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by Frei Betto Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2005 at 2:43 PM

"Where they smell a prey, they speak of terrorists. Where they see windmills, they speak of weapons of mass destruction that cannot be found."


Against the Creation of Monocultures. Frei Betto and Volodia Teitelbolm at the Cuban Book Fair

By Arnold Scholzel and Gerd Schumann, Havanna

[This article originally published in: junge Welt, 2/08/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

The first edition of “Don Quixote” by Miguel Cervantes appeared 400 years ago. The 2005 Spanish-language book world takes place under this sign. At the book fair in Havana, the first of nearly three hundred events on Latin American literature focused on the novel’s influence on Cuban literature.


Frei Betto, Brazilian theologian and author, offered an independent ironic interpretation of the knight with the sad face to two hundred enthusiastic hearers in the “Nicolas Guillien” hall. Cervantes didn’t wage a conflict with literary figures but with the world power of his age, the union of throne and altar in absolutist Spain. “He anticipated the downfall of the Spanish empire.” The tears in the edifice of the superpower of the 16th century were clear. Vast geographical areas were to be controlled. The Armada that sought world domination was no longer undefeated after the defeats against the English fleet. The empire was held together by greed for America’s gold and silver. Cervantes relativized the absolute power of the monarch and the clergy based on the antique worldview. He created the figure of the mad knight on this foundation. This figure could be a current metaphor for the US: “Where they smell a prey, they speak of terrorists. Where they see windmills, they speak of weapons of mass destruction that cannot be found.”

Frei Betto told Junge Welt: “Globalization is global colonization, the creation of a monoculture.” In global colonization, social dreams are privatized and the world is suffused with virtual sensations. In his opinion, the machine produced by this monoculture to dissolve national cultures has no future. The “McDonaldization of the planet” makes persons into slaves of the empire. Slaves can choose their drinks but not the system in which they want to live.

Betto emphasized that neither human rights nor the “right to food” is granted to a large part of humanity. Real socialism in Cuba guarantees human rights including the right to life. This respect for life corresponds to Christian theology. “Cuba”, he said, “alarms the empire as Palestine once alarmed the Roman Empire. Europe and North America are united today in post-modern consumerism. Their shopping malls are the temples. Quiet soothing department store music replaces the Gregorian chant. According to Frei Betto, the idea and knowledge of historical transitoriness in the Bible and Marxism oppose this monoculture. “Jesus, Marx and Fidel Castro have a common historical base.” The creation of a new world in Cuba isn’t a utopia but a reality that has withstood 40 years of the blockade. “The work of the Cuban revolution is an evangelical work.”


“The work that defends the Cuban people,” said Chilean writer Volodia Teitelbolm. Cuba is “very well prepared” if after the failed 1961 invasion in the Bay of Pigs another attempt is made by the North American mainland to militarily subjugate the island,” the 88-year old communist said in the Junge Welt interview. With his biographies of Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges, the Chilean presented two authors that could hardly be more different – at least regarding their political positions in the decisive years of the continent. Borges the reactionary opposed Neruda the communist who ultimately was killed in the putsch of the generals on September 11, 1973 like his friend and companion Salvador Allende.

In his time Borges was received and decorated by Pinochet the dictator – on the same day when Teitelbolm was again denied Chilean citizenship. In his biography of the Argentinian author “Los dos Borges” – “The Two Borges”, he illumines the dark sides of this author’s life. The political worlds between him and the portrait were striking when Teitelbolm recalled his murdered friends Neruda, Salvador Allende and Victor Jara and set a “presente!” after their names.


An Interview with Frei Betto

[This interview originally published in: junge Welt, 2/08/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, The Brazilian Frei Betto is a theologian and author.]

A few days ago you were in Porto Allegre and this week you are at the book fair in Havanna. What connects the two events?

Porto Alegre is a world forum of people who believe that a new better world is possible and seek a way out of neoliberal capitalism. Something else happens herfe, the encounter of two cultures mediated by books. Brazil is a host country of the book fair. Therefore the Brazilian foreign ministry invited me here. I have written 52 books including the book “Fidel Castro Ruiz – Fidel and Religion” together with four Cubans. Appearing 20 years ago, it was published in 32 countries and translated in 23 languages.

You emphasize that many youths came together in Porto Alegre. Is that also true for the book fair?

Certainly. The youth must be class-conscious because they represent the hope for a better world. There is a saying in Brazil: Trust no one over 30. I don’t know any revolutionary who began his struggle after his 30th year. The future Guevaras, the future Castros, the future Lulas and the future Chavez are younger than 30 today.

Besides Porto Alegre, there is ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America. Does Latin America represent a political power?

There are political and diplomatic efforts of Latin American countries to appear more united. In the South, president Lula for example revived the economic agreement MERCOSUR. He asked Peru to establish a South American community. He supports Chavez in Venezuela. The Lula government does all it can to include Cuba in the multilateral organizations of Latin America. Cuba wants good relations with the people of the US and Canada. Populations are always victims of bad governments. North America’s population suffers today under the power politics of George W. Bush.

Why are you personally in solidarity with Cuba?

The Cuban revolution guarantees human dignity. Cuba has defects and flaws but these are tiny compared to the social achievements of the land. When you walk through Havanna, no street-children, favelas or beggars can be seen. This is striking to someone who doesn’t live in Cuba but in a country like Brazil where there is great inequality.

Why do you speak of “global-colonization,” not “globalization”?

Globalization means the colonization of the planet. A single system is forced on the world: the Anglo-Saxon model that rules in North America and Western Europe. Culturally one could speak of a McDonaldization of the planet.

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