Thursday, June 23, 2011

Translation: Max Lesnik dialogue with youth 2

Here is Part 2 of my translation of an interesting exchange between Max Lesnik, a Cuban-born journalist who lives in Miami, and Cuban students from La Joven Cuba website. Part 1 is here. Note that this is an abridged translation of the Spanish transcript due to its length. Gaps in the translation are indicated with ellipses (...).

Why include Lesnik's views in a blog about Cuba's socialist renewal, you may ask? For two reasons, one of which has to do with the weight of US-Cuba relations in the present and future of the Cuban Revolution and the importance of the Cuban-American constituency in influencing these relations. The other has to do with something US ecologist, Marxist and Cuba solidarity activist Richard Levins touched on in an email he sent me recently, from which I'll quote a few lines:

"I am particularly interested in the question of how revolutionaries outside of Cuba can contribute to the Cuban process beyond the obvious defence of Cuba against all forms of aggression and support for particular programs such as in health and education, and in educating people in our own countries about Cuba. People everywhere look at the world from a particular viewpoint, which includes powerful insights and blindnesses. For instance, Cubans are dealing with their economy from the vantage point of urgency, and urgency tends to narrow the time and scope horizons. Foreign revolutionaries are more likely to have broad horizons that undervalue urgency and the measures to meet urgent needs, but more likely to worry about the "collateral damage" to the revolution and long term consequences of measures that encourage individual businesses or expand inequality. Foreigners have been particularly helpful in combating homophobia and racism. Immersed in a neo-liberal environment, we can more readily pick up when Cuban economists use the vocabularies of bourgeois economics such as "price distortion", "efficiency" and "competitiveness". In one sense, the Cuban revolution belongs to the Cubans to solve their problems and make their own decisions. But it also belongs to all of us. We could be helpful, but especially if we look at both our own and Cubans' typical errors from the vantage point of solidarity."

I agree, and I'd add that those who view things sympathetically from the outside can sometimes see things more clearly than those at the coal face. Whether the content is interpersonal relations, political struggles or the expanding frontiers of scientific knowledge, different vantage points round out the picture. Cuban revolutionaries can benefit from seeing things from your "vantage point of solidarity", as Dick Levins puts it, or mine or Max Lesnik's, just as we can benefit from seeing things from theirs.

By the way, here's a link to Levins' terrific commentary How to Visit a Socialist Country, which is all about Cuba, socialism, ecology, dialectics, democracy, solidarity and much else. The kind of thing I like to contemplate on a Sunday morning with a freshly brewed coffee at arm's reach and a small dog snoozing on my lap.

Max Lesnik: dialogue with Cuban youth, Part 2

La Joven Cuba (The Cuban Youth) website, May 11, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron


Joven Cuba: What are, in your judgement, the key dangers threatening the Cuban Revolution?

Max Lesnik: Fidel has already referred to this. The great danger is that within the revolution, there could be a break with ethical principles. Every revolution has a morality. One cannot be a revolutionary and live a dishonest personal life, it has to be lived austerely. The great challenge is how to maintain an uncontaminated life despite the necessities. There are people in this country that do things to make a living that don't correspond with the ethics of the revolution. For me the great challenge is to remain incorruptible, that others "resolve" [i.e. turn to the black market to make ends meet], as it is said, but that those who aspire to lead the country are as honourable and as clean as those they're going to replace.


Those who are going to replace them will replace them, the calendar is unforgiving, the lives of the current leaders could evidently last years longer into their old age but in terms of their ability to function [as leaders] we're talking about three or four years, no more. This is the challenge, we're not talking about a timeframe of 20 years, the physical or practical disappearance is going to be immediate and there must be young people capable of replacing them.

The relay of the revolution is undoubtedly the greatest of the challenges, a question that confronts every Cuban today. From outside Cuba they say that Cuba is led by the historicos, Raul, Fidel, that there aren't any youth. They ignore the fact that the youth exist. Above all they make this criticism.

There's the problem of the low profile of the principal cadres of the country in the various provinces. Some do good work in their regions, others not so good. These days the Cuban people need to know a lot more about these leaders. Here there's a kind of curtain. Once when I was in Havana a policeman stopped me, I was travelling by car. After checking my license I asked him if he knew the name of the national police chief. He said he only remembered Salas Canizares under Batista and Efigenio Amejeriras just after the revolution. This police officer didn't know the name of the current chief of police.

There's a need, in one way or another, for the political leadership of the country to take into account that beyond Fidel, Raul, Ricardo Alarcon and the better known leaders, the party and other political leaders should have a higher profile. So that the people know if they do bad things or good things, and if they do good things then their merits should be acknowledged.

JC: What do you think about Cuban journalism at present and what are the challenges ahead?

Well, there are three journalists here (referring to those present). The journalism done in Cuba today is, first of all, very boring, and this has nothing to do with the ideological line of the [Communist Party] Central Committee via the ideological department. I think that apart from maintaining the political presence of the single party and defending the revolution against its enemies, information policy could be more strategic.

In my opinion the column that's most read in Cuba is that of Ciro Bianchi Ross [in Juventud Rebelde]. Why? Because it's a good read, it doesn't fall into the counterrevolution but says things everyone wants to hear about history. On TV, what's the most-seen programme? Pasaje a lo Desconocido [Journey into the Unknown] and now the one hosted by Amaury. Pasaje a lo Desconocido, by Taladrid, is not about politics and now there's the one by Amaury.

Journalism can be lively, vibrant, entertaining, political-historical analysis that doesn't rub the ideological department up the wrong way. Why aren't there other things in the pages of Granma or Juventud Rebelde? They can offer other things to the public.

Why the success of the magazine Bohemia, the old one for which I wrote? The editor of Bohemia is a friend of mine and they don't let him do more. It's a publication that must be rescued. In my time you could buy the Friday edition of the magazine on the street, we're taking about a country of seven million people at the time and 300,000 copies were sold on the street, if you do the maths there wasn't a Cuban that didn't in some way enjoy the magazine. Those who couldn't read looked at the pictures and called out to others to ask them what was written there.

There was a section of the paper dedicated to national politics where all the secrets of political life were told. Commentaries could be written by intellectuals from the centre, the left, [bourgeois liberal] Jorge Manach and [pro-Moscow Popular Socialist Party leader] Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and a good part of the intellectuals of the time. It was a leading publication. It had the horoscope for those who believe in the stars, it had jokes, cartoons, stories by Marcelo Salinas, it had everything it needed to and was many Cuba's entertainment from Friday to Monday.

I ask: why does TV have to be so boring? Why can't there be a higher quality Bohemia magazine? Why can't there be a more lively journalism?

The answer lies in the young journalists. At this point we're not going to convince an old journalist who's banging on and on about the same thing that he has to change his style. This is the task of the young journalists. If they reject the article and this goes on the record, at some point this will be the justification for why it wasn't published.

JC: In our country we're trying to construct a more just socialist society, where the fruits of work are distributed as equitably as possible and giving to each according to their efforts. Now, our country is a poor country, with limited natural resources and suffering a cruel economic blockade. All this makes the task of minimising inequalities, and of providing a quality of life to the people that is acceptable in terms of our principles and commitments, a titanic one. How can our country insert itself into such a cruel and exclusive global economy without ceding one iota of our sovereignty? What role can the ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for Our America] countries play in this? Could we be more active in ALBA?

Max: I think that the Cuban economy in its first [revolutionary] period went from traditional capitalism, that of free enterprise with all the defects that go with it, to a state-centric model that in my opinion is not really the socialism we aspire too. It's state capitalism and the objective is socialism. It's not about replacing the capitalist exploiters with a state that doesn't aim to exploit but that cannot encompass everything. What does a take-away food stand have to do with socialism?

In an emergency situation the state assumed not only the management of the big enterprises, the basics that there was always an aspiration for the state to manage to allow the country to progress, if you can call progress expropriating the hairdressers, barbers, boot cleaners. I'm not going to talk about whether this was done well or poorly, I agree with the 1968 offensive [that expropriated Cuba's urban small businesses], here you couldn't allow puppets with capitalist heads because they were a means to divide the revolution.

Now, today the dangers are different and for this reason I believe that the state must drop everything it can't run efficiently. [...] The revolution is strong enough to drop things it can't run. The revolution is much more important than worrying about the development of a minor entity where someone is looking to steal four pesos but one has to be vigilant and send in an inspector, then find another inspector to watch over the first inspector, and so on until you end up with a bureaucracy that only results in inefficiency. 

JC: One of the themes that comes up most frequently to demonstrate the supposed lack of freedoms in Cuba is the prohibition on Cubans travelling outside the country freely. What do you think are the motives behind the country taking such a decision? What's understood then by freedom to travel, the formal declaration that one can do so or the actual of possibility of travel?

OK, I think the white card [i.e. the Cuban exit permit] is something they should have got rid of some time ago. Every Cuban ... if I were the government and I gave them a permit that would be a symbolic passport, and told them they could apply for a visa to visit any country in the world, and when they grant it they take your passport and you're going to travel, permanently or temporarily, what would happen?

The consulates aren't going to give the visa, and these days Cubans say they can't travel because the government doesn't give them the white card, in reality if they were granted one neither the Peruvian nor the Argentinean nor the Chilean consulates are going to grant a visa simply because they have no reason to, because it's one more immigrant and they don't want this, which is why I think the white card is obsolete, because the difficulty is in obtaining the visa.

You know that in Miami, among the Cubans that have arrived there are dozens that want to return and now they can't do so. They believed in the story of the American dream and the American dream doesn't exist. The Cubans here [in Cuba] known that 10% of the Cuban population lives outside the country but also 10% of Mexicans and of the populations of many other countries. Cubans aren't the only ones who emigrate. The white card does more harm to the Cuban government, to the revolution, the supposed travel prohibition than allowing anyone the right to travel.

S/he who leaves here and sees the troubled and brutal world that surrounds us is going to return here and is going to embrace this country that is theirs, regardless of the difficulties they may have here because the problems elsewhere are worse, because there is no solidarity.

Here if you're sick your neighbour takes you to the hospital, it's true that over there there are ambulances to bring you but your neighbour doesn't care. That solidarity is here and it has always been. I see no reason to delay the disappearance of the white card, and I tell you that I don't know why the state maintains it, honestly I don't know. There were reasons before, today there aren't. Why? If you say: all Cubans can apply for their passport and travel with such and such exceptions, because its neither honest nor fair that they pay for a youth to graduate as a doctor and then they ask for the white card to leave the country with their certificate in their pocket and earn in the US or somewhere else $300,000 or $400,000 a year when the Cuban state spent something comparable on their training.

They must set up, in my opinion, mechanisms that require someone [with a professional qualification] to work in the country for at least ten years. Today it's a common practice to study medicine, go on [an international cooperation] mission and in less than six months [quit the mission] and remain there. There are exceptions, doctors, engineers, armed forces personnel. They cannot leave Cuba just because they want to. [...]

JC: Many go off in pursuit of the American dream, the problem is that you have to be asleep to believe in it.

Max: Claro, this is the problem.

[...]

JC: Let's say that tomorrow they allowed Cubans who live outside the country and that haven't participated in actions against the revolution to be able to have private businesses on the island. Would this benefit the national economy and the people in general? Would it be fair for those Cubans who have remained loyal to the revolution for all these years?

There was a debate about this in the National Assembly. A brother of [former Council of Ministers executive secretary] Carlos Lage said that Cuban-Americans couldn't invest in the country. Alfredo Guevara responded by saying that they can't be excluded and everyone agreed. If you are a counterrevolutionary they're not going to allow you to come and invest here, but the majority of Cubans, who do not have a counterrevolutionary position, are allowed under Cuban law [but not US law given the US blockade — translator's note] to invest here. Though they'd come from outside the country to invest, their Cuban origin is no limitation, of course the investment will only be allowed if the country considers it necessary for its development.

They're not excluded because they were born in Cuba, you're a Cuban of foreign nationality who can invest, the state views you the same way they view a Galician, you were born in Cuba but you don't come here to invest as a Cuban because then we'd have two classes of Cubans, those who are here, yourselves, and those who left in search of greener pastures, made money and now come here as foreigners to invest in Cuba, there wouldn't be a veto simply on the basis of origin, this is what the current Cuban law stipulates.

I know Cubans in Miami that have invested here, despite their status as foreigners.

[Abridged]

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