[Marxism] Saul Landau, Vietnam's challenges, and Marxmail

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Apr 14 17:29:40 MDT 2006

Recently Marxmail readers attention was drawn to reports which were
posted to Counterpunch about Vietnam today by Saul Landau, who has
written widely on Cuba and directed several documentary films on the
island, including an early biography of Fidel Castro. Somehow Saul and
I just missed each other in Madison, Wisconsin back in the sixties when
he was just leaving and I just arriving in that city, then a center of the
campus radicalism of that period. Saul's daughter is attending the Latin
American Medical School in Havana. He's a regular visitor to the island,
a supporter of the Revolution, but one who reports bluntly what he sees
and doesn't mince words. He's also the author of ASSASSINATION ON
EMBASSY ROW, together with John Dinges, which recounts the murder
of the former Chilean Foreign Minister, Orlando Letelier and his co-
worker Ronni Moffat by a former CIA agent in league with right-wing
Cuban exile militants, in Washington, DC. Landau's observations got me
to thinking about some of the subjects we need to think about more.

Saul Landau is a regular contributor to Progreso Weekly, the remarkable
Miami-based website directed by Francisco Aruca. Mr. Aruca operates an
excellent five-days-a-week live talk-radio program in Miami defending
Cuba against the rightist exile militants. It may surprise readers of the
Marxmail list to learn that there is a small but important milieu in Miami
of friends of the Cuban Revolution or individuals who seek normalization
of relations between the two countries. Max Lesnik, for example is about
the same age as Fidel Castro. He attended the University of Havana at
the same time as Fidel in the 1940s and was a member of the Orthodoxo
party youth organization along with Fidel. He heads the Marti Alliance and
defends Cuba relentlessly via his program Radio Miami. Andres Gomez, a
leader of the Antonio Maceo Brigade today operates Areito Digital and the
writings of Lesnik, Gomez and others from Miami are reproduced regularly
in Cuba's Granma daily. 

Mr. Aruca, for those who may not be familiar with him, is a remarkable man. 
A former right-wing militant who left Cuba in the sixties after engaging in 
armed acts against the Revolution, underwent a long and most interesting 
evolution. Aruca operates the largest travel agency, Marazul Tours, which 
also provides transportation for Cubans living in the United States who 
travel to their home country under today's extremely restrictive U.S. rules. 

Mr. Aruca also used to operate a daily English-language radio show, but it
was cancelled with the station it was on was bought up by some kind of
all-sports programming, and, alas hasn't been re-established there. The
show and site was a location which had interviews with Ricardo Alarcon,
Felipe Perez-Roque, but also with an opponent of the revolution, Eloy
Gutierrez Menoyo. The latter spent twenty-two years in a Cuban prison
for his role in armed counter-revolutionary activities. Released in 1986
after the intervention of the Spanish Social Democratic Prime Minister
Felipe Gonzalez, Menoyo later moved to the United States where he
set up an organization called CAMBIO CUBANO, a group which favors
dialogue with the Cuban government and opposes the blockade. Three
years ago he moved back to Cuba where he gives occasional interviews.


Menoyo met with Fidel some years ago. He's against the Cuban Revolution,
but he accepts Cuban sovereignty. Interestingly, even after he was convicted 
and jailed in Cuba for rightist military stuff, the Cubans never took away his
Cuban citizenship. Though born in Spain, he got Cuban citizenship from
his work when he was with the revolution. I have no idea what he does
in Cuba today. I'm sure the Cuban government pays attention to him, even
though he's old and blind. When he was in the United States, he opposed
the blockade and campaigned against it publicly. It was hard for the Miami
Militants (not a baseball team <g>) to attack him, after the decades he'd
spent in prison in Cuba for his counter-revolutionary military actions.

Readers who are interested in Mr. Aruca's background might find it useful 
to take a look at the Miami New Times profile "Capitalist or Commie"

People who support the Cuban Revolution are aware that Cuban society has
many problems and contradictions. The experience of Vietnam, reported well
by Saul Landau, is certainly of interest to Cubans and should be of interest to
supporters of the Cuban Revolution who aren't themselves Cuban. As is well-
known, after the fall of the Soviet Union, decided to decriminalized possession
of the U.S. dollar, and to accept foreign private investment in the Cuban economy.

This had all manner of consequences, but primarily they enabled Cuba to survive
the fall of its principal trading partner and economic lifeline. The negative conse-
quences were and are many, including the desire many people have to leave the
country, the consumerism no small number of Cubans have bought into, and the
lack of interest in any political things which no small number of Cubans display.
Again, don't ask me for a percentage, as it would only be guesswork on my part.

Fidel Castro has discussed some of the problemmatic consequences of this in his
speech last November 17th. There's much more to be said on these issues. Much
more. If and when Washington's blockade of Cuba comes to an end, a prospect 
which seems unthinkable at the present moment, the Cuban Revolution will have
many other challenges, new and different ones from the ones it has at present.

Having survived a blockade for close to a half-century - probably a longer siege
than any country in human history - has given Cubans all sorts of strengths and
ways of coping with adversity. Those tools won't all be applicable if and when we
see and end to the blockade. There are plenty of people - don't ask me for some
figure, I could only provide a guesstimate - for whom the Cuban Revolution isn't
the most important thing, but something rather external to their lives. It's very
important to ME, but for more than a small number of Cubans it's something of
an external phenomenon.

Coming from country and culture where opposition to the government is normal,
at least for some of us, living and working in Cuba, a place where opposition to
the government is not normal requires a certain paradigm shift. Cubans complain
constantly about the difficulties of daily life. Being friendly people, Cubans love to
gripe about this to foreigners, who expect to hear nothing less. Cubans at times
do discuss the challenges and difficulties of their society, but normally this takes
place in private. It's not institutionalized, but it does happened. I would guess 
that most of the individuals reading this message don't have the experience of
living in a blockaded country. Because of that, it's hard to appreciate how being
in a blockaded country affects the political culture of such the country.

Cuba could certainly benifit from a more open, more free-wheeling political life.
They will have to do what they can to create one for themselves. These days in
a situation where there's one leader who rather overshadows the others, that's
not an easy thing to do. Most Trotskyists, to take but one example, who think
of themselves as revolutionaries, are opponents of the Cuban government and
call for its overthrow. That is what the call for a political revolution signifies.

Track the views of Trotskyists on Cuba here:

If discussion of the problems and contradictions of countries like Vietnam, or
China, or Cuba are discussed in a spirit of glib gotcha-ism, the way they like
to do it in the capitalist media, it won't contribute much to an understanding,
in a deeper and more nuanced manner, of life in these complex societies.

My goal, in operating the CubaNews list, is to provide its readership with a
wide range of information, located all in a single place, which can help its
readers to learn about, think about and analyze Cuban reality, in order to be
able to contribute to helping Cuba solve its many problems. Unlike others in
the Cuba solidarity world, CubaNews posts all manner of things which would
never appear in the Cuban media. My feeling is that the movements which 
solidarize with Cuba need to know what's being said about Cuba, for and
against, not just what's being said by the Cuban Revolution's supporters.

There are more than a few things which the Cuban government doesn't see
fit to print in the Cuban media. There are obvious limits to democratic rights
in Cuba, but unless we keep in mind Washington's relentless efforts to both
strangle and overthrow Cuba's system - one operating 25 hours a day and
eight days a week. we cannot really understand why Cuba has the kind of
system which it does. There are political costs to the choices they've made,
which Cubans have to live with. 

I'm always struck at the flip spirit in which so many foreign journalists as
well as leftists throw around criticisms, complaints and demands for change
in Cuba's system of government. Finally, Louis has provided a forum in which
discussion of the the challenges facing Marxists in building a revolutionary
movement can be fruitfully discussed. That doesn't always seem to be the
case with some contributions, but the forum is what its readers and writers
make of it. I try to write or submit materials which can aid in discussion of
such complex, contradictory and difficult issues. The articles by Saul Landau 
which originated on Progreso Weekly, on Vietnam are very much worthwhile
from that point of view.

In conclusion, today I had a chance to listen to some discussion of how to
think through the challenges facing those of us who are trying to remake
this world in a healther spirit. It was in a discussion between the terrific
NPR interviewer Terry Gross and the Rev. William Sloan Coffin, who died
earlier this week. The interview as done twenty years ago, but it sounds
100% relevant to our lives, times and struggles today. 

Listen to that interview here:

Walter Lippmann


Vietnam diary – Part I

Vietnam diary – Part II
Looking for a Cuban businessman

Vietnam diary – Part III
The new road worries, but there’s no looking back

Vietnam diary (Part IV):
The Mekong Delta

More information about the Marxism mailing list