Interview w/ Assata Shakur, Granma Part I

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Sun Dec 10 08:11:28 MST 2000

[bounced from  unsubbed "Tom Warner"
<twwarner at>. Reformated, Part I]

From: "Tom Warner" <twwarner at>
To: <;>
Subject: Interview with  Assata Shakur, Granma, St. Augustine-Baracoa
Date: Sat, 2 Dec 2000 15:52:26 -0800

Assata says:

"In 1979 I was liberated by some friends, and in 1984 I came to Cuba,
where I was united with my daughter and was able to bond with her for
the first time. And to begin healing the wounds. Here, I worked,
studied, mothered and continued to be an activist.

I found that Cuba was much different from the US; its government was
genuinely trying to erase racism. But racism had grown out of slavery
and exploitation and was very hard to eradicate quickly and
completely.  Cuba has been undergoing a process to eliminate racism)

.. Cuba like every other place has got to struggle against the whole
racist ideology that it inherited, the culture, the eurocentric way of
viewing the world where Europe is this big (shows with her hands) and
Africa and Asia and Latin America are these little microscopic dots on
the map.

That's a process that has to be helped and contributed to by
everybody, because the whole way the world is viewed now, the way that
science, literature and history are used, is totally distorted and
Eurocentric. In order for the world to be free of racism that is a
struggle that has to be waged on all fronts by all people.

I think that more than anything, the whole cultural imperialism that
is going on today where people, whether they're in Senegal, South
Africa, Indonesia, are looking at this USA vision of the world that is
totally distorted, totally unreal, that really diminishes and
minimalizes the cultural values and wisdom of people all over the
world, and sells this kind of McDonald-ized vision of the world that
everybody is supposed to aspire to.

Cuba is very important in that struggle, because Cuba is not only
talking about racism in abstract terms, but connecting it with
imperialism, which is the underlying motor of racism today. The
underlying reason that racis m keeps on being promoted in all of its
various forms today. I think anybody who is honestly struggling
against racism must struggle against imperialism and vice versa.

Q. You could have gone to many countries for asylum. Why did you
choose Cuba?

A. I decided to come to Cuba for a variety of reasons. One, because it
was close to the United States, and I considered it to be a very
principled country. It has a long history of supporting victims of
political repressi on, not only of people in the United States, like
Huey Newton, Robert Williams, Eldridge Cleaver (a long list of
people), but also people who were victims of political repression in
other places, like Chile, the apartheid government of South Africa,
Namibia, etc. I felt this was a place that held the principle of
international very close to heart, so I felt comfortable coming
here. It was close, so I wouldn't be separated from my family a nd

And I really wanted to know what happens in a place that is trying to
build socialism, that's trying to construct some form of social
justice.  That's trying to feed people, to make health care and
education a right.

When I came I had some very silly ideas, to be honest. My fantasy of
Cuba was that everybody was going to be going around looking like
Fidel, with green uniforms -- and it was very different from my vision
of how Cuba was going to be. I found that people had all kinds of
levels of consciousness, all kinds of levels of education, but that
Cubans in general were very educated politically. I could go sit in a
bus and get into a conversation with someone and that person had a
wealth of knowledge. And energy!  What most impressed me about Cuba
was the optimism.

There are 11 million people on this island who have an incredibly
optimistic vision of the world. My mother put it into words most
clearly when she said:

"If these people had not won, had not taken power, everybody would
think they were insane!" (Laughs). People would think the whole
revolutionary process was totally insane. How DARE these 11 million
people on this little island think they can change the way that this
planet is going? How dare they think they can stand up against the
United States? That they can have their own system....But that is the
kind of magic of Cuba that people hav e this optimism, this pride,
this belief -- not only in themselves but in other people.

That to me has been one of the psychic vitamins that has fed me since
I've been here and that has taught me the power of people. I was a
member of the Black Panther Party, and we used to say "Power to the
People", but her e in Cuba is where I've seen that put into practise,
where I've seen that internalized by people in such a way that people
feel empowered to build this planet and to change it. And to
contribute and feel privileged to do that. Feel that when they go to
sleep at night that all is not in vain.  There is some sense in living
on this planet. That there is some beauty in constructing something
better and giving to other people. And work is a source of pride, not
"Oh, I've gotta go to work in the morning". It's anot her way of
looking at the world and another way of living on this planet.

Q. Describe experience of being in Cuba, being exiled here. To what
extent have you been able to continue being the political person you
were in the United States?

A. Well, exile is difficult. Anyone who says it's nothing, that it's
easy, is simplifying things. Exile for me was hard. When I came here I
spoke very little Spanish. Like two words. I couldn't communicate, and
people wou ld talk to me like I was a blooming idiot. Like, how did
they know?  They'd say, "Hello, how are you?" -- simple things. There
was no way I could express my personality in Spanish, tell jokes, be
specific, describe anything...It was a hard adaptation process. But I
went through it and in s ome ways I guess continue to go through it.

For me personally Cuba has been a healing state. When I first got here
I had no sense that I had to heal or anything. When you're struggling
for your life and you're in the midst of things, you don't feel all
the blows.

But after awhile I began to understand that oppressed people --just by
being oppressed -- suffer serious wounds. You might go into a store,
and somebody might follow you around the store, and you would have a
choice of ho w to react: you could confront them and say "Why are you
following me around the store?" or you could say to yourself: "Well, I
came here to buy some socks, so let me just concentrate on buying the
socks." But you still f eel the pain. The obvious racism before had
affected me, the prisons, whole life had created wounds,
scars in me that in Cuba I was able to find a space to begin to
heal. To begin to think, "Yeah, this happen ed, and I can look at it
and see it for what it was but not be there, not be destroyed by it,
not be turned into something bitter and evil by it.  And not be like
my enemies. Because I think that the greatest betrayal that a
revolutionary can participate in is to become like the people you are
struggling against. To become like your persecutors. I think that is a
betrayal and a sin.

I think that people who want to change this planet have to seriously
understand that as human beings we have to work to be good. I'm saying
that in many ways: good at what we do, better people, better in the
way we relate d to people, that we treat other people. Better in our
ability to outreach to people. Better in so many ways. And the wounds
that are inflicted on our families, on ourselves, we have to heal. We
have to work within our fa milies, within our communities, within our
neighborhoods, to make it livable.

My experience in the United States was living in a society that was
very much at war with itself, that was very alienated. People felt not
part of a community, but like isolated units that were afraid of
interaction, of c ontact, that were lonely. People didn't build that
sense of community that I found is so rich here.

One of the things that I was able to take from this experience was
just how lovely it is to live with a sense of community. To live where
you can drop in the street and a million people will come and help
you. That is to me a wealth that you can't find, you can't buy, you
have to build. You have to build it within yourself to be capable of
having that attitude about your neighbors, about how you want to live
on this planet.

Q. Some people have voiced concern that the end of the blockade will
bring many negative things from the United States to Cuba. What do you
think about the blockade ending?

A. I think that it's all positive. I think that any time anybody gets
rid of oppression, intervention, exploitation, cruelty -- that's
positive. I think that the effects of lifting the blockade are all

Now that's another question from the effects of exposure to US
consumerism, violence, militaristic culture, greed, institutionalized
sexual exploitation, Barby-doll vision of women -- those are different
things.  One is lifting the blockade; the other is cultural
imperialism, materialism, etc.  Tourism, for example, has affected
Cuba, because tourists come and they bring racist, sexist ideas. They
bring a whole vision that there are rich pe ople all over the world
and that's the way it should be -- you know?

The only way to struggle against that is ideological struggle in terms
of values. And also improving the economy. People here being able to
say, "You have your vision of the world but we have ours, and we are
committed to ours." That's a struggle of ideas, of values. And
hopefully not only in Cuba, but all over the world, people are saying
that this kind of McDonald's, Barby-doll culture that is being pushed
by the United States and other big powers is a very empty, sad,
alienating kind of culture, and there are much richer values on this

Q. How did you get involved in the struggle (become an activist)?

A. Well, basically, it was hard not to. I was fortunate enough to grow
up in the 60s -- not to idealize the 60s, but there was a lot of
political activism going on. I had dropped out of school and was
working at this terr ible 9-to-5 drudge clerk-type job. I was
miserable and not going anywhere.  So I decided to go to school. I was
in school like two weeks or something and my whole world changed!
First of all I met all of these wonderful pe ople who were doing
things and were active and positive.  Then I started to learn about
myself. I grew up in the United States totally ignorant of the history
of African people in the United States. Of the literature. I knew
about the music and parts of the culture, but in terms of the history
of African people I knew nothing. So all of a sudden I was exposed to
these people who were talking about Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, DuBoise
-- so many people -- and it was like waking up from a semi- sleep. It
was like saying, "Oh, wow! We were there; we struggled, we resisted!"
For me as a Black person, it was like coming into touch with the
reality of my ancestors, my history.

I had grown up at a time when people were being lynched, being
attacked with water hoses. Becoming active and learning a different
way of viewing my life was a healthy reaction to what I was seeing
every day. I actually b elieved then and still believe that activism
is fun! I think that the movement has done more for me as a human
being than I will ever be able to do for the movement. Because there's
something nice about being able to go t o sleep at night saying "You
know, tomorrow I'm gonna get up and I'm gonna do this and I'm gonna do

I think that being an activist on this planet is a privilege and a

Q. Could you talk about the Black Panther program? I know that it
influenced other activist groups like the American Indian
Movement. How could we use some of those ideas? And could you also
tell us about the methodology the FBI used to try to infiltrate and
destroy these movements?

A. The Black Panther Party had a Ten Point Program and Platform. We
talked about the right to control our communities, (inaudible -- a
summary from notes follows) to be free from induction into the
military, the right to food, housing, clothing, jobs and freedom. The
BPP was an anti- imperialist, pro-people party, not a racist party. It
participated in all progressive organizations and coalitions, with
Puerto Ricans, Asian and other liberation movements all over the

Because of this the BPP came under siege by the police. The FBI framed
people on false charges, murdered people, including murdering them in
their beds as they did with Fred Hampton...

Q. What advise would you have for activists in the US?

A. (Summary) First of all we need to put real democracy on the agency
in the US, because there is no real democracy there now. I think we
need to treat activism as FUN -- because it is fun. We need to develop
a political style that's interesting and fun and personal. To
celebrate together.

Q. I'd like to sort of pull this back to Cuba....The reasoning behind
the debate about whether or not to pass a law allowing the sale of
food and medicine to Cuba is because the United States has laws
imposing unilateral sanctions against trade with what are defined [by
the US government] as "terrorist nations". Cuba is on the list of
"terrorist nations", not because it has put bombs on civilian airlines
that exploded in mid-air -- that's what has been done TO Cuba; there
was the one incident of shooting down the airplane of the
Cuban-American terrorist organization that was flying over Cuba. But
the most important reason that has been given for a number of years
now about why Cuba is on that list, why the US calls it a "terrorist"
nation, is because Cuba gives political asylum to individuals who the
US calls "terrorists". And the US government has demanded that Assata
and others like herself who have been given political asylum be
returned to the U nited States.

The question that has been raised often is, Are you worried that Cuba
will turn you back over to the US government in order to resolve this
problem?  And if you don't think that Cuba will do that, what does
that mean to you?

A. I think first of all, I trust Cuba as a principled country. Cuba's
strength is that it has been steadfast in its commitment to the
principles of liberation, freedom, of resistance to the kind of
institutionalized terro rism that the United States government does
every day. The US has attacked countries like Grenada, Panama,
Libya....the list of victims of US terrorism is almost infinite. And
the US government's participation in torture, whether in El Salvador,
Guatemala, well- documented and widely known.

I believe Cuba's strength has been its denouncing that kind of
terrorism, torture. It does this politically not only by [providing
asylum for] exiles [from terrorist regimes] but also fighting in the
context of the United Nations Organization, in world organizations, in
denouncing all kinds of terrorist torture in governmental policies.

All of the maneuvers by the US government to keep the blockade alive
is a manipulation by the US government because "Cuba poses a
threat". The real reason Cuba poses a threat has nothing to do with my
being here or anyone else being here. It's because Cuba is an example
of a country that is actively fighting against imperialist domination
and insists on its own right to self-determination and
sovereignty. The US government's most acute fe ar is that other
countries are going to follow the Cuban example.  They want everybody
to know that if you follow this example we will attack you in every
way that we can. That is the reality as I see it about the blockade
and why it is being continued.

The Miami Mafia (as everybody here calls them) has some input into
that, but I believe it is not the money the Miami Mafia contributes to
both parties that is making US policy what it is. It is the United
States' governme nt's insistence on being able to control the world,
to tell all the people how to live, to export their version of
"dollarocracy" to everybody else and to make every country in the
world subservient to the interests of big business. I think that as
long as Cuba continued to be strong, I have nothing whatsoever to fear
from the Cuban people. In fact I think I have much, much, much to gain
in understanding how a people can unite, how people can be strong, and
how people can take a little piece of earth and try to mold that piece
of art into a work of art and a work of love.

Q. Can you comment on the importance of religion and spirituality?

A. I think that spirituality is important for all people to develop.
I don't mean there necessarily has to be a religious aspect to
spirituality.  Some people are spiritual in a religious way, other
people are spiritual in their work and in their art and in their
treatment of other people.

In my case, spirituality has been important to me because at periods
in my life there's been very little else that I've had going. I've
actually needed to call on, to feel the forces of good in this
universe to be able to survive. I've always been a student of
different ways of looking at the world, different religions. That's
been part of my survival mechanism, and also part of my curiosity as a
person, because I believe that some people spell "good" with two o's
and some people spell it with one....and there shouldn't be a
contradiction between that.

In Cuba I was able to broaden my vision of spirituality. Here for the
first time I became aware of the African and African-Cuban religions
and began to study them and see how people interacted and made very
common things - - rocks and leaves and shells -- into things that were
very precious. I saw how people respected history, not only in terms
of the revolutionary government preserving history--because I think
that one of the great things th at the Cuban revolution has done is
preserve history.

I came here and there's a museum called the Museum of the Revolution.
I got to one little case and there were these shoes of one of the
revolutionary heroes who died before the victory. And as I looked at
those shoes, tears began to come out of my eyes, because -- this was
someone who gave his life for the Revolution. So the Revolution didn't
have a person, but made sure that the person was remembered.

And in the African religions, one of the things that was very
important to me was that somehow the struggle of so many slaves is
remembered. The ancestors remembered. All of my experience of studying
religion, studying sp irituality, studying natural healing,
traditional medicine, has kind of enriched my vision of the world. Not
only seeing reality as this moment, but as a culmination of all of the
history behind us, and all of the fruit t hat hopefully we will be
able to grow from the seeds that we are trying to plant now, of
goodness and peace and beauty and equality.

Q. In the movement to free Mumia Abu Jamal, in the US we've seen
increasingly repressive tactics against the protestors, jailings and
fines against protestors. One of the caravanistas who is usually with
us had her passport taken away from her, she cannot be here in Cuba
this week because she participated in a protest in support of Mumia
last summer. What can you say about where the movement in support of
Mumia stands right now?

A. Looking at the repression from Cuba is like looking at Martians.
Whether it was in Seattle or Washington or at the Conventions, the
visual image looks like these space monsters that are attacking
people. Because you don't see that here! Nobody here lives that
reality. And people in the United States take that reality as normal.

The survival of the movement around Mumia is absolutely one of the
most important struggles that needs to be waged, that must be waged
right now.  And it is more and more obvious that the US government is
willing to ...I don't know, to set extraordinary bail for acts of
civil disobedience.  Some of the fines and bails have been out of this
world in a so- called "free country".

But in spite of that I think that what the government can't do is
squash everybody. So what the main thrust needs to be right now is to
incorporate as many people as possible into the struggle to save
Mumia, and to do wha tever is needed to save that man's life. Because
Mumia is not just one person. Mumia represents, at this particular
time in history, opposition to the United States government. He
represents opposition to the prison-indus trial complex.

The death penalty is used in such a blatantly racist way in the United
States. There is no way that can be defended under any kind of
definition of justice by anybody.

I think that struggling to save Mumia's life will save many other
people's lives and in that struggle, we need to have a new definition
of what justice is. A new definition of how people are treated in the
society. And ho w people are not some kind of disposable item that you
throw away, you destroy. You have a government that is sentencing
20-year-olds to life in prison without parole, for drug offenses. When
you're 20 years old and you s ell, not even a huge quantity of drugs
-- we're not talking about the dons or the godfathers or anybody else
-- we're talking about small quantities of drugs. And they write in
the newspapers "This is a drug kingpin" and they sentence this person
to life without parole.

What kind of reality is that creating? What kind of future for the
United States is that creating? If these people ever get out, who will
they be?  After years of watching beatings, tortures, suffering, you
know what I'm saying? So I think the struggle around Mumia is
important, to defend all of those people who are struggling against
this system. I think that the mo re that people feel they can WIN that
struggle, that they can go to their neighbors, that they can have
signs on their blocks, that they can do things where they live, and
not make it so abstract. Bring it home, take it t o work, put a sign
where you work. Take it to your church, to make it more and more a
people's struggle. I think people's struggles are the only ones that
in the long run cannot be defeated.

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