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The following questionaire is a debt with three italians, friends of Cuba and the Five, who pled with the Pope for our freedom: Father Antonio Tarzia, Proffesor Luciano Vasapollo and Dr. Rita Martufi.
It was prepared by them for several Cuban friends, in preparation for a book. Because of the interests of the issues it seems to us of interest to reproduce our exchange with them.
From 9 to 16 February a delegation composed by Father Antonio Tarzia (father Paolino), Prof. Luciano Vasapollo (Sapienza University of Rome, Rector’s delegate for international relations with Latin America and the Caribbean) and the Dr. Rita Martufi (together with Luciano Vasapollo, Director of the Center for study CESTES of the USB-Italy and the Italian chapter of the intellectual network Coord.(, Artists and movements in defence of humanity), are in a visit to Cuba, invited by ICAP (Cuban Institute of friendship with peoples) and the Ministry of culture for various meetings. they asked the following questions to several representatives of the Government of Cuba, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and many intellectuals in universities and schools of the island.
- It was Francisco, the pontiff of Rome, which launched the strings to put together a fragile but secured Tibetan bridge, after 53 years of cold war, sacrifices and violence suffered with dignity by the Cuban people, finally the dove of peace made with the paper of a letter, as the two letters from Francisco to Obama and Raúl was able to take flight without being fired upon by the usual promoters of war: the merchants of death. On December 17 in simultaneous speeches month the Presidents of Cuba and the United States announced to the world a substantive change in relations between the two countries, thus, begining the process that should culminate with the restoration of the diplomatic relations between the two countries. Also announced the return to Cuba of three of the five Heroes who remained still in North American prisons. It was also announced the start of a complex process of negotiations between the two countries and have already been announced by the United States a group of measures that tend to make more flexible the siege of the blockade without removing it, such a situation poses for Cuba a new scenario of confrontation which she is less used to, so some now speculate again about the beginning of the end of the revolution “by the embrace of death”.
- Evaluate which are the main challenges that represents this new type of relationship between the two countries for the Cuban society in general and their different population segments.
No doubt this new relationship with the United States imposes new and great challenges to Cuba, although there are also great opportunities.
Trying to explain it in one synthesis I would say that the main challenge is to determine where is the “enemy” now coming from, and note that I put it in quotes. Since 1959, and until 17 December of last year, it was very simple to discover on those who practiced terrorism, or who received money from the US Government, elements that provided themselves as tools of imperialist policy against their homeland.
In the new circumstances, the main enemy will be our own weaknesses. The bureaucracy, corruption, or excessively technocratic thinking; they will be encouraged by the current context and could do more harm than the bombs. It will also be to adhere to practices which under other circumstances worked, and that although they are not directly stimulated by the changes would prevent us from adapting to new realities. I refer to habits such as formalism, excessive verticality or centralization, secrecy or lack of transparency, among others.
All of these behaviors would be practiced by us, with or without intent to harm or self benefit. The results, however, would be the same. Now we cannot blame the aggressive policy of the U.S. Government for them. It will be our sole responsibility.
Certainly we won’t lack imported enemies. American policy remains clear in this respect and aims to create a class in Cuba that will become a fifth column, leading to the creation of a segment of economic power which then will claim political power. Among the partners that reach us some will be ideologues and resolved to the restoration of capitalism; as well as those who only would want to do business but by their conduct become unconscious instruments of that restoration. Here, as in the previous case, the results are the same beyond the intention of the individual.
The important thing is to establish clear rules for all. There is no doubt that the Cuban society will be recipient of some prosperity. Our success will depend on we being able to make it impact with justice on those living off their work.
- How much of this historic event, perhaps the most important politically in the new millennium, is due to the firmness and hope of Francis, the man who came from the end of the world?
Given my level of information it would be presumptuous on my part to evaluate precisely the portion that corresponded to Pope Francis in the materialization of this miracle. This was a building that was built stone by stone for 16 years. Part of that construction was solidarity, represented by those who knocked at the door of the Pope to talk about the case of the five. Other many elements of legal, political and diplomatic nature, among others, were part of this construction.
In any case, the role of the pontiff was not negligible, judging by the information that has been reported. Pope Francis is a man of faith, devoted to Christian principles and justice. Nothing more akin to his character than to embrace this endeavor whose results in terms of Justice, humanity and range meet the deepest convictions of a man like him.
- Obama shouts with satisfaction “We are all Americans” and drops the last wall, after the Berlin (born together, the German wall between the two Germanys and the USA Embargo to Cuba). How is the new course announced? What are the first fruits of benefit? What expectations are there?
It is worth to remember that there are still walls. It is the Moroccan wall enclosing the Saharawi, as well as the one which has been imposed on Palestinians by Zionism. There is a wall that divides the United States from the countries to the South, along the Rio Grande. We have much to do to bring down walls.
The new course is announced as a very interesting and important stage in Cuba’s future. What is at stake for us is neither more nor less than the ability to demonstrate the feasibility of socialism. It seems a good time to live here and participate in the changes that have been made, whose direction and speed by sure will be influenced now with new developments.
I think that the first result is that both Presidents have sat to chat. This fact by itself deserves to be celebrated. It has immediately started a stream of American visitors that seems very positive for both parties. Human contact is an irreplaceable tool to sow peace, know each other and avoid misunderstanding.
There is a perceptible a change in the North American political discourse toward Cuba, and even without major changes occurring on the ground there is already a more free in the Congress as to the way to lift the blockade. Although it is expected that a journey like this will bring progress and setbacks, each step forward will stimulate new steps in the same direction.
In terms of the expectations there are many and varied, depending on the orientation of the one who expects. These range from those who aspire to sweep Cuba socialism on the one hand, to those who aspire that circumstances to allow us to build the socialism that we deserve on the other. A range of expectations can be expected between both positions, that integrate both what we expect as individuals as also what we want for our society.
- Juan Pablo II born under communism was to Cuba offering friendship and confidence to Fidel and to the Cuban people. He had already condemned the embargo, as well as Benedict XVI to which prof. Luciano Vasapollo and I delivered a letter during a private audience in which we asked him to pray for “the 5” so that the pain and suffering of their loved ones were not in vain. During a hearing last fall we delivered another letter to Francisco where we wrote him asking him to pray and become interested in the story of “the 5” and the injustice that for more than half a century punished the Cubans.
- Has been Francisco invited to visit the island and the Cuban people? Is there a pending visit by Raul to the Pope to thank him for the diplomatic success and to invite Francisco to Cuba? In this case advise Raul a courtesy visit to the statue of the Virgen de la Caridad, Vatican citizen for a year: it is located in the Vatican gardens behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
Let us remember that Juan Pablo II was not born under communism, but during the second Polish Republic , anti-communist and under general Pilsudski. It could be assumed that the historical dispute between Russia and Poland, joined by the Stalinist practices towards their country of origin, have played a role in the opposition of Pope to communism. Also known are the criticisms made at the end of his life to capitalism.
I have no information on whether Pope Francisco has been invited to the island. On the other hand, as a Cuban, I would be very pleased with that visit. I would dare affirm that it seems to me difficult that at some point it would not occur.
Nor do I know if there is any pending Raul’s visit to the Pope. I see as common sense to visit to the Virgen de la Caridad given the case. I take this opportunity to thank those ladies in charge of the sanctuary of El Cobre, who were very polite and deferent with me in a recent visit to the symbolic and beautiful place.
- The relations of the Cuban State with the Catholic Church, documents and links. The obvious growth since the visit of Juan Pablo II until today. Benedict who returns to Cuba to build renewed relationships and Francisco making his the pain and suffering of the Cuban people and write and pray for Justice to the powerful of the earth.
- What’s the feeling in the wind from the Caribbean besides the USA, the Vatican and Cuban flags flapping?
First and foremost great joy is felt by the return of the three Cubans unfairly imprisoned. It is curious that while around the world the news that captured the attention of the media was the possibilities of normalizing relations with the United States, for Cubans on the streets the cause for celebration was the release of Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio. That says a lot about the generosity of the Cuban people, which if we look at it selfishly benefited more from the normalization of relations and the end of the blockade than from the freedom of the five. However the people on the streets put aside issues of personal interest to celebrate the freedom of three compatriots.
There is also feeling of the desire and hope to move forward. The desire that the things that unite us, both to the American people and to the Catholic community; overcome the things that divide us. It should be remembered that the process of normalization between the Catholic Church and the Cuban State already has a substantial stretch run and it has given concrete results; unlike the process that would begin with the US Government, with which the differences are deeper for historical reasons.
- In Cuba there are Catholic and other faiths and religious confessions, all places of worship, social structures, religious schools.
- How are integrated the various religions in the Cuban context? Do different cultures live together in peace and freedom? Is there is complete freedom of the press and religious propaganda? Are there any religions that are recognized and protected? Unwanted foreign rites?
The integration of the various religions in Cuba is a reflection of the integration at the bottom of this social diversity that enriches us and makes us to be Cuban. Progress and setbacks in this integration are reflected in behaviors that also govern religious integration.
The different cultures that make up the Cuban social fabric coexist in absolute peace and freedom, probably in a way exemplary compared to most of the world. This peace is also reflected in the religious integration. This, however, does not mean that there are no flaws that hinder this coexistence. The remnants of racism that persist in Cuban society have at the same time its reflection on the way in which many disdain religions originated in Africa, in what could be a subconscious manifestation of racism with a certain amount of religious intolerance. It is likely that the years of conflict between the Catholic Church and the revolutionary State have left traces on some of the protagonists, and that this is reflected in individual attitudes. For a long time there were conflicts with Jehovah’s witnesses because of their positions towards the society, and although they have been rectified overwhelmingly there are always behaviors associated with the ballast of the past. All of it is part of a process in progress.
In Cuba, there is complete freedom of religious propaganda, although it is very likely – and natural – for many denominations to aspire to greater exposure spaces, especially in the media. All religions are recognized and protected by the law.
I am not sure that is accurate to speak of “unwanted foreign rites”. After all every religion practiced in Cuba came from abroad at one time or another. Some may look warily to new cults came from abroad as – for example – the Rastafarians, because of the same prejudices faced by some Afro-Cuban religions, but it is not State policy.
Indeed still continue to be cases of attempts by those who are opposed to the revolution, to use religion for political ends. They have usually done it through established churches; but in this case it’s a conflict of political background and not the nature of religious rites that they practice.
- There have been more than three years since the celebration of the sixth Congress of the Communist Party, which marked the course towards the updating of the economic and social model of the Cuban revolution.
- In your opinion which would be the main advances, shortcomings and challenges of this process in your sphere of action?
I must begin by clarifying that at this time there is not a sphere of action to which I can subscribed to. Until the moment my three fellow prisoners returned from the United States I was dedicated entirely to work for their release. As a Cuban and revolutionary, I’m interested and concerned about everything we do in this effort to build socialist society we deserve.
As it has been said many times, this is a process that has to move forward “without haste but without pausing,” and basically I think that it has been the practice. Assuming that the process has developed with no pauses- view to which I subscribe – it is left to each one to opine as to whether the speed has been adequate or not.
We must begin by acknowledging the difficulty of this process. It’s about changing a way of making the economy which was based fundamentally in the centralized distribution of productive and consumption resources, with widespread subsidies, which depended on the transfer of value from one sector to another of the society on the basis of political decisions. This was possible because for many years we moved in a world in which labor force value differences had been greatly reduced between the countries of the centre and the periphery of the system; with an exchange based on solidarity concepts that flatly denied the role of the market as regulator of the economy. After the disintegration of the Socialist camp we were forced to keep centralizing the distribution of resources as a way to manage poverty without abandoning millions of workers to their fate.
We now return to the realm of the market. Goods are exchanged for their “value”, according to unequal and unjust rules that harm the developing countries- net exporters of labor – and under which we have to strive to grow. It is essential to undo that system strongly subsidized, recover the notion of the value of the goods, insert our businesses to a world dominated by competition. All of this implies social costs which have to be constantly measured. I think that this is the main factor governing the speed of the process, at least from the point of view of the political will expressed by the Party.
Progress in this regard has been made, and I believe that it began by where it should have: the sanitation of a State system overloaded, full of inflated payrolls, undercapitalized, and largely unproductive. It is a task that still continues to run, but had to be approached on the immediate through the diversification of forms of production which is being promoted. I think that it was smarter to start there to untangle the Gordian knot of our economy in the face of the new model.
It’s being working on eliminating the monetary duality, and above all the multiplicity of exchange rates, which makes accounting almost impossible. For many this process may have taken too much time, but it is necessary to understand its consequences and the amount of wrongs to untangle to be ready and to achieve the expected results. That step has to be taken in firm. Doing so seamlessly is one of our largest and most serious challenges.
In the area of the inadequacies I favor more determined steps towards the autonomy of labor collectives and local governments, which should result in greater responsibility for them and have an impact on social productivity, the appreciation of the work, the elimination of bureaucracy and the damaging phenomenon of the diversion of resources. I would like to see a phased program of subsidies decrease and transfer of those resources to the salaries and pensions of pensioners and state workers, respectively. I am concerned about the area of small business investments, which do not seem to enjoy the priority that large investments receive. I think it is time to strengthen the state-owned enterprise, although I recognize that it is perhaps – along with the elimination of multiple rates of exchange – a cumbersome problem faced because of its social impacts.
Among the challenges the elimination of the bureaucracy seems a priority because the danger that it represents. Its resistance – immune to political will, laws or directives – can be another cause of delay in the implementation of the guidelines approved by the party and the people, and it is a structure of intermediaries between the problems and their solutions that gravitates on the dynamics of economic development, in addition to promoting corruption.
The change in mentality is a major challenge. People start not to simply think differently because they are told to do so. This change has to be forced by the necessary structural changes, which compel us to act – and therefore think – in a new way.
And of course there will be all the challenges associated with the new relationship with the United States. They have the resources to overwhelm us, and are beneficiaries of economic rules that are the result of centuries of human experience. We are a small island facing the hegemonic power of the strongest imperialist power, with all that this implies in the economy, the military area, propaganda, etc.
- Latin America is torn between two models of integration, the neoliberal defeated at the Summit in Mar del Plata, marked by the “outward orientation and conceptions of market”, this concept survives in schemes such as the Alliance of the Pacific, and the new model which is projected from the ALBA, CELAC, UNASUR, which puts main emphasis on taking advantage of complementarities to the interior of the region, the use of its results with a greater effect spilling across projects and social programs in favor of the underprivileged.
- What are the achievements, challenges and prospects of the new Latin American integration schemes?
The main achievement of the new Latin American integration schemes is the recovering for the continent of the historical destiny that was pointed to us by Bolivar, to do justice to sacrifice of the millions of Latin Americans who were victimized, both by their local oligarchies and imperialism, because of their aspirations to build that dream. These integration schemes launched the subcontinent into the 21st century with strength, and make it a reference point of importance in the midst of a process of building global multipolarity.
This means the beginning of the overcoming of a long, dark period of dependence of imperialist capital, and construction of a society that rotate around the needs and aspirations of the majorities that produce wealth.
Among those accomplishments, is the breaking up with dogmas and schemes concerning the construction of socialism, dogmas that weighed on and divided the left for many years, and in many cases still do. The continent is demonstrating that not only should we start from the particular experiences to adapt this process to them, but that it can be done with respect for the differences and – even more- to drag in certain instances governments that are not involved in processes of this kind through dialogue, cooperation and the points of contact between peoples with different systems.
The challenges are immense. Imperialism will not watch idly as it loses that right to “ownership”. As shown today in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil; and happened before in Bolivia or in Honduras, these processes will always face the resistance of secular interests to preserve their privileges.
The way to deal with them is to fight for unity in diversity, to close ranks in the face of every attack of imperialism. To deepen on the reach and participatory character or each or the national processes. Always carry them forward, which means at home to remember that the goal is to move towards a true economic, social and political democracy; and out of it to consolidate every step of integration and not relent in the search of new ways to integrate us and make us stronger together.
If that goal is achieved, the prospects are immense. I would say that the 21st century would become the century of Latin America.
- How do you assess Cuba’s participation in this process of integration from the angle of the external accompanying to the update process of the economic and social model?
The process of updating the economic and social Cuban model cannot be conducted without external support. We will be accompanied and “accompanied”, in one case by those who share with us similar objectives, on the one hand, and on the other by those who consider objectives of restoration of capitalism in relation to Cuba. With all we have to count to achieve the objectives proposed by the updating of the model. The country cannot subtracts itself from that reality.
In relation to those who pursue similar objectives, as is the case of those who participate in the Latin American integration process, with us this accompaniment occurs under the best of circumstances because of the political will of cooperation and mutual benefit that inspires the link. In this sense, it is obvious that human capital created by the Cuban revolution has become an important resource, which has already given fruits in the export of services, with benefit programs both for the Cuban economy and for the societies that receive them.
It is good to add that such exchanges bring the added value of offering a professional with an ethical and humane demeanor that distinguishes him. This behavior generates a feeling of gratitude towards Cuba on the receiving populations which has gradually been changing stereotypes planted in the masses towards the island for years. Either way, the Cuban economic model update process will benefit from the success of Latin American integration, and will suffer alongside it if it suffers. We cannot repeat the mistake of putting all the eggs in the basket of Latin American integration, but as part of our need to diversify it will play an important role in our national development and, as in the days of Bolivar, the fate of Cuba will always be connected by our common destiny to the plight of all Latin America.