“We have a great vocation to commit the same mistakes” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marifeli Pérez-Stable during the interview in Mexico. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
Marifeli Pérez-Stable during the interview in Mexico. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 6 January 2015 – Longing and love for Cuba have been a constant in her life. Sociology professor, scholar of Cuban history, and promoter of initiatives to bring “the two shores” closer, Marifeli Perez-Stable is a woman who raises passions and whose prose has the ability to make us reflect. Decades ago she embraced the idea of the Cuban Revolution, but she also knew its failure, and the disillusionment it caused so many. Today, she is a person of two cultures and two countries.

The first part of this conversation, that we present to the readers of 14ymedio, took place in Mexico City with coffees in front of us, and the second was via email after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba, on 17 December.

Question: You have defined your generation as the one that buried its grandparents and parents outside the island. And the most recent exile, how do you see them?

Answer: I’m more familiar with those who are relatively young. They are lucky that they didn’t make the break that we were forced to. They can go back and see their families, they send money to help them, they have their own identity. I’m delighted to have them in the classroom when I’m teaching. Many have at least one of their parents in Cuba. Now, amid the abnormality, there is a normality that we did not have. So I’m going to die with a certain internal emptiness that I can no longer fill, no matter what, because I could not develop as a person nor as a professional in Cuba.

Q: How did you arrive in an unknown country and start from nothing?

A: When we left the island my mother suffered a severe dislocation and great depression. It wasn’t just for the loss of Cuba, but also for the loss of her social status. Her despondency was contagious and I was 11, so I was a girl who only knew how to play and study. When I started at the university I barely knew what I wanted to be. Then I did a Master’s in Political Science, and although I knew I would be studying themes related to Cuba, the fact is that I didn’t know much about my own country.

Q: You have gone through the experience of facing accusations from both extremes of the range of political positions. How do you handle these attacks?

A: The main evolution is that I no longer care about these attacks, whether from one side or the other. I am not anyone’s agent, neither the CIA’s nor the FBI’s nor Cuban State Security’s. For a little less than twenty years I sympathized with a process known as the “Cuban Revolution,” but I’ve spent many more years opposing this phenomenon. When a 2008 Miami television program invited a former US army colonel who made serious accusations against me and against other people, as if we were Cuban spies, yes, I was shaken up. I responded with a column saying that espionage was the antithesis of who I was. But now I don’t react to these attacks.

Q: You’ve published several books, among them “The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Development and Legacy” and “The United States and Cuba: Intimate Enemies,” What other national studies themes have you addressed in your studies?

A: I reconsidered, with special attention, two aspects of our past. One of them concerns the “reconcentrados*” during the War of 1895 in the era of General Valeriano Weyler; the other is the autonomists [the Home Rule Party]. In relation to the war it should be noted that Cuba then had 1.5 million inhabitants, but there were 178,000 deaths, basically among the farmers and civilians who roamed the cities without any chance of finding food.

I don’t like this type of comparison, but in the Civil War in the United States, around 625,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians died, especially in the South. In that country at that time this meant some 2.5% of the population. In our war the figure was 10%, of whom the immense majority were civilians. If we compare the impact that the War of Succession still has on the United States, with that of the War of Independence in Cuba, we have to conclude that we have an enormous vocation for committing the same mistakes.

Q: And the autonomists?

A: José Martí said that they were the party of the permanent mistake, but you can see clearly that they weren’t rejected in the Republic. They conceived a democratic Cuba and, given the current disaster, you can’t say they were more disastrous.

Q: The term “dialoguero” [“dialogue-er”] is used against those who say they can talk with the Cuban authorities. Do you think that dialogue could still happen between the opposition and the government?

A: This has to define Cubans who live on the island. As things are today in Cuba, the conditions aren’t there, because the government refuses to talk. I think a lot about the transitions in Eastern Europe and in Latin American, but it remains to be seen if Raul Castro will leave power in 2018 as he has promised. We also have to take into account that anger of so many people within Cuba. This can trigger very disagreeable situations and, like many others, I don’t want this to happen.

Q: With regards to the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, do you think one stage is ending and another beginning?

A: The announcement of 17 December adds a new dimension to the relations between Washington and Havana. There’s no conclusion to the old, nor the beginning of something new, if by that we mean a rupture. Although Obama was extraordinary, we can’t forget that in the ‘70s Ford and Carter headed in the same direction. In the ‘90s, Clinton also tried to improve relations but his effort didn’t come to fruition either. Obama was wise to make the announcement of normalization of relations out of the blue. He talked about a trip to Cuba by John Kerry before the Panama Summit. At the Summit, Latin American and Caribbean leaders will applaud Obama and Raul Castro. Finally the United States turned aside from the rocky road of old policies, for its relations with Latin American countries!

While Raul Castro affirmed before the National Assembly that Cuba had won the war, we would have to question the conditions of this triumph. The economy hasn’t taken off despite reforms and daily life for ordinary Cubans continues to be an ordeal. Two weeks after the change, Havana blocked the performance arranged by Tania Bruguera in support of freedom of expression. Some 70 opponents were arrested. The opposition isn’t going to sit by with its arms crossed. Will the government have the ability to recharge its batteries and develop other methods for dealing with the opposition? Above all, our people on the island are exhausted by the despair and the distrust. We will see if those at the top remain mired in the same things, or dare to seek out new directions.

*Translator’s note: “Reconcentrados,” (reconcentrated) in the War of 1895, refers to rural residents relocated to towns, combined with the destruction of the land from which the rebels supported themselves. See here for more.