HAVANA TIMES – Journalist Reinaldo Escobar was booted from the official Cuban media back in 1988 but he has continued writing his critical commentaries most recently on his blog desdeaquí.
The husband of blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of the 100 most influential persons in the world according to Time magazine for 2008, is currently minding the fort while Yoani is off on a worldwide tour. The following is part two of our interview with Escobar. See part one.
HT: Why remain a Marxologist?
Reinaldo Escobar: I think that Marxism is subversive in Cuba today. The official Party policy on economics is anything but Marxist.
HT: However aren’t the economic changes taking place in the country are going in the right direction?
Reinaldo: Yes, but they are not Marxist.
HT: So Marx was wrong?
Reinaldo: At that moment in time, no, but his theories are no longer applicable. Marx said practice is criterion for evaluating truth. Practice shows these ideas do not work. My friend Victor Fowler says you have to start thinking about infeasibility being a constant feature of the socialist system.
HT: Many readers of Havana Times and people I talk to say it’s easy to criticize the system and point out its mistakes. Providing solutions is more difficult. I heard you say once that our education and public health systems are not free. I agree, but we all have access to them. What would be the alternative to what we have today which doesn’t work and isn’t free, in a democratic Cuba of the future?
Reinaldo: The argument that it is easy to criticize was invented by the right-wingers, those who have traditionally been in power, and that’s why I do not like it.
HT: Are you on the left?
Reinaldo: I do not like any of the arguments put forward either by the extreme right or the extreme left. Nor do I like the claim that Cuba is a better country because it is better than Honduras, Guatemala or Haiti. I don’t like it because Batista could have said the same. He would be entitled to ask Fidel Castro why he attacked the Moncada if we were better off than in those countries.
The fact that a person is admitted to hospital and has to bring sheets and a fan, maybe even the thread for stitching or a gift for the doctor, is a product of our public health system, which is not free. It would be free if the public health minister paid for it out of his own pocket.
You have to pay for the doctors, the medical instruments, the equipment, and the people pay for that. But making us believe that it is free, gives us no right to complain; nor can we do so since we don’t have freedom of speech. I want to have the freedom to demand my rights in the same way as someone who pays taxes. I don’t believe health care should be free; we all have to pay a tangible, measurable amount of tax to be in a position to demand services. Without that I can’t ask for accountability or better quality care. I am supposed to accept it as a generous gift from the Revolution.
The same is true in education. We don’t have good teachers because they migrate to more lucrative professions. We don’t pay but education is ideologized. My son’s classroom is lined with photos of Fidel, the Cuban Five and Ernesto Guevara. Education is paid for with a certain amount of our freedom and the acceptance of indoctrination.
HT: In 2011, you and Yoani Sanchez were witnesses at the marriage of Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada. I want to ask you honestly; is the solidarity of dissidents with black people, homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites for real?
Reinaldo: Current? It is, in the same way as in parliament they are concerned about how many women and blacks there are. As a nation we have a lot to learn and catch up with in the 21st century. To be a person of this century you can’t be homophobic or racist.
HT: It’s not politically correct?
Reinaldo: No, it is not correct for times we live in.
HT: Have you always felt an acceptance toward homosexuals?
Reinaldo: I’m not homosexual because I’ve never managed to like a guy in that way. I’ve asked myself if I’m missing something. I’ve tried to fantasize about a man, but it doesn’t work.
My first gay friend was Luis Santiago. An amazing guy who was in the attack on the Presidential Palace, placed bombs. He was a founder of State Security.
Then he evolved to an opposition stance, and in the seventies appeared in Granma, accused of counterrevolutionary crimes. Through him I learned that gay people can be very brave. Until then, my perception was that of a teenager from Camagüey, based on what I was taught as a child.
Fidel Castro gobernó sabiendo que tenía la capacidad de hacer lo que quisiera en este país. Eso es obsceno, pero se acabó. El país no podrá ser gobernado así nunca más. De ahí mi optimismo.
HT: Wasn’t your acceptance of homosexuals in contradiction with your political position at that time, when you identified with the revolutionary government?
Reinaldo: It was my political position that became conflicting, or rather that of the extremists. The first contradictions I experienced with the system began in 1962. In the…in Camagüey they posted a group of guards… and every time someone passed by with a devotional scapular on them, they would tear if off. That seemed wrong to me even though I wasn’t religious.
HT: What about the promotion of Wendy and Ignacio’s wedding as the first gay wedding in the country?
Reinaldo: That was a misunderstanding. She underwent a genital operation and is now legally a woman. Otherwise, she could not have got married because Cuba has not approved marriage between homosexuals. It was a marriage between people whose sexuality is not accepted.
HT: Is that why it took place on August 13?
Reinaldo: I put the question to Ignacio and he said that since Fidel Castro had accepted responsibility for the repression of homosexuals in the UMAP [labor camps in the ‘60s], they were giving him this as a present [on his birthday].
HT: Last year the organizers at the Clic Festival screened a documentary on the Arab Spring. What was the point of that? Do you expect something similar to happen in Cuba?
Reinaldo: There are tremendous differences between Cuba and the Arab countries. There, the people are predominantly young and access to social networks in far superior to that in Cuba. Besides the Arab Spring is taking place under different conditions. The screening had the same objective as Chile’s “NO” documentary, shown a few days ago: open the minds of people, and show them other realities and the direction the world is moving in. We weren’t trying to use people as instruments or indoctrinate anyone. Doing that would be overestimating our ability to generate action.
HT: When the immigration reform was published, many people were wondering what would happen with Yoani and we watched her like a thermometer for measuring the sincerity of reform. Now it has happened and she has a passport and will travel … (This interview took place on February 11).
Reinaldo: Sorry, it is happening. The law has two essential articles, the 23rd and 25th. The first regulates the possession of the passport and the second, on crossing the border. Both have identical sections. One of them says that for reasons of national security, a person may be denied a passport and / or border crossing. And subsection H says that for reasons of public benefit, the appropriate officials can deny a passport or border transfer to a citizen.
This is one of the major shortcomings of the law. There are several. Nowhere is there any mention of the possibility of appeal by any citizen who is a victim of any of these restrictions. Immigration officials manipulate the basic human right to move freely, and the citizen cannot appeal that decision. The law should have recognized the right of every Cuban citizen to leave and return to their country, and stay away as long as they like, apart from compliance with a court order. The law still does not say that getting in and out of the country is a right, it’s portrayed as a gift they give you.
On January 14, Yoani and I went to the same Emigration Office that had denied her permission to leave on twenty occasions. She was the first in line because I’d been there from eight in the morning the day before. They told her she would have no trouble getting out, but we need to wait until the 17th (of February), that’s her flight date.
HT: In the fifth chapter of the second season of Citizen’s Reasons [taped audiovisual panel discussions that Escobar moderates], you say that not everything sent to the Letters to the editor section of Granma newspaper, is published. Do you have proof of that?
Reinaldo: Yes. Yoani and I went with Teo to a concert of Pedro Luis Ferrer and were denied entry with the excuse we are damaging the country’s culture. We asked if our son could get in and, in their confusion they said yes. We sent a letter to Granma recounting the facts but it wasn’t published.
HT: In the same chapter you also say that if reforms were carried out with greater depth and speed, it would be the end of the system. Is that how the single party system would also end?
Reinaldo: I think we should ask what comes next. What is lacking are the political reforms. The trend I see is this: market and democracy. At some point, the only thing that will be left will be the single party; people will start gaining more and more freedoms and will turn up the pressure. Freedom of expression and association will come.
HT: Not necessarily. Take the case of China.
Reinaldo: I’m glad you mentioned it. They went from feudalism to capitalism. They never experienced what we did. For them, moving on to capitalism was going forward, for Cubans it is going backwards. In their culture it is all about having a mandarin, an emperor, following a leader.
Reinaldo: It’s different. You have to look at the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the thoughts of Mao Tse Tung. I read in a magazine that one day they were going to give a woman a liver operation, and before the operation, the surgeons got together to read a book of Mao’s sayings to find out how to do the operation. Whether you like it or not, we’re a western country, from the northern hemisphere.
HT: Are you optimistic?
Reinaldo: A few years back I used to say I was an optimistic as a person but I felt pessimistic about the future of Cuba. That was before July 31, 2006, when Fidel Castro relinquished power. Also, time has passed and the laws of biology are always the same. In five years time this country won’t be led by someone who can just thump his fist on the table and say he’s going to do something just because it suits him. That was the power Fidel Castro had and his brother, to a lesser extent, inherited.
Fidel Castro ruled, knowing he had the ability to do whatever he wanted in this country. That’s obscene, but it’s over and done with. The country can’t be governed like that anymore. Hence my optimism.
HT: Would you like to add anything?
Reinaldo: I know we run the risk of ending up with something worse. But it would not be because of the changes, but the people holding them back. That’s what happened in many countries in Eastern Europe that ended up with ruthless, predatory capitalism. But that’s the sort of capitalism that communists end up constructing. So we must be very careful.