Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-94-118 Daily Report 18 Jun 1994 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Radio Cadena Nacional Interview

FL2006011094 Havana Radio Rebelde Network in Spanish 1732 GMT 18 Jun 94 FL2006011094 Havana Radio Rebelde Network Spanish BFN ["Exclusive" interview with President Fidel Castro by Radio Cadena Nacional, RCN, journalist Antonio Caballero in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, on 16 June -- recorded]

[Text] [Caballero] [Words indistinct] Radio Cadena Nacional [RCN] of Colombia. Good morning.

[Castro] Good morning and thank you.

[Caballero] Well, let us begin at the beginning, as the saying goes. Was it a rhetorical summit again, or did it include important, substantial things to show not only to Latin America but also to the world, Mr. President?

[Castro] All the summits are full of rhetoric, wherever they are held, especially this type of summit, right? They include outstanding figures from many places. They are not the everyday type of meeting such as those held in Europe. First of all, each summit is an event eagerly awaited by political leaders from the participating countries. This summit also has historical significance in that it is the first time Latin Americans met on our own. In the past, we met only when we were summoned by the United States. This phase began in Guadalajara, and this is the fourth summit.

I sincerely believe it represents a very important event inasmuch as heads of state met to discuss various topics. It has played an important role in the rapprochement between countries and country leaders. A rapprochement between countries cannot occur if there is no rapprochement between country leaders. All kinds of initiatives, practical initiatives, have been submitted -- courses, cooperation, funds for specific purposes to benefit communities, for example, a fund to support the Indian population.

In other words, this type of specific thing has been approved but, above all, these summits are important for the future and represent an effort toward the integration of the Latin American peoples: economic integration, first of all, political rapprochement, and what will perhaps be political integration of Latin American countries in the future. People get to know one another through these summits; bilateral rapprochement has been sponsored through these summits; regional organizations like the Latin American Integration Association, the Southern Cone Common Market, the Andean Pact, and the Latin American Economic System have acquired importance and strength through these summits. I notice that progress has been achieved so these summits project themselves toward the future; they have become institutionalized, and I believe they will truly become an important factor in what has been so much discussed, the Latin American integration progress.

[Caballero] Mr. President, Cuba is always a mandatory topic at these summits -- beginning with the one in Guadalajara and continuing with this one. Let us say it is one of the important topics. Some of your counterparts, fellow presidents from various countries -- the presidents of Peru and Argentina, for example -- disagree with your version, with your concept of democracy. They attack you, and they continue to insist on the need to democratize Cuba.

[Castro] Well, those concepts are completely different and, in general, are mostly ignorant of things in Cuba. For example, they ignore that we have a constitution that was discussed with all the people and that it was approved by more than 95 percent of the country's citizens. It was our socialist Constitution with all its government and representation mechanisms. That Constitution functioned until 1975 [as heard]. Two years ago, we made some modifications to the Constitution, to perfect it. Many people believe there is not even a Constitution in Cuba.

[Caballero] Does the criticism from your counterparts bother you?

[Castro] No, man. I would say we are somewhat used to this. Rather than discuss the criticism from my counterparts -- we can talk about that later -- I would discuss the ignorance in which many live regarding what happens in Cuba. They do not know there are elections in Cuba and that the people's representatives are elected by the people. Although no one knows about this system, in my opinion, it is among the most modern and allows for the greatest participation of the people because the party is not the one that chooses the candidates; it is the citizens in each district. They appoint those who will choose the candidates. It is like having 1,000 parties because any district can propose any citizen, discuss his merits and virtues in assemblies, and elect him.

Those citizens later become candidates and they do it with the participation of mass organizations and representatives of the workers, the peasants, the students, women, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. The mass organizations are composed of commissions that discuss and submit lists of candidates to delegates who are directly elected by the people in the neighborhoods, and the party does not intervene in that or decide that; so there is enormous freedom, more than any system known to date. Candidates must get over 50 percent of the votes.

The National Assembly of the People's Government [ANPP] is comprised this way. The ANPP is the one that elects the executive branch. In other words, the ANPP is the highest organization in the state and everyone is accountable to the ANPP. Candidates may be elected and they may be reelected, as a norm, as a principle. They must systematically submit reports to their voters. All this is unknown. If Cuba had no Constitution, there would be no state of law. Everyone's rights and duties are well defined.

We do not have a presidential government. You should analyze the Cuban president's authority. You will realize he has less than any president in Latin America. He does not even have the authority to appoint ministers. Ministers must be appointed by the Council of State. The Council of State is an institution elected by the ANPP for the periods when it is in recess. All the ministerial posts and other important posts, the posts of ambassadors, must be discussed by the Council of State before they are appointed, or before they are dismissed. I can assure you that the authority of the president of the Republic is minimal in our country. There is truly consensual leadership. That is why I am not president of the Republic; I am president of the Council of State.

[Caballero] Mr. President, regarding your last speech about your concept of democracy, which I respect, you will obviously ratify that concept and continue to implement it in Cuba.

[Castro] Of course. We are satisfied and our people are satisfied with the system we have established. I believe we do not [words indistinct]. I am criticized when I use a uniform, yet others want to make institutions uniform, make them exactly alike. Nevertheless, there is a great diversity of government institutions in the world.

[Caballero] By the way, how did you feel with a guayabera, showing up wearing a guayabera?

[Castro] I adapted quickly. All my life I have felt normal, calm, and satisfied to wear the same clothes I wore over 35 years ago when I was in the mountains. Many asked why I wore an uniform. I said: Because it is more comfortable and economical. I do not have to follow fashions; and I got so used to the uniform that I took it off only when I went to sleep. It is a campaign uniform, without adornment, without many attributes. It is as simple as can be. Therefore.. [pauses] we have another uniform, a formal uniform, but it is also very simple -- pants, coat, and tie -- and the rank insignia. I do not have many. I have the insignia of a commander. It is the rank I had when I landed with the Granma. It is the only rank I have had. I am the only one who has not been promoted. The only thing is that I was called commander in chief -- that is how I always signed -- and the title of commander in chief stuck. I always used the uniform. Well, when I go to the beach to swim, fish, or dive, I have to don shorts. That is the only time I do not wear a uniform.

[Caballero] Do you still swim a lot?

[Castro] Well, I swim....

[Caballero, interrupting] It is said you swim a lot. How many km do you swim nowadays?

[Castro, chuckling] Well, sometimes I swim more; sometimes I swim less -- but I do it somewhat offshore.

[Caballero] How many km, more or less?

[Castro] A maximum of... [pauses] that was in 1979, on my birthday, on the victim -- no, not victim, on the eve of the sixth summit. That time I swam slowly, not kicking like a frog, and I used a snorkel. Sometimes I used the backstroke; sometimes I used the breast stroke. I swam for eight hours -- but that was in 1979. I have not dared repeat the effort since then, but I can swim -- at a moderate pace, naturally -- three or four km. I always swim farther offshore. I go to a buoy or a lighthouse. I cannot adapt to the beaches. I have done this for many years, for over 30 years.

[Caballero] Mr. President, going back to the issue of Cuba, what will happen with these people who entered the Belgian Embassy, the German Embassy, and the Chilean Consulate?

[Castro] This is sponsored from abroad. This type of incident can be used to generate publicity, to create a scandal. The main reason, however, is that these people want to immigrate. It is not a political problem but an immigration problem, a problem of economic immigration or of people who have relatives abroad who cannot get a U.S. visa. They do this to sponsor... [pauses] They may do this for different reasons, but, in my opinion, one of its main effects and one of its main goals is to sponsor illegal departures from the country and to sponsor incidents that give them political dividends. I want you to know that anyone who wants to leave our country may leave. Anyone of legal age can visit his relatives and return to the country. We are much more open about arrivals and departures to and from the country. We maintained certain restrictions for a long time, given U.S. plans, sabotage, and CIA activities. We have been quite open about immigration, however, as a rule, since the beginning of the revolution. We based ourselves on the principle that free men and women must voluntarily sustain socialism. We never prevented those who did not want socialism and who wanted to immigrate to another country from doing so. There were restrictions, however, more or less, until a number of years ago. We adopted the policy of allowing all those who wanted to leave to do so.

Nevertheless, will they not be granted political asylum, which is what they requested?

[Castro] No, because neither the Belgian Embassy nor the other European embassy is registered. There is no political asylum. Political asylum exists in Latin America and in Latin American embassies. They have the right to grant political asylum. They are the ones who decide what must be done. Anyone, however, who enters any embassy by force... [pauses] If the embassy has the right to grant political asylum, it will decide itself whether to order them to leave or to grant them asylum. They, however, do not want to do that because the people who show up there are not political refugees. This is not a matter of persecuted people seeking political asylum. These people want to immigrate. If they are not granted a visa through normal channels, they enter by force and create a scandal to pressure them into granting visas. We have established a principle in light of this: We give anyone in the country the right to leave; only those who enter an embassy by force will not receive permission to leave, regardless of the circumstances. Therefore, whoever enters an embassy by force... [pauses] We authorize him to leave, we adopt no measures against him, and we grant him full guarantees, but we also guarantee we will not give him a visa to leave -- if he is ever granted a visa -- because we must adopt some kind of measure to stop this and to avoid having to use violence and force. While we are dutybound to protect the embassies, we cannot use excessive violence. Instead, they are protected by the principle that whoever enters by force loses his right to leave the country. There would be no way to protect the embassies if we did not adopt that measure.

People in Cuba, Santo Domingo, and many other countries must leave and immigrate. They go to Mexico. Millions of Mexicans somehow manage to overcome the gigantic wall that the United States has built between Mexico and [word indistinct]. The people of Santo Domingo leave through many routes, but they are not given a permit if they enter the United States illegally. They are not automatically given a residence permit. The only citizens in the world who have the right to enter the United States, by any route, whoever they may be, are the Cubans. They are automatically given a residence permit. The only citizens who are given this are the Cubans.

That is a measure adopted at the time when more hate and hostility was felt against us. No Colombian could arrive on U.S. shores aboard a boat and immediately be granted asylum. No Dominican, Haitian, Mexican, no one from any Latin American country. Naturally, this encourages illegal departures [words indistinct] because, as soon as they arrive, they become publicity material and are received as heroes. That is the truth of the story about these illegal departures and the problems at the embassies.

[Caballero] Now that you mention the United States, do you believe President Clinton has opened the door a bit? Do you think he could meet with Commander Castro, with President Castro, and settle all this a bit?

[Castro] Nothing has been really said about this, and Clinton has not given the slightest indication that he is willing to follow that line and meet me. Quite the contrary, Clinton is thinking primarily about a second term. Since Florida is the fourth most important state in the union and Bush and Reagan campaigned there a lot, it is considered a republican state with the support of the immigrant community there. They do not know that a large part, an increasing part of that immigrant community opposes the blockade and the aggressive policy against Cuba. A minority group there, however, has power because they are the powerful; they have the money; they have the media; they exert pressure and lobby against Congress and against the administration.

Therefore, since Clinton wants to win the next election, he wants to curry favor with those people to get their votes and their (?advice). The Cuban issue has become a U.S. domestic policy issue, even though the number of Cubans who immigrated and who advocate an improvement of relations with Cuba has increased, is big, and is important now. Something else is also growing in the United States, namely the opinion of intellectuals, academicians, people in general, and businessmen who consider the blockade unjustified and obsolete. That movement is growing even in the United Nations. The United States is scandalously isolated every time the blockade issue is discussed, and the vast majority of countries is manifestly opposed to the blockade against Cuba.

[Caballero] Part of the summit's document mentions this. A paragraph of the document.

[Castro] A paragraph of the document is dedicated to the issue of the blockade against Cuba.

[Caballero] Mr. President, do you believe that when President Cesar Gaviria goes to the OAS... [pauses] First of all, what is your reaction to President Gaviria's appointment? Do you think that once the Colombian president becomes OAS secretary general, the issue of Cuba will be brought up?

[Castro] This is a complex issue. First of all, we support Gaviria's appointment. We were happy that a person like him, with his capabilities, a well-known person, an experienced person, was appointed to the OAS. We cannot discuss his ideas because he has yet to assume the post. I imagine he will assume his post, reflect, and possibly adopt an initiative in that regard, but we are not exerting pressure in favor of this. Since we have been out of the OAS for such a long time, we see this issue of the OAS calmly; we do not see it as a priority issue for us. The priority is the struggle against the blockade.

The blockade should end; it is unfair, doubly unfair, doubly criminal at a time when the socialist bloc has disappeared, when the Soviet Union has disappeared, and when the Cold War is over. There was never justification for the blockade, much less at a time like this when it is much more harmful because we lost that point of support -- meaning trade with the USSR and the socialist countries, the credits, the technology. Eighty percent of our trade was carried out with the socialist bloc; we received a tremendous blow. The blockade is causing us much more damage than it did when normal conditions existed concerning Cuba's relations with the USSR and the socialist bloc. Therefore, that blockade has no justification and our number-one priority is the struggle against that blockade.

[Caballero] Mr. President, speaking of bilateral issues, I would like to ask you something. When you previously came for a visit to Cartagena, many politicians here stated their views to RCN. They criticized you because you did not condemn the armed struggle that unfortunately continues in our country.

[Castro] As a rule, I do not meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. We should not meddle, and that is why we have not adopted policies or issued statements in connection with internal affairs. We are determined to follow that guideline regardless of criticism because we believe our position is fair. Therefore, it is a problem that must be solved by each country. Those are political problems that should be solved by each country.

[Caballero] In fact, President Castro, one of the candidates with the best chance of winning on Sunday, Andres Pastrana, said it will be necessary to revise relations with you because he does not think they should exist.

[Castro] I believe it would be a mistake to recant concerning relations that have been developed between the Cuban and Colombian people and Governments. I think that whoever wins in the elections should follow that guideline because we have things in common, such as the summit; we have other issues of common interest; we cooperate within the United Nations; and we have also played an important, active role concerning Colombia's election for hosting the next nonaligned countries' summit. That is an extremely important step that involves not only some Latin American countries, but also most of the African countries and almost all of the Third World countries, with which we have excellent relations.

It would not be possible to suddenly adopt a hostile policy toward Cuba, from an important post within the nonaligned countries' movement because it would be very detrimental to the movement. We are founding members of the movement; we have a long history within the movement; and we have a large number of friends. We suppose they would not appreciate any hostility toward Cuba or any decision to recant, in the relations between Cuba and Colombia; so I hope whoever becomes president will bear in mind all those factors and continue to work in favor of relations that are going along excellently.

Moreover, we have no right to meddle in the elections or support any party because, well, the people should decide which candidate should be elected, which candidate should be given their vote of confidence. We hope this does not imply a change in strategic issues because it would be tantamount to turning back the wheels of history.

[Caballero] Mr. President, this thing they say... [pauses] For example, Uruguayan President Luis Alberto Lacalle and Argentine President Carlos Menem called you quote, a dinosaur, and your strategy dinosaurian, unquote. What is your opinion?

[Castro -- laughs] They told me that. Generally, when they speak with me, they do it nicely, especially Menem. In this meeting, we talked a lot; we discussed many topics in which we have common interests. I thought he was very nice. They have their own political ideas and, so far as epithets are concerned, everyone has heard -- even I have heard -- about the dinosaur of capitalism. [laughs] I would say this also applies to liberalism. I do not believe it solves the world's problems. I am not a neoliberal. I believe in the future; I believe in changes in the future; I believe in a more noble, generous, supportive, egalitarian world.

I said I became a socialist before I read Karl Marx. I was what you would call a utopic socialist. Later, when I read Marx, I had my mind prepared to be conquered by a scientific concept of history, a scientific economic concept. The idea about an egalitarian, just society awoke my sympathies. That attracted me the most. I was attracted by Marx's idea, the principle that the state should disappear one day. I say true democracy cannot exist where there is no equality, where there is no brotherhood, where some people are immensely rich and others are immensely poor. The sine qua non condition of true democracy should be equality and brotherhood among men, and equal opportunities.

I believe the best formula ever invented -- even if no one has been able to implement it yet, even if the world has yet to go in that direction -- is the formula in which each human being works according to his capabilities and receives according to his needs. That is the most noble thing ever written. In fact, that is what most closely resembles the Christian sermons. I say that one cannot talk about democracy when there is a beggar beside a millionaire. Equality is essential. Theoreticians of the liberal, democratic doctrines stated three principles for their famous French Revolution -- liberty, equality, and fraternity.

You do not see this prevail in the world. I, however, see that the masses are becoming increasingly aware of social justice, equality, and democracy. Democracy has gone through various phases. The first was the Greek democracy. It was a democracy in which a few people had all the rights and the rest had no rights. Then there is the case of Athens, which was considered a model of democracy even though there were 30,000 free citizens and 70,000 slaves. I think the democracy of Athens still prevails in some countries of the Third World, in Latin America -- a vast majority of extremely poor people and a small minority of rich people. Just imagine, in Latin America....

[Caballero, interupting] Excuse me a moment. I must [words indistinct].

[Castro] Just imagine....

[Caballero, interrupting] Mr. President, we were talking about Athens.

[Castro] We were talking about Athens. I was telling you there were 30,000 free citizens and 70,000 slaves. It was a model democracy. Democracy has achieved progress throughout history, in many countries. There is no slavery, at least a form of slavery, because there is also actual slavery. For example, I said there are republics in Latin America where it seems they still have Athens' democracy, a vast majority of extremely poor people... [pauses] There are 270 million poor people in this hemisphere and our Latin American region is the region of the world with the worst distribution of land. It is the world's region with the worst distribution of income, to such an extreme that 40 percent of the poorest people have 10 percent of the income and 20 percent of the rich have up to 60 percent of the income. There is no other region in the world with these vast economic and social differences within one society. That is why all these obstacles must be overcome before we can talk about full democracy. Millions die, approximately 1 million children under the age of 15 die when they could survive. It is truly a slaughter [words indistinct]. When that reality exists and prevails, we cannot talk about full democracy.

[Caballero] Mr. President, to conclude the exclusive interview you have so kindly granted to RCN, it is being said that you are sick, that you are tired. Are you tired? Do you feel tired of power?

[Castro] I do not have the energy I had when I was 20, 22, or 26, like the first time I went to Colombia and the great rebellion broke out in Santa Fe de Bogota. I was a young student and was always with the students, so I also became involved. I had more energy then -- even at 30, 40, or 50 -- than I do now. But I still have some energy, enough to let me work 15, 16, or 17 hours sometimes. This does not mean I work like that every day. Fortunately, work is very well distributed in our country and there are many new people, many young people, with whom we share the work. This allows me to adjust my activities to suit the energy level that I have at my age. Nevertheless, I can attend a summit like this. I can work the number of hours I worked yesterday, beginning very early and ending at 0200. Yesterday, we worked 12... [pauses] 14... [pauses] It was 19 hours.

[Caballero] Fidel will be....

[Castro, interrupting] I slept three days... [pauses] three hours the first day; five hours the second day -- I got even; two and one half hours last night. The rest of the time has been spent on commitments and activities.

[Caballero] This means Fidel will be around for a long time.

[Castro] Well, I hope Fidel is around for a long time, but not Fidel with the same amount of work, the same responsibilities and obligations. They should give me a chance to....

[Caballero -- interrupting] Vacations?

[Fidel] Vacations. A long vacation. I should be given the opportunity to retire at an appropriate time. This should not happen during difficult times, for anyone who pulls back during difficult times looks like a deserter. I am afraid of looking like a deserter.

[Caballero] Where would you like to rest?

[Castro] Well, I would very much like to read, to have free time to read and chat.

[Caballero] Always in Cuba?

[Castro] Always in Cuba.

[Caballero] Until you die.

[Castro] Until I die. I would like the hole to be dug in a small plot of land there and to be able to rest there, the eternal rest which few people desire but which nature has imposed on us all.

[Caballero] Mr. President, you have been very kind. Thank you again on behalf of RCN of Colombia.

[Castro] It was a pleasure for me to answer your questions.

[Caballero] You are very kind. Good-bye.