Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
Dr. Fidel Castro's TV appearance on September 17, 1959 concerning
Cuba's Economic Problems

Prime Minister Fidel Castro appeared on a lengthy television "Meet the
Press" program, on September 17, 1959 before a panel consisting of Luis
Gomez Wanguemert, Nicolas Bravo, Jose Pardo Llada and Mario Rodriguez
Aleman; the Moderator being Dr. Jorge Manach. Details of the interview were
published in the newspapers Revolucion, of September 18, 1959, six copies
of which are enclosed herewith. A summary of the television discussion

In reply to a question regarding foreign press accounts of economic
problems facing Cuba, Dr. Castro stated:  "The existence of such problems
depends on Castro itself.  They can be resolved if the will to do so
exists.  There are people who wish that such problems would beset the
Revolution.  Others are watching how we will face our problems.  First, we
are aware of our economic limitations.  The country was left in a state of
bankruptcy by the fleeing tyrants.  An underdeveloped country in a
semi-colonial status with great necessities to be satisfied..."  The Prime
Minister continued in this vein and said that he relied on the public to
follow his Government's direction.  Another questioner asked whether there
was any foundation to rumors regarding a possible Cabinet shakeup, and that
by November there would be no funds left to pay governmental employees and
if this was the reason for Dr. Castro's appearance on television.  Dr.
Castro replied that if rumors could be taxed the income therefrom would be
substantial and that his non-appearance on television itself caused rumors
of serious impending events.  He said that he was dedicating more of his
time to work and less to public appearances.  Things were fine, he stated,
but could be better.  Dr. Castro said that it had been an uneventful week
as far as problems were concerned but full of important developments
including:  competitive exams for teacher positions were held, 10,000 more
classrooms had been created, and the tax on alcoholic beverages passed, all
of which measures would produce extraordinary benefits.

Dr. Castro then indulged in a long panegyric regarding the
Revolutionary philosophy in reply to a question regarding his speech before
the CTC (Cuban Labor Confederation) which had not been carried by radio or
television.  He then referred to press service "campaigns" against him some
of which had reported the rumor of his death.  He later asked the panel to
indicate the source of rumors that the Cuban budget was insufficient to pay
its public servants and this was indicated by Mr. Wanguemert as being the
United States State Department.  "Those technicians know nothing.  They
also said we couldn't beat Batista's armies and we reduced them to dust."

The Prime Minister then produced charts showing receipts for the first
six months of 1959 totalling $236 million compared to receipts for the same
period in 1958 of $167 million or a surplus of $69 million in this year
over last year.  This had occurred, he said, despite a drop in sugar prices
and an increase in imports.  Then, month by month, he showed via diagrams
how an increase in receipts over the previous year had occurred.  For the
first half of September 1959, for example, the increase over last year was
$5 million.  Nevertheless, he said, some 25,000 payment orders had been
approved totalling approximately $370 million.  Receipts would increase
further, he stated, on account of the new tax on alcoholic beverages,
although the law instituting such taxes was intended for social reasons
and not to produce revenue.  The increases revenue, however, Dr. Castro
stated, would be available to furnish employment for 20,000 workers next
year.  The Cuban public spends $150 million annually on alcoholic
beverages, he indicated, whereas it spends $20 million on milk, $40 million
on lard and $40 million on medicines.

In reply to a question regarding a press notice mentioning restrictions
made against lard purchases, Dr. Castro replied that the only solution was
for Cuba to produce its own lard.  The money now used to buy lard, he said,
would be used to purchase machinery.  To be an underdeveloped country, he
stated, is a disgrace, especially when a one-crop agricultural country must
import agricultural products.  For the United States, he said, lard is a
by-product, such as molasses is for Cuba.  The Prime Minister insisted that
it would be necessary to produce lard locally even though it cost more, in
order to save foreign exchange.  This year, he said, we have 10,000 sows to
start with and by 1961 we will cover a large part of our lard deficit.
This will require the production and preparation of animal feeds.  Even
palm nuts must be harvested, he said, and more rice must be cultivated.  He
stated that Cuba had lost $10,000,000,000 in ten years which had to be
recovered.  In a country whose per capita income as only $300 compared to
$2,000 for the United States, he could see no other recourse than to
develop the economy.  He thereupon cited previous themes regarding economic
development by other countries.

He also stated that the United States would have to appreciate Cuba's
powerful and just reasons for desiring to industrialize.  The merchant
marine, he said would be strengthened to help the balance of payment
position affected by freight rates.  He said that Cuba paid freight on its
purchases but received none on its shipments.  Even if the shipping
industry were subsidized by $5 million, Dr. Castro thought that the
savings in foreign exchange could reach $30 million.  The Prime Minister
stated that Cuba should seek markets anywhere.  The big need, however, was
for Cuba to diversify its economy, according to Dr. Castro.  He felt that
the American Ambassador was sympathetic to Cuba but that his work was
hindered by a "campaign of lies" against Cuba, United States Senate
investigations, and Miami's policy of protecting "war criminals" and
trafficking in arms.

Dr. Castro stated that $2 million had already been invested by his
Government in cattle raising and that it was willing to purchase all the
Cebu cattle, in time.  The Government would develop Camaguey by an
intensive effort to plant pastures, he stated, and BANFAIC was helping out.

Asked whether the rhythm of production had slowed down due to the
revolution, Dr. Castro stated that there was no danger of such a slowdown.
On the contrary, increases in production had been realized, he said, in
such sectors as corn, rice, alcohol for use in gasoline, and cigarettes.
Next year, he felt that production would be higher but he was dissatisfied
since so much more could have been produced.

He indicated that if capitalists failed to invest, the Government would
create industries itself.  He cited instances of abandoned, flooded gold
mines in the Isle of Pines and said the Government would operate them if
others wouldn't and thus add $4 million dollars to the Treasury.  The
Government, he claimed, would exploit those possibilities which were being
neglected.  He said that steps would be taken to prevent the flight of
capital but that national savings would not be touched by the Government in
its efforts to industrialize.  He pledged the success of the Revolution in
results that might occur by 1961 and said he preferred to "speak" in deeds
and not discussions and believed in the public's faith in the Government.

Labor problems, he felt, were caused by the chronic unemployment of
600,000 workers, but Cuba could not wait for "stability" before
establishing industries.  The United States, he said had more labor
disturbances and strikes than Cuba.  The Government would not initiate
industries which were already developed; it would produce, however, such
items as kenaf, saving $14 million in jute imports and ramie to reduce huge
imports of linen.

Dr. Castro attributed some of the workers' problems to economists who
failed to explain to the public such concepts as monetary reserves, foreign
exchange, industrialization, etc.  He then proceeded to lecture his
television audience on these subjects explaining that the exchange reserve
level on March 10, 1952 was $531 million.  No effort, he said, was made to
utilize this reserve to industrialize Cuba.  By January 1958 the exchange
reserve totalled only $250 million and on January 1,1959 it had dropped to
$70 million.  This reserve, through control measures adopted by the
Government was increased to $110 million, a level at which Dr. Castro
insisted it must be maintained.  To do so will require a restriction in
imports of luxury goods, an increase in production, and a reduction in
travel abroad by Cubans in order to save foreign exchange holdings.  To
promote internal tourism, Dr. Castro said that more attractive resort
centers will be built in Cuba.  Savings will likewise be stimulated and the
Government plans to issue savings certificates to finance industrial and
other types of developments.  Also planned is the construction of 18
aqueducts including their filtering systems costing $300 million requiring
an expenditure of $30 million annually.

The Prime Minister said that Cuba would not rely on foreign loans but
would depend on its won resources.  The Army has quietly built 2,000 homes
for war victims, he said; scholarships were granted to 50 children; and a
large reforestry program was under way, according to Dr. Castro.
Agricultural production is being scientifically planned; all the farmers
will have houses, built by themselves with materials furnished by the
Government; next year there will be 120,000 men working on public works and
other projects.

Dr. Castro spoke for over four-and-a-half hours.  The newspaper
Revolucion on its last page of the September 18, 1959 issue covering the
above discussion included some of the charts used by Dr. Castro during his
appearance on the television program.  Copies of these charts are also