Lockwood on the baseball field with Castro, 1964. © 2016 Lee Lockwood/TASCHEN.
Late in 1959, the photojournalist Lee Lockwood flew to Cuba to witness the end of Batista’s regime. After a long search, he found Fidel Castro, who had only just seized power. The two had an immediate rapport, and in successive trips over the next decade, Lockwood found that Castro granted him unprecedented access to the island; in 1965, he sat for a marathon seven-day interview. First published in 1967, Lockwood’s portrait of Castro stands as arguably the most penetrating document that exists of the man. Lockwood died in 2010; this month, in light of the new course in U.S. relations with Cuba and the paucity of historical context, Taschen is reissuing his interviews in Castro’s Cuba: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Cuba 1959–1969, including hundreds of photographs, many of them previously unpublished. The excerpt below covers Castro’s opinions on literature, arts, and culture in Cuba.
Is there any attempt to exert control over the production of art in Cuba? For example, in literature?
All manifestations of art have different characteristics. For example, movies are different from painting. Movies are a modern industry requiring a lot of resources. It is not the same thing to make a film as it is to paint a picture or write a book. But if you ask whether there is control—no.
One thing that is surprising is the amount of creative freedom given to your artists, the painters and sculptors, as compared with other Socialist countries. However, this liberalism seems to apply to a lesser extent to literature.
Because literature involves the publication of books. It is principally an economic problem. The resources that are available are not sufficient for all the needs for the printing of textbooks, for example, schoolbooks, reference works, books of a general nature. That is, we cannot waste paper. That is one of the limiting factors. This doesn’t mean that the political factor doesn’t have its influence, too. A book that we did not believe to be of some value wouldn’t have a chance of being published.
The 1964 José Martí housing project in Santiago de Cuba was designed by a group of Cuban architects using prefabricated panels as part of the trend of importing Eastern European precast construction systems. The façade’s design shows a sensitive climate approach by using latticework panels to filter the strong sunlight. 1967. © 2016 Lee Lockwood/TASCHEN.
In other words, an author who wrote a novel that contained counterrevolutionary sentiments couldn’t possibly get it published?
At present, no. The day will come when all the resources will be available, that is, when such a book would not be published to the detriment of a textbook or of a book having universal value in world literature. Then there will be resources to publish books on the basis of a broader criterion, and one will be able to argue whatever one wishes about any theme. I, especially, am a partisan of the widest possible discussion in the intellectual realm. Why? Because I believe in the free man, I believe in the well-educated man, I believe in the man able to think, in the man who acts always out of conviction, without fear of any kind. And I believe that ideas must be able to defend themselves. I am opposed to the blacklists of books, prohibited films, and all such things.
What is my personal ideal of the kind of people that we wish to have in the future? People sufficiently cultivated and educated to be capable of making a correct judgment about anything without fear of coming into contact with ideas that could confound or deflect them. For example, how do we think of ourselves? We think that we could read any book or see any film, about any theme, without changing our fundamental beliefs; and if there is in a book a solid argument about something that could be useful, that could be positive, that we are capable of analyzing and evaluating it. May all the men and women of our country be like this in the future! That is the kind of man we wish to shape. If we did not think like that, we would be men with no faith in our own convictions, in our own philosophy.
But such an atmosphere is not possible at the present time?
It would be an illusion to think so. First on account of the economic problems involved, and second because of the struggle in which we are engaged.
Is it also in the name of that “struggle” that the Cuban press writes so one-sidedly about the United States?
I am not going to tell you that we don’t do that. It’s true, everything that we say about the United States refers essentially to the worst aspects, and it is very rare that things in any way favorable to the United States will be published here. We simply have a similar attitude to the attitude of your country. I mean that we always try to create the worst opinion of everything there is in the United States, as a response to what they have always done with us. The only difference is that we do not write falsehoods about the United States. I told you that we emphasize the worst things, that we omit things that could be viewed as positive, but we do not invent any lies.
But it amounts to the same thing. By emphasizing only our bad qualities, you create a distortion that is the equivalent of a lie.
That depends on what you mean by “lie.” I agree that it is a distortion. A lie is simply the willful invention of facts that do not exist. There is a difference between a distortion and a lie, although unquestionably they have some effects of a similar kind. This is not ideal. But it is the result of realities that have not been imposed by us. In a world of peace, in which genuine trust and respect among peoples existed, this wouldn’t happen. And we are not responsible for this situation.
But if you persist in promoting these distortions, which encourage only hostile feelings in your citizens, how can you ever expect to have peace?
Again, we are not the ones responsible. It is the United States who cut all relations with Cuba.
A banner for the OLAS conference on the 1959 Ministry of State building quotes Guevara, just a few months before his death, 1967. © 2016 Lee Lockwood/TASCHEN.
I don’t think that has anything to do with the question.
I am simply fulfilling my duty of speaking to you with complete frankness when I tell you how things are from our side. I have the honesty to speak like this—how many leaders of the United States would speak in the same terms?
You are most frank. But I would like to insist on this point a bit longer. In my personal opinion, you have more to gain by keeping your society open to knowledge of all kinds about the United States than by persisting in painting a distorted image of us. For example, in recent years there has been an increasing effort on the part of our government to support the Negroes’ fight for civil rights, and strong legislation has been passed. This is something which could also be covered by the Cuban press, besides the fact that there are Negroes rioting in California, or that the Ku Klux Klan is marching in Georgia and Alabama, which is the only kind of thing you ever publish here.
It is my understanding that news of that legislation was published here, although naturally we have a substantially different point of view about it than you do. We believe that the problem of discrimination has an economic content and basis appropriate to a class society in which man is exploited by man.
This is clearly a difficult, complex problem. We ourselves went through the experience of discrimination. Discrimination disappeared when class privileges disappeared, and it has not cost the revolution much effort to resolve that problem. I don’t believe it could have been done in the United States. It would be a little absurd to speak at this moment of a revolution there. Perhaps there will never even be a revolution in the United States, in the classic sense of the word, but rather evolutionary changes. I am sure, for example, that within five hundred years North American society will bear no similarity to the present one. Probably by that time they won’t have problems of discrimination.
But why not speak of the revolutionary changes in the United States too? Why not tell the Cuban people the whole story?
Because altogether there have not been any evolutionary changes in a positive sense in the United States. But rather, politically speaking, a true regression. From our general point of view the policy of the United States, above all her foreign policy, has advanced more and more toward an ultrareactionary position.
We were not talking about United States foreign policy.
In reality that is what affects us most.
Since we’re on the subject, it also seems to me that anybody who has a point of view substantially different from the governmental line about almost anything has very little opportunity to express himself in the press here. In fact, there is extremely little criticism of any kind in the Cuban press. It seems to be an arm of the government.
Well, what you say is true. There is very little criticism. An enemy of Socialism cannot write in our newspapers—but we don’t deny it, and we don’t go around proclaiming a hypothetical freedom of the press where it actually doesn’t exist, the way you people do. Furthermore, I admit that our press is deficient in this respect. I don’t believe that this lack of criticism is a healthy thing. Rather, criticism is a very useful and positive instrument, and I think that all of us must learn to make use of it.
Santiago de Cuba, July 26, 1967. © 2016 Lee Lockwood/TASCHEN.
Don’t you think there are Cuban writers who would make use of that instrument if there existed an atmosphere in which their statements would be taken as constructive criticism?
Criticism, yes—but not work in the service of the enemy or of the counterrevolution.
But who is to decide at any given point which criticism is constructive and which is counterrevolutionary?
Well, we are in the midst of a struggle, a more or less open war, and when, for example, the United States has been faced with such situations, what they have done is to repress without consideration all those who opposed the interests of the country while it was at war. When you were at war against the Nazis, you had such a policy.
But you haven’t answered the question. Who is to decide?
Under such circumstances, the party decides, the political power, the revolutionary power. Naturally, when we no longer live under these circumstances, the causes that require severe measures will actually disappear.
But in the meantime there is almost no criticism of any kind in your society, either in the press or in the literature, radio, and television, or in any of the other organs of communication in Cuba.
Certainly there is a minimum of criticism. And there is something more—we have to pay attention to the training of the journalistic cadres, because millions of people read what they say and write. If we are going to have a people of wide culture, then the men who have daily contact with them must have a wide culture, too, to be really qualified for the social function which they perform. We believe that journalism in its different forms has an extraordinary importance in modern life.
Not that I would tell you we delude ourselves that under the present circumstances journalism can have any other function more important than that of contributing to the political and revolutionary goals of our country. We have a goal, a program, an objective to fulfill, and that objective essentially controls the activity of the journalists. I would say that it essentially controls the labor of all the intellectual workers. I am not going to deny it.
But isn’t there a certain danger inherent in suppressing all forms of criticism—?
I agree! I do not say at all that the absence of criticism can be useful. On the contrary, it could even be harmful.
Boys hold the latest Beatles album, The Beatles Vol. 3, in Vedado, Havana, 1965. © 2016 Lee Lockwood/TASCHEN.
What do you think has been responsible for the growth of this atmosphere?
I believe various circumstances, but fundamentally the situation of emergency and strain under which the country has been living, required to survive by the skin of its teeth. Almost all activities have had to be subordinated to the need for survival.
One thing which may have influenced this atmosphere of inhibition is your own strong personal position against “counterrevolutionary” attitudes. Isn’t it possible, once this climate has been established, that an intellectual may come to fear that any critical idea may be interpreted by the government as counterrevolutionary? That is, perhaps the strong position you have always taken has shut off a line of communication between you and people of intelligence who are in a position to see that something is wrong or who may have a better idea. By stifling critical comment, don’t you make it unlikely that you will hear any ideas but your own?
I confess that those are themes which we have to pay attention to in the near future. Because other things have been occupying our attention, we have not been able to concern ourselves with such obvious deficiencies as these.
This lack of a critical perspective seems to apply in education as well. In my visits to schools in various parts of the country I found generally that the children are being taught to accept concepts at face value rather than to question them. Don’t you feel that this is potentially dangerous to the intellectual future of your country?
I think that the education of students depends very much upon the level of training and capability of the teacher. That is, it is not a question of policy. The child must be taught to think—to develop his intelligence must be the essential objective of teaching. Anyway, I am going to concern myself with the observations you have made. One of our fundamental concerns has been the training of a corps of teachers on the highest pedagogical level. It must never be forgotten that the conditions under which we have lived are not normal ones—they are conditions of violent class struggle, clashes of ideas, of judgments, of feelings. All this can contribute to the creation of a certain environment, a certain atmosphere of inhibition …
However, this was not what we were most concerned about in these first days. What concerned us much more was to open a school in a place where there was no teacher to teach the ABC’s, to teach reading and writing. In that first stage we were concerned with the elemental things in education, and many things had to be improvised because we lacked skilled personnel. I think it is logical that we should make sure that the children now in elementary school and who are going to be the future intellectuals, the future citizens of our country, should not be educated in a dogmatic way, but should develop their capacity to think and to judge for themselves.
I’ve also noticed in the classrooms a tendency to approach facts dogmatically. For example, we were talking before about how the Cuban press purposely does not paint a well-rounded picture of the United States. Well, the interpretations and the “facts” about the United States that are presented to the students in their classes are precisely those printed in the newspapers, repeated without clarification. What is going to happen when all of these young boys and girls who have been receiving this one-sided picture all through school, perhaps ever since the first grade, become adults?
Without doubt they will have a very bad opinion of the United States and about everything it represents, in the same way that in the United States children are educated with a very bad opinion of Communism. It is lamentable, but it is a reality.
Someday the United States and Cuba are going to have friendly relations again. When that happens, won’t you have to deal with the legacy of this bad feeling with which you are indoctrinating your youth?
That is not an easy question to reply to. Besides, nobody has ever before posed this question. Actually this is the first time that I have heard it posed by a North American. Nor have we posed it to ourselves. It can be said that we have never been consciously concerned about that problem. Perhaps that is due partly to our great pessimism about whether the American people really have much opportunity to express their own opinions, or to change a situation.
It is possible that even we ourselves have not fully understood how deeply the feeling of solidarity with the Negroes has penetrated the hearts of the North American people. That is, we have no faith at all in the government of the United States, and that could also have led us toward a certain degree of underestimation of the people of the United States. But this is not the result of a deliberate policy. Maybe when you publish your book many of those who work in our press will also meditate on those questions. I, for my part, in conversations with them, can express those concerns and ask them to meditate a little on these themes. That for the sake of something you say, which I think is true, that someday—which I do not at all believe will be immediate, but rather a great deal of time will pass—it will have to happen that better relations exist between our two peoples.
It seems to me that we should try to lessen that time as much as possible, rather than to prolong it for unnecessary reasons.
I think that is reasonable. Let’s go to lunch.
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