Wednesday, February 15, 2012

'He is the Same Fidel as Always': Nine Hours of Dialogue With the Leader of the Revolution

Havana. February 14, 2012

He is the same Fidel as always"

Arleen Rodríguez and Rosa Míriam Elizalde

NINE hours of conversation, with two brief recesses. This can be said quickly, but anyone who has followed the leader of the Cuban Revolution during the last 50 years knows that these 540 minutes presuppose the intensity of a number of libraries and a lasting emotional charge, which will not be forgotten by those who experienced it.

"He is the same Fidel as always," affirmed Ignacio Ramonet, author of One Hundred Hours with Fidel, commented. "What an inexhaustible and privileged memory," observed Fina García Marruz, poet and National Literature Prize winner.

In the heat of the "Encounter of Intellectuals for Peace and Environmental Conservation," a title which does not cover the many issues discussed, 69 intellectuals from 21 countries attending the 21st International Book Fair of Havana, and 48 eminent Cuban writers, thinkers and scientists found a intimate Fidel who gave his full attention to every speaker. At the same time, for him they were sources of nourishment for his inexhaustible curiosity. When they were expressing ideas, one could follow the direction of the Cuban leader’s thoughts by his expression, or his habitual gestures of touching his face with his index finger or reflectively stroking his beard.

With the presence at the encounter, in Havana’s International Convention Center, of Mexican Sergio Pitol, Cervantes Prize 2005 and Nobel Peace Prize winner Argentine Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, issues gravitated around the most pressing issues. Sometimes the tone was of notable concern, such as the possible extinction of humanity, the exhaustion of the planet’s natural resources, the perversions of media transnationals and the appearance of military and mind control devices which nobody could have imagined in their worst fantasies.

Uruguayan-Cuban Daniel Chavarría, winner of the National Literature Prize, based his words on Fidel’s capacity for being ahead of events, of being a kind of "historical prophesier," as well as a tactical pessimist and strategic optimist, as someone recalled later. Basically, Chavarría wanted the leader to say whether, in a world at the point of going to the winds and with an enormous problem on its shoulders, he should be alarmed or stay calm. Fidel unhesitatingly replied, "In order to remain calm you have to think about the problem and fight against it."

One of the best ways of helping the act of "thinking about the problem" is to provide peoples with as much information as possible. Fidel recommended that contributions to the encounter should be compiled into a book in order to disseminate the ideas expressed. The intellectuals present could revise their words, edit them and add what they might have forgotten in the heat of the dialogue. "Given that we are very pressed, there’s no need for haste," he said.

The conversation also took off in surprising directions, as when Brazilian Marilia Guimaraes provided news about a friend of Fidel, the architect Oscar Niemeyer – now 104 years of age. "His mind is extremely lucid and he often asks after ‘the 85-year-old boy.’" Amused, the leader of the Revolution asked, "Why don’t we make a genetic study of him?" Or when he asked Neri Francisco Romero, Culture Minister of the Balearic Islands, to remind him from where Argentine San Martín descended to Chile. He entrusted German Harri Grünberg with enquiring into how his country intends to replace nuclear energy, as announced by the German government in the wake of the Japanese Fukushima plant disaster. And Santiago Alba Rico, "Arab by adoption and a homeless European who, like many others, moves about defending Cuba," was asked many questions on the post-revolt situation in Tunisia – where Alba Rico lives – its economy and agriculture and even its wine and date production.

That is why Frei Betto, author of the memorable book Fidel and Religion, commented in the encounter, "Many people here, Like Santiago Alba from Tunisia, have experienced what an oral test in a Jesuit school means. It’s hard. That’s where Fidel comes from."


Zuleica Romay, president of the Cuban Book Institute, and Culture Minister Abel Prieto accompanied Fidel on the platform table facing the audience. Romay, recently awarded the Casa de las Américas Prize, opened the session by introducing those present and giving an excellent presentation which immediately animated debate. Prieto acted as moderator and gave the floor to Ignacio Ramonet, who had received an Honorary Degree in Communication from the University of Havana that morning, February 10.

The theme of the use and abuse of the media immediately held everyone’s attention, and was the backbone of discussions and agreements which came out of the meeting, being the common verbal tool for penetrating the wall of lies, media truths and distortions accompanying current strategies of domination. "One has to start out from the principle that, today, information within the media system operates like merchandise," affirmed Ramonet, reproducing a synthesis of his speech at the University of Havana.

"Information today is merchandise, but a very particular one, insofar as it is free. The majority of us, when we consume information through the radio, television, Internet and even the written press – there are many free daily newspapers today – do not pay for it. How is it that a system which is always so concerned about benefit, is making the circulation of information free of charge? Because these days, the information trade does not consist of selling information to people, but in selling people advertising," he added.

"This has converted the dominant information system into a producer of trivial, Manichean news, very short so that anyone can understand it, written with an arsenal of 600 basic words which suppress any kind of nuance and which appeal to emotional influences over and above rational ones. The more communication there is, the more money enterprises earn. In this context, information is a strategic raw material," the researcher commented.

On the other hand, he stated, media power within globalization can only be conceived of as the twin of financial power. "Who has the power to pacify, domesticate societies? The media apparatus?" and he acknowledged that this media-financial link is more powerful than political power, which has lost ground to the point that transnationals are literally sweeping the floor with politicians. "Is it because the media has more freedom today than before? The answer is no, what is happening is that political leaders have less power than before and the media is taking advantage of this weakening and the absence of authority to attack on behalf of objectives set by the financial power."

Ramonet sees only one way out and hence the importance of this kind of encounter, with the privilege of Fidel leading it. "It is the moment for creating a fifth column, with the current possibility afforded us by Internet via social networks for producing and disseminating our own news, an opportunity which we have never had, without believing that the democratization of information will arrive in its own right. But now we have instruments which will allow us to intervene, modify, give opinions and not only passive, internal ones, but participative at the general level. They will allow us to lead as citizens, as a fifth power, capable of creating a counterweight to this superpower which has been constituted."


Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel used precise words to identify latent risks. "Domination does not begin with economic domination, but cultural domination," he stated, going on to observe, "The system is screwed, but intelligent."

In response to attempts to establish "a mono-cultivation of the mind," the Argentine intellectual called for resistance in the face of cultural domination. "We have no prescriptions, but we have forms of constructing, thinking and doing. In Latin America we are all living indignados."

In their comments, Argentine writer Vicente Battista, Salvadorian playwright Lina Cerritos and the Culture ministers of Angola, Ecuador and Jamaica also alluded to cultural resistance, standing up to domination, environmental conservation, and the importance of discussing ideas.


The Telesur network was mentioned more than once and the leader of the Cuban Revolution also praised it more than once "for working very seriously and professionally and for being heard more and more."

"I like Telesur very much," he said during discussions on how to confront the lies of the enemy’s powerful media apparatus. Fidel acknowledged that he is no longer bothered about these lies. "The problem is not in the lies they say, but that we cannot prevent them. What we are looking at today is how we ourselves state the truth." At this point, he mentioned Telesur as one of the most valuable instruments for disseminating this truth. The key, according to Fidel, is to inform television viewers.

He commented that he prefers this network because of its volume of political and sports news. "Half sports and half politics," he said and praised its approach to the region’s valuable heritage and its lack of advertisements, a plague bombarding media users almost everywhere in the world.

In an animated exchange with Francisco Sesto, Venezuelan minister for the reconstruction of Caracas, he inquired about plans for housing and other social projects being developed by the Bolivarian government and exposed "the propaganda and publicity apparatus being fired at Chávez."

Carlos Frabetti, an Italian living in Spain and a well-known writer of literature for children and young adults, also referred to the subject of advertising. "Advertising tries to convince us that happiness is possessing more than others, when happiness is having more with others," he commented. Children are the most vulnerable to advertising, he said, congratulating Cuba on not being subjected to this aggression, because Europeans can receive up to 1,000 advertising impacts every day.

Frabetti admires Cuba for being a country in which children rarely cry. Children living in places under constant consumer stimulus become frustrated and react with aggression. He recalled Plutarch, the Ancient Greek historian, who said, "Children are not vessels to be filled, but flames that have to be fed."

This analysis prompted Fidel to reflect more deeply on his aversion to advertising, which the Cuban Revolution has never utilized, not even as a means of testifying to its positive actions.

Everything that Cuba has done for other peoples was without any desire for competitiveness, publicity or propaganda, he commented, affirming that the spirit of solidarity is part of the foundations of the Revolution which triumphed in January of 1959. In those early years, Cuba had 6,000 doctors and many of them left for the United States when the economic and political blockade was put in place. However, at the same time, some of the professionals who joined the revolutionary process were also prepared to go to Algeria to help that country. "Thus Cuba’s internationalist tradition began," Fidel noted, recalling that "the initial aid for Angola was transported in the old Britannia aircraft that we had. We did it without seeking any limelight."

Experience was added to these principles, intertwined with what Fidel called "an honorable politics, not exempt from errors, but honorable." He added, "The ideas which we defend are based on experience, they are not simply imaginings. We have experienced them."


Writer Miguel Bonasso recalled with emotion a seemingly insignificant episode in February of 2006, when Fidel wrote the following dedication on the first page of a book which he was given, "With great hope in youth and that the world will continue to exist," an idea which, six years later, is once again on the Cuban leader’s horizon.

He shared another anecdote which took place one night in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, just after the earthquake in northern Pakistan in October of 2005 and when the decision had been made to send a Cuban medical brigade to the aid of the victims. Bonasso recalled that Fidel said, "The winter and the cold are coming now and thousands upon thousands of people have lost their homes in the mountains. What will happen to these people, to the women and children?" The Argentine writer added, "You are the only statesman I have known to have the capacity of thinking sensitively and whom I have seen deeply moved by the drama of the people. I am still moved on recalling this exceptional sensitivity of yours."

Of course, Bonasso is deeply preoccupied with the issue currently agitating Argentine opinion: the latest British colonial aggression in the Malvinas. On this, the leader of the Cuban Revolution stated, "They have no choice but to negotiate and leave. What they have done is totally brazen: they even dispatched a destroyer and a helicopter with the Prince as a pilot." He added, "The Americans definitely won’t be very happy about that. The situation is not one of war, but pressure has to put on them."

There is a way of doing that, Bonasso replied, Law No. 26569, which establishes that British companies operating in the Malvinas cannot do so within the Argentine continent.

"Pinochet’s no longer here; he was the one who helped the British in their last war on Argentina. They are desperate, and that’s the way in which they reacted when Uruguay recently vetoed the entry of a British ship flying the Malvinas flag. They have no business there, the only option left open to them is to leave," Fidel stated.


"I came to listen to you, to learn from you," the Comandante en Jefe insisted when some of the invitees expressed concern for his efforts. This prompted a speech from the Argentine political scientist Atilio Borón, who recalled the absurd divisions within the left which at times provoke censure from those who share higher ideals. "These are old habits which will gradually be eliminated," observed Fidel.

Returning to the emphasis of many people in the audience on the need to make maximum use of social networks, Borón noted that during recent events in North Africa, the idea that Internet could act as a social dynamic was widely circulated but, according to statistics, barely 20% of the population has access to the network in this region. He also noted the military origin of Internet and its surveillance of everyone.

Fidel then observed how the use and abuse of technology has ended people’s privacy. "All aspects of their personal lives are explored and this surveillance is being carried out by those who consider themselves champions of individual rights."

He joked about certain people still believing in code and commented that the yankee secret in wars has always been to know these codes. He went on to talk about devices already at the advanced research stage which can transmit electricity through appliances of barely one atom in height, from drone aircraft, and of the possibility of making soldiers subconsciously react to electronic orders more rapidly than by traditional means. The persons inventing them, he noted, "are going beyond insanity."

During the exchange, Borón suggested re-instigating the Tricontinental (a meeting of African, Asian and Latin American fighters), because on this side of the world there is still much ignorance of the nature and reach of revolutionary movements in North Africa and people are easily prey to the distortions of media conglomerates.

Earlier, Fidel had described this period of humanity as harsh and difficult, with everyone asking each other what to do, but, always the optimist, he affirmed that there are responses, recalling Telesur.

In terms of the enemy, what most concerns him is that "they believe that they are in control, they try to impose things, but they are not in control. Nobody really knows what is happening." He extended this point to an analysis of the situation in relation to Iran, taking into account historic and immediate antecedents. "The principal truth is the danger of war," he stated.

Utilizing Cuba’s experience during the October Missile Crisis, he warned that the most dangerous aspect is that enemy forces are less and less in control of the terrible forces and processes which they have unleashed. This is the situation of the United States and Europe in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they can neither stay nor go.

Stella Calloni had spoken about war at the beginning of the meeting. The Argentine journalist and writer was distressed at the terrifying silence of the media and part of the left in the face of colonial wars unleashed one after another since 2001 and those threatening to follow the script in Syria and Iran. "We have before us a theme: information as a weapon. That is what leads to war. Words are killing," she reiterated, calling for greater coordination on the Defense of Humanity network in order to "put into action this fifth power – alluding to Ramonet’s expression – creatively."

"If we cannot stop these wars, they will come down on us later… Silence on the part of intellectuals, never again," she affirmed."

Upon introducing invitees at the start of the meeting, Zuleica Romay had asked Fidel how the auditorium appeared to him. "Infinite," he replied, surely thinking, rather than of numbers and time – which always flies when ideas are flowing in function of the common good – about the capability of the men and women accompanying him to multiply their non-acceptance of the current world order and to establish projects and models which can save humanity from its self-destruction.

Translated by Granma International

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