Reflections on Lula


He spontaneously decided to visit Cuba for the second time since he became President of Brazil, even though the state of my health did not guarantee that he would be able to meet with me.

In the past, as he himself said, he visited the Island almost every year. I met him on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution at the home of Sergio Ramírez who at that time was the Vice President of that country. By the way, I would say that Ramírez fooled me, in some way. When I read his book, Divine Punishment ­an excellent narrative­ I came to believe that it was a real case that had happened in Nicaragua, with that legal nuisance so common in the former Spanish colonies; he himself told me one day that it was pure fiction.

There I also met with Frei Betto who today is a critic, but not an enemy, of Lula, as well as with Father Ernesto Cardenal, a militant leftist Sandinista and, today, an adversary of Daniel. The two writers were part of the Theology of Liberation, a progressive trend which we always saw as a great step towards unity between revolutionaries and the poor, beyond their philosophy and their beliefs, in accordance with the specific conditions of struggle in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nonetheless, I must confess that I perceived in Father Ernesto Cardenal, unlike others in the Nicaraguan leadership, an image of sacrifice and privations resembling that of a medieval monk. He was a true prototype of purity. I leave aside others less consistent, who were at one time revolutionaries, including militants of the far left in Central America and other areas, who later, anxious about their well-being and money, crossed over, part and parcel, to the ranks of the empire.

What does all this have to do with Lula? A lot. He was never a left-wing extremist, nor did he become a revolutionary through philosophical studies but rather he came from very humble working class roots and Christian beliefs, and he worked hard creating surplus value for others. Karl Marx saw the workers as the ones who would bury the capitalist system: “Workers of the world unite,” he proclaimed. He presents us with reasons and demonstrates this with irrefutable logic; he takes pleasure and makes fun of the cynical lies used to accuse Communists. If the ideas of Marx were just at that time, when everything seemed to depend on the class struggle and the growth of the productive forces, science and technology, that supported the creation of essential goods to satisfy human necessities, there are absolutely new factors which say that he was right and which at the same time clash with his noble aims.

New necessities have arisen which could destroy the aims of a society with neither exploiters nor exploited. Among these new necessities we have that of human survival. No one had even heard about climate change in Marx’s day and age. He and Engels surely knew that one day the sun would be extinguished as it consumed all of its energy. A few years after the Manifesto was written, other men were born who made inroads in science and knowledge about the laws of chemistry, physics and biology ruling the Universe and unknown then. Into whose hands would this knowledge fall? Although it continues in its development and even improves, and again partially denies and contradicts its own theories, new knowledge is not in the hands of the poor nations who today make up three-quarters of the world’s population. It is in the hands of a privileged group of wealthy and developed capitalist powers, associated with the most powerful empire ever to exist, built on the bases of a globalized economy, governed by the very laws of capitalism described by Marx and thoroughly studied by him.

Nowadays, as humankind still suffers from these realities due to the very dialectics of events, we must confront these dangers.

How did the revolutionary process in Cuba develop? Quite a bit has been written in our press in recent weeks about different episodes of that period. Great respect has been shown for various historical dates on the days corresponding to anniversaries that commemorate years ending in a five or a zero. That is fair, but we must be careful, in the sum-total of so many occurrences described in each newspaper or article, according to their criteria, lest we lose sight of them in the context of the historical development of our Revolution, despite the efforts of all those excellent analysts that we have.

For me, unity means sharing in the struggle, the risks, the sacrifices, the aims, ideas, concepts and strategies, assumed after discussion and analysis. Unity means a common struggle against annexationists, quislings and corrupt individuals who have nothing in common with a militant revolutionary. It is to this unity revolving around the idea of independence and against the empire as it advances over the peoples of the Americas that I always referred to. A few days ago, I once again read it when Granma published it on the eve of our election day, and Juventud Rebelde reproduced a facsimile of my thoughts on the idea, in my own handwriting.

The old pre-revolutionary slogan of unity has nothing to do with the concept, because in our country today we do not have political organizations seeking power. We have to avoid that, in the enormous sea of tactical criteria, strategic lines become diluted and we imagine nonexistent situations.

In a country invaded by the United States while involved in a solitary struggle for independence as the last Spanish colony, together with our sister Puerto Rico, ­ “birds of a feather” ­ nationalist feelings ran very deep.

The real producers of sugar who were the recently freed slaves and the peasants, many of whom fought in the Liberation Army, transformed into squatters or completely lacking any land of their own, who were pitched into the sugarcane harvests in the great estates created by United States companies or Cuban land-owners who inherited, bought or stole land, were adequate material for revolutionary ideas.

Julio Antonio Mella, founder of the Communist Party together with Baliño ­who knew Martí and who, with him, created the party that would lead Cuba to independence– took up the banner, brought to it all the enthusiasm derived from the October Revolution, and gave this cause his own blood, that of a young intellectual conquered by revolutionary ideas. The Communist blood of Jesús Menéndez would join that of Mella 18 years later.

We, teenagers and youths, studying in private schools had not even heard of Mella. Our class or social group, having incomes greater that those of the rest of the population, condemned us as human beings to be the selfish and the exploiters of society.

I had the privilege of coming to the revolution through ideas, escaping the boring fate that life was leading me to. I explained why at another moment; now, I remember this only in the context of what I am writing.

Hatred for Batista’s repression and his crimes was so great that nobody paid heed to the ideas I expressed in my defense at the Court in Santiago de Cuba, where there was even a book by Lenin printed in the USSR ­coming from the credit I had at the People’s Socialist Party bookstore at Carlos III in Havana­ found among the combatants’ belongings. “Whoever hasn’t read Lenin, is an ignorant”, I blurted out during the interrogation at the first sessions of the oral hearing when they brought it up as a damning bit of evidence. They were still trying me together with all of the surviving prisoners.

It would be hard to understand what I am saying if one doesn’t keep in mind that at the time we attacked the Moncada, on July 26, 1953, –an action made possible by the organizational efforts of more than a year, with nobody on our side other than ourselves– the policies of Stalin, who had died suddenly a few months earlier, prevailed in the USSR. He was an honest and devoted Communist, who would later make serious mistakes leading him to extremely conservative and cautious positions. If a Revolution like ours had succeeded at that time, the USSR would not have done for Cuba what the Soviet leadership did years later, liberated by then from those murky and tortuous methods, and enthused by the Socialist Revolution that burst on the scene in our country. I understood that very well in spite of the fair criticisms I made of Khrushchev as a result of events that were well known at the time.

The USSR had the most powerful army among all those contending in World War II, but unfortunately it was purged and demobilized. Its leader underestimated Hitler’s threats and bellicose theories. From the very capital of Japan, an important and prestigious Soviet intelligence agent had communicated the imminence of the attack on June 22, 1941. This surprised the country which was not in combat readiness. Many officers were on leaves. Even without their most experienced unit leaders –who were replaced– if they had been alerted and deployed, the Nazis would have clashed with powerful forces from the very first second and they wouldn’t have destroyed most of the fighter planes as they sat on the ground. Even worse than the purge, was the surprise. The Soviet soldiers did not surrender when they were told about enemy tanks in the rearguard, the way the other armies from capitalist Europe did. In the most critical moments, with sub-zero temperatures, the Siberian patriots started the lathes in the weapons factories that Stalin had far-sightedly moved to the inner reaches of Soviet territory.

As the leaders of the USSR themselves told me when I visited that great country in April 1963, the revolutionary Russian combatants –well seasoned against foreign interventions aimed at destroying the Bolshevik Revolution, which was left blockaded and isolated– had established relations and exchanged experiences with German officers, those with a Prussian militarist tradition, humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles which put an end to World War I.

The SS intelligence services devised schemes against many who were, in their vast majority, loyal to the Revolution. Motivated by suspicions that turned pathological, Stalin purged 3 of his 5 Marshals, 13 of the 15 Army Commanders, 8 of the 9 Admirals, 50 of the 57 Army Corps Commanders, 154 of 186 Division Commanders, one hundred percent of Army Commissars, and 25 of 28 Army Corps Commissars of the Soviet Red Army in the years preceding the Great Patriotic War.

The USSR paid for those serious mistakes with enormous destruction and more than 20 million lives lost; some claim it was 27 million.

In 1943, with some delay, the last Nazi spring offensive was launched at the famous and tempting Kursk Bulge, with 900 thousand soldiers, 2700 tanks and 2000 planes. The Soviets, experts in enemy psychology, laid in wait in that trap for the sure attack, with one million and 200 thousand men, 3300 tanks, 2400 planes and 20,000 artillery pieces. Led by Zhukov and Stalin himself, they destroyed Hitler’s last offensive.

In 1945, Soviet soldiers advanced unstoppable to capture the German Reich Chancellery in Berlin where they hoisted the red flag stained with the blood of the many fallen.

I observe Lula’s red tie for a minute and I ask him, Did Chávez give you that? He smiles and answers: Now I am going to send him some shirts because he is complaining that the collars on his shirts are too hard, and I am going to look for them in Bahía so that I can make him a present of them.

He asked that I give him some of the photos I took.

When he said that he was very impressed with my health, I told him that I spent my time thinking and writing. Never in my life had I thought so much. I told him that, at the end of my visit to Córdoba, Argentina, where I had attended a meeting with many leaders, and he had been there as well, I came back, and then I took part in two ceremonies for the July 26th Anniversary. I was checking over Ramonet’s book. I had answered all his questions. I had not taken the thing too seriously. I had thought that it would be a quick thing, like the interviews with Frei Betto and Tomás Borge. And then I became a slave to the French writer’s book, when it was at the point of being published without my going over it, with some of the answers being a bit off the cuff. I barely slept during those days.

When I fell gravely ill on the night of the 26th and in the early morning of the 27th of July, I thought that would be the end, and while the doctors were fighting for my life, the head of the Council of State Office was reading me the text, at my insistence, and I was dictating the pertinent changes.

* * *

Lula warmly reminded me of the first time he visited our country in 1985 to take part in a meeting organized by Cuba to analyze the overwhelming problem of the foreign debt; participants representing a wide spectrum of political, religious, cultural and social tendencies presented and discussed their opinions, concerned about the asphyxiating drama.

The meetings took place throughout the year. Leaders of worker, peasant, student and other groups assembled to examine the various subjects. He was one of these leaders, already well known to us and abroad for his direct and vibrant message, that of a young worker leader.

At that time, Latin America owed 350 billion dollars. I told him that in that year of intense struggle I had written long letters to the President of Argentina, Raúl Alfonsín, to persuade him discontinue the payments on that debt. I knew the position of Mexico, unmoved in the payment of its enormous debt, but not indifferent to the outcome of the battle, and the special political situation of Brazil. The Argentine debt was sufficiently large after the disasters of the military government to justify an attempt to open up a breach in that direction. I did not succeed. A few years later, the debt with the interests rose to 800 billion; it grew twofold and it had already been paid.

Lula explains to me how that year was different. He says that Brazil has no debt today either with the International Monetary Fund or with the Paris Club, and that it has 190 billion US dollars in its reserves. I assumed that his country had paid enormous sums in order to comply with those institutions. I explained to him about Nixon’s colossal fraud on the world economy, when in 1971 he unilaterally suspended the gold standard that had limited the issuing of paper money. Until then the dollar had maintained a balance in relation to its value in gold. Thirty years earlier, the United States had almost all the reserves in this metal. If there was a lot of gold, they bought it up; if there was a shortage, they sold. The dollar played the part of international exchange currency, under the privileges granted to the US at Bretton Woods in 1944.

The most developed powers had been destroyed by the war. Japan, Germany, the USSR and the rest of Europe had barely any of this metal in their reserves. One ounce of gold could be bought for as little as 35 dollars; today you need 900 dollars.

The United States, I said, bought up properties all over the world minting dollars, and exercise sovereign privileges over such properties acquired in other countries. Nevertheless, nobody wants the dollar to devaluate any further, because almost all countries accumulate dollars, that is, paper money, that devaluates constantly as a result of that unilateral decision made by the President of the United States.

Presently, the currency reserves of China, Japan, Southeast Asia and Russia combined amount to three trillion dollars (3,000,000,000,000); it’s an astronomical figure. If you add the dollar reserves of Europe and the rest of the world, you will see that this all comes to a mountain of money whose value depends on what the government of one country decides to do.

Greenspan, who for more than 15 years was the chairman of the Federal Reserve, would have died in a panic had he been faced with such situation. How high can U.S. inflation climb? How many new jobs can this country create this year? How long will its machinery to mint paper money last before its economy collapses, besides using the war to conquer other nations’ natural resources?

As a result of the harsh measures imposed on the defeated German state at Versailles in 1918, when a republican regime came to power, the German Mark devaluated to such an extent that you needed tens of thousands of them to buy one dollar. Such crisis fed German nationalism and contributed extraordinarily to Hitler’s absurd ideas. He was looking for a scapegoat. Many of the most important scientific and financial talents as well as writers were Jewish. They were persecuted. Among them was Einstein, the author of the theory stating that energy is equal to mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light; it made him famous. Also Marx, who was born in Germany, and many of the Russian Communists were of Jewish descent, whether or not they actively practiced the Hebrew religion.

Hitler did not lay the blame for the human drama on the capitalist system, rather he blamed the Jews. Based on crude prejudices, what he really wanted was “vital Russian space” for his Teutonic master race, dreaming of building a millennial empire.

In 1917, by the Balfour Declaration, the British decided to create the State of Israel within its colonial empire, located on territory inhabited by the Palestinians who had a different religion and culture; in that part of the world, other ethnic groups coexisted for many centuries before our era, among them the Jews. Zionism became popular among the Americans, who rightly detested the Nazis, and whose financial markets were controlled by representatives of that movement. That state today is practicing the principles of apartheid; it has sophisticated nuclear weapons and it controls the most important financial centers in the United States. It was used by this country and its European allies to supply nuclear weapons to that other apartheid, the one in South Africa, so that they might be used against the Cuban internationalist combatants who were fighting the racists in the south of Angola if they were to cross the Namibian border.

Immediately afterwards, I spoke to Lula about Bush’s adventurous policies in the Middle East.

I promised to send him the article that was to be published in Granma the next day, on January 16th. I would personally sign the copy he would be getting. Before he left, I would also give him the article written by one of the most influential U.S. intellectuals, Paul Kennedy, about the connection between food and oil prices.

You are a food producer, I added, and you have just discovered important reserves of light crude. Brazil has an area of 5,333,750 square miles and 30 percent of the world’s water reserves. The planet’s population needs increasing amounts of food, and you are great food exporters. If you have grains rich in proteins, oils and carbohydrates ­be they fruits like the cashew nuts, almonds, or pistachio; legumes such as peanut; soybean, with more than 35% protein, and sunflower seeds; or grains like wheat and corn- you can produce all the meat or milk you want. I didn’t mention others on a long list.

I continued with my explanation saying that in Cuba, we had a cow that broke the world record in milk production, a Holstein-Zebu hybrid. Right away Lula named her: “White Udder!” (Ubre Blanca), he exclaimed. He remembered her name. I went on to say that she would produce 110 litres of milk a day. She was like a factory, but she had to have more than 40 kilograms of fodder, the most she could chew and swallow in a 24-hour period, a mixture where soy meal, a legume that is very difficult to grow in Cuban soil and climate, is a basic ingredient. You now have the two things: safe supplies of fuel, raw food materials and manufactured food products.

The end of cheap food has already been announced. I ask him, What do you think will do the dozens of countries with many hundreds of millions of inhabitants who have neither the one nor the other? This means that the United States has a huge external dependency which is also a weapon. It could use all its reserves of land, but the people of that country are not ready for that. They are producing ethanol from corn, therefore, they are taking a great amount of this caloric grain off the market, I added making my point.

On the same subject, Lula tells me that Brazilian producers are already selling the 2009 corn crop. Brazil is not as dependent on corn as Mexico or Central America. I think that the United States cannot keep up fuel production from corn. This, I say, confirms a reality with regards to the sudden and incontrollable rise of food prices which will affect many peoples.

You, on the other hand, can rely on a favorable climate and loose soil; ours tends to be clayish and sometimes as hard as cement. When we received tractors from the Soviets and the other Socialist countries, they would break down and we had to buy special steel in Europe to manufacture them here. In our country we have lots of clay-based black or red soils. Working them with dedication, they can produce for the family what the peasants in the Escambray call “high consumption”. They were receiving food rations from the State and also consuming their own production. The climate has changed in Cuba, Lula, I said.

Our soil is not suitable for the large scale commercial production of cereals, as required to meet the necessities of a population of almost 12 million people, and the cost in machinery and fuel imported by the nation, at today’s prices, would be very high.

Our media prints news about oil production in Matanzas, reductions in costs and other positive aspects. But nobody says that the prices in hard currency must be shared with foreign partners who invest in the necessary sophisticated machinery and technology. Besides, we do not have the required labor force to intensively take part in cereal production as the Vietnamese and Chinese do, growing rice plant by plant and often reaping two or even three harvests a year. It has to do with the location and the historical tradition of the land and its settlers. They did not first go through the large scale mechanization of modern harvesters.

In Cuba, quite a while ago now, the sugarcane cutters and the workers in the mountain coffee plantations have abandoned the fields, logically. Also, a large number of construction workers, some from the same origins, have abandoned the work brigades and have become self-employed workers. The people are aware of the high cost of fixing up a home. There is the cost of the material, plus the high cost of the manpower. The first can be solved, the second has no solution ­as some would believe­ throwing pesos into the street without their due backing in convertible currency, which would not be dollars anymore but Euros and Yuans, increasingly expensive, if all together we succeed in saving international economy and peace.

Meanwhile, we have been creating and we should keep on creating reserves of foods and fuel. In case of a direct military attack, the manual work force would be multiplied.

In the short time Lula and I spent together, two and a half hours, I would have liked to summarize in just a few minutes the almost 28 years that have gone by, not since the time he first visited Cuba, but from the time I met him in Nicaragua. This time he was the leader of an immense nation whose fate, however, depends on many aspects that are common to all the peoples on this planet.

I asked his permission to speak about our conversation freely and at the same time, discretely.

As he stands in front of me, smiling and friendly, and I listen to him speaking with pride about his country, about the things they are doing and those they plan on doing, I think about his political instincts. I had just finished quickly looking over a hundred-page report on Brazil and the growth of relations between our two countries. He was the man I met in the Sandinista capital, Managua; he was someone who connected closely with our Revolution. I neither spoke to him, nor would I ever speak to him, about anything that could be construed as interfering in the political process of Brazil, but he himself, right at the beginning, said: Do you remember, Fidel, when we spoke at the Sao Paulo Forum, and you told me that unity among the Latin American left-wing was necessary if we were to secure our progress? Well, we are now moving forward in that direction.

Immediately he speaks to me with pride about what Brazil is today and its great possibilities, bearing in mind its advances in science, technology, mechanical industry, energy and other areas, bound up with its enormous agricultural potential. Of course, he includes the high level of Brazil’s international relations, which he describes enthusiastically, and the relations he is ready to develop with Cuba. He speaks vehemently about the social work of the Workers’ Party which today is supported by all the Brazilian left-wing parties, which are far from having a parliamentary majority.

There is no doubt that it was a part of the things we analyzed years ago when we spoke. Back then time flew by quickly, but now every year is multiplied by ten, at a rhythm which is difficult to follow.

I wanted also to talk to him about that and about many other things. It’s hard to tell which one of us had the greater need to communicate ideas. As for me, I supposed that he would be leaving the next day and not early that same evening, according to the flight plan that had been scheduled before we met. It was approximately five o’clock in the afternoon. What happened was a kind of contest as to how we would be using the time. Lula, smart and quick-witted, took his revenge at a meeting with the press, when, smiling and cunning as you can see in the photos, he told the reporters that he had only talked for half an hour and Fidel had talked for two. Of course, with the privilege of seniority, I used up more time than he did. You have to discount the time taking photographs of each other, since I borrowed a camera and became a reporter: He followed suit.

I have here 103 pages of dispatches reporting what Lula said to the press, the photos taken of him and the confidence he communicated about Fidel’s health. Truly, he left no space for the reflection published on January 16th that I had just finished writing the day before his visit. He took up the entire space and this is equivalent to his enormous territory, compared to the miniscule land surface of Cuba.

I told him how happy I was that he had decided to visit Cuba, even without the assurance that he would be able to see me. As soon as I knew that, I decided to sacrifice anything, like my exercises, rehab and recovery, just so I could be with him and talk extensively.

At that moment, even though I knew that he would be leaving that same day, I was unaware of the urgency in his departure. Evidently, the health condition of the Vice President of Brazil, according to his own statement, urged him to take off so that he could arrive in Brasilia at around dawn the next day, in the middle of spring. Yet, another long and hectic day for our friend.

A strong and persistent downpour fell on his residence while Lula waited for the photos and two other bits of material, together with my notes. He left that night for the airport under the rain. If he had seen the front page of Granma: “2007, the third rainiest year in more than 100 years”, he would have been able to understand what I had told him about the climate change.

Well then, the sugar harvest in Cuba has begun, along with the so-called dry season. The sugar crop yield is only at nine percent. How much would it cost to grow sugar for export at ten cents a pound, when the purchasing power of one cent is almost fifty times less than at the time of the triumph of the Revolution in January of 1959? Reducing the costs of these and other products to fulfil our commitments, to satisfy our consumption, to create reserves and develop other production, is highly commendable; but not even in our wildest dreams can we find easy solutions to our problems, the solutions are not just around the corner.

Among many other topics, we discussed the inauguration of the new President of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom. I told him that I had seen the ceremony in its entirety and the social commitments made by the newly elected President. Lula mentioned that what we can see today in Latin America was born in 1990 when we decided to create the Sao Paulo Forum: “We made a decision here, in a conversation we had. I had lost the election and you came to lunch at my home in San Bernardo.”

* * *

The demise of the Soviet Union was to us like there were no more sunrises; a devastating blow for the Cuban Revolution. Not only did this translate into a total cessation of supplies of fuel, materials and foods; we lost markets and the prices that we had attained for our products in the difficult struggle for our sovereignty, integration and principles. The empire and the traitors, full of hatred, were sharpening their daggers with those who wanted to put the revolutionaries to the sword and recover the country’s riches.

The Gross Domestic Product progressively plummeted to 35 percent. What country could have withstood such a terrible blow? We were not defending our lives; we were defending our rights.

Many left-wing parties and organizations became discouraged in the wake of the collapse of the USSR after its titanic effort to build socialism during the course of more than 70 years.

The reactionaries’ criticisms coming from all platforms and mass media were ferocious. We did not add our voices to the chorus of capitalism’s apologists, beating a dead horse. Not one statue to the creators or followers of Marxism was demolished in Cuba. Not one school or factory had its name changed. And we decided to press ahead with unchangeable steadiness. That was what we had promised to do under such hypothetical and unbelievable circumstances.

Nor had we ever practiced personality cults in our country, something that we had taken the initiative to prohibit right from the first days after the triumph.

In peoples’ history, it has been subjective factors that have brought forward or delay outcomes, independently of the leaders’ worth.

I spoke to Lula about Che, briefly outlining his story for him. Che used to argue with Carlos Rafael Rodríguez about the of self-financed and the budgetary method, things we didn’t consider that important then as we were involved in the struggle against the US blockade, their aggression plans and the 1962 October Missile Crisis, a real survival issue.

Che studied the budgets of the great Yankee companies whose managers lived in Cuba, not their owners. He drew from this a clear idea about how imperialism worked and what was happening in our society and this enriched his Marxist ideas and led him to the conclusion that in Cuba we couldn’t use the same methods to build socialism. But this didn’t mean we were dealing with a war of insults; these were open exchanges of opinions that were published in a small magazine, with no intention of creating rifts or divisions among ourselves.

What happened in the USSR later would not have surprised Che. While he held important posts and carried out his duties, he was always careful and respectful. His language grew tougher when he collided with the horrible human reality imposed by imperialism; he became aware of this in the former Belgian colony of the Congo.

He was a self-sacrificing, studious and profound man; he died in Bolivia with a handful of combatants from Cuba and other Latin American countries, fighting for the liberation of Our America. He did not survive to experience the world of today, where problems unknown to us then have since come into play.

You didn’t know him, I told him. He was disciplined in voluntary work, in his studies and behavior. He was modest and selfless, and he set an example both in production centers and in combat.

I think that in building socialism, the more the privileged receive, the less will go to the neediest.

I repeat to Lula that time measured in years was now flying by very quickly; each one of them was multiplying. One can almost say the same about each day. Fresh news is published constantly, relating to the situations anticipated in my meeting with him on the 15th.

With plenty of economic arguments, I explained to him that when the Revolution triumphed in 1959, the United States was paying for an important part of our sugar production with the preferential price of 5 cents a pound; for almost half a century this would be sent to that country’s traditional marketplace which was always supplied, at critical moments, by a secure supplier just off their shores. When we proclaimed the Land Reform Law, Eisenhower decided what had to be done, and we hadn’t yet nationalized their sugar mills ­it would have been premature to do so­ nor had we yet applied the agrarian law of May 1959 to the large estates. Because of that hasty decision, our sugar quota was suspended in December 1960, and later redistributed among other producers in this and other regions of the world as punishment. Our country became blockaded and isolated.

Worst of all was the lack of scruples and the methods used by the empire to impose its domination over the world. They brought viruses into the country and destroyed the best sugarcane; they attacked the coffee, the potatoes and also the swine. The Barbados-4362 was one of our best varieties of sugarcane: early maturity, a sugar yield that sometimes reached 13 or 14 percent; its weight per hectare could exceed 200 tons of cane in 15 months. The Yankees resorted to pests to wipe out the best. Even worse: they brought in the hemorrhagic dengue virus that affected 344 thousand people and took the lives of 101 children. We don’t know whether they used other viruses ­perhaps they didn’t because they were afraid of the proximity of Cuba.

When due to these problems we couldn’t send to the USSR the sugar shipments under contract with that country, they continued sending us the goods we had agreed upon. I remember negotiating with the Soviets every cent of the sugar price; I discovered in practice what I had only known about in theory: unequal exchange. They were securing a price that was above the world market price. The agreements were planned for five years; if at the beginning of the five-year period you were sending an X amount of tons of sugar in payment for the goods, at the end of that period the value of their products, in international prices, was 20 percent higher. They were always generous in their negotiations: once the world market price temporarily shot up to 19 cents, we latched on to that price and they accepted. Later this served as a basis for the application of the socialist principle which says that the more economically developed should support the less developed as they build socialism.

When Lula asked me what the purchasing power was of 5 cents, I explained that with one ton of sugar at that time we could by 7 tons of oil; today, the reference price of light oil, 100 dollars, will only buy one barrel. The sugar we export, at current prices, would only suffice to import oil that would be used up in 20 days. We would have to spend about 4 billion dollars per year to buy it.

The United States subsidizes its agriculture with tens of billions each year. Why does the U.S. not allow the ethanol you produce freely into the country? They subsidize it brutally, thus denying Brazil income for billions of dollars every year. The wealthy countries do the same, with their production of sugar, oleaginous products and cereals for the production of ethanol.

Lula analyzes figures on Brazilian agricultural products that are of great interest. He tells me that he had a study made by the Brazilian press showing how world soy production will grow 2 percent annually until 2015, which means an additional production of 189 million tons of soy. Brazil’s soy production would have to grow at a pace of 7 percent annually to be able to meet the world’s needs.

What is the problem? Many countries already don’t have any more land available for crops. India, for example, has no more available land; China has very little and neither does the United States to grow more soy.

I add to his explanation that what many Latin American countries have are millions of people earning starvation salaries and growing coffee, cacao, vegetables, fruits, raw materials and goods at low prices to supply US society which no longer saves and consumes more than it can produce.

Lula explains that they have set up an EMBRAPA research office ­Agriculture and Livestock Research Company of Brazil­ in Ghana, and he goes on to say that in February they are going to also open an office in Caracas.

“Thirty years ago, Fidel, that area of Brasilia, Mato Grosso, Goiás, was considered a part of Brazil that had nothing, it was just like the African savannah; in the course of 30 years, it was transformed into the major grain producing region in all of Brazil, and I think that Africa has an area that is very much like this region in our country; that’s why we set up the research office there in Ghana and we also would like to become associated with Angola.”

He told me that Brazil is in a privileged position. They have 850 million hectares of land; of these 360 million are part of Amazons State; 400 million of good soil for agriculture, and sugarcane takes up only one percent.

I make the comment that Brazil is the largest coffee exporter in the world. For this product, Brazil is paid the same as the value of a ton in 1959: around 2,500 of today’s dollars. If in that country then they charged 10 cents a cup, today they charge 5 dollars or more for an aromatic cup of espresso, an Italian way of preparing coffee. That is GDP in the United States.

In Africa they cannot do what Brazil is doing. A large part of Africa is covered by deserts and tropical and subtropical areas where it is difficult to grow soy or wheat. Only in the Mediterranean region, to the north ­where rainfall totals some eight inches a year or the lands irrigated with the waters of the Nile– in the high plateaus or in the south, in the lands wrested away by apartheid, cereals production is abundant.

Fish in the cool waters that mainly flow around its western coast feed the developed countries that sweep into their nets all the large and small species that feed on the plankton in the ocean currents coming in from the South Pole.

Africa, having almost 4 times the surface area of Brazil (18.91 million square miles) and 4.3 times more population than Brazil (911 million inhabitants) is very far from being able to produce Brazil’s surplus foods, and its infrastructure is yet to be built.

The viruses and bacteria affecting potatoes, citrus, bananas, tomatoes, and livestock in general, swine fever, avian flu, foot-and-mouth disease, mad cow disease, and others that in general affect the livestock of the world, proliferate in Africa.

I spoke to Lula about the Battle of Ideas that we are waging. Fresh news arrives constantly that demonstrates the need for that constant battle. The worst media of our ideological enemies are bent on spreading throughout the world the opinions of some nasty ‘worms’ who cannot even stand to hear the term “socialism” in our heroic and generous country. On January 20th, five days after the visit, one of these papers published the story of a young ne’er-do-well who, thanks to the Revolution, had attained a good level education, health and employment situation:

“Don’t even mention socialism to me”, and he went on to explain the cause of his anger: “many people were pawning their souls just to get a few dollars. Anything new that happens in this country, whatever it is, they should give it another name,” he declares. Quite the little wolf dressed up as a granny.

The very same reporter, who prints this, gleefully goes on: “Official propaganda telling the Cubans to go to the polls talks more about the Revolution than about socialism. For a start, Cuba is no longer a country in a bubble, like it was until the end of the 1980’s. The insular viewpoint is changing towards a global vision and the country, especially in the capital, is living through an accelerated mutation towards modernity. And one of its effects is that socialism, imported decades ago, is tearing at the seams.”

We are dealing with imperial capitalism’s vulgar appeal to individual egoism, as it was preached almost 240 years ago by Adam Smith to be the cause of the nation’s wealth, meaning everything should be handled by the market. That would create limitless wealth in an idyllic world.

I think of Africa and its almost one billion population, victim of the principles of that economy. The diseases, flying at the speed of airplanes, proliferate at the speed of AIDS, and other old and new diseases affect its population and its crops, with not one of the former colonial powers being really capable of sending them doctors and scientists.

It is about these issues that I spoke with Lula.

* * *

When I talked to him about Venezuela, he told me: We intend to cooperate with President Chávez. We both have an agreement. Every year I will travel twice to Caracas and he will travel twice to Brazil so that no differences could set in between us; and in case there happens to be any, we could settle it right away. Venezuela doesn’t need any money, he said, because it has many resources, but it needs time and infrastructure”.

I told him I was very happy to know what his stand was regarding that country, because we were very thankful to that sister nation for the agreements signed that ensured to us a steady supply of fuel.

I cannot forget that, after the coup on April 2002, the slogan upheld by those who ousted the government was: “not a single drop of oil to Cuba any more”. We became an additional reason for the imperialism to try to blow up the Venezuelan economy, although that was what they really intended to do since Chávez was sworn in as President over the moribund Constitution of the Fourth Republic, which he legally and democratically transformed into the Fifth Republic later on.

When the price of oil abruptly increased and it became real difficult to buy it, Chávez maintained and even increased our oil supplies. After the signing of the ALBA agreements in Havana on December 14, 2004, these agreements still provide honorable and beneficial conditions for both countries. Almost 40,000 selfless Cuban specialists, most of them doctors, are working in Venezuela. Their knowledge, and particularly their internationalist example, is contributing to training the Venezuelans who will replace them.

I explained to him that Cuba had friendly relations with all Latin American and Caribbean countries, whether right-wing or left-wing. We have been following that policy for long and we will never change it; we are ready to support any action in favor of promoting peace among peoples. This is a thorny and difficult issue, but we will continue to persevere in it.

Lula expressed again his respect and deep love for Cuba and its leaders. He immediately added that he felt proud for what was going on in Latin America and once again reaffirmed that it was here in Havana that we decided to create the Sao Paulo Forum and unite all the Latin American left-wing, which is taking power in almost every country.

This time I reminded him of what Martí taught us about all glories in this world, when he said that all of them fit into a kernel of corn. Lula added: “I tell everybody that in the conversations I had with you, you never gave any advice that would go against what was legal. You always advised me not to make too many enemies at the same time. And that is what’s making things move forward.”

Almost immediately he added that Brazil, a big country with resources, had to help Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

“I have just visited Central America. Never had a Brazilian President been to a country from that region to discuss cooperation projects.”

Then I asked him: “Do you remember, Lula, what I told you at that informal and familiar dinner you offered to our delegation the day after your inauguration, on January 2003? None of the children of the poor people who voted for you will ever be an executive of the big state enterprises of Brazil; university studies are here very expensive!”

In this regard, Lula explains the following: “We are building 214 technical and professional schools; we are also building 13 new federal universities and 48 campuses.”

I then asked him: “Those will be free of charge, won’t they?”

He was quick to respond: “We have created a program and we have already included 460,000 youths from the periphery, poor people who used to attend public schools, so that they could study at the university. The right-wing accused me of trying to lower the level of education; two years after, 14 courses went under scrutiny: the best students were those from the periphery. We are creating another program that includes 18 students as an average, with which the number of university students will be increased to 250,000.”

He said to me that Brazil’s commercial relations with Latin America were bigger compared to those it had with the United States. I continued to explain to him that we will certainly establish close relations between our two countries, not only as friends, but also as partners in important areas, that I needed to know the thinking of the Brazilian leaders, since we were going to be partners in strategic areas, and as a rule we always lived up to our economic commitments.

We talked about other important issues, the issues on which we agreed and those on which we don’t, as tactfully as possible.

I talked to him about several other regions, the Caribbean among them and about the forms of cooperation that we had developed with them.

Lula told me that Brazil should be more proactive towards cooperating with the poorest peoples. He has acquired new responsibilities; Brazil is the richest country in the whole region.

I talked to him, of course, about the climate change, and the little attention paid by a great number of leaders of the industrialized world to this issue.

When I spoke with him on January 15 in the afternoon, I could not make reference to the article that would be published only three days later, written by Stephen Leahy from Toronto. This article announces a new book by Lester Brown called Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

“The crisis is extremely serious and urgent and requires from all nations an effort to mobilize just as was done during World War II (1939-1945)” ­wrote Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington D.C. based research organization.

“Climate change is happening much faster than scientists expected, and the planet will inevitably suffer a temperature increase of at least two degrees”, Brown said to IPS, “which would definitely place us in the danger zone.”

“None of the presidential candidates in the US elections” ­to be held on the first Tuesday of November– “has referred to the urgent problem of climate change.

“The greenhouse gas emissions, which are in part responsible for global warming, should be reduced by 80 per cent by the year 2020.”

This is a far more ambitious goal as the one suggested by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in 2007 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, who recommended a 25 to 40 per cent reduction of the emission levels of 1990, according to the cable news.

Brown considers that the data used by the IPCC are outdated, since they were published two years ago. More recent studies indicate that climate change is speeding up, he said.

While he is confident that the IPCC will modify that recommendation in its next report, he pointed out that it would not be released before five or six years. “Too late, we have to act now”, Brown reaffirmed.

Brown’ Plan B 3.0 recommends some measures to reach an 80 per cent reduction in the emissions, which are strongly based on the efficient use of energy, the use of renewable sources of energy, and the expansion of the planet trees “shield”.

“Eolic energy can cover 40 per cent of the world’s demand with the installation of 1.5 million new 2 megawatt wind turbines. Although the figure may seem too high, the world manufactures 65 million motorcars every year.

A more efficient lighting system could reduce the world’s electricity consumption by 12 per cent.

“In the United States, business and residential buildings account for 40 per cent of carbon emissions. The next step should be to resort to non-polluting electricity generation for heating, cooling, and lighting private homes.

The use of bio-fuels from grains such as corn and soy, are pushing for an increase in the prices of these foodstuffs that may lead to a food scarcity that could be disastrous for the poor peoples of the world.

“The annual addition of 70 million persons to the world’s population is concentrated in countries whose water reserves are depleting, wells are going dry, forest areas are reducing, soils are degrading, and grazing lands are turning into deserts.

“Year after year, the number of ‘failing states’ increases, which constitutes an ‘early warning of the fall of a civilization’, Brown stated.

“The increase in the price of oil should add to the list of problems. Rich countries will have all they need, while poor countries should reduce consumption.

“Population growth and poverty demand special attention from the developed world.

“Time is our most scarce resource”, the famous scientist concluded.

There can be no clearer way to describe the danger that ligers upon humankind.

But that was not the only news published after my meeting with Lula. Hardly two days ago, an editorial published by The New York Times, anathematizing and pulling to pieces the speech delivered by Bush before Congress, expressed this idea on a single line: “Horrifying dangers awaits the civilized world”.

China, whose territorial area is 87 times our island’s, with 117 times more population than Cuba, has just been hit by an unusual cold wave which affected Shanghai, the most developed area, as well as the southern and central regions of that huge country. Authorities report about the emergency broadcast by western international news agencies ­AFP, AP, EFE, DPA, and ANSA, among others: “Heavy snows have forced the shutting down of thermo-power stations and the reduction by a half of coal reserves, the main source of energy of the country, which has created a serious energy crisis”.

“in the most affected area ­a 7 percent total energy loss- power stations have stopped operating, according to the Energy Commission.

“Ninety stations, which produce an additional 10 per cent thermo-power, could be shut down in the next days if conditions do not improve

“Coal reserves have been reduced by more than a half, authorities reported.

“The main problem is transportation. More than have of the existing trains are devoted to the transportation of coal. The paralysis of the railway network has caused many problems, said Wang Zheming, an expert of the State Security Commission.

“Wang remembered that these days coal transportation is facing the competition of passenger’s transportation, since as a result of New Year’s celebrations there is a railway transportation exodus of almost 180 million people in hardly a month.

“For China it is difficult to resort to another source of energy. The ideal source would be natural gas, but reserves are not enough yet, the expert said.”

We should also take into account that in recent months, the Yang-Tze river basin as well as other central and southern areas suffered the worst drought in half a century, which affected hydro-power generation.

“Heavy snows will continue to fall in the next three days,” according to the Chinese Association of Meteorology.

“The whole country has mobilized to cope with the emergency. In the city of Nanjing, 250,000 people were assigned to remove snow from the streets.”

These news refer to “460,000 soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army, deployed in the Chinese provinces, to help millions of people unsheltered who were affected by the lowest temperatures ever recorded in recent times, and to one million law enforcement agents to help re-establish traffic and services.

“The Ministry of Health sent 15,000 doctors to assist the victims.

“In the city of Canton Prime Minister Wen Jiabao addressed a crowd of travelers whose trains were paralyzed.

“An estimated 80 million people have been affected. Damages caused to agriculture and food production are being assessed.”

BBC World reports as follows: “The Chinese government reported that a severe drought led to the most severe drop ever recorded in 142 years of the water level in one part of the Yang-Tze River, the biggest in the country.

“In the port city of Hankou, in the center of the country, water levels decreased by 13.98 m in early January, something which had not been seen since 1866, according to local media.”

The cold wave was approaching Vietnam carrying unusually low temperatures.

Such news will give you an idea of the consequences of climate change, which scientists worry so much about. The two examples I have referred to are revolutionary countries, perfectly well organized, with great human and economic strength, where all resources are immediately put to the service of the people. Here we are not talking about hungry crowds abandoned to their own fate.

On the other hand, a news published by Reuters on January 29 states that “France is planning to modify its bio-fuels consumption policy, due to certain doubts that exist regarding the impact of the so called “green fuels” on the environment’, as reported on Tuesday by the State Secretary for the Environment.

“France has become one of the biggest bio-fuels manufacturers in Europe, after adopting an ambiguous policy that anticipates in two years the European Union goal of mixing bio-fuels with standard fuels.

“In order to achieve its fuels mixing goalsFrance established a system of quotas that enjoy reduced tariffs, so that they could be competitive as compared to standard fuels.

“That policy encouraged many companies to invest in this sector and build ethanol and bio-diesel manufacturing plants all over the country”.

All that I have just explained, whose main concepts were already foreseen, is a sum total of recent events. Most certainly, under such circumstances, these events will require Brazil, a country that fortunately has not been affected by these huge climate calamities, to take significant steps in its commercial and investment policy. As from now, its international impact is growing bigger.

Obviously, there are a number of factors that makes the situation of the planet all the more complex. We could list several of them:

1. Growth in the consumption of oil, a non-renewable and polluting product, due to the squandering of consumption societies.

2. Scarcity of food due to several causes, among them, the exponential population and animal growth which turn into increasingly demanded proteins.

3. Overexploitation of the seas and the pollution of marine species due to chemical wastes dumping by industries which are incompatible with life.

4. The macabre idea of turning foodstuffs into fuels for leisure and luxury.

5. Inability of the dominant economic system to make a rational and efficient use of science and technology to combat pests and diseases which attack humans, animals and the crops that feed them. Biotechnology transforms genes, and transnationals manufacture and use their products; they maximize their profits by resorting to publicity, with no guarantees for those who consume such products and depriving those who need them the most from having access to them. Among those products, there are the very new nano-technological molecules ­the term is relatively new– which are disorderly making their way using the same mechanisms.

6. The need to have rational family and society growth plans, away from hegemonic desires or power lust.

7. The almost total absence of education in topics which are decisive for life, even in nations with the highest educational levels.

8. The real dangers posed by mass destruction weapons in the hands of irresponsible people, which were described by The New York Times, one of the most influential newspapers in the United States, as horrifying dangers.

Is there any remedy for these dangers? Yes: knowing them and confronting them. How? These would be purely theoretical answers. Let readers to find those by themselves, especially the youngest boys and girls, as it is usually said now, in order not to appear as discriminating against women. Do not hope to become first a Head of State.

Did or didn’t have I several topics to talk about with Lula? It was impossible to talk to him about everything. This way it is easier to discuss the news that arrived after his visit.

I reminded him that I was trying to recover from two accidents: the one in Villa Clara and the illness that came about after my last trip to Argentina.

Almost at the end of his visit he told me: “You are invited to go to Brazil this year”. Thanks, I answered, at least in my thoughts I will be there.

Finally he told me: I will tell your comrades and friends in Brazil that you are very well.

We walked together to the exit. The meeting was really worthwhile.





Fidel Castro’s column appears in Granma.