Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fidel Castro Meets With Intellectuals: "The World Should Be a Family"

Havana. February 17 , 2011

Fidel meets with intellectuals: "The world should be a family"

Arléen Rodríguez and Rosa Míriam Elizalde

"I am not talking about saving humanity in terms of centuries or millenniums (…) "We have to begin to save humanity now," said Fidel in a dialogue with writers attending the 20th edition of the International Book Fair, and which continued during more than five hours.

The words of the leader of the Cuban Revolution entailed all the urgency of this sentence, although his conversation with the writers was more relaxed and took various directions, which ranged from extremely high food prices to the protests shaking the Arab world, and taking in education for youth and the verses of the Cuban poet Plácido.

"Humanity has not even learned to survive," and answers to the dramatic problems which face the planet "cannot be postponed," added the Comandante en Jefe in what was a typical reencounter of friends who, not having seen each other for a while, conversed about the swift dynamic of world events in recent days, in recent years, in the last decade. And also about history, and its changes with the passage of time.

Culture Minister Abel Prieto introduced each one of the close to 100 guests, the majority of them known as assiduous participants in the Cuban Book Fair and other cultural and academic events, such as the Conferences of Economists on Globalization and Development.


After his warm words of greeting, Fidel suggested focusing the dialogue on one question: what do you think is the most serious problem we have today?

The responses ranged from the radicalization of progressive processes in the region and the world to the capacity to respond to conflicts which we are not trained to perceive and which take us by surprise. Many agreed on the need to coordinate the forces of the left and make better use of current modes of communication, which are new and challenging.

There was also talk of the possible domino effect of the social rebellions in North Africa and the Middle East, and there was no lack of interest as to how to involve the younger generations in the problems of this period, without them losing themselves in the seas of banality which summon them from every media outlet in the world.

The leader of the Cuban Revolution listened to them attentively, stroked his beard and read a few notes to share with the intellectuals.


"There is one problem which, above all others, if it is not resolved, history won’t even exist. I think that we are facing a crisis of that nature. If I am right, it would be very improper—he noted to himself — but I am an optimist because, on the contrary, I wouldn’t be speaking in these terms. I wouldn’t be talking to you if I believed that life could not be saved."

He went on to outline some of the theories concerning the emergence of the human species and its significance over time. "Apart from it being an issue that we like to discuss," he commented, "the most important aspect is to assess how we are going to preserve life, the more that is meditated upon, the more important ideas we have.

Then, returning to what has been the most recurrent of his paramount concerns as a politician of universal vision, which he expressed close to 20 years ago at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in June of 1992, he warned, "An important biological species is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive destruction of its natural environment: humanity."

"I think that the human species is in real danger of extinction and I think that we can and should make an effort so that this does not happen," he insisted. "That is the principal issue that I would like to discuss with you."


It is impossible to forget the atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, on orders from President Harry Truman, when the end of World War II was imminent. This was "the worse act of terrorism ever committed," and the testimony brought to Cuba by Japanese travelers on the Cruise for Peace was a reminder of this.

Nevertheless, more than half a century later human beings have done no less than surpass the irrational. The destructive power of current weapons is equivalent to 450,000 times those which marked a before and after in life on earth. As eminent scientists have proven, 100 of these weapons, in a local conflict, like the one between India and Pakistan, would be enough to provoke a nuclear winter, eight years with no sun, hidden by clouds of nuclear dust, Fidel insisted.

It was then that he asked his guests if they thought that there was something that could be done to save the species and read excerpts of the ideas he had recently written, appealing to the "grafting of talent and goodness" which make progressive intellectuals useful people, who create and put into action ideas to avoid disaster.


These covered the food crisis provoked by prices driven by speculation, the scandalous purchase of millions of hectares in the Third World by transnationals; biofuels; the secrets of adequate human nutrition; the half-truths and deliberate lies about population growth and its impact on the price of food; the debts of the developed North which, in some cases, exceed the value of gross domestic products, although these are not discussed as much, or as critically, as those of the southern, less developed countries.

Fidel reaffirmed the need for the Cuban people to be aware of the spectacular increase in the price of food and the economic consequences it is creating in the world, including in our country, "We have a responsibility to provide information about the situation. To produce the amount of wheat the country consumes, 400,000 hectares of this crop is needed, with a yield equivalent to that attained in the United States."

"We have to inform the people of what can be extracted from every square meter of land in our country," he emphasized.

All of this was discussed with total involvement, not like the leaders of the so-called Western democracies, the financial institutions or even international agencies, including the UN, "a fraud" where the honest do not survive, since the powerful get rid of them when they do not bend to their designs.

Cuba was also discussed, its history, its resistance and the country's capacity to confront aggression and debate openly whatever needs to be debated.

Fidel recalled how the Cuban Revolution attained such a radical and profound transformation, from the roots of a movement which arrived in the country with less than 25% of the forces originally conceived, a single automatic weapon – not 300 – and a few more than 50 rifles with telescopic sights; was virtually destroyed but, with a small group, emerged to defeat an army equipped, trained and financed by the U.S.

He referred to the ethics maintained by the Cuban guerrilla movement from its very beginnings, which won the respect and admiration of the adversary.

He recalled the actions of a group of young officers who led a rebellion on September 5, 1957, which included in its plans the bombing of the Columbia Garrison and the Presidential Palace, where the dictator Fulgencio Batista was hiding.

"They were serious, brave officers," but if they had managed to take power, it would not have been possible to generate the strength needed to effect the profound revolution which took place in Cuba.


"Why can't the world act like a family?" Fidel asked, "We have no other planet to move to. Venus, named for the god of love, is terribly hot. The star closest to Earth is four light years away – one light-year is the distance a ray of light travels in a year at a speed of 300,000 kilometers per hour. We can't move. Our life is here, on this planet, the only one we truly have," he added.

"I think that we have to behave like a family and share what we have: some have oil, some food, those beyond, doctors…" And as if to share a dream or a destiny, he added, "Why can't we think of the earth as the home of a single human family?"

At the end of the meeting, after listening to valuable comments by a number of participants, Fidel appealed to the group to work to bring the willpower of many together in this vital battle of ideas and invited them to see each other again within a year at Cuba's next Book Fair. •

Translated by Granma International

Havana. February 17 , 2011

We have to begin saving humanity now

Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro’s introductory text to the discussion with intellectuals on February 15, 2011 at the International Conference Center

I knew that various eminent intellectuals and sincere friends of Cuba were visiting our capital to take part in the 20th International Book Fair.

This Fair is one of the modestly good things that we have promoted. The books and ideas that you work on and promote have been sources of encouragement and hope; thanks to them, we know the value of grafting talent and goodness. Your names become familiar ones and are repeated throughout life over the years, which always seem brief to us.

Wars are among the factors threatening the world. Scientists have been capable of placing colossal energies in the hands of humanity which, among other things, have served to create an instrument as self-destructive and cruel as nuclear weapons.

Intellectuals can perhaps provide an enormous service to humanity. It is not about trying to save humanity in terms of millenniums, maybe not even in terms of centuries. The problem is that our species is facing new problems, and has not even learned to survive.

If we can achieve intellectuals’ understanding of the risk that we are experiencing at this moment, to which a response cannot be postponed, perhaps they will manage to persuade the most self-satisfied and incapable beings ever to have existed: we politicians.


Almost 20 years ago the disagreeable task fell to me to warn the world – at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development – that our species was in danger of extinction.

I argued that then, although the danger was not imminent as it is now, I was listened to attentively, although it might be better to say benevolently.

There was applause. Somebody had noticed that. The superpowers meeting there realized that it was a certain fact, but a problem that they, of course, could take care of solving in the centuries which lay ahead.

The smiling face of Bush Senior and the monumental bulk of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, walking rapidly along a wide corridor at the head of the group after the final photo, gave rise to the impression that nothing could perturb the happy calm of our splendid world.

As foolish as other mortals, I was left with the idea that perhaps I had exaggerated.

Just 19 years have passed and today I am seeing disturbing things that are already happening and do not allow for any further delay.

Better to seem crazy than to be crazy and not seem to be. If we think that we are already but one step from the abyss and that our calculations were incorrect, we would not be doing any harm to humanity. At a point when we are already nearing seven billion inhabitants, it is not a matter of philosophizing about Malthus and the possibilities of soy, wheat and genetically modified corn.

The Americans, who are the most advanced in that, are well aware of the limit of their possibilities.

It is more than time to pay attention to ecologists and scientists like Lester Brown, the world authority on that subject and on food production.

Eminent thinkers clearly perceive that the developed capitalist system is headed for an inevitable disaster. Nobody could have foreseen the new situations being created along the way, and nothing is being denied; on the contrary the crises which are converting us into revolutionaries are being confirmed. Today, it is not about the inevitability of changing society, but humanity’s right to a different life for which we have constantly fought.

Even among religions that postulate the Apocalypse, an idea in which many people believe, to my knowledge, nobody has suggested that it would be this millennium or far less this century.

I have meditated a lot recently on events that are taking place and I urge you to do the same, without any fear of asking you to make a useless effort.

I have the habit of reading as many analyses by eminent ecologists and scientists that reach my hands.

Yesterday, when I was meditating on what has taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, my attention was caught by a recently published article from Paul Krugman, a renowned writer and serious economist, whose analyses of Roosevelt’s measures due to the Great Depression and the war reflected a special knowledge of the economy in the United States and the role played by the author of the New Deal. He is not a Marxist or a socialist. He received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008. Look what he wrote on the food crisis, being perhaps the person with the most authority to do so.

Droughts, floods and food

PAUL KRUGMAN: 13/02/2011

We’re in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they’re having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Middle East isn’t so much why they’re happening as why they’re happening now.

And there’s little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

So what’s behind the price spike? American right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is "blood on Bernanke’s hands." Meanwhile, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France blames speculators, accusing them of "extortion and pillaging."

But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

Now, to some extent soaring food prices are part of a general commodity boom: the prices of many raw materials, running the gamut from aluminum to zinc, have been rising rapidly since early 2009, mainly thanks to rapid industrial growth in emerging markets.

But the link between industrial growth and demand is a lot clearer for, say, copper than it is for food. Except in very poor countries, rising incomes don’t have much effect on how much people eat.

It’s true that growth in emerging nations like China leads to rising meat consumption, and hence rising demand for animal feed. It’s also true that agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, compete for land and other resources with food crops — as does the subsidized production of ethanol, which consumes a lot of corn. So both economic growth and bad energy policy have played some role in the food price surge.
Still, food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck.

Consider the case of wheat, whose price has almost doubled since the summer. The immediate cause of the wheat price spike is obvious: world production is down sharply. The bulk of that production decline, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, reflects a sharp plunge in the former Soviet Union. And we know what that’s about: a record heat wave and drought, which pushed Moscow temperatures above 100 degrees for the first time ever.

The Russian heat wave was only one of many recent extreme weather events, from dry weather in Brazil to biblical-proportion flooding in Australia, that have damaged world food production.

The question then becomes, what’s behind all this extreme weather? To some extent we’re seeing the results of a natural phenomenon, La Niña — a periodic event in which water in the equatorial Pacific becomes cooler than normal. And La Niña events have historically been associated with global food crises, including the crisis of 2007-08.

But that’s not the whole story. Don’t let the snow fool you: globally, 2010 was tied with 2005 for warmest year on record, even though we were at a solar minimum and La Niña was a cooling factor in the second half of the year. Temperature records were set not just in Russia but in no fewer than 19 countries, covering a fifth of the world’s land area. And both droughts and floods are natural consequences of a warming world: droughts because it’s hotter, floods because warm oceans release more water vapor.

As always, you can’t attribute any one weather event to greenhouse gases. But the pattern we’re seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you’d expect from climate change.

The usual suspects will, of course, go wild over suggestions that global warming has something to do with the food crisis; those who insist that Ben Bernanke has blood on his hands tend to be more or less the same people who insist that the scientific consensus on climate reflects a vast leftist conspiracy.

But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we’re getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we’ll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come.

Almost 19 years have passed since the Rio de Janeiro Summit and the problem is right before us. There, we were posing those problems, without imagining that the end of the species could be within one century or decades, if a war does not occur first.

The increase in food prices will, without any doubt whatsoever, immediately aggravate the international political situation. If problems are being aggravated as a consequence of all this, I ask myself: should we ignore them?

I would like our discussions to center on this issue.

We have to begin now to save humanity.

Translated by Granma International

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