Por Yusimi Rodriguez
HAVANA TIMES — Eurico Borges, 1950, painter and traveler (that’s how he’s described in an article), arrived in Cuba for the first time in 1999. Three days after his arrival, he knew that this was the place where he wanted to live. He settled in our country in 2000 and has lived here for 17 years.
HT: Why Cuba?
Eurico: My relationship with Cuba began in May 1968. People used to shout slogans in favor of Fidel and Che at the protests I took part in, naively. I was 17 years old. Since then, my political conscience began to awaken; I came from a Fascist country, at war since 1961, mainly with the African independence movements. We couldn’t leave Portugal. I escaped. I began to get involved in politics. I learned that people’s good or bad luck is having the right person in the right place to lead the country.
HT: Do you believe that we Cubans had the right person?
Eurico: Absolutely. They were lucky enough to have key men in the history of humanity and Cuba’s own history. Marti, Maceo… even Fidel, the greatest politician in the 20th century and part of the 21st. You have a country which creates people like the Cuban Five, Eusebio Leal, Elian Gonzalez’s father.
HT: If we have been so lucky, why have so many Cubans left since 1959? People have risked their lives to leave the country, for decades.
Eurico: Like Ortega y Gasset has said, man is the interaction between himself and his circumstances. Cuba is an island and there is something which is called a phobia of islands. It’s a subject which I have studied and worked with in 2004, in an exhibition entitled “There’s sea and sea to go and turn around”. Anybody born on an island has a natural inclination and need to leave.
HT: Cuban emigration increased after 1959.
Eurico: Emigration has existed since the dawn of time. Just because a society gives its citizens all of its material needs, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a natural inclination to leave; just less so. Cuba has taken on an almost unique system in the world today, which revolutionized all of our concepts of housing, social organization, etc. It’s only natural that there will be people who disagree, who want branded clothes, the best phone, etc. I don’t dare to give a percentage, but if I had to, I would say that it is 5% of the total population, although this would mean half a million people.
Cuba is creating a new life philosophy, where people have other concerns which go beyond just the material. I am currently working on a series called “Consumer society which consumes me”. It talks about the clumsy lie that is consumerism. We tell ourselves that we will only be happy with this cellphone, these clothes, that car, etc. When you get them, your happiness isn’t that anymore, but the phone with a stripe, a color… Consumer society creates our material needs. Where are the spiritual ones? Where is happiness?
HT: Do you feel that the Cuban system has been capable of satisfying the spiritual needs of its people?
Eurico: If there is a country in the whole wide world which let’s humans get a feel for paradise, it’s Cuba.
HT: As an artist, what do you think about the censorship of the El Rey muerto artpiece by Juan Carlos Cremata and the movie Santa y Andres, by Carlos Lechuga, excluded from the Film Festival last December, as well as other examples of censorship which artists have been suffering for decades?
Eurico: How many examples do you want of censorship in capitalist society?
HT: I’m interested in knowing what you think of this in Cuba, where you told me that our spiritual needs are being satisfied.
Eurico: I myself had a program called Babelia, with a large audience, in Portugal. It was censored, three months before the elections. I could continue after the elections had been held, but I didn’t accept these conditions. The Portuguese dictator Salazar used to say that the more uneducated the people, the easier they are to rule. Neoliberal societies today create uncritical, financially dependent people, so that they can be easily dominated.
I wouldn’t call what you have here “censorship”. In half a dozen years, how many phones are there here? Around 4 million. Did you think that you would have a cell phone 5 years ago? Cuba had to enter the inner workings called “progress” and maybe it isn’t ready for this. In my building, there are self-employed workers who don’t respect the laws of coexistence, because they began to have money. When in Cuba, reggaeton and its abominable lyrics are criticized, reggaeton isn’t banned. There’s a saying that goes that you have to educate people so that they don’t listen. This is an attitude. You can also ask artists to take responsibility. You can’t use the argument that capitalist societies use which is that “people like it”. People like what they are given; you have to give them quality things.
HT: Who determines the quality?
Eurico: God, but because he doesn’t exist, there are people who have to determine this. We have to accept that misunderstandings exist. Fidel, a marvellous man and politician (I am a follower of Marti and Fidel out of conviction and devotion) made some mistakes, which he recognized.
HT: Which ones?
Eurico: I would have to think about that… But why think about the mistakes? I prefer to think about the positive. The negatives are for pessimistic and defeatist people.
HT: What do you think about the changes which are taking place in Cuba?
Eurico: It’s inevitable that there will be changes, but I pray, even though I’m not a Catholic, that there aren’t many.
HT: In 1968, precisely when you began to admire the Cuban Revolution and gain political awareness, the Revolutionary Offensive took place here in Cuba. Small private businesses were wiped out. The government took away people’s carts with fried foods, their small stores, hair salons inside homes, etc. They were given financial compensation in return, which was determined by the government itself. This is one of the things that they had to change. In the ‘90s, they had to let private businesses open. In 2014, licences to open businesses were extended. What do you think about that?
Eurico: I am not a politician, I am a painter, a social being who interacts with the society which surrounds him. There are many things which I’m not prepared to give my opinion about. On the other hand, I must be very respectful of Cuba, the Cuban people, the Revolution. I’m in somebody else’s home. Cuba and the Cuban people’s idiosyncrasy aren’t my own. I am trying, in my old age, to acquire the Cuban people’s principles and philosophy, because I consider it one of the best ways to live.
You are exclusively talking to me about the economy; I couldn’t care less about the economy. I care about whether a country cares for its citizens like Cuba does. It has three essential things which reveal its respect for human rights: a right to education, to healthcare and food. In my country, at the beginning of the 20th century, there was poor man’s soup. There are photos of the queues which used to form back then. In photos today, there are a lot more people eating poor man’s soup. Don’t talk to me about the economy. There, all politicians are corrupt; nobody cares about society. Here, measures are taken to make progress in society.
HT: What principles would you like to acquire from the Cuban people?
Eurico: Philosophical ones. I am a fidelista. I accept the principles which Fidel and Marti defended: solidarity, respect, continuous progress, loving others. These are the principles that keep me here. If there is a safe country in the world, it’s Cuba. Here, people are respected. In my country, only people with money are respected.