At the beginning of the month of June, a French magazine published a summary of the notes taken by Mr. Federico Mayor Zaragoza, former Director General of UNESCO, during a conversation with President Fidel Castro last January 28 while he visited Cuba to take part in the II International Economists Workshop held in Havana from the 24th to the 28th of that month. . .
Following are the questions and answers:
[I have placed some of the most relevant passages in bold type.]
FEDERICO MAYOR.- With China, Vietnam and North Korea, Cuba is considered the last bulwark of socialism. Yet, 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, does the word "socialism" make sense any more?
FIDEL CASTRO.- Today I am more convinced than ever that it makes a great deal of sense.
What happened 10 years ago was the naive and unwitting destruction of a great social historical process that needed to be improved, but not destroyed. This had not been achieved by Hitler’s hordes, not even by killing over 20 million Soviets and devastating half of the country. The world was left under the aegis of a single superpower, which had not contributed even five percent of the sacrifices made by the Soviets in the fight against fascism.
In Cuba, we have a united country and a Party that guides but does not nominate or elect. The people, gathered in open assemblies, put up candidates, nominate and elect delegates from 14,686 districts; these are the foundation of our electoral system. They make up the assemblies of their respective municipalities, and nominate candidates to the provincial and national assemblies, the highest bodies of state power at those levels. The delegates, who are chosen through a secret ballot, must receive over 50% of the valid votes in their corresponding jurisdictions.
Although voting is not compulsory, over 95% of eligible voters take part in these elections. Many people in the world have not even bothered to look into these facts.
The United States, such a vocal advocate of multi-party systems, has two parties that are so perfectly similar in their methods, objectives and goals that they have practically created the most perfect one-party system in the world. Over 50% of the people in that "democratic country" do not even cast a vote, and the team that manages to raise the most funds often wins with the votes of only 25% of the electorate. The political system is undermined by disputes, vanity and personal ambition or by interests groups operating within the established economic and social model and there is no alternative for a change in the system.
When the small English-speaking nations of the Caribbean achieved independence, they put into place a more efficient parliamentary system where the ruling party remains in power as long as it enjoys consensus. This is much more stable than the presidential regime imposed to the rest of Latin America, which copied the U.S. model. And, nothing has changed in almost two centuries.
Under capitalism it is the large national and international companies that actually govern, even in the most highly industrialized nations. It is they who make the decisions on investment and development. It is they who are responsible for material production, essential economic services, and a large part of social services. The state simply collects taxes and then distributes and spends them. In many of these countries, the entire government could go on vacation and nobody would even notice.
The developed capitalist system, which later gave rise to modern imperialism, has finally imposed a neoliberal and globalized order that is simply unsustainable. It has created a world of speculation where fictitious wealth and stocks have been created that have nothing to do with actual production, as well as enormous personal fortunes, some of which exceed the gross domestic product of dozens of poor countries. No need to add the plundering and squandering of the world’s natural resources and the miserable lives of billions of people. There is nothing this system can offer humanity. It can only lead to its own self-destruction and perhaps along with it to the destruction of the natural conditions that sustain human life on this planet.
The end of history, as predicted by a few euphoric dreamers, is not here yet. Perhaps it is actually just beginning.
F.M.- Forty-one years after the Revolution, and despite all of the difficulties it has had to confront, the regime that you established has endured. What could be the reason for this longevity?
F.C.- The tireless struggle and work alongside the people and for the people. The fact that we have settled for convictions and acted accordingly; that we believe in humankind and in being our country’s slaves and not its masters. We believe in building upon solid principles, in seeking out and producing solutions, even in apparently impossible and unreal conditions; in preserving the honesty of those with the highest political and administrative responsibilities, that is, in transforming politics into a priesthood. This could be a partial answer to your question, setting aside many other elements particularly related to our country and this historical era.
Of course, everybody thought that Cuba would not survive the collapse of the socialist bloc and the USSR. One could certainly wonder how it was possible to withstand a double blockade and the economic and political warfare unleashed against our country by the mightiest power ever, without the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, without credits. However, we managed to achieve this feat. At a summit meeting recently held in Havana, I somewhat ironically said to our guests that it had been possible because we had the privilege of not being IMF members.
There were times when we were swimming in a sea of circulating money. Our national currency experienced an extraordinary devaluation, and the budget deficit reached 35% of our gross domestic product. I could see intelligent visitors almost faint from shock. Our peso, the national currency, dropped to a value of 150 to the dollar in 1994. In spite of this, we did not close down a single health care center, a single school or daycare center, a single university, or a single sports facility. Nobody was fired and left on his own without employment or social security, even when fuel and raw materials were most scarce. There was not even a trace of the customary and hideous shock policies so highly recommended by the Western financial institutions.
Every measure adopted to confront the terrible blow was discussed not only in the National Assembly, but also in hundreds of thousands of assemblies held in factories, centers of production and services, trade unions, universities, secondary schools and farmers’, women’s and neighbors’ organizations as well as other social groups. What little was available, we distributed as equitably as possible. Pessimism was overcome both inside the country and outside.
During those critical years, the number of doctors was doubled, and the quality of education was improved. The value of the Cuban peso increased sevenfold, from 150 to the dollar to 20 to the dollar, between 1994 and 1998, and has since remained consistently stable. Not a single dollar fled the country. We acquired experience and efficiency on a par with the immense challenge facing us. Although we have still not reached the production and consumption levels we had before the demise of socialism in Europe, we have gradually recovered at a steady and visible pace. Our education, health and social security rates, as well as many other social features, which were the pride of our country, have been preserved, and some have even been improved.
The great hero in this feat has been the people, who have contributed tremendous sacrifices and immense trust. It was the fruit of justice and of the ideas sowed throughout over 30 years of Revolution. This genuine miracle would have been impossible without unity and without socialism.