Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-95-028-S Daily Report 26 Jan 1995 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Mexican Newspaper Interviews Fidel Castro

Part I Discusses Cabinet Changes

PA3001042995 Mexico City EL SOL DE MEXICO in Spanish 26 Jan 95 Section A, p 1-20 PA3001042995 Mexico City EL SOL DE MEXICO Spanish BFN [Part I of "exclusive" interview with President Fidel Castro by EL SOL DE MEXICO Director General Mario Vazquez Rana in Havana; date not given -- first twelve paragraphs are EL SOL DE MEXICO introduction]

[FBIS Translated Text] Havana, Cuba -- I know Fidel. He is a long-time friend of mine. We first met at the "Moctezuma Firing Range" on the Mexico-Toluca Highway. Back then, we were both young, and we saw each other often. He was always with a group of Cubans. Then, all of the sudden our friends dropped from sight.

We heard the news of the triumph of the Cuban revolution 25 years later. We had no idea who had won, or if the Cubans we had met at the firing range were involved. But one day, we realized through some photographs that the great leader of the Cuban revolution was our friend, whose name we could not recall.

Years later, I went to Cuba on a sporting trip. There, I saw him and we reminisced about many things that had happened since we last met.

Although we do not see eye-to-eye ideologically, our friendship has grown each day thanks to Castro's manners and likeable personality. As human beings, we have had our differences and problems, but such is life. Our mutual friendship and respect, though, is solid.

On 5 October 1990, he granted me a short interview. Then, as always, I learned a lot from Fidel Castro.

On 2 December 1991, he granted me another interview, a very long and profound one that lasted all night. But Cuba had changed, and Fidel's ideas, as always, were centered around his revolution.

The last few months, I have seen many changes in the Cuban socialist system and a big opening to world trade. Undoubtedly, similar changes are taking place in the People's Republic of China, changes which are admired and encouraged worldwide.

A few days ago, I asked Fidel for an interview to report on the breakthroughs in Cuba's domestic and external policies, and that is how I came to Havana. We dined, and at midnight we sat down to talk. We had an interesting conversation, longer and more thorough than ever.

He is untouched by the years. His eloquence and intelligence are evident. We finished at 0530 with no interruptions, other than by Carlos Lage, his close aide, who stood by at all times, in case his boss needed anything. I really think Fidel has never given an interview as thorough as this one.

[Vazquez] Mr. President, the last few days we have been hearing in the media about the cabinet changes in Cuba. What are the reasons behind these changes?

[Castro] "These changes mean nothing special. They are part of an ongoing process throughout the revolution's history, in particular during the past few years, as we have had to face serious problems that require a great deal of strength.

"The comrades who were relieved of their duties had been fulfilling them for many years. They devoted the best of their lives to them and have carried them out with exemplary dedication and honesty.

"Also, they are comrades providing examples of upright revolutionary conduct who will be of great use in the other tasks to which they have already been assigned. Last year we made various similar changes.

"In addition, the comrades who have been appointed are as a rule younger cadres who are well-prepared have produced positive results in the tasks they were fulfilling. The idea is to create the best conditions so that each institution can continue and develop its work.

"One must keep in mind also that we have been working on the restructuring of the state's central apparatus. As a result, we have reduced ministries, state committees, and other central institutions from 50 to 32 by eliminating some and merging others.

"The new entities have greater, and in some instances, new tasks. In all of them we are seeking greater control, the transfer of some very administrative tasks to enterprises, a simpler structure, and a more adjusted personnel roster. It stands to reason that changes of this nature also lead to the need to reshuffle some cadres."

[Vasquez] Mr. President, we held our last interview over two years ago. What changes have have been implemented since then?

[Castro] "I think, Mario, that we had been doing a series of things and implementing measures. Our problem was how to deal with the catastrophe that the disappearance of the Socialist Bloc and later the disintegration of the USSR, entailed for our economy.

"I think that caused us tremendous problems. It is unlikely that another country could have avoided such problmes while maintaining its objectives.

"Our problem consisted of what to do to survive and at the same time save the major social gains the Revolution had made for the people.

"We saw it as a major challenge in which we first and foremost had to save the fatherland. If the Revolution were to be destroyed, the fatherland would be lost; the revolution and the gain of socialism was our primary concern when all those events took place, and abruptly at that.

"I do not know if any other nation has undergone such trials, but they began over four years ago. That marked the beginning of the 1990's; it will be five years soon, and we have been able to resist and persevere in our objectives.

"We had already been making political changes to improve our electoral system. It took a long time to explain the procedure used to elect the people's representatives. It is a new and revolutionary method, and we wanted to improve it.

"Originally, from 12,000 to 13,000 district delegates were elected nationwide. This is an approximate figure, since when I cite figures there may be variations. The district delegates made up the municipal assemblies and later elected the representatives to the National Assembly.

"Later on, we amended the Constitution and created the direct vote for the representatives to the National Assembly.

"This was implemented almost two years ago in the latest elections. Each of our deputies has to win one-half plus one of the valid votes cast in the elections.

"That was one of the first breakthroughs. We tried to make political changes with the idea of not dividing the people into factions. To a Mexican, Mario, this may be difficult to understand, but for us, the fundamental problem within the political concept was not to divide the people.

"We started with the concept that people nominate and the people elect. We established the assemblies to nominate candidates from the grass-roots level. Neighbors met and held discussions in public assemblies, as in the times of Athens one could say, to nominate the district candidates to form the base from which the other state branches were elected.

"With the new constitutional amendments, the district delegates -- who in turn comprise the municipal assemblies -- do not just elect but also nominate the candidates to the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly.

"We modified the Constitution to perfect our electoral system. In many countries there are many parties, society is divided, and the parties do the nominating and, often, do the electing because candidates are elected on the basis on how the candidate lists are prepared: number one, number two, number three, etc. In our country the multiparty system, as we could call it, is such that any citizen may nominate any person, and it is the assembly of neighbors who makes the decisions. This does not exist in other places.

"That is, our party does not nominate candidates. Our party seeks to comply with the electoral process. The people initiate the process and the people nominate the candidates. This should mean that the majority supports the existence of a revolutionary government.

"I do not want to expand on this too much but I want to tell you that some years ago we made some modifications to perfect our electoral system and all the changes were implemented in the last election.

"We, independent of other problems, have been thinking about all this because one of the characteristics of our revolution is that it is closely connected with all the people, and this should be known so that it may be understood.

"Our people are organized. Only an organized and patriotic people could resist 35 years of a U.S. blockade. Our children, women, neighbors, peasants, students, and workers are organized. These mass organizations represent 80 to 90 percent of the country's population.

"There has always been close contact between revolutionary power, the party, and the mass organizations. This explains our country's strength and its capability to resist the U.S. blockade, threats, and aggressions for so many years.

"From the social point of view we have made big changes. There is no need to make any new social change in our country because the idea is to preserve the social changes we have made as well as the revolution's social achievements that must not be lost during the special period.

"Other changes, reforms, and economic changes have enabled us to withstand the situation under the exceptional circumstances of a unipolar world, to survive, and to develop.

"The endeavor to go for it, alone, speaks of our people's high morale. This, as I have told you, means economic changes, reforms, and adaptations that have been relatively important. We are doing this step by step.

"In making economic changes we have considered what has happened in the Soviet Union and other countries that were divided, dismembered, and destroyed."

[Vasquez] Mr. President, recently there has been a big economic opening in Cuba. Agricultural products are being sold directly by the peasants.

How is this system working?

[Castro] "I was going to speak to you about this, Mario. I don't know if we should adhere to a certain structure to be able to explain matters. Right?

"We have made a significant opening. First, the opening to foreign investment. We had thought about this before the catastrophe in the socialist camp occurred. Before that time, in spite of the eresources available to Cuba and the cooperation of the Socialist Bloc and the Soviet Union, there was a level of development we had not reached. We had neither the technology nor the capital to achieve this. We had already thought about mixed enterprises, only that this process acquired more urgency following the socialist camp crisis and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Cuba has initiated a broad opening on the following basis: We will provide copportunity to foreign investors who can bring in capital, technology, and markets.

"It should not be forgotten that we are a country blockaded by the United States and that this has been the case for more than 35 years. Under these conditions, all tasks are difficult to tackle for our country.

"I think we are the only country blockaded by the United States and we are resisting. There is no blockade of Vietnam; there is practically no blockade of Korea, or of China. The blockade remains only of Cuba. There is a special intent with regard to Cuba and the blockade is most rigorous.

"Under these conditions, with the dissolution of the USSR, we had to see where we could find resources.

When the USSR and the Socialist Bloc existed, there was technology, techonology for us. Some was less advanced, but it existed. There were credits for acquiring that technology, raw material, fuel, everything.

"We received truly fair, reasonable prices for our products. We were not victims of an unbalanced exchange rate phenomenon.

"When prices for socialist exports increased, the prices of our exports increased, and this allowed us to shield ourselves from the blockade for a long time. Then all that disappeared and we were left with the blockade in its most rigorous form, and we had to solve those problems.

"That is why we gave more credence to the idea of using foreign investments and establishing mixed enterprises which basically began to operate in the tourism sector, and which have, as of today, extended to almost all the sectors of the economy.

"That is one of the most important things we have done. The opening to market forces is quite extensive. The mixed enterprises we have created are currently operating well. They have been very successful, and, anyway, we had no other solution but the participation of foreign capital in the country's development. The idea was precisely to develop the country when we no longer received credits, or any type of aid, from the Socialist Bloc countries and the former USSR.

"We have very good relations with the Chinese, but strictly on a commercial basis, and these were not exactly the relations we had with the Soviet Union and the socialist countries.

"We have very good relations with the Vietnamese and also with the Koreans. Some have more resources. China has more resources and, given the difficult situation we are in, the Chinese have treated us well.

"We are really grateful to them because they have understood our problems and they have tried to cooperate, but on a different basis than in the case of the Soviet Union and our relations with socialist countries of East Europe.

"Foreign investment is working well and we see it as an important source of revenue for development. We have no alternative.

"Furthermore, we must bear in mind that Cuba has lost all its markets. During the blockade, 80 percent of our trade was carried out with socialist countries and we lost this. We had to adapt to the situation. We had to make tremendous changes; for example, our imports were reduced to 30 percent of what we historically received.

"I would like to know if any country would have been able to withstand such a brutal reduction of its imports from abroad, including fuel imports, which is our Achilles' heel.

"Contrary to what the Mexicans have available, that is hydraulic resources and special hydrocarbon resources, we have none of those resources. We have had to import all the fuel we use, except for some supplied by our small but growing production capacity."

(To be continued)