Helen Yaffe Discusses Fidel Castro's Death & The Cuban Revolution On BBC




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cdgr0820: TRANSCRIPT:
Interviewer:
One person who spent many years in Havana is Dr. Helen Yaffe, and expert
on Cuba, a fellow in economic history from the London School of
Economics. Dr. Yaffe, thank you very much for your time. I see you've
written a book called "Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution." We
will come to the economics in a minute, but when you say Che Guevara,
and you think of Fidel Castro, you think of two men in their military
fatigues, their green caps, their beards, their cigars--great friends.
Did one radicalize the other? How did they relate? How did the
relationship work?

Helen Yaffe:
They were of course the leaders of the '59 revolution along with RaΓΊl.
Yeah, well when Che Guevara met Fidel Castro in Mexico, Fidel had
already carried out the first sort of insurrectionary attack on the
Moncada Barracks of the Batista dictatorship, and so he was already
committed to a revolutionary course for changing the regime in Cuba--an
armed uprising, and Che Guevara had been traveling around Latin America
and his ideas had radicalized, and he had concluded that the United
States' imperialism and monopolies, and the landed oligarchy and so on
were the main ills for Latin America, and that he was committed to
liberating the people of Latin America. So really it was--to use a not
really appropriate term--a match made in heaven, and Che was looking for
a way to be able to channel those views that he had, and Fidel Castro
was already engaged in the revolutionary struggle.

Interviewer:
A serendipitous meeting--two minds that think alike. So did Che see
something in this situation in Cuba that would encourage his form of
revolution that they brought together? What was happening in Cuba in the
1950s that led to this situation where a guerrilla army would even
bother to form to fight against the president?

Helen Yaffe:
Well, you had Batista in power. He had just carried out a coup with
support from the United States in 1952, and Batista had actually been
the president of Cuba and been in charge of Cuba, essentially, for many
years in the previous period, but this time he was even more brutal. The
dictatorship left some 20,000 Cubans dead. Often corpses turned up at
the side of the road in horrific conditions we won't go into. So one of
the things... if you read Che Guevara's book, a sort of guidebook to
guerrilla struggle, guerrilla warfare... one of the things he says is
armed struggle should be undertaken when all the democratic channels
have been exhausted, and that was certainly the case as far as they were
concerned in Cuba. Fidel Castro himself had been a candidate in the
elections which were ultimately got rid of by the coup that Batista
carried out, so Fidel Castro he had tried the democratic or electrical
road to changing the system in Cuba, and that had failed because of the
dictatorship which they were very conscious was supported by the United
States.

Interviewer:
And you say democratic channels, and yet then after they win this
victory in 1959, they enter Havana and they establish, or Fidel does,
the first one-party communist state in the Western Hemisphere. That's
not democratic.

Helen Yaffe:
Well, it's certainly true that they didn't have elections in Cuba until
1976, but they did introduce a new constitution, and new elections, but
not the kind of elections that we recognize, where we come from a party
political system. And part of the problem of perception and why you can
hear--I'm sure you're interviewing people who have completely different
perspectives--is this question of "What do we define as democracy?" So
in Cuba elections take place, but people don't stand as members of
parties. They stand either as representatives of local communities, or
their workplace, or social or cultural societies and institutions, and
they are represented in Parliament. So, for example, you have eight
seats in parliament put aside for university students. Now for those
people who regard what we've just seen in the United States as the model
of democracy, of course, we find that missing in Cuba, and then,
therefore, we would conclude that democracy is missing in Cuba. But they
have a different system, and I think that the failure of people to
really understand what's going on in Cuba is because they fail to make
this immanent critique, where they are trying to understand what are the
actual challenges that Cuba has faced, but [they need to ask] what has
been their strategic objective? Fidel Castro laid out a program in the
Moncada Program. He said we want to bring housing, healthcare,
education, and so on for our people, and on the whole, what has happened
under the revolution has been consistent with the pursuance of those
strategic objectives. Now for some people that is what freedom is, and
democracy is. It is access to healthcare and education. For others it's
not. For others it's the freedom to have a small business, to have
political associations, and establish yourself, and so on. So this is
why we have such a contradictory reflection on Fidel's legacy, Fidel's
contribution, or whether he was destructive or, in fact, a gift to
humanity, and so on, and that's why there's also equally divergent views
on the Cuban Revolution and what it's achieved.

Interviewer:
OK, that's extremely interesting, and I want to bring it down to one of
the simplest things you can imagine: the ability to meet friends and be
together. Is it a myth that if there are three or four people together
on the street corner talking, somebody from the authorities will come up
and say, "Look, be careful, guys. What are you doing?"

Helen Yaffe:
Not only is it a myth, I mean I have to struggle not to laugh.

Interviewer:
People say this, though.

Helen Yaffe:
They may say all sorts of things. I've heard that Cubans lock children
up in cages. I mean it's absurd. The reality is that if you go to
Cuba... and increasingly people from the United States are going to Cuba
and they're seeing that what they have built up in their heads, and
this sort of impression that they have is so far from the truth. The
Cuban people are world leaders in music, in culture, in art and sport.
Now you could not achieve what they have achieved in those fields if you
had this kind of dictatorship where everyone was invigilating everyone,
where you couldn't get together and express yourselves. I mean without
expression there is no art, is there? So I think that we have to not
only not
take these myths for their word but also try and understand where they
come from and why, and whose purposes they serve. If you do that
[believe the myths], you dehumanize Cubans. The Cuban people are a
revolutionary population. They fought against the Spanish. They had the
10-year war. They had an independence movement. They had a revolution in
1933. If they had really been oppressed to the level that we're
expected to believe, they also know where the guns are. They are all
militarily trained. You're not helping yourself to explain what really
happens in Cuba if you take those kinds of simplistic notions which are
ideologically charged.

Interviewer:
It helps us so much that you've been to Cuba to see things for yourself.
Dr. Helen Yaffe, thank you very much indeed. We really, really
appreciate it.

Helen Yaffe:
Thank you.
Rating:
Helen Yaffe discusses Fidel Castro's death & the Cuban Revolution on BBC 5 out of 5

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cdgr0820: TRANSCRIPT:
Interviewer:
One person who spent many years in Havana is Dr. Helen Yaffe, and expert
on Cuba, a fellow in economic history from the London School of
Economics. Dr. Yaffe, thank you very much for your time. I see you've
written a book called "Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution." We
will come to the economics in a minute, but when you say Che Guevara,
and you think of Fidel Castro, you think of two men in their military
fatigues, their green caps, their beards, their cigars--great friends.
Did one radicalize the other? How did they relate? How did the
relationship work?

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Helen Yaffe discusses Fidel Castro's death & the Cuban Revolution on BBC