Historian and activist Armando Chaguaceda defines himself as a defender of “democratic socialism that does not sacrifice freedoms for goods or services.” In Cuba, he associates with the independent left and currently resides in Mexico. Last week, he traveled to Miami for a meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE, its acronym in English).
“Chagua” as his friends call him, spoke to 14ymedio about reforms in Cuba, the process of the negotiations with the US and the future of the ideology he has defended throughout his life.
Miriam Celaya (MC). Where is the left headed in Cuba?
Armando Chaguaceda . The left is often defined by privileging equality over freedom. However, this is a very schematic definition. For me, it is necessary to hold political equality and rights against all powers, including the market.
In Cuba, the left will become more pluralistic. There are several lefts currently on the Island: one that is more communist and totalitarian; another one is anarchist and does not recognize the State, which is good in a sense because it demystifies and questions it. Mine is the social democracy or democratic socialism, which does not sacrifice freedoms for goods or services. It is a more humane and inclusive socialism.
In Cuba the Revolution’s social pact broke down; social spending diminished in important areas — like health or education — which ultimately were never rights, since they were not recoverable.
The Cuban opposition has focused heavily on the issue of human rights, which are deficient, but unimportant to the people. The left’s agenda, however, defends social rights. At least one sector of the left is headed down that path, as is the case, for instance, of the Observatorio Crítico which defends the social conquests and rights of workers; or Pedro Campos, who proposes participatory and democratic socialism.
Personally, I was helped a great deal by anarchism in criticizing the State and in understanding another kind of militancy, because I come from communism. During my anarchism years I lived and felt the rescue of solidarity and affection “from the bottom up.” My fondest memories are from those years I spent as a Professor at the University of Havana.
MC. Do you consider the changes Raul Castro has made in Cuba more a “betrayal” rather than an improvement of the “socialist model”?
Chaguaceda. It is not a betrayal. It is an update, a reform. A new model is being built which has continuities and changes in respect to the previous one. Political control over society and the lack of social pluralism continue. At the same time, society is being changed to be less dependent on the State and more diverse, but also poorer and more unequal. Meanwhile, the market allocates goods and services in the economy to those who can pay.
“The Cuban opposition has focused heavily on the issue of human rights, which are deficient but unimportant to the people.”
MC. Can someone be liberal, right-wing, bourgeois or annexationist and still have good relations with Chaguaceda?
Chaguaceda. Yes. I have relatives and friends across the political spectrum, but we share values and feelings as human beings. It is important to understand and to defend that concept in a country that has been polarized and politicized for decades.
MC. To reform or to overthrow?
Chaguaceda. Do I advocate violence? In principle, I don’t. Violence is always imposed from the authorities when people are denied other avenues and freedoms, and that violence often claims the lives of the poorest and most powerless. Other times, when violence prevails as a revolutionary movement, it ends up exalting the previously subversive and establishing new dominance.
But, additionally, for ethical reasons, I cannot ask of others to do something I never did. In my years of political life in Cuba, in the official organizations, in the emerging activism and in my writings as a public intellectual, always I ventured to use “the correct place, time and means*” [chuckles], peacefully and appealing to the laws and the rights to promote the causes I believed in.
MC. How do you evaluate the process of negotiations between Cuba and the United States?
Chaguaceda. As something inevitable and understandable, given the failure of the isolationist agenda and from the legitimate interests of the US government towards its entrepreneurs and citizens. That does not mean that international support for democratization and respect for human rights in Cuba must be subordinated to geopolitical interests. I think it must be, above all, a citizen cause of activists, organizations, movements and, in the case of Cuba, it should have the participation of Latin American governments.
MC. How much has the Mexican experience enriched and changed you?
Chaguaceda.The Mexican experience has impacted me in various ways. First, I met a country, a culture and a people of immeasurable wealth, where I was able to develop an eight year career and academic training. But it has also helped me to understand rampant inequality and everyday violence. All legal structure and constitutional democracy is empty of meaning for the common people at the bottom.
In Mexico I have also gotten to know theoretical and practical movements in the fight for human rights which I did not catch in their proper level in my years in Cuba. And when I see cases of gross violations of human rights from the testimony of the victims, I realize that no violation is preferable to another, but – in the extreme — different conditions and guarantees to exercise your rights.
“When violence succeeds as a revolutionary movement, it ends up exalting the previously subversive and establishing new dominance.”
Physical murder may exist in some places, and, in others, civic murders. But from the experience of the repressed, any violation of rights, whatever the legitimating principle invoked to carry it out (the fight against terrorism or against “the mercenaries of the Empire**,” for example), is to be condemned.
MC. In your speech you did a report on the state of political science in Cuba. Could you summarize what you pose in it?
Chaguaceda. First, compared with other social sciences, development of political science lags significantly, both organizationally and in the theoretical-methodological, as well as in the dissemination in the results of research. Stalinist dogmas and abuses of guidelines persist, lacking empirical support. As a result, it becomes more like political philosophy than political sociology, and that brands the styles of all of us whose formative years were spent in Cuba.
However, previously excluded topics are surfacing in academic places and in alternative forums, the use of investigative techniques and the gathering and processing of data is becoming more rigorous, and legible work, without cryptic codes is being acknowledged by Latin America academia. We have challenges, such as reading and quoting “those inside” and “those outside”; overcoming the self-centered suspicion that lives in some of the former and the pedantic realism of those who, from abroad, believe there is no worthy work to be recognized and valued in those internal conditions.
*A phrase used by the regime with regards to where when and how the Communist Party and the regime may be criticized.
**Also a phrase of the regime claiming that internal opposition members are being paid by the United States — “the empire” — to overthrow the Cuban government.
Translated by Norma Whiting