HAVANA TIMES — I heard about the website “Voces Cubanas” for the first time about two years ago. My idea about the bloggers associated with that site didn’t differ much from what the government tries to make us believe, seeing them as a group of cyber-mercenaries in the service of imperialism.
My interview with Miriam Celaya allowed me to see that the Cuban opposition is more complex and diverse than the government is willing to admit. Now I’m speaking with Dimas Castellanos, born in 1943 and holding a BA in political science, a diploma in information sciences and a BA in biblical and theological studies. His blog is also in Voces Cubanas, but — to my surprise — Dimas considers himself a socialist.
HT: Do you define yourself as an opponent to the Cuban government?
Dimas: Yes, though that term has different connotations here in Cuba. I prefer to define myself as a “critical analyst” of the national situation. But here, anyone who isn’t with one side is automatically included in the other, therefore, I’m also an opponent.
HT: If in the sixties someone would have predicted that you’d one day become an opponent or a “critical analyst of the Cuban situation,” what would you have responded?
Dimas: Maybe I wouldn’t have had any response at the time, but what I am today has to do with what I was then. I didn’t have the level of understanding to be at a critical analyst back then, but I was a critical revolutionary. My sequence of criticisms of the system at different times was leading me to the position I now hold. Right now I don’t think the model is viable, but I couldn’t think such a thing at that time because I was part of the process.
HT: Miriam Celaya describes you as a socialist. How can you continue believing in socialism when it has failed wherever it has been implemented?
Dimas: Miriam’s definition could have many interpretations. If someone says they’re a socialist, I would have to ask what they mean by “socialism.”
My socialist ideas emerged in my childhood, since I come from a communist family. I grew up among tobacco workers, the sector of workers with the highest educational level in Cuba since they’re constantly debating for eight hours a day. Ever since that time I identified socialism with the idea of social justice.
I began working when I was eight, accompanying my mother selling clothes from door to door and experiencing the terrible misery of capitalism, especially in rural areas… Later I was an active member of the Union of Young Communists, where I began to learn more and more about those ideas, but I was also becoming more critical. This is why I quit that organization in 1963, when I was living in the eastern part of the island.
HT: What did you see as wrong as early as 1963?
Dimas: The behavior of leaders. First I saw those at the middle level. We were able to identify the wrong in those people. But during the debates, we discovered that the great fault of the system was at the tip of the pyramid. You could see a structural problem that was systemic. That’s why I have to ask what socialism really is.
I never abandoned my ideas of social justice, but I lean toward democratic socialism, which even includes the market economy and attempts to correct injustices in distribution, not in production. The market economy is essential for increasing production, but that freedom alone doesn’t allow the necessary balance. This is why injustices emerge that lead to revolutions.
HT: From your point of view, do you think the changes the government is currently implementing — under the stamp of “updating the model” — are moving us toward or away from socialism?
Dimas: We’re moving away. The model implemented in Cuba was copied from the form of socialism that existed in the socialist camp, which failed wherever it was applied. There are other models, such as democratic socialism in Western Europe: Sweden and Norway have socialist principles, they have market economies as well as freedoms for citizens that don’t exist here.
It’s true that we don’t have the financial resources of those countries. But we can aspire to have a fair society, where the citizens are truly free. We can’t expect for everyone to live equally, but the differences can be reduced.
Therefore, if this model failed, updating it is updating a failure. Things could have been corrected years ago, when the crisis was mainly economic, due to inefficiencies.
You can attack one aspect of society, in time and solve it, but when you delay too long, things metastasize and you find yourself in a structural crisis. Then you have to change the entire model, not just one aspect. What’s being done now has no prospects for solving the deep crisis in which we’re immersed.
Part of the responsibility lies with the government, but I think a large part has to do with the Cuban people. My thesis is that there are Cubans in Cuba, but there aren’t citizens here. Without citizens there cannot be change toward progress in contemporary times. You have to train Cuban citizens, and this is a task that has remained incomplete since the origin of the Cuban nationality.
This is what people like Felix Varela, Jose de la Luz y Caballero, Jose Marti and others devoted their lives to – though they didn’t succeed. That largely explains our citizenry’s indifference. This isn’t new, but it has become exacerbated by a system that is stuck, bogged down, one that disarms everyone and cannot be changed.
People don’t want to hear anything about politics. The strength of the government lies in the weakness of the people. The urgent task in Cuba, though it’s not immediate, is civic education. We need to change the system and the government, but if you don’t change the people you’ll continue on with the same thing or slip further backwards.
HT: What differentiates your vision from that of Pedro Campos, who’s also a socialist?
Dimas: I emphasize citizen education, which isn’t an essential aspect to him, though he doesn’t ignore it. For him, this isn’t true socialism because there’s no cooperativization. I think cooperativization is important, but with part of the property being private.
I always support what comes from the initiatives of workers and not laws enacted by the government. But let’s imagine that all of that existed. It’s like freedom and democracy. Our citizens aren’t ready to make use of them. So I emphasize civic education.
HT: What do you have in common with bloggers like Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar and Miriam Celaya – who don’t share your socialist ideas?
Dimas: Everyone seeking change in Cuba has this in common. We agree on the need for civil liberties, human rights and that the model isn’t viable. This allows for tactical cooperation, but differences can be seen on the visions of each person, and others will emerge the day that democracy and human rights are restored.
Differences will always exist, and that’s the richness of all social phenomena. The Cuban government’s slogan has always been ideological unity, but that’s something amorphous. There are no social sciences here because of the absence of debate…the prohibition of differences.
In other scenarios we agree even with people who are in the Cuban Communist Party. I know some of them who have critical ideas that are more advanced than mine or those of Pedro Campos. We’ll need to count on them if we are truly moving towards inclusiveness in this country.
HT: Do you recognize any achievements as having been made over these past 53 years of revolution?
Dimas: Yes, but the delay in further change has been undermining these achievements, which were based primarily on voluntarism and then subordinated to a totalitarian mentality.
For example, the ideas put forth by Fidel in his treatise History Will Absolve Me (i.e. advocating the turning over of land to those who didn’t have any), was a progressive act. I saw how people lived in the countryside, the evictions…
The first agrarian reform law gave deeds to 100,000 campesino families, while around 40 percent of the land remained in the hands of the state. However the second law served only to reverse the first one, since state-owned land increased to 70 percent of the total. It was here that the decline in the economy that we’re now suffering first began.
Later came a process they called “induced cooperativization,” which put another five percent of the arable land in the state’s hands. In the end, what we now have is land filled with marabou brush that doesn’t produce. What could have been a breakthrough on the issue of social justice became a disaster.
Now they’re trying to reform it with measures that are less than those first announced by Fidel. Nobody’s talking about 166 acres like back then, but 33.2 acres for those who don’t have any land, and up to 99.6 acres for those who already have some. Previously they distributed land as property that was owned outright, now it comes only in usufruct (user rights) and with a lot of restrictions.
The same happened to public health, sports… In the cities, before 1959, public health was comparable to that of developed countries, though I admit that it was a disaster in the countryside. The revolution solved that problem with the National Health System, but currently it’s not working well because it has a serious problem.
Public health, education and sports depend on the level of economic development. Our system was subsidized by our uncle (the socialist camp), and when uncle couldn’t provide…everything was pretty much over.
HT: Did you, as a socialist, sign the document in 2002 declaring the irreversibility of socialism in Cuba?
Dimas: No. That had nothing to do with socialism. That was the response to the extent of participation and exposure received by the Felix Varela Project and the international pressure it generated. In a process of entrenchment the authorities proposed that absurd and contradictory constitutional amendment: it’s a constitution of today for the future generations of tomorrow and beyond.
Constitutions are always a reflection of a particular time. You can’t legislate for what will happen in the future. This was an attempt to put the brakes on history and is a violation of the principle of the constitutional history of Cuba. With the level of consciousness I had reached in 2002, I couldn’t sign anything like that.