Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-94-157 Daily Report 13 Aug 1994 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Fidel Castro's 8 Aug News Conference

FL1308140094 Havana Cuba Vision Network in Spanish 0105 GMT 13 Aug 94 FL1308140094 Havana Cuba Vision Network Spanish BFN [News conference by President Fidel Castro with unidentified reporters in Santa Fe de Bogota, Colombia, on 8 August -- recorded]

[Text] [Reporter] Commander, you must certainly know of the message that Gabriel Garcia Marquez sent to President Samper. At the end he says: Take care and (?follow your heart's advice) that there is nothing harder than governing the Colombians -- in this case he used the word governing -- but it is easier to do it with your heart. What does your heart say, Commander?

[Castro] I agree with Garcia Marquez because, well, as usual he is brilliant, as usual he is original in his message, and he elaborated a small government code for Samper. What would he have done if he was elected president one day? Do you remember when some people wanted to elect him?

[Reporter] He did not accept.

[Castro] Was it that he did not accept or that he was not accepted. Which way was it? [laughter] I do not think so. I think he was pressured. I do not think he would like the job that well. I think Garcia Marquez would not be a good president. I would imagine so. Well, he has a lot of imagination, and some think those things are incompatible, but it seems that what is needed to govern is a good imagination. However, when the cinema school was founded in Cuba, I was able to observe some exceptional qualities in Garcia Marquez as an organizer. One imagines that a writer is disorganized, and Garcia Marquez is a very well-organized man and a very good organizer. Back then, I became convinced that if one day he becomes president he would make -- I must say it as a friend and admirer -- he would make a great president.

Now, he writes brilliant and synthetic things on how one should govern. This was the message that President Samper gave us a copy of. I think there was a mistake in the fax. He said this. He apologized for the deficiencies, but he is brilliant in everything he writes. I think it is true, that you can rule with the heart.

[Reporter] Have you done it with the heart?

[Castro] I have done it with my heart. I do not know if I have done it well, but I did it with my heart [laughs softly], and I have also tried to do it with my head.

[Reporter] Commander, to continue with Garcia Marquez, he also referred much in his book about the loneliness encountered when you are in power. Do you feel that it is...

[Castro, interrupting] I do not think this is his theory, and if Garcia Marquez supports this theory, I do not agree with him, because what is being mentioned here is an autocratic power -- an emperor, a Napoleon, and I do not know what, a Reagan [laughs softly], some of those people. Then they imagine the people like a God on Olympus deciding things. I do not think this is like governing. I would say that governing is sharing opinions, views, responsibilities and knowing to assume responsibilities when one has to assume them, because someone has to assume them. That is a bunch of theories. I do not know where this famous theory, about the loneliness encountered when you are in power, came from. I imagine that for many, who were absolute rulers, it must be very lonely. They probably do not have anyone to talk to or consult with to make decisions. Decisions must be adopted sometimes. Sometimes you are fully convinced that something is correct, but I have never felt the strange phenomenon called loneliness in power, because I have always had the habit of sharing as much as possible the responsibility, the opinions, and the criteria.

[Reporter] Therefore...

[Castro, interrupting] Only God can talk about the loneliness encountered when you are in power, according to theology.

[Reporter] Commander, you talk about the importance of ruling with the heart and on the sharing of that responsibility. What better than sharing this responsibility with the people you love, the people you govern?

[Castro] What did you say? What better what?

[Reporter] What better than sharing with the people you love: the Cubans. To this end, following that train of thought, would it not also be possible to share with them some decisions through, let us say, a plebiscite so they may decide their future?

[Castro] You mean sharing responsibility as they do in the United States and in most parts of the world? We would not share it that way. But we do it by giving the people a real participation, consulting the workers, peasants, students, and citizens and placing the power in their hands, because in Cuba, power is not our power. Power belongs to the people. Now, referring to the disturbances some individuals tried to create, ignited by the U.S. policy dealing with immigration issue, the ones who restored order and peace were the people, themselves.

The Cuban Revolution could not be conceived without the people's extraordinary participation. First of all, it could not be defended without the people. How could a small country defend itself against the most powerful nation in the world? Compared to this, the torches Nero used to burn Rome, as I was telling some Colombians, are nothing.

They even own tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and so-called conventional weapons, all sophisticated weapons. I cannot understand how a government decidedly identified with the people, who are the essential components of power, can defend itself against such a gigantic and powerful nation. I wonder how many of the so-called representative democracies could perform the feat our people are performing. I know what the word plebiscite means. We have a plebiscite every day.

Yesterday, half a million people met at Revolution Plaza to bid farewell to the sublieutenant who was killed by one of these criminals who hijacked a boat to travel to the United States.

In our country there is a constant plebiscite. In our country there is a Constitution. In our country there have been elections, but that is ignored for a very simple reason, because we do not own the mass media.

The U.S. media spread news around the world, news that is generally published by international media. Everybody knows this very well. Nearly all movies being shown are U.S. movies. Nearly all documentaries come from the United States. We are subjected to U.S. domination. We are living under complete and total subjugation by the influence they exert over their media.

Therefore, what is the participation of the world? What is the participation of the people of the United States? Is it having 40 percent of the population vote every four years to elect a president with 25 percent of votes? That is not democratic or plebiscitary.

In our elections, more than 90 percent of the population participate, and just two years ago, not even two years, we held the elections. Voter turnout was enormous, and it was done amid the most difficult conditions.

Therefore, I can categorically tell you that we share with the people much more than what any other government of the world shares.

[Reporter] Commander, a bit of theory. How self-critical is Commander Fidel Castro about what has happened in socialism? In other words, the collapse [words indistinct]? How hard have you thought about capitalism having good things? As Marx said at some point in history, capitalism was revolutionary at a certain point in history and made great contributions to humanity. How do you foresee the future of socialism, combining all of the good capitalism has and eliminating all of what is bad?

[Castro] Capitalism brought some developments in the technical and economic order. And like Marx said, capitalism was indeed revolutionary in its time in comparison to feudalism. Nevertheless, capitalism also brought about colonialism, slavery, and the extermination of entire peoples -- genocide.

I do not know what North American Indians would say if you asked them about the great benefits and the great happiness North American or Western capitalism brought to the U.S. population, and I do not know what Indians from other countries would say. I do not know what Africans would say, either. I do not know what Asians would say. They brought conquest and the most brutal exploitation. They brought slavery, they brought pillaging, and they brought underdevelopment.

Yes, there was development of the production forces. That is undeniable.

Nevertheless, I believe that from an ethical and moral standpoint, although Marx used to say he was a revolutionary in his time -- relatively, no? -- it has been one of the greatest plagues in the history of mankind. Capitalism also developed techniques in administration, it promoted the use of computation, and it perfected its mechanisms of exploitation. This is true, and I do not see the good things capitalism has anywhere.

Anyone who knows that we are almost 6 billion inhabitants, 80 percent of which live in the Third World; anyone who knows that 40,000 children die every day and that children could be saved; anyone who knows about the tragedy of the Third World -- underdevelopment, plagues, diseases; and anyone who knows that capitalism has no solutions for its problems, that capitalism devours itself, that it destroys nature, that it alters the environment, that it hurts the ozone layer, that it poisons the seas and the water, everything, that it has created the worst society, which is the consumer society; anyone who knows this and still relishes this society, let them opt for it, opt for the part of that consumer society they can enjoy, and let them think that capitalism has things worthy of imitation. Nevertheless, I have deliberated a lot about what capitalism has meant to the world. Not only have I seen....[pauses] the wars it has unleashed, the dangers humanity has endured because of it, the damage it has done to nature. I cannot truly feel sympathy for capitalism or its lifestyle.

I ask you, imagine that, following the capitalist models, one day every Chinese citizen will have an automobile; one day every Indian, and they number more than 800 million, will have an automobile; and one day every African will have an automobile. I would like to know where all the fuel will come from. I would like to know how much oxygen will be left on earth to breathe if that model of society is established in the world.

It is a society that is destined to grow, and if it does not grow it will disappear. It is a society that, in order to grow, must use all the natural resources of the sea. It is not a society with a future. Consequently, man must seek other alternatives. You can give it whatever name you like, but it has to become a better organized, more rational, and more humane society. We must look for this. We have been looking for it. In fact, I continue to look for it. Marx looked for it. We call it socialism. We could call it any other name. It could be called a society of solidarity or a humanitarian society.

Nevertheless, this society in which we are living has no future; it cannot represent any kindness or hope for us. This is the opinion I have. It is truly a bad opinion. There is no other recourse than to coexist with capitalism, and we do. What else can we do?

[Reporter] One question, somewhat theoretical like the one Hernando asked: Despite the recent disagreement with the United States, Commander, what would you be willing to concede for the sake of reconciliation?

[Castro] If it is a matter of sacrificing our principles, our independence, the country's sovereignty, or the revolution, we are not willing to give up anything.

[Reporter] There was an immigration agreement...

[Castro, interrupting] There was an agreement on various things but the North Americans are not in the habit of complying with them.

[Reporter] What is the status of that agreement?

[Castro] That agreement was reached many years ago. It was an agreement that concerned the reunification of families. They agreed to accept 20,000 Cuban citizens because the reunification of families was going to occur in the richest country, not the poorest. They said that they would grant 20,000 visas a year, and in addition to that, 2,000 or 3,000 additional visas for people who had been imprisoned for counterrevolutionary activities promoted by the United States.

The truth is that they did not comply with the agreement. They granted 1,000 visas, or 2,000, or 3,000, because they rejected the visas. It was part of a strategy, trying to sow discontent, trying to promote opposition in the country. If one of these citizens went to request a visa to enter the United States, he was denied it as a rule. But if he seized a ship, a plane, or committed a crime, if he obtained a boat or was willing to do anything to leave the country, he was received with full honors, with open arms, and granted all the opportunities.

This is not granted to any other citizens in the world, only to Cubans. This is done with the intention of carrying out subversive actions and to promote disorder, disturbances, and demonstrations of discontent.

Now, looking at the political difference, we will authorize the departure of any citizen who wants to leave the country. That is part of our immigration policy. We even authorize the departure of anyone who is of age and wants to travel abroad and return. We will authorize his and his family's departure. They can leave and come back, even though this is not good for our security, because there is a country that for more than 35 years has tried to sabotage us, a country that has even used biological warfare against Cuba.

Therefore, the flow of tens of thousands of people coming and going is dangerous for our society to a certain extent. We have, however, accepted this. We have done this as part of the policy of the revolution. If a Cuban citizen who lives abroad wants to travel to Cuba and return, we authorize him to do so. This is our new immigration policy. At the beginning of the revolution, they wanted to take all of our technicians, our doctors.

We had 6,000 doctors, and they took away 3,000. They were offered better salaries and better living conditions. Today, however, the situation is different. What did we do? We accepted the challenge, and we developed medical schools at the universities. Today we have more than 50,000 doctors. For each one of the doctors they took, we have nearly 17 doctors. So you can see the great effort we made, but we accepted the challenge and continue accepting it.

Now, their policy is not granting permission for legal entries into the United States, while giving all kinds of facilities to those who commit crimes or arrive illegally. Mexicans are not given the same treatment. They have built a wall larger than the Berlin Wall accompanied by sophisticated electronic equipment and wired trenches. Many Mexicans die every year trying to cross the border. They have Coast Guard boats in La Mona Pass to prevent Dominicans from crossing over. They have a squad to prevent Haitians from leaving Haiti, and they are looking for places in Latin America where they can send them. They do not want them there.

The Colombians cannot look forward to being allowed to legally enter the United States. What happens to a Colombian who enters the United States illegally? He is expelled. What happens to any Latin American? He is expelled. What happens if a Chinese boat heads to the United States as recently occurred with a boat that was going to disembark on the Mexican coast? They did everything they could to return the Chinese to China. The U.S. Coast Guard, however, is waiting in the Gulf for anyone who wants to illegally leave Cuba and travels in a boat or a raft. The sad part about this phenomenon is that there are people who hijack a passenger boat carrying women, children, and elderly people while using weapons, grenades, and take them along. They are welcomed there even when they commit a vulgar and repulsive act of piracy. You should see when those women and children return and explain everything on television. That is the policy they follow against us. That is what really led to the incidents which occurred in recent days. It is a difficult situation. In addition, they encourage the immigration.

Mexico is not blocked. It produces nearly 3 million barrels of oil a day. It has industries, it is a developed nation, and it has reserves of tens of thousands of millions in dollars. Nonetheless, more than a million Mexicans cross the border without any blockade or encouragement. Santo Domingo is not blocked. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans immigrate because there is a phenomenon of immigration from the poorest countries to the most developed ones. It happens in Europe, it happens everywhere, but Cuba is a blocked country. It faces a double blockade. We practically have no trade with the former Socialist countries. Ours is a country that has lost 70 percent of its imports, a country that has lost its markets.

We are a country that needs to make a heroic effort to survive, to try to become developed under these conditions. A blockade aimed at driving the country into submission through sickness and hunger forces people, logically, to emigrate. These are the exceptional conditions under which Cuba is living. This does not happen in other countries of the world.

What else can we do? We have warned them. Either they adopt measures that stop promoting illegal departures or else we will tell the Boarder Guard forces not to obstruct the departure of any citizens who leave the country illegally or the trips of U.S. boats to pick up relatives. We cannot continue guarding the U.S. border. When an incident happens, and few incidents have occurred, we are held responsible. We must bear the responsibility. They accuse us of being cruel and inhuman, and yet we have no interest in preventing the departure of any citizen.

We have only been fulfilling basic obligations so that the country's laws are respected, but we are not inconvenienced by or object to allowing the departure of those who want to leave on their own. It is the U.S. responsibility not ours. Anyone wishing to come....[pauses] we are guarding the coasts to prevent the arrival of boats from the United States, guarding the coasts to prevent boats from leaving Cuba for the United States. Why should we render that service?

We have told them: Well, either you adopt measures or we will suspend the obstacles so the persons who want to legally leave may do so. This is our position we are maintaining.

[Cueto] Commander, I am Cueto Manrique from EL ESPECTADOR newspaper. Does this mean there is a term to allow a massive exodus of people to the United States?

[Castro] No. There is no term, no term has been set. We have said, however, a quick and efficient solution must be found. That is what we said. This matter is not one of massive emigrations. They are receiving today a large number of people, hundreds of people per month, who are illegally emigrating.

They are the ones causing massive emigration due to the blockade by driving the country into submission through sickness and hunger and by promoting illegal departures. They are the ones causing this phenomenon, but we have said it. Large-scale immigrations no. We will simply eliminate the obstacles to allow those wishing to leave to do so, or allow those who wish to pick up their relatives on their own to come, if there is no -- the words are, literally, quick and efficient -- solution.

[Cueto] Quick and efficient. Is that the key to open Cuban borders?

[Castro] The Cuban borders are legally open. What I mean is to stop adopting the measures we adopted to prevent these illegal departures.

[Mondenare] Fernando Mondenare, COLPRESS news agency. Commander, what do the Cuban people expect with Cesar Gaviria as OAS secretary general? Are there new perspectives, or will everything remain the same?

[Castro] We do not have a crystal ball, but we were very pleased when Gaviria's candidacy was announced. We are not an active OAS member, so we do not vote, but we do express our affection and support for Gaviria's candidacy. There are several factors to keep in mind, such as personality and character.

The post of secretary general of the OAS is a very important one that the United States tries to control. We have seen this, but it has not always been successful. We cannot say that [Joao] Baena Soares has been a candidate controlled by the United States. We were glad to hear that Gaviria is the candidate for this post. He is a well-known person, he is talented, and capable, he has a strong personality, he has been friendly with our country, and he has promoted diplomatic relations. Therefore, you see, we would prefer a person with these characteristics be the secretary general of the OAS.

We wish there were a better role model. We would like to see someone as Simon Bolivar fighting for Latin American integration, justice, and Latin American independence. I believe Gaviria believes this opportunity is an exceptional one, and we hope he will perform his duties with honesty, justice and talent. I see him as a friend, not an enemy. We have had some enemies there in the OAS. I honestly see Gaviria as a friendly person. We have had several encounters at the summits over these years, the meetings at Cartagena de Indias. When one knows someone toward whom one feels affection, one is glad when that person can occupy such an important yet difficult post.

You know our northern neighbors. We know them better than you do, but you will get to know them better and better, because I do not believe they will be treating you with the consideration or the respect you deserve. They are used to wanting to impose their viewpoint and their opinion. There were several reported incidents just recently demonstrating their open intention of wanting to interfere in Colombia's internal affairs. I would rather not expand on that issue.

[Reporter] Do you blame the island's problems on the U.S. blockade? You are looking right now for foreign investment for several of the island's economic sectors in an attempt to overcome the blockade and within the new trend of coexisting with capitalism. Let's suppose the United States lifts the blockade. Would you be willing to accept U.S. investments under the same conditions you hold with other countries?

[Castro] Let me make one thing clear first. One thing is to cohabit, another to coexist. I may be mistaken, but a married couple cohabits. I may be mistaken, but a married couple sometimes coexists. These are two different terms. [chuckles] We are willing to coexist with capitalism, but not to cohabit with capitalism. We do not blame everything on the blockade.

The blockade became much more serious and much more harmful for us when the Socialist bloc disappeared and the USSR crumbled. While the USSR and the Soviet bloc existed, our economic and commercial relations with those countries included loans, financing, and fair prices for our products, something we have been demanding for all Third World products. This made the struggle against the blockade much easier for us. The blockade became more terrible and more serious when the Socialist bloc and the USSR disappeared. I would say it became doubly, three times, five times, ten times worse when the Socialist bloc and the USSR disappeared.

We lost our fuel supply, our prices, our credits, our markets, and all the pillars that provided support to the country in light of the blockade. All those things vanished while the blockade remained. Even trade with the Socialist countries and the former Soviet Union vanished. This entire occurrence increasingly worsened our situation. We fought -- did not lose heart, we did not despair -- to overcome all the obstacles, to which you must include our status as an underdeveloped nation.

Not just Cuba but a large part of Latin America is in our situation. Certain Latin American countries possess an enormous wealth, plentiful, natural resources, and even earn thousands upon thousands -- more than $10 billion every year -- but these countries have very serious economic problems despite these aspects, and they do not have a blockade with which to deal.

The entire Third World, Bangladesh, India, countries from all continents, are suffering the consequences of the so-called underdevelopment, which resulted from colonialism in the past centuries and the exploitation which we suffered. We also have those problems. You can add we are not perfect. We have not achieved a perfect deed. We have done the best we can, as perfect as we have been able to, but there have been mistakes and flaws. Did we use our resources in these past years, the past decade in the best possible way? I could not tell you, but I can tell you we are exerting an increasingly bigger effort to optimize our resources; and the blockade is a heavy burden upon the shoulders of our country. The United States sabotages all our efforts for economic opening, which is what you referred to, and foreign investment. They discourage everyone who wants to invest here. We can say they frustrate nine out of 10 investment prospects. We must import all products from long distances.

It is not that countries do not want to trade with us. What happens is they approve legislation such as the Torricelli Law and impose sanctions against countries that trade with us and companies established in other countries that trade with us. This is not a U.S., unilateral policy against Cuba but, rather, a universal one.

We do not want the blockade, of course; to think otherwise would be illogical, an absurd detriment. There are many North Americans who want to invest in Cuba, and we have proof. If the North Americans want to invest in Cuba, they are as welcome as the Spaniards, Colombians, Argentines, Mexicans, and citizens from any other country without discriminations of any sort. They would have the same advantages available to others.

[Reporter] The concern is that this situation would result in a large number of private employees working in a socialist system. How would that work?

[Fidel] This would definitely be an entirely new and difficult situation, which is being faced by China and Vietnam. We must face a blockade, however, in our situation. A country needs capital, technology, and markets to develop. A lack of all three elements constitutes a problem, and sometimes, we have none of them. We are missing one element at times; other times we lack two of the three, technology or markets, and especially capital. As a result, we are facing a dead end situation. We must be able to resolve it, but not to sell the country. Our goal during this special period is to save the motherland. We do not want to become another Puerto Rico. You must understand, however, we do not want to give up the revolution and the achievements of socialism.

We are not saying we will be building socialism but we will be defending the accomplishments of socialism. Everything socialism has done for the people is much more than health, education, sports, dignity, equality, justice, and jobs for everyone, things that are difficult to achieve under these conditions. We will try to accomplish them, however, in one way or another, using creativity and the imagination. We are defending everything that can be defended from the people's properties.

We began establishing joint ventures, especially in the tourism sector, in the hotels, and we can extend that to other branches of our economy. We can share goods, but in such areas as oil, we cannot even do what you are doing. I do not know whether you have become more socialist than us. The thing is that you have not had the need we had: agreeing with foreign companies and simply conducting risky business operations. They have the capital and the technology to drill for the oil that our country has. This implies, of course, having to make concessions, but this is nothing new.

All of you who have read and who are politically aware know even Lenin had no intention of immediately instituting socialism in the old empire of the czars. Lenin wanted to build a capitalism under the control of workers. We would have to ask Lenin how he planned to do it. He did trust in the power of people and workers, and he believed the optimal conditions to institute socialism were not present.

The USSR was fiercely blocked, isolated, and even forced to lay aside principles. Socialism could not be instituted within a single country. They even tried to accomplish a major goal of instituting socialism within a single country; this was not Lenin's idea, but the total blockade and isolation forced them to do it, as was widely discussed as a theory and as an international political movement. There were no other chances other than instituting socialism within a single country.

We also had to institute socialism within a single country, partly because we were blocked, isolated, and forced to depend on the only thing available: the socialist bloc and the USSR. In our case, the process of instituting socialism in a single country was expedited. All these circumstances combined to speed up the forging of socialism in Cuba. We added a bit of the revolutionary fervor we all had, as well as a bit of the revolutionary impatience all revolutionaries have, to speed up the process of instituting socialism.

We are now compelled to make rectifications. We were previously making rectifications to improve ourselves; this is one of the questions you asked. I had not answered it before, because I was discussing another issue. Socialism needed to be improved, not destroyed. Even before Gorbachev started talking about perestroyka, we had already started talking about making rectifications in Cuba to perfect our Socialism, which, undoubtedly, had many mistakes and defects.

We had to save Socialism. Someone said we cannot throw the baby out with the water; this is just what they did in the Soviet Union: They threw the baby, the dirty water, the dirty diapers, and the bucket out of the window; this is a reality, but this is not what we did. We wanted to rectify what we were doing.

This position has many disadvantages; no one can deny it. The Chinese face and will face disadvantages, but they must continue to fight, but you will notice they did not do what the Soviets did. The Soviets destroyed the state, the party, history, everything. The Chinese destroyed nothing. Although they suffered the consequences of Mao's mistakes, they did not destroy his accomplishments. They recognized his accomplishments; they did not destroy the party or the state. They started making political reforms, and it worked out well. No other country is experiencing the economic growth China is experiencing. The Vietnamese are making similar social reforms with the help of foreign capital investments.

It is a new experience. We are doing the same, but to a lesser degree, because the conditions are not the same. We studied the Chinese experience, and the Vietnamese experience -- for whatever it was applicable. Nothing can be mechanically implemented. One of our problems, contrary to China and Vietnam, is that while 80 percent of the Chinese population is rural and lives in the countryside and 80 percent of the Vietnamese population is also rural, 80 percent of the Cuban population lives in the city.

All the productive processes were mechanized: land preparation, planting, reaping. We began to use technical means, chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and established large irrigation programs, all of which consume fuel. Transportation was mechanized. Construction was mechanized. The docks, the construction of highways, speedways, everything was mechanized, and many people went to the city. We now have to find food for them in the city, because it is easy to bring people to the city but to take them back to the rural areas is more difficult. I do not know how you would manage to take Bogota's 6.5 million inhabitants back to the countryside.

I believe there were half a million inhabitants when I was here 46 years ago, and now you have 6.5 million. I was looking at the street from the hotel window this morning and saw it had been widened. There was an unending line of buses. I am told it sometimes takes them half an hour to move one kilometer; this is one of the things that undermines the environment. Furthermore, I must tell the truth, it took me a while to fall sleep because the noise level [laughs] can be heard in this great hotel. If you have the misfortune of having to go to bed very late, the horns and motors of the cars wake you up. [laughs]

There are two kinds of immigration: the immigration that goes from underdeveloped to developed countries. This is one of the greatest fears of the developed, capitalist world nowadays. They are terrified of what will happen with a population explosion and the immigrants' invasion. They worry about those things a great deal. Such situations are all associated with development. They are also horrified with contamination. I was saying, however, there are two immigrations. From poor countries to rich countries; from the countryside to the city.

How Latin America suffers that immigration! Tremendous. Look at Sao Paulo, with its 18 million inhabitants. Look at Mexico City with its almost 20 million inhabitants. Look at Rio de Janeiro with its 10 or 12 million inhabitants. Look at the cities. Look at Caracas, it also has approximately 5 million inhabitants. Look at yourselves.

We also have the same situation in our country. In addition, everyone has become a teacher, a professor, a physician, an engineer; this makes us very happy. We have filled the country with universities, and we are now establishing technological schools and schools for agricultural workers, because agriculture is hard work, but agriculture is not so hard here, because you work in an air-conditioned climate. It is much better than working the land in the tropics under a terrible sun and in very high temperatures.

That was obvious yesterday. Let me cut sugarcane at the temperature we had yesterday during the change of government ceremony. It was delightful. You feel stimulated to work, but send a citizen to cut sugarcane at 37, 38, 40 degrees with a relative humidity of 85 percent. The people left for the city. This predicament is a terrible and still unresolved one.

Immigration did not occur in such a high measure in our country, or, rather, the people did not go to the capital city. We developed several cities. There was a general development in the cities, and that is why we did not have those terrible phenomenons, meaning the shantytowns. We built and developed all the regions in the country.

But the fact of the matter is that the people went to the countryside. As I told you before, we filled the country with universities. We have more than 500,000 university graduates. Thus, the revolution did its own work, and the very work of the revolution changed the way of thinking, changed everything at a particular time. Our problem today is finding labor in the countryside, because we have had to return to many manual activities. We have returned to animal-pulled farming techniques, ox carts. We are using oxen again, whenever we can find them.

There are many medium-sized cities in our country where transportation is pulled by animals. Many tasks are pulled by animals in the farming sector. The bicycle has become...[pauses] I believe Cuba comes next to China or the Netherlands concerning the use of bicycles, the Dutch do it for sport, the Chinese for need. Our cities and country have been filled with bicycles; this is something we have been able to accomplish, because there is a national willingness to do so, regardless of the needs. We are making a big effort to keep our island independent and to fulfill Marti's dream. He said with Cuba's independence he wanted to prevent the United States from extending its influence over the peoples of America. You pay us nothing for our being the first trench there, for our defending Latin America's independence in this era.

[Reporter] Ernesto Samper said in his inauguration speech he will focus on social issues, something he proposed 20 years ago; it is not new. He said he will see to it that human rights are respected. He said he will sponsor, on behalf of Colombia, the signing of the Geneva Protocol and said he wants to make a last-ditch peace effort. How can you possibly help him in this task of attaining peace to benefit the government, country, and the guerrillas?

[Castro] No one should support a last-ditch effort, because there should be no last-ditch peace efforts.

[Reporter] I mean to attain peace.

[Castro] You can help attain peace. First of all, you can hope there is peace, to cooperate as much as possible without interfering in the country's internal affairs. Obviously, this has always been our concern, but I would like for there to be peace. If it were up to us to cooperate, modestly, in the attainment of peace, I would accept it. You have even seen the good relations between both peoples have improved. I believe...

[Reporter, interrupting] This is the first time you attend a Colombian president's inauguration?

[Castro] Yes. It was the first time. He told me this. He said he expected everyone's cooperation in this concern. I believe the most I can do is to wish a country such as Colombia peace so that it can develop in peace, with justice. I have no contradiction with the statements made yesterday by President Samper. He mentioned a few additional things, one of which you did not say is very important. He said it twice. In the beginning -- I will have to read the speech again -- and in the middle of his speech. He said he would not allow anyone in the world to come and tell Colombia how it should solve its problems and deal with the drug trafficking issue. This is something very important he said and I applauded this. I said: This is not internal; this is the defense of sovereignty. He later stressed the issue of peace, and he did it with a serene language, without arrogance, stating this should be everyone's contribution, participation, and obligation. This is an important point of his speech.

He also said what you stated...[pauses] He had already told me about it in a brief conversation during the morning, which was held with others who attended the breakfast. He said he wanted a political alternative with social justice. He did not want an alternative of liberalism or neoliberalism, only an alternative of economic development with social justice. He said he was going to emphasize this point.

I have not heard all his speeches, of course. I do not know whether he has said this before, but I was positively impressed by how he analyzed the situation.

I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the sincerity of his words. He also talked about...[pauses] I do not understand this topic very much. I am not very familiar with the importance of signing the Geneva Protocol, but he said all Colombians were obligated to observe international law as well as the Constitution and laws of the country; this is how I interpreted it. He also talked about the international policy he would implement, and he talked about the Nonaligned Movement [NAM].

I believe NAM is of great importance, especially in today's world. NAM previously existed to confront the dangers of a bipolar world, but we need it more today to confront the terrible dangers of a unipolar world; that is why I give so much importance to NAM. I must say we firmly, emphatically, and with great interest back the initiative that Colombia hold the next NAM presidency. I do not want to get too much into this issue so as not to meddle in internal affairs, but I was really imagining Samper as NAM president. This is not meddling in internal affairs, but, rather, expressing a wish.

It could have been different. I do not know how things happened because I read it [words indistinct]. It is not for me to proclaim it, but I am compelled to point this out as a reality due to our solidarity with all those countries, the UN, Africa, Asia. We have many, many, many friends, and if all of a sudden the NAM presidency had launched a war on us then we would have bitterly regretted our backing Colombia's proposal to be the NAM presidency. For this reason, I was pleased when I heard Samper's words regarding the NAM. I believe there is almost a promise to hold another meeting here. I do not know whether it will be held in Cartagena or Santa Fe de Bogota. Just in case I get to go, I already have my guayabera [traditional white, men's shirt worn in Latin America] ready to go to Cartagena. [laughter] I do not have a coat to sustain the cold here, though.

My aide-de-camp, who is a very nice and intellectual man, thought we could encounter cold weather, and he took several steps to ensure emergency measures could be taken so we did not die of pneumonia. I do not know where the government plans to hold this meeting. But do not forget about this issue; do not underestimate it; and it is advantageous for Colombia. I believe Colombia is in an upward period: the post of OAS secretary general, the NAM presidency. Do you, by chance, have plans to seek the UN secretary general's post too? [laughter] I support you.

[Reporter] I can tell you the new foreign minister said one of the international priorities was precisely the NAM.

[Castro] I believe this is very important. It is of great importance to Colombia's interests, prestige, and independence. It is important to carry out its policy and strategy against drug trafficking, which, according to what has been stated, requires international cooperation, for all countries to cooperate. I can assure you it is very advantageous for Colombia to have the NAM presidency.

[Reporter] You are very well informed about Colombia.

[Castro] I should be more informed, though.

[Reporter] You even know the total population of Santa Fe de Bogota as according to the latest figures released by the National Administrative Department of Statistics. You know quite a bit about us. What is your opinion of the armed conflict in the country? There is even a guerrilla group calling itself pro-Castro.

[Castro] We had relations for a time. To be honest, time is what has changed Latin America. As I said, Latin America practically joined in a confrontation against Cuba in the early years. There is no lie in admitting this. We had relations, but they are history. Latin America's relations with Cuba have changed completely. We adhere to the principle of respecting those who respect us, and we enforce in an inflexible and intransigent manner the principle of not meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. This has to be reciprocated. This sort of principle will be in force in our hemisphere and give rise to major changes in our relations with almost all of the countries of Latin America, or perhaps all of them with a few exceptions.

While we were fighting a cruel battle against foreign debt in 1985, we decided our priority for those times we were living should be the integration of Latin America, the unification of Latin America, Latin America's struggle for development, Latin America's struggle for independence. I said something at that time many people did not agree with, but I was sincere when I said it. Socialism was not on the agenda. We never meddled, of course. If a country wanted to build socialism, they were free to build it. If a country wanted to have a revolution, they were free to have it. In 1985--and the records are still there--we said the main issue was unity, unity within each country and among all countries. That has influenced our political way of thinking regarding all of these other issues. We are zealous defenders of sovereignty, and we feel we could even do without sovereignty one day.

Bolivar wanted a united Latin America, and we are ready to give up our sovereignty, as I said before, in favor of unity throughout Latin America. We are willing to do so not to become a part of a balkanized continent but, rather, of a continent that is one of the main forces in the world. The world is beginning to organize itself into large blocs and forces. China is a large force, as is Europe and southeast Asia, and the United States is another large force. I cannot conceive a Latin America integrated with the United States, which is what the United States would like. We want to integrate among ourselves, and the United States wants to integrate us into it.

These issues, based on our aspirations, are the priority ones. As long as we are not integrated we must remain independent. We must respect each other. One can express one's best wishes, but one cannot tell other countries, political parties, or organizations what to do. You can find here in Latin America right this minute one country carrying out an extreme type of neoliberal policy, while another's is less extreme, yet another's is more moderate, and each one is doing what it believes best. I believe we need peace, but we need it for something specific. We need it to develop. We need it to integrate. We need it for there to be justice, social justice. We need it to prevent almost 1 million children from dying each year of preventable diseases. We need it to solve problems such as those President Samper outlined yesterday. He spoke of raising the people's quality of life. Almost 46 percent are below the extreme poverty line.

That is not Colombia's situation. Colombia is better off than many other Latin American countries. I would like to see peace being associated with integration and social justice. We are willing to cooperate as much as possible with those goals and values, and we are cooperating in a sense. We have substantially improved our relations with Colombia, and we abide by the inviolable principle of respect for the sovereignty of every country.

I can assure you we would always support Colombia in any situation where its sovereignty was being violated, where its sovereignty was not being respected. We would never defend Colombia, but we would unrestrictedly support the principle of noninterference in a country's internal affairs. If we all become a great community of nations some day, organized as any other organization, and if we are told the socialist system must be put aside, because there is no other way to achieve integration, we would be willing to sacrifice our particular preferences for the sake of Latin America's integration, development, and justice. As for independence, I am not talking of countries but, rather, of our region. I am speaking of the hope they do not devour, swallow us. I am referring to the hope, the idea that some day we are what we should be. Within all this concept, you can be absolutely positive -- I have extended myself in the explanation -- that we will decidedly cooperate with every noble effort to achieve peace.

[Reporter] Commander, Colombian-Cuban relations are excellent. I believe we never had such good relations before the Gaviria administration. Do you expect relations to remain the same during the Samper administration, to the extent you would be able to carry out a negotiation on oil issues, which is a topic on your agenda with Colombia?

[Castro] We hope relations will continue to develop. I believe an excellent foundation has been laid, and favorable conditions have been established. I was invited by Gaviria and Samper. We have many common friends; we have met many leaders, many cadres. We have common friends in the cultural and scientific areas, among others. I had the chance of meeting this prominent scientist who invented the malaria vaccine.

[Reporter] [Manuel Elkin] Patarroyo.

[Castro] He deserves to be awarded a Nobel Prize for his contribution to science. We have relations in the health and cultural areas. I have a longstanding, youthful friendship with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with whom we often meet and talk. In sum, all kinds of ties have been established. Before meeting with you today, I met with a solidarity group; very kind, good, and noble people. All these actions and meetings are dangerous because we discuss political topics, although there is nothing more dangerous than a meeting with journalists. It was a very respectful and friendly meeting.

I want to tell you something in particular. I feel an increasing sympathy and affection for Colombians. I can say the more I know you and deal with you, the more I love you. I admire your industriousness, among other things. I was able to visit the San Pedro Alejandrino farm, which was not a little house at all but, rather, a major and important place. I think it should be called the memorial or memorial museum to Bolivar, because it includes the art museum, the plaza, and all the facilities -- 22 hectares. There is a mural. There is so much more than one can imagine, and it is lovingly cared for by 27 people. Only 27 people look after the grounds and keep everything in excellent condition.

I am telling you -- and it is not my desire to criticize my countrymen -- there would be at least 80 or 100 people, perhaps a kitchen or cook, in Cuba. I was amazed and congratulated the workers there. Colombians are hard workers. I believe this country has the right to achieve progress, to go far, and I believe that is what they plan. That is why at the same time I talk about my views of peace, I encourage them to exert their best efforts to achieve peace, and one should never talk of a last-ditch effort.

[Reporter] What did you feel when you saw the place where Bolivar died?

[Castro] It is a moving, hospitable place.

[Reporter] Talking about oil, what is the status of the negotiations?

[Castro] Regarding oil, something I did not mention, I was going to say we are not self-seeking friends. We are not Phoenicians. We prefer to let friendship come first and business second, not business first and friendship second.

[Reporter] What is your message to those who want to get you out of Cuba and even talk of Castro's final hour?

[Castro] What would you reply?

[Reporter] What is your answer to all those who...

[Castro, interrupting] My reply to them is that I do not do my work for pleasure; it is my duty.

The work I do is a sacrifice. I think it is unfair that we have had to spend so many years struggling, waging the same battle, but it would be treacherous on my part if I abandon the battlefield. As I recall, none of the liberators of this hemisphere has abandoned the battlefield before gaining the independence of his country. Sucre did not leave the battlefield, he died, despite the fact he did not like it much. Bolivar was appointed president [words indistinct].

Revolutionaries never abandon the battlefield. Revolutionaries do not go into retirement as long as they are useful, as long as their services and efforts are required. But, if you ask me, I would prefer that there be peace, that they do not threaten to destroy us, and that there were no blockade to enable me to devote my time to reading -- I like to read a lot -- and writing. I also like to write. I would then resign myself to dying in bed.

Personally, I find no problem in exercising power. This, by the way, is a hard task. When specific functions are not carried out for selfish reasons, for money, pleasure, or vanity, no one clings to that entity called government, which is one of the most ungrateful things in the world.

I would like to be like Garcia Marquez, who goes from one place to the other, wherever he wants to go, to write and do whatever he wants. I would like to be a painter, or a scientist who conducts research. I can assure you that I chose the hardest work anyone can do and that what I am doing is complying with my duty. If those who want to see me away from all this can make that possible, but with honor and dignity, I would be very grateful to all of them.