On Monday 25th February 2008, 120 mainly young people packed the Wade Suit of the Merrion Hotel, Leeds to hear Orlando Borrego speak about Cuban socialism.
Borrego was greeted with much warmth and enthusiasm. The meeting began with him asking for a show of hands by those who had ever visited Cuba; he was pleasantly surprised by the number who had. Orlando then went on to speak about Che Guevara as a person using a number of anecdotes to illustrate his character and his personality. He spoke for about 90 minutes before taking three questions:
The degree of mass involvement in the Cuban revolution;
Che’s concept of the ‘new man’ under socialism
The role of students in the revolution.
Answering the first, Borrego gave an account of how a peasant farmer helped Fidel when he was hiding in the mountains with two other comrades by bringing food and water; Orlando told us that the son of that peasant farmer, then illiterate, had subsequently gone to university after the revolution and was now one of the most important men in Cuba. This showed that the Cuban Revolution was not one made by a tiny group of middle class people who landed on a beach in a battered boat one night - but a massive revolution by the poor and oppressed.
On the second, Borrego explained that Che's ideas for building socialism depended fundamentally on developing a socialist consciousness which would be represented by the ‘new’ man or woman. Che’s view was that it was not possible to build socialism using capitalist techniques. Although it was crucial to develop the forces of production to produce material goods with high productivity, quality and variety, this needed to be done alongside a massive improvement in the educational, intellectual and cultural development of the people. This would be also expressed in selflessness and self-sacrifice – for instance, through the development of internationalism.
The last question Borrego liked very much: it enabled him to explain his admiration for the young and how they naturally represented the future. He was particularly insistent however on the need for young people today study in general and Che Guevara in particular, and to see him as an example to follow.