By Frei Betto on July 16, 2021

Plaza of the Revolution, photo: Bill Hackwell

Few people are unaware of my solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. During the past 40 years I have frequently visited the island due to work commitments and invitations to events. For a long time, I have been a mediator in the reopening of dialog between Catholic bishops and the Cuban government, as described in my books “Fidel e a religião”[Fidel and religion] (Fontanar/Companhia das Letras) and “Paraíso perdido – viagens ao mundo socialista” [Paradise lost – journeys to the socialist world] (Rocco). Currently, I am assisting the Cuban government in the implementation of the Food Sovereignty and Nutritional Education Plan.

I know daily Cuban life in detail, including the struggles faced by the population, the objections to the Revolution, the criticisms by the country’s intellectuals and artists. I have visited jails, spoken with opponents of the Revolution, I have lived alongside priests and lay people who are against socialism.

When people tell me, a Brazilian, that there is no democracy in Cuba, I climb down from the abstraction of words to the reality of facts. How many photos or news have you seen of Cubans living in abject poverty, people begging in the streets, abandoned street children, families living under bridges? Anything like the cracolândia [crackland], the militias, the long lines of sick people waiting to be seen at hospitals?

I warn my friends: if you are rich in Brazil and move to Cuba, you will know hell. You will not be able to get a new car every year, buy designer clothes, go on frequent foreign holidays. And above all, you will not be able to exploit other people’s labour, to keep your employees in ignorance, to “be proud of” Maria, your cook for over 20 years, and whom you deny access to decent housing, education and health insurance.

If you are middle class, be prepared to enter purgatory. Even though Cuba no longer is a society where the State owns everything, the bureaucracy is still there, you need patience to stand in supermarket lines, many products available this month may no longer be available next month due to uncertainty in imports.

However, if you are a wage earner, or poor, or homeless, or landless, be prepared to enter paradise. The Revolution will guarantee your three fundamental human rights: food, health and education, as well as a roof over your head and work. Maybe you will not have much appetite because you might not be able to get the food you like, but you will never go hungry. Your family will have access to schools and the health services, including complex surgeries, totally free of charge, as a duty of the state and a citizen’s right.

Nothing is more abused than language. The celebrated democracy born in Greece has its merits, but it is important to remember that, at the time, Athens had only 20 thousand citizens who lived off the labour of 400 thousand slaves… What would any of those slaves answer if they were asked about the virtues of democracy?

I do not wish the future of Cuba to be the present of Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras or even Puerto Rico, an American colony denied its independence. Nor would I wish for Cuba to invade the USA and occupy a coastal area in California, as is the case of Guantanamo, which was turned into a torture centre and an illegal jail for presumed terrorists.

Democracy, in my understanding, signifies “Our Father”, – the authority legitimised by the will of the people -, and “our daily bread” – the sharing of the fruits of nature and human labor. Electoral alternation does not make nor guarantee democracy.  Brazil and India, so-called democracies, are striking examples of abject poverty, exclusion, oppression and suffering.

Only those who know the reality of Cuba before 1959 know why Fidel had so much popular support, leading the Revolution to victory. The country was nicknamed the “Caribbean whorehouse”.  The mafia dominated the banking and tourism industries (there are several films about that). Havana’s main neighborhood, to this day called Vedado (forbidden) earned this name because black people were not allowed there…

The US has never accepted the fact that they lost a Cuba that was under their thumb. Hence, soon after the victory of the Sierra Maestra guerrillas, they tried to invade the island using mercenary troops. They were defeated in April 1961. The following year, President Kennedy imposed the blockade on Cuba, which is still in place today.

The island of Cuba has scarce resources. It needs to import more than 60% of the essential products the country needs. With the tightening of the blockade promoted by Trump (243 new measures still not removed by Biden) and the pandemic, which annihilated one of the country’s main sources of income, tourism, the internal situation has worsened. Cubans have had to tighten their belts. So, those who are dissatisfied with the Revolution, who gravitate in the orbit of the “American dream”, have promoted the demonstrations on Sunday, July 11th – with the “solidarity” help of the CIA, whose chief has just done a tour of the Continent, concerned with the election results in Peru and Chile.

The current situation is best explained by Cuba’s president, Diaz-Canel: “The financial, economic, commercial and energy persecution has started. They (the White House) wish that an internal social convulsion is provoked in Cuba in order to set up “humanitarian missions” that can be translated as invasions and military interference.”

“We have been honest, we have been transparent, we have been clear and, at each moment, we have explained to our people the complexities of the present days. I remember that over one and a half years ago, at the start of the second semester of 2019, we had to explain that we were in a difficult situation. The USA started to intensify a series of restrictive measures, the tightening of the blockade, financial persecution against the energy sector, with the aim of choking our economy. That would cause the desired massive social unrest so that they would be able to appeal to “humanitarian” intervention, which would end in military interventions”.

“That situation continued, and then came the 243 measures (implemented by Trump to tighten the blockade) that we all know well and, finally, they decided to include Cuba in the list of countries that support terrorism. All those restrictions have led to the immediate cut to several of the country’s sources of income, like tourism, the trips of Cuban-Americans to our country and money transfers. A plan was put in place to discredit the Cuban medical brigades and Cuba’s solidarity collaborations, which earned the country a significant amount of resources.”

“This whole situation has produced great scarcity in the country, mainly of food, medication, and the raw materials and supplies that allow us to undertake our economic and productive processes, which, at the same time, contribute to our exports. Two important elements have been eliminated: export capacity and investment capacity.”

“We also struggle with restrictions in the availability of fuel and spare parts. All those factors have been causing dissatisfaction, on top of accumulated problems that we have been able to solve and that originated during the Período Especial (1990-1995, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, with serious effects on the Cuban economy). In addition, there has been a ferocious smear campaign in the media, part of a non-conventional war, which attempts to break down the union between the party, the State and the people, and aims to demonstrate that the government is insufficient and incapable of providing well being to the Cuban people.”

“The example set by the Cuban Revolution has been a thorn in the side of the USA for 60 years. They have imposed an unfair, criminal and cruel blockade, which now has intensified because of the pandemic. This blockade and restrictive actions have never been imposed by the US on any other country, not even those they consider their main enemies. This is a perverse policy used against a small island that aspires only to defend its independence, its sovereignty and its society with self-determination, according to principles that over 86% of the population approve of.”

“In this context, the pandemic happened, a pandemic that has affected not only Cuba, but the entire world, including the USA. It has affected rich countries, and it is important to say that not even the USA and other rich countries have been fully capable of dealing with the effects of the pandemic. The poor were worse affected because there are no public policies aimed at the people, and there are indicators about the management of the pandemic that show worse results than those of Cuba in many cases. The infection and mortality rates by millions of inhabitants are notably higher in the USA than in Cuba (the USA registered 1,724 deaths per million, while Cuba recorded 47 deaths per million). While the USA were entrenched in vaccine nationalism, the Henry Reeve Brigade, formed by Cuban doctors, continued its work among the poorest peoples in the world (that is why, of course, it deserves the Noble Prize for Peace).”

“Without the possibility of a successful invasion of Cuba, the USA persist with their tight blockade. After the fall of the USSR, which had provided the island the means circumvent the blockade, the USA attempted to increase their control over the Caribbean country. From 1992 onward, the UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted for the end of the blockade. The Cuban government has informed that between April 2019 and March 2020, Cuba lost 5 billion dollars in potential trade due to the blockade; in the last six decades, it has lost the equivalent to 144 billion dollars. Now, the US government has increased the sanctions against shipping companies that bring oil to the island.”

It is this frailty that has opened a flank for the demonstrations of discontent, without the government having set tanks or troops on the streets. The resilience of the Cuban people, nurtured by examples such as those of Martí, Che Guevara and Fidel, has shown to be invincible. And all of us, who fight for a fairer world, must show our solidarity.

Frei Betto is a Brazilian writer, philosopher, liberation theologian and political activist.