In 1999 Canadian author Larry Gambone talked to Fernandez, writer of the seminal book on Fidel Castro’s destruction of Cuba’s anarchist movement, about how the regime maintained itself and on libertarian struggles in the country. This article is taken from the May 15th 1999 issue of Freedom Newspaper, and elements are no longer relevant, but it offers a useful look at the situation at the time.
Frank Fernandez is a long-time Cuban anarchist militant and a member of the Movimiento Libertario Cubano — the Cuban anarchist movement in exile. He was a member of the collective of Guangara Libertaria and is the author of Cuba, the Anarchists and Liberty, and La Sangre De Santa Agueda, a book about the early years of Cuban anarchism. A longer work on the Cuban Revolution is in progress, to be published in Spain and by See Sharp Press in Tlicson, Arizona [2018 note: This was later published as Cuban Anarchism]. Comrade Fernandez is interviewed by Larry Gambone.
Larry Gambone: Given the fact that at any one time during the past 25 years there have been at least several thousand people calling themselves anarchists in North America, have we done enough to educate people about Cuban anarchism?
Frank Fernandez: No, of course not, the information about Castro’s dictatorship is most of the time one-sided. There are several reasons for this, the efficient Cuban propaganda machine among intellectuals, the apathetic attitude of most anarchist media and general ignorance of the nature of the Castro regime. In some way we have to accept responsibility for failing to communicate with our North American comrades, due to problems with the English language.
What would you like anarchists to do to help your movement?
First, and more important is international solidarity with our cause, the cause of freedom. Second, direct communication with the Cuban people. At this point, I think we should avoid becoming sectarians. There is a unique opportunity to gain some social space inside Cuba. A sympathiser is the first step to becoming a militant. Any act of solidarity with the oppressed, no matter what his political or social persuasion, will benefit our ideals, since this aid represents the anarchist movement outside of Cuba. For us, [MLC] this task is almost impossible, due to the fact that we cannot have direct communication with anyone in Cuba.
Should we boycott Cuba, since in Canada, Cuba is a major vacation spot?
Yes, we have been doing this for the last 35 years and ask that our comrades in the anarchist world to do the same. Tourism represents the main source of income of the Castro regime, superior even to the sugar cane industry. It is important to explain to travellers and tourists, the exploitation and discrimination of Cuban workers in hotels, resorts, restaurants, beaches, etc., and to remind them of what kind of government the Cuban people have suffered under for the last 40 years.
What is your opinion of the US embargo of trade with Cuba?
In the past, nobody asked the Cuban anarchists what was our opinion about this matter, called a “blockade” in Cuba. I realise the embargo gives Castro an excuse to create worse social conditions in Cuba and that the people at the bottom will suffer as he makes them pay the bill of the American policy. However, if the excuse of the embargo is lifted, Castro will find another and the oppression will continue.
I don’t think the embargo will overthrow the government, nor does it represent a ‘criminal enterprise’. Nobody thinks about the blockade Castro imposes upon the Cuban people, nor how the Cuban exiles send $800 million every year, breaking the embargo. It is hard to take a position pro or con, because nobody can give you an honest answer. Any way you try to answer this question, you are going to sound either like the Potomac’s parrot or a Marxist-Leninist or worse. The question makes you take either the humanitarian side, asking for the abolition of the blockade, thereby helping Castro’s propaganda machine or a more political opinion taking the side of the Miami Cubans and the Washington Reactionaries. In both cases you lose. It is a difficult and somewhat ‘Kafka-like’ matter.
Both your pamphlet and Dolgoff’s book indicate that the Cuban anarchist movement was large and influential. It would be nice to get a rough idea of just how large the movement was.
The anarcho-syndicalist movement in Cuba was not only the largest and most influential organisation in Cuba since 1880, but also the forerunner of social progress among the proletariat until 1927. Government persecution, deportation, incarceration and even murder for two decades, plus the back-stabbing from the Communist Party ended that era. Numerically, you must make a distinction between an anarchist militant and a sympathiser. Any union could be organised and influenced by a minority of anarchist militants. This does not mean all the workers in a particular union are anarchists. However, if the workers respond to the anarchists’s agenda, then you can consider the union or federation anarchist.
The first Cuban Confederation of Labor was founded in 1925, and was composed of all kinds of trade unions, reformist, communist, etc., The anarchists were not in a majority, but the organisation, ideas, projects and manifestos, were from an anarcho-syndicalist point of view. Before the government persecution and communist treason, from 80,000 to 100,000 workers followed the anarcho-syndicalist agenda. In the first and second decades of the ’40s, the Cuban Libertarian Association was reduced in numbers to several hundreds. Before Castro became a dictator, the same Association reported more than 2,000 militants. Most of them worked and had a decisive influence among several important unions like Transportation, Electrical Plants, Gastronomy, Construction, etc.,
Have any younger Cubans in the US taken an interest in anarchism or the Cuban movement?
No, I don’t think this new generation of Cubans (so-called Cuban-Americans) have taken any interest in anarchist ideals. There are several reasons: the indifference for social problems, Americanisation, Cuban cultural and historical characteristics, etc., This is, however, nothing new in the country, which happens to be very nationalistic and with a powerful ‘kultur’ capable of changing to the American Way of Life different immigrants and exiles from stronger cultures than what Cubans have, like Germans, Jews, Italians etc. [2018 note: Since this comment there has been some growth of anarchist activity in Cuba such as the opening of the ABRA social centre in Havana earlier this year]
Are there, in your opinion any anarchists surviving in Cuba? Are there anarchist prisoners in Castro’s gulags?
As far as I can tell, I don’t think so. Old comrades die or disperse, so we don’t really know if there are any survivors, but I like to think that ideas do not die like humans do, and Cuba is not different in this matter to other parts of the world where anarchist ideals were an important part of working class society. I don’t know of any anarchist political prisoners at the moment, however there is always the possibility that some in jail without our knowledge.
I note that some Cuban anarchists were former CNT-FAI. Did they flee Franco only to end up in Castro’s prisons or firing squads?
At the beginning of the Revolution, 1959-60, some were detained and let go. Augustin Souchy was in Havana in those days and in a conversation with Abelardo Iglesias, Manuel de la Mata and Salvador Garcia, all members of the CNT-FAI during the Spanish Revolution, told his comrades of the recent visit to Cuba by ‘old friends’ from the Spanish and Italian Communist Party, Enrique Lister and the infamous Vittorio Vidale, invited by the Castro regime. Souchy warned them of the inevitable persecution from the new secret police in which Lister and Vidale were involved. The CNT comrades were involved in certain ‘counterrevolutionary’ activities and with the experience of Spain behind them, they knew how to escape on time with the protection of a Latin American embassy.
The Canadian and European media are very soft on Castro and Cuba generally (our former Prime Minister Trudeau even considers Castro ‘a friend’). Why is this the case? This friendliness existed long before the Cuba-as-capitalist-investment paradise phase of Castroism. Might this not show that the dispute between corporate capitalism and state capitalist ‘socialism’ to be somewhat of a game?
The friendship among thieves, authoritarians, ‘socialists’ and neo-liberals is not a contradiction. Au contraire, this is typical political cynicism. History teaches the anarchist that in the past there was never a difference between Ford, Hitler, Stalin, Rockerfeller or Franco. They all have a common desire, that of having the power of exploitation. Criminals, politicians or parasites, they all followed the same path; rule or dominate. The methods were different, but the purpose was constant oppression. Today is the same. Corporations, Castro, Clinton, the Pope or Blair, represent the same hunger for power and control and domination by fear or State terror. Therefore, I think they represent the eternal enemies of anarchism.
The media respond in favour of the interests of government and capital since they pay the bills. The relation between globalisation and Castroism or even ‘friendship before’ is not a ‘game’ but is a serious and dangerous partnership of those who exploit and discriminate against a large portion of the Cuban people. In reality, I never saw any difference between dictators or presidents, popes or prime ministers, from ‘right’ or ‘left’, for me they all represent the same. There could be different tactics against the state or corporate capitalism, depending upon objective or subjective conditions in regard to the government or economic situations, but in the final analysis, they are all our most distinctly and deadly enemies.