Notes on the Revolution / Column 22
October 23, 2019
CLACSO Forum in Havana
By Charles McKelvey
Cuba, with the support of the government, academic institutions, and the media, offers the people many opportunities for a serious exchange of ideas. The Cuban Revolution believes that only an educated people can be free; the people must educate itself, with the guidance of those among the people who have acquired more knowledge, as a result of their commitment and experience. The Revolution believes that ideas are the most important arm of the people, enabling the people to defend and protect itself.
An example is the Forum on Cuba in Revolution: 60 years of transformations, sponsored by the Latin American Council of Social Science (CLASCO for its initials in Spanish), and held on October 21, 2019 at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana. CLACSO in a non-governmental international institution established in 1967 and associated with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). It has 680 research and graduate study centers in the social sciences and humanities in 51 countries of Latin America and other continents.
During the Forum, I spoke with Gustavo Lema, CLACSO Director of Communication and Information. I began our conversation by asking him to describe the work and mission of the Latin American Council of Social Science.
“CLACSO is an academic network with 680 member centers in different parts of the world, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Apart from our region, there are centers in different parts of the world, including Germany, Russia, China.
“The members are not only academic research centers, but also social organizations, which are a very important part of the organization. Central for CLASCO are research work groups, of which there are more than 100 formed by more than 7000 scientists investigating different themes, such as feminism, questions related to Afro-descendants, and rights in Latin America. Each one of the groups is responsible for carrying out an investigation, the results of which are distributed not only in the academic environment but also in a form that gives the possibility of a social impact, which is a fundamental component in the construction of knowledge, from CLACSO’s point of view.
“Another important part aspect has to do with formation. CLACSO educates thousands of persons per year through virtual education, through which we are transmitting knowledge in the social sciences and humanities with a Latin American and Caribbean perspective.
“We believe in open access. Everything that we generate is available without cost and is distributed in a form totally free.
“We ask the question, how is knowledge constructed in academic areas? The construction and publication scientific advances, in the natural sciences and the social sciences, are linked to a series of scientific publications, in which the scientists have to pay in order to publish their research. This means that scientists that have financial support to do their research have greater possibilities, not only for doing research but also with respect to publishing and to having their research known. On the other hand, the investigators that treat marginal subjects have difficulties in obtaining funds, such as scientific investigations of illnesses that are found primarily in rural and poor zones. And when they have funds, their research is not published.
“So the logical way of thinking with respect to the construction of knowledge ought to be not only open access, but also one should not have to pay in order to publish. Therefore, CLACSO has an open access library. The researchers of the region can publish all of their research there, not only to avoid the restrictions in the construction of knowledge, but also to establish the foundation for development in a different direction with respect to the method of investigation.”
We are speaking with Gustavo Lema, Director of Communication and Information of the Latin American Council of Social Science (CLASCO). We spoke during a Forum on Cuba in Revolution: 60 years of transformations, held in Havana on October 21, 2019. I asked Gustavo to explain the goals of the Forum in Cuba.
“The presence of CLACSO in Cuba is fundamental, and the relation between Cuba and CLACSO is historical. The numbers of centers that there are in Cuba—[fourth highest among the fifty-one countries]—is really important, and it implies various things. First, the commitment of CLACSO in Cuba and its member centers to participate in the conception of the construction of knowledge of which we have spoken. Therefore, the realization of the Forum in which we are participating today permits the consolidation of the relation between CLACSO in Cuba, a strong collaborative relation maintained through time, increasingly strengthened.
“In addition, a point that for me is fascinating, Cuba is developing four schools. The schools are moments of formation, in which specific themes are treated. Four schools in which are participating more than 250 students from all the countries of Latin America, treating such themes as Afro-descendants, gender, feminisms, and the problem of the greater difficulties that women face in developing their careers, inasmuch as gender inequality continues, not only in Latin America but in the world. The four schools are having an important impact for the long term.
“We are at this moment celebrating the 100th meeting of the Executive Committee of CLACSO, which for us is very important, and it was a political decision to hold it here in Cuba. At the forum today, there are 500 participants, a fact that reflects the participation of the centers and their researchers and the impact of the schools. And here we see heroes of the revolution at the side of academics and thinkers, reflecting on a very difficult moment in Latin America, in which there has been the reemergence of ways of thinking linked to neoliberalism, and even to the extreme Right, as in Ecuador, Chile and Brazil. But also there are lights of hope, in Mexico and in the new elections in Argentina, Uruguay, and Bolivia.”
That was Gustavo Lema, Director of Communication and Information of the Latin American Council of Social Science (CLASCO), speaking with us concerning the mission of CLASCO, the relation between Cuba and CLACSO, and the Forum on Cuba in Revolution: 60 years of transformations, held in Havana on October 21, 2019.
The address at the closing ceremony of the Forum was delivered by Ricardo Alarcón, a well-known Cuban intellectual who is former President of the National Assembly of Popular Power and a former diplomat who represented Cuba in the United Nations. The central thesis of his presentation was that the new measures of the United States against Cuba are nothing new. When the Revolution came to power in 1959, the Eisenhower administration was developing the initial strategies in what would be a long story of attacks. An important moment in this story was the Helms-Burton Law of 1996, which Alarcon described an annexionist. In Cuban political culture, annexionism refers to a political position among Cubans that advocates the annexation of the island by the United States. He noted that Helms-Burton focuses on the question of the what it calls “confiscated properties,” permitting holders of such properties, or their descendants, to file civil demands in U.S. courts. He also noted that the Helms-Burton allows for the cessation of economic sanctions when Cuba becomes democratic, with the U.S. government determining if Cuba has become democratic. In placing the resolution of the conflict over nationalized and confiscated properties in Cuba in the hands of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government of the United States, Helms-Burton is placing the governance of Cuba under the authority of the government of the United States, which is why Alarcón interprets Helms-Burton as annexionist.
Alarcón seemed pleased that one of the claimants under the recent activation of Title III of Helms-Burton, a petitioner who is the great-grandson of an owner of extensive properties in the central province of Cienfuegos, still has a Cuban sense of humor. When he was informed that there are many persons living on the properties that he was claiming, the claimant responded that he does not want to evict anybody; he merely is claiming that he is owed sixty years of rent.
So here we are, Alarcon observed, after sixty years, where we have been since the first day. Obama wanted to end the blockade, but he was not able to do it. Speaking to delegates to the Forum from many Latin American nations, he declared that “we are going to be victims of the blockade for much more time.”
The viewpoint taken by Alarcón is a common view in Cuba. Indeed, going beyond the question of the blockade to imperialist policies in general, there is a dominant theoretical current in Cuba that maintains that imperialism always will be imperialism. It is not necessary a scientifically correct position, because nothing is eternal, and many unexpected developments can emerge from the unfolding contradictions of the neocolonial world-system in sustained structural crisis. But the view that the blockade will be with us for a long time is politically necessary for Cuba; it is a question of educating the people with respect to the current reality, and of calling the people to continue to defend itself.
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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