Michele Curto: “I got back to my utopias thanks to Cuba”

Michele Curto: “I got back to my utopias thanks to Cuba”
Fecha de publicación: 
10 September 2022
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It is hard to find the right time to interview Michele Curto. He is an extraordinary conversationalist, an Italian young man who speaks fluently the Spanish language and knows perfectly Cuban expressions, but 24 hours are not enough for him as he boasts an impressive work rate. And he also has a lot of projects, all related to Cuba. He does not sleep much. His life-tempo is divided into Turin, Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantanamo…He heads the Agency for Cultural and Economic Exchange with Cuba (AICEC) and his project includes different actions such as the export of Cuban organic coffee, the globalization of Cuba’s biotech through some loopholes in the U.S. blockade against Cuba, or the restoration of the Italia Avenue in the municipality of Centro Habana. Leader, creative, hyperkinetic, forward-thinking, decisive and above all, a profound man of solidarity given to an island that, with a mature love, he chose and this love has made him get back to his utopias. “We only live once, and my life is devoted to Cuba, this people deserve it,” he confessed and added: “I have reasons to fight here.” We talked to him, at last, exclusively for CubaSi:

Where does Michele Curto's solidarity vocation come from? I know your father was a communist worker and your mother took a garment from her wedding trousseau to make up the fabric-poster that welcomed the Cuban doctors in Italy...

First of all, I come from a very ordinary family, very common, in southern Italy, a very large family and very humble. My father emigrated to Germany and settled in Dusseldorf, and later he moved to Turin at the end of 1950s. He began to work at FIAT (Italian Automobiles Factory), at the steel mill. He worked at night since the payment was a little better and he had gone into debt to buy the house and later, in the 1970s, he enrolled in the Communist Party and those enrolled in the Communist Party had to work at night, so they did not mix with other workers. Turin was full of union struggles, according to what I have read in history books and my father has told me in a very simple, authentic way. For example, once an accident in the steel mill occurred and there were several victims. I remember the long line at the funeral. All attended in work wear and I, on my why’s years, asked and my dad told me that the steel had exploded and they got burnt. And what was left of them? I wanted to know…Almost anything, my dad replied. And then, what did they put in the urn? Steel. We are steel, my dad answered. A normal boy who later became a student leader grew with those examples of resistance.

How do you remember that time? Did it coincide with a rise of the movement opposed to the neoliberal globalization in Europe…?

These were a very interesting years, actually. I became a leader with the protests against NATO, which was bombarding Yugoslavia and earlier, preparing the Porto Alegre demonstration in 1998. They were very interesting Latin American processes that triggered contradictions when it came to understand the so-called “Third way socialism in Europe, the most subdued social democracy. I went to Porto Alegre with 19 years old and there was a wonderful brain storming, and we looked at Latin America with great interest. Then, we organized the demonstration in Genova, the protest against the G-7, which was attended by thousands and thousands of students and I was one of the four student leaders in the country. There we suffered the violence of repression as the result of an agreement of interests between the social democracy and the right that ruled in Italy (in one of the first terms of office of Silvio Berlusconi). We first met the violence of the State, they killed a boy and completely shattered our dreams, like a mirror. We had gathered a wonderful community of young people. We had hope and we looked towards Latin America, and Cuba was always there. I remember that I spoke with the Brazilians, my city had enormous trade union relations with Lula and the Workers’ Party, and in those conversations they always said: We are all, in fact, children of Cuba and the Cuban Revolution. I did not have any other references but this fascinated me a lot. Later, we founded a youth organization, we began our search for the left in Europe, which was a desperate and desperate search. Once I grew older, and in the exercise of politics, the old men of the city, the thinkers and fighters from my father’s days told me: it's up to you to get closer with the cradle of this process, which is Cuba, and that's how my relationship with Cuba began...

At that time, you oppose to the awarding of a prize in your city to a renowned counterrevolutionary…

It was a proposal by the mayor of Turin, representative of the old policy, emblem of the Third Way, the candidate for the secretariat who was active at the time we were repressed and who had said that the members of the Social Democratic Party did not need to go to demonstrations. I had confronted him in the elections because I thought it was my duty to confront this person. We might not win, but we represented a youth that had not given up, despite all the efforts they had made to dispel the culture of the left, the legacy was not lost. On the contrary, a new generation was growing up. And when he becomes mayor of the city, in 2013, he proposes honorary citizenship for Yoani Sánchez, and I opposed it for several reasons. I had been in Cuba in 2011 and I was fascinated by the process of approval of the Guidelines.

That trip had a huge impact on me because I had the idea of a historical process, something static. I told myself I am going to visit a museum that belongs to me, I have to visit the museum of my origins, but immediately I found an unexpected, super-dynamic Cuba. I die laughing when someone tells me that this country never changes. This country changes every day, and I come here twice a month. And changes are upward and downward. That is another issue. People abroad say that things here change because orders come from above, but the Cubans are constantly changing. Cubans are just like yeast: they may not have flour but they manage to make bread. It’s an amazing thing.

And then, I opposed to the award for Yoani Sánchez. My face turned red, as you say in Cuba. We spent 8 hours arguing, along with other organizations like the National Association of Italy-Cuba Friendship. The truth is that Cuba triggers a feeling a solidarity. It has enemies, but how many friends this nation have? After the incident, I traveled back to Cuba, I was in love with the previous trip. But this time I went to the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People, to the headquarters of the Central Committee of the PCC, to the National Association of Cuban Economists and Accountants and I just found out the updating process of the economic model, and as an economist, I fell in love with the idea and I wanted to get involved in the process. In fact, one of the things I am really grateful for is that Cuba allowed me to get back to my dreams. There are a lot of thing to fix here. There are a lot of things that are not working, and some others that do work. But I have reasons to fight here. I have lived glorious moments here, such as the approval of the new Constitution. You went to a work place and saw no one and the first thing that came to your mind was: hey, they are exterminating insects, but no, they were in meeting debating on the new Constitution. And then you hear that there is no dialogue in this country! Come on! Or attend to a meeting where delegates are to be elected, or in an accountability meeting, such interesting things…Before voicing out criticism against this nation, please try to know it first…

Although there are some pivotal moments in your relationship with Cuba, there are no doubts that the arrival of the Henry Reeve Brigade of Cuban doctors in Turin in the darkest hours of the Covid-19 pandemic, marked a milestone. Two years after that event, how do you remember what it meant to you personally and professionally, as you put all of your energies and that of your staff into the Brigade?

It was a turning point, absolutely, and for many reasons. Firstly, with a few actions that go beyond words, common people of my country, like my mom, my dad, honest and kind citizens, left-winged Italian citizens, could see that beautiful Cuba, the nation I fell in love with. It was a selfless act of international solidarity from a small country, which is the capital of internationalism.

Secondly, the opportunity to make history as we, as a team, are very proud of being part of that history; it is not about the issue of having requested the Brigade, it was actually a generalized longing of so many people. The important thing is to show the real value of a widely-used word: heroes, which is sometimes overused, worn-out in rhetoric: these doctors made it real, tangible. And suddenly, your ideas come true, and you are connected to the ideas of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro.

And as you say, there have been some pivotal moments. One of those moments was the passing away of the Commander in Chief. From that stage where you are helped by Cuba, you go and feel that Cuba is now the one needing your help. Cubans, in addition to material things, need that moral necessity of closeness. You have given so much, that we have to pay you back. When Fidel died, the people became fatherless, in a quest for reaching infinity, and still does, moving forward, step by step, in a more complex scenario, enduring more attacks, without the historical leader, then you say: I have to be part of it.

Finding out how Cubans deal with day-to-day life strengthens my determination. I have only one life and mine is devoted to Cuba. This people deserve it. And since I have not lived in the time of the Commander in Chief, I have been trying to make up for lost time, and then you realize that now is the time to act and do, without asking so many questions. Why are Cuban doctors great, because they do not ask any questions: they went to the other side of the world to face something that was barely known.


After the 11-J events and especially, when the pandemic hit harder in Cuba, and the U.S. blockade tightened and prevented us from even the oxygen to breathe, there were examples of solidarity worldwide, and Michele and his AICEC staff were part of it, along with other organizations of the Cuban emigration and the Italian solidarity with the island. How was all that organized?

Before July 11, I see this thing that is growing, because I had seen that Cuba of hope, that Cuba of the Rolling Stones at the Ciudad Deportiva (Sports City), we were here with the idea of ​​working on updating the economic model, and we felt up close this moment: the forums, the business.

And we made our small contribution, because this is a country of thousands of heroes and stories. But modestly, we, in that process, advanced some things that are talked about today: AICEC, for example, was born at the World Summit on Local Development, in 2014, and when I spoke at that time here of integrated local development or circular economy, people looked at me with a poker face. And I said, but you are already doing it.

And when I see that this period is moving on to Trumpism, to Trump's attacks, and we were celebrating the 500th anniversary of Havana and we did the artistic lighting, but the new measures were already in effect, the gasoline crisis -the famous special economic situation-, President Miguel Díaz-Canel giving some people a ride, and then the systematic attack on Venezuela…And I have had a great school in the study of criminality coming from the Italian mob. I am used to connecting events, and I firmly believe that chances do not exist. So I thought there was nothing casual.

And then you see that the pandemic begins and the right to send remittances is denied, contrary to all human logic. Do you know how I explain the blockade to my dad? Without talking too much. Dad, Cubans aren't allowed to send money home, and he, who has a history as an emigrant, understands right away. When I see all this, and the fact that Cuba has done an incredible job in the face of the pandemic, Cuba would have spearheaded the fight, but it was under a lot of stress, unable to receive or access resources, without tourism, investing its own economic survival in the health of the people, facing the Delta and Beta strains, then I realize that there is nothing casual there, that something is systematically being prepared. The oxygen crisis accelerates it, the ship is stopped in the Dominican Republic, in a violation of the most basic human rights, and then we told ourselves: we have to help.

And we are not a government agency. We do not have a guaranteed salary. We are colleagues who live from our efforts. And there was an incredible reaction, and it was collective: the union workers who came back from their holidays to assemble the lung ventilators, the young people who filled boxes and boxes. We loaded a civil plane, I say this with great pride —August 26th marked one year— with 205 cubic meters of medical supply for Cuba. And this was the small sample of how much Cuba is loved. Thus, we need to challenge ourselves and think what else can we do.

Can you mention your other projects?

We are a group. I am the most visible person many times, but we are a wonderful group, 24-7, and we do several things. Our top priorities are foreign investment for export and development is our priority. In coffee, with BioCubaCafé and the organic certification of 25 percent of the exportable capacity of coffee in Cuba, distributed among 170 producers, in nine municipalities, with the implementation of advanced technology.

The idea of ​​defending a forest concept in this country. This is a fact that I always give: Cuba was a country with 12 percent of forest area before 1959 and today it has over 40 percent. It is a wonder. Cuba has taken care of its nature, and we now have to take this responsibility and follow it. It is not coincidence you say Dream and continue. Either organic sugar and other agroecological products that are managed in the Healthy, Fair and Solidarity network, which we already have across Italy and in some European countries. The work with the Cuban community in Europe and with solidarity. In other words, this is part of our commitment.

And on the other hand, Italia Avenue, which began with the most striking thing, which was the turning on of the lights on the 500th anniversary of Havana, which boasts the whole concept of comprehensive local development.

The relationship with Centro Habana and the Italia Avenue dates back to 2019 with the 500th anniversary of Havana and the artistic lighting, and we have been developing the project since then. It has been a hard job with the institutions, with the provincial government, with the population, with the MSMEs, with the enterprises, with all the essential facilitators, and now we need to speed up the process.

What’s the idea? There are three aspects. Firstly, working on a bio-district concept, that is, to connect the Cuban countryside —with which we work so much— with the center of Havana, returning to Italia Avenue, Galiano street, its historical vocation as a shopping street. Secondly, that the inhabitants of the urban side of the city can find the products of the rural tradition. An advanced concept of circular economy, but when I say advanced it is not because it is foreign, but it is something that Cubans have developed, due to their own resistance. Cubans have learned to use everything they can from a raw material.

My grandfather always said: you always exploit all the potentials of the pig. And I say here, we make the most out of a single thing. Conferences and master classes addressing the issue of economy are carried out worldwide. For me, Cuba has a postgraduate degree on the subject. The idea is to make way to these MSMEs that are doing an incredible job and, of course, to state-owned companies.

And then, there is the aspect of technology and digital innovation. We are trying to do the first urban co-working on the Island, precisely with ETECSA and Cinesoft. And we hope this can attract dynamic, young forces to digital transformation. There is a large number of institutions, the government and also the common people, defending the project.

How did you design the Sovereign Plus Turin project?

The way you face the challenge of vaccines has deepened my appreciation and my love for Cuba. Before, it was an instinctive love, like many loves, now it is a more mature love with all its contradictions. Cuba is the nation that has sent its own doctors to the whole world and has developed homegrown vaccines.

I think that the vaccine has been a challenge for everyone. Personally, it has forced us to choose sides, at the country level, at the level of humanity. In this regard, Cuba has excelled as it has proven to be an inclusive, internationalist, and humane model of medicine.

And the Cuban vaccine is also the result of this idea of ​​biotechnology at the service of humanity. Cuba has developed a concept of universal vaccinology, which is very effective and cheap, very safe vaccines, and it is coincidence that they start with children. In the world, you see that the population has run all the risks, and transnationals have taken away all the profits, but still a large part of humanity has not been vaccinated. Cuba has been the best example of what needs to be done to face these challenges.

We first studied the situation, we like to sneak into the contradictions of the blockade, show that we can circumvent it, and we began to develop the first scientific study on the Cuban vaccine in Europe. And if they did not authorize us to carry out the study in Italy, we brought the Italians to Cuba to carry out the clinical trial.

This was also possible thanks to the great result achieved by the medical brigade and the bilateral relations between scientific institutions, at all levels. When the microphones were turned off, they recognized that the Cubans had made two extraordinary vaccines, Soberana and its application in children, and Abdala with its rapid effect. So the problem is not Cuba, the problem is a capitalist concept of biotechnology in the world. And this model developed here is not only for Cubans, it is for humanity.

We wanted to break down these barriers and make these products visible to the world. And so we found an Italian company, we began by signing a framework agreement. We have taken many steps, which have been possible thanks to the work done by scientists from both the Finlay Institute of Vaccines, as well as the CIGB, the CIM, and other institutions. But honestly, I have to say, this has been possible thanks to the strategic thinking of the Commander in Chief, the vision of building a public biotechnology 30 years before a pandemic, is like foreseeing the future.


Cuba challenges you every day. Now, after the accident at the Supertanker Oil Depot in Matanzas, you went there offering your help…How would you sum up what this island means to you?

I insist, we act on behalf of so many people. I want you to understand this. It is not me who goes to Matanzas, or Carlos Lazo, there are people in Italy at all levels. Recently, a flight arrived in Cuba with aid from the Italian government, as a result of popular and institutional lobbying, from the Italy-Cuba National Association, from Ponle Corazón a Cuba (Putting a Heart on Cuba), which were immediately activated and the government reacted.

It was all natural with professor Carlos Lazo. We had walked so many miles from Assisi to Rome with the project Camino de Amor (Path of Love), that we found pretty natural to offer our solidarity, our small contribution. I feel deep in my heart the need to help Cubans: we have not had much luck lately, and my thoughts are with president Díaz-Canel and all the things he had faced along with his people. That is why I send my love to him, and I strongly believe we need to encourage each other.

We will get back on our feet again. We do not choose the place we are born, but we do choose where to leave a legacy. Cuba is my choice and my adopted country. I have been said, many times, that I do not experience Cubans’ shortage, perhaps they are right, although I can talk about some places some Cubans have never gone, but there are others Cubans who challenge huge obstacle, and those people have my full respect and admiration. I do see Cuba. I do share Cuba. We do enjoy your achievements and you can count on us. This is my land.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff

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