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Cuba: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise

I do not wish the future of Cuba to be like the present of Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras or even Puerto Rico...The United States was never satisfied with having lost the Cuba subjected to its ambitions.

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Few ignore my solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. For 40 years I have frequently visited the island for work commitments and invitations to events. For a long period, I mediated the resumption of dialogue between the Catholic bishops and the Cuban government, as described in my books Fidel y la Religion (Fontanar / Companhia das Letras) and Paradise Lost, Trips to the Socialist World (Rocco).

Currently, under contract with FAO, I advise the Cuban government on the implementation of the Food Sovereignty and Nutrition Education Plan.

I know in detail Cuban daily life, including the difficulties faced by the population, the challenges to the Revolution, the criticisms of the country's intellectuals and artists. I visited prisons, I spoke with opponents of the Revolution, I lived with Cuban priests and laity opposed to socialism.

When they tell me, a Brazilian, that there is no democracy in Cuba, I descend from the abstraction of words to reality.

How many photos or news have been or are seen of Cubans in misery, beggars scattered on the sidewalks, children abandoned in the streets, families under the viaducts? Something similar to the cracolândia , the militias, the long lines of patients who wait years to be treated in a hospital?

I warn friends:

  • If you are rich in Brazil and you go to live in Cuba, you will know hell. You will not be able to change cars every year, buy designer clothes, travel frequently on vacation abroad. And, above all, he will not be able to exploit the work of others, keep his employees in ignorance, be 'proud' of María, his cook for 20 years, and who denies access to his own home, to schooling and the health plan.
  • If you are middle class, get ready to experience purgatory. Although Cuba is no longer a state company, the bureaucracy persists, you have to be patient in the queues of the markets, many products available this month may not be found next month due to the inconsistency of imports.
  • However, if you are salaried, poor, homeless or landless, get ready to meet paradise. The Revolution will guarantee your three fundamental human rights: food, health and education, as well as housing and work. You may have a huge appetite for not eating what you like, but you will never go hungry. His family will have schooling and health care, including complex surgeries, totally free, as a duty of the State and the right of the citizen.

There is nothing more prostituted than language. The famous democracy born in Greece has its merits, but it is good to remember that, at that time, Athens had 20,000 inhabitants who lived off the labor of 400,000 slaves ... What would one of those thousands of servants answer if asked about the virtues of the democracy?

I do not wish for the future of Cuba the present of Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras or even Puerto Rico, an American colony that was denied independence. Nor do I want Cuba to invade the United States and occupy a coastal area of ​​California, such as Guantánamo, which has been transformed into a torture center and an illegal prison for suspected terrorists.

Democracy, in my concept, means the 'Our Father' - the authority legitimized by the popular will - and the 'Our Bread' - the sharing of the fruits of nature and human labor. The electoral rotation does not make, nor does it ensure a democracy. Brazil and India, considered democracies, are flagrant examples of misery, poverty, exclusion, oppression and suffering.

Only those who knew the reality of Cuba before 1959 know why Fidel had so much popular support to bring the Revolution to victory.

The country was known by the nickname 'Caribbean brothel'. The mafia dominated banks and tourism (there are several movies about this). The main neighborhood of Havana, still called Vedado, has this name because blacks were not allowed to circulate there… The
United States was never satisfied with having lost Cuba subjected to its ambitions. Therefore, shortly after the victory of the Sierra Maestra guerrillas, they tried to invade the island with mercenary troops. They were defeated in April 1961. The following year, President Kennedy decreed the blockade of Cuba, which continues to this day.

Cuba is an island with few resources. It is forced to import more than 60 percent of the country's essential products. With the tightening of the blockade promoted by Trump (243 new measures and, for now, not withdrawn by Biden), and the pandemic, which has zeroed out one of the country's main sources of resources, tourism, the internal situation has worsened .

The Cubans had to tighten their belts. Then, the discontent with the Revolution, who gravitate in the orbit of the 'American dream', promoted the protests of Sunday, July 11 with the 'solidarity' help of the CIA, whose boss has just made a tour of the continent, worried about the results of the elections in Peru and Chile.

The one who best explains the current situation in Cuba is its president, Díaz-Canel:

«The financial, economic, commercial and energy persecution has begun. They (the White House) want an internal social outbreak to be provoked in Cuba to ask for 'humanitarian missions' that translate into invasions and military interference. We have been honest, we have been transparent, we have been clear, and at all times we have explained to our people the complexities of today. I remember that more than a year and a half ago, when the second half of 2019 began, we had to explain that we were in a difficult situation. The United States began to intensify a series of restrictive measures, tightening of the blockade, financial persecution against the energy sector, with the aim of strangling our economy. This would cause the desired massive social outbreak, to be able to request a 'humanitarian' intervention,

“This situation continued, then came the 243 measures (by Trump, to tighten the blockade) that we all know, and finally it was decided to include Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. All these restrictions led the country to immediately cut off various sources of foreign exchange income, such as tourism, Cuban-American travel to our country, and remittances. A plan was formed to discredit the Cuban medical brigades and the solidarity collaborations of Cuba, which received an important part of foreign exchange for this collaboration.

“All this has generated a situation of shortage in the country, mainly of food, medicine, raw materials and supplies to be able to develop our economic and productive processes that, at the same time, contribute to exports. Two important elements are removed: the ability to export and the ability to invest resources. We also have limitations on fuel and spare parts, and all this has caused a level of dissatisfaction, added to accumulated problems that we have been able to solve and that came from the Special Period (1990-1995, when the Soviet Union collapsed, with a serious reflection on the Cuban economy). Along with a fierce smear media campaign, as part of the unconventional war, which tries to fracture the unity between the party, the State and the people;

“The example of the Cuban Revolution has bothered the United States a lot for 60 years. They applied an unjust, criminal and cruel blockade, now intensified in the pandemic. Blockade and restrictive actions that they have never carried out against any other country, not even against those they consider their main enemies. Therefore, it has been a perverse policy against a small island that only aspires to defend its independence, its sovereignty and to build its society with self-determination, according to the principles that more than 86 percent of the population has supported.

“In the midst of these conditions, the pandemic arises, a pandemic that has affected not only Cuba, but the entire world, including the United States. It affected rich countries, and it must be said that in the face of this pandemic, neither the United States nor these rich countries had all the capacity to face its effects. The poor were harmed, because there are no public policies aimed at the people, and there are indicators in relation to the confrontation of the pandemic with worse results than those of Cuba in many cases. Infection and mortality rates per million inhabitants are notably higher in the United States than in Cuba (the United States has recorded 1,724 deaths per million, while Cuba is at 47 deaths per million). As the United States entrenches itself in vaccine nationalism,

“Without the possibility of successfully invading Cuba, the United States persists in a rigid blockade. After the fall of the USSR, which provided the island with ways to circumvent the blockade, the United States tried to increase its control over the Caribbean country. Starting in 1992, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to end this blockade. The Cuban government reported that between April 2019 and March 2020, Cuba lost $ 5 billion in potential trade due to the blockade; in the last nearly six decades, it lost the equivalent of $ 144 billion. Now, the United States government has deepened sanctions against shipping companies that carry oil to the island.

It is this fragility that opens a flank to the manifestations of discontent, without the government having put tanks and troops in the streets. The resistance of the Cuban people, fueled by examples like Martí, Che Guevara and Fidel, has proven to be invincible. And we must, all of us who fight for a more just world, stand in solidarity with them.

[Frei Betto is a Dominican friar, liberation theologian, journalist and Brazilian writer. 

His roles as a revolutionary Christian, popular educator, social movement articulator, and journalist/writer provide insight into the political and religious history not only of Brazil, but of Cuba and former socialist countries of Eastern Europe. His lifepath is one of engagement with the revolutionary struggle against the Brazilian military dictatorship in favor of social transformation. His arrest in 1969 for coordinating the safe departure of political militants from Brazil, and his concern to eliminate hunger and suffering from the poorer classes, were strong credentials as he promoted dialogue between political bodies, the religious establishment and the population at large.

Strongly influenced by the propositions of Liberation Theology, a defining thread of its activities was to seek an understanding, an accommodation, between Christianity and socialism. Friar Betto maintained close relations with former Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionary government, and wrote about how the internal dynamics of the Cuban religious universe could be applied to other countries and to different political circumstances. His writings on socialist countries, especially Paradise Lost, are aimed at promoting understanding on several levels: between the Church and the communists; between the military and politicians; between religious leaders and the people.]

Translation by Internationalist 360°