HAVANA TIMES – Alejandro Castro Espín, 49, son of Cuban president Raul Castro and the late Vilma Espin and nephew of Fidel Castro, is a colonel in the Interior Ministry (MININT) and social researcher. He is considered the possible power behind the throne of any new president when his father steps down in 2018.
During the first half of January the second European edition of his book “The Empire of Terror” was presented in Athens, Greece. The book was originally published in Cuba in 2009.
The following interview with the Peruvian-Greek journalist Lasonas Pipinis Velasco took place on January 16th in the Athens Acropolis and was published in “Latin American Summary.” Castro Espin openly shares his thoughts regarding the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States and explains how Cuban participative democracy functions, as well as offering his vision of the future of Cuba.
Interview with Alejandro Castro Espin
Is this the first time you’ve visited the Acropolis?
Alejandro Castro Espin: Yes, it’s the first time I’ve visited Greece. Doing so has been a long-standing desire of mine that has now been made possible thanks to the solidarity with my country. I’m here by invitation of the solidarity movement without spending a penny of the Cuban State’s money, something that – logically – I wouldn’t do. I want to make it clear that l came due to that very detail, on their invitation. It’s been an excellent visit. I’ve been able to enjoy personal interchanges with the Greek people in their neighborhoods and locales, and what I’ve found here is a great appreciation for Cuba, a great deal of respect and admiration for Fidel and for Raul.
In all of the encounters held, I’ve had the opportunity to thank the Greek people for their solidarity with my country over the more than 50 years of confrontation with the United States empire and in circumstances like this one, in which for the first time in fifty years the president of the United States, Barack Obama has recognized the errors of the ten preceding presidents, stating that their policy towards Cuba has been flawed and failed and needs to be changed. It’s been a very significant moment in which to travel to this country.
Many things are changing in Cuba with regards to the diplomatic relations with the United States. What do you think lies ahead for Cuba’s future?
ACE: The future of Cuba has been earned by resisting the most powerful empire on earth for over fifty years. The resistance of its people marked this victory, this success that today we are living through from the standpoint of international politics. The Cuban people, together with international solidarity, defeated an imperial position at the height of the twenty-first century. In doing so, they have demonstrated the potential of a nation that spent over 50 years under this iron blockade, facing permanent aggression of every type including state terrorism against Cuba from that country. In the new circumstances, we have the absolute conviction that we will advance much more than we have advanced now.
Because, as is well known, my country has advanced a great deal according to all the parameters of social development, and its indexes are comparable to those of first world countries. We believe that without this heavy load of the blockade we will advance much more and will manage to construct the prosperous and sustainable socialism that we aspire to construct. The latter has been the will of the Cuban people as expressed in the last Party Congress, following a previous process of popular consultation involving more than 8 million Cubans who then pronounced in support of the Party and Revolutionary guidelines for economic and social policies. This was later confirmed by the National Assembly, the highest organ of State power in Cuba, and today these are the strategic guidelines of the nation to reach that prosperous and sustainable socialism that we aspire to.
There was an insistent belief that the death of Hugo Chavez might trigger a series of unintended changes in Latin America, and that the kind of socialism that was being applied in Venezuela and other countries such as Bolivia or Ecuador might disappear and also affect Cuba.
ACE: Our analysis, based on the logic of history, is the complete opposite of that belief. The countries you are speaking of lived through cruel and pitiless eras of capitalism in which practically all the workers, the great masses of the population found their living conditions severely affected – in the instability of their employment as well as in their conditions of subsistence living. During this time, unemployment began more and more to wield major weight in the political arena. This had its effect above all in the evolution of the social situation in those countries and in the position that diverse sectors of society have assumed – which may not be exactly political, in the sense that they have been social movements rather than political movements.
If we begin to talk of the most recent movements, of the “indignant” in several countries of the world, including those in Europe, these are social movements but little by little they are going to become political movements, as the traditional bourgeois parties – the ones that have held the principal political weight in the majority of the countries of Latin America and Europe in the last 50 or 60 years – lose credibility. The most significant thing is that these countries that you mentioned, the ones that today constitute the center of the ALBA alliance: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, who have broken with the unjust order represented by the neoliberal economic adjustment policies promoted by Washington and the Western powers, and now are enjoying a very favorable economic and social expansion.
These are countries that have made a tremendous leap simply by refusing the policies of neoliberal adjustment and forming a plan from a social perspective. They haven’t focused on defending capital, which is what globalization defends along with the non-interference of the State. On the contrary, they have looked for social policies, based first in the political movements and later, when these political movements have acquired power, they have forged these social policies as the official State policy. Some of them have a socialist form of organization, as is the case of Bolivia and Ecuador where the results are noteworthy. If we are to speak of Venezuela, then we must ask: what was that country like before and after Chavez?
Do you believe that capitalism should never be practiced in Cuba?
ACE: No, because in Cuba a savage capitalism was already applied: 60 years of capitalism. This brought an extremely debilitating social situation to the nation and resulted in a process of domination in all areas.
Do you think that a reverse in this sense would be impossible in the future?
ACE: Totally, because it’s a people that already lived that, a people who suffered it in a very intense way, not only in the social, the economic and the political orders but also in the area of repression. Plain and simple repression exercised by military dictatorships, which is what the United States empire resorted to when it began to lose leadership in Latin America.
We have, for example, a case in point in the Nobel Peace Prize winner Kissinger. Kissinger was a well-known US intellectual who became National Security advisor to President Nixon and was later also Secretary of State. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for having played a role in the reestablishment of US relations with China, but nevertheless he was one of those who most encouraged a covert war against Cuba and political assassination. These are incomprehensible contradictions.
For that reason, Cuba could not return to capitalism. The Cubans remember all of those dark experiences and what they have generated in Latin America and the world. On the other hand, they have known positive and successful experiences under socialism, and not only in our geographical area. So we are looking at China which is now the number one world economy, that is, number one in terms of development. The US economy continues to be greater in terms of Gross National Product, but it is a broken economy.
The United States is the most indebted country in the world, almost 17 trillion dollars in debt with the rest of the world. So it lives off the planet’s savings, off the savings of the Greek, Spanish or French people. All of the countries that keep their reserve funds in the banks in dollars are financing the US economy while the average US citizen consumes two and a half times their earnings. How can you understand that? How can a society prosper that way – merely because they have the machine to print currency? When the economic situation is difficult, as has happened with the last depressive events, the most recent being in the summer of 2008 with the financial crises that later led to the economic crisis, they resolve the situation by emitting currency.
That is the business, the privilege, given them by the famous Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 when the United States was just emerging as a superpower after Europe and the rest of the world, but especially Europe, had collapsed from the war. Basically, with the financing from the war economy, it emerged as a great power and logically it has maintained itself as a superpower.
That’s the history of the cold war without entering into details. Today we understand that it’s a power entering into a decline from that point of view, and we see the case of China, an economic power in ascendance, in pure advance.
Many political figures in the United States say that the blockade against Cuba should continue “because Cuba doesn’t have elections.”
ACE: It’s very interesting that you should ask me that question here, in the cradle of western democracy, looking at the Parthenon as a backdrop to this encounter.
As you know, that modern concept of democracy arose in the city states of the actual Greek territory, from a society in which there were 30 thousand citizens who had rights and 300 thousand who were either slaves of citizens without rights who lived in that territory. Back then, that was western democracy; the citizens had the prerogative of exercising their civil and political rights, but the rest had none. They were slaves, who weren’t even paid, but lived for a plate of food. Apart from that, they were submitted to brutal repression from a democracy that was imposed on the basis of force, the economic power of the power elite who in the end made the decisions in that democracy.
Later we saw the evolution of democracy in the world using this Greek experience as a point of reference.
That’s the evolution of the concept of democracy. Later, it gained prominence in Europe, when the bourgeois began to feel it, especially through thinkers like John Locke or Charles Louis of Secondat, known as the Baron of Montesquieu, who is the one who put forth or outlined the new revolutionary political visions, because the bourgeoisie at that time were revolutionary, considering that the prevailing regime in Europe was feudal, and very unstable. The serfs had a few more prerogatives than the slaves, but the nascent bourgeoisie saw that such a social regime wasn’t a good thing for them, especially in terms of capital development which was the goal or that nascent group. We are talking about Europe in the era of illustration, of the development of science and the arts, the Europe that began to gain power during the XV, XVI, and XVII centuries, an epoch that also coincided with the discovery and the conquest of America by the Europeans.
America didn’t have to be discovered because, plainly and simply, the Indo-American population already lived there. These original inhabitants of the region – the Incas, the Aztecs, the Maya – had very advanced societies. They had truly developed societies, but the European vision arrived and the conquest then became a source of advance and growth for medieval Europe. In those circumstances, the idea of a new kind of democracy was planted by the new revolutionary bourgeois currents. We could say that they attempted to perfect the Greek democracy. Later, Montesquieu’s distribution of powers was imposed – the separation of powers into executive, legislative and judicial branches with the goal of finding balance and the counterweights necessary to make effective exercise of government, the exercise of democracy and the representation of the governed.
Now – is this what happens in reality? In the bourgeois democracies, has the popular exercise of democracy really prevailed? You could say that in the XXI century there was an attempt to establish the US democracy as a point of reference, as the latest and most polished of the democracies after the European experiences. I’m going to offer my point of view on the democracy that we see today in these countries.
Can we say that the European constitutional monarchies, those that are in Spain or in Belgium or in England are democracies? Those that have upper chambers like the House of Lords in England, that continue to represent the feudal English nobility in terms of holding attributes over and above those of the region’s representatives who are supposedly elected by the population.
So, there are many mechanisms in existence to preserve the power of the wealthy classes, of the bourgeois classes, over the powers and the rights of the rest of society. This is a reality that is expressed in different ways.
How could it be a democratic process when it’s based on the use of money? If there is money, then one can be elected senator or representative. Do you know how much it costs to be elected President of the United States? The record amount that they’ve reached, billions, 2 billion, 4 billion, is what a presidential campaign costs. How much does a Senate campaign cost? 80 or 90 million dollars, or a representative’s – 40 or 50 million. Is that really democracy?
THE CUBAN EXPERIENCE
So, we have been creating the Cuban experience. We understand that this is our own version, and it’s not perfect, but it has been designed above all to really take the people into account. Going back to the origins of true democracy, this is the democracy that represents the humble people, the dispossessed, those who form the immense majority of the population, those who carry the principal burden of society in terms of production, of sustaining the production of goods and services. They aren’t the ones who live from financial speculation.
How is the world economy structured today? What weight does financial speculation hold in world economic development? What is its incidence in the financial crises that have been unleashed with ever greater severity and that have affected the majority of the world’s countries? Large financial capital no longer comes from one country, but is transnational and for that reason responds to the power elites. When I speak of imperial power elites in the United States, I’m not referring in any way to the United States’ people – that noble people, that people who have always taken action for humane reasons, who have many times been ready to shed their blood to help a just cause, that helped combat fascism to some degree. Hundreds of thousands of US citizens participated in the struggle against fascism in Europe and in other causes.
There are very many good people, and the Cuban people recognize that quality in the US people. We’ve had expressions of solidarity from the US people in all the phases of the Cuban independence movements.
I was saying, then, that large transnational capital, in which large US capital wields a prominent weight, especially because of the capital flow that it drives, is in the end the driving force that pays the politicians who assume power in that country, and in the western countries. What popular worker or peasant’s party can pay 80 or 90 million dollars to elect a Senator, or 4 billion to elect a President? Only big capital can pay that.
Given this, we say that bourgeois democracy, as it is presented, has evolved in the last years into the democracy of money, and money is not an expression of the will of the people. The people are those who need to decide. Cuban democracy is a participative democracy, that’s the difference between the bourgeois representative democracy and the participative Cuban democracy. It’s a democracy in which everything is consulted with the people; it’s a democracy in which each aspect that involves an important decision in the life of society or that has an impact on the people is consulted.
In Cuba, despite the fact that we have lived through extremely difficult times, there have been no structural adjustment policies. I haven’t spoken with a single person on this visit that doesn’t have very strong opinions about what they’re living through as a result of modern capitalism in Europe and the general crisis that it’s provoked, and the precarious social situation and impoverishment that it has generated. Here’s a statistic: more than half of the young people in the powerful European Union are without work.
How can this be explained? How can we explain this to a family that is working and that produces goods and services? Those who produce olive oil, a principal element of the diet in several European countries, who humbly work the land with great effort, only to see the scarce resources that they have placed in the banks be transformed into dust. This happens due to inflation and to the strategic adjustment policies. Plainly and simply, their few possessions have depreciated, they have lost their properties, they have lost their homes.
We have a lot of faith and confidence in the Cuban democracy, in what we have tried to do. I repeat, we don’t claim that it’s the best, we don’t claim to be anybody’s reference point, but it’s ours. It has functioned for us, and the greatest evidence is the fact that the Revolution still exists after more than half a century spent confronting the most powerful empire. That hasn’t happened many times in history.
You have to tell it like it is: we hold a position of total respect for history, we have respect for all the experiences of all the countries and we have our own, but the most certain bet is that the Cuban Revolution wouldn’t have lasted even one day in those circumstances if it hadn’t been a great democracy.
That democracy is made possible through the popular consultations and interchanges with the people. The most recent example has been the efforts of our country’s strategic leadership to trace new guidelines for our economic and social policies in the upcoming years to obtain that prosperous and sustainable socialism that we aspire to. These were discussed with the whole population before being taken up by the latest congress of the Cuban Communist Party in 2011.
There are 11 million Cubans and around 8.7 million of them participated in the interchanges regarding those projections, to offer their opinions and criteria. Those opinions and criteria were taken into consideration.
If elections were held, would that end the blockade against Cuba? Could elections be realized in Cuba? Because they say that there are no elections, and thus justify the blockade against Cuba.
ACE: You notice the contradiction. The argument of using aggression against a country to impose a political system that is unstable and in addition hasn’t given any positive results is a contradiction. So the argument is that I will blockade you because you don’t hold direct elections. I’m telling you that ours couldn’t be more direct, and I explained them to you so that you’ll know about them. Apart from this, it’s important to break the stigma that North American imperialism and its allies have created with respect to the Cuban political system. This stigma has to be broken.
You yourself have an indirect perception; you don’t know the details and you may think that there are no direct elections in Cuba. Yes, they are direct, and you can compare them with that of the United States or with any country you wish.
In Cuba, the election of the State powers emanates from the people, beginning with the meeting of citizens at the grass roots level. In Cuba we call the square areas of a city “blocks” and use this term to speak of areas that are 100 m by 100 m. Several blocks of neighbors who live in the same place get together in assemblies. Holding these is a matter of Law. Those neighbors freely select from among their own residents those who can best represent them – by their attributes, because they’re good workers, because they’re good people, because they’re honest, but not because they have money.
The most important thing is that the candidates are not put up by any party; they are postulated by the people. It’s not the way it happens today in the bourgeois democracies where the political parties make up the list of nominees. No, the people from the grass roots level, in an assembly of neighbors without even a cent of money mediating the choice, select…”look, this is the one who represents us best”. There has to be a minimum of two candidates, up to as many as the people propose. Later, one of them is chosen by popular vote. This is what we call the delegate by circumscription. Later, the delegates meet amongst themselves and constitute the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power. This superior political-administrative body is the entity that chooses the municipal level powers.
All those elected by the people can represent them at a municipal level. The process occurs the same way at a provincial level, and at the national level we have the National Assembly of People’s Power made up of those selected in popular elections as the people who have the attributes, the prestige and the authority to govern them.
The National Assembly elects the higher powers of the State, which is the Council of State, and the Council of State chooses those who will direct society: the President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers and the Vice Presidents of the Council of State and of Ministers. This is the highest authority of the State that names the Government, and it’s made up of those elected by the people at different levels, because all of those elected at a national level have come up from the grass roots.
The President of the country has to be nominated from the bottom, in a municipality. It’s not like in other countries where those on top just put them on a list. In the bourgeois democracies the parties can put anyone on their list. That same “democracy” that has to blockade Cuba so it will change, so it will hold direct elections.
It’s important that we divulge this, because we must break the stigma that we were talking about, a stigma that has been used as a pretext to justify the aggression against my country and has permitted them to stage an assault on a country for 50 years, when the only thing that it has decided is to choose its own destiny, and to direct its own course and to be a sovereign nation. It has wanted to be independent and has not accepted the domination and imposition of an empire that has tried to dominate it for over half a century.
For that reason, when arriving to this country [Greece], you feel the admiration of every citizen. We have spoken with people on the right, the left and the center, on the street as well as at the level of local structures, several mayors, and several regional governors, as was the case of Lamia. It was very interesting to speak with them. We told them that we, too, are perfecting our democracy, our exercise of popular power, because we understand that everything can be perfected and that everything can be improved.
What we can’t accept is for them to compare our participative democracy with bourgeois democracy, a system that has brought nothing to humanity except tremendous insecurity. These are well known predicaments: the environmental, food, and water crises, products of the contamination of the waters; the pandemics that have been unleashed in the world – What is that a product of? Of the fact that no resources are destined for those things, but are instead put into the arms race, which has become a huge business and is what pays the western powers.
Has communism been practiced in Cuba?
ACE: No, communism is an aspiration that in fact hasn’t been practiced anywhere. It’s really still a utopia; when it was conceived the classic Marxists spoke of communism as the society that our modern society should aspire to. A society that would really be totally just, in which monetary exchange would no longer be the backbone of our relations, but where the necessities of each person would be the primary moving force; a society where those necessities could be satisfied, where social equality really existed; where the people weren’t considered more or less important according to the money or fortune that they possess, but because of what they gave to society.
That is, a society where those who really contributed the most to society would be the most prominent, according to the capacity of each person to be able to contribute to society, but that there wouldn’t be anyone left outside, there wouldn’t be anyone truly living in unstable conditions like the ones imposed by capitalism where the great majority of humanity live in very grave conditions.
Speaking of this, it must also be said that a tremendous humanitarian debt exists with the countries of the South or in continents such as Africa which has some of the most backward areas, and is among those who today have the worst pandemics.
Many times the same European powers that colonized them haven’t even been capable of helping them. How, for example, can we understand that with the current crisis of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, in Sierra Leone, in Guinea, that those powers that impoverished them, that colonized them haven’t even had the capability of sending doctors there.
In some places they’ve had to send soldiers because they don’t have doctors with the will to go and risk their lives to help those people who are so unjustly paying today the consequences of years of colonization.
How can we understand that? Nonetheless, when we spoke of helping those countries in Cuba – where we have a difficult situation due to the imposition of the blockade and these past 50 years of aggression – How many Cuban doctors raised their hands to help? Fifteen thousand doctors. Fifteen thousand have said in their homes: “We’re prepared to go and put our lives on the line to help those countries.
That’s the true exercise of medicine, that’s the true fulfillment of the Hippocratic oath that doctors take to defend human life in any circumstance, and not for political reasons or for any other kind, but to help for real, that is real solidarity. That was the same spirit as the Cuban military presence in Angola, to help those countries where neocolonialism didn’t want to remove its claws, many of them in the midst of the twentieth century.
The European countries that struggled for their liberation at the conclusion of the Second World War, that fought to shake off the claws of colonialism imposed by the countries who had opposed them in the war, and that had suffered the ravages of fascism in their own country, like France, like England, like Spain, these same countries nonetheless continued to preserve their colonies in Africa only a few short kilometers away from the refined Europe. How can we understand that? What kind of society, what sort of democracy were they living or defending?
Those nations – and I speak of the governments and not the peoples who were in solidarity – the governments, almost all of them on the right, didn’t offer any real support to those countries when they were emerging from colonialism and emancipating themselves from the colonial attitudes of those same powers. That was the situation when the Cuban internationalist help for Africa was brought forward. Two thousand, seventy seven Cubans died trying to eliminate the remains of neocolonialism in those nations and contributing to the end of apartheid, the segregationist and racist regime that held Mandela prisoner for almost thirty years.
The same thing is happening today with the governments of Israel. Previously, the United States would veto any attempt in the United Nations’ Security Council to sanction those governments that were truly fascist, segregationist and racist. As they now do with Israel, they previously did with South Africa which came to have seven nuclear weapons. How did they get developed? Why didn’t the United States react the way they did with the famous weapons of mass destruction in Iraq during the Bush years, weapons that later never appeared? And they then caused the death of over a million Iraqis.
Those things have never been written, we have to say those things out loud, because historical reality is the most important thing, not what is told or distorted as the historians tend to do when they have commitments to the power elite.
Under those circumstances, the role of Cuba contributed to the achievement of true security and independence in Angola. Two thousand seventy seven Cuban internationalists gave their lives, leaving mothers and families in mourning for the loss of their sons in Africa. We contributed, but in the end the Angolan people were the ones who decided. However, we contributed in a decisive manner. The independence of Namibia was secured, years after the United Nations had passed a resolution to this effect. This had always been ignored by South Africa, and the western powers had never pressured them to recognize it.
The Cuban presence also contributed to the security and the true independence of Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa. That is the modest help contributed by the internationalist Cuban military presence in Africa
Returning to the initial question, you were asking me about communism. Communism is an aspiration, an ideal, a dream. It’s when you have a yearning for something that you greatly desire and it would be the best, perfect, but it’s difficult to build, because it still has to come smack up against human nature, against human egoism itself, against the egoism of those elites who generally are looking to assure their own interests more than the interest of their nations and of their own peoples. But they are the ones who prevail: they have economic power, they have political power, they have military power.
Because of that, communism continues to be an aspiration, but in Cuba a socialist society is being constructed. Let’s say that it’s a forerunner to that aspired-to communist society, difficult to achieve, but a desire that’s worth the trouble of struggling for. Our socialism is surmounting certain difficulties, working towards trying to achieve social balance, social advances, so that it could really be a society where everyone feels improvement, not one where things get better only for a few members of the elite, while the rest get worse.
It’s well known how exclusive modern societies are, and the income discrepancies that exist in the countries of the first world. You have the case of the United States, where a small percentage of the population absorbs over sixty percent of the gross national product in that country. The same thing happens with the distribution of wealth in the other developed countries: in England, in France, in Spain, in Germany.
Is this true democracy? We are not using the term democracy as a play on words the way they usually do, or as they have tried to do with “human rights”. They have used these terms as a pretext. Those same ones who violate human rights from every perspective that I have just finished explaining, then utilize the tired recourse of human rights to proclaim that the nations of the south and Cuba “aren’t democratic societies, that they don’t respect human rights, that they don’t respect freedom of expression.” Hey, no one talks more than the Cubans, or expresses what they feel like the Cubans, or is more rebellious or more revolutionary than the Cubans.
I say this without trying to be a chauvinist, because I’m a Cuban and the things they say about my people hurt me. I feel that I have a responsibility to speak with clarity and with frankness. We are two Latin Americans speaking here in Greece in these circumstances, before a monument of this size that illustrates what humanity aspired to in a certain moment – to construct a democratic model. And I think that what we have contributed, little by little, to participative democracy has helped to bring us closer to the ideal of those philosophers, of those Greeks who thought about how a just society could be, a society that really represented the people’s interests. We have tried to come closer to that from a Latin American perspective and from the Cuban perspective.