Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-95-028-S Daily Report 30 Jan 1995 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Mexican Newspaper Interviews Fidel Castro

Part V Discusses Economic Questions

PA0202153895 Mexico City EL SOL DE MEXICO in Spanish 30 Jan 95 Section A, pp 1, 20 PA0202153895 Mexico City EL SOL DE MEXICO Spanish BFN [Part V of nine-part "exclusive" interview with President Fidel Castro by EL SOL DE MEXICO Director General Mario Vazquez Rana in Havana; date not given -- first two paragraphs are EL SOL DE MEXICO introduction]

[FBIS Translated Text] Havana, Cuba -- What is an aspiration for Latin America is becoming a problem for Cuba: What to do with so many professionals? In Cuba the question is: Who will bury the dead if all Cubans have guaranteed access to a college education and a professional career? People keep dying and burials are not being automated, but instead must keep depending on manual labor.

Cuba is retracing its own steps somewhat and asking itself questions no one would have asked a decade ago. Cuba is learning from the contradictions of its own conflict and isolation as a socialist country facing capitalist investment.

[Vazquez] Mr. President, as one of those global politicians with ample experience preparing young people like Robaina, Lage, Alarcon, and many others, do you believe their experiences can lead Cuba down the appropriate path?

[Castro] "Many new people have been trained in various fields in addition to politics. There are many new cadres in the political arena, but we also have many new and valuable people working at the university level and in the scientific research centers.

"We have 201 scientific and technical centers. This is one of the areas in which we have made substantial progress, almost as much as in sports. We have made special progress in the biological sciences and other fields.

"There is a tremendous scientific-technical movement in Cuba which involves hundreds of thousands of people. Well, that would take even longer to explain.

"We hold a science and technology forum every year with the participation of over 1 million people, including specialized workers, engineers, and many other professionals. There is a scientific-technical movement in Cuba with hardly any parallel elsewhere.

"Thus, we have many experienced people in all areas, and new cadres are emerging, who are gaining great experiences and are becoming increasingly more responsible everywhere. Cadres of new experienced people have also emerged in the Armed Forces.

"We have had to create strong institutions and prepare many people to defend ourselves. We have actually prepared hundreds of thousands of people.

"I have often said this: We have trained too many university professionals. Our country has the highest number per capita of doctors and sports and physical education instructors worldwide.

"Yes. We opened universities everywhere and gave everyone a chance to study. Now, our problem in this special period may be that we have too many professionals and intellectuals and not enough manual laborers, particularly in this time of restriction.

"Although manual labor is always necessary, everyone dreams of a son graduating with a university degree, and we promoted this, based on modern ideas.

"Of course, we were automating everything: construction works, ports, and agriculture. We were using machines; we were thinking about replacing manual labor with machines. But manual labor is always necessary.

"Sometimes I wondered: `Who will bury the dead in this country? Who will sweep the streets, and who will want to be a garbage collector?'

"That is one of the main problems a socialist system must resolve because it gives everyone an opportunity to become professionals. Later, it has no one to perform other necessary tasks. It must consider economic mechanisms to tackle this issue. If everyone earns a university degree, then a garbage collector will have to earn more than a professional or there will be neither garbage collectors nor grave diggers.

"Sometimes when I have gone to the cemetery to bid farewell to a dead companero I have seen the work done there by the men wearing blue denim overalls. They bury the dead, lower the coffins into the graves, and I see that is a sad and hard job. I ask myself: Who will do this work in the future, when everyone here is a university professional?

"I have asked myself that question time and again and have tried to find an answer. I can only say that there is but one economic answer to this. Hard work must be better remunerated, because it cannot be mechanized, because I still have never heard of an automated burial. The old method is still used. Belts are used to lower the coffin, and the heavier it is the more difficult it is to lower the coffin. I have not seen an automated burial anywhere in the world.

"Garbage, more or less, is collected with garbage machines, but there are a lot of jobs that cannot be mechanized. Even if you get that garbage into a truck, and the truck takes it away, there is still much work to be done to clean the city, and there are no substitutions for many manual jobs in society.

"In the United States this type of manual labor is performed by immigrants, not only to bury the dead or to collect garbage, but to pick tomatoes, vegetables, and all sorts of things. Who will pick the tomatoes and vegetables, do that manual work which is still not mechanized? The immigrants. And in Europe who works the hardest? Immigrants.

"But in a country that does not have immigrants, only nationals, in a country that also has to do those jobs and which cannot resort to a foreigner doing it, in a regime like ours, that manual work has to be done by Cubans.

"That is why since the beginning we have always insisted that people perform manual and intellectual labor; that is why the study and work schools were created, because one of society's very serious problems had to be resolved, the problem of who does certain manual labor.

"In general, people want to see all their children graduate from university, without exception. Since in our country they have the chance to study, that is why the sugarcane cutter, the undertaker, the garbage collector can have a son who is an engineer, an architect, a renowned painter, an artist, a composer, a doctor, a professor, or many other things. That is what he wants for his son. He doesn't want his son to have to do the work he has done.

"Traditionally, children did what their parents did in a big society of different classes.

"The capitalist, developed world has replaced these people with immigrants, but here the citizens of our country have to do the work.

"In a society that claims to be just, this problem has to be resolved on the basis of economic compensation and recognition of that man. The day may come when whoever collects garbage will have society's great appreciation, almost as high as that accorded a university professional.

"A society of university professionals cannot function. Some work has to be done by other people.

"Now there are some professionals who are turning to other fields, to tourism and such things.

"We promote universities in all provinces, and for some time we had many needs. But the universities are all functioning. None has closed. We have reduced enrollment a certain extent, but we still have a high proportion of professional workers."

[Vazquez] As for state-owned companies now being bought with foreign capital, are they sold through public bids or are they sold behind closed doors?

[Castro] "This is a new experience, Mario. We began with a Spaniard and a jointly run hotel that we built together. We were able to reach an agreement because he wanted to invest.

"You must understand that we do not have that many offers of capital investment that would enable us to afford to hold public bids. But first and foremost we do not have companies for sale. This all started with new investments, even though we have subsequently sold parts of certain companies, it hasn't been complete companies; we have participated in mixed enterprises with existing companies.

"We do not receive many offers of capital investment; we sometimes have to seek investors throughout the world because of opposition from the United States, which is constantly threatening those who do business with us and pressuring them. We do not get many offers, but if someone shows up saying: "I am interested in cement," that's something else.

"It could be Mexican cement, which already has a powerful company with investments both inside and outside Mexico. If someone shows up interested in learning about our economic opening because he has businesses in the Caribbean and makes us an offer, we would feel very pleased to have someone come to us with an offer. What we then do is we hold lots of discussions in a very rational manner: How much is that company worth? How can we appraise that company? What percentage will each party have?

"We offer equal shares, more or less. He would then purchase his share in the mixed enterprise and would have to guarantee markets. He would guarantee the supplies we are not always capable of guaranteeing. This is how these kinds of businesses have begun to appear. This is a market in which these types of businesses are conducted. Public bids are not held.

"We wish we could do those things. We wish we had that much capital ready to be invested here. We wish there was no U.S. blockade. We wish we could hold bids and say: `Look gentlemen, we have a mineral deposit of this or that type.'

"We are happy when someone comes along, Mario. If three come along -- and it could happen -- then we would hold discussions with all three to see who made the best offer, who is more advisable, who has the best option or preference, like the ones we give to Latin Americans or Mexicans, for example.

"Our mechanism is to make contacts, which in turn lead to other contacts. Some are interested in glass. Fine. Come and we will see what your offer is. Others may be interested in a mixed enterprise. Another may want to install a warehouse to place products on consignment. They are increasingly interested in different types of businesses.

"But we are not capitalists, Mario. We know nothing about capitalism. We are socialists, and we are participating in this adventure to come into contact with the capitalist companies from all over the world, in the midst of the U.S. blockade. Conditions are special here, and we are learning. We have been resorting to our common sense, to our rationale, and to our criteria.

"We do not want to sell our country, and we are not planning or willing to sell our country. We are doing business with factories that are paralyzed, factories with no raw materials, factories with no markets, factories that could be improved with new technology, or factories that need to be built because it is advisable to do it in a specific field.

"Hotels are the most typical example because we began with them. Twenty billion dollars could be invested in Cuba because we have tremendous potential in tourism.

"We have built causeways to connect the coast with the keys. We have created access to hundreds of kilometers of virgin coastal areas with magnificent beaches, hundreds of kilometers of beaches. That is, this is one the areas where there can be more investment.

"Our nickel reserves might be depleted, so that we would not be able to create a mixed enterprise. Our natural resources might be used up, but tourism has a vast potential and offers a tremendous opportunity for investment, an area where more investment could be made. Our apprenticeship began in this area.

"Since investors travel throughout the world in search of investment opportunities, they like two things about our country: They like our workers' level of preparation.

"Here's an example of a small company that produces artificial trees. I got a tree from them. It is a small mango tree that no one can tell apart from a real mango tree. They also sent me a letter. They had a plan to train personnel for three months. In just 17 days they had produced their first tree.

"You can see the importance of educating the people. Investors like that very much. They also like something else -- our people's honesty. Investors like the fact that they won't be charged a commission for a business venture. They appreciate that very much in this world where there are all kinds of business ventures everywhere.

"I should say in total frankness that they appreciate the honesty of the people they deal with. In general, they deal with ministers and deputy ministers.

"At a lower level anything can happen. I cannot deny that, because people are human. But investors are surprised by that honesty, and then their interest grows, they earn profits, they have the opportunity to recuperate their total investment. No country affords facilities like we do. The recovery is almost direct. It is not like the system in other countries.

"The mixed enterprises distribute their profits and investors can repatriate their profits without any obstacles. We give them some tax breaks, and we also give them some breaks on imports of specific goods or raw materials.

"Therefore, this can work on the basis of seriousness, profits, and the people's honesty. A combination of all these factors is what generates so much interest among investors to come and invest here.

"The problem facing those who have money is where to invest it, because the former socialist countries and the former USSR are now also competing for investments. These countries have entered the credit market, that is, they have become part of the demand for credit, loans, and capital.

"Everyone is looking for capital. We have to evolve under these circumstances.

"You had asked me if I had a lot of confidence in the young people, in the new values. We have shared all our experiences with them, and we have some influence and exercise some control over their activities, the basic problems. I will not say we discuss everything. We discuss the strategic things, the most essential things. In that sense, well, the experience..."

[Vazquez] Mr. President, does that mean that with your well-prepared people and with Cuba's new plan your country will be able to progress?

[Castro] "Yes. Yes, we intend to progress. The people are gaining solid experience quickly."

[Vazquez] If you were to receive two, more or less, identical economic proposals on the purchase of a state-owned agency, what factors would you examine in deciding on the best bid?

[Castro] "Well, let us examine this, right? In terms of our foreign economic relations, we have been decentralizing everything that has to do with trade. Nevertheless, some major foreign trade state agencies are still centralized.

"At any rate, whenever the situation calls for it, we allow some agencies to enter into direct trade, sales, and purchase negotiations with the foreign markets.

"We are not selling state-owned agencies. What we are doing is creating mixed enterprises, which is not exactly the same. It is difficult for a Mexican to understand this concept because over there the process it is known as privatization.

"We are not involved in a privatization process. We are involved in a program aimed at restarting our companies and factories that have been idle. All proposals that we are willing to accept must be beneficial to both the investor and us. There can also be foreign investment in a new factory or company associated with the state, regardless of who manages it. But we have already addressed that issue.

"If what you mentioned regarding two similar proposals should take place -- which is hypothetical, right? -- then we would have to evaluate both proposals against each other. Which one is more reliable, more financially sound, or more experienced? We could even evaluate the proposals from the perspective of the investors' country of origin; in other words, which country has better relations with us? There is always something against which we can evaluate the investment proposals to decide on the best choice."

[Vazquez] Mr. President, what other Latin American nations, besides Mexico, have expressed interest in investing in Cuba?

[Castro] "Mario, we have received offers from most every country for investment, business, trade, and the establishment of associations. We have had representatives here who have indicated their interest. But some have been more committed than others. Some countries are richer and have more resources than others. At any rate, we have received offers from everywhere, even from Central America. Several of these Central American nations have expressed interest in investing in agriculture or in any field where their expertise is at the same level as ours.

"In general, I have been able to meet with some of the growing number of investors from various nations who have been arriving here. We have been hearing widely varying proposals to establish trade associations in accordance with our existing rules. Investment proposals have been growing.

"One of the nations that has made the most proposals, probably because of its proximity and also because it is one of the most developed, is Mexico. This has been due to traditional relations between both nations. But we have also had representatives from Spain, several European nations, and even the former socialist countries make proposals. In other words, we have received proposals from everywhere.

"Of course this is not China or Vietnam. In China there already is a tremendous market. Investment plans, even the volume of investment over there is enormous, not to mention the market itself. On the other hand, our market is much smaller and those countries do not have to face the negative pressures that an economic blockade entails."

(To be continued)