Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-94-187 Daily Report 25 Sep 1994 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Castro Views Blockade, Immigration Accord

PA2609172294 Caracas EL NACIONAL in Spanish 25 Sep 94 p A-6 PA2609172294 Caracas EL NACIONAL Spanish BFN [Report on an interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro by EL NACIONAL special correspondent Manuel Abrizo in Havana; date not given]

[Text] Havana -- When he is not speaking and he is relaxed, Castro is a man that lacks charisma. His uncombed beard that comes to a peak looks artificial; it looks like a little roll of wire. Where is the brilliance of this man who is considered one of the key figures of the 20th century in Latin America? Those who know him say his brilliance is found in his integrity, courage, intelligence, and his firm principles. In addition, he is one of the few who has dared to roar at Uncle Sam for over 30 years, and that is an unforgivable thing for a power to do. With a look that reflects his state of mind, Fidel is an affectionate, ironic man, and he is forceful when he speaks:

"The U.S. blockade is like the Himalayas pressing down on the shoulders of the country."

He claims that the U.S. plan is to starve the Cuban people into surrendering, that the naval blockade on the island does not resolve anything, and that "if they drop an atomic bomb on Cuba," this will "not resolve anything" either. The only solution is to end the blockade.

Someone asked the commander if he would like some refreshments, water, rum, or a beer,

"Beer fills me with air, refreshments fill me with air. I would like a little rum and a mojito [Cuban snack], if someone knows how to prepare it." He is given a Bacardi.

People claim that for him there are not enough hours in a day. "I work best at night and early in the morning."

He praises former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a decent man in a country where it is difficult to be a politician and decent. "He is a man without cunning; he is an honest man. I have a very high opinion of Carter."

Although at first he yawns a few times, Fidel is like an erupting volcano when we discuss the blockade, the rafters, and the legalization of the dollar in Cuba.

Regarding the most recent agreement negotiated with the United States about the rafters' crisis and the granting of visas to Cubans, Castro pointed out that the United States acted reasonably and was flexible.

"We consider it as a step forward in resolving basic problems. They do not allow us to work in peace."

He pointed out that from 1990 until June 1994, the United States granted visas to 5,000 persons and accepted 15,000 who left illegally. In those four years, approximately 50,000 Cubans tried to leave illegally from the island.

"Let us say we are not willing to continue serving as border guards for the United States. We declare ourselves on strike."

The Convertible Peso

[Abrizo] Is legalizing the dollar in Cuba considered a shot fired against the revolution?

[Castro] Well, undoubtedly this causes certain inconveniences. We would not have done that under normal conditions. There was one indisputable fact: The dollar was circulating. It came in with tourists, relatives, and friends. There were many people who had dollars and who wanted to buy in the tourists' stores. This created a serious inconvenience for us, and it made it necessary for the police to investigate and stop this type of illegal business. We decided to legalize not only the dollar, but all foreign currencies such as the Spanish peseta, the pound sterling, all foreign currencies. We explained to the people that there were no alternatives. We also tried to profit from the sale of merchandise. The profits would help hospitals and schools, and also the rest of the population. The people understood, because after all, many persons living in Cuba had relatives in the United States and they were receiving economic help. If we (he said, laughing) had the oil of Venezuela and the economic resources of Venezuela, we would not have needed to develop our tourism.

[Abrizo] The truth is that if one does not have dollars in Cuba, one cannot buy anything. The dollar is like a malignant virus.

[Castro] We hope this will not always be the case. These are the circumstances of the special period in which we are living. We hope that one day we can buy everything with our own currency in all stores. We cannot, however, do that now because we do not have resources for selling in pesos those items that today are sold for dollars. We have a long way to go in this area. We would need billions of dollars in order to sell everyone that is sold in those stores. Today we cannot do that. We are taking other measures, such as reevaluating the dollar, developing the economy. This is not an easy task in a blockade. We are not living under normal conditions, but under conditions that are totally abnormal. We are like a besieged area, and anything can happen here. We are printing the convertible peso and are going to begin using it so that the people will use that instead of the dollar. It is a matter of national pride.

[Abrizo] Does Cuba have foreign currency to make purchases in the United States if they lift the embargo?

[Castro] No. I was telling that to an American friend of mine when we were talking about his impression of the situation, the steps that could be taken to disengage the blockade, and how to go about authorizing the export of food and medicine. I told him that this was not a fundamental issue. The main issue involves the commercial restrictions, the prohibition on credit and investment. These are the issues the country needs in order to develop. If they allow merchandise to come in, the only saving will be in shipping costs. The basic issue is that we be allowed the same opportunities every other country has for growth. Nothing is gained by letting us sell food and medicine, if we have no economic development.

[Abrizo] Is it true that (former Secretary of State) Kissinger proposed lifting the embargo at one time?

[Castro] Yes, but very discreetly. It seems they were considering that. They had begun thinking of appropriate measures. The problem was that we were not aware of this until a little later. There is another issue here: At that time the blockade was not affecting us so much. The blockade really began hurting us when the socialist bloc disappeared and we lost 70 percent of our trade and our imports. What country on earth could have survived the almost five years Cuba has? Let me tell you that neither Sagunto or Numantia would have been able to. You have to see the numbers of people who are ready to resist. I am not saying everyone is ready, but all those who are, do so at great sacrifice. All of us are suffering, but we are not about to trade this nation's independence for a bowl of soup.

A Place in History

[Abrizo] How do you feel about the fact that the Latin American countries have left Cuba on its own?

[Castro] I believe in reality. So far as the Latin American powers are concerned, they have not left us completely alone, but we are still quite alone. The Rio (de Janeiro) agreement follows U.S. policy format. It says to lift the blockade, and at the same time it imposes conditions directly related to the independence and sovereignty of our country. I do not believe any country that has self-respect would accept this. They are destroying the right to non-intervention, although a majority in Latin America are against the principle of sovereignty. Be that as it may, it was two or three countries at the Rio meeting -- and not everyone was present -- who imposed the conditions, not everyone. They led the meeting to a terrible agreement that associates the lifting of the blockade with conditions on the part of Cuba, that Cuba cannot meet. Lift the blockade and we will do what we see best. Under no circumstances can you link the end of the blockade to issues related to our independence. Everyone at the Rio meeting simply jumped on the band wagon. Among the 14 members, there are many governments that chose to be our friend, no matter what. Brazil and Mexico have behaved wonderfully, to give two examples. Then there is Colombia, as well.

[Arbizo] Do you think the OAS will enter a new phase with the new secretary general?

[Castro] It is unknown. Everything is unknown. What is not unknown is our position: It is an honorable position. It is fundamental that the blockade against Cuba be eliminated. It is the only honorable thing to do, and it must be done unconditionally. We are not asking anyone to make reforms. We do not ask this of any Latin American country, much less of the United States. If we said neo-liberalism is trash and should be eliminated, they would immediately say we are interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

[Arbizo] The United States wants your head....

[Castro] I give it to them. My head for Cuba's independence. My head for the revolution. My head for socialism. I give it to them. I gave it to them a long time ago. We prefer Key West to a hard bone to chew [Mas vale Cayo Hueso que un hueso muy duro de roer].

[Arbizo] Are you concerned about your place in history?

[Castro] I really don't think much about it. I don't have much time to think and believe that history, like everything else, is ephemeral. Can I ask you a question? How long is history? How many things were done by men before Homer's time and before the events that occurred, as we have been told, in Greece and Rome? Very little: 2,500, 2,600, 2,700 years. How long is the future? I believe a man cannot and should not base his actions on his ambition to occupy a place in history. I believe a man should be guided by set ideas, set principles, set values, which is what count, and he should fight for them. Everything else will disappear later. Why should we take great pains for an ephemeral history? When the sun goes out, we won't even have a history. I don't think man can migrate to another planet or star, regardless of how intelligent he is and how many machines he invents, because they are very distant. According to Albert Einstein's theory, man cannot do it because he would have to reach the speed of light, and if he did, he would disintegrate. Thus we must resign ourselves to our solar system and our planet. There will be no history when everything disappears. Could it be that nothing we humble and modest men have done in this life will be worth anything? But you asked me about history.

[Arbizo] Your place in history....

[Castro] I believe it is more important to do your duty, and that is not easy. Sometimes doing your duty creates many misunderstandings. You cannot expect everyone to comprehend and understand. For my conscience and my tranquillity, I do agree with what I have done throughout my life and what I aim to do with what I have left of it... I don't have the smallest doubt about the righteousness and justice of what I have done. If I were born again, I would do the same things again, perhaps better if I had the experience that I have gained in these long years of struggle.

We defend ideals. We defend our homeland, the revolution, and the achievements of socialism. We cannot talk about continuing to build it, but of preserving what we have. We have had to accept foreign investments and business partnerships. We are doing this seriously. All of those who invest in Cuba can be absolutely certain we will meet our commitments and that nationalization is not in our plans. Everything here was U.S.- owned. To be honest, after the blockade and the Bay of Pigs invasion, we nationalized everything. We had not, however, planned to do everything so quickly.

They (the United States) were not willing to tolerate agrarian reform here, just as they did not tolerate it in Guatemala. What was the cost of the intervention headed by Castillo Armas in Guatemala? I am sure you have read about it. It was in the year 1954: More than 100,000 missing people. There are no prisoners in Guatemala. There are no political prisoners there. They all disappeared, because of agrarian reform legislation.

When we promulgated the Agrarian Reform Law, the United States decided to begin preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion. The same thing happened in Guatemala. Two years passed. The invasion occurred in 1961. Our sugar quotas were canceled. They took everything away from us, and in turn, we nationalized all U.S. property. That is how this history began. Although we had socialist ideals, our plan was not to implement a socialist system but to make some advancements and improvements. We had a national liberation plan, not a socialist plan.

Agrarian reform affected the major landlords, and in reality it was not a very radical reform. What happened was that they had companies that owned up to 200,000 hectares, and our reform only allowed people to have up to 1,000 hectares, or 400 hectares when the farms were not totally cultivated. It was not a radical reform. In any part of the world, agrarian reform reduces land ownership to a maximum of 20 hectares.

They started organizing the Bay of Pigs invasion. We were invaded. Since all of our industries were U.S.-owned, we nationalized them. In the long run, we nationalized the rest, and the socialist nature of the revolution was proclaimed the same day the attack at the Bay of Pigs began, on 16 April 1961. When we buried our dead from the bombing of our airports, we declared ourselves socialists....

The blockade has been maintained since then, up to the latest controversy (the rafters crisis). Before this controversy, however, there was a socialist bloc, and they said we were their satellite. Now, who knows. We may be God's satellite. There is no other power we can now revolve around. We are all struggling with one hegemonic power. We are the only country facing a blockade. They have already lifted their blockades on China and Vietnam. They are already holding talks with Korea. We, however, receive all of the venom of the world, all of the harassment of the world.