Monday, November 28, 2011

Translation: Alfredo Guevara at Catholic forum

Alfredo Guevara, whom I've introduced to readers in a previous post, was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Cuban Catholic Church magazine Espacio Laical on October 29. 

In recent years there has been a warming of relations between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church. In the Main Report to the Sixth PCC Congress, Raul recalled Fidel's words in a meeting with Catholic priests in Chile in 1971: “I tell you that there are ten thousand times more points of agreement between Christianity and communism than there are between Christianity and capitalism.” Raul added:

"[I]t is necessary to continue eradicating any prejudice that prevents bringing all Cubans together, like brothers and sisters, in virtue and in the defense of our Revolution, be them believers or not, members of Christian churches; including the Catholic Church, the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, the evangelicals and protestant churches; the Cuban religions originated in Africa, the Spiritualist, Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist communities, and fraternal associations, among others. The Revolution has had gestures of appreciation and concord with each of them."

He also explained the background to "the recently concluded process of releasing counter-revolutionary prisoners, those that in challenging and distressing times for our homeland have conspired against it at the service of a foreign power.

"By sovereign decision of our government, they were released before serving their full sentences. We could have done it directly and taken credit for a decision that we made conscious of the strength of the Revolution. However, we did it in the framework of a dialogue based on mutual respect, loyalty and transparency with the senior leadership of the Catholic Church, which contributed its humanitarian efforts to the harmonious completion of this action. In any case, the laurels belong to that religious institution. [...] With this action we have favoured the consolidation of the most precious legacy of our history and the revolutionary process: the unity of our nation."

For its part, the Catholic Church has welcomed the changes initiated by Raul's government and urged it to go further, faster. While the Vatican is very far from a communist institution, Espacio Laical does not campaign for the restoration of capitalism in Cuba. What it does do is give voice to critical viewpoints, from both the left and the right, that are rarely if ever encountered in publications such as Granma and Juventud Rebelde. Evidently, this is tolerated by the PCC leadership. 

Phil Peters observed on his blog The Cuba Triangle"Our standard image of Cuba does not include independent publications explaining to the government that its actions are falling short. The magazines Espacio Laical and Palabra Nueva, along with other publications and activities of the Cuban Catholic church, are pushing the Cuban policy debate forward. Some articles are analytical, others opinionated, and all tend to support the editorial line that reform will benefit the Cuban people – so let’s get on with it."

In the discussion that followed Alfredo Guevara's speech at the Espacio Laical forum, Guevara was asked a question by Esteban Morales, a respected Cuban academic expert on US politics and race relations in Cuba. Morales was "separated" from the PCC – a disciplinary measure one step short of expulsion – after he published an April 2010 commentary titled "Corruption: The true counter-revolution?", in which he warned:

"Without a doubt, it is becoming evident that there are people in positions of government and state who are girding themselves financially for when the Revolution falls, and others may have everything almost ready to transfer state-owned assets to private hands, as happened in the old USSR...[There are] corrupt officials, not at all minor, who are being discovered in very high posts and with strong connections – personal, domestic and external – generated after dozens of years occupying the same positions of power."

Morales launched a successful appeal, and his full PCC membership was reinstated in July.

Alfredo Guevara's comments at Espacio Laical forum 

Espacio Laical Supplement No. 152, November 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

(Extract of question and answer session)

Orestes Rodriguez: A few years ago I was in Pinar del Rio, invited by the [Cuban Catholic Church magazine] Vitral, and spoke to a Catholic economist about my intellectual interest in workplace democracy, which I understand to mean the power of the workers to decide how to organise the process of producing goods and services, and also their ownership of the results of their work.

I said to him at the time that in the case of Cuba, it was much easier to establish workplace democracy because it’s easier to convert the property of nobody [i.e. of the social state] into the property of the work collective than would be the case with private property. She told me she thought the opposite was true. I didn’t ask he what she meant by “the opposite”. What I thought she was saying was that workplace democracy would be easier to achieve on the basis of private property. This seemed to me a little ineffectual, to lose 50 years of a [socialist] process, but over time I came to the conclusion that the property of nobody is really the property of bureaucrats who have the power to decide over everything that happens in the workplace. So now I’m doubtful, and I’d like to ask you if you think that expropriating the bureaucrats is more difficult than expropriating capitalist owners?  

Alfredo Guevara: I just want to say this: I’m not a syndicalist. I don’t think we’ve achieved socialism. We dream, some of us (I’d like to say that the Church is on our side) of building the foundations for socialism. The Vietnamese are very cautious. They say: we’re heading for socialism, they never say that they’re a socialist society. We in Cuba have achieved some things and not others. I won’t repeat what has already been said, but we defeated the omnipotent power of a very complex bourgeoisie. When we speak of the bourgeoisie we condemn it, but there are nuances, because among certain elements of this bourgeoisie of ours there were nationalist sentiments, in the best sense. That is, of resistance to imperialism etc. Some of them even participated in the Revolution, though this is still not acknowledged. But on the whole they were just a subsidiary, in the period of the insurrectional struggle, of neo-colonial US imperialism. This is my opinion, I respect any other viewpoint.

We defeated this bourgeoisie. Many things transpired, I'm not going to refer to the Church, I’d like to leave this till later. We expelled imperialism. We should recall that very long and emotional speech that Fidel gave about the nationalisations, a speech that has even featured in films. We defeated the army. We’re not Venezuela or Ecuador. There are many other differences, but here there is no dominating neo-colonial bourgeoisie, there aren’t the [capitalist] banks, imperialism was defeated, etc. From then on we were beseiged.

But Cuba’s circumstances are different [today]. Here, as I’ve said two or three times, what’s possible is possible. The resistance to the newly possible comes – as you said, but I don’t think completely fairly – from the bureaucracy. But the bureaucracy isn’t the government, nor is it even the state. The bureaucracy is a state of society, it has arisen from society. We must defeat it, it must be banished, they’re not the typists or the record-keepers. They’re the managers, the mid-level personnel, the ones with power. They’re the ones who don’t want to lose a clapped-out Lada, the 20 litre petrol allowance and, before it was done away with, a week at the beach. This is the bureaucracy that is capable of resisting and that must be defeated.

We don’t have to take state power, this bureaucracy doesn’t own the state. I’m sure, I’ll say it here, that the revolutionary leadership is capable of eradicating this bureaucracy that you say is the owner of the farmland or the workplaces. We don’t have to seize any property from them. We have to reeducate the consciousness (I don’t think the bureaucrats will be reeducated) of the entire population to be able to defeat them. I told you that I’m not a syndicalist. No, I don’t support anything you said. I’m a supporter of basing ourselves on reality. This reality is not the Soviet reality, nor anybody elses’. It’s a new reality that’s going to give us lessons.

In the case of the countryside it’s already beginning. There, property is already being revolutionised [through the massive leasing of state-owned farmland to agriculturalists], the participation of the peasant farmers, who are workers, etc. And the only thing that enthuses me is that I see – without having detailed information, but enough, because I know some rural inhabitants very well – that when a difficulty arises, when the farmers start to arc up, the problem is rectified. Sooner rather than later it is rectified. Things are extended, etc. This is what I believe, what I feel, it’s an attitude that delights me. We have to change everything, little by little, or rapidly. I prefer rapidly…but on the basis of real experiences, not any theory, nor any ideology. In the political and economic spheres, ideologies are almost always dead letters. We have to try things out and solve things starting from reality.


Esteban Morales: Many thanks, Alfredo. As always, your lecture was thought-provoking and stirred feelings. You said something that seems extraordinarily important to me, that I’d like you to expand on. Evidently, war has been declared in Cuba on a number of difficulties and problems that we face, against bureaucratism, against the problems that have to do with corruption, against problems that have to do with something Raul Castro said on one occasion that made an impression on me: that we thought we could live without working. Recently, compaƱero Raul said something else that struck me: our main enemy is neither imperialism nor its collaborators in Cuba [but our own errors and weaknesses]. This struck me, because I was there when compaƱero Fidel Castro spoke at Havana University in November 2005 [when he warned that the Revolution could destroy itself from within], and it seems to me this is a big battle, that we’re up against not only those dimwits to the north and their collaborators, this is a great all-encompassing struggle. This struggle to change the mentality…I’d like you to expand on this a little more. If I understand it correctly, I see it as a great battle that we have to wage not only “down below” but also at the highest levels. Thank you.


Alfredo Guevara: I believe that you (gesturing at Esteban Morales) have had recent experiences that are surely instructive...

I feel that we have to do more, and I was responding to you indirectly in my earlier comments. I think that the top leadership (of course we're still talking about decisions at the highest level) has to unshackle things a bit more, get things moving. I said that in my view, there has to be a re-education of consciousness. I think we have to convince the citizen that he or she is a citizen. There’s been so much passivity, so much transmission... The criticism I’ve made, and it’s not the first time I’ve said it, nor have I chosen this this occasion to do it, I’ve done it everywhere, always, also in letters to Fidel and to Raul on occasion: get rid of the transmission belts*, my God! Whether its a political or a social organisation, it can’t be a forest of transmission belts. It has to be something more alive. [...]

One day I said to [National Assembly speaker Ricardo] Alarcon as a joke, actually I said it to his adviser Miguelito, but in front of him so he’d hear it: Hey, everything can be solved very easily. Instead of so many laws and decrees that have to be ditched and substituted for others, let’s pass just one – everything that is prohibited would be legalised, and then society would begin to function.

*Here, Guevara is referring to the way that organisations such as the Union of Young Communists (UJC), the trade unions etc. function more as transmission belts for directives “from above” than as conduits for initiative “from below”  translator's note.

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