In this interview Alejandro Castro Espín, Doctor of Political Science and social researcher and son of Cuban president Raul Castro and the late Vilma Espin, openly shares his thoughts regarding the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. He also explains how Cuban participatory democracy works and his perception of the future of Cuba.
Castro Espin was in Athens during the first two weeks of January where he presented the second edition of his book “Empire of Terror” that was originally published in Cuba in 2009. Since that time the book has been translated into numerous languages including, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese. The book examines the ideology of imperial policy and what constitutes the essence of a national security doctrine that is the main axis of the aggressive foreign policy of the U.S. The book presentation in Greece took place thanks to the Solidarity Movement with Cuba in that nation.
The interview was conducted in Acropolis on January 16, 2015 by Peruvian-Greek journalist Lasonas Pipinis Velasco.
Lasonas Pipinis Velasco: Is this the first time you have visited Acropolis?
Alejandro Castro Espín: Well, it is the first time I have visited Greece. It is something I had hoped to do for a long time and it finally happened thanks to solidarity here with my people. I was invited without having to spend a dime of Cuban resources and it has been an excellent visit. We have been able to interact closely with the Greek people, in neighborhoods and towns and in that process we have discovered great respect and admiration for Fidel and Raul. Our visit has made it possible to thank the Greek people for the solidarity they have shown Cuba for over 50 years as we faced the American empire. What made this trip even more special is the recent circumstances when Barack Obama accepted that the policy of the previous 10 presidents had been a mistake and had to be changed.
LPV: In Cuba many things are changing, in terms of diplomatic relations with the United States. What happened initiates a new stage, what does this new day mean for the future of Cuba?
Alejandro Castro Espín: The future of Cuba is one earned by a country that has resisted for over 50 years against the most powerful empire on Earth. The resilience of its people made this triumph materialize. The Cuban people along with international solidarity defeated this imperial position in the middle of the 21st century and have demonstrated the potential of a nation that has lived under an iron handed blockade and permanent aggression including state sponsored terrorism and yet has survived. In the new circumstances we have the absolute conviction that we will move forward even more than we already have. As you know Cuba has progressed a lot regarding all the indicators of social development and those rates can be compared favorably with the first world in several aspects. We think that without the heavy burden of the blockade that we can move forward a lot more in building prosperous and sustainable socialism to which we aspire.
This is the will of the Cuban people as expressed in the last Congress of the Party that was arrived at through a process of popular consultation with more than eight million Cubans who spoke and supported these guidelines of economic and social policy of the Party and the Revolution that were later approved by the National Assembly; the highest organ of the power of the Cuban State.
LPV: Many people say that in Latin-America after the death of Hugo Chavez a lot of things could change, that is to say, the socialism being established in Venezuela and in other countries like Bolivia or Ecuador could disappear and that could affect Cuba.
Alejandro Castro Espín: Actually our analysis is completely the opposite of that one simply because the logic of history teaches us that. The countries you mentioned all lived through times of cruel and ruthless capitalism where the workers, the masses of the population, saw themselves living in a precarious state of employment and subsistence conditions. The impact of this reality took hold and impacted the evolution of the social situation of those countries and even though that produced movements that were not exactly political movements but social movements. If we are going to talk about the most recent of the “Indignados” movements in several countries of the world, including Europe, those are social movements but eventually they will evolve into political movements. This will happen because the traditional bourgeois parties have lost credibility after being the main political influence in most countries of Latin-America and Europe in the last 50 or 60 years. But in those countries you mentioned, the ones that currently compose the core of Alba; Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, they have shown that by breaking with the unfair order imposed by the neoliberal adjustment policies, promoted by Washington and the western powers, that they already have a more favorable economic development, and even a better social development. They have made a tremendous leap just by rejecting the neoliberal adjustment policies, they are making a statement from the social perspective. Capital in these cases has not been protected in any way which along with non – interference of the state is what neo liberalism stands for. It has gone the other way around; they have looked for social policies from the political movements and then when they have acquired the power of those political movements they have become in charge of the State. Several of these countries like Bolivia and Ecuador have implemented social policy with a socialist organization.
LPV: Do you think capitalism will ever be re established in Cuba?
Alejandro: No, in Cuba we had the most ferocious form of capitalism for 60 years. It dominated every sphere of life.
LPV: So you think it would be impossible to apply capitalism in Cuba once again?
Alejandro Castro Espín: Totally, because we are a people that lived that. Cubans are a people who suffered from capitalism in the cruelest way, in the social order, the economic order and the political order. The United States turned to repression when its prominence started to slip in Latin America through establishing military dictatorships. Then there is the case of Henry Kissinger who was a known scholar who later became the National Security Advisor to President Nixon and later on Secretary of State. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in establishing relations between the U.S. and China. At the same time that he was doing that he was also encouraging all sorts of covert actions against Cuba including political assassinations. This contradiction is one that is hard to understand. This is why Cuba cannot go back to capitalism; we know all the tragic experience that it has generated for Latin America and the world. We also know the positive experiences of socialism not only in our geographic environment but also like what we are witnessing in China.
Today China is a first world economy, in terms of development. The U.S. may still be in first in GDP but it is a broken economy in reality. The United States is the most indebted country in the world. It has almost 17 billion dollars of debt with the rest of the world while living off the world’s savings. Let me finish the point, they are living off the savings of the people of Greece, the savings of the people of Spain, France etc. All of those countries that save their reserves in the banks in dollars are simply financing the American economy, and that is why the average American citizen consumes two and a half times more than their income. How is that possible to understand that? How can a society prosper like that? What the U.S. does is it continues to print money when the economic situation gets difficult. This is what happened in the last depression during the summer of 2008 when they tried to resolve the economic crisis by printing valueless money. This is the business privilege given to them at the famous conference of Bretton Woods in 1944 when the United States emerged as the superpower after Europe and the rest of the world, mainly Europe, that had collapsed because of the war. Then basically with the financing of the war economy they emerged as the great power that developed logically into a superpower. I am not going to explain to you the history of the Cold War because you certainly know it but what we see now is China as the rising economic superpower, one that is certainly moving forward.
LPV: Many politicians in United States say that the blockade against Cuba must continue because Cuba does not hold elections.
Alejandro Castro Espín: Repeat the question please.
LPV: Many politicians in United States say that the blockade against Cuba must continue.
Alejandro Castro Espín: Because Cuba doesn’t hold elections?
LPV: Because they say, the American politicians, that Cuba since 1959 does not hold elections.
Alejandro Castro Espín: It is very interesting that you ask that question here in the cradle of western democracy, with the Parthenon as the background to our discussion. I am going to stop and reflect on the subject because I think it is the appropriate place to ask such a question. When we speak of the origin of western democracy it’s precisely here, in this territory that the modern definition of democracy first emerged in city/states known now as Greece. This was coming from a society in which 30 thousand citizens had rights and 300 thousand were slaves and citizens without rights that lived in this territory. So that was the concept of western democracy; some citizens had the prerogative of exerting their civil and political rights while the others had none. Those were the slaves, who basically did not even receive pay, they just simply lived for a plate of food and were also subjected to brutal repression from a democracy that imposed itself by the force of the economic power of the elites that ultimately decided that definition of democracy.
This is very important because after that came the evolution of democracy in the world and the democratic experiences that came used the Greek experience as their reference point. The evolution of the definition of democracy later emerges when the bourgeoisie experiences in Europe, mainly after the thinkers like John Locke or Francisco de Secundat, outline their new revolutionary political visions and they were revolutionary considering the prevailing feudal regimes in Europe with its very precarious conditions. People during this period had little, for example servants had little more prerogative than slaves. The rising bourgeoisie saw feudalism an impediment to progress especially for the development of capital. We are talking precisely here about Europe after the Age of Enlightenment, the age of the development of the sciences, the arts, that begins to take force mainly in the fifteenth, sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. This development coincides with the discovery of America by the Europeans and the conquest of our continent.
America did not need to be discovered because quite simply America had the American-Indians. There were whole groups of people that already lived there including very developed societies such as the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayans. But then came the European vision that saw the conquest as a source of advanced growth away from medieval Europe. The new revolutionary bourgeois trend formed a new perspective on what was democracy that they saw as an improvement to the democracy of ancient Greece.
Then came the distribution of power of Montesquieu, the guide of powers, with the separation of power between executive, legislative and judiciary in order to find a balance and the necessary counterparts to make the governing bodies exercise effective democracy and to represent all of those under one government. So what actually happened? Was the popular will what really prevailed in the bourgeois democracy? It can be said that in the 21st century they tried to establish American democracy as a reference point and defined it as the final and most completed form of democracy, coming after the European experiences and being created in the territory of the United States. I will tell you what my point of view is regarding the democracy we see today in those countries.
Can we say that the constitutional monarchies in Spain, Belgium or England are democratic? Those with superior chambers like the House of Lords in England, that still represent the English feudal nobility in terms of positions above regional representatives, who are in the end the representatives supposedly elected by the population. Many mechanisms exist, but they are mechanisms to preserve the power of the wealthy classes, of the bourgeois classes that hold the power and rights above the rest of the society. It is a reality that is expressed in many ways. How is it possible that a process can be democratic when it comes by way of money? If there is money then it can be elected a senator, it can be elected a representative. Do you know how much it cost to be elected president of the United States? The amount has reached, billions of dollars, 2 billion, 3 billion, 4 billion dollars, that’s how much a presidential campaign costs. How much does a senatorial campaign cost? It costs 80 to 90 million dollars; or the campaign of a representative, 40 to 50 million. Is that really a democracy?
Then there is us living the Cuban experience that we believe is ours. We do not believe that it is perfect, but it has been above all counting truly on the people, which is where the origins of true democracy lie. It is a democracy that represents the humble, the dispossessed, those who make up the vast majority of the population. It is for those who carry the main weight of society’s load in matters of the production of goods and services. These are not the ones that live from financial speculation. How is the world economy structured today? What importance does the financial speculation have in the economic development of the world? What influence does it have in the financial crisis that has been unfolding, which each time is more severe than the last and affecting most countries of the world? What weight does that carry? The great financial capital is not in one country, it is transnational, that is why it answers to power elites and that is why when I talk about the imperial power of United States I am in no way referring to the American people, who are a noble people that have always been moved by humane concerns. They have on many occasions been willing to shed their own blood for a noble cause, like when hundreds of thousands of Americans participated in the fight against fascism in Europe, and other causes. There are many good people there, and the Cuban people know the American people, we have many examples of solidarity from the American people in every stage of the Cuban people’s fight for independence.
As I was saying we can say that the great transnational capital in which the American capital has a lot of influence because of the sheer volume of capital that it handles. And in the end it pays the politicians that assume power in the U.S. and the other countries of the West. What worker or peasant can pay 80 – 90 million dollars to elect a senator or 4 billion to elect a president? Only great capital can do that. That is why we say that bourgeois democracy has been evolving in the last years into dollar democracy, this is not the democracy of sovereignty, and only the people can determine that. So when we talk about Cuban democracy we are referring to participatory democracy which is big difference with representative bourgeois democracy. Our is a democracy in which everything is consulted with the people; it is a democracy in which every aspect and important decision that has an impact in the life and society of the people, is done in consultation.
In Cuba, despite having lived through the most difficult times, there has never been a neo liberal adjustment. You know what I am talking about because you have lived through that. You are a Peruvian Greek that lives in Greece for how long? You were born in Greece but you have family there and you keep your Peruvian origins and that is why you told me, “I am Greek Peruvian”. How long have you lived in this country, how old are you?
Alejandro Castro Espín: 35 years. You have witnessed the events. I have not spoken with one person during my visit here that does not have very serious opinions on what they are seeing in the modern day capitalism of Europe. They talk about the general crisis that capitalism has caused and the precarious social situation and the poverty it has generated. Just imagine, more than half of the young people in the European Union do not have jobs. How can one explain that? How can one explain that to a working family, that produces goods and services, those who produce the olive oil that is a a main source of food in any European country? They humbly work the land with great effort and then the little resources they had saved in banks have now become dust simply because they did not have the means to withstand inflation produced by the adjustment policies. Everything they have, their simple possessions, have become depreciated, they have lost their property, and they have lost their homes.
LPV: One question…
Alejandro Castro Espín: Let me finish the idea, I am going to answer all of your questions but I want you to listen so that I can finish my main idea about why I tell you that we have a lot of faith and confidence in Cuban democracy. I want to repeat our experiment is not the best democracy and should not be a reference to anybody elses, it is ours. It has worked for us and the clearest evidence that our democracy has worked is that there is a revolution that has continued after a half century of facing down the most powerful empire. This has not happened many times in history. It has to be said like that, we have a complete respect for history, we respect the experiences of other countries and we have our own, but the truth is that if the Cuban revolution had not been a democracy it would not have survived, not even a day under those circumstances I mentioned. It is only through popular consultation and exchange with the people about social and economic policies that we were going to define the strategic direction of the country in the next years. To reach prosperous and sustainable socialism, which is our aspiration, we discussed that with the entire population. The most recent example of this process was the discussion that took place in the congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. There are 11 million Cubans and around 8.7 million Cubans who participated in the conversations regarding those projections, gave opinions that were analyzed and taken into account.
LPV: The question is about the elections? That is, if elections are held will the blockade against Cuba end? Could there be elections held in Cuba? Because it is said that there are no elections in Cuba and that is why the blockade against Cuba continues. The question is if you think Communism has been applied in Cuba or not?
Alejandro Castro Espín: Do you realize that does not make any sense? That is an argument used to attack a country, to impose a different political system on it that besides being ineffective has had no results. That does not make sense. So, the argument is that they impose a blockade because we do not have direct elections. I am telling you that our elections could not be more direct, and I am going to explain it to you so you can learn about it and also because it is important to eliminate the stigma created by American imperialism and its allies regarding the Cuban political system. That stigma must be eliminated. You don’t have the direct knowledge about this and you may think that there are no direct elections in Cuba. I am going to tell that they are direct and you can compare our process with any other country including the United States.
In Cuba the elections for the powers of the State comes from the people, first it comes from meetings of the citizens at the base. In Cuba we call them blocks, the divisions of a city that is the term we use. Several blocks of neighborhoods that live in the same area gather in assemblies that are stipulated by law. In those assemblies the people choose freely among themselves who will represent them. The criteria takes into account the candidates characteristics, including if they are hardworking, If they are good people, if they have a clean past, and money has no bearing on who is nominated.
This is how a candidate comes about and I want to emphasize and important thin first and that is they are not nominated by a party, the people nominates them. This is not the same process that happens today in bourgeois society, where political parties prepare a nomination list. No, in Cuba it is the people at the base level in neighborhood assemblies, without any influence of money. The one chosen is based on the one who represents that neighborhood the best. There always has to be at least two candidates but there can be many more. After the popular election, we chose one and we call him a local delegate and then all of them meet to form a Municipal Assembly; let us call it a superior political administrative level. The Municipal Assembly of the People’s Power, and those elected by the people, form that Assembly and that Assembly chooses in the same way the power at the municipal level. Among those elected by the people select who can represent them at the municipal level and the same happens at the provincial and national level, when they reach the national level the National Assembly is formed, in a popular election where they nominate all those people they think have the right attributes, prestige and authority to govern them.
The National Assembly chooses the superior powers of the State that is the Council of State, the Council of State then chooses those who direct the society; the President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, the Vice-presidents of the Council of State and Ministers, that is the highest power of the State and then the highest power of the State defines a Government and after that Government is defined. The Government is formed with those elected by the people who have been elected at various levels, because all off those positions elected at the national level come from the base.
The President of the country must be nominated at the base, in the municipality. It is not like here in Greece where the parties are listed at the top level and they can list anyone. We are not like bourgeois democracy the ones you say that imposes the blockade to make Cuba change. We have direct elections. Here they put people on a list and then tell the people supposedly what they have done so they can be elected. That is the difference and why we say our democracy is truly participatory and popular.
It is important you understand this because we need to eliminate that stigma I was mentioning, because its intention is to maintain the aggression against my country. These attacks have been going on for over 50 years against a people who only decided to choose its own destiny, to be sovereign and independent. Cuba has not accepted the domain and imposition of an empire that has wanted to dominate us for over half a century.
When we arrived in this country we found your citizens admiring us for our stand. We have spoken with people from the right, from the left, from the center. We have talked with people at the street level, but also in localities, several mayors, and governors from regions like Lamia. And it has been very interactive, we talked with them about how we are perfecting our democracy and exercising the process of peoples’ power, because we understand that everything can be improved. What we do not accept is the comparison of our participatory democracy with bourgeois democracy which has not solved anything for humanity. The only thing it has done is to take humanity towards a precarious point. They have created the environmental crisis, the food crisis, the water crisis and the pandemics all over the world. The reason for that is because they have taken the majority of the resources and given it to militarism paid for by the western powers because it is a great business for them; this is the real truth. We have to talk about all of this and make it available for people everywhere so they can draw their own conclusions.
LPV: You said that communism had never been applied in Cuba or I did not understand?
Alejandro Castro Espín: No, I was saying, Velasco, that to apply communism is an aspiration, in fact it has never been applied anywhere, it is really still a utopia. Communism is something that comes from the classics of Marxism that talked of a modern society we should aspire to. One that is truly fair where relations of monetary exchange are not the priority but rather one where peoples’ needs could be satisfied. The classics of Marxism talked of communism as a society to which a modern society should aspire, a society truly fair, where the relations of monetary exchange were not the priority but one wher the people’s needs could be satisfied, and where people would not be worth more according to how much monetary wealth they acquired. Instead their value would be based on their contribution to society as a whole. It would be a society without class that would accept people based on their capabilities and their potential to contribute to that society. No one would be living in marginal conditions as they do under capitalism today and where the greatest part of humanity lives. In the southern countries and in the regions and continents like Africa, which is where the origin of life on earth began, there is tremendous debt on humanity, it is one of the most underdeveloped areas and where the worst pandemics exist. In many incidents the European powers that colonized them are now not even capable of helping them. How else do we explain for example the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Conakry? Those very powers that swindled and occupied them, in the face of the serious situation of social emergency, have not even had the capacity to send doctors there. In some cases they have sent in militaries instead because that is what they are compelled to do. They have had to send military to do it because they do not even have any doctors with the willingness to risk their lives in order to help those people that are precisely paying for the consequences of years of colonization.
Why is it that those that come to help that situation are countries like Cuba who has lived under the difficult situation of the blockade for 50 years? When we talked about going to help these countries how many doctors in Cuba raised their hands to go? 15 thousand. In their homes they said, “We are willing to go risk our lives to help other countries”. That is true medicine; it is the true observance of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors swear to. It is to defend human life in any circumstances and not for political reasons or for reasons of any other kind, it is really to help, that is true solidarity. It was the same thing that happened when Cuba sent soldiers to Angola, to help those African countries which neocolonialism would not take their claws off of. This is still the case in many countries now in the 21st century.
These are the same countries that had fought and suffered from the ignominy of fascism in the Second World War, like France, Spain and England, but still maintained their colonies in Africa, not that far from educated Europe. How can one understand this? In what kind of society, in what kind of democracy are they living or defending?
So, those nations, and I mean the governments not the people, the people are solidarity. The governments, almost all right-wing, did not have a supportive attitude towards those countries at the time when they were emerging from being colonies. It was in those circumstances when the internationalist help towards Africa appears. There were 2,077 Cubans who died helping to eliminate the remnants of neocolonialism left in those nations and they contributed in bringing an end to apartheid. This was the racist segregationist regime that held Mandela in prison for over 30 years. And this is the same thing that is happening today with the governments of Israel. The United States was the one nullifying any attempt in the Security Council of the United Nations to sanction those fascist governments, really segregationist and racist. The same thing it is doing for Israel is what it used to do for South Africa who ended up having seven nuclear weapons. Why didn’t they act against them like they did against Iraq for the so called weapons of mass destruction during Bush that never existed in the first place?
When the nuclear weapons were sent to the racist South African government, where a few million white people subjugated more than 13 million black people, it was so they could use them against the Cuban forces that were defending Angola. These things have not been written down but they need to be told as part of the reality of history which should not be distorted the way the historians connected to the power elite tend to do. The role that Cuba played and the lives of those 2,077 Cubans, whose mothers and families mourn for having lost their children in Africa, helped achieve the true security and independence of Angola. It was a contribution because in the end the Angolan people were the ones who decided that. We also contributed in a definitive way securing the independence of Namibia after years that a United Nations resolution was being ignored by South Africa and the western powers. With the Cuban presence in Namibia it was also possible to achieve the security and real freedom of that country and the end of Apartheid in South Africa, with the modest contribution of the international military presence in Africa.
But back to the initial question; you were asking me about Communism. Communism is an aspiration, an aspiration is an ideal, a dream, a longing of something that would be perfect, but hard to build because it has to clash with human nature and against the egotism of humans and the egotism of the elites which usually try to guarantee their own interests above those of their nations and of their own people. But they are the ones that prevail because they have the economic power, the political power and the military power.
That is why communism is still an aspiration, in Cuba we are building a socialist society and we could say we are on the verge of a communist society which is hard to achieve, very hard to achieve, but is a longing worth fighting for. Socialism is overcoming certain difficulties, it is working in order to try to achieve social advances, to really achieve a society where everybody improves, not where just the elite improve and the others get worse.
You know how excluding modern societies are; the income differences in the First World, for example in the United States where 2 or 3% percent of the population holds 60% of the GDP of that country. You should find out about the wealth distribution in the rest of the countries, in England, in France, in Spain, in Germany… find out about the differences, about how the wealth is distributed.
Let’s not use the term democracy as a play on words which is what people commonly do, using human rights as a pretext. Those people that really violate human rights, those are the ones I was referring to right now; they violate human rights from all perspectives. Typically on the subject of human rights regarding the nations from the south and Cuba they say, “They are not democratic societies, they do not respect human rights, and they do not respect freedom of speech”. There is no one more talkative than Cubans, Cubans express their feelings, there’s nobody more rebellious and revolutionary than a Cuban and I say that without chauvinism. I mean, I say so because I am Cuban and it pains me to listen to what is said about my people. And I feel the responsibility of talking to you clearly and with openness. We are two Latin-Americans in Greece who are now in front of this monument, which illustrates what humanity aimed to do at a certain moment history. In building up a democratic model I think that Cuba’s contribution, little by little, has contributed to getting closer to the ideals of those philosophers, of those Greeks who thought about how a society could be fairer, how a society could really represent the interests of the people. We have tried to get closer to that from a Latin-American perspective and from the Cuban perspective.
Lasonas Pipinis Velasco is a Peruvian-Greek journalist.