Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Translation: Frei Betto speaks in Havana

Frei Betto is a Brazilian liberation theologian who is well known throughout the world for his work on education, and for his support for the Cuban Revolution and other national liberation and socialist movements. In the late 1980s he interviewed Fidel Castro at length. Published in English as Fidel and Religion, it has become a classic of revolutionary literature. My previous two posts touched on the theme of the non-dogmatic application of the Marxist method and outlook. Betto's words below, although in a different vein, are also in this spirit.
Frei Betto speaks in Havana, November 10, 2010
Fourth National Meeting of Popular Educators 
Translation: Marce Cameron

In 2011 it will be 30 years since my first visit to Cuba. At the time I was working in Brazil using the method of Paulo Freire. I wanted to bring to Cuba this contribution, I was convinced of the political importance of the methodology of popular education. When I arrived, there were prejudices not only towards this methodology, but also towards the figure of Freire. His first book had caused a certain suspicion among the compañeros of the Cuban Communist Party. A Christian Marxist sounded contradictory then: Marxism was considered a faith, and one could not be both.
So I proposed in Havana a Latin American Popular Education Conference. The Cubans prepared everything; but there was not a single Cuban in the conference. Two years later, I got the Casa De Las Americas to organise a second conference. Various Cubans, who were there merely as assistants, said that in Cuba all education was popular and it was not necessary to have a team for this. In the third conference, the Cuban participation was active. Thus arose the Martin Luther King Centre team.      
But Paulo Freire was not the first Latin American to talk about this methodology. To do justice to history, the first to practice popular education was José Martí. Martí said that teachers had to be brought to the countryside. And with them, the tenderness people needed. Surely Che had read this phrase when he said that on had to harden oneself without losing one's tenderness. For Martí, "popular" did not mean poor, but of the people. The rigid distinction applied in Europe between the working class and the bourgeoisie did not apply in Latin America. The struggle here was between those that struggled for justice and those that tried to maintain injustice. Not everything is explained by class origins. If all the poor were revolutionaries, there would not be capitalism in Latin America.

Perhaps you don't know that it is a biological fact that eagles can live up to 70 years. But when they
get to 30 or 40, they tend to die because their talons and beak are no longer strong enough to tear apart the meat they feed on. And when they feel death approaching, they fly towards a mountaintop and they tear out their claws and beak. They spend six months there until they grow back again. Then they can live for another 30 or 40 years more. Today, the eagle is Cuba. I say this because I've just finished reading the [Draft Economic and Social Policy] Guidelines for the 6th Congress of the Communist Party: the Cuban Revolution has the capacity to move itself forward critically. Its popular education networks are very important in this effort.
I saw at close hand the fall of the Berlin Wall and today many ask: how is it possible that after 70 years of socialism, Russia is a country known for extreme corruption? Something didn't work: there, socialism committed  the error of building a new house but not knowing how to build new inhabitants. New men and women are not made automatically. Those born in a socialist society are not necessarily born socialist. Every baby is an exemplary capitalist: it only thinks of itself.    
Socialism is the political name of love. And love is a cultural production. Its final objective is the creation of a loving community, within itself and towards the world. Sometimes we forget a Marxist principle. I, a friar, have been a professor of Marxism and this is not the only contradiction of my life. The human being is not mechanical. There are two things that cannot be predicted mathematically: the movement of atoms and human conduct. Political work must be directed towards every human being. For this the Cuban Revolution resists, because it is not a wig that goes from the top down, but hair that grows from the bottom up. Here a truly popular revolution took place. The strategic victory, of Fidel [apparently a reference to Fidel's new book, The Strategic Victory], does not speak of popular education; but it does this.
I want to finish with a parable: there was a man, very ideologically prepared, powerful in his system but very unhappy. He went all over the world searching for happiness. He arrived in an Arabic country — where they always tell of good legends — and he wanted to buy happiness in its markets. They told him that this market doesn't exist, but a youth had heard of a shop in the desert where he could find it. He went in a caravan of camels, traversed the desert and saw the shop, with a note that said: "Here is found happiness". He said to the shopkeeper: "Give it to me, how much does it cost?" And she responded: "No, señor, here we don't sell happiness, we give it away freely". And she gave him a small matchbox containing three small seeds: the seeds of solidarity, of generosity and of comradeship. "Plant them", she said, "and you will be happy".           
Thank you.  

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