Cuba: Interview with Raymar Aguado Hernández

Raymar Aguado Hernández is a young activist of the critical Marxist left of Cuba. We publish this recent interview where he shares his points of view on the situation of the island.

Many young people that strongly believe in socialism, anti-imperialism and decolonization have been put under house arrest and detained by the Cuban Government in the last few years. Why does a supposedly socialist government detain young socialists?

The Cuban Revolution represented the most important turning point for Latin American politics in a context of uncertainty dictated by the “Cold War” and the polarization of world hegemony between two “ideological” segments; although we know that the struggle was always geopolitical and economic. For decades, the process that began in Cuba in 1959 represented for many fronts of anti-imperialist struggle in the region, a very important reference and an emblem.

The Cuban Revolution was seen by almost the entire world left as the materialization of the dream of justice for which the working class had fought so hard and for which it had sacrificed so much. And although it never enjoyed the support of many recognized revolutionaries and lost much of its legitimacy after the so-called “Padilla Case”, the Mariel exodus, the so-called Causa 1 and 2 of 1989; the Rafting Crisis and the Maleconazo of 1994, it reached the 21st century, after the fall of the so-called “real socialism” in Eastern Europe, as the supposed last bastion of resistance to capitalist and neoliberal expansion.

It is very sad, but what we can call Cuban Revolution in capital letters, and free of the doctrinaire propagandistic tone in my opinion, dies in 1976, in which the bases of the statist centralization, the accelerated sovietization are concretized; after the approval of the Constitution of the Republic, the leading role of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and the political reduction to a single party became official, as well as the presidential inauguration of Fidel Castro, who, although always he had the political power of the Island in his hands without much secrecy, took on a position that symbolically enjoyed greater relevance, given that he lasted 32 years in office (as Prime Minister of the Republic).

At that time, the so-called “Quinquenio / Gray Decade” was taking place, a period of recurrent censorship and institutional violence, which had its genesis in 1959 itself, through abuses, labor separations, violation of human rights – the best example, the Military Units for Aid to Production (UMAP), which constituted forced concentration camps for people whose projection did not fit the archetype of the so-called new socialist man -, political annulment of opposition sectors and marked authoritarianism from the governmental administration. The impact of the Revolution on Cuban life is undeniable, where many disadvantaged social sectors felt the benefit of a process that, according to Fidel, was born “of the humble, by the humble and for the humble”.

The national dynamic changed completely during those years. Much was done and achieved for the benefit of the people, much was transformed by the Revolution in the heart of a country plundered and impoverished during the Colony; sentenced to inequality and exclusion in the Republic. But, at the same time, the foundations were being laid for what would later turn out to be the opposite. There are plenty of examples, but Fidel’s speeches during those years, his abuses of power and his anti-democratic stance are very revealing, as can be seen in episodes such as the conversations at the National Library in 1961, whose conclusion went down in history under the title “Words to the intellectuals”.

Years later the long-suffering special period arrived (1990-1994); it was a time of complete scarcity. As a result of the dependence on the powers of the “socialist” bloc, Cuba was plunged into a moment that exposed the arbitrary economic and productive management that the country’s leadership had opted for. Without the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CAME), without the USSR, the commercial allies, nor the colloquially named “Russian breast”, the island was a scene of desolation. It was there where the leadership of the Cuban government -increasingly centralized and totalitarian- took the functional and convenient idea of opening up to foreign investment, transnational exploitation, tourism and a whole series of measures that openly announced a deeper transition towards a State neo-capitalism. Such process, whose genesis dates back to 59’ , configured a new oligarchic re-stratification that would end in business monopolies in the hands of the military elite.

Subsequent years showed how far such measures were from achieving a popular benefit; instead, they contributed, more and more in the open, to empower a ruling class on the island, where the division between military and business management was non-existent. Joint ventures, business groups such as GAESA and personalities such as Julio Casas or Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja gained prominence in this area. The much debated Economic and Social Policy Guidelines approved at the Sixth Congress of the PCC, where the discursive change was very evident, as well as during the entire presidential administration of Raúl Castro (2006-2018), also date back to those years.

These economic and production dynamics already by the years of normalization of relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba, in the period of Obamism, reached a certain splendor that boosted private property, self-employment and even more foreign investment, mainly in the tourism sector. This generated a much more significant social gap, especially between the populations close to tourist poles and places of interest, such as Varadero, Trinidad or Havana, and other more remote regions where the supposed “progress” of that stage did not even remotely arrive. The narrative of those years was marked by the apparent opening to “development”, to “prosperity”, and not a few placebos for the people left the political power and its opportune, not to say opportunistic allies, with the typical Roman formula of bread and circus, in order to strengthen alliances that would lead to the emergence of commercial emporiums; some of them still active.

Likewise, while millions of dollars were invested in the repair of the Historic Area of Old Havana and the construction of hotels on the northern coast, millions of Cubans survived in run-down dwellings, multi-family housing projects, the so-called “come and put” and many others in shelters with inhumane conditions. While Havana was sold as a Wonder City and Cuba as a tourist paradise in the Caribbean, the majority of the Cuban population experienced tremendous degrees of impoverishment and the class difference between specific sectors benefited by these unequal economic policies and the remaining 99% of the national population increased more and more.

Then Trump arrived at the White House with his 243 unilateral coercive measures; in 2018 a performance of supposed generational change in the direction of the Cuban Government is made, the historic march of 11M takes place in 2019 where LGBTIQ+ activism takes to the streets demanding government responsibility, a new constitution is approved, in 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic arrives, arbitrary measures are taken in economic matters that make a hecatomb in the Island, such as the so-called Ordering Task, a crisis comparable to that of the 90′ years is experienced, the people demand more and more for their rights and welfare, the margins of mobility in Cuba are increasingly narrower in all areas, the protest in front of the Mincult on November 27, 2020 occurs and a different historical moment begins to be breathed. Thus comes 11J and the largest popular demonstrations of post 59′ Cuba, where the political power brought out its dictatorial accent, repressing demonstrators, harassing anyone who dissented and deploying a whole system of political violence that persists.

Thus we arrive today, where, like many of other political affiliations, young anti-imperialists, socialists and decolonialists are repressed, mistreated and insulted by a political power that claims to follow the ideas of Marx, socialism and anti-imperialism. But it is clear that this is nothing more than a doctrinaire discourse.

The many measures to the detriment of the Cuban working class, which is in a remarkable state of precariousness; the human exploitation of the working people, the opening to the interference of convenient foreign investors who apply their extractive formulas in Cuba, the establishment of a political/military/entrepreneurial caste that functions as the owner of the country and amasses huge sums of money, the unconditional support of the officialist discourse to current imperialist and authoritarian powers such as Russia and China, as well as the repressive formulas applied from above to coerce the people and maintain power in a country in ruins, are clear examples of how the policy of the Cuban government is the enemy of Marxism, socialism and any anti-hegemonic formula that does not serve its interests.

The pamphlet speech they sell may deceive, but reality doesn’t; that one exists unchallengeable: any person who stands against the political administration carried out by the Cuban Government, which is capitalist and totalitarian, has a tendency to be cowardly repressed, no matter how Marxist you are, how much you embrace socialism and condemn the foreign policies of, for example, the United States.

Much of the world’s left praises Miguel Díaz-Canel for leading a march for Palestine in the streets. Why are marches for Palestine allowed, but even the most basic criticisms are totally criminalized in Cuba?

Cuban political power is hypocritical, always has been. Therein lies one of its main tools of domination. It sells the world an image that is not real, where it supposedly defends justice and fights all acts of violence. This is how it deceived for decades a large part of the international left, which agreed to know about Cuba only to what the Government made public. It was not until 2018 that here there was access to the Internet freely, and I am putting the word freely because there are many restrictions of economic, technological and even traced by government censorship that do not allow the free transit through the web of people in Cuba. Since that date, things have changed a bit.

Before, very little information about what was happening reached the rest of the world without being supervised by the political power, so I understand that many around the world were blind to what was happening in our country. Watching the documentaries financed by the government about revolutionary milestones such as the Henry Reeve brigades, Operation Miracle, the massive support for Fidel, the “joy” of the Cuban people, etc., gave a very different image to what they did not show: the impoverishment, the precariousness, the terrible living conditions, the political repression. It was very easy for the anti-imperialist left to fall in love with that, or with Fidel and his speeches at the UN, at the Rio Summit, with his “revolutionary aura that fights the greatest empire of modernity”. All really very well made up ideas. Although there were undeniable successes in the anti-colonial battle, including the break with the USSR.

Nowadays, those who allow themselves to be deceived are either misinformed, opportunistic or blind. A long time ago the mask was removed from the totalitarian power that governs Cuba and it was put on the table of international debate, even from the left, thanks to the work of important intellectuals and anti-Stalinist militants. Now there is much revealed, there are many alternative media outlets other than the Government, and although some of them are not always faithful to reality, others do a serious and committed work, beyond political colors. Even the political power has run out of tools to justify its outrages, the usual mantras, such as the discourse of the besieged square or the last anti-imperialist bastion in the world, have become lame and dusty, and have become just another means of self-discrediting.

In the case of support for the Palestinian people. It is no less true that the Cuban government has historically positioned itself alongside several just causes, among them the Palestinian one. This does not even remotely exempt it from its atrocities and guilt in other cases, especially when that support is often selective, convenient and remains only in words that cover up its true face in the eyes of international opinion.  In addition to the support that in many cases was given to other peoples or governments with very strong economic or political interests. A clear example is the shameful silence after the violence of the Iranian government against its people, mainly against women who were demanding their rights. Not a single official voice condemned the murders and other crimes committed by the Israeli government; on the contrary, we see how Miguel Díaz-Canel and other political representatives of the island ratify the “magnificent” bilateral relations. Something similar happened after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and more recently with the criminalization by the Russian State of LGBTIQ+ activism. As a Cuban citizen I am indescribably ashamed.

To enumerate all the inconsistencies of the officialism and its spokesmen would be exhausting, the examples are many, where, in many of the cases, behind the good that the Cuban government may or may not have done, there was an opportune reward. This, of course, does not apply in all cases; Cuba’s solidarity with other peoples is undeniable, although, of course, this is not the merit of its government, nor of Fidel, as the official propaganda constantly sells. To paraphrase a dear friend: the internal violence that legitimizes the Cuban government does not detract from its successes in foreign policy. This is a truth before which we cannot be blind, but it is always necessary to analyze it with a magnifying glass.

Although I am a committed supporter of the Palestinian cause and condemn daily the genocide committed by the State of Israel and its Western allies against its people, I did not attend the march you mention. Activities of this type are organized all the time by the political power in order to wash its image in the eyes of international opinion. That march, ridiculously symbolic, minimal and hypocritical, was organized by the political organizations, which in Cuba are controlled by the State, and was watched over by its repressive organs that ensured that everything that happened would fit according to the script that was drawn up. This “march” was not even one kilometer long, from Calle G to La Piragua, along the Malecón. While in the world, the people, spontaneously and without repressive organization, march for hours and days and confront the power that tries to silence them, in Cuba, the political power organizes a march of a few minutes, meticulously programmed, with a start and end time. I felt it as a mockery; one more shame.

While people were marching on the Malecon, either by their own conviction or because people were blackmailed at their work or educational center, hundreds of people were behind bars, unjustly sentenced under the assumption of sedition, public disorder or attack, for demonstrating, claiming for their rights, on July 11, 2021, a day that saw the largest repressive escalation of the last decades in Cuba. The critical left, and in this case I, unconditionally support the cause of the Palestinian people and condemn with all my strength Zionism and Western imperialism, but I will never side with the hypocrisy of the Cuban government that claims to support other peoples while it represses and abuses its own.

Here it is also valid for me to point out that many activists opposed to the Government have campaigned against any support from the Island in favor of the Palestinian people, alleging that in Cuba there are enough problems to worry about other horizons; here I am obviously against the opposition activists who support genocide, because their position is already shameful. I am also against this formula. The eagerness of many Cuban political actors to believe that the national context is comparable to that of other peoples such as Palestine, besides being infamous, is criminal. The Cuban opposition needs to get rid of the myth that Cuba is the navel of the world -no matter how much Fidel Castro has tried to convince us otherwise-, solidarity among peoples is an obligation to justice.

What are your demands to the Cuban government?

I do not demand anything from the Cuban government. I fight the Cuban Government, just as I fight and oppose any repressive, excluding and exploitative instance that exists. Let’s say that I have many enemies, the Cuban government is one more among them; fortunately there are more allies and my desire to do good.

Interview conducted by the website @abolishtheusa and provided by the interviewee to the International Socialist League.