Frei Betto and the ‘Excessive Appetite’ of Cubans

Meeting in 2014 between Frei Betto and Fidel Castro. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, 27 December 2021 — I remember the first time I read, back in 1996, the Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot by Montaner, Vargas Llosa Jr. and Plinio Apuleyo.

I had no difficulty in identifying [Brazilian activist] Frei Betto as the protagonist of this work, a character who circulates throughout the Americas, with that vocation of being out for blood against everything that represents progress, modernization and development.

Later, when I read the second part, I had no doubt about Betto. Above all, because at that time he was one of the few who had an open door to Fidel Castro’s office to conduct those interviews that sought, unsuccessfully, to sweeten his character, something like turning him into the impossible legend that he is.

Now, we find ourselves once again with a piece of extraordinary value to measure the moral stature and intelligence of Betto, who continues to stick his nose into Cuba, with the same distorted vision of a reality that credits him with deserving the title given to him in the works of Montaner, Vargas Llosa and Apuleyo.

And really, only an idiot can think that Cubans “have a big appetite”, or that “in Cuba there is no hunger” and that it is this voracious appetite that is the origin of the food problems that exist in Cuba. God forbid! And that such things are said by someone who claims in his resume to have spent two weeks on the island in November as “advisor to the regime on the Food Sovereignty and Nutritional Education program, which has the support of FAO, Oxfam and the European Union” is even more scandalous, because it represents a lack of respect for a people who have been experiencing considerable difficulties in obtaining basic products for more than two years.

Or perhaps that this advisory function was done from a placid stay in a hotel run by Spaniards in some cay of the northern part of the island. Which could be anything.

Beto believes that by increasing local food production, through family, urban and suburban agriculture, it is possible to achieve compliance with the Cuban Program for Food Sovereignty and Nutrition Education. Nothing new under the sun.

This is the same program that was questioned by the United Nations, before the pandemic, placing Cuba at the same level as Haiti in terms of countries with the highest food risks in the world. Betto defends the regime at all times, pointing out that “it spends more than 2 billion dollars a year to import food, including from Brazil, from which it buys, among other things, rice and chicken (85% of the products that Brazil imports from Cuba are tobacco, cigars and cigars)”.

And, at this point, it should be pointed out that the correct term is “wastes”, because the decision to buy these products for 2 billion dollars means not doing so by betting on the domestic supply, so that an unproductive agricultural sector that fails to meet the needs of the population coexists with these massive imports of goods that could be obtained in Cuba.

Betto should explain why. For Betto it is very easy to blame all the ills of the Cuban agricultural sector on dependence on foreign oil, climatic catastrophes, or the blockade, following the official script, even citing the lack of containers, which are unloaded in other countries and then the products are transported to the island, which makes them more expensive.

He concludes, all of this is a strangulation for the “fragile Cuban economy, inclusion of the country in the list Made in the USA of countries that promote terrorism.”

Not a single assignment of responsibility to the regime.

And then he mentions COVID-19, “which forced the island to close its doors to its main source of foreign currency in recent years, tourism”.  The same as other countries, but Betto refrains from comparing Cuba with Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic, where tourism in 2021 has been a success in travelers and income, while Cuba was slowly drowning. It is optimistic to think about the return of tourists. At the moment, nothing seems to affirm it.

Betto also wants the 243 measures adopted by Trump to reinforce the blockade to be eliminated, but he does not make the slightest comment on the repression suffered by the Cubans on 11J [July 11 demonstrations] when they protested extensively and intensely against that regime that he likes so much, and to whom he spares no words of support and defense.

For him, Cubans only have “a big appetite”. And then, by way of conclusion, he affirms in the key of a revolutionary slogan that “in spite of this dramatic situation, Cuba resists. The entire population, of almost 12 million inhabitants, has access to a basic monthly food basket and to the Health and Education systems free of charge. There are no homeless people or beggars”.

I insist: let him pay a visit to the hundreds of disappeared and detainees after July 11 who are still waiting for the summary trials of Castroism to be condemned to long prison sentences.

Let him leave the comfortable resort and take a walk around Old Havana. For Betto these people do not exist. They do not deserve even the slightest consideration. He is only interested in “selling” the SAN Plan, which is what has paid for his comfortable stay on the island and is the latest wonder of the regime that now thinks it is going to achieve all its objectives, with the participation of the street (as in the times of that “literacy campaign” that was of little use for what it had been programmed for, since it had other undisclosed objectives), which is something he also seems to like when it comes to acting on economic matters (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, Federation of Cuban Women, trade unions).

Not content with that, Betto returns to the charge saying that “Cubans have eating habits that can be perfectly changed, such as the preference for wheat bread, an imported cereal”.

And, as in the times of the conquest by the Spaniards, because it is no longer possible to take a country further back in history, Betto points to the use of cassava to produce bread (cassava) or corn (which Cuba also imports from the United States) and even coconut flour.

He also wants meat, which is not available, to be replaced by beans, lentils, spinach, peanuts, soybeans and avocado, rich in protein, which are also not produced in sufficient quantities. To end up forgetting the cows and defending soy milk and yogurt (when Cuba does not have soy and must import it).

Who commissioned Betto this study, for which he is sure to charge a high fee? He must be surprised by the conclusions. I have no doubt about it.

Years ago, Fidel Castro was also obsessed with the properties of the moringa [a medicinal tree], which reminded the great Alvarez Guedes of that joke about the rosemary plant (romerillo) that has thrilled several generations of Cubans.

Not content with all the nonsense and idiocy, Betto ended up defending, of course, agroecology, no doubt to give vision and support to one of Raul Castro’s projects that the communist bureaucracy of the regime shelved in a forgotten corner, as is done in Cuba with that which is bothersome. In fact, Betto said he had “visited several rural properties with high productivity that do not use chemical fertilizers” and highlighted the term “property” recalling that it was the Revolution with the Agrarian Reform that gave land titles to farmers and landless peasants.

And yet, he did not have a single reference to the thousands of landowners who were expropriated without compensation by the regime and were left in absolute misery, forced to flee the country. Undoubtedly, Betto sees what he wants to see. This is a feature of Montaner’s, Vargas Llosa’s and Apuleyo’s character description.

If tomorrow Cuba were to evolve towards civic freedoms and market economy, Betto would not have the slightest inconvenience to see the same thing and propose the same guidelines.  What happens is that then, perhaps, he would not be so well received on the island. And his ideas would go unnoticed.

At the end of the day, Betto with his analysis puts any state policy before the priorities of the citizens. He believes in a collectivist model of society, where the means of production are controlled by the state and wealth or prosperity are outlawed, to the extent that they go against the principles he defends. From that weighty and majestic position of moral superiority that the left uses to criticize its rivals, Betto says that Cubans are to blame for what happens to them. And maybe, in this, he is right.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz


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