Monday, September 21, 2020

 Recordando un poema de Robert Frost y las relaciones de Estados Unidos y Cuba*

 Nelson P. Valdés

 Las historias de los Estados Unidos y Cuba están entrelazadas de muchas formas y maneras. Cubanos y norteamericanos han vivido y aprendido mucho unos de los otros. Y así ha sido no solo en la cultura, sino también en la política, la economía y la sociedad. Es una larga historia.

 En 1953 los revolucionarios cubanos atacaban el cuartel Moncada en Santiago de Cuba. En esos días, una escuela en Tennessee iniciaba clases para organizar y entrenar a trabajadores por los derechos civiles, la mayoría negros. La movilización ciudadana en la Cuba de los años 50 constituía una expresión de una misma y paralela lucha por los derechos civiles en el sur y norte de los Estados Unidos. Al mismo tiempo, las luchas sociales y políticas a nivel de base en Cuba y los Estados Unidos --aunque separadas--, eran, a su vez, expresión de los procesos de descolonización de África y Asia después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Los argumentos que utilizara en su defensa Fidel Castro fueron muy similares a los conceptos de derechos ciudadanos que la Corte Suprema de los Estados Unidos reconoce en Brown vs. Board of Education, prohibiendo la segregación de las escuelas. Estas dos tradiciones hacían referencia a pensadores del siglo XVIII y XIX, parte de una cultura netamente revolucionaria.

 Los cubanos, como los norteamericanos, confrontan a las autoridades de sus respectivos países por violar su respectivas Constituciones.

 La acción de un pequeño grupo de revolucionarios en Cuba, al igual que Rosa Parks y sus compañeros en Montgomery, Alabama, incita a mayores acciones que serían consideradas radicales, ilegales y revolucionarias. El movimiento revolucionario cubano se inicia con demandas legales y poco después adopta  métodos armados. En los Estados Unidos el movimiento de derechos civiles utilizaría métodos pacíficos, aun cuando el Estado lo agredía violentamente. Y poco a poco un mayor número de instituciones sociales, incluyendo las iglesias, apoyaron cada vez más a sus respectivos movimientos en defensa de los derechos civiles de la población. En ambos países, figuras cimeras del sistema judicial llegaron a identificarse con esos movimientos, cada vez más populares. Mientras en los Estados Unidos el movimiento de los derechos civiles y políticos tiene un basamento constitucional y religioso como el del Southern Christian Leadership Conference, en el caso cubano es netamente político aunque muchos participantes eran católicos, presbiterianos y bautistas.

 Por una parte, gobernadores estatales  en el sur de los Estados Unidos --en Arkansas y Mississippi, por ejemplo-- y el FBI  al igual que, por otra parte, el gobierno de  Fulgencio Batista tratan de desarticular por diferentes medios esa creciente oposición. Ambos aparatos represivos emplearon la misma tecnología militar y los mismos métodos (mangueras de agua de alta presión, por ejemplo). Y sin embargo, en los dos países surgen líderes carismáticos que cohesionan al naciente movimiento de masas: Martin Luther King, Jr. en los Estados Unidos y Fidel Castro en Cuba. 

 En Cuba, el movimiento triunfa y llega al poder en 1959, no así en los Estados Unidos. El movimiento por los derechos civiles y políticos primero, y el movimiento estudiantil y contra las guerras coloniales después, solo logran algunas concesiones civiles y políticas. Pero esa lucha continuó en los Estados Unidos y parte de la población reformista y radical de jóvenes en el norte del país fue al Deep South para ayudar a obtener derechos sociales y políticos. El triunfo revolucionario en Cuba tiene un enorme impacto entre los luchadores por los derechos civiles. Y aun cuando utilizaron métodos diferentes  --la no violencia--, reconocieron las contribuciones y los cambios de los cubanos.

 El triunfo cubano se asumió como propio por los luchadores y revolucionarios de los Estados Unidos. Además, luchadores por los derechos civiles en los Estados Unidos presionaron al gobierno para que no ayudara a la dictadura, “El gobierno de Estados Unidos es un socio del dictador de Cuba, Fulgencio Batista, en el asesinato de cerca de 4,000 Cubanos hasta el momento, y ha llegado el momento de largarnos ya” --declaró Adam Clayton Powell, congresista negro norteamericano, el 20 de marzo de 1958 ante la Cámara del Congreso de los Estados Unidos.

 El triunfo de la rebelión cubana tuvo particular impacto en la población negra norteamericana. Durante los primeros meses de 1959 muchos intelectuales, periodistas, líderes obreros, congresistas, actores y escritores negros fueron a Cuba y defendieron el proceso social recién iniciado. Entre estos se encontraban William Worthy y Richard Gilbson [periodistas], James Baldwin, James Oliver, Julian Mayfield, Leroi Jones, Harold Cruse, [escritores], John Henri Clarke [historiador], Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X [políticos], entre otros.

 En septiembre de 1960 Fidel Castro viajó a Nueva York para representar a la Revolución Cubana ante las Naciones Unidas. Bajo la presión del Departamento de Estado de los Estados Unidos, durante la administración de Dwight Eisenhower el establishment hotelero  le negó a la comitiva cubana acceso a los hoteles. Pero la comunidad negra de Harlem abrió su corazón y sus espacios a los revolucionarios cubanos. No fue solo el Hotel Teresa el que tomó esa iniciativa. La comunidad negra, que en esos precisos momentos luchaba en numerosos frentes contra el racismo, la exclusión social, la pobreza y la explotación, también entendía que sus hermanos negros, mulatos y blancos  de la Isla comenzaban todo un proceso de destrucción de los instrumentos racistas, segregacionistas y explotadores que se habían enraizado en la “isla de la libertad.” Negarle al líder revolucionario blanco el acceso a un hotel era un acto similar a lo que confrontaba la población negra en general en Estados Unidos.

 La lucha por los derechos civiles, de una larguísima historia en los Estados Unidos, veía reflejada sus ilusiones y esperanzas en la nueva Cuba. Aunque muchos no recuerdan o han querido olvidar o no lo conocen, la realidad fehaciente es que el movimiento por los derechos civiles, políticos, culturales, económicos y humanos que se desarrollaba en el sur de los Estados Unidos tenía muchísimos enlaces y conexiones con lo que estaba sucediendo en Cuba. Aún más ilustrativo es que en septiembre de 1960 ya la Revolución Cubana había nacionalizado una proporción grande de las corporaciones norteamericanas. Y, sin embargo, Malcolm X declaraba en Harlem:  “El [Hotel] Teresa es hoy mas conocido  como el lugar a donde fue Fidel Castro durante su visita a las Naciones Unidas, y logro una Victoria psicológica contra el Departamento de Estado de los Estados Unidos cuando fue confinado a Manhattan. Nunca soñaron que Fidel se quedaría en “uptown”, en Harlem,  donde dejaría una enorme y positiva impresión entre los negros.”

 Un autor norteamericano escribía.  “Además, miles estaban encantados viendo al comandante [negro]  Juan Almeida  entre los revolucionarios. El 22 de Septiembre todo  Harlem estaba alrededor del Hotel Teresa congratulando, saludando, gritando por Fidel, sus compañeros y la revolución.   Almeida y los otros miembros del Ejército Rebelde caminaron 20 cuadras enteras en Harlem.  El 22 de Septiembre Fidel Castro almorzó  con los trabajadores del hotel. Y se reunió con Malcolm x en el Hotel Teresa. Malcolm escribió entonces:  “El Teresa es ahora mucho más conocido  como el lugar a donde Fidel Castro fue durante su visita a las Naciones Unidas, y logró un golpe psicológico contra el Departamento de Estado de los Estados Unidos cuando lo confinaron a el a estar solo en Manhattan. Nunca soñaron que él se hospedaría en Harlem donde dejaría una enorme impresión entre los Negros.” [1]

 Y otro escritor nos informa, “… los activistas de Harlem sugirieron, que las dificultades en encontrar donde hospedarse se transformaran en una oportunidad única para expresar las expresiones culturales y políticas de solidaridad y anti-racismo. Cuando la delegación cubana acepto la amistosa bienvenida del dueño del Hotel Teresa, Love B. Woods, los lazos ideológicos y políticos  entre los progresistas Afro-Americanos y los revolucionarios cubanos fueron cultivados…. La reunión de Malcolm X y Fidel Castro en Harlem simbolizaba una era de la post-II Guerra Mundial, de los movimientos anticoloniales y a favor de la lucha por los derechos humanos de los pueblos negros y del Tercer Mundo. Un periódico, el  New York Citizen Call,  declaraba en esos días: “Para los oprimidos habitantes de Harlem, Castro era el revolucionario barbudo que había expulsado a los bribones y les ha  dicho a los blancos de Estados Unidos que se fueran al infierno.” [2]

 El movimiento por los derechos civiles y democráticos de los norteamericanos, particularmente de los negros, veía el proceso revolucionario en Cuba con buenos ojos. Igual sucedía con el movimiento estudiantil universitario  que se iba configurando. Una alianza de los revolucionarios de la Isla con los revolucionarios y reformistas de los Estados Unidos se convertía en una enorme preocupación para la estructura del poder norteamericano.  Y en poco tiempo, ambos lados cooperaban más.

En 1960 varios norteamericanos de izquierda establecen el Fair Play for Cuba Committee en favor de la Revolución Cubana y en oposición a la política de la administración Eisenhower. Muchos de sus miembros también pertenecían a la lucha por los derechos civiles de negros, blancos y trabajadores, entre estos el escritor James Baldwin. Ralph Feathrstone, uno de los líderes del Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), consideraba a Cuba  “una zona liberada”. El poeta negro, de izquierda, LeRoi Jones escribía, “los Cubanos, y los otros nuevos pueblos  (en  Asia, África,  América del Sur) del mundo no nos necesitan, y lo mejor que podemos hacer es no bloquearles el camino.” [Cuba Libre, 1960]. O sea, un sector significativo de  la población negra norteamericana reconocía y apoyaba la autodeterminación, concepto que ya se defendía también en el sur de los Estados Unidos. La organización de solidaridad  Fair Play for Cuba Committee existía contra la injusticia, y a su vez integraba a norteamericanos de todos los colores.  En sí el “fair play” es lo que los sectores más necesitados pedían para sí y para el mundo.

Pero la relación y cooperación  entre los movimientos progresistas norteamericanos y la Revolución Cubana fue atacada desde el primer momento. Ambos movimientos confrontaban a un mismo enemigo.

Poco a poco estas dos fuerzas fueron aisladas por la invasión organizada por el gobierno de Estados Unidos  el 17 de abril de 1961 a Cuba. También la sistemática persecución de la izquierda por el Congreso [House Un-American Activities Committee], el FBI y muchas otras instituciones estatales tuvo sus efectos sobre esa relación. Los propios liberales norteamericanos corrieron en dirección opuesta a la revolucionaria. Pero la lucha por la justicia y por la igualdad de derechos democráticos continuó en los Estados Unidos, si bien cada vez más separada de la realidad cubana. La Crisis de los Misiles, de octubre 1962, fue un parteaguas que abrió una mayor brecha entre ambos movimientos. Ya a la Cuba revolucionaria se le definía como un enemigo de los Estados Unidos, mientras que el gobierno demócrata norteamericano de John Kennedy se identificaba con un sector reformista del movimiento por los derechos civiles. Sin embargo, la relación continuó a niveles menos conocidos. Pero no queda duda de que la Revolución Cubana y la lucha por los derechos de los norteamericanos tiene una larga y estrecha relación.

Esa historia, que sólo hemos tocado someramente, revela que las relaciones entre los revolucionarios cubanos y las fuerzas progresistas de los Estados Unidos tiene una larguísima historia. José Martí vivió durante años en Nueva York y Tampa. Exploró como pocos la historia de los Estados Unidos y la de Cuba, por separado y en relación con los dos países. Entendió como pocos el sentido real de lo que significa la independencia nacional. El movimiento progresista negro de los Estados Unidos también comprendió esa lucha. Martin Luther King fue clasificado por el FBI como un “hombre peligroso”. El gobierno de Estados Unidos también le dio esa misma clasificación a Fidel Castro. Ambos entendieron la relación estrecha entre la independencia nacional y los derechos civiles y políticos. Un país imperial no puede ser respetuoso de los derechos humanos y civiles.  Y una colonia tampoco los respeta.

El 22 de octubre de 1995 Fidel Castro volvió a visitar Harlem. Dijo: “aquí en Harlem conocí a Malcom X, conocí a otras muchas personalidades.  Eran días difíciles, siempre son difíciles los días, pero por delante estaba una lucha muy grande: las grandes batallas de Martin Luther King por los derechos civiles; las grandes luchas de las minorías negras, hispánicas, latinoamericanas de todas partes, por mejorar sus condiciones de vida; la lucha de los ancianos, los enfermos, todos.” [3]

El Congressional Black Caucus [CBC] de los Estados Unidos ha tenido una posición amistosa y solidaria hacia el proceso político y social cubano.  Y ha representado el sector mas progresista y favorable a la normalización de las relaciones entre los dos países.  Desde 1999 delegaciones y representantes del CBC ha visitado Cuba y se ha reunido con Fidel Castro. Cuba, a su vez, ha proporcionado becas a estudiantes norteamericanos con el apoyo de los Congresistas del CBC. Ya Fidel Castro había señalado que las circunstancias eran propicias para el mejoramiento de las relaciones  pues “era necesario utilizar este momento histórico en que coinciden un Presidente negro en la Casa Blanca y una corriente de opinión favorable a la normalización de las relaciones.” [4]

Cómo tendrían que hablar el presidente de Estados Unidos y el ex presidente Fidel Castro sobre la historia de ambos países. Ya uno de ellos dijo: “en la buena voluntad y disposición de las personas hay infinitos recursos que no se guardan ni caben en las bóvedas de un banco. No emanan de la política única de un imperio.” [5] Bien vale recordar a Robert Frost: “Dos caminos se bifurcaban en un bosque y yo, /Yo tomé el menos transitado, /Y eso hizo toda la diferencia.”

        

-----------------------------------

[1]See: Joy James, Review: Harlem Hospitality and Political History: Malcolm x and Fidel Castro at the Hotel Theresa, Contributions in Black Studies, Vol. 12, Article 12, 1994, Article No. 12. [http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi? article=1088&context=cibshttps://youtu.be/UAcgbsPgCbo

[2]  L. Ralph, Fidel Castro and Harlem: Political, Diplomatic, and Social Influences of the 1960 Visit to the Hotel Theresa,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History. See: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-494766291/fidel-castro-and-harlem-political-diplomatic-

[3] http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1995/esp/f221095e.html

[4] Fidel Castro, “Los 7 congresistas que nos visitan,” Cubadebate (Habana), Marzo 11, 2014. http://www.granma.cu/granmad/secciones/ref-fidel/art113.html

[5] http://www.granma.cu/granmad/secciones/ref-fidel/art20.html

Sugerencia de lectura:

Lisa Brock y Digna Castañeda Fuentes, Between Race and Empire : African-Americans and Cubans before the Cuban revolution, 1998.

*El texto del poema  de Robert Frost - The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference

 

Dos caminos se bifurcaban en un bosque amarillo,

Y apenado por no poder tomar los dos

Siendo un viajero solo, largo tiempo estuve de pie

Mirando uno de ellos tan lejos como pude,

Hasta donde se perdía en la espesura;

Entonces tomé el otro, imparcialmente,

Y habiendo tenido quizás la elección acertada,

Pues era tupido y requería uso;

Aunque en cuanto a lo que vi allí

Hubiera elegido cualquiera de los dos.

Y ambos esa mañana yacían igualmente,

¡Oh, había guardado aquel primero para otro día!

Aun sabiendo el modo en que las cosas siguen adelante,

Dudé si debía haber regresado sobre mis pasos.

Debo estar diciendo esto con un suspiro

De aquí a la eternidad:

Dos caminos se bifurcaban en un bosque y yo,

Yo tomé el menos transitado,

Y eso hizo toda la diferencia.

Friday, September 18, 2020

 

"Interneting": or Studying with the Other*

All of us inhabitants of our planet are Other for Others—
Me for Them, and Them for Me.
Ryszard Kapuscinski1

Ancient cultures knew that everything in the World was interdependent. The modern era broke that view and only recently have we rediscovered Gaia – the close living relationship between living organisms and their environment.2 Now economic and political integrations implicitly recognize the need for collaboration. We must restructure and make our new and different interdependencies work.

The newest technologies allow us to access almost any part of the world as if we were all living in a virtual town with diverse and different histories, cultures, and languages. But this “techno” ability is misleading since inequalities in accessibility continue to exist and are even on the rise.3 Still, those who have the technological ability to know each other don’t have the need to do so. However, our hemispheric diversity demands that we form part of a symmetrical interdependent collaboration and a respectful dialogue. For this, we need materials, resources, capability, and will.

What we are suggesting is outlined in the context of transnationalization and the internationalization of education but with its own characteristics.4 My profession –sociology-- has taught me (having given courses on Latin America for the past 32 years) that modern technology is key. For all of my courses, I depend on web pages to publish my written discussions (we do not use textbooks), listserves to distribute articles on different topics, e-mail for bilateral or multilateral communication with students, and chat rooms. Students have their own web pages, or “blogs”, through which they teach and reveal to other students what they are doing and thinking, and share how their respective research and projects are developing week by week. At the same time, they have to research documents from numerous different databases (and in the process, they learn about new sources of information and, with my intervention, how to interpret, evaluate, analyze and recognize what is merely normative or idiosyncratic versus social science). I model my teaching on a masters level class, in that I meet with students in a classroom and use technology. At the same time, we also use a form of distance education since students continue to work with me once they leave the classroom, but I have assumed the role of pedagogical advisor until we meet in the classroom the following week.

The computer, Internet, and other various instruments that are such crucial components of today’s teaching cannot replace mentors, tutors, teachers, educators or trainers. At the same time, one teacher alone is not sufficient to educate students who have the ability to electronically access libraries in Buenos Aires, Madrid or any other place in the world.

The metaphor of the information superhighway may now have a different meaning. A highway can also be a road on which we travel so quickly that the streets, landscapes and buildings pass us by without us even seeing them. We understand nothing. Information keeps growing and it grows more quickly and more out of context. In this sense we have traveled from one point to another without comprehending or understanding and for no particular reason.

On the Internet, virtual destiny does not coincide with reality. A real highway is not the same as a virtual highway. The Internet opens doors, but more so for young students in a virtual world that is “wide and foreign” when it should have “depth and be progressively knowable”. Meeting this objective requires the help of real people, specialists who can transform virtuality into reality. And that requires guides-professors at the beginning of the journey as well as guides-professors along the way.

Students and professors of one country may virtually explore other subjects in other countries, but in an increasingly global and interactive world, we need counterparts; this is part of the integration and interdependency. In other words, in addition to the collaborative work taking place among the students, collaboration must take place between the students and the onsite professor as well as with the professor-guide of the country being studied.5 This is key not only because we must be able to actively dialogue with those in the countries being studied (as opposed to virtual pages that use imaginary helpers), but also because in the process of interrelating ourselves, new realities are established and we learn – in practice – mutually. Only with the structure can we participate in a true symmetrical learning process that benefits everyone.

We need to develop “team teaching,” in which guides-professors in the country studied collaborate with onsite teachers who work directly with the students. This implies an integration whereby students and professors are present in the same place, but use Internet as a revised form of distance education.

Then we would have, in addition to distance education and studies abroad programs, a new experience that could be classified as co-studying with the studied abroad. We could call this “internetting” with the “other” countries / the “exterior, which is the true form – paraphrasing UNESCO – of together advancing intellectual knowledge.?

Nelson P Valdés, Ph.D
 

*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed are not necessarily of the OAS nor of its member states. The opinions expressed are the responsibility of the authors.

 


1. Ryszard Kapuscinski , “Encountering the Other: The Challenge for the 21st Century,” New Perspectives Quarterly, Fall 2005.

2. James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth, New York: W.W. Norton, 1988.

3. One recent report reveals that in 2004 only 2.7% of university institutions had virtual programs and the number of students in those programs was 1.3% of the total. The study added “virtual higher education in Latin America is limited, not only because of the few (although growing) number of institutions that work with it or because of the small number of teachers involved and students reached, but rather because of the use (or rather underuse) of digital technologies (used almost exclusively to deliver content) and the paltry development of new pedagogical methods, which is a great contrast to the great possibilities offered by digital technologies in education to improve the quality of learning and further other functions of a higher education institution.” (See: Instituto Internacional para la Educación Superior en América Latina y el Caribe, Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación y Educación Superior Virtual en Latinoamérica y el Caribe, Ángel H. Facundo Díaz, Ph.D., Bogotá, 2004, p. 6.).

4. In the event we suggest the students and professor are in the U.S. and a distance education program is not offered to students in Latin America, but depends on the participation of professionals with knowledge of the country being studied. Carlos Marquis dines the typical model of transnationalization of education as “the student is in a different country from that of the institution providing the educational service. This implies the crossing of boundaries by professors and educational materials. Regarding the cases of transnational education, it was most often found the creation of regional offices or headquarters of foreign institutions, the appearance of joint programs among local and foreign universities with a double recognition, articulated programs and twin programs.” See: Nuevos Proveedores de Educación Superior en Argentina y Brasil, Argentina: UNESCO/IESALC, Agosto 2002, p. 1.

5. This type of collaboration is comparable to the “joint programs” offered in Latin American universities.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

 The Rescue Operation Priorities in Haiti [ date published Jan 18, 2010 ]

 

“The contempt we have been taught to entertain for blacks, make us fear many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience.” – Alexander Hamilton in letter to John Hay, 1799.

 

“Only those who hate the black population, see hatred in blacks” - José Martí, Montecristi Manifesto, 1895

 

 

by Nelson P Valdés

 

The recent earthquakes that have demolished the city of Port au Prince and its surroundings have left Haiti stateless, ever poorer, desperate, and in need of long term global assistance. A worldwide rescue operation has been initiated. But, it is questionable to what extent the best interests of the people of Haiti have been and will be considered, in the long run.

 

First, the foreign aid teams "rescued" and took out of the country the non-Haitians, particularly the Europeans, Americans, and assorted other tourists. The Voice of America on Jan. 16 reported: "In the last day or so the United States and French governments have started running passenger flights out of the country [Haiti] for evacuees from those countries.  People line up and wait for a plane to arrive so they can leave Haiti and leave behind what is a very difficult, traumatic experience for many." [1]

 

Second, five days have gone by without any real significant distribution of medical supplies, food or water to the neediest people.

 

The facts indicate clear priorities: the Haitians are not first in line. In fact, the rescuers seem to have a widespread fear of the poor and desperate Haitians. A Scottish reporter said, "aid workers in Haiti today called for more security amid fears of attacks by increasingly desperate earthquake survivors." [2]

 

Yet, the Haitians have been extraordinarily patient despite the fact that their  world has collapsed around them.

 

The assistance teams seem reluctant to distribute until they feel secure. Thus, the US the government sent troops to bring aid and the Haitian government dispatched police to provide “security,” and respond to the exaggerated rumors of "looting." Indeed, there have been reports that the security squads moved the aid providers to “secure” places. [3]

 

The Haitian people who wait for basic needs have not been mobilized to work on their own behalf. Rather, the “humanitarians” treat them as children, with no thought to providing them with the tools to help themselves. One Haitian consul to Brazil, George Samuel Antoine declared two days ago that any country that happens to have Africans is cursed! [4] Shades of Pat Robertson and David Brooks.

 

Seemingly, the outsiders coming to help the people don’t trust the natives, despite the fact that the Haitians are dying, hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless,  and with most of their families gone or lost. The Haitian chief of police, like most people in positions of authority, is a foreigner appointed by the United Nations.

 

Meanwhile, the twice elected and twice removed political leader of the Haitians - Jean-Bertrand Aristide is not permitted to enter his own country. In fact, President Obama appointed one of those who ousted him  - George W. Bush – to help  "supervise" the "reconstruction" of Haiti. Bush merited his appointment presumably because of the wonderful job he did supervising the post Katrina aid program. Meanwhile, for all intent and purposes, there is no longer, except symbolically, a Haitian government.

 

Perhaps it is too harsh but it appears as if  those in charge think that a few thousand more Haitians dead would make it easier to control the situation.  USA Today has reported, “Rescuers pulled a dehydrated but otherwise uninjured woman from the ruins of a luxury hotel in the Haitian capital early Sunday, drawing applause from onlookers who have seen little to cheer as the body count continued to rise from Tuesday's earthquake.”

 

They expect Haitians to remain patient, without food or water or aid to rescue their friends and relatives. Haitians are not even informed as to what to expect or when.

 

Some US tv channels have begun broadcasting about Vodou burials. The US mass media has turned the whole tragedy into another narcissistic story about how Americans handle disasters. Thus, Hillary at one end, and Bill on the other travel going to Haiti to see for themselves! [5] As if such voyages have inherently curative powers!

 

Ironically, US and NATO can quickly deliver death from the air, but, apparently won’t unleash their technology and resources to quickly save lives. United Nations tanks have been sent to different locations throughout what remains of the city, particularly the poorer neighborhoods such as Cité Soleil. [6] A poor substitute for food and water.

 

In Afghanistan drones fire at will with no one at the Pentagon expressing minimal concern, yet, in the Haitian case dropping food and water has been avoided “for fear of riots.” Apparently no one has figured that people will riot because of the absence of drinking water or food; unless they have to go without either for enough time so that the Haitians experience a Caribbean version of the final solution.

 

On January 15th, the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of

Humanitarian Affairs issued a report stating, "Haiti is currently at UN Security Phase 3. This will implicate ongoing operations in terms of limiting the ability to move around the city and work at night (which is also hindered by the lack of electricity). Patrols reported that the situation is calm in general, but there are reports of stone-throwing at passing vehicles, looting and acts of vandalism. ICRC has inspected several prisons. The central prison was completely destroyed, meaning up to 4,000 prisoners have escaped." [7] Under Security Phase III all international staff and families are relocated inside or outside the country.

 

It is unclear who is directing what. Rear Admiral Ted Branch, the most senior military official aboard the USS Carl Vinson stated,  "We have lift, we have communications, we have some command and control, but we don't have much relief supplies to offer…We have no supplies at the airport that we have access to. There are other supplies there that are under the control of other agencies, other organizations and we haven't yet coordinated together to make those supplies available for anyone to deliver." [8] The United Nations and the US authorities on the ground, are telling those who directly want to deliver help not to do so because they might be attacked by “hungry mobs.” [9] Two cargo planes from Doctors Without Borders have been forced to land in the Dominican Republic because the shipments have to be accompanied within Port au Prince by US military escort, according to the US command. [10]

 

One American on the ground summed up the situation: "For the aid to work and the teams of search and rescue workers to be able to do their job there is going to need to be a major effort of all people to lay down their own fear and personal need and allow the help to get to the worst off. Pray that people will think of others as best they can and that relief will begin to get to the places it is needed most." [11]  Such fears, created and nurtured in colonial times, have been reproduced for over two hundred years.  Alexander Hamilton and José Martí recognized the humanity of the former black slaves turned revolutionaries and told us to put our fears aside.   As Linda Polman writes in The Times of  London class and racial fear by the rescue teams is costing the lives of thousands in Haiti. [12]

 

 

 
 
 

[1] VOA Correspondent Reports on relief Efforts in Haiti,”  VOA News.Com,01/16/10

http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/americas/VOA-Correspondent-Reports-on-Latest-Relief-Efforts-in-Haiti-81878067.html

 
[2] “Fear of Looting as Desperation Among Haiti Earthquake Survivors Take Hold,” Scotsman.com, 01/15/10  http://www.scotsman.com/news/Fear-of-looting-as-desperation.5986768.jp
 
[3] “Haiti Earthquake Updates: Live Blog,” Guardian (London), 01/15/10
 http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2010/jan/15/haiti-earthquake-updates
 
[4] “Terremoto no Haiti: Consul Haitiano Afirma Que o Africano em si tem maldicao,” YouTube, 01/14/10   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UprgJGm-64
 
[5] “Apocalipsis social en Haiti?”, IAR Noticias, 01/167/10  http://www.aporrea.org/internacionales/n148906.html
 
[6]”Hillary Clinton Meets With Haiti Leader After Arrival,” CNN, 01/17/10 http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/16/haiti.earthquake/
 
[7] “Haiti: Ocha Sit Rep # 4”
http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/MUMA-7ZR22N/$File/full_report.pdf
 
[8] “After a Day of Deliveries, US Ship Runs Out of Aid,” AFP, 01/16/10
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jbVqVxVMqFtwp80YYzMXLkDHk7hw
 
[9] “RD se vuelca en ayuda a haitianos,” Listin Diario (Dominican Republic), 01/17/10 
http://www.listin.com.do/app/article.aspx?id=128360
 

[10]  “Cargo Plane With Full Hospital and Staff Blocked From Landing in Port-au-Prince,” Doctors Without Borders, 01/17/10.  http://doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=4165&cat=press-release&ref=news-index

 
[11] “Overwhelming Sadness – Overwhelming Gratitude,” The Livesay [Haiti] Weblog, 01/15/10 http://livesayhaiti.blogspot.com/2010/01/overwhelming-sadness.html
 
[12] Linda Polman, “Fear of the Por is Hampering Haiti Rescue,” Tomes Online, 01/18/10
 
 
Nelson P Valdés is Emeritus Professor of Sociology, founder of the Latin America Data Base and director of the Cuba-L Project. He is a specialist on Latin America and writes for Counter Punch.
 
The author wishes to think the suggestions by Sandra Levinson, Ned Sublette and Saul Landau.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

CUBA 1960 Chronology: Year of Agrarian Reform"

Below you will find a chronology of events in 1960 in Cuba. Although the information is significant, the importance is the way that events unfolded. This chronology has not been published before. I am the sole author of this document. Please do not use without attribution [write to me]. I hope you find the information useful.
-------------------------------------------------
CUBA 1960 Chronology: Year of Agrarian Reform"
Jan 1 - Fidel Castro led a group of students in climbing the Sierra Maestra mountains to "renovate" the energies of the revolutionary movement, and to "begin" a new revolutionary struggle: that of agrarian reform."
The Peoples' Republic of China, expresses its "solidarity" with the Cuban government.
Jan. 6 - Fidel Castro states that one can be a Catholic and a
revolutionary and that counter-revolutionary views should not be permitted to hide behind religion.
Jan. 10 - State Department protests the takeover of some American companies without "adequate" cash compensation.
Jan. 11 - the Cuban government rejects the State Department's diplomatic note "because it lacked seriousness." In January i960, the Cuban NET GOLD RESERVES amounted to only $49.4 million dollars. Thus, even if the Cuban government wanted to pay cash compensation it could not afford to do so.
Jan. l4 - Vice-president Nixon declares that "Cuba will have to pay cash compensation or face the consequences."
Jan. 18 - Fidel Castro calls Vice President Nixon's statement "insolent and threatening."
Jan. 19 US Ambassador Philip Bonsal is recalled to Washington, D.C.
Jan. 20 - the US Secretary of State calls Castro's speech of Jan. 18 "insulting".
Jan. 21 - Fidel orders the Ambassador of Spain to leave the country immediate­ly after the ambassador stated over a TV program that the communists were attempting to destroy 'democracy' and 'Christianity' in Cuba.
Jan. 21 - The Soviet press agency Tass established a news agreement with Prensa Latina; each side provides would provide news analysis to the other, thus challenging the monopoly exercised by UPI and AP.
Jan. 22 The US ambassador to Cuba, the US President and members of the State Department discuss American policy toward Cuba.
Jan. 26 - The State Department issued a statement on US policy towards Cuba. It said the following: 1) the US adheres to the policy of NONINTERVEN­TION 2) The US does not approve of illegal acts originating in US territory against Cuba 3) The US views "with increasing concern" the speeches by Cuban authorities which create the "ILLUSION OF AGGRESSION" which does not facilitate good relations 4) The US government "recognizes the right of Cuba to pass any laws it deems necessary but believes Cuba is obligated to pay adequate, prompt, cash compensation" to foreigners.
Jan. 28 President Dwight Eisenhower states in public: " I should like only to add that the U.S. Government has confidence IN THE ABILITY OF THE CUBAN PEOPLE to recognize and defeat the intrigues of international communism in Cuba and the traditional and mutually beneficial friendship between the Cuban and American people."
Jan. 28 - Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós declares that both sides (the governments of the U.S. and Cuba) have made mistakes and that Cuba is willing to negotiate all matters dealing with the U.S." The U.S. government did NOT reply to the Cuban initiative.
Jan. 28 Five sugar mills were burned in Camaguey province by counterrevolutionaries. Three sugar mills were burned in Oriente province.
Jan. 30 12,500 tons of sugar cane were burned as a US plane dropped white phosphorous on the fields.
Feb. 4 - Anastas Mikoyan Soviet Deputy Premier, arrived in Cuba heading a Russian industrial exposition which has traveled throughout the US and Mexico.
Feb. 5 The US government declined a Brazilian offer to mediate between Cuba and U.S.
Feb. 5 - US President asked the US Congress for special powers to cut the sugar quota to Cuba.
Feb. 6 - Fidel Castro opened the Soviet Industrial Exposition by noting the "great achievements" of the U.S.S.R.
Feb. 13 The Cuban government signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union.
Feb. 14 President Eisenhower declared that the trade agreement with the Soviets could be interpreted as a Russian invasion of the US sphere of influence and a challenge to "hemispheric security"
Feb. 18 American citizen Robert E Forst died when flying an airplane that exploded in mid-air while going over Cuban territory (without permission).
Feb 20 Cuba government signed a commercial agreement with East Germany.
Feb. 22 - Cuban Foreign Minister personally delivered a diplomatic note to Washington expressing interest to renew conversations.
Feb. 23 - Fidel Castro in a speech calls on the United States government to abstain from any unilateral action that might destroy the relations between both nations. The State Department declares " it will negotiate but "without any conditions. That is, the US government would not agree on cutting the sugar quota or abstaining from cutting it. To the Cubans, this meant that the U.S. planned to cut the sugar quota.
March 4 Explosion of the- munitions ship La Coubre in Havana harbor, causing 70 deaths, over 2-- wounded.
All radio and television stations create a network to transmit all major government acts and speeches.
March 6 - Fidel Castro declared that it was possible that the CIA was behind the La Coubre explo­sion as a way of stopping Cuba from arming itself against any invasion.
March 7 - The US State Department publicly calls Castro's allegations "shocking and without foundations."
Mar. 9 The Havana liberal newspaper El Mundo was confiscated by the government.
March 11 US citizen arrested at Havana airport attempting to hijack an airplane
.
March 13 - Fidel Castro sent a diplomatic message to the State Department saying that Cuba had no proof of American sabotage, but that Cuba had the "right to wonder whether those who want to destroy our revolution by economic means will stop short of other means."
March 14 The State Department declared in a position paper that the Cuban revolution seemed to have moved closer to communism. [At the time the Central Intelligence Agency had reports that contradicted the State Department]
March 16 - Law No. 757 established the Junta Central de Planificación (JUCEPLAN) with the mission to plan the economic development of the island.
March 17 THE U.S. PRESIDENT TELLS THE CIA TO BEGIN THE TRAINING OF CUBAN EXILES IN ORDER TO OVERTHROW CASTRO. [Note: the training of exiles actually began, at least, one month earlier]
March 18 - Brazil's government offers to mediate. The U.S. government turned down the offer again.
Mar. 19 - US Ambassador Philip Bonsal again returns to Cuba after having participated in discussions to plan the creation of an exile military force to invade the island.
March 21 - US Secretary of State at a press conference asserts that the Cuban government was dominated by Communist sympathizers.
March 22 H.L. Runoquist and Wm. Skergalen died after their small planes were shot in Cuban airspace. The two were involved in sabotaging sugar mills.
March 25 - Cuba protests the charges made by the Secretary of State (Two days previously the State Department announced that a new agency had been set up to control air flights of small planes in the southern US. But information had to be provided on a voluntary basis. Airplane sabotage from
US territory continued.)
March 27 - An elementary school for 800 students is established in the Sierra Maestra in memory of Jose A. Antonio Echeverria (who died on March 13, 1957, during the attack of the Presidential Palace).
March 31 Cuban government signed a commercial agreement with Poland.
April 8 In a letter to the Federation of Chilean University students, President Eisenhower accused Fidel Castro of BETRAYING THE IDEALS OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTION.
Apr. 9 Fidel Castro stated at a press conference that the American president, a reactionary, has no right whatever to judge the Cuban revolution for that is an internal matter that concerns only Cubans.
Apr. 18 Nicaragua government breaks diplomatic relations with Cuba. [At the time the CIA began preparations for the training of Cuban exiles there].
Apr. 19 President Osvaldo Dorticós refutes President Eisenhower and asks him why he was not concerned with the destiny of Cuba when Batista ruled as a ruthless dictator. "Where was Mr. Eisenhower when napalm was dropped on
Cuban peasants? Where was Mr. Eisenhower when the press was not allowed to express its views?" Dorticos denounced the US government for putting pressure on Cuba in order to defeat the country's hopes for social justice.
The first Soviet oil tanker arrived to Havana.
Apr. 20 The State Department in a public statement called the Cuban government a "dictatorship."
Apr. 21 Fidel Castro answered the State Department by noting that almost everyone on the island supported the government and that the problem was that the U.S. government only represented the interests of the minority: "To
them, democracy is to respect the interests of a minority. Dictatorship, to them, is to defend the needs and demands of the majority of the people."
Apr. 22 Honduras broke relations with Cuba.
Apr. 25 The Cuban Foreign Minister charges that the CIA HAS BEGUN THE TRAINING OF EXILES IN GUATEMALA. (This was true.)
Establishment of the Banco de Comercio Exterior which becomes the only exporter and importer of goods. The state begins to control foreign trade.
Apr. 28 - Guatemalan government denied any military training was taking place and ended diplomatic relations with Cuba. [The Guatemalan government lied].
May 1 Fidel Castro charged the US government with recruiting counterrevolutionaries to overthrow the revolutionary government. At the time the CIA had organized, funded and coordinated the Frente Revolucionario Democratico en el Exilio - made up of 5 exile groups: the Movimiento de
Recuperación Revolucionario (middle class, Havana based, Catholic); Rescate Revolucionario (some old Autánticos); Democratico Cubano (small Christian demo­cratic group, young); the Asociacion Montecristi (anti-communist
a profession­al group, closely connected to the Autánticos); and the Frente Nacional Triple A and the CIA (a split-off from the Autánticos). [Note: The old Ortodoxos were not as involved in this effort].
May 5 The headquarters of the University Students Federation at the University of Habana was blown up by a huge bomb placed by counter-revolutionaries.
May 6 - Jacques Monard [Ramón Mercader - a Spaniard] - the man who killed Leon Trotsky in Mexico, arrived in Havana after more than 20 years in prison. the Mexican President, Adolfo Lopez Mateos, at the time, was a CIA asset.
May 8 Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the USSR were formally established.
May 12 Ernest Duke, American pilot, shot over the city of Havana as he was dropping incendiary bombs.
May 13 The workers of the pro-Francisco Franco newspaper Diario de la Marina refuse to print the newspaper after an editorial openly supported the US position against the revolutionary regime. The 100 years old Spanish conservative newspaper was closed. Its facilities were to be used to print literary classics and children's books. The paper was symbolically "buried" by thousands of Cubans. In 1895 the paper celebrated the death of José Martí.
May 16 Cuba and Czechoslovakia established diplomatic relations. The same day the Catholic Church in Havana issued a pastoral letter declaring that communism was at "doorstep." [Meaning the doorstep of the United States].
May 28 - All economic and military aid to Cuba was cancelled by the U .S. government.
June 1- First Cuban delegation arrived in Moscow. The USSR announces the selling of oil to Cuba.
June 6- Foreign oil companies in the island informed the Cuban government that they do not intend to refine Soviet crude oil.
June 6 The U.S. State Department again called the Cuban revolution "communist."
June 6- Paraguay broke diplomatic relations with Cuba.
June 9 - Fidel Castro declared in a speech that the U.S. government was "paving the way for a military invasion by calling the revolution 'communist."
June 11- Cuban government orders foreign oil refineries to process state oil purchased from the USSR. (A clarification note: On May 17 the National Bank of Cuba, run by Che Guevara at the time, sent each US oil company in
Cuba a letter. The letter informed them that the trade agreement reached with the Russians involved the exchange of Cuban sugar for Russian crude oil. The letter went on to state that the US refineries in Cuba could still buy some of their supplies abroad but that 300,000 tons of Russian crude oil would be furnished to them since it would save Cuban capital. In other words, oil refineries had to BUY some oil from the Cuban state at the CHEAPER rate than what they paid to their own subsidiaries. But by June 11, the companies REFUSED to refine the crude oil.
June 15 Two FBI agents and US embassy employees were arrested at a private home accused of conspiring against the Cuban government. All were declared persona non grata and sent to the United States.
June 27- Fidel Castro at a speech states that "whomever 1s anti-communist is, by definition, a counterrevolutionary."
June 28 U.S. refineries in Cuba were asked to refine the Soviet oil and once again refused to do so.
July 1 - The Cuban State "intervenes" all US and British oil refineries. ('Intervention" is NOT confiscation. It means that the state takes over the administrative aspect of the enterprise but the company remains private. The profits still go the private owners.)
July 5 - THE U.S. PRESIDENT CUTS THE QUOTA OF SUGAR ALLOTED TO CUBA FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR. That is, Cuba can not sell 700,000 tons of sugar to the
United States.
José Miró Cardona, former Prime Minister of the revolutionary government, seeks asylum in the Argentine Embassy.
July 6 - Cuban government issued Nationalization Law, giving the Cuban state the power to take over all foreign, including American assets.
July 8 - Fidel Castro calls the cutting the sugar quota an act of "economic aggression. " He promised that the revolutionary regime would take over all US property on the island if Cuba permanently lost its share of the quota.
July 9 - the USSR agrees to buy whatever Cuban sugar the U. S. refused to buy.
July 10 - At a mass meeting outside the Presidential Palace, Che Guevara thanks the USSR and declares that "Cuba is a glorious island in the center of the Caribbean, defended the rockets of the greatest power in history."
July 17 - Havana Cathedral holds mass "to remember all the victims of communism."
July 25 First commercial treaty between China and Cuba was signed.
July 26 - Fidel Castro states that the Andes will be the future Sierra Maestra of Latin America. He states that the conditions for social revolution are also present in Latin America.
July 30 - The First Latin American Youth Congress held in Havana. Student activists from the hemisphere met in the island.
August 6 - Cuban government nationalized 36 sugar mills, the Telephone Company, all property of US capital. These properties amounted to $800 million.
August 7 - Catholic Church issues another pastoral letter denouncing communism Cuba.
Aug. 15 - The Organization of American States at a meeting in Costa Rica issues a declaration condemning Cuba for its radicalism, the takeover of foreign property and charged that Cuba was controlled by international communism. The statement was prepared by the United States government.
Aug. 16 Cuba celebrates the anniversary of the death of Eduardo Chibás.
Aug. 17 - Arrival of first Soviet Ambassador to Cuba.
September 2 - The Cuban revolutionary government calls the biggest rally ever held in the country. The rally is in answer to the OAS declaration. The Cuban revolutionaries issue a counter document, known as the First Declaration of Havana.
September 3 - The government of Taiwan broke relations with Cuba as Havana established formal diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China.
September 4 - Cuban government withdrew from the Inter-American Defense Treaty and also from the Military Pact it had with the United States.
September 8 - Three US embassy personnel are declared persona non grata for engaging in counter-revolutionary activities and expelled.
Sept. 14 - Fidel Castro arrived in New York to attend the 15th Assembly of the United Nations. There he denounces the US for preparing a military invasion of Cuba. The US delegate denied the charges.
Sept. 15 - Cuban private corporations began a lockout/boycott of the government, hoping to overthrow it. But the government confiscates their holdings instead.
Sept. 16 - Cuba and Hungary established diplomatic relations.
Sept. 17 - All U.S. banks are nationalized in Cuba.
Sept. 18 - Ernesto Che Guevara announced that Cuba has received weapons from Czechoslovakia.
Sept. 26 - Fidel Castro delivers an historic speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations. He enumerated all the economic and military aggressions committed against Cuba since 1959. He also defined his political and social program, announcing that by 1961 Cuba will eradicate illiteracy. He demanded US withdrawal from Guantanamo Base and urged the US government to leave behind it the "philosophy of war and plunder."
The same day Soviet weapons began to arrive in Cuba.
Sept. 28 - Fidel Castro returns to Havana and gives a speech about his trip to the U.N. While he speaks at Revolution Square [Plaza de la Revolución], several bombs explode. The idea occurs to him during the speech to create some institution to defend the revolution against the reactionaries, so the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution are formed. [Note a similar measure was taken by the French revolutionaries under Maximilien Robespierre in 1791]
October 6 - Four US citizens apparently working for the Us government landed in the north coast of Cuba and were captured and imprisoned.
Oct. 7 - Cuba and Bulgaria established commercial relations.
Oct. 11 - U.S. citizen captured in Escambray mountains, he was part of a counterrevolutionary guerrilla group.
Oct. 13 - All Cuban and foreign banks nationalized. (The Canadian banks were purchased.) 182 foreign enterprises were confiscated. Thus by mid-October, a large portion of the means of production was already under state control. (376 Cuban enterprises were nationalized too).
Oct. 14 - Urban Reform Law establishes that all dwellings then rented will become state property, although owners will keep receiving rents until they die. People paying rent will end up as owners (rents became amortization payments).
Oct. 19 - the US PROHIBITS THE SHIPMENT OF ALL GOODS TO CUBA, medicine excepted.
Oct. 20 - any US property remaining in Cuba was nationalized.
Oct. 21 - the Association of Rebel Youth was created. (Later it will become the youth section of the Communist Party.)
Oct. 21 US Ambassador Bonsal was recalled to the U.S. Bonsal never returned.
Oct. 26 - Cuba and Rumania established diplomatic relations.
Oct. 28 - Che Guevara left Cuba for a commercial and diplomatic tour of the USSR, Eastern Europe and China.
Nov. 7 - 700 Russian technicians arrived to Cuba.
Nov. 12 - Major Rolando Cubela, head of the Federation of University students, in a public speech charges the Catholic Church with having "esbirros con sotanas" (i.e. torturers passing as priests) within its ranks. [Years later Cubela will be known as AMLASH - a covert CIA agent within the
Cuban government. Cubela was a member of the Directorio Revolucionario that fought against Fulgencio Batista. He was NOT a member of the 26th of July Movement. After 1959 he did not play a significant role in the revolutionary regime].
Nov. l4 - The C.I.A. charges that at least 12 Russian ships have unloaded weapons in Cuba since July 1960.
Nov. 16 - The Cuban government puts on trial American mercenaries that had been captured since 1959.
Nov. 22 - The People's Republic of China agrees to send 600 technicians to organize agricultural cooperatives.
Nov. 30 - China promises to purchase one million tons of sugar in 1961 and grants Cuba a credit worth $60 million for a five year period
Dec. 2 - Cuba and North Vietnam established diplomatic and commercial relations.
Dec. 15 - Cuba and Albania established diplomatic ties.
Dec. 16 - President Eisenhower cancels the Cuban sugar quota for 1961.
Dec. 17 - Cuba and Hungary established relations.
Dec. 20 - Che Guevara announces to the Cuban people a large industrialization program that he said would make the country an industrial nation in ten years.
Dec. 23 - All major newspapers had been confiscated by then.
Dec. 27 - The Ambassador of the People's Republic of China arrives in Havana.
Dec. 30 - Peru broke diplomatic and commercial relations with Cuba.
NOTE -- Throughout December, all military forces in Cuba were placed at readiness expecting an invasion from the U.S.- believed to be imminent. This was the end of Eisenhower administration. The Kennedy administration would come to office in January 1961. The Cuban government assumed that during the transition there might be a military invasion since the Central Intelligence Agency was training Cuban exiles in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

La Cachita Y El Ché: Patron Saints Of Revolutionary Cuba

 

September 8, 2014

By Nelson P. Valdés as told to Nan Elsasser* in 1989

They are an unlikely duo: she is self-centered and he is self-sacrificing.
She likes to dance; he thinks it’s a waste of time. She is a hedonist; he is
a fervent Marxist. She is originally from Africa; he was born in Argentina.
About all they have in common is striking good looks and the love and
adoration of the Cuban people who have adopted them.

Official Cuba lionizes Ché Guevara, the hero who fought his way to power by
Fidel Castro’s side and was killed by government soldiers in Bolivia. When
Cuban soldiers return from supporting the Marxist regime in Angola, they are
awarded medals for following “el camino del Ché” (the path of Ché). Yet
within a few days of receiving their medals, the same soldiers will visit
Cachita’s shrine and leave their medals among the gifts of her devotees.

Cuba’s political, economic, and cultural life rests significantly on a shaky
compromise between the values represented by Cachita and Ché.

The Santuario/Basilica of Caridad del Cobre, called Cachita, the patron
saint of Cuba, is 12 miles west of the city of Santiago, over 400 kilometers
east of the Museo de La Revolución in Havana. It is at the Ermita, as well
as at the museum, that the rich history of revolutionary Cuba is on
display, flickering in the shadows of votive candles. In the half-light of
the tiny flames is the vial of hometown dirt that orbited the planet with
Comandante Tamayo, the first and only Cuban astronaut; gold, silver, and
bronze medals from the recent Pan American games in Indianapolis; and
petitions from Fidel’s mother from the days when her son was fighting in the
sierra nearby. Side by side with these artifacts of national unity and
revolutionary sacrifice are letters requesting a new car or a bigger
apartment, and the traditional honey and cigar left in exchange for good
sex.

In this small island nation, the fact that young communist
internacionalistas, the spiritual heirs of Ché, pay homage to a virgin from
Spanish colonial times surprises no one. Nor does the fact that Caridad,
alleged mother of God, most sacred of Catholic icons, bears the decidedly
unholy nickname of “Cachita,” central character of a popular song that
choruses: “Cachita está alborotá, ahora baila el cha cha chá (Cachita is
wild now she’s dancing the cha cha cha).”

Caridad del Cobre is not what she appears to be. And hundreds of thousands
of Cubans know the truth: Cachita Caridad del Cobre is neither Catholic,
Spanish, nor white. She is Oshún, the mulatto goddess of pleasure. An
African hedonist masquerading as a Spanish saint, a Catholic shrine in a
communist country, consumerist dreams in a revolutionary setting – Caridad
del Cobre epitomizes the contradictions and combinations of Cuban life. In
the past and in the present, Cubans have learned to live comfortably with
the combination of power politics and mystical imagery.

In a country accustomed to signs from the other world, it was logical, for
example, that Fulgencio Batista chose December 31 [rather than January 1st]
to abandon power and flee to the Dominican Republic. For Cubans, it is
essential to leave the old year’s problems behind before a new year begins.
On the last day of December housewives all over Cuba “se hacen la limpieza”;
they throw a bucket of water on the floor of the innermost room and sweep it
through the house and out the front door, pushing evil spirits along with
the dirty water. If Batista had remained, he would have been burdened
throughout the coming year with the bad karma of his defeat.

Nor were Habaneros surprised when a relatively unknown Fidel Castro
descended from the mountains of Oriente. Since Spaniards first landed in
Cuba with boatloads of human cargo in the early 1500s, the easternmost
province has been a refuge for those escaping tyranny. For the past three
hundred years, Santiago and the mountains that surround it have been the
actual and symbolic home of freedom. a cradle of rebellion, and the
preferred territory of the African gods called santos. In Oriente, where
Santería (the worship of African gods with the names of Catholic saints) is
the dominant religion, everyone understood when Fidel came down from the
mountain and told the assembled masses, ” . .I do not speak in my name. I
speak in the name of the thousands and thousands … who made victory
possible. I speak in the name of our dead … This time the dead will
continue to be in command.” It does not really matter that Castro was
probably expressing his heartfelt commitment to those who died in the
struggle to overturn Batista.

To believers, those words, like the white eleke (necklace) he wore around
his neck, were a sure sign that the gods were speaking through Fidel. Any
doubts were dispelled on January 8, when Fidel first entered Havana and
addressed the Cuban nation. I remember that day, because my family owned the
only TV on the block. Everyone in the neighborhood was either in our living
room, standing in the doorway, or looking in through the front window. We
were all listening to Fidel with one ear and to a neighbor with the other.
Until, seemingly from nowhere, three doves appeared and, illuminated by
television lights, circled Camp Columbia where Fidel was speaking. As if on
cue, one landed on the podium, and all of Cuba went silent. When the second
dove perched on Fidel’s shoulder, people gasped, then began chanting,
“Fi-del. Fi-del.” Over the years, many interpretations of this phenomenon
have circulated. The New York Times said the dove symbolized the dawn of
peace in a troubled land; the conservative Cuban press claimed the Holy
Spirit had blessed the revolution. Both missed the mark because, appearances
notwithstanding, neither Catholic nor Marxist-Leninist interpretations of
reality have deep roots in Cuba. Behind the icons and the anti-imperialist
billboards beat Santería drums.

Originally, Santería was a new world synthesis of various animist religions
from southwest Nigeria. When threatened by Spanish slave owners for
practicing heathen rites, African slaves clothed their beliefs in the
protective coloring of
Catholicism, and a new synthesis occurred. Today, the two religions share
the same altars, the same images, sacred dates, and even prayers. In January
1988, Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana visited the chapel of Santa
Barbara in nearby Guines (reputed to be a “bewitched” town). He was moved by
the profound devotion be observed, which be chose to interpret as a
manifestation of strong Catholic faith. But this chapel is maintained by
santeros, not priests. And while the forms of these two religions overlap,
the content does not. The eighty-year-old mayordomo who cleans and protects
the church will tell you that the real power dwells behind the statue of
Santa Barbara in the otá, or sacred stone of Changó. What distinguishes otá
from other stones is that sacred stones are alive. They grow up and have
children, assuring worshippers of a steady supply of supernatural energy.

The otá is not the only difference between Catholicism and Santería.
According to santero theology, Olofi created the universe. Initially, his
creation was immobile, but soon, bored with the static cosmos, be added
plants, animals, flowers, seas, clouds, rain, human beings, and more than
three hundred male and female gods called orishas. Each orisha, or santo,
bears both an African Yoruba name and a Catholic name, as well as unique
personalities and powers. Obatalá, for example, is unimpressed by money.
Oshún, on the other hand, adores it, although she prefers a good party.
Elegguá alone determines the future. What he predicts cannot be forestalled
by man, woman, or other gods.

Unfortunately, by populating the heavens with so many strong characters,
Olofi had also created interminable wrangling. Tired of endless conflict, he
chose Obatalá to rule over other gods and human beings, who were also
behaving poorly. Obatalá, who speaks through Fidel, is the leader, the god
of thinking and consciousness. He is also the god of justice.

In Santería, both men and women serve as santeros. Over them are the
babalawos, who have the power to make animal sacrifices, initiate believers
into the religion and read the future with the Ifá oracle or with the eight
largest pieces of a smashed coconut shell. Although there is a titular
“king” of babalawos, he lacks the theocratic and administrative control of a
Catholic pope. There are no “Thou shalt nots” that apply to all in Santeria.
Believers do not attain salvation through good works and a pure heart. They
get what they want in direct proportion to the adequacy of their offerings
and following what your orisha expects.

The santos communicate their feelings via the orishas, or supernatural
messengers. White doves are the messengers of Obatalá, the right-hand man of
the god of all creation. Thus when the bird landed on Fidel, everyone
watching knew that Castro was blessed; he was El Elegido (The Chosen One).
Since then, Fidel bas been called El Caballo (the Horse), the term used to
designate someone whom an orisha has mounted and possessed.

On January 8, 1989, thirty years after the triumph of the Cuban revolution,
Fidel spoke once again from Camp Columbia, and once again a white dove
perched on his shoulder. He spoke of sacrifice, commitment, and hard work,
and he invoked the spirit of Ché. But masses of Cubans attending the annual
event saw and heard the spirit of Obatalá – whether the dove, like the site,
was orchestrated, is irrelevant. What is important is the continuing
influence of Santería on Cuban popular culture, and, consequently, on
political life. Contemporary Cuban values are rooted in a past without hope.
Africans who had been seized and transported in chains across an ocean,
deprived of family, land, and language, had little incentive to believe in
their power to shape the future. Unlike Pilgrims, Puritans, and even
indentured servants, their futures were determined by the whims of a slave
master. In this despondent milieu, Santería was born and flourished. And in
times, led to revolts. A stepchild of medieval Catholicism and African
polytheism, Santería is the antithesis of Calvinism.

The descendants of slaves and landless peasants were convinced by the slave
plantation that material and spiritual well-being is not the reward for hard
work and clean living. Three hundred years of experience taught them that
happiness is fleeting and often achieved only at someone else’s expense.
Whether you acquire a new house or lose the one you already have, whether
the sugar content of cane is high or low, whether the economy prospers or
stagnates, depends not on budgeting, technology, or international banking
policies; it is in the hands of a pantheon of capricious gods. The Cuban
revolution has attempted to change that.

When Oshún asks for a sacrifice, she expects you to kill a pigeon; she is
unimpressed by Ché’s sacrifice, the kind where you die fighting
imperialists. Nor is she impressed by a capitalist working others or himself
to death, accumulating money for the benefit of generations down the road. A
people who worship the goddess of sex, lover of gold, and patron of parties
is not a people favorably disposed to endure the hardships required to
surmount economic dependency and construct socialism. Yet, Santería has
taught endurance.

No one knows this better than Fidel Castro. For thirty years, Fidel, chief
apostle of revolutionary sacrifice, has dedicated himself to transforming
the ideology of the Cuban people; for thirty years he bas exhorted his
people to scorn the siren Cachita for the selfless Ché.

As perestroika rolled across the former Soviet Union and much of eastern
Europe, Fidel pushed “rectification” – a return to asceticism, voluntarism,
and collectivism. Political pundits interpreted Fidel’s endless sermons as a
direct challenge to Gorbachev’s neo capitalist policies. But Castro’s devil
was not Russian; she was/is a happy-go-lucky, mulatto goddess who cha-chas
to the name of Cachita. In a 1979 speech, Castro said, ” .. the most
powerful weapon … is an ethic, a consciousness, a sense of duty, a sense
of organization, discipline, and responsibility.”

Castro knows that to bring prosperity and socialism to an underdeveloped
society, he must provide Cuban citizens with a revolutionary version of the
Protestant ethic. He has to make people believe in their power to shape
their individual and collective futures. They must have faith that in their
labor lies the foundation for the future. In other words, they must emulate
Ché, a man who gave everything and asked nothing in return, a guerrilla who
believed devoutly in his ability to shape the forces of history by sheer
willpower. To this end, whenever children in the Young Pioneers (a Cuban
version of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. organized by the Communist Party)
set off to work in the fields or march in a parade, they raise their right
band and pledge, “Seremos como el Ché (We will be like Ché).’

Ironically, the same government which expends tremendous energy inculcating
revolutionary values has inadvertently enhanced the power and prestige of
Santería. When Castro assumed control of Cuba, be did not exhort the poor to
construct socialism through voluntary labor. As the bourgeoisie fled, the
revolutionaries seized their assets and distributed them among their former
servants, prompting the poet Nicolás Guillén, to write: “Te lo prometió
Martí y Fidel te lo cumplió.” (What Martí – hero of the Cuban war for
independence – promised, Fidel delivered).

In Santeria, promesa is a contract with a god-if you make an adequate
offering, your petition is granted. This unexpected bonanza reinforced many
people’s belief in magic. According to the First Party Congress in 1975,
Santería was permissible as folklore, a relic of an ignorant past. When
religious superstitions failed to wither away, the ever-pragmatic Castro did
more than recognize them: he permitted a national association of babalawos,
invited the Nigerian king of all santeros for a visit and promised to build
a temple and hold a national congress of santeros. In the interim, Santería
benefited from the revolutionary leadership’s confrontations with the
Catholic Church. As the authority of recognized “official” religion was
curtailed then, the influence of Santería expanded to fill the vacuum.

Finally, Santería’s prestige was augmented by the mass movement of Cuban
troops and technicians to Africa, where religions similar to Santería are
practiced openly. More than 200,000 Cubans have visited the motherland over
the last ten years. This re-acquaintance, instigated by the government, has
made it more difficult to repress African-inspired religions.

Castro is not unaware of the extraordinary convergence between Santería and
revolutionary holy days, nor is he above manipulating their significance.
January 1, the day of El Triunfo, is also Elegguá’s day. July 26, officially
commemorated as the commencement of the struggle against Batista, is also
celebrated as the day of St. Ann, mother of Mary, who, as any Cuban can tell
you, is really the benevolent Nana Burukú, goddess of Justice and mother of
Babalú-ayé. No one knows if it is coincidence or foresight that the red and
black of the 26th of July Movement happened to be the colors of this
powerful goddess.

But relying on signs from the gods is risky business. In 1987, the Ifa
Oracle, the annual prediction for the new year, announced that Castro would
die unless the Yoruba “king of kings; , the “great Oni” of babalawos,
traveled to Cuba and kissed the ground. The revolutionary government duly
issued the invitation, and a picture of the great Oni arriving at the José
Martí Airport in Havana graced the front page of Granma, the newspaper of
the Communist Party. Reportedly, the Nigerian kissed the ground. Fidel did
not die. And neither has Santería. Contemporary Cuban politics is the child
of an unlikely marriage. The children of the revolution admire Ché, their
handsome, idealistic leader; they worship Cachita, their beautiful,
fun-loving mother, and they hope to grow up to be both.

*Nan Elsasser is a free-lance writer and has lived and taught in the Caribbean.