FOR the first time since he assumed the Presidency of Cuba, in April of this year, Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez granted an in-depth interview to a foreign media outlet. Journalist Patricia Villegas of the multinational channel teleSUR, founded precisely as a voice for the progressive movements of Our America and the rest of the world, and as an alternative to mass hegemonic media, conversed with the Cuban President in the Palace of the Revolution.
Díaz-Canel explained that his four months in the post, following his appointment by the National Assembly on April 19, have offered a wealth of experiences.
He noted that Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba’s speech at the close of the Constituent Session of the 9th Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power has served as a guide for the measures he has taken since assuming the Presidency.
The Council of Ministers conducted an extensive analysis of this speech, to identify the key lessons and elements, in order to reinforce the Cuban government as a government of, and for, the people, that is, the government of the Revolution.
Starting from the concept that each cadre should lead by example, Ministers reflected on the question of how to better respond to the needs of the people.
Established as key pillars were the need to constantly bring government closer to the people, in the most complex places, and ensure that leaders in Cuba know how to adequately use information and communications technology and social media. Cuba is in the midst of the implementation of a new Communications Policy, which not only focuses on the media, but it is about extending a communications culture, and must also establish the bases of electronic government.
FOUR PILLARS OF GOVERNANCE IN CUBA:
1) Cadres must be able to render accounts.
2) Permanent debate and dialogue with the population in the most complex places and on any subject.
3) Cadres must be able to use communications as an instrument to benefit interactivity between the government and the people, through the media and social networks.
4) Leaders must be aware that the problems faced have very complex solutions and therefore must be approached with several alternatives of a scientific and innovative nature.
As part of the interview, Díaz-Canel noted that it was for the above reasons that the draft Constitution currently under discussion includes greater local autonomy, resulting in stronger local government. He added that established was the system of visits by the Council of Ministers to at least two provinces per month, in order that each province is visited at least twice a year.
The Cuban President stressed that when it comes to solving a problem, he always insists that this must be based on the truth. He noted that the Cuban press has defended the Revolution with great professionalism and efficiency, but that at times the public agenda has not been effectively reflected.
He insisted that it is increasingly important, especially given the extensive use of social media by younger generations, to “flood” these spaces with content that counterpoises that which distorts the Cuban reality and that of our peoples. “It’s a necessity for the Revolution,” he stressed.
About his closeness with young people, the President explained that Fidel was a standard-bearer in this relationship, and that this was something he practiced throughout his previous posts. “For me it was fundamental at all times. Young people contribute a lot and they refresh so much.”
Regarding the fourth pillar for the strengthening of government, he reiterated that complex situations require a range of possible solutions: “We must seek solutions based on scientific research, as well as innovation.”
He also stressed that it was crucial to build a greater interrelationship between the grassroots and higher government structures. “I think it is very important to create according to the needs of localities, of territories. That is why the autonomy that we want to provide municipalities with in the new Constitution carries a lot of weight. We also gave powers to the First Vice President to attend to the solution of problems that fall beyond the framework of what territories can achieve.”
On the government strategy to be closer to the people, Díaz-Canel mentioned that regular visits with the Council of Ministers will be conducted, “in such a way that in a year we can visit the same province at least twice. To this is added the National Assembly’s system that simultaneously gauges the territorial reality.”
Miguel Díaz-Canel also highlighted a sensitive issue: each solution must also be accompanied by an honest dialogue. “Not everything has an immediate solution, but the problem stops growing if we begin tearing pieces away, and a joint solution is created. There are also problems that can be solved immediately, as it is just some bureaucratic decision that prevents it.”
The President was categorical on defining the problem that most impacts the daily life of Cubans and the economic and social development of the country: the blockade. He described the hostile U.S. policy, imposed for more than half a century, as a brutal practice, which seeks to condemn the Cuban people to starvation, imposing sanctions on the island’s relations with the rest of the world.
He explained that the blockade has been significantly tightened, further impeding foreign investment in Cuba. “My generation has lived under the blockade, and the most outstanding thing has been the heroic resistance of this small country.”
“We are not a threat to anyone, all we want is to build a better country, a better world… greater social justice, and the main threat to achieving this remains the brutal blockade,” he remarked.
THE STATE, GOVERNMENT, ONE-PARTY SYSTEM, AND YOUTH
During the second block of questions put to him by Villegas, the Cuban President described the proposed changes to the Constitution as offering a “more realistic view” of the situation of the country. He explained that the elements proposed as part of the new Magna Carta were addressed during the Seventh PCC Congress, and will now be legally upheld by the Constitution, especially with regard to the autonomy of municipalities.
The interviewer noted that it is not the changes in the structure of the Cuban state and government that have captured the most attention among the population in the debates on the draft Constitution, but rather the question as to whether Cuba will remain a communist country, having removed the term from the new constitutional text.
Díaz-Canel responded by noting that “If one turns to classical Marxism, the mode of production to which we aspire is communism.” He also explained the intention of drafting a Constitution that is objectively closer to what is possible, and that remains a socialist Constitution. He noted that in order to achieve socialism and communism, it is also important to build these foundations at an international level.
Díaz-Canel also highlighted that it is interesting to note that it is precisely those who appear to show the most concern about whether Cuba will continue on the path to socialism or communism, who have spent their lives attacking us because of this aspiration of the Cuban Revolution.
Questioned as to why, if the Revolution is capable of being revised, the one-party system has not been reviewed, he explained that this system responds to a historical particularity of Cuba. “The issue of the leading role of the Party, which we do not renounce and which is supported by the majority of the people, responds to historic conditions.”
The PCC, he noted, is not an electoral machine. “Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party, which was the basis of what is now the Communist Party of Cuba. Martí sought a Party to develop the Revolution, a Party that was totally open and democratic enough to include the interests of the majority and achieve unity without giving rise to ruptures. Whenever in our history our unity has been fractured, we have suffered setbacks. In the centennial of the war of 1868, Fidel defined the Cuban Revolution has a single one – beginning with that war of ’68 which marked the beginning of the independence struggles in Cuba. But that war did not end in victory due to disunity, as happened with the Guerra Chiquita (Little War), the War of ’95, the revolutionary and progressive movement of the 30s went to pot, and the Cuban Revolution finally triumphed with the convergence of different forces. That is why the PCC is a people’s party to achieve unity. I am convinced that the enemy knows that their main aim must be to fragment unity, and this is focused on young people, because they are separated from those who made the Revolution by 60 years, and have internalized the achievements of the Revolution as natural rights.”
Patricia Villegas then asked whether this younger generation could be aspiring to a different electoral system or other means of communication. Díaz-Canel responded that what this generation most aspires to is the speedier development of the country.
“This is an active, cultured, educated generation that participates, and I do not believe that its main desire is to be against the Party and the Revolution. Their desires are focused on more progress, taking them into account, and they have aspirations for technological development. It is a generation that has elements of diversity and that has the benefits of the Revolution. It is a generation that is firm and that is not annexationist, that wants independence.”
THE PRESIDENT’S VIEW OF THE DRAFT CONSTITUTION
“What is your position on the limiting of private property and wealth?” Villegas asked the Cuban President, who without the intention of establishing a categorical view, as he also forms part of the Commission working on the draft Constitution, presided over by Army General Raúl Castro, responded that, “It goes without saying that I agree with everything that is set out in the draft, but I think it is a legitimate concern that people worry about these two issues.
“In this scenario where salary-price relationships are noticed, where there are people who receive certain income which is not precisely related to their work – which for us is something dignifying... it is legitimate that they worry... But people are not asking us to remove the article, but that we emphasize that there will be no concentration of property and that we add that neither will there be of wealth. Now, we will have to undertake an extensive legislative exercise. Here we understand what it is that people are proposing, and how to include it in the Constitution, which is a document of minimum content. The contribution of the youth sector is still lacking, which is very important, but undoubtedly I think it is a subject which we must pay attention to, not because there is dissent, but because the consensus is telling us that we should point out how we are going to prevent the accumulation of wealth.”
Regarding the possibility of same-sex marriage, the Cuban President argued that this is something that has come about thanks to the changes within the country. “The country has been changing and we are not oblivious to these realities. There is a humanistic vocation in the action of the Revolution. Many taboos that were once very established have been broken. The youth also understands it that way. One has one’s own opinions, but is also open to the opinions of the population. The history of the Revolution has shown us that every time we take things to a popular debate it strengthens us.”
Patricia Villegas persisted, asking the President directly whether he was in favor or not of same-sex marriage. To which Díaz-Canel responded: “I am in favor. What happens is that there are people who assess this article from different points of view, some from the semantic point of view, others from the adoption of children and family responsibility, and there are other elements that mark the thinking of some people from the point of view of tradition. I advocate that there is no discrimination of any kind.”
Villegas noted that the counterrevolution is calling for a vote against the constitutional draft, to which Díaz-Canel responded: “What I believe is that even when people think in a certain way about one article or another, one should not lose sight of the whole Constitution. We must remember what is most important for the country and our role as responsible citizens.”
Questioned as to whether he was confident the Cuban people would vote in favor of the proposal, he noted: “I believe that the majority will vote favorably. Regarding the counterrevolution, what they want does not respond to the desire to improve the country. The counterrevolution is paid and financed by the United States government, sometimes more covertly than others, and even represented here among our own neighbors. I have participated in six meetings of this kind. The foreign press, which is always very incisive, said that there was apathy. Now I can tell you, we have printed three editions of the tabloid of the draft Constitution, and they have ran out. People go to meetings, with tabloids with scribbles, I mean, with marks, notes... others with a more engineering way of thinking, using diagrams...
“Another element is that people, especially older people, are concerned about the future and how space is given to young people in the Constitution, which shows continuity. Young people are making very interesting proposals.
“In a workers’ center, there was a compañero who noted about an article: ‘I agree with what the President said and I want to withdraw my statement.’ And I said: ‘No, leave it,’ that a doubt can alert us. The next day there was a comment on Cubadebate from a compañera who praised that democratic exercise.”
UNITED STATES-CUBA RELATIONS
“As Fidel said, our conflicts, our differences, are not with the American people. But you can not aspire to a dialogue where on one side there is arrogance, hegemonism, pressure, or where a party demands that you submit to their designs.... When did a different stage open up? Well, in the last stage of President Obama. It was a process that was always thought to be long-drawn, and that began with the blockade still in force.
“We established relations and began a normalization stage that should lead to the elimination of the blockade. During that stage, we managed to maintain systematic contact and establish embassies in both countries. We managed to have a civilized relationship despite ideological differences.
“There is a part of U.S. society that wants to have relations with Cuba. And, in fact, there are certain exchanges.”
Villegas questioned the Cuban President regarding the Trump administration, and he noted: “It is the United States Congress that in practice has the power to eliminate the blockade. Obama had an approach and Trump has another opposite view. The measures proposed by Trump in November go against what the American people think, who according to the latest polls are mostly against the blockade, as it limits them in their trips to Cuba, and in their commercial and financial relations with a list of Cuban companies, and even limits relations between families. They limited the staff in their embassy and in ours. They have included visa procedures through third countries. They have returned to threats and impositions, and in the midst of all that they have created a fallacy, which they have deemed “sonic attacks.” I believe that if there is a country in which foreign citizens have been cared for, is it this.
“Have you asked the Russians to attack other countries?” the teleSUR president asked. Díaz-Canel was categorical: “We have far too many ethics to ask anyone to attack others. Cuba does not attack. Cuba defends. Cuba is solidary. Undoubtedly we must recognize the setback in relations. We have not limited the possibilities of talks, but it must be a dialogue where our relations are not conditioned. We are not willing to make concessions.”
CUBA WILL ALWAYS BE WILLING TO HELP
“We love Venezuela. Venezuela with Chávez changed the dependent situation of a country that has an important role to play in the region, due to its natural resources and its history. Chávez, through his friendship with Fidel, was able to go further, not only with a Venezuelan or Cuban project, but with a Latin American integration project. Let’s compare Venezuela before Chávez and after. The people have benefited with many achievements, which have been shared with other countries. The United States always tried to overthrow the Chávez government, using the most perverse tactics. Chávez was a leader legitimately elected as President in several processes, all recognized as legitimate, honest and clean. Chávez died and then came Maduro, the worker President. What did they think in the United States? That he wouldn’t be able to continue the Chávez legacy? They banged their heads against a wall.
“They have attacked the Maduro government resorting to violence, the economic and financial blockade against Venezuela. There is a Venezuelan oligarchy that doesn’t want to share the wealth with the people... and what has the Maduro government done? It has resisted and is going to keep resisting. That has dislocated the Venezuelan right and oligarchy, and also the government of the United States. And what’s the proof? The attempt to assassinate him (Maduro), which is the expression of impotence in the face of the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution. And they will continue to pressure Latin American countries, because we know that there are envoys of the Trump government involved, but the Latin American peoples are dignified. All this is the restoration of a capitalist and neoliberal platform for all Latin American peoples.”
Villegas continued by asking whether the Cuban President believed that progressive processes in Latin America had failed to sufficiently safeguard their achievements. “I believe that all processes have weaknesses, especially when it comes to changing the economic structural base of capitalism. What happened with ALBA? With ALBA illiteracy was eradicated in four countries with the Yo sí puedo (Yes I can) method. We do not want neoliberal globalization, we want solidary globalization.
“The results of this solidary globalization aspiration stand out in health and other social programs, and it is important to maintain these even with the departure of Ecuador from ALBA, or what is happening with UNASUR. Those who are not up to the new times, will submit to the empire,” Díaz-Canel explained.
On the role of Cuba in the Colombian peace process, he added that this is a necessary process for Colombia. “Our modest input is to contribute in this way to achieving a different international order. We facilitate talks for the parties, we do not interfere. The problems of Colombians must be solved by Colombians.”
Villegas went on to ask about the significance of López Obrador’s electoral victory in Mexico. The Cuban President noted: “Mexico is a very important country. It is a dear country. The centennial generation found a place in Mexico to prepare for the war in Cuba. Mexico maintained relations with Cuba when many others broke them off. López Obrador is a hope for Mexico and for Latin America and the Caribbean. A leftist government like that of Obrador favors the correlation of forces in the region. He has a tremendous commitment to his country and to Latin America and the Caribbean.”
“Would Cuba be willing to help,” Villegas asked, to which Díaz-Canel responded, “Of course.”
RAÚL HAS A VERY SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CUBAN PRESIDENT
To conclude, Villegas enquired as to the frequency of communication between Díaz-Canel and Army General Raúl Castro. Díaz-Canel proudly stated, “I believe that there is no one more privileged than me as President to have the Army General by my side.
“We speak with Raúl almost every day. He calls, participates in meetings and debates, advises in a very sincere way, without any hint of arrogance or impositions… I feel that he is like a father who is always guiding me, and at the same time he is letting me walk,” the President noted, adding that Raúl never neglects his responsibilities as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and that the same was the case when Fidel placed his trust in him to continue leading the Revolution. “I feel very confident then, and the compañeros of the Council of Ministers, the government, we feel very confident on having that guidance,” he noted.
Díaz-Canel continued to explain that when Raúl nominated him as First Vice President, he had “never aspired or thought” that he was the person who should occupy that position, but that Raúl explained it in a “fatherly” way, noting the importance of continuing the work of the Revolution, and that he was conscious of the need to hand over to the next generation.
The teleSUR interview ended with a final question focused on the Cuban President’s family, to which he replied that he had a very special relationship with his children – two of whom are musicians – as well as his wife, a professor who supports him and with whom he shares the same ideals. He also noted his love for his grandchildren and his commitment to spend quality time with his family every Sunday.
Díaz-Canel also referred to the importance of this first exclusive interview with the regional media outlet, and noted that he had also received requests for interviews from Cubadebate and Granma newspaper.