Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-94-090 Daily Report 9 May 1994 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Interviewed in Barbados

FL1005012994 Havana Cuba Vision Network in Spanish 0030 GMT 9 May 94 FL1005012994 Havana Cuba Vision Network Spanish BFN [Interview with Commander in Chief Fidel Castro by Caribbean Broadcasting Union reporter Sharon Marshall in Barbados, date not given; Marshall in English with simultaneous translation into Spanish; Castro in Spanish with simultaneous translation into English -- recorded]

[Text] [Marshall] Comandante, your presence here in Barbados is an indication of the importance you attach to the UN Global Conference. Now that it is over, how would you evaluate its success?

[Castro] I believe this conference is but the continuation of the Rio de Janeiro conference. The Rio conference was extremely important because it helped build an awareness about environmental issues. Politicians are not usually very well informed about these issues. I think that for the first time in Rio, politicians faced up to the tragedy that degradation of the environment means to the world. I would say they were in the process of learning at that time, but at this conference, I would say there was a greater awareness among the politicians as well as a greater awareness among the industrial nations, more than in Rio, and in a rather short period of time.

Of course, the politicians from the small island states were more aware than anyone else at the Rio conference. I remember we had acted as contact between members of our delegation and representatives of those small islands. They were truly anguished over the future prospects for their islands because of climatic changes, warming of the atmosphere, the frequency of hurricanes, and drought. All these are real phenomena that we are witnessing, and they constitute a question of natural life or death for these nations. I was able to perceive in Rio that they needed something, they needed to strive to obtain some hope.

Because they are isolated, these countries also have many economic problems. They are small countries, although they have large areas of sea. Communications are very difficult. It takes over 20 hours to travel from Samoa, near New Zealand; or from here to Barbados. It takes over 20 hours of flight. Maritime communications are very complicated. They do not have communication -- practically none. If a natural phenomenon occurs, it is a national disaster. It is not like a hurricane hitting Florida. A strong hurricane can hit Florida, but the rest of the country is enormous. It does not ruin the country. But to a small Caribbean island, a hurricane can mean ruin.

To this, we can add the fact that since that hurricane that I said hit Florida, insurance policies have been going up to 500 percent. A very adverse combination of factors have been affecting these small island states. Moreover, their waters are being polluted. They are polluted by petroleum residues spread by tankers, and by solid and nuclear wastes. If the Third World has a tragedy, the tragedy of these small island states is three times greater. This was reflected in the conference. Each and every one of them raised its own problems with great seriousness. It was really dramatic in some cases the way they described their problems, such as with St. Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, and other islands. They said that if the sea level rises only three meters, the islands will disappear. They addressed the conference with great sincerity and great passion. I think they reflected the hope that the world will take care of them. I think this conference was very successful, both the Barbados Declaration and the action plan. There was a very strong appeal, and I observed among the industrialized nations a greater awareness, a growing awareness, more than I could perceive in Rio. I could perceive some changes in the positions of the United States, positions they did not hold in Rio. In general, the donor countries have demonstrated more understanding. For this reason, I believe a step forward has been taken, and this conference will be of great benefit to the small islands.

[Marshall] But a great deal has been said about the fact that the industrialized nations, the donor countries, were not highly represented. How optimistic are you that small countries will get the kind of financial assistance they need to improve their situation?

[Castro] To the extent that we work, to the extent that we denounce all these problems, to the extent that we act upon these issues in international forums, and to the extent that we try to bring public opinion over to our side, we shall get more help.

The industrialized countries, as a rule, have not been very generous. The famous percentage of gross product they were to contribute to development has never been met. There are a few of those countries that take more generous positions, countries that have provided up to 1 percent of their Gross Domestic Product for assistance, but the richest and the more powerful ones have not.

We must continue striving with the United States and hammering on these issues, especially concerning pollution in general, and environmental problems because these are not just imaginary threats. These are real threats. Our own generation is already witnessing how the environment is changing, how the waters are warming up, how hurricanes are more intense, droughts more intensive. We are all witnessing this. Scientists have mathematically proven that this is a reality. But there is selfishness.

I would like to say something else, if I may. I would say that selfishness is intrinsic to the system, to the system that is prevailing in the world today, known by the name of capitalism. I hope to be forgiven for using this word. This is an time of euphoria, but those immensely rich countries are doomed to grow. If they do not grow, they fail, they cannot survive. But if they grow, they deplete the natural resources of the world, and those countries that are just now beginning to grow are posing a greater problem because they are not increasing the number of jobs.

Many of those countries need to grow at a rate of 4 percent annually in order to create one job. That is why I consider it a system with no future. How can the matter of sustainable development be explained if the underdeveloped nations need to grow, have the right to grow, while the overindustrialized countries do not need more wealth than they already have. What they need is to redistribute what they have. We need to defend the concept of redistribution of wealth in the world because when you think of it, Bangladesh has over 120 million inhabitants, and in 20 more years, will have 200 million. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and with very low land. What will happen to Bangladesh if the sea level rises? But there are small nations like Switzerland -- I have nothing against Switzerland. It is a country with very positive attributes, but it has a gross per capita income of $34,000, while Bangladesh has approximately $210. Switzerland has a gross per capita income 200 times that of Bangladesh.

Why do such wealthy countries need to continue growing? Why must the philosophy be one of continuous growth rather than better distribution? Why not distribute the wealth of the world in a better way, since the world is one big family? Why do they not distribute it among the countries that need to develop? They cannot continue with this insane race toward development because in addition to depleting the natural resources of the world, they will also deplete the resources of mankind. Cooperation is needed more than ever, and that is something that should be said. In the few minutes that I used for my address, I mentioned that problem because the differences between rich and poor are increasing. For 40 years, we have heard talk about narrowing the gap, but that gap has grown; it has widened.

It was believed that with the end of the Cold War, the arms race would disappear. But the arms race goes on. The great powers continue producing sophisticated weapons, and the weapons trade continues to grow. The United States has become the major weapons exporter in the world. Everyone is manufacturing and selling weapons. So wars occur, and the United Nations has to go play the role of international policeman and put out the fire. Is it not absurd that on the one hand, the United Nations is playing the role of world policeman, while on the other hand, the weapons trade continues to grow? How can this absurdity be explained?

These are very serious problems on which we must work because it is not one single problem. There was no mention of education in the world, about famine in the world, about the millions of children who are dying every year from curable diseases.

Nevertheless, I can assure you that the assembly was very successful; it was a very fruitful conference, and Barbados certainly played a brilliant role in the organization and development of the conference. Barbados deserves the success it has experienced at this conference.

[Marshall] Your presence here in Barbados is seen as an indication of the importance that Cuba attaches to closer relations with the rest of the Caribbean. What hopes do you harbor for the Association of Caribbean States?

[Castro] My presence here is due to several factors. First, we had contact with the small island states. I realized how anguished they are. They were able to hold an international conference to broach these issues. We are also an island nation, vulnerable to a significant portion of the problems threatening all of us.

Then, the prime minister extended an invitation to me, so I felt it was my duty to attend this conference. That is why I came. I am interested in ties with the Caribbean. It is logical, natural. We appreciate that the Caribbean countries were the first to breach the blockade against Cuba. These were Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. I cannot forget that these were the first four countries to challenge U.S. pressures and reestablish ties with Cuba. I admire the spirit of independence shown by Caribbean countries, I admire their efforts towards integration. I like these countries with which we share blood and solid historic ties. This is why I felt it was my duty to modestly contribute to the conference.

Regarding the Caribbean states, we have a need to come together. We are stronger if we unite. Divided into dozens of small nations, we will not be able to have an influence in the world. Through cooperation, integration, we will be able to play a role in the world, to the benefit of our countries.

[Marshall] Some people argue that Cuba has only turned to the Caribbean because of the fall of the Soviet Union. How would you respond to those charges?

[Castro] Go figure. After all these things we have been talking about. Relations were reestablished with the Caribbean 15 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. We established very close ties with Jamaica when Michael Manley became the prime minister of Jamaica. We had relations with Guyana since Cheddi Jagan, before Forbes Burnham. First there was Cheddi Jagan. Then with Burnham, ties developed a great deal more. We have had relations with Grenada. We have ties of one kind or another with almost every country and have always cooperated whenever we could. When they breached the blockade, they established ties with Cuba, many years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I have visited several of these nations a long time ago -- Jamaica, for instance.

Once, I came to Barbados. We were en route to a Nonaligned Countries meeting in 1973, 21 years ago. A group of Caribbean leaders also traveled on the same plane that has brought us from Cuba: Burnham, Barrow, and several other leaders. I believe Bishop was also among them. It was a time when no one would have dared dream of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

So here we are. We have worked with the Caribbean for many years. Besides, the Caribbean could not replace the socialist bloc, nor our economic relations with the USSR. We are small countries. Our ties are historic, cultural, moral; not commercial or of an economic nature. Of course, the economy and commerce can profit from our relations. A statement of that kind is unsubstantiated, however.

We also established ties with Africa a long time ago and participated actively in Africa's struggles against colonialism and neocolonialism. We also fought and cooperated to the maximum for the independence of Namibia. We cooperated in the struggle against apartheid. Cuban blood was being shed for a long time in Africa. We have very strong ties of brotherhood, and they are much farther away than the Caribbean. At that time, the USSR and other countries existed. Our relationship ties with the African nations existed, however. We have ties with Vietnam, the PRC, the Middle East, Arab nations, with India, and many others.

Given that the United States has always tried to isolate us, we have expanded our ties with the rest of the world. Our doctors, engineers, and workers have served in dozens of Third World countries. We were president of the Nonaligned Countries movement in 1979, a long time before the disappearance of the USSR. No one developed ties with the Third World more than we did. No one has fought for the interests of the Third World at the United Nations more than we. No one denounced unequal trade, foreign debts, nor the injustices against the Third World as we did at every turn. This was the role of Cuba since the triumph of the Revolution. We feel truly proud and pleased at having discharged that role that no one can deny.

[Marshall] You mentioned Morris Bishop. What do you think of Bishop and what he was trying to accomplish in Grenada?

[Castro] I loved Bishop as a brother. His death and disappearance pained and pains me. Bishop was an extraordinary man. He was a very honest, noble person. He wanted to do the best for his country. We did everything we could to cooperate with him. Since it is a small country, we could cooperate. I am speaking of Bishop, the person. He had the backing of an organization, a party. They divided and we have always condemned the attitude assumed by Bishop's adversaries within the party. I do not want to overstate my criticism because these are people who are in jail, and a basic sense of chivalry forces me to be cautious with my words. We strongly condemned however, with the utmost irritation, the death, the assassination of Bishop. I keep and shall always keep a great memory of him as an exceptional, extraordinary man. I should not be the judge of his mistakes because we all make mistakes, but I can assure you that Bishop tried to do the best he could for his country. That is my opinion.

[Marshall] April 27 was a great day in South Africa. Some people would argue that without Cuba's intervention in the liberation struggles in southern Africa, that day would not have been possible. Are you proud of the role Cuba has played in Africa's liberation struggles?

[Castro] That is a delicate subject. We should not be the ones speaking about this. We felt, out of our own conviction, as a matter of doctrine and revolutionary passion, a great solidarity with the whole of Africa and a deep hatred for the slavery and historic crimes committed against Africa. All of our nations experienced this. Out of a spirit of solidarity, we fought and worked for Africa. We gave then all the help our small country could provide. We did not have much money, but many patriots.

When South Africa invaded Angola, we did not hesitate to send our troops to fight against the racist South African invaders. This took place in 1975, almost 20 years ago. Cuba, over 10,000 km away, sent troops. It was the only country to do this when the South Africans were advancing on Angola. The Angolan people had just attained their independence and were weak. They fought courageously. We fought together, Cubans and Angolans. We managed to halt the advance of the South Africans and later push them back to the Namibian border.

Of course, later on, we began to withdraw, and South Africa, with the support of the West, organized counterrevolutionary guerrillas and subversive plots. When it felt at its most powerful and when the Cuban presence was smaller, it expanded its attacks on Angola. We spent 15 years in Angola. I believe it is great proof of our loyalty to the Angolan people.

That was the reason for our differences with South Africa -- our support for Angola. In 1975, we were able to reestablish the borders. Years later, as a result of South Africa's actions, the situation became complicated once more. This forced us to reinforce Angola. More recently however, in around 1987, the South Africans launched one of their largest attacks, using planes, tanks, and modern artillery. A very difficult situation was created. We had two choices -- to withdraw or to reinforce our presence. What we did was to play all our cards. We reinforced our troops, and then the Cuito Cuanavale battle. Angolans and Cubans waged a very difficult battle. In that area, we had few communications options. We wanted to halt the South Africans there however.

What happened in Cuito Cuanavale? Cuito Cuanavale is to the east. The communications are very poor there. We did not want to wage the decisive battle there, but to resist and keep Cuito Cuanavale between us and the Angolans. The Angolans are excellent soldiers, outstanding battle comrades. There, we managed to halt the South African offensive. Then we organized a thrust to the west, where we had better communications. From Cuba, we sent every supply required to master the situation.

Think about it. Angola is farther from Cuba than Moscow is. The flight between Havana and Moscow takes 14 hours. From Havana to Luanda, it takes almost 16 hours. Do you know how many men we sent? Over 50,000 troops, a small country like Cuba. This does not demonstrate our military might, but our moral force, our spiritual power. In that struggle, Cuba played all its cards. We advanced to the west and got closer to the Namibian border. The situation of the war changed. We did not want the war to be decided, however, by a large battle at an elevated cost in human lives on both sides. The appropriate conditions were created for negotiations. We supported the negotiations. Diverse countries also supported the negotiations, the South Africans were willing to negotiate, and that is how the implementation of Resolution 435, the independence of Namibia, was achieved.

Logically, all those political and military events also had a bearing on South Africa. I believe, in answering your question, that the efforts made helped maintain Angola's independence, accelerated Namibia's independence, and also accelerated the process of the disappearance of apartheid. It helped. It accelerated the process. Anyhow, sooner or later, Namibia would have been independent; sooner or later, apartheid would have disappeared because apartheid was unbearable in today's world. The South African people, like the Namibian, fought long and hard, made many sacrifices, and met their goals.

I believe they had great leaders. They are a great people, a very courageous, militant, strong, intelligent, resourceful people. They have achieved this victory. We have to study the period following the war, and the time of the elections, the extraordinary role played by Mandela -- his leadership, and wisdom. He was capable of uniting, overcoming every obstacle, remaining firm while resilient, to attain this political miracle in which everyone participated, the elections, in which such a resounding victory was attained.

This was, first of all, a great victory for the South African people, a great victory for Africa, the world, and the liberal movement. I believe that now, we all have to contribute to upholding harmony and peace. We all have to work and struggle so that the emerging multiracial state is successful and prospers, so that everyone finds safety, and South Africa embarks on the long road towards development, a road on which it could get very far.

South Africa has great natural resources. It is a very wealthy nation; yet there is much poverty among most of the population. I believe South Africa is destined to play a decisive role in Africa. I am convinced they chose the right man for that job, a man with talent, wisdom, and patience. I am a great admirer of Mandela. Next to everything they did, Cuba's modest contribution is nothing but a grain of sand in that 27 April victory.

[Marshall] I would like to turn to your relations with the United States. What conditions are necessary, in your opinion, for improvement of that situation?

[Castro] If we are going to talk seriously, first of all, for the blockade to end. It is an unfair, harsh, cruel blockade, which includes medicines, and foodstuffs. It has been imposed on Cuba for 35 years. It is one of the longest blockades in history, and the most unjustified of all.

Second, the United States must resign itself to the fact that Cuba is an independent, sovereign country.

Third, respect for our people's right to choose the political, social, and economic systems they believe most fair. These are the three essential factors. We do not have anything against the United States. We have not blockaded the United States. We do not want to change the U.S. social system. We do not seek to establish socialism in the United States. In any case, that would be as complicated as establishing capitalism in Russia. They must be similar things, given the characteristics of each of those two countries. We are therefore not trying to rule the United States nor diminish its independence one iota. It is not that we have a problem with the United States. It is a problem the United States has with us.

[Marshall] Cuba recently introduced some economic reforms, such as the legalization of foreign currency. What success do you believe that has had?

[Castro] Success does not come easy. There are very strong U.S. pressures. The U.S. blockade is international; it bans not only trade with Cuba, but pressures, with all its economic and political might, all countries that want to trade with Cuba. They try to sabotage and block every economic endeavor Cuba conducts abroad. Under those conditions, it is always much harder to introduce certain changes and initiatives. Despite all that however, we are getting along and there is a growing number of people in the world who dare to challenge the influence of the United States. We could move much faster without the blockade.

There have been dramatic changes in the world. We do not want to relinquish our ideals, do not want to abandon our political system. We wish to preserve our Revolution, our independence, and the accomplishments of socialism even under the present difficult conditions. Sometime ago I used this example: You are aboard a ship and the ship breaks apart and sinks. That is what happened with the socialist bloc and the USSR. Thus, one has to adopt measures, find a lifeboat, find an inner tube or a piece of wood, to try to make it ashore. That is what we are doing. When the socialist bloc and the USSR vessel sunk....[pauses] The entire ship, however, did not sink. The PRC is still a very powerful vessel; Vietnam is a very strong vessel; and other countries.

I give you this example because we are not planning to relinquish our ideals. We would rather drown. We prefer to perish in our struggle to make it to shore than to renounce our ideals. This is what we are doing. The USSR disappeared four years ago and Cuba is still standing, alone, confronting, like a little David, a colossal giant. There we are and there we are planning to remain. Dead or alive, we shall still be there. And if our generation is not be victorious, future generations will make it. I have absolute certainty, however, that our generation will be victorious.

[Marshall] Sometime ago you hinted that you might retire. How confident are you that the Cuban youth will choose a path you would approve of?

[Castro] I think you are refering to a question by Sawyer, an American journalist, who asked me if I was planning to run in the next election, and I told her that I wish I would not have to, I wish that that would not be necessary. I also said I was willing to negotiate everything but the Revolution and Cuba's independence. I said that. This was the context in which that issue arose. I belive that I have, like any other human being, the right to do with my life as I please. I have been a revolutionary to this day. I would like to have the right to retire whenever I wished. However, we do not retire when we want to, but when we are allowed to retire. In other words, we are in the government not for the pleasure of being in the government, but because it is imposed on us. If we were in normal times, everything would be easier. In difficult times, to retire would be tantamount to defecting, and I am not a defector, nor will I ever be one. As long as my comrades in the party and the government, as long as people demand that I discharge certain responsibilities, regardless of my personal wishes, I will have to fulfill what I am told to do. What I wish for already is something else. Government work is very hard, very difficult, very bitter, very tense. I do not believe many people want to voluntarily take up that job. That work must simply be undertaken as a duty. If they demand that I be there until my last day, I will do so. If at any time I am given the opportunity to regain my freedom, then I would not miss the chance to do so.

I want to stress that if I can tolerate my work, it is because I share it; it is very widely distributed. No man alone can do the things you need to do in a Revolution. Tens of thousands of people work, more or less in a coordinated fashion. A great part of our work is to coordinate and help to coordinate work. Not to do the work of others. Work in Cuba is shared. Many people do their parts. I also do my small share. In the world, there is a trend to believe that there are providential individuals who can do everything themselves. Individuals, however, can do very little as a person. I truly believe that my contribution is modest, and one could say, my work in Cuba is basically symbolic.

I try to fulfill my role as well as possible, however. Recently, as you know, they began to spread rumors abouth my health. They have me dead every so often. I do not know who the people are who are wishing for my death so intensely. I am convinced that the day I am dead, my enemies are going to miss me. Do you understand? They are going to find themselves with nothing to do. My friends, however, are not going to believe I am dead because I have been killed so many times. Yesterday, at the conference, certain journalists from Miami kept asking about my health and my thoughts on what the local media said about my health. To tell the truth, the day before yesterday, I worked 14 hours. Yesterday, I worked another 14 hours.

I listened to every minute of every speech. If someone can listen to over 100 speeches, that is ample evidence of good health. If anything is able to kill someone, it is 100 speeches in a row. [chuckles] The conference has therefore been the best evidence of my good health.

I do not truly concern myself with that type of propaganda. It does not bother or stress me. Rather, I take it with a dose of humor and laugh at all those rumors. I already know that I will have two great advantages the day I die. What I told you: The sorrow of my enemies and the skepticism of my friends.

[Marshall] Many years ago, you made a famous speech in which you said: History will absolve me. At this distance, in the 35th year of the Revolution, do you think it has?

[Castro] History is very capricious. You should not believe that history is the best judge. I do not know if, on the final judgment day, justice will be met, but in this world, it does not work that way. What I meant to say was that the ideas I was defending were just, and that even under those very difficult conditions, in a prison, and being tried, I was sure that it would not be those judges, but history that would absolve me.

You are asking me a very personal question: What do I think? In general, what happens when people die is that they are forgotten. Only their closest relatives remember them. Time goes by. Many people, however, have lived worrying about history and glory. He who has read a little something about world events knows that in the end, all the glory of the world -- as Marti said -- fits into a kernel of corn.

I do not think any glory lasts over 2,000 years except that of Christ, or Julius Caesar, or Charlemagne, or other personalities from antiquity. No history, however, has lasted over 5,000 years. No history has lasted over 10,000 years. No history will last 1 million years. No history will last 1 billion years. When the sun goes out, what history will be left? Why worry then about history? I do not worry much about history. I ask myself: What is my duty? What should I do? To be honest, in my opinion, that worth much more than anything else. To be modest is worth more than everything else. To enjoy the privilege of having been born to do good is the greatest glory anyone can enjoy. This is why I am not thinking, like others: what is going to be said about me? What has been said to date is enough for me. Some good things and many bad things. In the end, people will have to acknowledge that we were steadfast, defended our beliefs, our independence, wanted to do justice, and were rebellious.

David is remembered because he fought against Goliath. Cubans will be remembered, who are an even smaller David against a much larger Goliath; will have to be remembered at least as much as David is remembered.

If movies are made someplace other than Hollywood, or the United States, perhaps a few good movies will be made about the Cuban Revolution. [chuckles]

[Marshall, in Spanish] Commandante, thank you very much and good luck.

[Castro] Thank you.