Algeria, art of resistance

Frantz Fanon: Concerning Violence (part two).

The following is an excerpt from Frantz Fanon’s classic The Wretched of the Earth. It is a continuation of an excerpt I posted two months ago.

F.-Fanon/Frantz Fanon, photo via Zimbabwe Daily/

“Monsieur Meyer could state seriously in the French National Assembly that the Republic must not be prostituted by allowing the Algerian people to become part of it. All values, in fact, are irrevocably poisoned and diseased as soon as they are allowed in contact with the colonized race. The customs of the colonized people, their traditions, their myths — above all, their myths–are the very sign of that poverty of spirit and of their constitutional depravity. That is why we must put the DDT which destroys parasites, the bearers of disease, on the same level as the Christian religion which wages war on embryonic heresies and instincts, and on evil as yet unborn. The recession of yellow fever and the advance of evangelization form part of the same balance sheet. But the triumphant communiqués from the missions are in fact a source of information concerning the implantation of foreign influences in the core of the colonized people. I speak of the Christian religion, and no one need be astonished. The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. And as we know, in this matter many are called but few chosen.

At times this Manicheism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the native, or to speak plainly, it turns him into an animal. In fact, the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms. He speaks of the yellow man’s reptilian motions, of the stink of the native quarter, of breeding swarms, of foulness, of spawn, of gesticulations. When the settler seeks to describe the native fully in exact terms he constantly refers to the bestiary. The European rarely hits on a picturesque style; but the native, who knows what is in the mind of the settler, guesses at once what he is thinking of.

Those hordes of vital statistics, those hysterical masses, those faces bereft of all humanity, those distended bodies which are like nothing on earth, that mob without beginning or end, those children who seem to belong to nobody, that laziness stretched out in the sun, that vegetative rhythm of life–all this forms part of the colonial vocabulary. General de Gaulle speaks of ‘the yellow multitudes’ and François Mauriac of the black, brown, and yellow masses which soon will be unleashed. The native knows all this, and laughs to himself every time he spots an allusion to the animal world in the other’s words. For he knows that he is not an animal; and it is precisely at the moment he realizes his humanity that he begins to sharpen the weapons with which he will secure its victory.

As soon as the native begins to pull on his moorings, and to cause anxiety to the settler, he is handed over to well-meaning souls who in cultural congresses point out to him the specificity and wealth of Western values. But every time Western values are mentioned they produce in the native a sort of stiffening or muscular lockjaw. During the period of decolonization, the natives’s reason is appealed to. He is offered definite values, he is told frequently that decolonization need not mean regression, and that he must put his trust in qualities which are welltried, solid, and highly esteemed.

But it so happens that when the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife–or at least he makes sure it is within reach. The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him. In the colonial context the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values. In the period of decolonization, the colonized masses mock at these very values, insult them, and vomit them up.

This phenomenon is ordinarily masked because, during the period of decolonization, certain colonized intellectuals have begun a dialogue with the bourgeoisie of the colonialist country. During this phase, the indigenous population is discerned only as an indistinct mass. The few native personalities whom the colonialist bourgeois have come to know here and there have not sufficient influence on that immediate discernment to give rise to nuances. On the other hand, during the period of liberation, the colonialist bourgeoisie looks feverishly for contacts with the elite and it is with these elite that the familiar dialogue concerning values is carried on.

The colonialist bourgeoisie, when it realizes that it is impossible for it to maintain its domination over the colonial countries, decides to carry out a rearguard action with regard to culture, values, techniques, and so on. Now what we must never forget is that the immense majority of colonized peoples is oblivious to these problems. For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity. But this dignity has nothing to do with the dignity of the human individual: for that human individual has never heard tell of it. All that the native has seen in his country is that they can freely arrest him, beat him, starve him: and no professor of ethics, no priest has ever come to be beaten in his place, nor to share their bread with him.

As far as the native is concerned, morality is very concrete; it is to silence the settler’s defiance, to break his flaunting violence–in a word, to put him out of the picture. The wellknown principle that all men are equal will be illustrated in the colonies from the moment that the native claims that he is the equal of the settler. One step more, and he is ready to fight to be more than the settler. In fact, he has already decided to eject him and to take his place; as we see it, it is a whole material and moral universe which is breaking up.

The intellectual who for his part has followed the colonialist with regard to the universal abstract will fight in order that the settler and the native may live together in peace in a new world. But the thing he does not see, precisely because he is permeated by colonialism and all its ways of thinking, is that the settler, from the moment that the colonial context disappears, has no longer any interest in remaining or in co-existing. It is not by chance that, even before any negotiation between the Algerian and French governments has taken place, the European minority which calls itself ‘liberal’ has already made its position clear: it demands nothing more nor less than twofold citizenship. By setting themselves apart in an abstract manner, the liberals try to force the settler into taking a very concrete jump into the unknown. Let us admit it, the settler knows perfectly well that no phraseology can be a substitute for reality.

Thus the native discovers that his life, his breath, his beating heart are the same as those of the settler. He finds out that the settler’s skin is not of any more value than a native’s skin; and it must be said that this discovery shakes the world in a very necessary manner. All the new, revolutionary assurance of the native stems from it. For if, in fact, my life is worth as much as the settler’s, his glance no longer shrivels me up nor freezes me, and his voice no longer turns me into stone. I am no longer on tenterhooks in his presence; in fact, I don’t give a damn for him. Not only does his presence no longer trouble me, but I am already preparing such efficient ambushes for him that soon there will be no way out but that of flight.

We have said that the colonial context is characterized by the dichotomy which it imposes upon the whole people. Decolonization unifies that people by the radical decision to remove from it its heterogeneity, and by unifying it on a national, sometimes a racial, basis. We know the fierce words of the Senegalese patriots, referring to the maneuvers of their president, Senghor: ‘We have demanded that the higher posts should be given to Africans; and now Senghor is Africanizing the Europeans.’ That is to say that the native can see clearly and immediately if decolonization has come to pass or not, for his minimum demands are simply that the last shall be first.

But the native intellectual brings variants to this petition, and, in fact, he seems to have good reasons: higher civil servants, technicians, specialists–all seem to be needed. Now, the ordinary native interprets these unfair promotions as so many acts of sabotage, and he is often heard to declare: ‘It wasn’t worth while, then, our becoming independent…’

In the colonial countries where a real struggle for freedom has taken place, where the blood of the people has flowed and where the length of the period of armed warfare has favored the backward surge of intellectuals toward bases grounded in the people, we can observe a genuine eradication of the superstructure built by these intellectuals from the bourgeois colonialist environment. The colonialist bourgeoisie, in its narcissistic dialogue, expounded by the members of its universities, had in fact deeply implanted in the minds of the colonized intellectual that the essential qualities remain eternal in spite of all the blunders men may make: the essential qualities of the West, of course.

The native intellectual accepted the cogency of these ideas, and deep down in his brain you could always find a vigilant sentinel ready to defend the Greco-Latin pedestal. Now it so happens that during the struggle for liberation, at the moment that the native intellectual comes into touch again with his people, this artificial sentinel is turned into dust. All the Mediterranean values–the triumph of the human individual, of clarity, and of beauty–become lifeless, colorless knickknacks. All those speeches seem like collections of dead words; those values which seemed to uplift the soul are revealed as worthless, simply because they have nothing to do with the concrete conflict in which the people is engaged.

Individualism is the first to disappear. The native intellectual had learnt from his masters that the individual ought to express himself fully. The colonialist bourgeoisie had hammered into the native’s mind the idea of a society of individuals where each person shuts himself up in his own subjectivity, and whose only wealth is individual thought. Now the native who has the opportunity to return to the people during the struggle for freedom will discover the falseness of this theory. The very forms of organization of the struggle will suggest to him a different vocabulary. Brother, sister, friend–these are words outlawed by the colonialist bourgeoisie, because for them my brother is my purse, my friend is part of my scheme for getting on.

The native intellectual takes part, in a sort of auto-da-fé, in the destruction of all his idols: egoism, recrimination that springs from pride, and the childish stupidity of those who always want to have the last word. Such a colonized intellectual, dusted over by colonial culture, will in the same way discover the substance of village assemblies, the cohesion of people’s committees, and the extraordinary fruitfulness of local meetings and groupments. Henceforward, the interests of one will be the interests of all, for in concrete fact everyone will be discovered by the troops, everyone will be massacred–or everyone will be saved. The motto ‘look out for yourself,’ the atheist’s method of salvation, is in this context forbidden.

Self-criticism has been much talked about of late, but few people realize that it is an African institution. Whether in the djemaas of northern Africa or in the meetings of western Africa, tradition demands that the quarrels which occur in a village should be settled in public. It is communal self-criticism, of course, and with a note of humor, because everybody is relaxed, and because in the last resort we all want the same things. But the more the intellectual imbibes the atmosphere of the people, the more completely he abandons the habits of calculation, of unwonted silence, of mental reservations, and shakes off the spirit of concealment. And it is true that already at that level we can say that the community triumphs, and that it spreads its own light and its own reason.

But it so happens sometimes that decolonization occurs in areas which have not been sufficiently shaken by the struggle for liberation, and there may be found those same know-all, smart, wily intellectuals. We find intact in them the manners and forms of thought picked up during their association with the colonialist bourgeoisie. Spoilt children of yesterday’s colonialism and of today’s national governments, they organize the loot of whatever national resources exist. Without pity, they use today’s national distress as a means of getting on through scheming and legal robbery, by import-export combines, limited liability companies, gambling on the stock exchange, or unfair promotion. They are insistent in their demands for the nationalization of commerce, that is to say the reservation of markets and advantageous bargains for nationals only. As far as doctrine is concerned, they proclaim the pressing necessity of nationalizing the robbery of the nation. In this arid phase of national life, the so-called period of austerity, the success of their depredations is swift to call forth the violence and anger of the people. For this same people, poverty-stricken yet independent, comes very quickly to possess a social conscience in the African and international context of today; and this the petty individualists will quickly learn.

In order to assimilate and to experience the oppressor’s culture, the native has had to leave certain of his intellectual possessions in pawn. These pledges include his adoption of the forms of thought of the colonialist bourgeoisie. This is very noticeable in the inaptitude of the native intellectual to carry on a two-sided discussion; for he cannot eliminate himself when confronted with an object or an idea. On the other hand, when once he begins to militate among the people he is struck with wonder and amazement; he is literally disarmed by their good faith and honesty. The danger that will haunt him continually is that of becoming the uncritical mouthpiece of the masses; he becomes a kind of yes-man who nods assent at every word coming from the people, which he interprets as considered judgments. Now, the fellah, the unemployed man, the starving native do not lay a claim to the truth; they do not say that they represent the truth, for they are the truth.

Objectively, the intellectual behaves in this phase like a common opportunist. In fact he has not stopped maneuvering. There is never any question of his being either rejected or welcomed by the people. What they ask is simply that all resources should be pooled. The inclusion of the native intellectual in the upward surge of the masses will in this case be differentiated by a curious cult of detail. That is not to say that the people are hostile to analysis; on the contrary, they like having things explained to them, they are glad to understand a line of argument and they like to see where they are going. But at the beginning of his association with the people the native intellectual over-stresses details and thereby comes to forget that the defeat of colonialism is the real object of the struggle.

Carried away by the multitudinous aspects of the fight, he tends to concentrate on local tasks, performed with enthusiasm but almost always too solemnly. He fails to see the whole of the movement all the time. He introduces the idea of special disciplines, of specialized functions, of departments within the terrible stone crusher, the fierce mixing machine which a popular revolution is. He is occupied in action on a particular front, and it so happens that he loses sight of the unity of the movement. Thus, if a local defeat is inflicted, he may well be drawn into doubt, and from thence to despair. The people, on the other hand, take their stand from the start on the broad and inclusive positions of bread and the land: how can we obtain the land, and bread to eat? And this obstinate point of view of the masses, which may seem shrunken and limited, is in the end the most worthwhile and the most efficient mode of procedure.”

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art of resistance, India

B.R. Ambedkar: Why Social Reform is Necessary for Economic Reform.

The following is an excerpt from B.R. Ambedkar’s classic Annihilation of Caste (written in 1936, but still very relevant today). Ambedkar wrote the Annihilation of Caste for the 1936 meeting of a group of liberal Hindu caste-reformers,  Jat-Pat Todak Mandal, in Lahore. After reviewing the speech, conference organizers revoked Ambedkar’s invitation. He then self-published 1,500 copies of the speech and it became a classic.

116035_double-check/B.R. Ambedkar, photo via Caravan magazine/

“Let me now turn to the Socialists. Can the Socialists ignore the problem arising out of the social order? The Socialists of India, following their fellows in Europe, are seeking to apply the economic interpretation of history to the facts of India. They propound that man is an economic creature, that his activities and aspirations are bound by economic facts, that property is the only source of power. They therefore preach that political and social reforms are but gigantic illusions, and that economic reform by equalization of property must have precedence over every other kind of reform. One may take issue with every one of these premises—on which rests the Socialists’ case for economic reform as having priority over every other kind of reform. One may contend that the economic motive is not the only motive by which man is actuated. That economic power is the only kind of power, no student of human society can accept.

That the social status of an individual by itself often becomes a source of power and authority, is made clear by the sway which the Mahatmas have held over the common man. Why do millionaires in India obey penniless Sadhus and Fakirs? Why do millions of paupers in India sell their trifling trinkets which constitute their only wealth, and go to Benares and Mecca? That religion is the source of power is illustrated by the history of India, where the priest holds a sway over the common man often greater than that of the magistrate, and where everything, even such things as strikes and elections, so easily takes a religious turn and can so easily be given a religious twist.

Take the case of the Plebians of Rome, as a further illustration of the power of religion over man. It throws great light on this point. The Plebians had fought for a share in the supreme executive under the Roman Republic, and had secured the appointment of a Plebian Consul elected by a separate electorate constituted by the Commitia Centuriata, which was an assembly of Plebians. They wanted a Consul of their own because they felt that the Patrician Consuls used to discriminate against the Plebians in carrying on the administration. They had apparently obtained a great gain, because under the Republican Constitution of Rome one Consul had the power of vetoing an act of the other Consul.

But did they in fact gain anything? The answer to this question must be in the negative. The Plebians never could get a Plebian Consul who could be said to be a strong man, and who could act independently of the Patrician Consul. In the ordinary course of things the Plebians should have got a strong Plebian Consul, in view of the fact that his election was to be by a separate electorate of Plebians. The question is, why did they fail in getting a strong Plebian to officiate as their Consul?

The answer to this question reveals the dominion which religion exercises over the minds of men. It was an accepted creed of the whole Roman populus that no official could enter upon the duties of his office unless the Oracle of Delphi declared that he was acceptable to the Goddess. The priests who were in charge of the temple of the Goddess of Delphi were all Patricians. Whenever therefore the Plebians elected a Consul who was known to be a strong party man and opposed to the Patricians—or ‘communal,’ to use the term that is current in India—the Oracle invariably declared that he was not acceptable to the Goddess. This is how the Plebians were cheated out of their rights.

One can thus attack the doctrine of the Economic Interpretation of History adopted by the Socialists of India. But I recognize that the economic interpretation of history is not necessary for the validity of the Socialist contention that equalization of property is the only real reform and that it must precede everything else. However, what I would like to ask the Socialists is this: Can you have economic reform without first bringing about a reform of the social order?

The Socialists of India do not seem to have considered this question. I do not wish to do them an injustice. I give below a quotation from a letter which a prominent Socialist wrote a few days ago to a friend of mine, in which he said, ‘I do not believe that we can build up a free society in India so long as there is a trace of this ill-treatment and suppression of one class by another. Believing as I do in a socialist ideal, inevitably I believe in perfect equality in the treatment of various classes and groups. I think that Socialism offers the only true remedy for this as well as other problems.’

Now the question that I would like to ask is: Is it enough for a Socialist to say, ‘I believe in perfect equality in the treatment of the various classes?’ To say that such a belief is enough is to disclose a complete lack of understanding of what is involved in Socialism. If Socialism is a practical programme and is not merely an ideal, distant and far off, the question for a Socialist is not whether he believes in equality. The question for him is whether he minds one class ill-treating and suppressing another class as a matter of system, as a matter of principle—and thus allowing tyranny and oppression to continue to divide one class from another.

Let me analyse the factors that are involved in the realization of Socialism, in order to explain fully my point. Now it is obvious that the economic reform contemplated by the Socialists cannot come about unless there is a revolution resulting in the seizure of power. That seizure of power must be by a proletariat. The first question I ask is: Will the proletariat of India combine to bring about this revolution? What will move men to such an action? It seems to me that, other things being equal, the only thing that will move one man to take such an action is the feeling that other men with whom he is acting are actuated by a feeling of equality and fraternity and—above all—of justice. Men will not join in a revolution for the equalization of property unless they know that after the revolution is achieved they will be treated equally, and that there will be no discrimination of caste and creed.

The assurance of a Socialist leading the revolution that he does not believe in Caste, I am sure will not suffice. The assurance must be the assurance proceeding from a much deeper foundation—namely, the mental attitude of the compatriots towards one another in their spirit of personal equality and fraternity. Can it be said that the proletariat of India, poor as it is, recognises no distinctions except that of the rich and the poor? Can it be said that the poor in India recognize no such distinctions of caste or creed, high or low? If the fact is that they do, what unity of front can be expected from such a proletariat in its action against the rich? How can there be a revolution if the proletariat cannot present a united front?

Suppose for the sake of argument that by some freak of fortune a revolution does take place and the Socialists come into power; will they not have to deal with the problems created by the particular social order prevalent in India? I can’t see how a Socialist State in India can function for a second without having to grapple with the problems created by the prejudices which make Indian people observe the distinctions of high and low, clean and unclean. If Socialists are not to be content with the mouthing of fine phrases, if the Socialists wish to make Socialism a definite reality, then they must recognize that the problem of social reform is fundamental, and that for them there is no escape from it.

That the social order prevalent in India is a matter which a Socialist must deal with; that unless he does so he cannot achieve his revolution; and that if he does achieve it as a result of good fortune, he will have to grapple with the social order if he wishes to realize his ideal—is a proposition which in my opinion is incontrovertible. He will be compelled to take account of Caste after the revolution, if he does not take account of it before the revolution.

This is only another way of saying that, turn in any direction you like, Caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.”

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art of resistance

“Our own brand of socialism” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

The following interview was published in the March-April 1983 issue of New Left Review and featured again online (this week) on JacobinMag.

Gabriel García Márquez on Fidel Castro, the Soviet Union, and creating “a government which would make the poor happy.”

gabrielGarciaMarquez1981-Eva-Rubinsteinphoto © Eva Rubinstein

Can we look back over the way your political ideas have developed? Your father is a Conservative. Colombia went through a century of intermittent civil war after its independence from Spain in 1819. Two political parties crystallized in the 1840s: the Conservatives whose traditionalist philosophy was based on family, church and state; and the Liberals who were free-thinkers, anti-clerical and economic liberals.

The bloodiest of the wars between these two parties was the ‘War of The Thousand Days’ (1899–1902) which left the country bankrupt and devastated. In Colombia we say being a Conservative or Liberal depends on what your father is, but yours obviously didn’t influence your politics at all because you opted for the left very early on. Was this political stance a reaction against your family?

Not against my family as such, because you must remember that, although my father is a conservative, my grandfather the Colonel was a liberal. My political ideas probably came from him to begin with because, instead of telling me fairy-tales when I was young, he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the conservative government. My grandfather also told me about the massacre of the banana workers which took place in Aracataca the year I was born. So you see my family influenced me towards rebellion rather than towards upholding the established order.

Do you remember where and when you read your first political texts?

In my secondary school in Zipaquirá. It was full of teachers who’d been taught by a Marxist in the Teachers Training College under President Alfonso López’s leftist government in the thirties. The algebra teacher would give us classes on historical materialism during break, the chemistry teacher would lend us books by Lenin, and the history teacher would tell us about the class struggle. When I left that icy prison, I had no idea where north and south were, but I did have two very strong convictions. One was that good novels must be a poetic transposition of reality, and the other was that mankind’s immediate future lay in socialism.

Did you ever belong to the Communist Party?

I belonged to a cell for a short time when I was twenty, but I don’t remember doing anything of interest. I was more of a sympathizer than a real militant. Since then, my relationship with the Communists has had many ups and downs. We’ve often been at loggerheads because every time I adopt a stance they don’t like, their newspapers really have a go at me. But I’ve never publicly condemned them, even at the worst moments.

You and I travelled around East Germany together in 1957 and, in spite of the fact we’d pinned out hopes on socialism, we did not like what we saw. Did that trip alter your political conviction?

It did affect my political ideas quite decisively. If you think back, I put my impressions of that trip on record at the time in a series of articles for a Bogotá magazine. The articles were pirated and published some twenty years later — not, I imagine, out of any journalistic or political interest, but to show up the supposed contradictions in my personal political development.

Were there any contradictions?

No, there were not. I made the book legal and included it in the volumes of my complete works which are sold in popular editions on every street corner in Colombia. I haven’t changed a single word. What’s more, I think an explanation of the origins of the current Polish crisis is to be found in those articles which the dogmatists of the time said were paid for by the United States. The amusing thing is that those dogmatists today, twenty-four years later, are ensconced in the comfortable armchairs of the bourgeois political and financial establishment while history is proving me right.

And what did you think of the so-called Peoples’ Democracies?

The central premise of those articles is that the Peoples’ Democracies were not authentically socialist nor would they ever be if they followed the path they were on, because the system did not recognize the specific conditions prevailing in each country. It was a system imposed from the outside by the Soviet Union through dogmatic, unimaginative local Communist Parties whose sole thought was to enforce the Soviet model in a society where it did not fit.

Let’s move on to another of our shared experiences — our days in Prensa Latina, the Cuban news agency. You and I both resigned when the old Cuban Communist Party began taking over many of the institutions of the Revolution. Do you think we made the right decision? Or do you think it was just a hiccup in a long process which we failed to see as such?

I think our decision to leave Prensa Latina was correct. If we’d stayed on, with our views, we’d have ended up being slung out with one of those labels on our forehead — counter-revolutionary, imperialist lackey and so on — that the dogmatists of the day used to stick on you. What I did, if you remember, was to remove myself to the sidelines. I watched the evolution of the Cuban process closely and carefully while I wrote my books and filmstrips in Mexico.

My view is that although the Revolution took a difficult and sometimes contradictory course after the initial stormy upheavals, it still offers the prospect of a social order which is more democratic, more just, and more suited to our needs.

Are you sure? Don’t the same causes produce the same effects? If Cuba adopts the Soviet system as a model (one-party-state, democratic centralism, government-controlled unions, security organizations exercising a tight control over the population), won’t the “just, democratic order” be as difficult to achieve there as it is in the Soviet Union? Aren’t you afraid of this?

The problem with this analysis is its point of departure. You start from the premise that Cuba is a Soviet satellite and I do not believe it is. I think that the Cuban Revolution has been in a state of emergency for twenty years thanks to the hostility and incomprehension of the United States, who will not tolerate an alternative system of government ninety miles off the Florida coast.

This is not the fault of the Soviet Union, without whose assistance (whatever its motives and aims may be) the Cuban Revolution would not exist today. While hostility persists, the situation in Cuba can only be judged in terms of a state of emergency which forces them to act defensively and outside their natural historical, geographical, and cultural sphere of interest. When the situation returns to normal, we can discuss it again.

Fidel Castro supported Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968 (with certain reservations, it is true). What position did you take?

I made a public protest at the time and would do the same again should the same situation arise. The only difference between my position and Fidel Castro’s (we don’t see eye to eye on everything) is that he ended up justifying Soviet intervention and I never would. However, the analysis he made in his speech on the internal situation of the Peoples’ Democracies was much more critical and forceful than the one I made in the articles we were talking about a moment ago. In any case, the future of Latin America is not and never will be played out in Hungary, Poland, or Czechoslovakia, but in Latin America itself. To think anything else is a European obsession, and some of your political questions smack of this obsession, too.

In the seventies after the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla’s famous self-criticism, Padilla was detained by security police to discuss “suspect” political attitudes in his work, and released a month later after publicly confessing counter-revolutionary tendencies. This launched a flood of criticism by European and Latin-American intellectuals. The event was seen as a watershed in the relationship between writers and the Revolution — either as the emergence of latent Stalinism, or as proof of the bourgeois intellectual betraying its duty to stand by a revolution under siege. Some of your friends, myself included, distanced ourselves from the Cuban regime.

You didn’t. You didn’t sign the telegram of protest we sent — you went back to Cuba and became a friend of Fidel. What made you adopt a much more favorable attitude towards the Cuban regime?

Better information about what really happened, and a mature political outlook which made it possible for me to view the situation with more calm, patience, and human understanding.

A great many writers in Latin America besides yourself talk of socialism (Marxist-Leninist) as a desirable alternative. Don’t you think this is rather “old-fashioned” socialism somehow? Socialism is no longer a generous abstraction but a rather unattractive reality. Do you agree that after what has happened in Poland, nobody can believe that the working class is in power in those countries?

Can you see a third option for our continent between decadent capitalism and decadent “socialism?”

I don’t believe in a third option. I believe there are many alternatives — perhaps even as many alternatives as there are countries in our Americas, including the United States. I am convinced that we have to find our own solutions. We can benefit, wherever possible, from what other continents have achieved in their long turbulent histories, but we must not go on copying them mechanically as we have done until now. This is how we can eventually achieve our own brand of socialism.

Talking of other options, what role do you see Mitterrand’s government playing in Latin America?

At a lunch in Mexico recently, President Mitterrand asked a group of writers, “What do you expect from France?” Their reply provoked a discussion which veered towards who was the principal enemy of whom. The Europeans at the table, convinced that they were on the brink of some new Yalta-style carve up of the world, said their principal enemy was the United States. I answered the President’s question (the same one you are asking now) by saying, “Since we each have our own Enemy Number One, what we need in Latin America is a Friend Number One. Socialist France can be that friend.”

Do you believe that democracy as it exists in the developed capitalist countries is possible in the Third World?

Democracy in the developed world is a product of their own development and not the other way around. To try and implant it in its raw state in countries (like those of Latin America) with quite different cultures is as mimetic and unrealistic as trying to implant the Soviet system there.

So you think democracy is a kind of luxury for rich countries? Remember that democracy carries with it the defense of human rights for which you fought so…

I’m not talking about democratic principles but democratic forms.

Incidentally, what is the result of your long battle for human rights in terms of success and failure?

It is very difficult to measure. There are no precise or immediate results with work like mine in the field of human rights. They often come when you’re least expecting them and due to a combination of factors where it is impossible to assess the part played by your own particular action. This work is a lesson in humility for a famous writer like me, who is used to success.

Which of all the actions you’ve undertaken has given you the most satisfaction?

The action which gave me the most immediate personal satisfaction was one I undertook just before the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua. Tomás Borge, who is now the Interior Minister, asked me to think up a good way of putting pressure on Somoza to allow his wife and seven-year-old daughter to leave the Colombian Embassy in Managua where they had asked for asylum. The dictator was refusing them a safe conduct, because they were the family of no less a person than the last surviving founder-member of the Sandinista Front.

Tomás Borge and I turned the problem over for several hours until we came up with a useful point: the little girl had once had a kidney infection. We asked a doctor how her present conditions would affect this, and his answer gave us the argument we were looking for. Less than forty-eight hours later, mother and daughter were in Mexico, thanks to a safe conduct granted on humanitarian, not political, grounds.

My most discouraging case, on the other hand, was when I helped free two English bankers who’d been kidnapped by guerrillas in El Salvador in 1979. Their names were Ian Massie and Michael Chaterton, and they were going to be executed within forty-eight hours because no agreement had been reached between the two parties.

General Omar Torrijos telephoned me on behalf of the kidnapped men’s families and asked me to help save them. I relayed the message to the guerrillas through numerous intermediaries and it arrived in time. I promised to arrange for the ransom negotiations to resume immediately, and they agreed. Then I asked Graham Greene, who lives in Antibes, to make the contacts on the English side.

The negotiations between the guerrillas and the bank lasted for four months. It had been agreed that neither Graham Greene nor I would take any part in the actual negotiations but, whenever there was a hitch, one side or the other would get in contact with me to try and get the talks going again.

The bankers were freed but neither Graham Greene nor myself received a single word of thanks. It wasn’t very important, of course, but I was rather surprised. After a lot of thought, I came up with an explanation—Green and I had arranged things so well that the English must have thought we were in cahoots with the guerrillas.

Many people look on you as a sort of roving ambassador in the Caribbean — a goodwill ambassador of course. You’re a personal friend of Castro, but also of Torrijos in Panamá, of Carlos Andrés Pérez in Venezuela, of Alfonso López Michelson in Colombia, of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua … You are a privileged interlocutor to all of them.

What motivates you to adopt this role?

The three figures you mention were in power at the same time — a very crucial time for the Caribbean. It was a very fortunate coincidence, and a great pity that they could not have cooperated as they did for longer. There was a moment when the three of them, working with Castro and a president like Jimmy Carter in the United States could, without a doubt, have put this area of conflict on the right track. There was a continuous, very positive dialogue taking place among them. I not only witnessed it but helped in it whenever I could.

I think that Central America and the Caribbean (for me they are one and the same thing and I don’t understand why they are called two different things) have reached a stage of development and a point in their history when they are ready to break out of their traditional stagnation. But I also believe that the United States will frustrate any such attempt because it means giving up very old and important privileges.

For all his limitations, Carter was the best party to this dialogue the Caribbean has had in the last few years, and the fact that his presidency coincided with that of Torrijos, Carlos Andrés Pérez, and López Michelsen was very important indeed. It was this particular situation and conviction which encouraged me to get involved, however modestly. My role was simply that of an unofficial intermediary in a process which would have gone a lot further had it not been for the catastrophic election of an American president who represents diametrically opposite interests.

Torrijos used to say that my work was “secret diplomacy,” and he often said in public that I had a way of making bad news seem like good. I never knew if this was a reproach or a compliment.

What type of government would you like to see in your own country?

Any government which would make the poor happy. Just think of it!

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