against us.” They did the same with the debt crisis, in 1982, when they actively discouraged the creation of a “Debtors Club” to oppose the “Creditors Club” – under the auspices and backing of the G-7 governments – promising in exchange, “preferential treatment” for their debt, a promise that in the end was not fulfilled, finally pushing everyone into crisis equally. The same tactic is on the march today, with the same foreseeable results.
He’s in every detail and nothing in the world is foreign to him. “God,” he said to me some years ago, “is in the details.” He remains faithful to this axiom and continues to examine the data of reality with compulsive attention. “Obama is a good man,” he says, “but the presidency is one thing and the empire is another. It has its laws, its interests, its correlation of political, economic, and social forces.” The man that ten presidents of the greatest economic and military power in history tried to topple, and in some cases, assassinate, does not reveal the slightest hint of resentment or hate. He feels a certain sympathy for Obama, a young African American who by his existence alone is unspeakably irritating for many racists and the radical rightwing of the United States. But, knowing the empire like few others, he knows that the resistance to any kind of initiative for change will be formidable and that the dominant interests are not going to waver in the face of any reformist attempts of an occasional occupant of the White House.
Meanwhile, he continues reading and studying, like before or, really, more than before. He remarks that the body of scientific knowledge doubles every 14 years, and that the tendency is for this period of time to shrink still more. He surprises me, asking, “What good study do you know of Gramsci’s thought?” While I mentally process the list of “Gramsci-ologists” I can’t help but think at the same time about how many heads of state or ex-presidents or heads of state could have asked me a similar question; those who call themselves as leftists referring to Gramsci, or those who identify themselves with the right referring to, for instance, von Hayek. Who? Aznar, Berlusconi, Bush, Menem, Fujimori? And on the left, or center-left, or the so-called “progressive” leaders who recently met at Viña del Mar? Gordon Brown, Joe Biden, Rodríguez Zapatero, Lula, Cristina Fernández, Michelle Bachelet? No chance. Quite probably Hugo Chávez, yes. Conclusion: Fidel belongs to another galaxy.
Fidel is channeling all his energy toward the strategic “battle of ideas,” a necessary condition for constructing a post-capitalist alternative and not just a post-neoliberal one, as some old disillusioned leftists worry today. To the extent that capitalism endures as a mode of production, its exploitive, oppressive and predatory nature is revealed in all its historical manifestations, from the laissez faire at the beginning of the twentieth century to the neoliberalism at the end of the same century, passing through Keynesianism and developmentalism along the way. The Comandante’s concern about re-reading Gramsci and the classics of Marxist theory is accompanied by a renewed interest in the work of Darwin and the study of the impact of nanotechnology on the productive process and therefore, on the goods and services to which a population might have access. For quite some time he’s held a passionate interest in information technology’s advances, and because of this, Cuba developed an Information Sciences University that is one of the world’s most advanced. And this, despite the enduring criminal blockade that the White House took upon itself to extend to Internet access, forcing neighboring countries to abstain from providing a broadband connection to Cuba under penalty of having access blocked for their exports to the North American market. Thanks to Venezuela, this blackmail will soon be rendered worthless. Fidel knows that the new communication and information technologies are a powerful tool of ideological domination but, dialectically, they can also be a formidable weapon to raise a population’s consciousness and facilitate the dissemination of critical thought, as through the various courses offered at PLED (Latin American Program of Distance Education in the Social Sciences, based in Buenos Aires). But his concern does not remain there: he also reads about climate change, the economic crisis, political processes, and the burning international issues. The list might be interminable.
If his physical recuperation and moderate weight gain have slightly blurred his quixotic figure of old, his intellect and his heart remain faithful to Quixote’s noble vision, and his passion for righting wrongs is as intense as it ever was. It’s this spirit that led him to launch an assault on the Moncada, and some time later, with Raúl and Che, to begin the epic guerrilla campaign of the Sierra Maestra. Just as he predicted in his celebrated plea to the judges of the Moncada history did absolve him, and how! He also showed he was right when in 1985 he demonstrated the mathematical impossibility of paying external debt, contradicting the opinions of so-called “experts” who came up with ingenious tricks to prove the opposite. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the (false) socialism of Eastern Europe imploded, there were plenty who advised him to reconcile Cuba with the new realities of globalization and lower the supposedly tattered flags of socialism. The warrior refused, and disregarding opinion and forecasts both near and far, withstood the storm and proclaimed to the four winds that, although the Soviet Union had sunk, the fragile ship of revolutionary Cuba would resist the storm and arrive at safe harbor. Once more, history proved him right.
History also smiled upon him in 1992, at the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, when in the seven minutes granted each participant, he denounced the looming climactic and environmental catastrophe. His speech was blasted as apocalyptic and purely ideological by many of those who conventional wisdom identified as “realists” and “experts.” But, who remembers those intellectual midgets now? And what about the rulers who were present – Menem, Fujimori, and others of the same kind – who closed their ears to Fidel’s speech and aggravated the problem with their criminal indifference? History once again ruled in his favor when, in 1998, he convened economists to discuss the crisis in gestation, at a time when the established knowledge assured that there was and would not be any crisis, but rather, at most, a temporary slowdown of economic growth. A decade later, the inconvenient facts demonstrate once again that Fidel was right.
This was the man who honored me with his invitation to discuss certain aspects of my paper. He was interested above all, in the concept of the “imperial bourgeoisie,” conceived to describe the entanglement produced between the dominant classes of the main capitalist metropolises and the way in which they unified their strategy for global domination. Its members gather annually in Davos to coordinate their strategy on a worldwide scale, review their troops, harmonize their message and politics, and strengthen their political and ideological influence at an international level, for which they invite political leaders, “experts” and social communicators in order to convey the good news. He asked me for details, examples, reasons for which the concept is used. He complained about his lack of time: he couldn’t receive a number of presidents, and for those who he did receive, he couldn’t dedicate the time he’d have liked.
We talk a bit about Argentina and he told me that he’d been pleasantly surprised by the strength and conviction that President Cristina Fernández showed, and her willingness to fight, but he was worried about the sequels to the conflict that the government faced last year from the rural sectors. On examining the Latin American sociopolitical panorama, he expressed his concern because the ideological pendulum, which in the last decade has tilted toward the left – while to a differing degree among the countries – could stop its progress, or worse, swing the other way, threatening the stability and continuity of the progressive governments in the region. He knows that imperialism is on the lookout for a “course correction” in its back yard. He knows it completely, and can say, as Martí, that “I know its entrails and my slingshot is only that of David.” With this slingshot he held the American Goliath in check for 50 years and ended up isolating it: in October of 2008, of the 192 member countries of the United Nations, 185 voted in favor of a resolution that demanded an end to the American blockade against Cuba. Only two went along with the empire: Israel, the U.S. military megabase in the Middle East, and Palau, a lost island in the Pacific populated by 21,000 people and used as a proving ground for the missiles of the U. S.Navy. Another two, the Marshall Islands (63,000 inhabitants) and Micronesia (107,000) considered the shame too great, and abstained. But this message from the world community went unheard by the White House and its masters: the military-industrial complex. They want to take advantage of the crisis to return the region to “discipline” and do away with the leftist spring. The succession to the Concertación government in Chile appears inexorably destined to reinstall a rightwinger in the Moneda, whether it is the governmental candidate Eduardo Frei or his opposition, the neo-Pinochetista Sebastián Piñera. And the electoral forecasts are not that much more encouraging for Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The economic crisis might be the trigger for a rightwing re-composition and this threat cannot be taken lightly. If this happens, the isolation of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador could worsen, putting at risk the political and economic viability of the transformative projects presently underway, with negative consequences for Cuba. He also let me know of his worry about the harassment that Fernando Lugo’s government is being subjected to in Paraguay, and the need for Argentina and Brazil to adopt a position of solidarity and generosity relative to the two large dams, the Yacyretá and the Itaipú, whose property is shared with Paraguay.
An hour and forty minutes of conversation had passed and it was time to put an end to the dialogue. I asked if it wouldn’t be possible for someone to take a picture because there could be plenty of people who might consider me to be making this up. Fidel kindly agreed to my request, complaining jokingly that everybody says the same thing and forces him into being photographed. Then he turned to one of his aides and said “Let’s see. Bring me a mirror.” It was brought, he looks in it and says: “Hmm, looks good!” and it’s true. Encouraged by his good humor, I take the opportunity to congratulate him on his recovery and tell him that he looks very good to me, in a way almost as good as Ingrid Betancourt when her mysterious release by the Colombian army came about. A huge burst of laughter sealed the mood. We got ready for the photo and there, carried away by the relaxed atmosphere, I dare say that the Adidas logo on his Cuban athlete’s uniform could be used by his detractors to criticize him for doing advertising for the multinational company. Another burst of laughter and, quick as lightning, and with his finger repeatedly jabbing my chest, enunciating every syllable, he says “It’s-that-I-am-a-victim-of-your-imperial-bourgeoisie.” More laughter, a photo, and a strong farewell hug that proves the good muscular tone of his body, and, with relief, that we have the Comandante for awhile yet.
Argentinean author Atilio Borón is a friend of Tlaxcala.
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.