BY THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF
Lula warmly reminded me of the first time he
visited our country in 1985 to take part in a meeting organized by Cuba to
analyze the overwhelming problem of the foreign debt; participants representing
a wide spectrum of political, religious, cultural and social tendencies
presented and discussed their opinions, concerned about the asphyxiating drama.
meetings took place throughout the year.
Leaders of worker, peasant, student and other groups assembled to
examine the various subjects. He was one
of these leaders, already well known to us and abroad for his direct and
vibrant message, that of a young worker leader.
that time, Latin America owed 350 billion
dollars. I told him that in that year of
intense struggle I had written long letters to the President of Argentina, Raúl
Alfonsín, to persuade him discontinue the payments on that debt. I knew the position of Mexico, unmoved in the payment of its enormous
debt, but not indifferent to the outcome of the battle, and the special
political situation of Brazil. The Argentine debt was sufficiently large
after the disasters of the military government to justify an attempt to open up
a breach in that direction. I did not succeed.
A few years later, the debt with the interests rose to 800 billion; it
grew twofold and it had already been paid.
explains to me how that year was different. He says that Brazil has no
debt today either with the International Monetary Fund or with the Paris Club,
and that it has 190 billion US dollars in its reserves. I assumed that his country had paid enormous
sums in order to comply with those institutions. I explained to him about Nixon's colossal
fraud on the world economy, when in 1971 he unilaterally suspended the gold
standard that had limited the issuing of paper money. Until then the dollar had maintained a
balance in relation to its value in gold.
Thirty years earlier, the United States had almost all the
reserves in this metal. If there was a
lot of gold, they bought it up; if there was a shortage, they sold. The dollar
played the part of international exchange currency, under the privileges
granted to the US
at Bretton Woods in 1944.
most developed powers had been destroyed by the war. Japan,
Germany, the USSR and the rest of Europe
had barely any of this metal in their reserves.
One ounce of gold could be bought for as little as 35 dollars; today you
need 900 dollars.
I said, bought up properties all over the world minting dollars, and exercise
sovereign privileges over such properties acquired in other countries. Nevertheless, nobody wants the dollar to
devaluate any further, because almost all countries accumulate dollars, that is,
paper money, that devaluates constantly as a result of that unilateral decision
made by the President of the United
Presently, the currency reserves of China, Japan,
Southeast Asia and Russia
combined amount to three trillion dollars (3,000,000,000,000); it’s an
astronomical figure. If you add the
dollar reserves of Europe and the rest of the
world, you will see that this all comes to a mountain of money whose value
depends on what the government of one country decides to do.
who for more than 15 years was the chairman of the Federal Reserve, would have died
in a panic had he been faced with such situation. How high can U.S. inflation climb? How many new jobs can this country create
this year? How long will its machinery
to mint paper money last before its economy collapses, besides using the war to
conquer other nations’ natural resources?
a result of the harsh measures imposed on the defeated German state at Versailles in 1918, when
a republican regime came to power, the German Mark devaluated to such an extent
that you needed tens of thousands of them to buy one dollar. Such crisis fed German nationalism and
contributed extraordinarily to Hitler’s absurd ideas. He was looking for a scapegoat. Many of the most important scientific and
financial talents as well as writers were Jewish. They were persecuted. Among them was Einstein, the author of the
theory stating that energy is equal to mass multiplied by the square of the
speed of light; it made him famous. Also
Marx, who was born in Germany,
and many of the Russian Communists were of Jewish descent, whether or not they
actively practiced the Hebrew religion.
did not lay the blame for the human drama on the capitalist system, rather he
blamed the Jews. Based on crude
prejudices, what he really wanted was “vital Russian space” for his Teutonic
master race, dreaming of building a millennial empire.
In 1917, by the Balfour Declaration, the
British decided to create the State of Israel within its colonial empire,
located on territory inhabited by the Palestinians who had a different religion
and culture; in that part of the world, other ethnic groups coexisted for many
centuries before our era, among them the Jews.
Zionism became popular among the Americans, who rightly detested the
Nazis, and whose financial markets were controlled by representatives of that
movement. That state today is practicing the principles of apartheid; it has
sophisticated nuclear weapons and it controls the most important financial centers
in the United States. It was used by this country and its European
allies to supply nuclear weapons to that other apartheid, the one in South Africa, so that they might be used against
the Cuban internationalist combatants who were fighting the racists in the south
if they were to cross the Namibian border.
afterwards, I spoke to Lula about Bush’s adventurous policies in the Middle East.
I promised to send him the article that was to
be published in Granma the next day,
on January 16th. I would
personally sign the copy he would be getting.
Before he left, I would also give him the article written by one of the
most influential U.S.
intellectuals, Paul Kennedy, about the connection between food and oil prices.
are a food producer, I added, and you have just discovered important reserves
of light crude. Brazil
has an area of 5,333,750 square miles and 30 percent of the world’s water
reserves. The planet’s population needs increasing amounts of food, and you are
great food exporters. If you have grains
rich in proteins, oils and carbohydrates –be they fruits like the cashew nuts,
almonds, or pistachio; legumes such as peanut; soybean, with more than 35%
protein, and sunflower seeds; or grains like wheat and corn— you can produce
all the meat or milk you want. I didn’t mention others on a long list.
continued with my explanation saying that in Cuba, we had a cow that broke the
world record in milk production, a Holstein-Zebu hybrid. Right away Lula named her: “White Udder!” (Ubre Blanca), he exclaimed. He remembered her name. I went on to say that she would produce 110 litres of milk a
day. She was like a factory, but she had
to have more than 40
kilograms of fodder, the most she could chew and swallow
in a 24-hour period, a mixture where soy meal, a legume that is very difficult
to grow in Cuban soil and climate, is a basic ingredient. You now have the two things: safe supplies of
fuel, raw food materials and manufactured food products.
end of cheap food has already been announced.
I ask him, What do you think will do the dozens of countries with many
hundreds of millions of inhabitants who have neither the one nor the
other? This means that the United States
has a huge external dependency which is also a weapon. It could use all its reserves of land, but the
people of that country are not ready for that. They are producing ethanol from
corn, therefore, they are taking a great amount of this caloric grain off the
market, I added making my point.
the same subject, Lula tells me that Brazilian producers are already selling
the 2009 corn crop. Brazil is not as dependent on corn as Mexico or Central America.
I think that the United
States cannot keep up fuel production from
corn. This, I say, confirms a reality with regards to the sudden and
incontrollable rise of food prices which will affect many peoples.
on the other hand, can rely on a favorable climate and loose soil; ours tends
to be clayish and sometimes as hard as cement.
When we received tractors from the Soviets and the other Socialist
countries, they would break down and we had to buy special steel in Europe to manufacture them here. In our country we have lots of clay-based
black or red soils. Working them with dedication, they can produce for the family
what the peasants in the Escambray call “high consumption”. They were receiving food rations from the
State and also consuming their own production. The climate has changed in Cuba, Lula, I
soil is not suitable for the large scale commercial production of cereals, as
required to meet the necessities of a population of almost 12 million people,
and the cost in machinery and fuel imported by the nation, at today’s prices,
would be very high.
media prints news about oil production in Matanzas,
reductions in costs and other positive aspects.
But nobody says that the prices in hard currency must be shared with
foreign partners who invest in the necessary sophisticated machinery and
technology. Besides, we do not have the required labor force to intensively
take part in cereal production as the Vietnamese and Chinese do, growing rice
plant by plant and often reaping two or even three harvests a year. It has to do with the location and the
historical tradition of the land and its settlers. They did not first go through the large scale
mechanization of modern harvesters.
quite a while ago now, the sugarcane cutters and the workers in the mountain
coffee plantations have abandoned the fields, logically. Also, a large number
of construction workers, some from the same origins, have abandoned the work
brigades and have become self-employed workers.
The people are aware of the high cost of fixing up a home. There is the
cost of the material, plus the high cost of the manpower. The first can be solved, the second has no
solution –as some would believe– throwing pesos into the street without their due
backing in convertible currency, which would not be dollars anymore but Euros
and Yuans, increasingly expensive, if all together we succeed in saving
international economy and peace.
Meanwhile, we have been creating and we should
keep on creating reserves of foods and fuel.
In case of a direct military attack, the manual work force would be
the short time Lula and I spent together, two and a half hours, I would have liked
to summarize in just a few minutes the almost 28 years that have gone by, not
since the time he first visited Cuba, but from the time I met him in Nicaragua.
This time he was the leader of an immense nation whose fate, however, depends
on many aspects that are common to all the peoples on this planet.
asked his permission to speak about our conversation freely and at the same
As he stands in front of me, smiling and
friendly, and I listen to him speaking with pride about his country, about the
things they are doing and those they plan on doing, I think about his political
instincts. I had just finished quickly
looking over a hundred-page report on Brazil and the growth of relations
between our two countries. He was the
man I met in the Sandinista capital, Managua;
he was someone who connected closely with our Revolution. I neither spoke to
him, nor would I ever speak to him, about anything that could be construed as
interfering in the political process of Brazil, but he himself, right at the
beginning, said: Do you remember, Fidel, when we spoke at the Sao Paulo Forum,
and you told me that unity among the Latin American left-wing was necessary if
we were to secure our progress? Well, we
are now moving forward in that direction.
Immediately he speaks to me with pride about
is today and its great possibilities, bearing in mind its advances in science,
technology, mechanical industry, energy and other areas, bound up with its
enormous agricultural potential. Of course,
he includes the high level of Brazil’s
international relations, which he describes enthusiastically, and the relations
he is ready to develop with Cuba. He speaks vehemently about the social work of
the Workers' Party which today is supported by all the Brazilian left-wing
parties, which are far from having a parliamentary majority.
is no doubt that it was a part of the things we analyzed years ago when we
spoke. Back then time flew by quickly, but now every year is multiplied by ten,
at a rhythm which is difficult to follow.
wanted also to talk to him about that and about many other things. It’s hard to tell which one of us had the
greater need to communicate ideas. As
for me, I supposed that he would be leaving the next day and not early that
same evening, according to the flight plan that had been scheduled before we
met. It was approximately five o’clock
in the afternoon. What happened was a
kind of contest as to how we would be using the time. Lula, smart and quick-witted, took his
revenge at a meeting with the press, when, smiling and cunning as you can see
in the photos, he told the reporters that he had only talked for half an
hour and Fidel had talked for two. Of course, with the privilege of seniority, I
used up more time than he did. You have to discount the time taking photographs
of each other, since I borrowed a camera and became a reporter: He followed suit.
have here 103 pages of dispatches reporting what Lula said to the press, the
photos taken of him and the confidence he communicated about Fidel’s
health. Truly, he left no space for the
reflection published on January 16th that I had just finished
writing the day before his visit. He
took up the entire space and this is equivalent to his enormous territory,
compared to the miniscule land surface of Cuba.
told him how happy I was that he had decided to visit Cuba, even
without the assurance that he would be able to see me. As soon as I knew that, I decided to
sacrifice anything, like my exercises, rehab and recovery, just so I could be
with him and talk extensively.
that moment, even though I knew that he would be leaving that same day, I was
unaware of the urgency in his departure.
Evidently, the health condition of the Vice President of Brazil, according
to his own statement, urged him to take off so that he could arrive in Brasilia at around dawn
the next day, in the middle of spring. Yet, another long and hectic day for our
A strong and persistent downpour fell on his
residence while Lula waited for the photos and two other bits of material,
together with my notes. He left that
night for the airport under the rain. If
he had seen the front page of Granma:
"2007, the third rainiest year in more than 100 years", he would have
been able to understand what I had told him about the climate change.
then, the sugar harvest in Cuba
has begun, along with the so-called dry season.
The sugar crop yield is only at nine percent. How much would it cost to grow sugar for
export at ten cents a pound, when the purchasing power of one cent is almost
fifty times less than at the time of the triumph of the Revolution in January
of 1959? Reducing the costs of these and
other products to fulfil our commitments, to satisfy our consumption, to create
reserves and develop other production, is highly commendable; but not even in
our wildest dreams can we find easy solutions to our problems, the solutions
are not just around the corner.
many other topics, we discussed the inauguration of the new President of
Guatemala, Álvaro Colom. I told him that
I had seen the ceremony in its entirety and the social commitments made by the
newly elected President. Lula mentioned
that what we can see today in Latin America
was born in 1990 when we decided to create the Sao Paulo Forum: “We made a decision here, in a conversation
we had. I had lost the election and you
came to lunch at my home in San
conversation with Lula was just beginning, and I still have many things to tell
and ideas to offer, that might perhaps be useful.