Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cuba and Brazil, Part I: Castro Lectures Lula da Silva

The relationship between Cuba and Brazil has always been close. The two nations do not share a language, but in many ways are more culturally compatible than they are with other states in Latin America. Brazil has become, in many ways, the engine of Latin America. But like Germany within the European Union, it has tended to use its power and size gingerly. But it has sought to use its muscle nonetheless. The current President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a man with a significant leftist past, has sought to serve as a bridge between left and right in Latin America. The initial assessment of Lula in 2002 I think still captures the core of his Presidency:
During the election campaign Lula repeatedly promised to change the country’s economic model, usually thought of in Brazil ashaving been something called the “Washington Consensus.” Popular opinion often focuses on the specifically neoliberal bits of the Washington Consensus (a term I coined 13years ago), such as capital-account convertibility and the minimal state that accepts no responsibility for income distribution, and these elements have indeed been problematic. But the basic notions that were embodied in the original concept of the Washington Consensus—macroeconomic discipline, the market economy, and opening up the economy to foreign trade—were precisely the things that Lula embraced in the course of moving to the center of the political spectrum to make himself electable. John Williamson, Lula’s Brazil, Foreign Affairs 81(6), 105, 110 (2002)

Lula means to be everyone’s friend—from George Bush (see Remarks by President Bush and President Lula of Brazil, Konstantinovsky Palace Complex Strelna, Russia, July 17, 2006, available to Hugo Chavez (Brazil’s Lula Defends Chavez as Referendum Nears, Insurreción, Nov. 25, 2007, available But the friendship with Cuba remains something special for Brazil, and instructive for the rest of the world. It is thus m ore than of passing interest when one of the principals in the Brazil-Cuba relationship has something to say. And whatever may be said would tend to merit careful analysis by Americans looking on.

It is with this in mind that one reads the recent posting by Fidel Castro, Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe, Lula (Primera Parte), Jan. 22, 2008, available at (available in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, Russian, Arabic and in English). I propose a close reading of the text to see where it leads us.

The “Refection” starts curiously, with a rebuke of sorts: “De forma espontánea decidió visitar Cuba por segunda vez como Presidente de Brasil, aunque mi salud no le garantizara un encuentro conmigo. Antes, como él mismo dijo, visitaba la Isla casi todos los años.” (Spontaneously, [Lula] decided to visit Cuba for a second time since he became President of Brazil, though the state of my health did not guarantee him a meeting with me. Before, as he has said, he would visit the Island almost every year.”).

This odd set of circumstances—an unplanned visit in the usually well controlled agenda of the Cuban state and especially of its Commander in Chief, must be read as irony, and rebuke, rather than as a suggestion of neighborly surprise. The sting become evident as the narrative continues. Castro uses the memory of the change in the current circumstances of their relationship—apparently much changed since Lula ascended to the Presidency of Brazil, as an opening to an elaboration of the rebuke, now clearly ideological in character. Castro devotes the next several paragraphs to a recollection of the first encounter with Lula. This was an encounter under very different circumstances. The setting was Nicaragua, on the first anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution.

The guests were well-credentialed representatives of what in the United States might be called the “hard left.” The meeting took place in the house of Sergio Ramírez, then the Nicaraguan Vice President (whose work of fiction (Divine Punishment) Castro relates, had him fooled because it so nicely captured the legal complexities of colonial Latin America. (“Lo conocí en ocasión del primer aniversario de la Revolución Sandinista en la casa de Sergio Ramírez, entonces vicepresidente del país. Digo de paso que este último de cierta forma me engañó. Cuando leí su libro Castigo Divino --excelente narración--, llegué a creer que era un caso real ocurrido en Nicaragua, con todos los enredos legales que son habituales en las antiguas colonias españolas; él mismo me contó un día que era ficción pura.” Id.).

Among the other guests were a couple of leaders of the then powerful Catholic Liberation Theology Movement. One was Brother Betto, the Brazilian Franciscan liberation theologian, with a long and intimate connection to Cuba and its revolution (see Frei Betto, Open Letter From Frei Betto to Che Guevara on the 30th Anniversary of his Death, July 9, 1997, available Indeed, Castro collaborated with Frei Betto on a 314 page book (representing about 23 hours of transcripts) about religion, Fidel And Religion Castro Talks on Revolution and Religion With Frei Betto (The Cuban Center for Translation and Interpretation, trans., Harvey Cox, Introduction, New York: Simon & Schuster, which was discussed in a New York Times article in early 2008. See Alan Riding, God and Man in Latin America, New York Times, June 28, 1987, Sunday, Late City Final Edition. And indeed, Castro’s first meeting with Lula and Frei Betto had been reported earlier, from Frei Betto’s perspective, in a 2006 article published in the Cuban Communist Party organ, Granma, Frei Betto, Encuentros con Fidel, available

The other guest was Father Ernesto Cardenal, a child of upper class parents who became another powerful voice of Liberation Theology within the Sandinista regime with which he later broke. He has since retired to his writings and last visited Cuba in 2003 for an authors convocation in honor of his literary work. See Ernesto Cardenal Hompage, available (“También me encontré allí con Frei Betto, hoy crítico aunque no enemigo de Lula, y con el Padre Ernesto Cardenal, militante sandinista de izquierda y actual adversario de Daniel. Los dos escritores procedían de la Teología de la Liberación, una corriente progresista en la que siempre vimos un gran paso hacia la unidad de los revolucionarios y los pobres, más allá de su filosofía y sus creencias, ajustada a las condiciones concretas de lucha en América Latina y el Caribe.” Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe, Lula (Primera Parte)).

Castro stops here long enough to emphasize a contrast between the religious and ideological purity of Cardenal, from others, initially of a more revolutionary bent, who wound up betraying the leftist cause for the emoluments offered by the enemies of the Revolution. “Confieso, sin embargo, que veía en el Padre Ernesto Cardenal, a diferencia de otros en la dirección de Nicaragua, una estampa del sacrificio y las privaciones cual monje medieval. Era un verdadero prototipo de pureza. Dejo a un lado otros que, menos consecuentes, alguna vez fueron revolucionarios, incluso militantes de extrema izquierda en Centroamérica y otras áreas, que después se pasaron con armas y bagajes, por ansias de bienestar y dinero, a las filas del imperio.” Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexiones del Comandante en Jefe, Lula (Primera Parte). (“I confess, in any case, that I saw in Father Cardinal, unlike others leaders of Nicaragua, a stamp of the sacrifice and the deprivations of the medieval monk. It was a true prototype of purity. I leave to side other that, of less consequence, who were once revolutionaries, even militants of the extreme left in Central America and other places, that later passed with their arms and baggage, on account of anxieties over their well-being and money, to the ranks of the empire.”)

Having set the stage—the surprise visit of Lula, the changes in the relationship between the Lula once more comfortable with real revolutionaries and the current President of Brazil, and the oblique references to the way in which revolutionaries had betrayed the cause for money and security, he turns makes the implicit explicit: Lula is both put in his place within the Marxist pantheon of class types—impure but salvigable. And in this categorization, Castro finds an opportunity to lecture and teach his Brazilian counterpart on the necessary determinism inevitable in Latin America through the experiences of Cuba. “¿Qué tiene que ver lo relatado con Lula? Mucho. Nunca fue un extremista de izquierda, ni ascendió a la condición de revolucionario a partir de posiciones filosóficas, sino de las de un obrero de origen muy humilde y fe cristiana, que trabajó duramente creando plusvalía para otros. En los obreros vio Carlos Marx a los sepultureros del sistema capitalista,” Id. (“What does this have to do with Lula? Much. He was never an extreme leftist, nor did he ascend to the condition of the revolutionary starting from philosophical positions, but rather from the condition of a worker of very humble origins and Christian faith, who worked hard to create goodwill for others. In such workers Karl Marx saw the gravediggers of the capitalist system.”):

And then the lecture. This is standard ground for Castro, especially in his writings of the last decade or so. These include the essential validity of Marxist determinism; the application of those principles to a changing world order; the resulting threat to humanity; the change in the focus of capitalist domination from one based simply on money wealth to one based on control of technology, knowledge and the global means of production. He ends this recital with a call to action: “Hoy, que la humanidad sufre todavía esas realidades en virtud de la propia dialéctica de los acontecimientos, debemos hacer frente a esos peligros.” Id. (“Today, that humanity still suffers these realities by virtue of the very dialectics of these events, we should confront these dangers ”).

From macro to micro perspectives, Castro then contextualizes these basic Marxist notions in the experiences of Cuba, which I leave for the reader to work through. From this socio-historical set of musings, Castro focuses, somewhat slyly on the point he will be making—unity in the face of a common overarching enemy, even among those who though no longer tied to the left, are part of that Marxist cluster of capitalist gravediggers. And foremost among these gravediggers, of course, would be Lula himself.

“Para mí, unidad significa compartir el combate, los riesgos, los sacrificios, los objetivos, ideas, conceptos y estrategias, a los que se llega mediante debates y análisis. Unidad significa la lucha común contra anexionistas, vendepatrias y corruptos que no tienen nada que ver con un militante revolucionario. A esa unidad en torno a la idea de la independencia y contra el imperio que avanzaba sobre los pueblos de América, es a la que me referí siempre.” Id. (“for me, unity signifies the sharing of the battle, risks, sacrifices, objectives, ideas and strategies, that one attains in the course of debate and analysis. Unity signifies the common struggle against annexationists, traitors and the corrupt none of whom have anything to do with the militant revolutionary. That unity around the idea of independence and against the empire that advanced against the people of Latin America, is the one to which I have always referred.”).

There follows a long reverie on the rise of nationalism in Cuba, its ties to Marxist Leninist thought, its solidarity to Stalinism, and the parallels in the death struggles of the Soviet Union (with Germany) and Cuba (with the U.S). This is also a standard recitation of ideas long expressed by Castro. The parallelisms have been a favorite literary trope in Castro’s writings and he deploys them here again to affirm his Stalinism (a side swipe to his brother Raul and his Sinification of the Cuban economy), and the devolution of the Stalinist mantle (and Stalinist historical struggle) from the Soviet Union and Stalin to Castro and Cuba.

And this reverie eventually brings us back to Lula. He recalls having observed Lula’s red tie and asked him if it had been a gift from Hugo Chavez—sly plays on the link between the tie and symbolic communism hanging around the neck of the Brazilian president. This play is reinforced by the reported reply, that Lula intened to send Chvez some shirts because the collars of his shirts were too stiff. (“Observo un momento la corbata roja de Lula y le pregunto: ¿esa te la regaló Chávez? Se sonríe y responde: Ahora le voy a enviar algunas camisas, ya que él se queja de que el cuello de las suyas está muy duro, y se las voy a buscar en Bahía para regalárselas.”).

The essay ends with a reminder of the improving health of the Commander in Chief, and more importantly, the status of Castro increasingly as the elder statesman of Cuban revolutionary thought. In response to Lula’s comments about the state of Castro’s health, Castro replies that he has now dedicated himself to thinking and writing; never in his life had he thought so much (“Cuando comentó que estaba muy impresionado por mi salud, le respondí que me dedicaba a pensar y a escribir. Nunca en mi vida había pensado tanto.”).

Thus ends the first part of the lecture to (or for) Lula. Castro reminds Lula of his ideological and class origins, chides him for straying, but needs him enough to use him (and the ties to his past) to seek his support against the forces of the Americans with whom Lula is now in fairly tightly. Castro reminds Lula that he is no intellectual, but is inexorably tied by his class origins, and his faith, to the project of the destruction of capitalism in its current phase of market based economic globalization. Castro is ready to serve as his teacher. He calls Lula home. Lula is both an object and a platform for a summing up and a drawing home.

But why the interet? The answer might be found tucked in an early discussion ostensibly focused on the American President's visit ot the Middle East and the musings of a Yale professor that has impressed Castro.
Brazil, which is now self-reliant in fuel and has abundant reserves, will doubtlessly escape this dilemma. Stretching on a plateau at 300 to 900 meters altitude, it is 77 times bigger than Cuba. This sister republic enjoys 3 different climates. Almost every food can be grown there. It is no hit by tropical hurricanes. Together with Argentina, they could save the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, including Mexico, although they could never guarantee security for them because they are at the mercy of an empire which will not allow that union.
Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflections of the Commander in Chief, An Epiphany Gift, Jan. 14, 2008. (in the original-- Regalo de Reyes).Castro looks to Brazil as a counter to both the old empire--the United States--and the new empire, China, with which Raul Castro has increasingly tied the fortunes of the nation. Castro has sought over a lifetime to institutionalize an alliance of poorer states to act as a counterweight to empire. The latest version, the Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), focuses on both Latin American aspirations for independence and a socialist inspired economic union. Indeed, the entire set of lectures for Lula appear on ALBA's website. For this purpose Brazil is the key. And Lula may be the willing instrument.
Stay tuned.

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