The Brazilian fracture between the Expanding Universe and the new imperialist competition in South America

The Brazilian fracture between the Expanding Universe and the new imperialist competition in South America
Fabio Reis Vianna, lives in Rio de Janeiro, is a bachelor of laws (LL.B), MA student in International Relations at the University of Évora (Portugal), writer and geopolitical analyst. He currently maintains a column on international politics at the centennial Brazilian newspaper Monitor Mercantil.

April 05, 2021

By Fabio Reis Vianna for The Saker Blog

In an article published in Foreign Affairs magazine – one of the most prominent mouthpieces of US imperialism – , and signed by, among others, Marcus Hicks, former commander of the US Special Operations Command in Africa during the period 2017-2019, defends the idea that the increased competition between the great powers ignites a red alert that the United States should turn its attention to the African continent.

The main motivator of this concern would be the urgent need to limit the “malign influence” of the hegemon’s two major strategic rivals: Russia and China.

Citing the increased Sino-Russian presence on the African continent, in which Russia alone would have already established military agreements with at least 19 countries, and China, installed in 2017 its first international military base in Djibout.

It is worth noting, that although the Foreign Affairs article mentions that there was an ebb in the American presence during Donald Trump’s administration, in reality, and in a long-term look, since 2001 American foreign policy has turned more aggressively to Africa, and this posture has even been an incentive for a greater presence of other actors of the interstate system in that continent.

The American presence in Africa, justified by the excuse of fighting transnational terrorism, was therefore the trigger for an increase in the presence of other interstate actors, and consequently, of the imperialist competition that in this pandemic 2021 gains even more dramatic contours.

Although this article is specifically a defense of the American presence in Africa, it serves as a warning of how the American establishment is positioning itself in face of a phenomenon that has deepened considerably in recent years: the new imperialist race.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance to understand the role of South America in this complex power game.

Taking into consideration that the increase in competitive pressure in the world system has been accelerating considerably since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has gained imperial contours after September 11, and has unveiled itself as, in fact, in a scenario of almost war with the advent of the pandemic, it is possible to deduce that the recent events in certain parts of South America definitely place it as a battleground of the current powers’ wider dispute for global hegemony.

Symptoms of this competitive phenomenon could be seen recently in insinuations that the Chinese are carrying out naval maneuvers in Argentinean waters (when in fact it was the Americans who in fact carried out exercises near the Brazilian coast), as well as in the intensification of the diplomatic crisis between Venezuela and Guyana.

There are many fracture points in South America, and perhaps the most visible and dangerous one lies over the Esequibo zone, a Guyanese territory of 159,000 square kilometers never recognized by Caracas.

In early March, Guyana accused Venezuela of having violated its airspace with the use of two Sukhoi SU 30 drones, of Russian origin. Caracas promptly refuted the accusations as false.

Repudiated by the Secretary of State for Falklands, Antarctica and the South Atlantic, Daniel Filmus, more recently, the publication of the new British defense plan – ratifying the decision to maintain a permanent military presence in the Falkland Islands – brought concerns to Buenos Aires.

The presence of foreign powers in South American territory is clear, and in light of the significant increase of competitive pressure in the world system – which has been gradually taking place since the disproportionate display of American military power against a defenseless Iraq in 1991 – the theory of the Expanding Universe is confirmed year after year, and in an increasingly dramatic way.

Contradicting the idea that a unipolar system, and therefore led and conducted by a single hegemon, would lead to Kant’s “perpetual peace,” the theory of the Expanding Universe supports the thesis that the global power game tends to reproduce itself ad infinitum as a continuously expanding, anarchic, and directionless universe.

Thus, it doesn’t matter whether the dispute is bipolar or multipolar: whoever is at the top of the system tends to expand his power even further – even if he is not necessarily being challenged at the moment, as is the case in the period right after the Soviet collapse, when the United States reigned absolute over the rest of the world.

The factual (and cruel) reality that comes to confirm the theory of the Expanding Universe could not fit into a more appropriate outfit than that of the present moment.

Just as 9/11 served as the perfect excuse for the expansion of the United States’ global power (in this specific case against an imaginary enemy – since the usual enemy, Russia, was temporarily out of the game), the Covid-19 pandemic serves today as a ladder for an unprecedented increase in competitive pressure in the interstate system.

Following this reasoning, and contrary to what Atlanticist analysts are saying, the pandemic crisis would be favoring only one country: the United States of America.

Not only because Silicon Valley technology companies have never profited as much as they do now, but the awakening of sovereigntist and militarist instincts brought about by the pandemic chaos has made possible the realization of the only fundamental and untouchable consensus of the currently divided US elites: the permanent and continuous reproduction and expansion of their military industrial complex. This expansion would be nothing more than the viability of the so-called Full Spectrum Dominance contained in the DOD Joint Vision 2020, published in the year 2000.

In this context, South America comes to play a new role in the global geopolitical chessboard, a role that the long period as a zone of peace under Anglo-Saxon influence would have softened.

With the increased competitive pressure caused by the pandemic event, which in other terms could be seen as the hegemon’s reaction to the entrance of new competitors in the system, came an increase or shock in the demand for energy resources.

In this scenario, we could exemplify the perspective of an expressive growth in the global demand for oil for the next 30 years, with China and India alone representing approximately 50% of all demand.

Considering that South America today can be considered the region with the largest oil (Venezuela) and Lithium (Bolivia) reserves on the planet – not to mention the Amazon forest and fresh water reserves (Brazil) – and in light of this global energy order in formation and dispute, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the new imperialist race between the great powers in the beginning of this century would be gradually turning to the region.

This situation is a wake-up call for a country in the region that is currently experiencing the greatest identity crisis in its entire history: Brazil.

Fractured internally since before the pandemic, the South American giant has never found itself so pressured and isolated internationally.

The systemic chaos that began with the Color Revolution of June 2013, and which has been deepening year after year until culminating in the election of Jair Bolsonaro (puppet president emerging from the white coup orchestrated by the consortium between the Armed Forces High Command and the U.S. government), finally goes into full short circuit after the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic.

Since then the growing discontent of sectors of the local economic elites with the disastrous management of the health crisis by the current government ruled by the military junta is visible.

Threatened by external sanctions from all sides, the country that has surpassed the mark of 300,000 deaths, is experiencing an internal fracture unprecedented in its history.

Something little remembered, but already in October 2019, Portuguese-speaking writers Mia Couto and José Eduardo Agualusa, on a visit to Brazil, said they were impressed by the climate of local political animosity, comparing the South American giant to African countries like Mozambique and Angola during the pre-civil war period.

At the same time that military police officers in Rio de Janeiro organize marches dressed in suggestive black shirts in defense of President Jair Bolsonaro, military police officers in the state of Bahia are threatening to cause chaos with a riot against the local governor (Rui Costa, from the Workers’ Party, an opponent of Bolsonaro).

Amid escalating tensions, the arm-wrestling between government and parliament is intensifying, and in particular with regard to two issues of geopolitical relevance: 5G and the Sputnik V vaccine.

Even if it is not clear from the stories reported by the hegemonic Brazilian press, it is visible that the Bolsonaro government deliberately acts as a representative of US interests in Brazil.

The difficulties created for the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and the constant threat of exclusion of the Chinese technology giant Huawei from the great 5G auction in the country, reflect the current role of Brazil as a battleground of the great expansionist dispute of the world system in this beginning of the century.

The social fracture, and the deepening divide within the local elites expose the serious risk of a country that could spiral out of control at any moment.

The news that the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) has sent a letter to Mr. Joe Biden, and to his Special Climate Secretary John Kerry, requesting a direct channel of communication – and away from the Brazilian government – to deal with issues related to the Amazon, opens a very serious alert about something that, for those who know history, would not be new.

Bearing in mind that geopolitical competition between the great powers is usually concentrated in fracture zones of the world system, history teaches us that fractured societies – and weakened states – tend to become the object of divisive games in the hands of the great powers.

With all due respect to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil – so mistreated and threatened by the current government – but the moment calls for a deep reflection on this.

Ex-Green Beret led failed attempt to oust Venezuela’s Maduro

Ex-Green Beret led failed attempt to oust Venezuela’s Maduro

May 02, 2020

Source

Ex-Green Beret led failed attempt to oust Venezuela’s Maduro

By JOSHUA GOODMANFILE – In this Aug. 4, 2018 file photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, security guards surround Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with protective gear as an unidentified drone interrupts his speech in Caracas, Venezuela. An exiled Venezuelan national guardsman accused of partaking in this drone attack on Maduro is among voluntary combatants in three safe houses of former soldiers plotting a military incursion from neighboring Colombia, according to an Associated Press investigation. (Xinhua via AP, File)

MIAMI (AP) — The plan was simple, but perilous. Some 300 heavily armed volunteers would sneak into Venezuela from the northern tip of South America. Along the way, they would raid military bases in the socialist country and ignite a popular rebellion that would end in President Nicolás Maduro’s arrest.

What could go wrong? As it turns out, pretty much everything.

The ringleader of the plot is now jailed in the U.S. on narcotics charges. Authorities in the U.S. and Colombia are asking questions about the role of his muscular American adviser, a former Green Beret. And dozens of desperate combatants who flocked to secret training camps in Colombia said they have been left to fend for themselves amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The failed attempt to start an uprising collapsed under the collective weight of skimpy planning, feuding among opposition politicians and a poorly trained force that stood little chance of beating the Venezuelan military.

“You’re not going to take out Maduro with 300 hungry, untrained men,” said Ephraim Mattos, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who trained some of the would-be combatants in first aid.

This bizarre, untold story of a call to arms that crashed before it launched is drawn from interviews with more than 30 Maduro opponents and aspiring freedom fighters who were directly involved in or familiar with its planning. Most spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation.

When hints of the conspiracy surfaced last month, the Maduro-controlled state media portrayed it as an invasion ginned up by the CIA, like the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961. An Associated Press investigation found no evidence of U.S. government involvement in the plot. Nevertheless, interviews revealed that leaders of Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition knew of the covert force, even if they dismissed its prospects.

Planning for the incursion began after an April 30, 2019, barracks revolt by a cadre of soldiers who swore loyalty to Maduro’s would-be replacement, Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader recognized by the U.S. and some 60 other nations as Venezuela’s rightful leader. Contrary to U.S. expectations at the time, key Maduro aides never joined with the opposition and the government quickly quashed the uprising.

A few weeks later, some soldiers and politicians involved in the failed rebellion retreated to the JW Marriott in Bogota, Colombia. The hotel was a center of intrigue among Venezuelan exiles. For this occasion, conference rooms were reserved for what one participant described as the “Star Wars summit of anti-Maduro goofballs” — military deserters accused of drug trafficking, shady financiers and former Maduro officials seeking redemption.

Among those angling in the open lobby was Jordan Goudreau, an American citizen and three-time Bronze Star recipient for bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he served as a medic in U.S. Army special forces, according to five people who met with the former soldier.

Those he interacted with in the U.S. and Colombia described him in interviews alternately as a freedom-loving patriot, a mercenary and a gifted warrior scarred by battle and in way over his head.

Two former special forces colleagues said Goudreau was always at the top of his class: a cell leader with a superb intellect for handling sources, an amazing shot and a devoted mixed martial arts fighter who still cut his hair high and tight.

At the end of an otherwise distinguished military career, the Canadian-born Goudreau was investigated in 2013 for allegedly defrauding the Army of $62,000 in housing stipends. Goudreau said the investigation was closed with no charges.

After retiring in 2016, he worked as a private security contractor in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. In 2018, he set up Silvercorp USA, a private security firm, near his home on Florida’s Space Coast to embed counter-terror agents in schools disguised as teachers. The company’s website features photos and videos of Goudreau firing machine guns in battle, running shirtless up a pyramid, flying on a private jet and sporting a military backpack with a rolled-up American flag.

Silvercorp’s website touts operations in more than 50 countries, with an advisory team made up of former diplomats, experienced military strategists and heads of multinational corporations — none of them named. It claims to have “led international security teams” for the president of the United States.

Goudreau, 43, declined to be interviewed. In a written statement, he said that “Silvercorp cannot disclose the identities of its network of sources, assets and advisors due to the nature of our work” and, more generally, “would never confirm nor deny any activities in any operational realm. No inference should be drawn from this response.”

`CONTROLLING CHAOS’

Goudreau’s focus on Venezuela started in February 2019, when he worked security at a concert in support of Guaidó organized by British billionaire Richard Branson on the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

“Controlling chaos on the Venezuela border where a dictator looks on with apprehension,” he wrote in a photo of himself on the concert stage posted to his Instagram account.

“He was always chasing the golden BB,” said Drew White, a former business partner at Silvercorp, using military slang for a one-in-a-million shot. White said he broke with his former special forces comrade last fall when Goudreau asked for help raising money to fund his regime change initiative.

“As supportive as you want to be as a friend, his head wasn’t in the world of reality,” said White. “Nothing he said lined up.”

According to White, Goudreau came back from the concert looking to capitalize on the Trump administration’s growing interest in toppling Maduro.

He had been introduced to Keith Schiller, President Donald Trump’s longtime bodyguard, through someone who worked in private security. Schiller attended a March 2019 event at the University Club in Washington for potential donors with activist Lester Toledo, then Guaidó’s coordinator for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Last May, Goudreau accompanied Schiller to a meeting in Miami with representatives of Guaidó. There was a lively discussion with Schiller about the need to beef up security for Guaidó and his growing team of advisers inside Venezuela and across the world, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Schiller thought Goudreau was naive and in over his head. He cut off all contact following the meeting, said a person close to the former White House official.

In Bogota, it was Toledo who introduced Goudreau to a rebellious former Venezuelan military officer the American would come to trust above all others — Cliver Alcalá, ringleader of the Venezuelan military deserters.

Alcalá, a retired major general in Venezuela’s army, seemed an unlikely hero to restore democracy to his homeland. In 2011, he was sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly supplying FARC guerrillas in Colombia with surface-to-air missiles in exchange for cocaine. And last month, Alcalá was indicted by U.S. prosecutors alongside Maduro as one of the architects of a narcoterrorist conspiracy that allegedly sent 250 metric tons of cocaine every year to the U.S.

Alcalá is now in federal custody in New York awaiting trial. But before his surrender in Colombia, where he had been living since 2018, he had emerged as a forceful opponent of Maduro, not shy about urging military force.

Over two days of meetings with Goudreau and Toledo at the JW Marriott, Alcalá explained how he had selected 300 combatants from among the throngs of low-ranking soldiers who abandoned Maduro and fled to Colombia in the early days of Guaidó’s uprising, said three people who participated in the meeting and insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

Alcalá said several dozen men were already living in three camps he maintained in and around the desert-like La Guajira peninsula that Colombia shares with Venezuela, the three said. Among the combatants in the camps was an exiled national guardsman accused of participating in a 2018 drone attack on Maduro.

Goudreau told Alcalá his company could prepare the men for battle, according to the three sources. The two sides discussed weapons and equipment for the volunteer army, with Goudreau estimating a budget of around $1.5 million for a rapid strike operation.

Goudreau told participants at the meeting that he had high-level contacts in the Trump administration who could assist the effort, although he offered few details, the three people said. Over time, many of the people involved in the plan to overthrow Maduro would come to doubt his word.

From the outset, the audacious plan split an opposition coalition already sharply divided by egos and strategy. There were concerns that Alcalá, with a murky past and ties to the regime through a brother who was Maduro’s ambassador to Iran, couldn’t be trusted. Others worried about going behind the backs of their Colombian allies and the U.S. government.

But Goudreau didn’t share the concerns about Alcalá, according to two people close to the former American solider. Over time, he would come to share Alcalá’s mistrust of the opposition, whose talk of restoring democracy was belied by what he saw as festering corruption and closed-door deal making with the regime, they said.

More importantly to Goudreau, Alcalá retained influence in the armed forces that Maduro’s opponents, mostly civilian elites, lacked. He also knew the terrain, having served as the top commander along the border.

“We needed someone who knew the monster from the inside,” recalled one exiled former officer who joined the plot.

Guaidó’s envoys, including Toledo, ended contact with Goudreau after the Bogota meeting because they believed it was a suicide mission, according to three people close to the opposition leader.

Undeterred, Goudreau returned to Colombia with four associates, all of them U.S. combat veterans, and begin working directly with Alcalá.

Alcalá and Goudreau revealed little about their military plans when they toured the camps. Some of the would-be combatants were told by the two men that the rag-tag army would cross the border in a heavily armed convoy and sweep into Caracas within 96 hours, according to multiple soldiers at the camps. Goudreau told the volunteers that — once challenged in battle — Maduro’s food-deprived, demoralized military would collapse like dominoes, several of the soldiers said.

NO CHANCE TO SUCCEED

Many saw the plan as foolhardy and there appears to have been no serious attempt to seek U.S. military support.

“There was no chance they were going to succeed without direct U.S. military intervention,” said Mattos, the former Navy SEAL who spent two weeks in September training the volunteers in basic tactical medicine on behalf of his non-profit, which works in combat zones.

Mattos visited the camps after hearing about them from a friend working in Colombia. He said he never met Goudreau.

Mattos said he was surprised by the barren conditions. There was no running water and men were sleeping on the floors, skipping meals and training with sawed-off broomsticks in place of assault rifles. Five Belgian shepherds trained to sniff out explosives were as poorly fed as their handlers and had to be given away.

Mattos said he grew wary as the men recalled how Goudreau had boasted to them of having protected Trump and told them he was readying a shipment of weapons and arranging aerial support for an eventual assault of Maduro’s compound.

The volunteers also shared with Mattos a three-page document listing supplies needed for a three-week operation, which he provided to AP. Items included 320 M4 assault rifles, an anti-tank rocket launcher, Zodiac boats, $1 million in cash and state-of-the-art night vision goggles. The document’s metadata indicates it was created by Goudreau on June 16.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of cowboys in this business who try to peddle their military credentials into a big pay day,” said Mattos.

AP found no indication U.S. officials sponsored Goudreau’s actions nor that Trump has authorized covert operations against Maduro, something that requires congressional notification.

But Colombian authorities were aware of his movements, as were prominent opposition politicians in Venezuela and exiles in Bogota, some of whom shared their findings with U.S. officials, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

True to his reputation as a self-absorbed loose cannon, Alcalá openly touted his plans for an incursion in a June meeting with Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate and appealed for their support, said a former Colombian official familiar with the conversation. Alcalá also boasted about his relationship with Goudreau, describing him as a former CIA agent.

When the Colombians checked with their CIA counterparts in Bogota, they were told that the former Green Beret was never an agent. Alcalá was then told by his hosts to stop talking about an invasion or face expulsion, the former Colombian official said.

It’s unclear where Alcalá and Goudreau got their backing, and whatever money was collected for the initiative appears to have been meager. One person who allegedly promised support was Roen Kraft, an eccentric descendant of the cheese-making family who — along with former Trump bodyguard Schiller — was among those meeting with opposition envoys in Miami and Washington.

At some point, Kraft started raising money among his own circle of fellow trust-fund friends for what he described as a “private coup” to be carried out by Silvercorp, according to two businessmen whom he asked for money.

Kraft allegedly lured prospective donors with the promise of preferential access to negotiate deals in the energy and mining sectors with an eventual Guaidó government, said one of the businessmen. He provided AP a two-page, unsigned draft memorandum for a six-figure commitment he said was sent by Kraft in October in which he represents himself as the “prime contractor” of Venezuela.

But it was never clear if Kraft really had the inside track with the Venezuelans.

In a phone interview with AP, Kraft acknowledged meeting with Goudreau three times last year. But he said the two never did any business together and only discussed the delivery of humanitarian aid for Venezuela. He said Goudreau broke off all communications with him on Oct. 14, when it seemed he was intent on a military action.

“I never gave him any money,” said Kraft.

`WE KNEW EVERYTHING’

Back in Colombia, more recruits were arriving to the three camps — even if the promised money didn’t. Goudreau tried to bring a semblance of order. Uniforms were provided, daily exercise routines intensified and Silvercorp instructed the would-be warriors in close quarter combat.

Goudreau is “more of a Venezuelan patriot than many Venezuelans,” said Hernán Alemán, a lawmaker from western Zulia state and one of a few politicians to openly embrace the clandestine mission.

Alemán said in an interview that neither the U.S. nor the Colombian governments were involved in the plot to overthrow Maduro. He claims he tried to speak several times to Guaidó about the plan but said the opposition leader showed little interest.

“Lots of people knew about it, but they didn’t support us,” he said. “They were too afraid.”

The plot quickly crumbled in early March when one of the volunteer combatants was arrested after sneaking across the border into Venezuela from Colombia.

Shortly after, Colombian police stopped a truck transporting a cache of brand new weapons and tactical equipment worth around $150,000, including spotting scopes, night vision goggles, two-way radios and 26 American-made assault rifles with the serial numbers rubbed off. Fifteen brown-colored helmets were manufactured by High-End Defense Solutions, a Miami-based military equipment vendor owned by a Venezuelan immigrant family.

High-End Defense Solutions is the same company that Goudreau visited in November and December, allegedly to source weapons, according to two former Venezuelan soldiers who claim to have helped the American select the gear but later had a bitter falling out with Goudreau amid accusations that they were moles for Maduro.

Company owner Mark Von Reitzenstein did not respond to repeated email and phone requests seeking comment.

Alcalá claimed ownership of the weapons shortly before surrendering to face the U.S. drug charges, saying they belonged to the “Venezuelan people.” He also lashed out against Guaidó, accusing him of betraying a contract signed between his “American advisers” and J.J. Rendon, a political strategist in Miami appointed by Guaidó to help force Maduro from power.

“We had everything ready,” lamented Alcalá in a video published on social media. “But circumstances that have plagued us throughout this fight against the regime generated leaks from the very heart of the opposition, the part that wants to coexist with Maduro.”

Through a spokesman, Guaidó stood by comments made to Colombian media that he never signed any contract of the kind described by Alcalá, whom he said he doesn’t know. Rendon said his work for Guaidó is confidential and he would be required to deny any contract, whether or not it exists.

Meanwhile, Alcalá has offered no evidence and the alleged contract has yet to emerge, though AP repeatedly asked Goudreau for a copy.

In the aftermath of Alcalá’s arrest, the would-be insurrection appears to have disbanded. As the coronavirus spreads, several of the remaining combatants have fled the camps and fanned out across Colombia, reconnecting with loved ones and figuring out their next steps. Most are broke, facing investigation by Colombian police and frustrated with Goudreau, whom they blame for leading them astray.

Meanwhile, the socialist leadership in Caracas couldn’t help but gloat.

Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 most powerful person in the country and eminence grise of Venezuela’s vast intelligence network, insisted that the government had infiltrated the plot for months.

“We knew everything,” said Cabello. “Some of their meetings we had to pay for. That’s how infiltrated they were.”

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Investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York and investigative reporter James LaPorta in Delray Beach, Florida, contributed to this report.

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Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.

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Joshua Goodman on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/APjoshgoodman

New memoire by Margaret Randall: Intrepid Anti-imperialist

by Susan Babbitt for The Saker Blog

Margaret Randall’s new memoire, I Never Left Home[1] is a story of resistance in Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua. Now 83, in New Mexico, she is writer, teacher and mentor to younger artists. Randall is an intrepid, compassionate example of anti-imperialist creativity, with more than 150 publications of poetry and non-fiction, all demonstrating profound respect for ideas from the South.

It is not common. Two 2019 books on the Cuban Revolution, sympathetic to the leaders of that revolution, ignore the ideas that explain it. Centuries-long philosophical traditions, challenging popular ideas arising in Europe, now dominant in universities, are just left out. I return to this.

Randall integrated the 1968 protests in Mexico supporting the Cuban Revolution. With Sergio Mondragón, she founded El corno emplumado /the plumed horn, a bilingual quarterly publishing vanguard poets from North and South America from 1962-1969. In all, it published 31 issues and a dozen books. According to Roberto Fernandez Retamar, legendary director of the iconic Casa de las Américas in Havana, recently deceased, El Corno was a “great achievement”.

Randall worked sacrificially, without a salary. After the journal’s defense of Mexico’s 1968 Student Movement, it was closed. Randall was forced to leave Mexico (without a passport) and worked and raised children in Cuba from 1969-80. She then joined the “explosion of exuberance” that was the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua until its “death” provided reason to leave.

She returned to the US (1984) where she fought deportation from her country of birth for five long years.

Lived Lies

Yet Randall does not question the philosophical roots of imperialism. This is not a criticism. It is precisely because Randall is so respectful of ideas from the South that her fascinating story shows just how hard it is to question the philosophical roots of imperialism or even to identify them.

They are behaviour patterns and values. They are identity. In Dostoevsky’s Demons, liberal academic Stepan Trofimovich says before dying: “I’ve been lying all my life. Even when I was telling the truth …. The worst of it is that I believe myself when I lie. The most difficult thing in life is to live and not lie.”

It’s because lies are behaviour. Dostoevsky was a liberal in the 1840s and Demons (written in the 1860s when Russia was being flooded by new ideas like feminism, atheism, nihilism) exposes a problem. Its characters “eat” ideas. They don’t believe them, and they don’t know they don’t believe them. [2]

Beliefs can be tacit, presupposed, not acknowledged, just lived. This aspect of thinking is known in analytic philosophy of science in North America.[3] Philosophers call such beliefs “non-propositional”. They are not expressed in sentences. They explain behaviour, movement. You know what you believe by looking at how you live. And you may not believe that you believe what you in fact believe.

It is partly why, in the anti-war movement in the US in the 60s and 70s, there was a slogan: There are no innocents. It meant that a quiet white life was collusion in the slaughter abroad. Behaviour patterns and values lived day by day, sustained ideology justifying slaughter abroad.

Toni Morrison calls it the “story beneath the story” and James Baldwin a “burning fire”. The phenomenon – lies that are lived, without knowing – has been known in Cuba since the early nineteenth century. It’s been known elsewhere, in fact in many philosophical traditions outside Europe (and within Europe by Marx). The Buddha, for instance, was very clear that beliefs, which we identify with and out of which we create an image of or story about ourselves, arise mostly arbitrarily from habit patterns, our own and society’s. We are in bondage to such (often tacit) beliefs.

They prevent choice. It is partly why the Buddha taught mental control, through the practise of meditation, although this is not understood in the current “mindfulness” craze in the US. [4]

Randall picks out elements of the ideas that challenge dominant worldviews but does not put them together or draw the consequences. They have to do with power, as I explain further below. Throughout the memoire, she comes back to the question of power. It is, she writes throughout the book, the explanation for political failures in Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Maybe, but the problem is not power as such, as we will see. This is a mistake and she could know it. But again, this is not meant as criticism ; it is indication of how hard it is to recognize lived ideology.

In 1999 in Caracus, Fidel Castro said, “They discovered smart weapons. We discovered something more important: people think and feel.” The statement is about lies that are lived and how to know them.

José de la Luz y Caballero, in early 19th century Cuba, a priest who wanted independence, taught philosophy because of a lie: slavery. Progressives accepted it.[5] They couldn’t imagine life without slavery. Luz taught philosophy in order that privileged youth could know injustice when injustice is identity: lived lies.

Cuban philosopher and revolutionary, José Martí, later, identified another lie: that the South must look North to live well. He built a revolution resisting it in the nineteenth century. It extended into the twentieth. It was not just about the lie, but about how to know it: a revolution in thinking.[6]

Early independence leaders, and later Martí, studied thinking. This point gets missed.

About her experiences in Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua, Randall comments on the deep connection, in each of these societies, between art and politics. Cuban philosopher Armando Hart, admired by Randall, has said the connection between art and politics is one of the Cuban Revolution’s most important ideological strengths.

It is about how we know. “People think and feel”. It has consequences, including for power.

Reciprocity

Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, said everyone is a philosopher but only some are called philosophers. This is because everyone, at some moments, thinks philosophically. You ask yourself whether you’re living a good life, whether you’ve done the right thing, or whether you’ve been a good friend to someone. In such moments, you employ philosophical concepts. You do so without realizing.

How we think determines how we act. This is known in many philosophical traditions. In the West, we think that how I act and what I say is most important and what I think is private, of no practical consequence. For the Buddha, just to mention one philosopher who thought otherwise, “mind matters most”. [7]

What you think results inevitably in actions and words. It includes what you think of “human”, that is, what you think it means to be human and to realize your unique potential as a human being. But how you think about “human” depends upon your society. We consider this further in the next section.

Marx made this point and his philosophy[8] challenges an idea that dominated in nineteenth century Europe and even more so today. It is the view that who I am – my self – is my mind, my thoughts. It goes back to René Descartes (1641) and evolved into ideas of identity, rationality and most notably freedom. They are ideas that are so deep-seated, culturally, that they are difficult to point out.

They are assumed, lived. This is part of the rationale for this current work, inspired by Randall.

Both Luz and Martí taught that “people think and feel”. It’s about reciprocity. Interconnectedness is a trendy idea among some philosophers, especially feminists, who emphasize relationships and emotional sensitivity. They urge connectivity as an antidote to liberal individualism, and a source of knowledge. Cuba’s philosophers, especially Martí, broke that trail in this hemisphere long ago, as I explain.

A new book on the US medical system identifies just such thinking, known to science, but hard to practise. Reciprocity involves experiencing – that is, feeling – relations between people, and becoming motivated, even humanized. Anyone seriously ill in the US (and Canada), knows medicine is not about care. Soul of Care, by Harvard psychiatrist, Arthur Kleinman, explains why.[9]

The failure is systemic. He cites an educator at a major US medical school, who feels like a “hypocrite” teaching about care. She knows doctors don’t have time to listen and are not so encouraged. Medicine is about “cost, efficiency, management talk”. Survival “depends on cutting corners, spending as little time as you can get away with in human interactions that can be emotionally and morally taxing.”

As Kleinman tells his personal story, of caring for his beloved wife, Joan, he offers a different view. Caregiving is not a moral obligation; it is existential. At its heart is reciprocity, the ““invisible glue that holds societies together”. In caregiving, one finds within oneself “a tender mercy and a need to act on it”. Caregiving, Kleinman argues, made him more human

Reciprocity offers solutions not identifiable previously. It matters for science, for truth. But the capacity must be cultivated. “Being present” means submitting intellectual judgment, on occasion, to experience of feelings. One can’t just decide to do it without preparation.

Yet such training is not happening. It’s not likely to. It contradicts “politically useful fictions” like the “self-made man”.

Two points stand out: Reciprocity makes you. Its value is not moral. It is about who you are, as a person. It explains capacities. Exercising reciprocity, you gain capacities. You gain energy, drive, wisdom. Second, reciprocity has epistemic value. It leads you to truths that could not be accessed otherwise.

These points are made by a US scientist. He is not a Marxist. He is a caring, sensible, medical professional and he draws on his own personal experience to make a case of urgent philosophical merit.

The same case was made by the nineteenth century independistas who rejected, thoroughly, a view of freedom arising from Europe. They understood that (1) it disallowed the acquiring of human capacities and (2) it made truth, especially about what it means to be human, inaccessible. On this, more anon.

Kleinman says medicine needs help from sociology and “even philosophy”. But the myth of the self-made man is taught in philosophy. It’s called philosophical liberalism. Liberalism is not just a political view. It is importantly philosophical, and it is assumed by many who do not call themselves liberals: feminists, anarchists, Aristotelians, environmentalists. If you look closely at the arguments you discover they assume liberal ideas of identity, rationality and autonomy.[10]

Philosophical liberalism denies person-making reciprocity. It becomes unimaginable in the way Kleinman so compellingly describes.

Marx taught such reciprocity – the kind that recognizes receiving back, cause and effect, giving. So did Lenin, the Buddha, and Christian philosophers, Thomas Merton, Jean Vanier and Ivan Illich. We don’t teach these philosophers in philosophy departments in North America. We barely recognize them.

Caregiving is so alien to medical practise that Kleinman’s “modest proposal” is to omit it from the curriculum altogether. Nonetheless, as he points out, health institutions claim to care about care. Kleinman’s colleague says: “We can’t even tell ourselves lies we can believe in”.

But they can. Whole societies can, and we do. “There are no innocents”, as they said in the 70s.

Group Think

The early Cuban independence activists, not radical, knew something about thinking that is now uncontroversial in analytic philosophy of science in North America. What they knew is this: All individual thinking is “group think”.

Everyone wants to be “authentic”: a real individual. Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor referred to an “age of authenticity” in which the priority is happiness and choice: my own, of course.[11] But philosophers of science argue that in every instance of individual thinking, you name what you are thinking about. You say to yourself, “I am falling in love”. Why call it “love”? it is because of what you saw on TV.

Every act of thinking, no matter how private, involves naming. And names come from society. They are not from you. Names are socially dependent, a result of the “group”. Your “private”, individual thinking is always group think.

There is only one way to avoid group think. Cuban philosopher Cintio Vitier uses the word “teluricidad” (earthiness) to link Luz y Caballero and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, then Martí and eventually Fidel and Che Guevara.[12] Teluricidad has to do with feeling and how it moves us beyond conformity, if we have the guts to think it matters.

It takes guts because it challenges an entire world view: liberalism. Part of philosophical liberalism is an intellectual idea of rationality. It makes feelings suspect, as is explained further below.

That Descartes was wrong is cliché, but his view is influential. It is the idea that my self is my story, my memories. I act freely when I act from “within.” Yet there is no “within”, at least not unless you learn mental control, which Is not valued in the West and the North, although it was in ancient times.

Brilliant Cuban philosopher, diplomat and politician, Raúl Roa, argued in 1953 that the world was passing through its gravest crisis ever.[13] It was because the consolidation of US power brought with it a conception of human beings. It was an idea that arose in the Renaissance, which was not a rebirth of ancient humanism which recognized contemplation but, instead, the invention of a view appropriate for capitalism: homo faber, the man of action.

Roa calls it the “world’s gravest crisis” precisely because it makes moral and human truth implausible. Liberalism separated fact and value: There is no truth about value. It’s a convenient view if you live in the rich and powerful part of the world.

When I started reading philosophers from the South – those who resisted imperialism and colonialism – I discovered that they didn’t ask whether there is knowledge about value.[14] They had no doubt. I discovered the same about the Buddha. He didn’t ask whether there is knowledge about value. He assumed there is. [15]

The existence of moral and human truths is, arguably, an essential dividing point between Eastern and Western philosophy. It has significant implications.[16] The point for now is that philosophers from the South – at least those who resisted imperialism and colonialism – are more Eastern than Western in this crucial respect.

Roa could see this. Luz, mentioned above, taught philosophy because of the implication of European (liberal) philosophy for truth. He knew slavery was a lie. But slavery was an injustice lived by the privileged classes, somewhat like the division between North and South is lived by the rich North today: an identity. We consider ourselves “lucky” when we should, if we were honest, feel shame.

Luz saw the intersection between art and nature, feelings and science, faith and proof. He was a scientist who taught philosophy, credited by historians for teaching Cubans “how to think”. Roa’s point, in 1953, from Cuba, in the South, is that homo faber doesn’t contemplate such intersections. Homo faber doesn’t tolerate insecurity. Homo faber controls.

Desires, preferences, values, life plans are from without. They are a result of cause and effect. Thinking, desiring, planning, no matter how supposedly private, involves naming. Feeling does not. Alright, it sometimes does, such as in the example above about falling in love. But it doesn’t have to. Thinking always involves naming. It can’t happen without naming. And names are shared.

The Buddha knew this 2500 years ago, and he taught people to control their minds, so they could feel without naming.[17] That’s partly what meditation is about, although it is not how it is understood currently, as mentioned above.

The “Problem” of Power

Even before Martí, radical Cuban liberation activists condemned a popular presupposition of European philosophy: We act on “our own” when we follow our dreams just because they are ours. Some call it “the bourgeois myth of self-origination”, the idea that we ourselves cause our desires.

Che Guevara called it a cage: One attempts to escape alienation by doing one’s own thing but the remedy “bears the germs of the same sickness”, not permitting “escape from the invisible cage”.[18]

The cage is not just power structures. It is also accepted beliefs, stories, memories. But these depend on power structures. Martí mistrusted “the Yankee and European book”, at least for democracy, because “imported forms and ideas … have in their lack of local reality” prevented real self-government. Some of those ideas were about freedom itself: what Isaiah Berlin called “negative freedom”. It is the idea, roughly, that you are free if nothing gets in your way, within limits.

It is not the only idea out there in the history of philosophy. It is certainly not the most sensible. Human beings, like every other entity in the universe are subject to cause and effect. Reciprocity. It means, as Marx said, that we change the world that changes us. We know the world as it acts upon us, changes us, transforms us, sometime in ways we do not choose or even understand.

This is how we get truth, not by looking “inside” at a mythical “self”, mostly invented.[19]

Martí praised the poet José María de Heredia who dared “to be free in a time of pretentious slaves”, suggesting that “pretentious slaves” are “so accustomed . . . to servitude that [they become] … slaves of Liberty!” We can only become free when we understand the causal forces that determine our thinking and do the work to properly challenge and change such structures.

In doing so we exercise power.

Martí, admired by Randall and translated into English by her mother, states in his famous “Our America” that Latin American leaders must bring about “by means and institutions . . . the desirable state in which every man knows himself and is active”. [20] This is a remarkably unliberal claim. Individuals, Martí is saying, know themselves, not by looking “within”, but “by means and institutions” brought about by good government, that is, through the government’s exercise of power.

It doesn’t mean there have not been misuses of power in Cuba. In 26 years of going there regularly I have not met anyone who would deny misuses of power. But it changes the analysis.

Randall admires Cuba’s humanism, writing that “one of the Cuban revolution’s saving graces is [that] … a great humanity underpins its initiatives” (196). She quotes Che Guevara, who says a true revolutionary must be guided by “great feelings of love”. [21]

Philosophical liberalism devalues “feelings of love”. They are irrational. They cannot involve truth. Rationality is intellectual. It is what Fidel Castro was referring to when he said that better than smart bombs is recognition that “people think and feel”. He is referring to a philosophical view that has existed in many cultures, including the indigenous cultures of Central America that so profoundly influenced Martí, and which Randall cites.

It was the view of ancient philosophers like Chuang Tzu and the Buddha, and poets such as Rumi.

Cuban history makes such humanistic motivation believable. Cuban presence in Angola, according to historian Richard Gott, was “entirely without selfish motivation”. Cuba sent 300,000 volunteers between 1975 and 1991, more than 2,000 of whom died, to push back and eventually defeat apartheid South Africa. In Pretoria, a “wall of names” commemorates those who died in the struggle against apartheid. Many Cuban names are inscribed there. No other foreign country is represented.[22]

The US claimed that Cuba was acting as a Soviet proxy but according to US intelligence, Castro had “no intention of subordinating himself to Soviet discipline and direction.” He criticized the Soviets as dogmatic and opportunistic, ungenerous toward Third World liberation movements, and unwilling to adequately support North Vietnam. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger wrote in his memoire 25 years later that Castro was “probably the most genuinely revolutionary leader then in power”.[23]

US Intelligence even identified the real motivation for Cuba’s costly involvement. Castro, it was reported, “places particular importance on maintaining a ‘principled’ foreign policy . . . [and] on questions of basic importance such as Cuba’s right and duty to support nationalist revolutionary movements and friendly governments in the Third World, Castro permits no compromise of principle for the sake of economic or political expediency.”

In 1991, Cuba’s “great crusade” led Nelson Mandela to ask, “What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?”

Cuba’s internationalism continues. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Few have heeded the call [to fight Ebola]s, but one country has responded in strength: Cuba.” Cuba responded without hesitation, sending more than 450 doctors and nurses, chosen from more than 15,000 volunteers, by far the largest medical mission sent by any country.

Explained philosophically, though, internationalism is a practical, not moral, obligation as it is often portrayed. Human beings are part of nature, and we depend upon nature, including other human beings. In 1998, Fidel Castro said that Cuba’s humanist project explains Cuba’s resistance to the US financial, commercial and economic blockade.

He cited the power of ideas, specifically ideas about the practical, not moral significance of internationalism. This gets missed. It is reciprocity: lived, not just theorized

Two books published in 2019, both sympathetic to Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution (to a point) miss it. Cubans call it the “battle for ideas”. It is about ideas but also about the nature of ideas, that they arise from feeling, for example, and not just from rationalization.

Cuba Libre! Che, Fidel, and the Improbable Revolution That Changed World History by Tony Perrottet [24] tells stories – good ones – about the guerilla struggle between 1956-8, leading to the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista. There is only caricatured reference to Martí and no explanation of the history of resistance that explained and energized the sacrifice that Perrotet describes as “improbable”.

It is not improbable if philosophical liberalism is rejected, as it was, and reciprocity is lived.

The second book, of note, is a “revisionist” view of young Fidel Castro [25] describing Fidel Castro as an individual with strengths and weaknesses, that is, as a normal human being. Jonathan Hansen does not explain why we should expect otherwise. Although Hansen mentions the struggle for “cuba libre”, he does not explain it. In particular, he does not mention resistance to European ideology and the driving force of a quite different vision of human freedom than the one the consolidation of which Roa identifies as “the world’s gravest crisis”.

It’s like writing a biography of Stephen Hawking without mentioning collapsing stars or imaginary time. No one would do it. But Hansen makes the strange claim that Castro loved only one thing: the revolution. He didn’t love anything else, not even his son. Would anyone say Hawking loved only one thing: cosmology? And nothing else? Cosmology shaped his life, and the revolution shaped Castro’s. Does that mean no love for human beings is possible?

It is a silly view, only plausible if not examined. And there’s the rub. Philosophers of science argue that we only find empirical evidence to support theories if we first, to some degree, believe such theories, even without evidence.[26] This means that we don’t examine that which we don’t find surprising.

It’s why Cuba’s “battle for ideas” does not get proper attention in Randall’s memoire. It is not expected. There is no question the answer to which is expected to be useful and interesting. This is how theory works. It depends upon judgments of interest and plausibility. There is no question about the battle for ideas because there is nothing we care about that the battle for ideas might explain.

So, ironically, the battle for idea can only matter if there is a battle for ideas: against philosophical liberalism. It makes human truths implausible and inaccessible. In the “age of authenticity”, as Charles Taylor points out, the priority is happiness and choice, and humanness is whatever you believe it to be.

It is not a plausible view for those who have struggled for centuries against dehumanizing imperialism and, for anyone who cares to look seriously, plenty of compelling evidence supports their position.

Conclusion

Cuba resisted the US embargo for sixty years. It defied predictions of imminent collapse after the disappearance of the Soviet Union. And when Fidel Castro stepped down in 2006 because of illness, Cuba again defied predictions— this time of internal squabbling and chaos. Julia Sweig, US Rockefeller senior fellow, noted a “stunning display of orderliness and seriousness” and concluded that the Cuban Revolution “rests upon far more than the charisma, authority and legend of [Raul and Fidel Castro].”

Far more than power.

The “far more” is philosophical, a vision of who we can be, and know ourselves as, as human beings. It predates Martí but was most radically realized by Martí, who thought political liberation does not long endure without spiritual freedom. He meant that sensitivity and humility matter more than knowledge because we gain capacity to respond to beauty, whether in ideas, people or events.

Only with such responsiveness can we know the unexpected, which may be humanness.

It is Cuba’s gift to the world. But it must be understood. It Is not simple and can even be disruptive. But it is urgent. It is not clear that Randall sees this. However, she has done more than many and deserves enormous credit. But what is missed matters. I believe she’d agree.

Notes:

  1. I Never Left Home: A Memoire of Time and Place (Duke University Press, 2020) 
  2. Richard Pevear “Introduction” Demons (Vintage, 1995). 
  3. E.g. Boyd, Richard N. “How to be a moral realist”, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (Ed.), Essays on moral realism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988) 181-228; Kitcher, Philip, ”The Naturalists Return”, The Philosophical Review 101(1992 1): 53 – 114. 
  4. E.g. Ronald Purser, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness became the New Capitalist Spirituality (Penguin Random House 2019) HOW MINDFULNESS BECAME THE NEW CAPITALIST SPIRITUALITY HOW MINDFULNESS BECAME THE NEW CAPITALIST SPIRITUALITY By RONALD PURSER 
  5. Cintio Vitier, Ese sol del mundo moral (Havana, Editorial Félix Varela, 1996)10-18 
  6. Rodriguez, Pedro Pablo Pensar, prever, servir (Havana: Ediciones Unión, 2012) 
  7. Chapter 1 of Dhammapada found here: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/scrndhamma.pdf 
  8. Allen Wood, Karl Marx (Routledge 2003) is arguably the best account of Marx’s philosophy (as opposed to his politics). Wood argues that many Marxists do not sufficiently consider Marx’s philosophy. 
  9. Penguin Random House, 2019. Review is here: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/soul-care-moral 
  10. I have argued this in “Anarchy a false hope? Latin American revolutionaries knew dhamma and saddha” Kalmanson, Leah, ed. Comparative Studies in Asian and Latin American Philosophies (Bloomsbury Press, 2018); “Political Freedom and Epistemic Injustice” in Ian Kidd, José Medina, Gaile Polhaus eds. Handbook on Epistemic Injustice (Routledge Press, 2017). 
  11. A Secular Age (Harvard University, 2007), 473-479). 
  12. Ese sol, op. cit., 14-18 
  13. Roa, Raúl “Grandeza y servidumbre del humanismo”, Viento Sur, Havana: Centro cultural de Pablo de la Torriente Brau 2015) 44-62 . 
  14. E.g. Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire, wrote that “authentic humanism” is “impossible” not to discover, even with deep-seated cultural, intellectual and political acceptance of imperialist and colonialist dehumanization. See Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Myra Berman Ramos (Trans.) (New York: Continuum Press, 2000) 43. 93. 
  15. I have explored this in Humanism and Embodiment (Bloomsbury 2014) 
  16. Ernesto Limia Díaz explains the ineffectiveness of the international left by this phenomenon: denial of moral truth in Cuba:¿fin de la Historia? (NY: Ocean Sur, 2015) 90 
  17. Hart, William, The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation as Taught by S.N. Goenka ( Harper Collins, 1987). 
  18. “Man and socialism in Cuba”. In David Deutschman (Ed.), The Che Guevara reader: Writings on guerilla strategy, politics and revolution (pp. 197– 214). (Ocean Press, 1997). (Originally published 1965) 
  19. Patrick Modiano’s Sleep of Memory (Yale University press, 2018) See review at https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/sleep-memory 
  20. 1891 rpt. In Esther Allen (Ed. and Trans.), José Martí: Selected writings (Penguin Books, 2002) 290 
  21. “Man and socialism”, op cit, 211 
  22. Gleijeses, Piero, Conflicting missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959–1976 (University of North Carolina, 2002) 300-327. 
  23. Gleijeses, Piero, Visions of Freedom: Havana. Washington, Pretoria and the struggle for southern Africa (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2013) 306, 373, 521, 525, 526 
  24. Blue Rider Press (January 22, 2019). See review https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/cuba-libre-che 
  25. Hansen, Jonathan M. Young Castro: The Making of a Revolutionary (Simon and Schuster, 2019). See review at https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/young-castro 
  26. E.g. Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case against Creationism (MIT Press, 1982) ch. 2 
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