In (and by) Cuba

René Burri, Poster of Che Guevara, 1993.


The Island represents for other Latin American peoples the example of how it is possible to achieve the maximum social justice achievable

I was in Cuba for twenty-six days, from January to February 1979, as a member of one of the judging committees for the annual prize House of the Americas. These are novel, short story, poetry, essay, children's literature, testimonial awards for Latin American authors or residents of Latin American countries. From 1979, poetry and fiction prizes for French and English-speaking Antillean writers were included. From 1980, there will be a prize for Brazilians in Portuguese in different genres. One of the most important meanings of this award is the fact that it annually promotes the meeting of intellectuals from all Latin American countries, without being under the aegis of any imperialist country.

I was part of the essay award committee with four other colleagues: an Argentinean, a Cuban, a Puerto Rican and a Russian woman. We indicate three works, of which one should be chosen; but it turned out to be all three, because there were vacancies due to unawarded prizes. The awarded authors were a Puerto Rican with a Marxist orientation; a half-Goldmanian Guatemalan, with some Bakhtine and a certain structuralism; a Mexican who followed the tradition of positive monographs, without any intentional ideological reference.

The stay was fascinating, but laborious, because there was a lot of material to read in a few days. For this reason, it was not possible to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by the hosts: visits to educational, welfare, cultural institutions; exhibitions, shows, concerts, conferences, film screenings; visits to farms and cooperatives, etc. It was not possible, above all, to walk around the interior at ease, to live more intimately with the people, to penetrate into everyday life with the natural curiosity of someone visiting a socialist country for the first time and wanting to see how it works. What was worth it was the prior reading of recent books by Brazilians, such as Fernando Morais, Jorge Escosteguy and Ignácio de Loyola. (Only on the way back did I read the one by Antônio Callado). The first two had gone there to observe and write, full time; but Ignatius of Loyola, I don't know how he was able to function actively on a prize commission and still see and write down so much for his book. The three made possible a relative preparation for the visit.

César Vieira, who was on the committee for theatrical works, was also very helpful and, having previously visited Cuba with his theater group, knew things well. In addition, I made use of conversations and wanderings with Brazilian residents there, some for a long time; colleagues from the commissions who had experience in the country; from the Cubans themselves, always ready to inform, discuss and listen.

Therefore, twenty-five days were not unprepared. Furthermore, in circumstances like this there is a kind of condensed experience, because of the ability to see and take in more than in normal periods. Living together gains a touch of intensity, observation sharpens, the pores of the mind are more open and curiosity puts on seven-league boots in perception. So I have some confidence in my impressions.

Being programmed by the hosts, our experiences focused on the positive aspects of the country, which are surprising in the sectors that I could see: cultural life, school, welfare and agricultural organization, arts. I saw nothing of industry or government mechanisms. But in the gaps in the programs and as much as the difficulty of urban transport allows, I walked the streets, went to restaurants, saw something of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, had certain contacts in the crowded residential area of ​​downtown Havana. And many easy street conversations between such kind and communicative people. I was even almost participating in a garden discussion about whether a trillion is a thousand times or a hundred times more than a billion, with the defender of the first hypothesis explaining with his retired air that in the world “There are millionaires, there are billionaires, but there are no trillionaires”. All older than me, cheerful, perhaps a little drunk, cigars in their mouths, enjoying the cool of the afternoon in the shade of the old statue of Martí.

The Cuban that we meet on the street and at meetings generally seems cheerful, relaxed, haughty and without a hint of cafajesty. One never gets the impression of the depressed or embarrassed people that attract the attention of the visitor in certain countries. It is as if social equality, by abolishing the privileged classes, also suppressed the impulse to ape them, the depressing desire to look like them; and thus establishes a way of being that is both natural and confident. In the case of Cuba, this is also due to the fact that everyone acquired a kind of comforting pride because of the victories over the enemy (and what an enemy, just a few kilometers away, with the greatest strength in the world). And because of overcoming the toughest phases in the struggle to build a socialist country.

When we were returning to Havana, after almost a week near Cienfuegos, we went to the Bay of Pigs to see the site and the museum relating to the failed expatriate invasion, funded and guided by the United States in Kennedy's time. That was when Jesus Díaz, an excellent short story writer and filmmaker, began to report the maneuvers of forces converging to face the landing, some along that path, others in the surrounding area. He, who was then very young, commanded a platoon. When he was saying this, he got up and the person in charge of the bus (who is close to the driver) came and fraternized, also giving his information. He was older than Jesus, had a decided popular type and also commanded a platoon of another unit, in the same decisive combat.

Among those expansive men, formed in the heroic and exalting atmosphere of the fight for the best ideals, which conditioned a generation of Cubans, one could have a clear idea of ​​what armed forces built on this human and ideological level are; how much they give reality to the often empty metaphor of the “people in arms”; and how all this must have contributed to the firm serenity that is observed in people.

(At the Hotel Passacaballo, near Cienfuegos, I had already made friends with the person in charge of the bus, appreciating his wild ideas about the violence that might be necessary in the implantation of socialism, at the right time and in the right dose, he said. And he cited the example of Allende and excessive tolerance that ends up giving victory to the enemy and thus provoking greater violence, because white terror is what we know).

Another factor for the way of being that I am commenting on is certainly the tranquility regarding basic needs ꟷ that the Cuban Revolution actually solved. It is impressive how friends and enemies of the regime agree on this fundamental point: that in 20 years the crucial problems have been solved and the Cuban people have what they need, in a satisfactory way, in terms of food, health, education, social security; less satisfactorily, but sufficiently, in accommodation. The Revolution ended extreme poverty and inequality, giving everyone more or less equal opportunities. The issue of housing remains to be resolved at a good level, whose solution is always difficult and slower in countries that establish economic equality, showing how incredible deprivation and inequality in this sector are in class societies. Unlike before, now all Cubans have a decent place to live, but living space is still scarce and there is discomfort. From what I gathered, at the current pace of construction in Cuba, it could still take many years to provide really good housing for everyone. Urban transport also leaves something to be desired, with few buses and more taxis than vasqueiros. But, I repeat, everyone knows that the essentials have been resolved.

The worker who returns to his modest house, after a long queue and a journey in a crowded vehicle, only has to face the bad mood and fatigue of this difficulty. The great material causes of despair no longer exist for him, because he does not lack the essentials: accommodation, food, clothing, medical assistance, education for his children, money. Assuming you live like a Brazilian worker and that, like this one, you work out on long journeys, you have a decisive bundle of advantages over him, which allow peace of mind and relief from corrosive tensions.

In the old subdivided houses in the center of Havana, at the end of the afternoon, the workers are sitting in their chairs, showered, talking with the neighbors, while their children come home from school well nourished, well uniformed, with all the necessary material, with the opportunities of any Cuban boy, whether the son of a peasant or an official, a worker or a minister, a driver or a writer. The impression of the foreigner strolling is that he is in fact in another system; that socialism is being built and with it a different tone of humanity.

If that foreigner decides to walk along a road or in an open field; if he wants to walk the streets for a long time on an evening stroll, back to the hotel, he will not be at greater risk of being robbed or of being disemboweled because of his wristwatch. Delinquency is, so to speak, normal, at the inevitable rate that one imagines in a well-organized society. (I haven't heard of anything worse than the theft of sunglasses, cameras, purses, the occasional vicar's tale, rare intentional account errors and black exchange proposals, harmless for the tourist, serious for the proponent, as the penalties for dishonesty are heavy). Such confidence, which comes from everyone, from the base, from day to day, amazes and reassures visitors who are used to our and other stops; at the same time it reveals the transformation of man, together with the transformation of society, one thing conditioning the other.

This novelty in man, incredible in Latin America, can be verified in the most diverse activities, from the almost miraculous realization of a redeeming therapy for mental illnesses, to the functioning of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution ꟷ as I have seen more than one, along open air, on a stretch of street transformed into an auditorium, with the rows of chairs, the director's table, the tribune, the spotlights and loudspeakers. There you can really see the people discussing, deliberating and influencing ꟷ on matters ranging from bad food in a neighborhood restaurant to the arrogance of an employee. Then the observer begins to feel the extraordinary release of energy that socialism entails. For the enormous mass that economic inequality suffocates and spiritually cripples, it opens up possibilities for the fulfillment of each one, which immediately becomes the fulfillment of all. In Cuba, this process ran parallel to another, and that was a great historic luck: the exodus of enemies, the voluntary departure of the bourgeoisie, with its long tail of parasites and corrupt people, ridding the country of a large part of the elements that would have continuously aroused the most serious problems. To a certain extent, a substitution of classes took place, which was one of the conditions for their progressive disappearance; and as the Revolution was able to overcome the assault of that adverse party, the republic was indeed cleaner. Maybe it's just an impression, but there seems to be an accentuated clarity in the people, in the everyday atmosphere, in the rules of the game. For those who are used to reading socialism in books and doing some effort for its distant advent, the experience is one that exalts and pays off.

Thus, Cuba is succeeding in renewing man, on the hard-built foundation of guarantees essential to life ꟷ something that no other Latin American country has so far even sketched. In other socialist countries there is an accentuated rhetoric about this human re-formation; but, frequently, it seems that immediate objectives of a technical and economic nature are placed beforehand, in order to push far ahead (and, therefore, who knows how to make it impossible) this humanization that in Cuba seems so present and accomplished.

Hence the impression of a more open and flexible socialism than certain official formulations would suggest. Including a freedom of experience, whose original traits differ from what is rigid in practice in other socialist countries. Perhaps due to peculiarities of Cuba's history.

At the National Library, in Havana, I attended a conference by Roberto Fernández Retamar, followed by debates with participants in a kind of national course whose best students, all adults, were there to discuss the figure of José Martí. There was talk of his quasi-socialist radicalism, configuring a true precursor of the current situation, as if he were the Latin American equivalent of the Russian radicals of the last century, ꟷ men like Herzen, Chernitchevsky, Dobroliubov. At the time, I thought that Cuba was perhaps unique among Latin Americans, due to its precocious ability to formulate truly revolutionary positions; and not with the merely autonomist sense of other nations, determined by the dominant classes, which maintained the yoke and its ideological justification despite the change in status. Martí would actually have been an organic precursor (not a mere symbol); and the weight of his performance influences the way in which Cubans assimilate Marxism and practice socialism. This is different from what happened in the rest of Latin America, as in other countries the role of patriarch fell to conservatives, or to vocations of kings without a crown. The originality of Cuban solutions (I thought listening to the debates) is rooted in the historical process of the struggle for national liberation. That is why Martí is theoretically placed after Marx, and Fidel Castro considers himself to be his follower.[1].

The test of a (really) revolution is the relationship between its human cost and its social balance. The conclusion in this regard is that Cuba achieved a maximum of equality and justice with a minimum of sacrifice of freedom. It is a regime aimed at the liberation of the people, in order to promote their effective action in the transformation of society. Therefore, he had and still has to neutralize enemies, avoid setbacks, use a certain hardness to carry out what is the most humane solution for man. The intellectual of a country where the bourgeoisie dominates with enough force to allow opinions to play; even the intellectual of a country like Brazil, which only recently regained some of the right to play this game, may wonder, for example, the severe social regimentation of work in Cuba, the limitations of its press, the rigor with opponents. But at the same time it verifies that while in our countries there is a democratic practice on the surface, because it is based on economic and alienating tyranny over the absolute majority; in Cuba there is a relative restriction on the surface and, in depth, a practice of democracy in its fundamental aspects, that is, those that ensure not only equality and freedom from poverty, but the right to deliberate in the base units and to dialogue with the leaders, resulting in the conquest of the mental instruments that open the doors of a dignified life.

I have read and heard restrictions on Cuba, and indeed some may be valid. But when we consider a country or a regime, our eyes are guided by our convictions. Mine lead me to believe that the shortcomings of the Cuban Revolution are small compared to the enormous positive balance, that is, the success in building socialism. And an open, intelligent, fraternal socialism. Conservatives and even traditional liberals will certainly see it differently, because they always think of the structure itself, and not of the process, which gives the real sense of things.

With little discernment of this process and with a formalistic view there seem to be several worthy critics, such as, to name just one, the Spanish writer Juna Goytisolo, who in this year's article lists the most common restrictions in intellectual circles, including leftists in their own way. This is a book review. Cuba: Order and Revolution, by Jorge I. Domínguez, in New York Review of Books (Vol. XXVII; No. 4, March 22, 1979).

Leaving aside the analysis and the detail of the repairs, let's fix the conclusion, which is precisely where the author finds himself with many others. After recognizing that the Cuban Revolution practically ended unemployment; that it had “spectacular success” in the fundamental sectors of education, health, housing for the poor; after that they come to what seem to be the big negative points. So he says that in the Caribbean region there have always been four plagues: (1) monoculture; (2) caudillismo; (3) military government and dictatorship; (4) dependence on the United States. According to him, none of that has essentially changed in Cuba, with the difference that dependence has become on the Soviet Union.

It is a reflection of a formal nature, in the sense that each topic is seen as an autonomous trait and not in its connection with reality. Or in another way: it is seen by the logical appearance, not in the reality of the context, which allows to determine the true meaning.

In fact, the monoculture of sugar continues ꟷ, but its negative consequences for society have disappeared, including the concentration of wealth in the hands of an oligarchy and unemployment in the off-season; or on the other hand, ꟷ sugar is no longer a factor for the concentration of wealth in a few hands, nor for subordination to imperialism, nor for monstrous inequality, nor for the helplessness of the worker, who before was thrown periodically into misery.

There is continued male leadership, but it is not imposed by economic interests in order to maintain inequality. In addition to being controlled by various bodies, it is sanctioned at every moment by dialogue with the people and the wishes of organizations, because it corresponds to popular aspirations and social needs. Fidel Castro is an extremely humane leader who actually functions as a representative, not least because of his exceptional capacity for direct consultation with the bases and loyalty to the organs of the Revolution. As Alceu Amoroso Lima said, he is undoubtedly the greatest Latin American leader of this century, with the stature of the great liberators of the last century.

As for the third point, the formalist simplification is enough to make one smile. The Cuban army was born from guerrilla warfare, from the revolutionary struggle, being really an extension of the people in arms. (The most red flower of the pueblo, as in the old Spanish republican chant). He made the Revolution and to a certain extent he is its condition; participation in power is his share of service, alongside that of other sectors. Wanting to compare it to the bloody and fratricidal armies of the Caribbean, Central and South America; wanting to assimilate his role in power to police violence at the service of the ruling classes, which is observed in these cases, is almost comical.

Finally, it is known that the Soviet Union and other socialist countries (of a less attractive socialism than that of Cuba) supported the Cuban Revolution and largely made its survival possible. But even adverse scholars recognize that, despite loyalty to these countries, dictated by commonality of purpose and gratitude, Cuba has maintained a notable independence in its policy, even against the grain of Soviet preferences, as in the case of aid to Angola and Mozambique. . This is what can be read among other places in the unsuspecting Problems of Communism, unofficial North American publication (vol. XXVII Nov-Dec 1977). But remaining to argue in Goytisolo's schematic terrain, it could be said: ꟷ Very well, let's suppose that Cuba went from American dependence to Soviet dependence. What changes you the first one? What's the second worth to you? While the United States had degradingly transformed it into a semi-colonial appendage, through successive political organizations of the oligarchy; while even today it directly and indirectly supports all the luck of Duvalliers and Somozas, to perpetuate the most sinister regimes in America; Meanwhile, the Soviet Union helps Cuba build a humane socialism that has solved the problems that plague all other Latin American countries.

The conclusion, for those who really want to see social justice, is that if Cuba is supported by a large number of countries, it won't need to depend on this or that, and it will be able to flourish more freely. So it's about supporting, not rejecting; to recognize the enormous qualities and understand the defects; to promote support movements in each of our countries, which put pressure on governments towards diplomatic recognition and exchange. If they can maintain normal relations with a large number of other states, Cuba will be increasingly open, less monoculture, less attentive to its security, more democratic and prosperous. She represents for the other Latin American peoples the example of how it is possible to achieve the maximum possible social justice. That's why Cuba has the best of America.

*Antonio Candido (1918-2017) was Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP. Author, among other books, of Literature and society (Gold on Blue).

Originally published in the magazine Encounters with Brazilian Civilization, No. 18, in December 1979.



[1] In a very important forthcoming book, the originals of which I was able to read, Florestan Fernandes analyzes in depth and with extensive information the original aspects of Cuba's revolutionary tradition.

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