Cuba: “Alex Saab is a Tool to Criminalize Venezuela”

An Interview with Cuban hero René González by Geraldina Colotti on June 16, 2023

Rene Gonzalez

At the international forum entitled “Lawfare against Venezuela: three years after the kidnapping of diplomat Alex Saab”, which concluded in Caracas, we interviewed Rene Gonzalez, who was present at the closing panel. René is one of the five Cuban agents who had infiltrated the anti-Castro movement in Miami, for which he spent 15 years in U.S. prisons. Back in his country, today he is president of the Cuban Aviation Club, an organization, he explains, which since 1930 has been in charge of the development of aerial sports: from parachuting to paragliding, including model airplanes. A sector that involves some 600 people, which is going through a crisis (“also because of the high costs involved in the activities”, says René), but in which the government has decided to invest in.

-Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab, victim of a double kidnapping by the U.S., is now in prison in Miami. How do you read his story? Are there points in common with the story of the Five?

I would say yes. Just as we were a tool to prosecute Cuba, Alex Saab is a tool to criminalize not only his person, but also a government and a nation. By accusing him of money laundering, they accuse Venezuela, they accuse a whole country. The trial against him is even more absurd than ours: even more ridiculous because, while in our case we could be accused of spies, manipulating the term, in Alex Saab’s case there is not even that, and they turn it into a matter of “national security”. They wanted me to tell the prosecutors what they wanted to hear, to back up the accusations against my government. If I did that, I could get out. However, as we did, he is conducting himself admirably and for that he deserves all our respect and support.

-Alex Saab is a businessman, and this arouses some reticence in leftist movements, although there are more than a few figures like him who have loyally accompanied the history of revolutions. What do you think about this?

A man who worked to help Venezuela free itself from the strangulation policy imposed by imperialism, who defended the lives of Venezuelans, deserves respect, rich or poor. I wish a Rockefeller or a Bill Gates had done this. In the 19th century, Francisco Vicente Aguilera, the richest man in Cuba, died poor, because he gave everything to the revolution. If Alex Saab had done something incomparable for us, the United States would not have kidnapped him.

-You know the U.S. penal system well. What hope does Alex Saab have of being free again?

We can only say that the United States acts according to its interests. We have to put enough pressure so that the damages are greater than the benefits they get from this absurd process, then they will release him, as it was for us. Judges answer to their government, that thing about the independence of the judiciary is a fairy tale that no one believes. I hope that enough pressure can be exerted to free him.

-How has the destabilizing strategy against Cuba changed since the years when you opposed it?

The objective of imperialism remains the same, they just adapt the strategy to the circumstances. The terrorist groups we managed to infiltrate then had their origin in the activity of the CIA at the beginning of the revolution. Let us not forget that the second most important CIA base in the world is located in Miami. At that time, many Cubans were trained in terrorism and for years they were a pillar of the attack on the revolution. When we infiltrated them in the 1990s, many of them were still active. When the socialist camp fell and the special period began for us, their activity, which had diminished somewhat in the 1980s, regained strength. I believe that the two moments -that of the 1990s and today- have in common the reactivation of the feeling of revenge against Cuba, or revenge, also fed by the economic situation of the country. Then as now, the U.S. government continues to create the economic situation we are suffering. The only logical difference is that now there are social networks, which have become a battlefield in the fourth generation war, and which have a direct influence on certain sectors of the island that live in difficult conditions, and which receive a bombardment that did not exist before. This tends to confuse a lot of people, deceived by those who are producing the destabilizing attack on Cuba, I think it is a substantial difference, which gives more hope to imperialism to create in Cuba the violence that it used to have to import from outside.

-As during the riots of July 11, 2021?

Exactly. Today they are investing more in this variable which, based on the fourth generation war, aims to generate a situation of chaos and violence that will justify an invasion of the country. The criminal intentions are the same as always, but with this variant, which seeks to exploit a context of economic difficulties created by imperialism itself.

-Were there other destabilizing attempts after July 11?

The Cuban Five in the Plaza of the Revolution, 2022. photo: Bill Hackwell

I had the impression, just an impression, because I have no proof of it, that the violence generated on July 11 made many people shrink. Cuban society is not used to that level of violence, it was not conceivable to see Molotov cocktails being thrown in a hospital assault. It is obvious that many people were not violent, but they did express their discontent and, in that context, violence prevailed, encouraged by propaganda, that created the situation I described above. But I had the impression that many of those who had not taken to the streets to protest violently have repented. There were many arrests, but most of them were released because they were there protesting, but they had not committed violence. And many of those in prison for serious crimes have also changed their minds. There are those who received money, those who were instigated, those who were there without economic need, and many are now reflecting on the mistake they made. The psychology of the crowd is complicated, especially because of the fourth generation war, which acts on a set of factors to produce violent outbursts. Since then, there have been only a few isolated protests, mainly because of the lack of electricity, which makes everything difficult in the summer. The U.S. government continues to use this way to strangle Cuba, and we must find solutions to the problems we have, which are serious, so that the people are better off and do not allow themselves to be dragged into these traps. Faced with difficulties, not everyone has the ability to see where the enemy is, and they blame the government, which instead tries to solve the problems. This is how the human mind works…

-After the July 11 riots, there were debates and proposals for dialogue with all sectors. Was there any result to convince young people and non-young people who let themselves be fooled?

There have been some immediate actions, interventions in the most problematic neighborhoods, a lot of dialogue with some sectors of the population, but it is a work that must continue. I think there is a lot missing in the way we communicate with the population. I am concerned that our communication is directed mainly to those who are already convinced, as if there were no need to reach those who are not, those who do not watch the news and are not attracted to the revolution, but are not necessarily bad people. We need to improve social communication. Sometimes we are reproached for talking too much about the blockade, which is why we have to explain better what is happening with the blockade and what we are doing to counteract it. It is not enough to denounce, we must increase the dialogue with those who do not understand the origin of the economic difficulties. Logically, we must try to improve the concrete situation, which is at the origin of everything.

-What are the economic policy lines for this period of crisis?

Some measures have been taken, which have been requested for years, such as decentralization, to stimulate the merger of various social actors in the production and distribution of goods. I believe that progress has been made, despite the fact that demand is much higher than supply and there is discontent because most of the economic actors are engaged in exporting. We are evaluating. I believe that state-owned companies are not being given the necessary strength and autonomy, and this penalizes them in the face of new economic subjects that operate under more favorable conditions. However, a great job is being done, considering that for six years the country has been prey to direct aggressions to the economy, which prevent by any means the arrival of income, to which has been added the pandemic that has decimated the last economic income, those related to tourism. The task facing the government is not an easy one. I believe, however, that it has been understood that the excessive centralization of the economy has caused us a lot of damage, and that we now need to make the new players work, giving us a regulatory framework and financial stability, which unfortunately we do not have. But we have to build it, because the problems to be solved are serious and urgent.

-And is there any model to take as a reference?

Since the last century, we have learned at least one lesson: no two socialisms are the same. I think it was a historical mistake to adopt the Soviet model. Each one has its characteristics, its resources, its idiosyncrasy, its way of seeing life, its aspirations, and our model is Cuban. Obviously, we have to learn from others what we can use, but in this process of trial and error, we have to identify a Cuban model: with a diversity of economic actors, with more management?

-What are the economic actors?

We are talking about self-employed, cooperatives, SMEs, state-owned enterprises, which can take different forms, not only of ownership, but also of management to have more impact on the economy. All this must be transformed and must function as a system, under state control, which implies a deepening of socialist democracy. It seems important to me the workers’ management, the autonomy of the municipalities, which must generate wealth and use it with transparent rules and budgets. An integrated system that takes time to build.

-And can Cuba learn something from the Bolivarian laboratory?

There is always something to learn, even if Venezuela started from a different base…

-It did not make a traditional revolution…

Exactly. In Venezuela a very interesting socialist project is being built in a bourgeois state, with a bourgeois democracy. I think there is a lot to learn. There are things about the Venezuelan model that do not suit Cuba, because we have managed to expel from the country all that oligarchy which, however, the Venezuelans have also been able to take advantage of, establishing alliances with some sectors of that class, as Evo did in Bolivia. Of course, the other side will continue to oppose and prevent the model from developing, but it continues to be part of the generation of wealth in the country. Besides, Venezuela has natural resources that we do not have, and also a different territorial extension, but there is always something to learn. Venezuelans have overcome great obstacles. I was in Venezuela in 2014, during the “guarimbas”. And we have in common the same need to oppose imperialist aggression.

-There are those who predict the end of the revolution after Raul’s disappearance. What is your answer?

They also said it when Fidel was around. Raul has retired and there is a functioning government. I think it is very puerile to wait for someone to die for everything to change. It is not a problem of people, I have never seen a revolutionary process end with the death of an individual. The right wing has a childish and simplistic vision of politics, history and situations.

-Is it true that there is an unusual increase in crime in Cuba?

We have to take into account that imperialist propaganda exaggerates any data, and that with social networks there are episodes that were not seen before, but it is probable that there has been an increase. We need to make a study and above all be alert, beyond the manipulations that want to paint us as El Salvador. We must admit that economic changes have produced social differences, which generate injustice and resentment, components -among others- of criminality. Unfortunately, social changes bring us a little closer to the world they would like to take us to, because there is a shortage of money and the peso cannot compete with the dollar, creating a black market for the currency and more opportunities for some to resort to crime. The funny thing is that those same people who organize media campaigns against Cuba want us to return to a world that is certainly worse and where crime is “normal”. But even if we know that Cuba is not the country they want to portray with their incoherence, we must pay attention to the real problems that have arisen in some communities, in some sectors that have seen their living conditions worsen.

-Is it true that machismo and violence against women have increased?

There is also a campaign against us here. However, I believe that as violence in general increases, violence against women also increases. Patriarchy continues to be the norm and Cuba does not escape this, despite the fact that it has advanced a lot in terms of equality and women’s rights. However, although most of the values sown by socialism have been maintained for many years, where there has been a setback, an erosion of values, it is possible that in some sectors there is a return of machismo. In my opinion, this is due to the type of production relationship that we have had to assimilate over the years, because work, which is the source of all human values, has been losing value.

-And how?

All the values that humanity has created have been the fruit of the established productive relationship. When I was young, in the years when we could get closer to socialism and hopes seemed to be within reach, working in a socially owned enterprise generated fraternal relations, relations of equality and new values. From the special period onwards, when work ceased to be the mainstay because we had to manage in other ways, as work as a creator of material value gave way to other ways of inventing and adapting things, human values were eroded. Prostitution, which my generation had never known, has returned. To the extent that people see work again as a means of sustenance, they will recover discipline, good behavior, affection and ways of seeing life in solidarity.

-Cuba -says the propaganda- lays off and no longer guarantees full employment. Is that so?

I would not put it that way. It may be that some state enterprises have closed and that there has been a reconversion of the labor force, as a result of the changes underway, but certainly this has not involved massive layoffs. Of course, Cuba -which does not throw anyone out of the house, guarantees education and health- has had to deal with an excess of paternalism and with a production deficit of state enterprises because of the security of having a salary even without working. And these are also anti-values.

-How does socialist Cuba orient itself in the perspective of a multipolar world?

Cuba has always been committed to multipolarity, in the face of a dysfunctional world, the result of centuries of colonialism and the Second World War, which led the governments of the United States and Europe to delude themselves with the idea that their privileges could last indefinitely. The changes are physiological, it is time for them to realize it. The other world Cuba believes in is a world of fraternal relations and good neighborliness in diversity, where nobody tells the other what to do.

-What do you think about the conflict in Ukraine?

It is a complex situation. On the one hand there is the attack of one country on another, on the other hand the country that attacked fell into a trap prepared for years. Now, it is difficult to venture a guess as to why the Russian government decided to fall into that trap knowing that it existed, that this was a conflict created and fueled by the US. I do not dare to judge all the variables that a man like Putin, who until that moment, had set himself up as the only true statesman, in the face of so many lackeys of the United States, had to consider. I do not condemn him, nor do I celebrate him; history will judge by the results. Surely I would not have wanted to be in his shoes when he made the decision, because of the number of things to be weighed: what Ukraine represented for Russia with respect to the NATO front, the Donbass, the diplomatic, political and military consequences of what he was going to do. It must have been a very complicated decision. It has certainly put a big thorn in the side of the system that revolves around imperialist interests, and already many are losing respect for the United States. For the rest, history will be the judge.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano Argentina.