Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-94-206 Daily Report 27 Oct 1994 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Castro Discusses Domestic Issues, Rafters

BR2410151994 Paris PARIS MATCH in French 27 Oct 94 pp 92-93 BR2410151994 Paris PARIS MATCH French BFN [Report on interview with President Fidel Castro by Jean-Luc Mano in Havana; date not given: "Castro: `I will Go To Hell and Meet the Capitalists'"]

[FBIS Translated Excerpt] "The important appointment -- as a meeting with Fidel Castro is called here -- may be this evening. Stay accessible, and be ready to come at any time." [passage omitted]

Just on midnight, the telephone rings in the bar of the Hotel Nacional: "Come now, the Comandante will receive you." [passage omitted]

The "Greatest Leader" will spend over an hour, in the middle of the night, answering our questions.

He pursues a familiar line: The American blockade is the source of all evil.

[Mano] And the balseros [rafters]?

[Castro] This is a natural emigration from the poor countries to the rich ones, like the Mexicans going to the United States, or the North Africans going to France.

[Mano] Economic failure?

[Castro] Cuba cannot be judged in this way. The Revolution includes some tremendous achievements.

[Mano] The political prisoners?

[Castro] There are none in Cuba. It is a matter of philosophy. A counterrevolutionary in prison is not a political prisoner.

[Mano] The single party?

[Castro] This is the legacy of the Revolution. There is no question of changing it.

[Mano] Torture in the regime's jails?

[Castro] This is a lie.

[Mano] Bill Clinton?

[Castro] I am not suggesting we meet but, if he wants to come here, he will be welcome.

[Mano] The collapse of communism?

[Castro] I have nostalgia for that era, when the world was not unipolar.

[Mano] Will not history judge you as a dictator who clung to power?

[Castro] You know, history takes a long time to make its judgments. Look at Julius Caesar, Catilina, Brutus... Look at Marat and Robespierre, the French Revolution... All of these are still controversial. [Castro ends]

In short, although he admits that "Cuba has not been free of mistakes" and that the island has in practice lived beyond its means "thanks to aid from the socialist camp," he sees the opening of the free market as nothing more than "an unavoidable concession," as Cuba, in isolation, is no longer capable of building socialism. But there remains "a long way to go before saying that Cuba is marching toward the market economy." A way that Fidel Castro clearly has no wish to go, even backward, and despite pressure from his young reformist ministers.

His departure from power, the burning question in this country divided between loyalty and weariness, is something Castro no longer refuses to contemplate.

[Castro] No one lives for ever.... I am not important. When the situation improves, maybe.... A revolutionary never retires... But I would like to read, to write, to do what I have never been able to do! [Castro ends]

The Havana night is over. So is the interview. A final mischievous glance: "Are we stopping already? Are you tired?" But Castro wants to continue his sermon. Another meeting is planned for this afternoon. [passage omitted]

The end of the afternoon in Havana. We return to the Palace of the Revolution. "How about a mojito?" The cocktails arrive -- a mixture of rum, sugar, mint, and lemon, as much a part of life in Havana as pastis is in Marseilles. Fidel drinks a sort of white wine, with an olive swimming in it. The others drink water.

And Fidel talks. He talks, for two hours, about everything, and nothing.

He talks of how he gave away the 17,000 gifts he has received over 25 years: Sportswear went to the AIDS hospital; signed copies of books went to the National Library; precious items went to museums. Everything was given away, with two exceptions. The first was a statuette of the goddess of wealth, a gift from a Chivos Indian. "When they came for it," he recalls with a smile, "I told them: In our situation, leave the goddess of wealth. Leave it in my office!" The second is a little statute of the Virgin, given him by Mother Teresa, to whom, he explains, he sends Cuban nuns. "Mother Teresa is a saint," he adds, taking from his uniform pocket a white handkerchief which never leaves him since he was given it by the Calcutta nun.

He also mentions the pope: "A brave man, but a fundamentalist."

The victor of the Bay of Pigs also refers to his reading. He is presently engrossed in a biography of Bolivar, a treatise on the balance of payments, a book on the environment by the U.S. vice president, "to see if they are really taking a lead," and "Margaret Thatcher's memoirs: Interesting, but I have not finished them."

Castro gradually opens up. His favorite authors: Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who "sends me his books before they are published." Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, "whose description of the Battle of Waterloo is monumental."

Untiring, he recalls Hemingway, who was his friend. "The Old Man and the Sea," he says, "is the story of a man who hunts the big fish, who fights to catch it, and, once he has landed it on the beach, all that is left on his line is the skeleton. What it is, after all, is the story of the human quest."

Later, during the night, over dinner, he pumps us with questions on French agriculture, laughs at anti-Russian jokes, asks us to draw a map showing where Chablis is produced in relation to Sancerre. He likes French wine. "Marchais [former French Communist Party leader] taught me to appreciate it when he came here on vacation; he brought me wine, foie gras, and goat cheese... Alas! He has not done that for a long time!"

It is two in the morning. A final word of farewell. "You know, I'll go to hell, and I know the heat will be unbearable, but it will be less painful than having expected so much from heaven, which never kept its promises... And also, when I arrive, I will meet Marx, Engels, Lenin... And I will meet you too, as capitalists also go to hell, you know. Especially when they like to enjoy life!

A strange meeting. Is it meant as an apology, or a new challenge?