Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-94-204 Daily Report 20 Oct 1994 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Castro Discusses Emigration, Achievements

LD2110040794 Paris France-2 Television Network in French 1950 GMT 20 Oct 94 LD2110040794 Paris France-2 Television Network French BFN ["Exclusive" interview with President Fidel Castro by Jean-Luc Mano, France-2 news and current affairs director, in Havana, date not given -- recorded]

[FBIS Translated Text] [Mano] Good evening, Mr. President, and thank you for receiving us here just a few steps away from your office. Cuba has been going through a crisis of which much has been said in Europe and in the world, the crisis of the balseros, the people who have left, who have fled from Cuba and who have moved a large section of international opinion. I would like to ask you: Do you believe the crisis to be over, or is this just a lull?

[Castro] This is a situation that has been going on for years, and at present the main factor prompting the mass exodus is of an economic nature. And it is fundamentally a consequence of the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba.

In these circumstances three factors came together: first, the general trend of emigration from the poor countries to the rich ones; Second, the unceasing encouragement by the United States, as a component part of its hostile policy towards Cuba, of illegal emigration from Cuba; and third, the special period we are going through, a really very difficult period from the economic standpoint.

These factors have fostered the emigration, the illegal departures from the country; and these factors are still in existence. We are going through one of the most difficult periods any country has ever endured. We're here right next to the United States, the world's most powerful country from the economic, political, and military standpoints. And I believe that our country has been writing a page -- in spite of these difficulties -- has been writing a truly heroic and glorious page of its history.

[Mano] Is what has happened not also a sign of a failure along the path along which you have steered this country and which you have imposed on this country for 35 years?

[Castro] You cannot judge a country, nor a country's ideas, nor a country's system, when you are endeavoring to prevent its development at all costs. It is not fair to judge Cuba on the one hand and, on the other, attempt to drown and stifle it, to bring it down by famine and disease. It is not a question of judging Cuba, but rather of judging those who have tried at all costs to prevent the development of our country.

These events, this mass emigration, do not negate, can absolutely not negate, the huge significance of the revolution to our people. Nor can they negate the capacity of resistance shown by our people for almost five years now since the disappearance of the socialist bloc. Everyone thought the revolution would not last at all, and yet it has endured. This not a sign of failure, it is a sign of success.

[Mano] Does the fundamental problem not lie precisely in the fact that Cuba lived above its means with the help of the Soviet Union, and that now finally, as we say in the West, the cost of things has caught up with you?

[Castro] That is partly true. That is to say, our country made social achievements which went beyond its economic development. But that was due indeed to the existence of the socialist bloc and of the USSR, from whom we got fair prices for our products -- sugar, nickel, our exports in general -- and from whom we got credit, financing, raw materials, fuel. We cannot be criticized, we cannot be blamed for taking advantage of those favorable circumstances to work for our country's economic and social development.

[Mano] You know that some of your opponents, your adversaries, say that in the final analysis the blockade is your best ally, because it enables you to divert your own responsibility for the situation onto the shoulders of the United States. Is the Cuban regime totally error-free? Has it not made mistakes?

[Castro] No no, I cannot say that the Cuban regime has not made mistakes. No human endeavor is free from error, but I would say that the revolution made an extraordinary effort for the people within a specific historical context which no longer exists, which obliges us now to adapt to the present circumstances.

[Mano] You are therefore going to launch a certain number of reforms. Specifically you are going to initiate reforms of economic liberalization, a little bit of free market, the decriminalization of holding U.S. dollars. Does this mean that Cuba will be taking a new course, a new course that will bring it closer to the market economy?

[Castro] Well, we have not renounced our principles, our ideals. In the present special circumstances we have set ourselves as fundamental tasks the defense of the homeland, the defense of the revolution, and the defense of the gains of socialism. We cannot say that at present we are in a position to carry on building socialism: We are compelled to adapt our work, our economic endeavors, to the present world reality.

So, well, you said a short while ago that in these circumstances the blockade served as a pretext. So, if the blockade really is our ally, why does the Unites States not lift it? Because even the changes and reforms we want to introduce are being hindered by the blockade. But it is no ally of our country; On the contrary, the blockade burdens our country's life, our country's economy, with the weight of the entire Himalayas.

We are not renouncing our ideals. There is a long way to go before we could be said to be moving towards a market economy. And in this regard perhaps one day we may find ourselves compelled to speak -- as the Chinese do -- of a socialist market economy.

[Mano] If I understand you rightly, to be a revolutionary in Cuba today means to be able to adapt and perhaps to change course?

[Castro] All changes are possible. Plenty of changes have occurred in history. But what the Cuban Revolution cannot renounce is its principles and the power of the people, nor the goals set for the benefit of the people. Apart from that, I do not know what you mean by changes in leadership. If you mean changes in the responsibilities that fall to each one of us, we are none of us eternal, not those in power, nor those outside. But the power of the people is something that can never be renounced.

[Mano] Setting aside what the political leader in you would say, what did you feel, as citizen of this country, when you saw those people leaving in those makeshift vessels, what did it do to you deep down?

[Castro] We grieved, really. We could not but grieve. Cuba has a 3,500-kilometer coastline, well, 3,400 kilometers approximately. It is impossible to keep 3,400 kilometers of coastline under surveillance when encouragement is coming from the outside for people to go to the United States.

[Mano] You talk passionately about all these problems. Would you be ready to meet the President of the United States and to speak to him about these problems and would he be welcome if he wanted to come here?

[Castro] It is difficult for me to answer this question because it could be alleged that I suggested a meeting with the President of the United States. I think the President of the United States should be asked in the first instance if he were ready to meet me; then you are asking another question. If he wanted to come here, well, we would be delighted to welcome him. We will welcome him as we welcomed you. But we are not saying to him: Come to Cuba. We are saying to him that if he wanted to come to Cuba, if he wanted to get in touch, if he wanted to discuss things with us, we don't have any objection.

I am not proposing a meeting with the President of the United States.

[Mano] Today a few kilometers off your coast, the U.S. Army is installing a regime that was democratically elected. Would you not think that times have changed?

[Castro] We don't agree with the intervention in Haiti because we believe in the sovereignty of every country. I think you, the French, would not agree with foreign troops intervening to restore democracy. Because I don't know which sort of democracy one can implement with bayonets, and what kind of democracy can one implement in destroying the sovereignty of a country; this is a problem.

We sympathize with Aristide. I think he is an excellent person. I think the fact that he returned home carried on the shoulders of the American soldiers has undermined his authority and prestige. This is why I would have preferred a different solution to the problem of Haiti, different from the military intervention. From this point of view we are opposed to this intervention.

[Mano] Listening to you, one has the feeling that you are nostalgic for the period of the bipolar system?

[Castro] Yes, I am nostalgic, I don't agree with the unipolar system and you would not agree with it yourself, because all these norms, these interventions are applied to the Third World countries. If the country in question were a nuclear power, the UN Security Council would not have decided in favor of a military intervention, because a military intervention would trigger a nuclear war. I am nostalgic because I cannot imagine a world being ruled in this way, a world under the hegemony of one superpower. No, I cannot resign myself to this fact. You are a nuclear superpower, you are respected because you are powerful. But can the Third World countries expect the same? No! However, we are defending our country even though we do not possess nuclear weapons. We are preserving our independence, sovereignty, and our revolution without nuclear weapons because we only possess moral weapons.

Before, we were described as a satellite of the Soviet Union. Today we could be described as a solitary star, like the star of our flag with its own light, but nobody could say we are a satellite. Now we could be told that we are nostalgic.

[Mano] Not to be a satellite of anybody is a positive thing, but to be isolated is difficult. Do you feel very isolated today?

[Castro] Well, I feel relatively isolated. We have many friends in the world. Among them is a country with 1.2 billion inhabitants, that is China which is our friend. Vietnam with its 70 million inhabitants is our friend. In Africa, there are hundreds of millions of people who appreciate the efforts deployed by Cuba for the liberation of Africa and for the fight against apartheid which has succeeded. There are also the people of Latin America who belong to our culture, with whom we share the same blood and who expect a lot from the triumph of the Cuban revolution or expect at least that the revolution should be able to survive. There are a lot of people in the world who support us. It does not matter if they are modest people. They are not the owners of powerful means of communication, but they support us and we do not feel alone. Anyway, if we had to chose between loneliness and dependency, we would chose loneliness but we will not give up independence.

[Mano] We realize that you do not expect a lot from your relationship with the United States. On the other hand, regarding Europe, are there any prospects, do you regard it as a way of side-stepping the American obstacle?

[Castro] We are interested in seeing an independent Europe. That is what we want, an independent Europe. We are not interested in an Europe subordinated to the United States. To the extent that Europe will develop, that it will become integrated, that Europe will remain independent, it will act as a counter-weight in this monopolarized world. And, of course, to the Third World countries Europe's development provides a certain guarantee that they will not be exclusively dependent on the United States, a certain guarantee of independent development. This is really what we expect of Europe. Not just Cuba but all the Third World countries.

[Mano] As you know, in Europe many countries link the question of development and cooperation to the question of democracy and human rights. And as you know, Mr. President, your country has a poor reputation in this sphere.

[Castro] The question should be asked of who has given Cuba a poor reputation, and with what means that was done. Why is everything that Cuba has done for human rights denied? Why is everything denied that Cuba has done in the political sphere? Why do they deny, for example, the social advances achieved by Cuba and by no other Third World country? Why is the fact denied that the revolution saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children by bringing child mortality down from 60 to ten percent? Why is it denied that Cuba, a Third World country, has a public health system that stands comparison with the most developed countries? Why is it denied that Cuba has liquidated racial discrimination? Why is it denied that Cuba has brought equality and fraternity to all its citizens? Why is it denied that Cuba was able to send doctors not only to its fields and its mountains, but also to other countries? Why is it not recognized that Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita in the world? Why is it not recognized that Cuba has the highest number of teachers per capita in the world? That it is the country that has most developed education and public health in recent years? That it provided jobs for all its citizens? That it protects all of its citizens? Why is it not recognized that there are no death squads in Cuba? That there is no torture in Cuba -- in fact the opposite claim has often been made and is one of history's greatest infamies.

I believe that no other country and no other revolution -- not the French Revolution, not the Russian Revolution, not any other country's revolution -- was more humanitarian than our revolution. There is no instance in Cuba of a priest being shot by a firing squad. How many priests did you, the French, shoot at the time of your revolution? In Cuba there was not such a single instance, not such a conflict. I can assure you that it never happened in Cuba, and our people know it because they have been educated with ethics and principles.

[Mano] You know too that your opponents -- and you have them too even here in Cuba -- say that it is also the country with the most prisoners per capita. For political reasons.

[Castro] Perhaps... [pauses] Oh no, not political -- that I totally deny. There was a time when there were many political prisoners, in the first years of the Revolution. But as time has gone by -- we ourselves put them in prison, at the time of [Playa] Giron [Bay of Pigs], when they were seeking directly to destroy the revolution and plotting acts of violence and sabotage against the country. It was our duty to defend ourselves, and there were a lot of political prisoners. Now there are scarcely any counterrevolutionary prisoners. I can't actually give you the figures because I don't know them exactly, but I can tell you that it is a very small number. No one can deny that.

But that depends too on what you call a political prisoner. It is a question of doctrine, a question of philosophy. Some of the greatest jurists do not ascribe the status of political prisoners to the counterrevolutionaries.

[Mano] Generally speaking, a political prisoner is a person you put in jail for not sharing your views.

[Castro] No, we do not have that kind of people here. We may have people in jail here for acts of sabotage, for plotting subversion and counterrevolution, for seeking to destabilize the country, for working in close cooperation with the CIA to destroy the revolution. And no one can deny our right to defend ourselves. And we have defended ourselves.

[Mano] You have spoken of upcoming legislative elections and what I would like to ask you is: Will there be several candidates, several political parties? Will the press be free? Will the elections be free?

[Castro] Several candidates, yes. People are ignorant of our electoral system, but I am absolutely convinced that it is much more honest, much cleaner, much healthier than the multiparty system. The single-party tradition originates from our independence struggle, from the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded by Jose Marti. This is the tradition, and we do not want to bring chaos, we do not want to fragment our country into a 1,000 pieces. That we are not prepared to allow.

[Mano] But among these candidates, some would say: We want to change policy; We want to change the government; We want Fidel Castro to leave -- in fact this is what is being said throughout the world.

[Castro] More easier than in France! In France it is more difficult for a party that won the elections to say that it will change policy, or that it will change from the capitalist system to the socialist system. If the counterrevolution secured a majority, it would obtain a majority in parliament. Then it would be able to change policy, the revolution, and be able to change everything. But first, it will have to obtain a majority. This is why the revolution is fighting to maintain the support of the majority of the people. Of course, they can change policy.

[Mano] We will soon end this interview. You said earlier that nobody is immortal.

[Castro] Yes.

[Mano] You also said a few years ago that you were ready to leave in exchange of the lifting of the embargo. Did you say that without thinking or do you still think about it?

[Castro] What I said was the answer to a question by a journalist, that is as far as I am concerned I have no importance as a person. What matters to me is the homeland, the revolution, and socialism. That is what I said. I said my life had no importance, my head had no importance. But I think it is not a dignified thing to negotiate the role of a revolutionary. I made my position clear, I was not interested [in power] and I still maintain that position. In addition, I said that at the end of the embargo and at the end of the special phase, I would like to enjoy the freedom to decide instead of being what I have been so far: a slave of what I consider my obligations and my duty.

I have been fighting for 50 years now, since I was a student at university. These are many years of effort, work, and sacrifice. I often feel nostalgic for the old days. I feel nostalgic for not being free, for not having enough time to read or write, for doing different things other than this bitter work of politics. It is a hard and difficult work. But it is not up to me to decide when I should stop playing my role. It is up to the party, the National Assembly, and the government to decide. I think revolutionaries never retire. I think revolutionaries, writers, and doctors never retire. Politics has never rewarded us. No cadre of the revolution has enriched himself or possessed a bank account abroad and no official of the revolution possesses a single dollar. We can say this. Is there in the world a more honest government than the Cuban Government where no minister can be bribed? These are things that exists throughout the world, including the great Europe. We gained nothing from the revolution and politics. We gave them our lives, our time, and our tireless hours of fighting. We gained nothing in exchange and that is why we feel free.

There is one important issue. The revolution has acquired many new cadres. We opened the door to these new cadres. We would be very happy to see the revolution strengthened with new cadres that will achieve the same work as we did. I say this frankly to you.

[Mano] My last question...

[Castro] A last question? Are you already bored?

[Mano] No, but I don't want to monopolize your time. What do you think history will treasure from your personality. Will it be -- as some of your friends say -- the hero of the Bay of Pigs and the Sierra Maestra, or will it be -- as the United States says -- the dictator who was not able to introduce changes and alternation of power in his country?

[Castro] Well, it cannot be said that we have not changed the country, because no country has changed as much as Cuba. I am not interested in history because I am not vain. Many men went to war with history in their mind; they wanted to win military battles. However, all the victories of our revolution showed that we often preferred negotiation. We are after neither honors nor glory. History is relative; we trust history. But if you analyzed the history of the ancient world, you would see that the concepts changed throughout the centuries. The opinion on Julius Caesar has changed throughout the centuries. The opinion on Cicero, Catilina, and Brutus have changed a lot. [break in reception] Without going back to ancient world, let's take the French Revolution. Even the French people are not entirely in agreement on how to judge the French Revolution. For some, Marat was a revolutionary; for others he was a cruel man. Robespierre, Danton, all these figures of the French Revolution were judged in different ways. If history appreciates the real values, if it appreciates ethics, patriotism, the spirit of independence, sovereignty, and the capability for fighting and resisting, it should give an exceptional place to Cuba. I think there are fewer people who confronted so greater a challenge than the one met by the Cuban revolution. This is my opinion and history will testify. But in the end of the day whether it will appreciate us or not, history has an end, everything has an end. When the sun dies there will be no history. But even before the sun dies, mankind may meet its end on Earth as a result of the pollution of the environment by society, as a result of consumption by a civilization of which many feel proud and which is emptying the planet of its oxygen. Mankind may meet its end.

I think there is something more important than history, that is the opinion each one of has of his own actions. We revolutionaries should be critical and self-critical. We have firm convictions and a high opinion of what we have achieved.

[Mano] Good evening, Mr. President, and thank you for welcoming us here and for having agreed to be interviewed.

[Castro] So I haven't put any limit on you!! But you asked me quite a lot of questions!