Solidarity Is in the “DNA” of Human Beings

Dmitri Prieto

Echoes of the Tenth Catholic Social Week of Cuba: An interview with Cristina Calvo.

Cristina Calvo,

HAVANA TIMES, July 17 – The Tenth Cuban Catholic Social Week (held in Havana from June 16-20) stirred up special interest with its panel on the economy and society.  This was led by distinguished Cuban specialists Pavel Vidal and Omar Everleny (both from the University of Havana), as well as Carmelo Mesa-Lago (from the University of Pittsburgh) and Argentinean economist Cristina Calvo (*).  While the former panelists addressed the situation in Cuba, Dr. Calvo lectured on the “solidary economy.”

HT: I would like first to ask you about your evolution as a believer and an economist.  Likewise, in what capacity and why did you participate in the Tenth Social Catholic Week of Cuba?  Did you receive an invitation from Cardinal Jaime Ortega?

Cristina Calvo: In terms of my evolution, since I was little I had a strong inclination to work for social justice in my country (Argentina), and the choice of studying economics had to do with the aim of my profession also contributing to solving the problems of poverty and social exclusion.  I participated in the conference through an invitation from Cardinal Jaime Ortega and his team of laypeople.  For me it was one of the most important experiences in recent times.

You wound up being the sole woman and the only foreigner on a panel made up of Cuban economists. In addition, your topic was also different: While your co-workers lectured on the economic situation in Cuba, you talked about the solidary economy, particularly on the “economy of communion.”  What are the distinctive characteristics of that economy?

It was a great honor to participate on this panel.  The solidary economy and its different expressions places its main accent on the individual and the community; these put the economy at the service of the “quality of life” of each person and of all people in function of their common well being, not an economy that benefits itself and idolizes the market as the regulator of social relationships, including the family.

We must seek for the economy to recover its original meaning: “oikos” or “household,” and “nomos” meaning “management”; in other words, the “management of the common household,” including the respect for nature and the environment.

The “communion economy” is also a form of social economy but it differs by having as its “humus” a spirituality (that of the Focolari Movement) that considers all people constituting a “single human family” and that, in this way, fraternity also has to be an economic category that contributes to a new economic paradigm that goes beyond the current neoliberal economy that excludes the great mass of the population.

In a rapaciously capitalist world, has solidarity as an economic concept been successful anywhere? Does it have any future?

It’s been very successful, in fact; because the other model continues doing a great deal of harm, but it’s “spent.”  The world is going through a “crisis of meaning” and solidarity has to do with the deepest “DNA” in human beings.  In all of Latin America, and also in Africa and in experiences even within countries of the “First World,” solidarity is gradually gaining ground with the aim of people achieving conditions of a dignified life: self-esteem, a livelihood and freedom to choose their own destinies.

Why is there an interest in introducing that type of economy within the framework of a Catholic organized event in Cuba?

I was invited because the issues of the economy and social life are very appropriate for dialogue and the search for convergence for the wellbeing of the countries of Latin America.  This type of economy is the one that best represents the profound reality of human beings and life in society.

Amid the economic crisis and virtual changes in the Cuban model of State socialism, many people think that for the economy to “work,” it’s necessary for companies to again have owners, meaning that these be transferred back into private hands.  In fact, some participants in Social Week spoke about this.  There are those who continue defending the statist pattern, while others insist that if the workers themselves become the true owners, we will have an efficient economy and a more equal, democratic and just society.  Concerning the issue of private investment, State property or solidary self-management, what is your opinion?

Around the whole world at this time, debate revolves around these points: how much State involvement, how much of private involvement, how much community ownership.  Each country and each people should give them their own physiognomy in function of their history, subjectivity and cultural identity.  Today, more than ever, coordination is necessary between the private sector, the public sector and civil society.  Solidarity economics contributes new forms of non-State public ownership that defends the interests of the people and not of capital.  This is why these are presently proposed as the most suitable forms for the economy to be put at the service of sustainable integral human development.

Could the solidary economy change the unequal and capitalist nature of the world economic system?

The solidary economy, together with the communion economy and all the forms of economy that place the individual and their relationships at the center of activity, must be constituted in a new paradigm. For this, it is necessary to give them scientific standing, including a solid theoretical corpus.  This ends up transforming public policy and continues multiplying the experiences from the entire world, which indicates that “another world —another economy— is possible.”

In your opinion, could the Catholic Church uphold dialogue not only with political leaders but also with those who defend workers’ self-management as a path to social emancipation?

Given its legitimacy and commitment, the Catholic Church is an indispensable actor in offering a setting for dialogue and agreement in all environments.  It can serve in the search for common paths to the wellbeing of the Cuban people as a whole.

Do you believe that the defense of solidarity and self-management in economic matters has evangelical roots?

Deeply. The Gospel is everything in “communion”: sharing, community, the heart, cooperation, collaboration.  It was Jesus himself who called for putting all goods, spiritual as well as material ones, in common so that “no one suffers from need.”

What is your opinion of Catholic Social Week, the presentations by your economist colleagues and the debates raised in the panel?

As I said, it was an honor to be able to share with my Cuban economist colleagues.  It was enormously enriching and I fervently hope that we can continue exchanging ideas in similar settings.  Everything was offered in a climate of great respect and trust.  A common feeling was evidenced in seeking alternatives to improving the quality of life of the Cuban people.  The debate was very intense; as always, the time was limited within the conference, but the interest was enormous.

What future for the Cuban people do you hope for?

I would like to see them become the protagonists of their own future, of their own destinies.  It is a land and a people blessed by God.  They have a force, an enviable purity of the heart and a capacity to be a “lighthouse” to the world.  That gives them immense potential.  More than ever, I feel them to be my brothers and sisters.

* Cristina Calvo (Argentina): A guest at the Tenth Catholic Social Week of Cuba, she is a PhD in human behavior and a professor in governability and human development at the University of Buenos Aires. A director of Caritas Argentina and an advisor with the Argentinean Foreign Ministry regarding Mercosur social programs, she collaborates with a number of international agencies, included institutions of the United Nations. She is responsible for South America within the “Por una economía de communion” (For a Communion Economy” initiative of the Focolari Movement, which aims to humanize companies and the global economy. As a result of the Argentinean crisis of 2001, she participated in that country’s national dialogue. She is the author of many widely disseminated articles and publications and has won several awards, among them the “Universal Statement on the elimination of all intolerance and discrimination based on personal convictions” from the Argentinean Chancellery for her national and international commitment to the promotion of a plural and inclusive society, peace, dialogue and the inviolable rights of the individual. In the Catholic Social Week, she participated alongside outstanding Cuban experts on the island and in the diaspora in a panel on the economic perspectives of Cuba.