Abel Prieto: “The concept of privatization is absolutely excluded as a policy”

Abel Prieto, advisor on cultural issues to President Raúl Castro.

–I would like to begin asking you to reflect on the importance that the Cuban Revolution has always assigned to culture, something that frequently is eclipsed by the almost excluding emphasis placed on economic and political transformations unchained since the triumph of the Revolution.
–Atilio, remember those words by Fidel when he said that a revolution can only be the daughter of culture and ideas, a concept worthy of Martí and Gramsci at the same time, and that has to do with Che’s ideas on the creation of a new human being, which is what really defines socialist transformation of the human being and his/her environment. What has really brought the Cuban Revolution to the present –one way or the other, with its zigzagging, its reverses, difficulties, with obstacles that sometimes have appeared insurmountable– has been the hegemony in cultural terms of the ideas of socialism. How could the Cuban people resist those terrible years, the 90s if it weren’t for strong convictions, a very clear conscience in terms that we had to defend what we had achieved in terms of justice, in favor of ideas of an authentic democracy? I believe that it had much to do with the early literacy campaign, the creation of the National Printing House, Casa de las Américas, the Film Institute (ICAIC), that is, the entire framework for the protection of cultural patrimony, of the nation’s cultural memory since its first years, and the democratization of access to culture. With different emphasis and at different times, culture has always been a priority for Fidel, as it is today for Raúl. And this is one of the distinctive conquests of our nation.
–We could say that it is a fundamental conquest, more irreversible that any other. I was always impressed by the fact that Casa de las Américas or ICAIC were institutions created very early by the Cuban revolution, even before others that have to do with the economy, or inclusive agrarian legislation.
–The National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA) was created at the beginning of the revolution, but the first legislation of the National Assembly, after the Revolution was institutionalized, was the Cultural Patrimony Law.
–The Caribbean is a region where the impact of US culture has been traditionally very strong and immediate, and I have the impression that in Cuba it is increasingly difficult to avoid its influence. Is this true? And if so, is there a way of counteracting this process?
–When Che was speaking in Rosario, Argentina, about his article “Socialism and Man in Cuba”, he recalled that he had said that we should fight against the defects of the past. The problem is that today the defects of the past are part of the everyday battle, and indeed the frivolous consumerist message, the –shall we say–pro Yankee message with a certain idealization of that US world, has influenced some segments of our population, and I would say that it contaminates the spiritual environment in Cuba. But I have much faith that even under the worst conditions, the Cuban cultural identity will have the capacity to resist. It is clear that we cannot leave it to a spontaneous process. We must assist those processes; we must help to create new paradigms.
–Some say that with the updating of the socialist model, Cuba is returning to capitalism. It is something we ask ourselves constantly. What do you think?
–I believe that in the first place we must remember that the documents of the recent Party Congress were first discussed by the entire population, enriched by the discussion of the people, And the document mentions non-government managing, but there is not a word about privatization or other property than the state’s. There are non-government managing forms. We are leasing land to cooperatives or families, farmers that also have the obligation of making those lands produce, but the property is of the Cuban state on behalf of all the people. That is contrary to privatization and a basic principle that no person or institution that manages production or services in non-government forms can concentrate property. Anyway, the socialist government enterprise, from now on with more powers, more freedom of action and greater efficiency, without the administrative obstacles that used to hobble it, is what is going to pull us out of the crisis. We are not going to touch, for example, the concept of free universal health care for all Cubans that have allowed the First World infant mortality rates that we have at present. We are not going to change the free and universal education that we have today, that is, all Cubans, according to their effort, talent and capacity, can study from primary school all the way to the university without having to pay a single cent. This is not negotiable. We are not going to privatize any of that, and we are not privatizing anything. It is important to make that clear. The concept of privatization is absolutely excluded as policy.
–The right-wing media insisted on the version that a million government employees would be laid off, and there was talk of a savage adjustment.
–That is not true. What we did was to identify, very seriously and in a rigorous manner what persons are not really necessary in the administration. It is true that it was announced that there was an important mass of people that were not needed, but laying them off is something that has nothing to do with our ideas and with the ideas of Raúl that is so insisting –he is an anti capitalist by definition. We are not going to throw people out in the street, not a single family will be left unprotected.
–What is wrong with young people today in Cuba? Has there been a process of depolitization in ample sectors of Cuban youth? Not all of them, for there is a very politicized sector. How do you see that?
–You know that Raúl speaks on the subject in all its crude reality. The idea is that the generation that attacked the Moncada Barracks, that waged the war in the Sierra Maestra, will, sooner than later, disappear for biological reasons. He spoke about it at the National Assembly, where Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected as Vice President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers. Raúl has led a process of promoting young people to top posts. Many of our ministers are very young. At present, we have as a member in our Council of State Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, our Foreign Minister, a very young man with a long experience as a Young Communist Union’s cadre. And in the Party’s Central Committee  and the National Assembly there are many young people with extraordinary merits. I believe there is a vanguard of young people who is much politicized and that is very committed to advancing the revolutionary process. I see that there are many young people that want to discuss, that want to participate, and I believe those spaces are growing stronger, and I believe that is one of the greatest challenges in today’s revolutionary Cuba. Now we are going to celebrate the Congress of the Journalists’ Union of Cuba, because our press is not playing the role that it should. A long time ago, in a resolution of the Party’s Political Bureau, there was a mention on the need of a critical press that would help attack our problems, bureaucracy, errors. There have been some measures. You know that Granma [the official party’s newspaper] has a section every Friday where people write making important accusations, and the paper is also making some investigative reporting on the subject of corruption and the bureaucratic mentality that fights any project of change. Raúl is leading a very tough battle against bureaucracy.
–Those young people want to travel abroad, visit other countries.
–Since the beginning of the Revolution we showed in Cuba all capitalist films, we showed the best European films, from Italy, France, the US, films of the best quality and films of lower quality. Contrary to the Soviet experience, for example, we have always worked with the idea that if you forbid what is made abroad, you get nowhere. That is a great mistake, and what you get in return is that people end up by idealizing that world that is forbidden to them.
–What has meant for Cuba the arrival of Obama to the White House? What has happened in relation to the blockade and the Cuban Five?
–The blockade is still intact. And something that is silenced the world over is that Obama’s bureaucracy has been more effective than the Bush Administration in persecuting banks and companies that break the blockade established by the Helms-Burton and the Torricelli laws. Some companies have been given multimillion fines. And the Obama Administration has been very effective in this sense. That is, in the harassment against Cuba, particularly in the financial field. What has changed with Obama? I can tell you that some visas for artists and academics. But those artists that visit the US can only make promotional trips. That is, no Cuban agency that represents the artist can benefit from the trip. The artists, of course, are interested because it is an important market in terms of art, but they cannot benefit financially, like so many artists that tour the US. The Cubans only receive a per diem. They cannot benefit financially, and in the case of composers, they cannot receive any copyright from the performance of their music by other artists.
–But if they give a concert and tickets are sold…
–They don’t get a cent. The blockade laws forbid it.
–And it goes on…
–That still stands, strictly and cruelly. Obama has allowed groups of American students and academics to travel to Cuba.  That’s has been the “great change” they talk about, which undoubtedly is not great. On the other hand, the Cuban Adjustment Law is still in force. Even the lobby of the most radical right is restless, because they say that the Cuban migratory reform might be the preparation for a new Mariel for overrunning Miami with communists.
–Would you elaborate on the Cuban adjustment Law? Because many do not know what it is.
–It’s an incredible piece of legislation through which, for the mere fact of putting a foot on US soil, Cubans receive a permit, first for a year and then definitive residence. It is a unique case. Imagine: Mexicans or people from Central America can be shot on crossing the border, but Cubans have that possibility, which allows the US government to make propaganda with it. But now they haven’t got that argument. Cubans could travel before the reform, when there was something called the exit permit, something that goes way back to 1959, the 60s, for the Batista followers, people that had murdered, tortured and embezzled public funds. Later on Cubans could travel, but there were certain requisites: a letter of invitation, the famous exit permit. Now those have been eliminated. At present, for travelling abroad all a Cuban needs is a valid passport and a visa. And there has been no exodus because of the reform, not by far. Fidel once said that “socialism has to be the work of free men and women”. That means you cannot build it feeling that you are in a grip.
–And in relation to the Cuban Five? René has returned to Cuba…
–René returned. I had the joy of being with him and see how people react. Alicia Alonso organized a ballet performance in support of the Cuban Five at the Mella Theater, and René was there. And I was impressed when the program was over and people came massively to surround him to take pictures, hug him. But Obama has not done what he should.
–Right, because he could have pardoned the Five.
–He did not do it, although he could have. Remember what Fidel said once: “Clinton was able to return Elián because surveys found that 60 percent of Americans thought that the child should be returned to his father.” And Fidel also said that “once we achieve that public opinion in the United States is in favor of the pardon, there will be a pardon.” Because US presidents work that way: not according to ethical principles, but because the findings of polls. We are pitted against a man, Obama, that if you compare him to Bush he comes out as an intelligent person, very articulate. Bush was a monster of ignorance and evilness. Obama undoubtedly is a more capable person. But this is a structure of power. If you are ruling an empire, it will be only to enforce imperial policies to the letter.
–Obama reaffirmed Cuba as a country that sponsors terrorism.
–It’s a shame! Cuba is the great victim of terrorism generated by the US: bacteriological warfare, bombing hotels, sabotages… Cuba has suffered it all. And they harbor a self-confessed and proven terrorist such as Posada Carriles, who is walking free in Miami; and Orlando Bosch, who died peacefully in his bed in spite of being a great criminal.
–A great criminal, indeed. A short time ago the Bush Library was inaugurated at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and all living presidents were there: Bush, Sr., Bush, Jr., Carter, Clinton, and of course, Obama. Someone asked Chomsky what he thought of the event and he said: “Well, what you have there is a bunch of war criminals.” All together, smiling. They look like a group of nice people, but they are war criminals.
–That’s right. They are great war criminals.
Abel Prieto, novelist and former Minister of Culture, at present is an advisor on cultural issues to President Raúl Castro.

(From Página 12, Argentina)