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an Interview with Noam Chomsky on Cuba

Havana, Cuba.

Noam Chomsky was in Cuba to participate in the 3rd Latin American and Caribbean Social Sciences Conference (CLACSO) 27-31 October 2003, where he was interviewed there by BERNIE DWYER. –AC/JSC

BERNIE DWYER: It’s really a pleasure to welcome you to Cuba on your first visit here. What motivates you to continue to offer analysis, commentary and possible solutions to world problems?

Noam Chomsky: It seems to me the opposite question is the one that ought to be asked. There is a moral truism about this that is as elementary as anything can be: privilege confers responsibility and the people who are called intellectuals, for no particularly good reason, happen to be privileged.

We have education, training, resources, opportunities and in a country like the United States, virtually no repression, it’s an unusually free country by comparative standards, so we just have that much more responsibility than people who lack those opportunities, like most people in other countries including those under the boot of the United States, and most people in our own country. After that it’s just a matter of choice. Do you observe moral truisms or don’t you?

If you do, these are the kind of things that you naturally and automatically do and it doesn’t merit any credit or applause or anything else, it’s just being a human being and using the opportunities that you have.

BD: Do you see popular movements taking the place of the organized Left in the major task of building a new society, as was mentioned several times during the conference, which commented that the Left is in disarray?

Noam Chomsky: Well, I have never really thought that the Left was much in “array” as far as political purposes were concerned. These are usually various power systems, maybe good things, maybe bad things. I don’t think that these new popular movements are taking the place of anything, they’re really new. There never was anything like the World Social Forum before.

The goal of the Left from its modern origins has been to create a real International. The Left has never been anti-globalization, that’s why every union is called an International. You want to have international solidarity and support and so on. It never succeeded. Now the Internationals were very limited in their outreach and they fell apart, actually under internal authoritarian reasons in each case.

Now this is different. This is really international and it has participation from a vast range of components from society: peasant, working people, environmentalists, intellectuals, poets, all sorts of people. How far this will go, who knows. There are a lot of disruptive forces inside and a lot of pressures outside, a lot of difficulties, maybe this one will fail, but even if it fails, it succeeds. It lays the basis for something that can come next. You don’t expect anything important to happen in a day–whether it’s the elimination of slavery or women’s rights or whatever it may be. These are things that take time.

One of the problems of organizing in the North, in the rich countries, is that people tend to think–even the activists–that instant gratification is required. You constantly hear: “Look I went to a demonstration and we didn’t stop the war so what’s the use of doing it again?” But people who live real lives know that that is not the way things work. If you want to achieve something, you build the basis for it.

If you want to achieve something like, say, an electoral victory that means something, you have to spend decades organizing the basis of the groups so all local communities can take part and so on and so forth. It’s a lot easier in countries where there are more opportunities and wealth and less repression. It’s still not going to happen in a few minutes, so the World Social Forum is not really replacing left parties. Its place is maybe establishing more authentic ones and I’m not even sure whether political parties are what we are looking for. Maybe what we are looking for are cooperatives and communities which interact and federate and just build a new society.

BD: During these times of US world domination, what role do you see Cuba playing?

Noam Chomsky: Well, Cuba has become a symbol of courageous resistance to attack. Since 1959 Cuba has been under attack from the hemispheric superpower. It has been invaded, subjected to more terror than maybe the rest of the world combined–certainly any other country that I can think of–and it’s under an economic stranglehold that has been ruled completely illegal by every relevant international body, It has been at the receiving end of terrorism, repression and denunciation, but it survives.

If you look back at the declassified record and the problems that Cuba was posing and therefore had to be overthrown, one intelligence analyst said that “the very existence of the Castro regime is successful defiance of US policies that go back a hundred and fifty years”. He’s not talking about the Russians. He is talking about the Monroe Doctrine, which says we are the masters of the hemisphere. It goes on to say that this really dangerous as it offers a model that others might want to follow. That’s what is called “communist aggression”. You have a model that somebody wants to follow. So you have to destroy the virus.

Kissinger, for example, during the other 9/11–the one that happened in 1973–was concerned that Allende, with his democratic victory and social programs would spread contagion not only in Latin America, but even in Italy where the United States at the very same time was carrying out large scale subversive operations to try to undermine Italian democracy and even supported fascist parties in Italy.

Yes, Cuba is the symbol of successful defiance that accounts for the venomous hostility. The very existence of the regime, independent of what it does, by not subordinating itself to power is just an unacceptable defiance for the rest of the world. It’s a symbol of what can be done without using harsh conditions. It’s once again a case of those under the most severe conditions are doing things that others can’t do.

So, for example, let’s take Cuba’s role in the liberation of Africa. It’s an astonishing achievement that has almost been totally suppressed. Now you can read about it in scholarship, but the contribution that Cuba made to the self-liberation of Africa is fantastic. And that was against the entire concentrated power of the world. All the imperialist powers were trying to block it. It finally worked and Cuba’s contribution was unique. That’s another reason why Cuba is hated. Just the plain fact that black soldiers from Cuba were able to beat back a South African invasion of Angola sent shock waves throughout the continent. The black movements were inspired by it. The white South Africans were psychologically crushed by the fact that South African forces could be defeated by a black army. The United States were infuriated. If you look at the next couple of years, the terrorist attacks on Cuba got much worse.

But yes, it’s a symbol of successful defiance. One can have arguments about what society is like and what it does, but that’s for Cubans to decide. But for the world its symbolic significance is not slight.

BD: You are aware of the plight of the five Cuban political prisoners in the United States. You are also very aware of flagrant abuses, not only judicial but also of human and prisoner rights regarding the visits of two of the prisoners’ wives. Why do you think that the EU, the UN, and the other international bodies that are supposed to be keeping an eye on democracy are allowing this repression to continue?

Noam Chomsky: The reason is embarrassingly simple. You don’t challenge the chief Mafia Don. It’s dangerous. Everyone knows that. There’s no higher authority, there’s just the Mafia. If the Don is doing something you don’t like, you can only object quietly. That’s the main reason.

The secondary reason is that the European elite share the interests of American power. They may not like the US throwing its weight around that much–especially when it interferes with them–but fundamentally they don’t disagree. They want to support the same programs of economic integration, so-called neoliberal programs. They are not unhappy to see the US power in reserve to crush people who stand up and get in the way.

The thing with the Cuban Five is such a scandal, its hard to talk about it. Cuba was providing the FBI with information about the terrorist actions taking place in the United States, based in the United States–completely criminal. So instead of arresting the terrorists, they arrested the people that provided the information, which is so ridiculous I find it difficult to talk about it. They put them under very hard conditions and it’s not recorded. You can’t read about it. So one of the reasons it goes on is because nobody knows about it. There were a few brief mentions, but all it said was that these people were informing Cuba that an unarmed plane was going .to fly over Havana. That’s about the only story that was reported. The actual facts of the matter are not secret but no one knows.

Take the embargo, which has been challenged by everyone. The European Union did bring a challenge to it at the World Trade Organization and the US just told them to get lost. In fact, what the Clinton administration said was that Europe was challenging a policy, at that time, of thirty years. These were US policies aimed at overthrowing the government in Cuba without announcing that yes, “we are international criminals and you are interfering with us and therefore you have no right to say anything” and then the US just pulled out of the negotiations and what’s anybody going to do about that?

The US has vetoed resolutions calling on all states to observe international law. It vetoed the Security Council resolution affirming the World Court judgment which condemned the US for pronounced international terrorism. No one mentions this, nobody knows it, it’s not part of anyone’s consciousness. You go into the faculty club or the editorial offices and people will never have heard about it. That’s what it means to have extreme power and a very subservient intellectual class. It’s out of history, it didn’t happen.

 

 

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