HAVANA TIMES — Today we present the second part of our interview with Dimas Castellanos, 68, 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 the portal Voces Cubanas, but — to my surprise — Dimas considers himself a socialist.
HT: In excerpts of an article of yours I was able to read on the Internet, you identify with the ideas of Martin Morua (a mulatto leader), who was opposed to the formation of a black political party. However, in the forum of “Razones Ciudadanas” (Citizen’s Reasons), devoted to racism, I had the impression that you were in favor of the formation of associations made up of people of one race.
Dimas: Those are two different and distinct things. In a presentation like that of Razones — with limited time and several panelists, and which should have been later edited — my basic ideas were lost.
I neither fully support Morua nor condemn the founders of the Partido Independiente de Color.
Some writings blamed Morua for the massacre of 1912, which is an idea I don’t share. It’s said that since he was a member of the Liberal Party, this affected the creation of the Partido Independiente…, and this is why he introduced the amendment that forbid its existence.
Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, long before becoming a member of the Senate, he was opposed to the creation of parties or associations of one race, seeing these as obstacles to the nation, which is an opinion that is as arguable as it is debatable.
But a political party of a race is not the same thing as any other type of association. A party deals with issues that have to do with the country’s politics; associations may or may not deal with those matters.
Morua and Juan Gualberto Gomez (another mulatto leader) were very concerned with the black political education. What I explained a moment ago about the need for the training of citizens in Cuba, they detected that among blacks. In this, civic associations play a key role, whether they’re made up of one color of people or several colors.
HT: Do you think that the nation needs these civic associations right now?
Dimas: I have to go back to what we talked about as achievements. It was an achievement to eliminate discrimination, for blacks to get equal access to education, the beaches… The mistake was to consider that racism was solely a result of the division of society into classes and that by eliminating the division we didn’t need to discuss a problem that was already solved. What allowed for the advancement of blacks in the republic were these associations, and it was a mistake to obliterate them.
HT: When I attended that session of Razones… I had the impression that some of the panelists thought blacks were better off before rather than after the triumph of the revolutionary, or at least they placed more emphasis on the limitations on blacks after the triumph of the revolution.
Dimas: I don’t believe that I would have lived better prior to the revolution. The revolution evened up blacks and whites a little, but it also evened up people in general with its form of socialism, which distributed poverty.
At the beginning of the republic, the black person who had lived in the colonia (ghetto or black quarters) lacked two essential things to compete in the new scenario: education and economic wealth. There were some exceptions that only prove the rule.
I think the triumph of the revolution was necessary to give preferential treatment to the poor, whites and blacks, although blacks predominated among them. Failure to do this is what has allowed racism to continue to reproduce itself at this point.
What happened in 1959 was like the Marhabana marathon that I participate in every year in November. At seven o’clock, we’re all in the starting line: National Team champions, members of FAR (the army), students from sport schools… and people like me, when they have time to practice a little and go there.
That’s like what happens with blacks and whites. What’s true is that when the shot sounds, we’re all equal. The revolution created equality. But when we pass the first half mile you can see the difference between those who can run and those who can’t. The horizontal line at the beginning is transformed into a vertical line. That’s what happened with black and white people.
The universities began to fill up with blacks, but eventually those institutions turned white again. Black families have no conception of the importance of education for the future. I didn’t study when I was a child. My father told my mother that the boys can study when they fell like it. That was what he had been taught by my grandfather, who in turn had been taught the same thing by my great-grandfather – who was a slave. To them education wasn’t important.
I studied as an adult. When these young black men who went to college, they began to clash with the difficulties of their classes, but they didn’t have support from their families to continue. Therefore the dropout rate at all educational levels is greater among blacks than whites. That happens with the prisons as well, which are full of blacks. Racism has continued to reproduce itself, while actions have been taken on the effects but not the causes.
In 2004, Dimas became a member of the board of the Institute for Cuban Studies in Florida, but he has lost contact with that institution. He attributes this to the distance. Currently, he doesn’t include that membership in his resume.
HT: You graduated in theology and biblical studies. Do you believe in God?
Dimas: That’s difficult to answer. You have to wonder what God is. I think there are forces far superior to people that interact with human life.
HT: Doesn’t that contradict your status as a Marxist?
Dimas: I have a Marxist background, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a Marxist today. Since 1991, I started having experiences that concerned me.
My mother had an accident that required surgery. It was so serious that her chances of survival were slim, but she finally stabilized. My wife and I came home after spending all night and morning in the hospital. At 4:00 in the afternoon, I began shivering violently, and I knew my mother had died. At the hospital they confirmed the time of her death as 4:00.
In February 1992, I was expelled from the Higher Institute of Agricultural Sciences for my having joined the social democratic political current. I had to start selling beans that I would bring from San Jose de las Lajas on bicycle. Once, I heard a voice say, “Take care of yours, I’ll take care of everything else.” After that, I returned to the social sciences and I’ve always been able to make a living.
I had many experiences like that, and I understood that Marxism didn’t have an answer to all the phenomena of the universe. In 2001, I began to study theology. I was baptized in the Catholic Church in 2002.
His joining the social democratic current meant not only the firing of Dimas from his job; he was also harassed for a long time by members of State Security. But he was never beaten or thrown in jail overnight.
His wife, a member of the Cuban Communist Party at that time, was sanctioned in her comité de Base (local committee) for having a relationship with a political opponent. She currently lives in Spain with her son.
HT: You’ve traveled to Europe several times. Your wife and son live in Spain. Why do you remain in Cuba?
Dimas: I was a member of the Socialist Party in my teens. I studied in the USSR and there I began to see the errors that led to that system’s failure. I served in Ethiopia for almost two years. I wasn’t drafted by any military committee; I went because I wanted to. I’ve seen the mistakes made here.
Without being a historian by training, Dimas has become a student of history to understand our present. His own experience in Ethiopia could be the subject of another interview, or maybe a book.
Dimas: “With all this experience, it would be selfish to go to another country. I was part of this process. Now I think I have to help achieve the necessary changes in the way that I can.”
See part one of this interview.