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CUBA: BEYOND THE CROSSROADS
[20-04-06]

(Return to Cuba is the title of this first in a series of 22 articles that "Morning Star" printed between April 20 and August 1, 2006. I include four pieces here, those I think most important and one, "Me and Fidel", that is mainly personal. I am reposting them now, January 20012, after having had the entire series on my web. The entire series can be found at:
http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/33086.

The series was collected in a small book with the title "Cuba: Beyond the Crossroads" and published by Socialist Resistance, London, 2007. See www.socialistresistance.net. Cuba has changed radically--not in a radically left manner--since this series. You can see my newer Cuba writings under the years 2009-11 on the web.)

"Cuba’s revolution-its ideology and economy, the society as a whole-is in crisis. Contemporary reality is changing rapidly in confusing directions." This I wrote introducing "Cuba at the Crossroads", an anthology mainly of articles written for the "Morning Star" when I was its correspondent-1993-1996. I lived in Cuba (1987-96), working for book publisher, Editorial José Martí, and news agency Prensa Latina. After a decade in Denmark, I returned for three months to compare the state of affairs.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Right from the start, I was impressed with advances.

The aircraft landed at Havana's new airport, terminal three—a modern complex, attractively decorated and clean. Customs and service workers perform quicker and more efficiently in serving travellers than when I lived in Cuba. Furthermore, it soon became clear that service workers are generally more attentive and efficient, also in peso places.

After a night in one of Havana's casa particular (private homes whose owners pay a tax to rent a room or two), I looked up an old friend. The former "outlaw" Black Panther loaned me his bicycle.
I found an apartment for rent to Vedado, a central Havana district, and began to tour the city and province. I noticed few bicycles and many more automobiles, scooters and motorcycles.

Havanans view this as progress since not many care to cycle, according to experienced cyclists. In the first part of the Special Period—the government's term for survival reforms being enacted since the fall of European state socialism—there were hundreds of thousands cycling Havanans.

Cuba imported one million bikes from China and started making its own. The factory is closed. Cyclists say the bikes were poorly made and there were never enough spare parts and tires. The only new bikes are European imports and sold in valuta. Still, in the countryside and in most provinces, there are more bicycles and many are the old Chinese or Cuban makes.

My friend Rogelio, who works in the foreign ministry, greeted me with: "Good to see you back in the home of your heart."

When I asked about a state security officer mutual friend, he said, "I haven't seen him in years. With all the changes going on, I don't know what he is doing. He could be selling croquettes on the street for all I know."

In the coming days, I learned that former acquaintances, well educated with good positions—ship officers, journalists and editors in the publishing world, middle-level institution leaders—had left their respectable jobs with low pay to become self-employed in gastronomy, as taxi chauffeurs, office clerks in foreign joint venture firms and in tourism. This had been the case before but it is now more generalised.

In contrast to a plethora of prostitutes and hustlers, however, these opportunists are now rare. I never frequent tourist spots where some prostitutes are said to be, but there are fewer and they are not walking the streets.

Some Cubans join the brain drain, abandoning Cuba not for ideological reasons but for better economic opportunities. The captain of Seaweed, a tanker I worked on, stayed in Ecuador after taking cargo there. Another friend, a philosphy professor, moved to Canada. Quite a number of athletes, musicians, technicians, even a journalist colleague have abandoned Cuba for its enemy, the warrior country of my birth.

My first boss, the director of Editorial José Marti, had been a thoroughly uncritical Fidelista. He was fired some years ago for incompetence. He remained in Cuba but took up writing for a Spanish Catholic magazine, which [some government Cubans] consider “anti-Castroism”.

Others I knew , like Maya, a professor of English teachers, got a choice job with opportunities to travel abroad. She taught Mexican natives and earned hard currency with which to buy appliances for her cosy apartment. She has benefited from free higher education like hundreds of thousands of other professionals who volunteer for foreign missions. While "resolving daily problems", they also concretely help people where they are sent.

Some view this cynically, others as practical. Most can agree that Cubans and Cuba are seen by more and more millions of suffering people in the "third world" as the “Big One” when it comes to humanitarian solidarity. "Operation Miracle" is a good example.

I first heard of this recent Cuban invention, a cure for many blindnesses—cataracts, retractile disorders, corneal leucoma, myopias and strabismus, and soon, glaucoma—from a criminologist friend. Fernando had retired from the ministry of interior (pensioned at 300 pesos) and opened a paladar, a private restaurant legal only in one's home and limited to 12 customers at a time. Owners must not hire employees. (These rules are not vigorously enforced.)

Fernando complained that he is viewed as one of the "new rich", and that the state gastronomic world does not enjoy the competition. So many paladars are closed. In Fernando’s district, the preferred Playa, there exists only 17 from the 187 a decade ago.

Fernando struggled to find a bright side in his contradictory mindset. “Look into Operation Miracle. There’s a positive story.”

In only 18 months usage, the simple and quick Cuban-devised operation had cured 210,000 persons in 25 countries by December 2005. Most of them, 150,000, are Venezuelans, but 36,000 Cubans too.

Cubans no longer suffer blindness and other illnesses caused by poor nutrition, as they did in the mid-1990s when a neuritis epidemic caused sensory disturbances in over 50,000 persons. Today, Cubans daily average 3300 calories and 82 grams protein; in 1993, it was 1863 and 46. WHO recommends 2400 calories and 72 grams.

But not all Cubans are so pleased with the fantastic success their medical science has achieved in foreign missions. Even my former editor and staunch Communist party leader, Maritza, is upset about one of these developments.

Because she was a leading journalist, Maritza had access to the Ministry of Health. She felt forced to speak personally to the minister, in order to assure an eye operation for her husband. He had suffered partial blindness for two to three years during which he awaited an operation. After the minister ordered an operation, he can now see.

Many feel that many institutions, including health care staff, are plagued with lethargy, indifference and personal favouritism. Some complain about this and the lack of adequate housing when pointing to the top floors of Cuba’s tallest apartment building, Focsa, where I used to live. Several floors have been filled with Venezuelans brought in for the Operation Miracle cure.

The complainers seem to say, “You can’t eat morality.” At the same time, Maritza slammed the door on my face when I suggested that the majority, at least Havanans, lack revolutionary morality.

Sigi had been Seaweed's first mate when I sailed with her. He earned a captain's certificate but never received his own ship. There are more qualified people than positions. Sigi is a mixture of European and African bloods, and proudly claims native Taino roots, too. Sigi had earlier applied for a pension but the monthly 264 pesos didn't reach. At 69, he is still sailing and earns twice that in pesos plus two dollars in convertible currency each day he sails.

Sigi gave me his view of Cuban traits:

"We are a people in love with pleasure: sports, entertainment, drinking, relaxing, sex. Men are womanisers; women are flirtatious. We are an amiable, joyful people, always in love or soon to be, and caring affectionately for those in our lives."

Cuba is still changing rapidly but not in such confusing directions as when I left, and Cubans clearly live better materially. As the saying goes: "We are born poor" (few resources) "and die rich" (of rich country diseases).

One of the problems, however, is that most I spoke with do not feel they live well enough. They don't care to compare themselves with the poor in the world. They complain of shortcomings, are even busier finding solutions to their daily problems, and focus more on themselves. As one friend reflected, "We are obstinate and spoiled."

With the post-Soviet reforming process has come greater concentration on individually assigned work tasks. Most work centres are required to financially balance their own budgets. The government still basically controls society but has decentralised some authority. It owns and operates less of the economy than it did—about three-fourths production, services and employees.

The remainder is run by joint-venture companies plus the growing numbers of self-employed.

With more self-reliance comes greater production but, perhaps, less "caring affectionately for those in our lives".
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Me and Fidel

[July 25, "Me and Castro" headline Morning Star. I prefer my original title]

January 1-8, 1959. Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos take over one city after another. Fidel rides triumphantly into the Mafia city Havana.

I am a frustrated airman in the United States Air Force stationed at a radar base outside Oklahoma City. I hate the military.

When the Soviet Union intervened in Hungary, I was in my last year of high school. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and fight the communists. My father had left his factory job to join the Air Force, in order to defend his country after the Japanese fascists bombed Pear Harbour. Following the end of the war, he continued a career as an imperialist soldier.

I last saw him at the US military base in Wiesbaden, Germany where he was stationed in 1968. He “divorced” himself as my father.

The Cuban Revolution had inspired me to join forces against the imperialists and fight for people’s right to life everywhere in the world. My first demonstration was on April 19, 1961, in protest of the United States-supported Bay of Pigs invasion.

That day of initial action brought me close to Fidel Castro, the first of four “encounters”. He, like Che, is the people’s dreamer, and he is also the practitioner, who guides the dream into practice, making it work with its inevitable and mistaken ruffles for eleven million Cubans until this day.

October 12, 1987, Commandant Fidel autographed my first published book, “Yankee Sandinistas”. I had met him from afar following a wonderful speech held in Matanzas, Cuba on the 20th year of commemoration of Che’s murder in Bolivia, October 9, 1967—an assassination ordered by the CIA, the intelligence service supported by my father.

I had come to Cuba for the first time. I was on a leg on my mission to support the FMLN guerrillas in El Salvador. I spent two months in Cuba, and was joyful to learn how much they had accomplished on the road to socialism, relying on sheer guts and a revolutionary morality nurtured by the idealism of Che and Fidel, and so many other leaders and workers, soldiers and security people. Hundreds of attempts to murder Fidel by terrorist forces, military juggernauts and presidents in my homeland had been and are being averted by these dedicated men and women.

The Ministry of Culture invited me to live and work in Cuba, first as a consultant and writer for Editorial José Martí and then as a journalist-translator for Prensa Latina. I lived there in the same conditions as Cubans for eight years. During that time I never spoke with Fidel but did attend press conferences with him present.

As I accumulated experience and knowledge of how the society works, I saw many ruffles and ripples. I was personally bothered by the meetings we workers could attend as part of our work, our block organisations, or, for others, the Communist party and other mass organisations. Most people wanted me to stop talking and asking questions, because they wanted to get home.

I began to learn that most Cubans did not feel that they could make any significant impact on decision-making neither on the job nor in politics. And I was too limited at my own work. I could not write about the true state of the economy or question political policies made at the top. There were taboo areas. I could feel a disappointment setting in.

I wanted to talk to Fidel about this. He was a busy man. He did not answer my request for an interview. There were so many and who was I to take up his time. So, I talked with Fidel in my sleep. I was often angry with him but I always loved and admired him. I found that that is how most Cubans feel about The Commandant, The President, The General Secretary, The Chief of the State Council, The Man, The Horse.

In my sleep with Fidel, I was often entangled in a murderous nightmare. I am in a crowd standing close to where Fidel is speaking. My wary eyes catch an assassination attempt on our leader’s life. I cast myself over him and take the bullet. I wake up, but am not sweating as I am when involved in a nightmare over the loss of my own children, who also shunned me for being “anti-American”.

This nightmare followed me to Denmark, in 1996, where I still live. I returned in late 2005 for a three-month reunion with the “last bastion of socialism” and “with” Fidel.

He is as sharp as ever and even more relaxed. Much of what he has fought for is succeeding. And now he has, at least, two other strong, brave and honest Latin American leaders at his side, on the side of the Bolivarian dream of Latin American unity. These seeds can grow into a regional socialist transformation that could assure the independence and growth of Cuba and many other countries.

During my return, I visited many people I had known and met new ones. I did voluntary work at “my” old cooperative farm, watched television news and forums, read many articles and books.

Enrique Oltuski, vice-minister of the Fishing Industry and author of “Pescando Recuerdos” (Fishing Memories), explained precisely what it is with Fidel and the people. I cite what he wrote about Fidel (my translation):

“When the night falls…one feels the throbbing close to the tribunal. One hears agitation, like the sea when it shocks against the rocks; the murmuring of ecstasy, like the sound of the waves against the sand—depending on what Fidel is saying.

“Why does this magical thing occur only when Fidel speaks, when the shadows have fallen and the people can no longer see well but they feel one another? Then sight is unnecessary. It’s enough to listen, and feel the people melt with Fidel. Then there is no longer the multitude and the orator, just one people who speak through the voice of one man. Fidel is the voice and the people the body, because, after all, Fidel represents the patria, the native land.”

And then the day came!

As a correspondent for the English daily “Morning Star”, I was invited to receive the newly elected president of Bolivia, the humble indigenous fighter Evo Morales. A corps of foreign and national reporters stood by the runway alongside hundreds of Bolivian students studying medicine in Cuba. Evo’s plane was soon to land. We reporters were tense, not knowing if he would allow us to ask our burning questions.

I had prepared a question for the new hope of Bolivia: How do you intend to confront and win the inevitable conflict between your humanitarian programme and that of the profiteering transnational corporations?

What then occurred caught me by surprise. The Man arrived and promptly shook hands with the enthusiastic Bolivian youth. I was standing next to the last Bolivian. Suddenly, Fidel stopped in front of me. His large right hand was slightly extended, still moving in an automatic rhythm.

My hand rose exuberantly to reach his. Then four Rons spoke at once.
Revolutionary Ron: Oh, I want to shake his hand, hug him, to tell him how much he means to me, to us.

Journalist Ron: Now you have to come up with a good question. He is there waiting for you.

Ego Ron: Tell him what your objective is in Cuba. You want to get a book published so that Cubans can read you, so that you can be somebody here in this land of your heart.

Cuban Ron: You must not touch The Commandant’s hand. Remember how supposed journalists tried to murder him in Chile in 1971 with a gun hidden inside a TV camera? Fidel’s guards will think of me as a potential killer.

The last Ron stopped my hand. Confused Journalist Ron could not think fast enough to dominate the other Rons and asked Fidel the question for Evo.

Fidel, ever the realist, replied: “That is a question for Evo Morales”. What a dummy I am, thought I, and the President walked onward.

Later, I told this story to two Cuban journalists. They said that I should have caught his attention by telling him that it was I who had burned my Yankee passport and renounced my citizenship in front of the US Interests Section in Havana, in January 1991, in protest of its war on Iraq.

The following day, I told this story to Antonio García Urquiolla. He was a merchant marine ship’s captain I had sailed with and a double agent infiltrated inside the CIA, about which I wrote about in “Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn”. The CIA had wanted him to assist in murdering Fidel.

Antonio’s reply to me: “Ron won the battle of Rons”!

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Morality of Revolution
[July 4]

“This country can self-destruct; this Revolution can destroy itself, but they [the US] can never destroy us; we can destroy ourselves, and it would be our fault.”

In his November 17, 2005 speech on the 60th anniversary of his enrolment at the University of Havana, Fidel referred publicaly, for the first time, to the ultimate consequence of a failed effort to develop a revolutionary consciousness among the population as a whole.

A disillusioned populace, one that pursues individual greed-consumerism, can destroy the Cuban revolutionary “project”, something that the enemy cannot. That would mean that the key goal, which was Che’s motto, “The ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration--to see man liberated from his alienation", had not progressed sufficiently.

That the “maximum leader” chose to make this reflection public is an enormous admission of the greatest actual challenge for this humanistic revolution. The ethical root to this dilemma—selfishness vs. society—is, in fact, at the core of existence for the human race and the planet.

Progressive or revolutionary readers and supporters of Cuba must not shun our own reflection on this decisive question. A united, conscientious people can withstand the strongest enemy even when hungry, as the Vietnamese showed in their struggles against China, France and the United States, but a morally disillusioned people cannot, not even with full stomachs.

Polarisation, or, as the bourgeois capitalists call it, democratic freedoms, is based upon an appeal to individualism and coated with the surrendering supposition that mankind is born sinful, guilty, greedy, egoistic, and even evil.

The best that can be said about us is that we are born neutral and given a caring environment we can develop into a loving, and thus sharing and peaceful, race.

As an advocate of and sometimes participant in socialist revolution, I, alongside many Cubans, work for the human race’s development into Che’s “new man”, or Jesus Christ’s “love thy neighbour” human beings. We hope that not too many Cubans sink into the quagmire of individualism, into the “American Dream” of individualist opportunities for wealth.

American dream ideology is as powerful a weapon for capitalism-imperialism as is their police-military violence. It has captured the majority of working classes in most countries.

On the one hand, the Cuban people have braved the rigors of US imperialism; they have struggled up from the darkest days of the collapse of European state socialism, have continued the egalitarian social network for all inhabitants and continue offering their “human capital” to poorer countries.

On the other hand, their lack of allies and the Special Period reforms have also caused large numbers of people to shun revolutionary morality, including but not exclusively the new rich sector.

As I was often told by several Cubans earlier this year, “We can’t eat morality”.

The Marxist intellectual Heinz Dietrich wrote recently about the unique survival of Cuba and revolutionary consciousness:

“During the long heroic phase of the Revolution, the overwhelming majority of the population fully identified with the process. But this identification is much more qualified today than in the heroic phase, for several reasons:

“Generational change, the fall of the USSR, the scientific and technological revolution, with its resulting processes of intensive accumulation and globalisation, and the hampering affects of imperialist aggression on Cuba’s endogenous economic and political development.”

Left critics of those who openly express the existence of internal warts assert that such criticism is betrayal. They point to the vital need of shaping and maintaining unity—something that Cuban leaders have always stressed—in contrast to allowing its opposite—polarisation—to divide people and thus allow the enemy to conquer them.

Yet, if we ignore the reality of disillusionment, we do nothing to avert its consequences. We should have learned this already especially with the fall of state socialism—which was accomplished without nearly a whimper. In short, the working class had lost its revolutionary morality and turned its back on so-called socialism.

The Cuban revolution, for me, must succeed, not only for eleven million Cubans but as our beacon of hope for a better world. If Cuba “self-destructs” tens of millions will be lost in depression. The world’s monster realises this. That is why it is so imperative for it to destroy the “bad example of the good example”. And that is why we must confront our warts. As Dietrich asked, why else would Fidel feel the need to discuss the reversibility of the Revolution?

So, let’s look at the problems!

When the Special Period in Times of Peace was launched in September 1990, and set fast with the July 26, 1993 “double-economy” declaration by a solemn Fidel, I was afraid that inequalities would lead not only to a new rich but to a class society. I began writing about this worry in some left media, but Prensa Latina, where I worked, would not publish such “subversive” thinking. Many foreign supporters of Cuba viewed me as a “traitor” for such expressions.

On November 24, 2005, Fidel Castro said publicly for the first time: “We are well aware, that today there is a new class, in virtue of the phenomena that the Revolution has had to go through" [the Special Period]

One of the possible future presidents, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, followed suit in an address to the United Nations. He said that the danger for Cuba is the creation of a bourgeois class. Such a class can only come from small farmers and sections of the working class, who endeavour to get out of this class by hook or crook.

In the November 17 speech, Fidel asserted that the new class would not win against socialism.

“I can assure you with absolute certainty that this battle against waste, theft, the illegal diverting of resources and other generalised vices has been won in advance…”

Fidel praised revolutionary efforts of the mass organisations and the new youth brigades’ social workers established to watch thievery by the working class and the petty bourgeoisie. Thousands of students have taken the place of workers at gas stations.

Fidel explained: “Certain vices can be very deep-seated. We started with Pinar del Rio to ascertain what was happening in the gas stations that sell gas in dollars. We soon discovered that there was as much gas being stolen as sold…in some places more than half.”

“Well, what is happening in Havana? Will they mend their ways? Not really, everything is fun and games.”

“In Havana Province, people learned to steal like crazy. Today, the social workers are in the refineries; they get on board the tanker trucks that carry 20,000 or 30,000 litres and they watch, more or less, where that truck goes and how much of the oil is rerouted. They have discovered private gas stations supplied with oil from these trucks.”

Fidel also referred to the fact that even before the Special Period, systematic waste of the collective resources by many Cubans was ruining the economy. He said that it was “fortunate” that Cuba hadn’t earlier discovered that there was a great deal of oil in their land and waters, “because it would have been wasted”.

“Our nation is one of those that waste the most combustible energy in the world.”

Much of this waste is not stolen but simply wasted by the citizenry’s systematic neglect to turn off electricity (and water and gas) when not in use. Even the state is responsible, since an outdated switching network is incapable of shutting off street lamps during the light of day.

Besides the student guards against waste and thievery, the state has greatly increased the police force. Many people also have watch dogs, an indication that the people have enough food—that is not the problem.

Have Fidel and Pérez become subversives or are they attempting to stop the growing negative reality in their nation? Is “the explication of Cuba”, as Gabriel García Márquez has stated, that, “Fidel is both the head of government and the leader of the opposition”.

-30-

The big challenge
[ 11 July]

"Perhaps one of the most complicated dilemmas that the socialist revolution faces is how to achieve economic efficiency without renouncing the objective of creating a communist consciousness."

That is how Cuban central bank president Francisco Soberon Valdes described a central issue facing the country during his December 22 address to parliament.

"Certain actions committed during the special period, some imperviously necessary and others inexcusable errors, remove us from the strategic objective. The principal consequence of this situation has been greater levels of inequality and the waste of state resources."

'The aspiration for more is what capitalism counts on to unrestrainedly sell products.'

Soberon asserted that corruption, fraud and theft are rampant and that "the majority of human beings are in the habit of not feeling satisfied with what they have and aspire to have more."

The "aspiration for more" is what capitalism's cynical ideologists count on to unrestrainedly sell their products, creating "needs" where they don't exist, making us sick from consumerism, which "minimises the human spirit," he argued.

Immediate gratification is, perhaps, a universal craving, one which Buddhism's ascetic philosophy seeks to curb. Are we human beings, as a whole, capable of becoming communists?

This dilemma is not only Cuban but one that faces us all. But what is it that hinders the forging of communist consciousness in Cuba besides imperialism's omnipresent penetration?

"Greater production is necessary to overcome scarcity and the special period. But how to stimulate the workers?" asks University of Havana economist and state adviser Omar Everleny.

"They are more removed from the economy than in other economies, because most property and means of production are state-owned."

Does that mean that they do not identify with the state, with the collective ownership?

"You can't stimulate people with morality, with revolutionary propaganda, with anti-imperialism for a lifetime. People get tired of this and they must eat. Sure, everybody goes to the plaza for the marches, but, when they return home, they demand that the state provides them with their needs.

"That is why the state is now investing so much in economic improvements and in electricity savings."

My personal experiences back up Everleny's position. Many Cubans sell their rationed goods, purchased at below cost, to others for a profit. This waste of national resources is prompting the state to find a way to end the rationing of all goods, which has been a safety valve for the entire population since the beginning of the blockade in 1961.

Many Cubans rent and even sell their residences under the table for high sums. The state builds and sells all residences at cost. Most Cubans own their homes, but are not allowed to sell for profit. Speculation and profit-mongering are, after all, contrary to socialism.

Stealing whatever one can get one's hands on is so common that it is not considered theft, but simply "resolving a problem."

When I was in Havana, I noticed five men sitting under bushes in front of a ministry of education building. They explained that they were guarding a parked school bus donated by US group Pastors for Peace. The men were chauffeurs who drove ministry workers to and from work. When not driving, they guarded the bus.

One told me why this is necessary. "Nobody works hard in Cuba. We are either students, chiefs or guards. Production? Forget it. We must guard the bus because we are 11 million thieves." The others nod in agreement.

OK, they exaggerated, but they spoke what they felt. The fact that the state has employed many more policemen in recent times to watch out for criminal activities is proof of general concern.

Seven out of 10 times, when I paid for something with a convertible currency bill that more than covered the price, the employee did not return any change. When this was pointed out, the reply was always: "You are right. Excuse me," and the correct change was then delivered.

On two exceptional occasions, the worker followed me to return change when I had overpaid and walked away.

Then there are the innumerable people who refuse to see any moral infringement in wearing Yankee T-shirts bearing capitalist-imperialist slogans. Some read:

"I want to be a millionaire" next to a US dollar symbol, "I'm proud to be an American," "US army," "US marines," "US air force," "Someone went to Miami and all I got was this T-shirt" and, of course, the US flag.

Double-talkers will glibly say anything that they think you might want to hear, whether they believe so or not. They will also make promises and appointments with no intention of keeping them - part of the pre-socialist culture of "facilismo," an easy come, easy go attitude which the state, the political party and mass organisations have not managed to eradicate in half a century.

Perhaps the most controversial point that I could make involves state employees who render services to foreigners, either the more wealthy visitors to Cuba or poorer people in Third World countries.

The Historic Old Havana revitalisation project employs black women to dress in colonial garb and walk about Spanish-style squares with large cigars between their red-painted lips. When I first saw this, I felt like puking.

Here are people liberated from colonialism, slavery and racist discrimination earning a living by portraying how it once was, but without any condemnation. They take "alms" from tourists who wish to photograph them. In fact, some of these women also offer their bodies for a price.

When I asked opinions about this of four acquaintances, only one shared my view. Three black friends said that they understood the "need" to perform. Again, it was for "survival."

But there are many other jobs these people could find or train for. No-one is starving in Cuba. No-one is forced to take on immoral tasks.

I end with the exporters of "human capital," as Fidel likes to call tens of thousands of fine Cubans who offer their education, hard work and caring for millions of people in scores of poor countries. They are the doctors, nurses, teachers, sports instructors and technicians working to save lives and improve the lives of millions.

'Cubans and leader Fidel Castro are practical beings. Che was also a practical man.'

How could I find fault with these good people? Certainly most truly want to be helpful, want to act in the solidarity spirit of revolutionary morality. Yet many also have a more selfish, albeit understandable motive. This aspect is one that I heard many Cubans complain about or speak of in envious terms.

"Resolving a problem" is the answer - that of buying home appliances or automobiles not realistically available for them on their Cuban peso wage at home. The price of a new automobile, for instance, would take a Cuban doctor or factory or field worker a lifetime to pay for.

Cuba sends abroad its best educated at no cost to the individual recipient, but the governments of these countries pay hard currency for the "volunteer" workers, who then purchase expensive items and transport them to Cuba or they buy such items at the "dollar shops" in Cuba.

This is not corrupt or "wrong," but this case of mixed motivations indicates that revolutionary morality is not so easily discerned.

Many of us left-wing Cuba supporters - especially those of us who are frustrated by living in the richest lands where we have not convinced our working classes to engage in overthrowing capitalism - seem to expect Cubans to actually be Che's "new man." Those who point out that it is not so are often seen as "traitors."

Cubans and leader Fidel Castro are practical beings. Che, as minister, was also a practical man. But tens of millions remember him best and honour him most as our idealist, our utopian dreamer, because many of us want to be like him. This is the essence of what Cuba's youth pioneers sing, "Be like Che."

Philosopher Juan Mari Lois wrote an essay on ethics for Prensa Latina in 1995 which I translated. It illustrates what I think about forging communist consciousness.

"Our principal social exaction is the transformation of an alienated human into a free one ... having at its core a system of values that make this person free in their social behaviour.

"If we accept the idea that socialism is an ethical option and, above all, an alternative culture, then the educative action of all social agents, including formal education, must be to create and consolidate the formation of a collectivist ethic, an attitude of solidarity which negates and transcends bourgeois individualism. There must also be school programmes relating to the ethics of citizenship.

"Our sovereignty, our true independence, also means full liberation, free from old and new forms of alienation, in each Cuban. This collection of freed individualities could then sustain, voluntarily and as aggregated soldiers, the independence and sovereignty that more than one heroic generation supposedly constructed."

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