2.04 Internationalism: Cuba

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2.04 Cuba. Cuba has a population of 11 million people, most of whom are Catholic. It is governed by the National People's Government Assembly with 481 deputies, by the 169 municipal people's government assemblies in the country's 14 provinces and indirectly by the influence of the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Communista de Cuba, PCC). The PCC is governed by a Central Committee of 100 members, by a political bureau and by a secretariat. The PCC was first established in 1925. For a period from the 1930s to the 1960s it changed its name to the Popular Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Popular, PSP). From its beginning the PCC was a leader in Cuba's trade union movement. When the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) was formed in 1939, Lazaro Pena, a member of the PSP, served as its first general secretary from 1939 to 1947. He was re-elected to this position from 1962 to 1966 and again in 1973. With two million members, the CTC has locals in every factory, office and farm collective. [Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Cuba in the 1970s: Pragmatism and Institutionalization (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978),p. 90]. In the 1950s the policy of the PSP was generally class collaborationism, which was aimed at building toward revolution. The party participated in the multiparty, pluralist, one-person, one-vote system.

It was the 26th of July Movement rather than the PSP that led the revolution of January 1, 1959, although some PSP members were part of the 26th of July Movement and the members of the PSP provided honest, loyal, well-organized and trained support to the new government. In 1963 the PSP amalgamated with the 26th of July Movement to form the United Party of the Socialist Revolution (Partido Unificado de la Revolucion Socialista, PURS). In 1965 the PURS changed its name to the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Communista de Cuba). The PCC now has 600,000 members (1992) in 14,000 units located in work centers and military posts throughout the country. The PCC since 1965 has published Granma, a daily newspaper, which resulted from the merger of Hoy and Revolucion. It has a circulation of 600,000. It also comes out weekly in English. [Jan Black, et al., Area Handbook for Cuba (Wash. D.C.: GPO, 2nd ed., 1976), p. 277].

The 26th of July Movement took its name from the date in 1953 when 162 men and 2 women attacked the Moncada army garrison in Santiago. Of these revolutionaries, 70 were killed and the rest captured. After their release from prison the survivors resumed the struggle in 1956 when 82 guerrillas returned from exile aboard the Granma. The 26th of July Movement, following the lead of the 19th-century revolutionary Jose Marti, believed that Cuba needed just one party to win and preserve independence. In its view the dictatorship of the working class is subverted by multiparty, divisive factionalism where interest groups sell their support to candidates in exchange for favors.

Many Catholics have played a positive part in Cuba's communist movement. Among the Catholics in the 26th of July movement was Rev. Guillermo Sardinas. In 1957 he was the first priest to join the Guerrilla forces in the Sierra Maestra. By the time the revolution took power in 1959, there were six priests attached to rebel units. (Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, p. 125). Fidel Castro remarked on the participation of Fr. Sardinas in the struggle:

There were priests who cooperated with us. A priest even appeared and joined our troops--Father Sardinas, who joined us and was with our troops for months on end. And we had a lot of respect for him. Peasants who wanted him to baptize their children used to turn up, and Father Sardinas baptized them, and I was the godfather. That is why I have a lot of godchildren in the Sierra Maestra. [Joe Nicholson, Inside Cuba (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1974, p. 131].

In the government established in 1959 Catholics served in both leadership and rank and file positions. Joe Nicholson remarked that "some Catholics, including a few government leaders who have been with Fidel since the Sierra Maestra, feel they can be both Catholic and Communist." (Nicholson, Inside Cuba, p. 137). These Catholics had a hand in the adoption of working class legislation covering land and capital, health care, housing, education , recreation, full employment, crime, national defense and the family.

One of the Catholics who served in the government was Dr. Raul Gomez Treto, a lawyer with five children. He worked for the ministry of justice and was a leader in drafting the Family Code, which was first enacted in 1975. [Raul Gomez Treto, The Church and Socialism in Cuba (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988); U.S. Catholic Conference, "Keyhole Series," LADOC: Latin American Documentation (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Catholic Conference, 1978), vol. 18-25, p. 61]. As reflected in the code, working-class family relations are egalitarian. By law both spouses share equally in child rearing, house work and making a living. (Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, p. 219). The law aids egalitarianism by requiring that child care centers be part of every work establishment and by providing free health care, education and subsidized housing, food, transportation and recreation. Gomez Treto remarked that in making the Family Code, the people rejected the mercantilist concept of marriage as contained in the civil code. The civil code had been imposed in the colonial period and made property the focus of marriage.

In the 1960s Catholics like Gomez Treto helped defend the party's emphasis on capital accumulation and industrial diversification. The capital accumulation policy necessitated a reduction in material incentives, a price-wage freeze, the rationing of consumer goods, the militarization of labor through voluntary work brigades, the vanguard worker movement in labor unions, work discipline, obligatory three-year social service after graduation from school, an anti-bureaucracy campaign and a purge of careerists. In Gomez Treto's view the moral incentives, egalitarianism, thriftiness and doctrine that social consciousness is the country's most precious resource, which were associated with capital accumulation, embodied traditional Catholic beliefs (love of neighbor, austerity, spirit of sacrifice, humility) about economics, society and politics. (Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, p. 132; Mesa-Lago, Cuba in the 1970s, 113). Fidel Castro expressed his admiration for the Catholic religious workers whose spiritual values made them "model communists" for every party member:

There's a center for congenitally subnormal children in Havana. Nuns and Communists work shoulder to shoulder in that hospital. I greatly admire the work those religious Sisters are doing, and I'm not just saying this to you; I've said it publicly. Sometimes, I've made comparisons. Some of the old people's homes that are run by nuns are more efficient and economical than those that are run by our own administrators. Is it because we lack people who are willing to work round the clock? No. It would be unfair if I failed to say that there are thousands of nurses, doctors, health technicians and other hospital employees who do hard, difficult work with love and dedication, exactly as a Sister of Charity does. However, in addition to working with love, the Sisters of Charity and those of other religious Orders are very strict about the use of resources; they're very thrifty, and the institutions they run are very economical. I say this because we're glad to help those institutions. . . During a session of the National Assembly, I spoke about those old people's homes and, making a comparative analysis of the costs, said that the nuns were model Communists--it was broadcast on television all over the country. I've always spoken of the nuns as a model for Communists to follow, because I think they have all the qualities we'd like our Party members to have. [Fidel Castro, Fidel and Religion: Castro Talks on Revolution and Religion with Frei Belto (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), pp. 226-227].

The administrators who Castro complained about in the above quote, that is, those who had difficulty with the capital accumulation policy were mainly some old-time, overly sectarian communists. For example, Anibal Escalante and eight other former members of the PSP were purged from the government and the PCC and tried in 1968 for "deviationism" before the central committee. They were convicted of plotting against the government and of engaging in anti-party activities, including conspiring with Soviet foreign agents. (Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, p. 449). The Direcion General de Inteligencia (DGI) was the only government agency authorized to deal with Soviet intelligence.

While some Catholics such as Gomez Treto served at high levels in the government, rank and file Catholics also contributed to the revolution as members of their local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). There are 78,000 CDRs, one for each block and rural area in Cuba. Five million or 81% of the people over 18 years are members of a CDR. They pay monthly dues of $.25. First formed in 1960, CDRs provide health care (oral doses of polio vaccine, blood donations, pap smears, breast cancer checks), organize parents for voluntary work at schools and in the neighborhood, keep the school records of children on the block, hold chess matches, guard the block from 11 pm to 5 am with street patrols, conduct political meetings and have dances and parties. [Fred Wood, Inside Cuba Today (New York: Crown Publishers, 1978), pp. 69-72]. In the 1960s the CDRs were the first line of defense against gambling, prostitution, begging, loafing, absenteeism from work and petty corruption among government officials. In 1959 there were 27,000 people employed in gambling, 11,000 in prostitution and 6,464 drug convictions. By 1971 employment in gambling and prostitution along with the petty corruption of government officials was practically non-existent. There were 156 drug convictions. In the same period 58,000 small businesses and privately owned enterprises were nationalized or shut down with the help of the CDRs. The owners of bars, cafes, hot dog stands and retail stores were treated as guilty of illegal and exploitative activities catering to "selfish" (capitalist) impulses among the people. (Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, pp. 445-446).

Those Catholics who took a stand against communism came from the capitalist class and its allies, including many of the clergy. The opposition of the church hierarchy to working people had a history dating to the earliest colonial period. During the independence movement against Spain in the late 19th century, the hierarchy sided with Spain. As a result, after Spain was expelled in 1898, the hierarchy lost the support of the new government. The 1901 constitution separated the church from the state, terminated the clergy from the state payroll and refused to pay the hierarchy for the church property that the colonial government had seized during the independence movement. (Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, p. 124). Nevertheless, until the revolution in 1959 most of the clergy continued to serve only the landlord and capitalist class, that is, 5% of the population. Fidel Castro remarked on the class prejudice of most clergy:

The church in Cuba wasn't popular; it wasn't a church of the people, the workers, the farmers, the low-income sectors of the population. Here in our country, something that was already in vogue and which later became common practice in most of the Latin American countries had never been applied: that of priests working side-by-side with the villagers and workers, priests working in the fields. In our country, where 70% of the people lived in the countryside, there weren't any real churches. This is an important piece of information: there wasn't a single church in the countryside, not a single priest. (Castro, Fidel and Religion, p. 181).

For the minority of clergy that did identify with the working class, the communist revolution was as much theirs as it was that of the working people. Prior to the revolution, they had to struggle with the dictatorship of the landlord and capitalist-backed hierarchy and the Spanish-born missionaries that had dominated the institutional church and prevented it from serving the people. After the revolution the hierarchy and missionaries joined the counterrevolutionaries in protesting against the agrarian law of 1959, the health, housing and education reforms, the solidarity with the Soviets and the nationalization of foreign capital. Three spanish-born priests took part in the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. Others supported the invasion in the pulpit, the church newspapers and the church radio stations. (Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, p. 129). The counterrevolutionary Spanish missionaries were mainly members of the religious orders that owned Cuba's 300 private schools and hospitals. Prior to the revolution, their educational and medical assets had allowed them to live comfortable lives serving those that could afford to pay. After the Bay of Pigs their schools and hospitals were nationalized and put into the service of all the people. Most of the missionaries were not interested in teaching or practicing medicine in the publicly owned institutions and in living on the level of those they served. Most of them went back to Spain. In 1959 there had been 800 priests and 3,000 nuns. By 1961 the number was down to 200 priests and 300 nuns.

The departure of the hierarchy and the spanish-born missionaries made it possible for those clergy and nuns who sided with the people to serve. In addition in the early 1960s the revolution attracted 150 working-class oriented priests and nuns from abroad who requested and were allowed to come to Cuba and work. (Nicholson, Inside Cuba, p. 130). The advances made by the working class with the departure of the counterrevolutionaries was visible in the expanded role which they played in the institutional church. For example, they took over the catectical instruction of parents and sponsors for baptism and the other sacraments. (U.S. Catholic Conference, "Keyhole Series," LADOC, vol. 18-25, p. 43). They influenced the education of future priests in the seminary. By the mid-1960s Cuba's major seminary and its two minor seminaries were in the hands of revolutionaries. One of them, Fr. Carlos Manuel de Cespedes was rector of the major seminary, St. Charles (San Carlos) in Havana. He and his fellow instructors introduced into the curriculum courses on Marxism and Cuban politics. Along with their students the instructors went to the countryside at each sugar harvest to do voluntary work alongside the campesinos. In addition to field labor, they worked in voluntary construction brigades to build roads, schools and housing. The transformed seminary required the future priests to serve in the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaries, FAR). Into the liturgy the workingclass introduced its culture and music such as the rumba. In pastoral letters in 1968 and 1969 and in the pulpit the working class influenced clergy, including some newly appointed church hierarchy, condemned the U.S. economic blockade and defended the government as doing God's work in raising the working class's standard of living. (Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, p. 131). There were sermons holding up as a hero the revolutionary Colombian priest, Camilo Torres, who died in combat in 1968. The bible was said by the revolutionary clergy to teach the dignity of the working class and the doctrine that all people are equal. Typically, the 16 Cubans ordained to the priesthood in 1971, a number equal to the pre-revolutionary number, all identified themselves as revolutionaries. (U.S. Catholic Conference, "Keyhole Series,"LADOC, vol. 18-25, p. 53; Black, Area Handbook for Cuba, pp. 129, 131-132).

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