An Interview with Doña Lucy Silfa

Lucy Silfa, one of the truly great Georgists, passed away in April after a long battle with cancer. We have heard that Lionel Fernandez Reyna, the President of the Dominican Republic, will offer a personal commemoration of her many years of devoted service to her country.

We received this note from George Collins: “We all knew that the end was near for our dear friend and magnificent lady, Lucy Silfa. It is nevertheless painful to get the news that she is gone. She struggled a long time and displayed the determined spirit that enabled her to do such great work for the Henry George philosophy in the Dominican Republic, even as her body failed and her thoughts remained inward. She will be greatly missed and remembered with deep affection and gratitude in her homeland, and by members of the Georgist community in the United States and in other countries around the world. My condolences to her son, Nicky, her brother Carlos and all the other members of her family with whom we share her loss and the inspiring memory of a life devoted to service.”

The Georgist Journal‘s policy is to let our friends have the last word, when they pass away from us. The following interview, which appeared in the Henry George News in 1980, is one of very few pieces in English, in Lucy’s own words. It vividly displays this accomplished woman’s dignity and humility.

How did you become interested in Henry George? I was living in the United States when Trujillo was dictator in my country, since I did not agree with his politics. I was going through some old books one day, when I came across a very dusty copy of Progress and Poverty, or Progreso y Miseria, as it is called in Spanish. I happen to be allergic to dust, but 1 became so interested in what George was saying, that I sneezed my way through the book. I found out that the school in New York was offering a course in Georgist economics, and also a teacher-training course, so I bravely took both courses at the same time. This was a challenge, but then I have never done things the “easy” way. I felt very comfortable at the school, and took other courses as well. I always felt that I would like to teach Henry George to my people, so I hoped I would be able to return and start a school.

When did you return, and did you then start a school, as you hoped? In 1965, I was able to begin planning my school, once I returned to Santo Domingo. At the time, the country was going through many political changes, and the people were searching for new outlets of expression. I worked very hard on a nonexistent budget, holding classes day and night, traveling, lecturing, and getting our building in good shape. We have always had people come to the school who are from all walks of life; university students, farmers, businessmen, the military, and lately, more women than ever. There were hardly any women in government, or running schools, fifteen years ago, and that presented problems.

In the fifteen years that the school has been in operation, what have been the accomplishments? What have been the disappointments or some of the problems you have encountered? The school is currently in a very “up” period, especially since my political party is now in power, and so I find it easy to deal with the government. I am friendly with the President, and I invite members of the powerful Instituto Agrinomo to speak at the school. It has not always been this way of course. Throughout the years, when other parties were in power, we have had problems with interference, surveillance, disruption of activities, among other things. We have had to be very careful that Georgist philosophy is not interpreted as Communist ideology, or else we will be mislabeled as Communists. It is very different than the US, where people are free to disagree with the government. I suppose that one of the main accomplishments is that we have reached so many people through lectures, classes, and other activities. It is pleasing for me to see students of the school from ten years ago, who are still very interested in the school.

What is going on at the school presently? How has the rebuilding gone since Hurricane David? We were able to hold classes only a few days after the hurricane, but it took a lot of work and dedication from volunteers. The school was badly vandalized, and we had a leaking roof, bad water damage in the library, and lots of broken windows. Gasoline shortages, power outages, and blockage of many roads prevailed in most parts of the country for months. However, the spirits of the people are very good, and we have had more interest in the school than ever before. We have had classes of 85, and we recently held a nice graduation ceremony. Also, we have been traveling around the country, organizing classes. One main problem is that I wish I had a twin, because people always want me to come again and again. Luckily, my assistant, Ismael Reyes, who is studying law at the university, is also very popular, and supportive, but he is limited for time, and all the traveling and schedule juggling can be tiring. But, I love my work, especially the teaching, and I am always happy to meet new students.

I understand that you were given a gift to bring back to the school, by Professor Steven Cord, today. Tell me about it. I am so pleased, because Professor Cord has found one of the rare, original translations of Progress and Poverty, into Spanish, dated 1898, and it is something that I know my students will love to see. We are so sad, because we lost much valuable library material, but I know this will be a jewel in our small collection.

Your husband has written a book, Guerra, Troicion y Exilo. Translate the title for me, since I do not read Spanish. My husband, Nicholas, who is the Consulate for the Dominican Republic in Barcelona, Spain, has just published Volume I of his series, War, Treason and Exile, as it is called in English. We are hoping to get it translated into English, so it can be published here also. As a study of politics in the Dominican Republic, it is a valuable book that has been very well received in my country.

I have never thought of visiting the Dominican Republic before, but now I think 1 would like to come and see your school in operation. It sounds like such a lively, spirited organization. Thank you for sharing your life with us. You are welcome anytime. I enjoyed our talk, and 1 hope your readers will find all of this interesting.

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