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    A Prejudiced Listener

    By Manuel Yepe*
    “What the Cubans are saying and doing today, other hungry people in Latin America are going to be saying and doing tomorrow.” - C. Wright Mills, 1960.

    Forty-seven years ago, in 1960, a book published in the United States titled “Listen, Yankee” warned the government of that Nation about the great historical mistake it was committing in its policies towards Cuba due to its inability to understand the outreach and meaning of the Cuban revolution.

    The worthiness of the warning derived from the fact that it came from one of the leading sociologists of the time in the US, Charles Wright Mills (1916- 1962).

    In January 1959, when the victory of the Cuban revolution took place, Wright Mills was already an outstanding scholar for his works The Power Elite; Whitecollar (The American Middle Classes) and The Sociological Imagination, among others. He was considered an acute analyst of the every-day life in the United States, whose sharp comments in relevant publications frequently triggered harsh polemics. When analyzing the power structures, he warned about the degradation of democracy through the social control exercised by the oligarchies, the bureaucratization of industrial society and the techniques applied for the control of workers.

    Wright Mills also studied the role played by the media by means of adulterating information and manipulating public opinion in order to profit the elites, while debasing the public scenario by simulating a democratic debate. He was probably the first author in the United States stating that the overflow of information does not favor communication but, on the contrary, creates a real problem of assimilation.

    It was acknowledged that C. W. Mills had an amazing sense of anticipation in his analysis, which validated his sociological arguments. The soundness of this assessment is confirmed by his book Listen, Yankee at the light of the present situation in Latin America.

    Three and a half days of conversations with the then Prime Minister Fidel Castro and five or six more days with the delegate of the National Institute for the Agrarian Reform, Rene Vallejo , as well as interviews with many other Cuban leaders and a number of peasants, workers, students and house wives, in August 1960 supplied the arguments in the book. The readers of this book find as its conductive axle a warning to the American society, rather than to the American government, that the Cuban revolution might not simply be an isolated accident but the beginning of a succession of similar scenarios in the entire underdeveloped world, especially in Latin America. Wright Mills expresses an advice, by means of eight successive letters from the figurative Cuban revolutionary protagonist who, sometimes with arrogance, others with serenity, but always with pride, voices the feelings that the author gathered in our country a year and a half after the popular victory of January 1959.

    In one of these eight letters, the Cuban revolutionary proclaims that “we Cubans are part of Latin America –not of North America- . Our history is not part of your history; it is part of the Latin America history. And Latin America is 180,000,000 people, growing faster than you are growing, and scattered over a territory more than twice as large as the U.S.A. Like all of Latin America, we’re fed up with what your corporations and what your governments do down here. They’ve dominated us long enough, we’ve said it to ourselves now. Your government supported Batista right up to the last minute of his gangster regime. But now Cuba is not just another island in the Caribbean. The Caribbean is not a North American lake. All that, that’s over.”

    Wright Mills reasons in the initial note to the reader that: “The voice of Cuba today is the voice of revolutionary euphoria. It is also an angry voice. I am trying to explain something of all this along with the Cubans’ reasons for it. For their reasons are not only theirs: they are the reasons of the entire hungry world.”

    He shows an exact understanding of the Cuban political situation when he spells his mind about the electoral exigency promoted by US media and the internal counterrevolution which Washington was trying to oxygen. In his final note to the reader Wright Mills declares: “I share the view of every competent observer that in any election the victory of the fidelistas will be overwhelming. But what seems to me more relevant to the question is that no matter how elections were organized, and no matter how they may be supervised by an international agency, such a victory would be quite meaningless. To have meaningful elections it is necessary to have at least two political parties and it would be necessary for these parties to campaign on some range of issues. The only issue in Cuba today is the revolution, conceived by the Cuban government primarily as economic and educational construction and as military defense of Cuban sovereignty.

    Any party that campaigned today against the revolution and against the present Government’s management of it would probably be set upon by the majority of the people of Cuba. So I think it must be faced up to: a real election is an impossible and meaningless idea. It will only be made meaningful by deliberately giving institutional form to the counterrevolution, and that today would be unacceptable to the immense majority of the people of Cuba. The absence of elections signifies absence of democracy only on the formal assumption that the electoral process is at all times and in all places indispensable to democracy. But be that as it may, an election in Cuba is at the present time an impossible and meaningless demand.”

    When, 15 years later, in 1975, Cuba institutionalized it’s major social and political revolutionary achievements in a new Constitution discussed and approved by all its citizens, as well as a self-developed electoral system, truly democratic and participative, very different from the US system, the ideas expressed in the book were confirmed: the US electoral model is not a valid paradigm for the underdeveloped countries. Wright Mills clearly identifies the historical antecedents, economic roots and universal outreach of U.S. imperialism expressed in its Cuban policies when the Cuban revolutionary character states that “there cannot be peace –by which we mean real understanding- between North and South America as long as these Yankee corporations own the riches of our countries.

    Because with this kind of ownership goes the real control of the politics of our countries… That’s not ideology. That’s just a plain fact that we have lived in Cuba, and that most of Latin America is still living.” However, in his own final observations, he prefers not to go so deep into the question and states that “the policies the United States has pursued and is still pursuing against Cuba are based upon a profound ignorance, and are shot through with hysteria.”

    The shamelessly declared imperialist objective to bring democracy to Cuba was also rejected by the “Cuban revolutionary” created by Wright Mills 47 years ago when he says: “We don’t know what you mean by the word ´democratic´ but if what we are doing isn’t democratic, then we don’t want democracy. And if you identify a free society with what you have in North America, please know that we don’t. We’ve tried that kind of political system in Cuba. Maybe it works for you –that’s your business; it certainly did not work for us.”

    C. Wright Mills did not have a formal political militancy and he was neither a communist nor an anticommunist. He had studied and written about Marxism, and evidently he felt attracted by the Cuban revolution. “Were I a Cuban, I have no doubt that I would be working with all my effort for the success of my revolution. But I am not a Cuban. I am a Yankee.”

    And, as an American, he formulated a recommendation to the government of his country which he put in the words of the protagonist of his book: “You ought to use Cuba as The Case –The Case in which to establish the way you are going to act when there are revolutions in hungry countries everywhere in the world.”

    Recently, Cuba was visited by the famed U.S. writer Gore Vidal, accompanied by a group of other fellow citizens among who I recognized Saul Landau, an outstanding writer, political scientist, filmmaker and journalist who, being very young and already a bright intellectual, worked with Charles Wright Mills in the days of Listen, Yankee and he could have been the one who attracted Mills to the studies of the Cuban revolution. At the beginning of 1960, they and many other excellent intellectuals in the United States created the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New York and not without serious risks to their lives, pronounced themselves against a policy that, as they foresaw and advised, would sink their country in dishonor. Sadly, the message was never listened to.

    *Manuel E. Yepe is a lawyer, economist and social scientist. He is a professor at the Raul Roa Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana. He served as Ambassador, Director General of the Prensa Latina News Agency, Vice President of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, founding National Director of UNDP’s Technological Information Pilot System (TIPS) in Cuba and Secretary of the Cuban Peace Movement. Havana, March 2007.

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