Jim McIlroy & Coral Wynter, Quito
Celia Hart, a distinguished Cuban academic, member of the Jose Marti Institute and Cuban Communist Party militant, addressed an international seminar organised by the Socialist Party of Ecuador over May 17 and 18. The event, titled "Socialism in Latin America: Experiences in Change and Regional Integration", celebrated the 80th anniversary of the SPE's founding.
After the seminar, Hart spoke to Green Left Weekly about the new opening in Latin American politics, signified especially by the Venezuelan revolution. "For us in Cuba, for the Cuban Revolution, Venezuela means the birth of a new baby", she told GLW. "The Venezuelan revolution represents both a new, intelligent force, and also expresses the experience of the Cuban Revolution."
Cuba has assisted Venezuela's revolutionary health and education "social missions", which have provided the poor with free health care and helped eliminate illiteracy. Similarly, Hart explained, "As a young revolution, Venezuela helps Cuba very much". Hart said that for Cuba, the economic benefits of ALBA — the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an initiative by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez to develop an alternative to the US-backed, neoliberal Free Trade Area of the Americas — "are extraordinary".
ALBA, which incorporates Cuba, Venezuela and, since late April, Bolivia, emphasises mutual assistance, people-centred and environmentally sustainable development, and economic integration.
"For me, the case of Venezuela is the happiest moment of this time. It is a new life for Cuba", Hart told GLW. She continued: "We are in a period of reflex reactions against neoliberalism. What has happened regarding neoliberalism is a history of action and reaction. At the moment, the political climate has moved to the left. All the people in Latin America are talking about socialism, communism and workers' control."
"It is not seen as complicated but a 'real dream' we are living", she said. "We must capitalise on this energy, and must take advantage of this situation as a matter of urgency.
"The most advanced revolutionary countries, for sure, are Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. In the case of Bolivia, they are trying to confront a group of millionaires against all odds, and they are condemned for trying to implement the ideas of socialism." Venezuela and Bolivia "are certainly not yet communist", she added.
Hart said that "the ideas of socialism include all the struggles for health, education and against poverty. Socialism globalises all these struggles. As we say, the fight for national liberation, sovereignty, dignity must pass through to the fight for socialist revolution. Venezuela and Bolivia are the most progressive in the southern cone."
However she warned that they must "fully carry through the revolution very rapidly, because this conjuncture can be lost. Capitalism has many mechanisms to reform itself, to make adjustments. After all, it has centuries of experience.
"We must take full advantage of this moment. The US is a little incapacitated because of its defeat in Iraq. This is a moment for the real left to triumph and make the revolution.
"We must capitalise on all these forces. We are living in a historic moment, unique almost, similar to the beginning of the 20th century with the revolution in Soviet Russia."
GLW asked Hart about Cuba's response to the challenges following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The USSR had been Cuba's biggest trading partner and by 1993 the island nation's economy had contracted by 35%. This crisis was dubbed the "Special Period".
Hart said, "You know that when the big crisis came [in the early 1990s], we had to introduce measures such as mixed businesses, the introduction of the dollar economy, and similar types of structures. In his speech of November 2005, [Cuban President Fidel Castro] said that these things are being rectified."
Venezuela's economic assistance has been "huge", she explained. "The Cuban growth rate last year was 11%. And the minor social differences are decreasing, now that the Special Period is over. Little by little, we are bringing back the society that we all want."
Discussing the developments in other parts of Latin America, Hart said: "Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are in an interesting situation. They have moved very far away from the previous periods of military dictatorship. The people of these countries fought against the armed forces.
"[President Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva] in Brazil, [President Nestor Kirchner] in Argentina, [President Michelle Bachelet] in Chile — I think that they have achieved or are achieving good things, important for Latin America. But I may have some differences with other comrades here [at the conference (members of the Brazilian Workers Party and the socialist parties of Argentina and Chile also attended the seminar)].
"These countries are not in the same place as the other three nations I mentioned — Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia — in the eyes of North American imperialism. We must take careful note of the dangers that are very real before us.
"Venezuela has crossed the line. On the other hand, the developments in Brazil can be exaggerated, for example. We feel there are important differences with the Workers Party. Whereas the Socialist Party of Ecuador is in a good position. The revolution is radicalising more every day, and people increasingly understand that the only way to defend yourself is to take more radical positions.
"Some comrades think that the only way to defend yourself against US imperialism is to make more concessions, rather than to radicalise. Cuba has survived for nearly 50 years because we have continued fighting, while we were waiting for all of Latin America to move beyond 'representative' governments under capitalism.
"But, at the moment, in some cases it is difficult because the structures of their economies do not permit integration. The economic systems are different."
"The people of Latin America involved in the mass movements are marvellous; they are advancing. It is my dream that all of Latin America will one day be socialist", Hart told GLW.
From Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2006.
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