Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC
FBIS-LAT-95-204 Daily Report 23 Oct 1995 CARIBBEAN Cuba

Reportage on Fidel Castro's Visit to New York

Interviewed by CNN Journalist

PA2310045495 Havana Tele Rebelde and Cuba Vision Networks in Spanish, 0100 GMT 23 Oct 95 PA2310045495 Havana Tele Rebelde and Cuba Vision Networks Spanish BFN [Interview with President Fidel Castro by CNN journalist Bernard Shaw in the CNN studio in New York; from the "NTV" newscast -- recorded; Shaw speaks in English with passage-by-passage translation into Spanish]

[FBIS Translated Text] [Shaw] Mr. President, thank for being with us this afternoon.

[Castro] Thank you, it is a pleasure.

[Shaw] And for us too. Exactly 33 years ago to the day, President Kennedy announced on nationwide television and to the world that Soviet offensive missiles had been installed in your country. These two nuclear powers were on the brink of war. The missiles were later withdrawn. Do you believe that relations with the United States would have been different had you not allowed the missiles in Cuba?

[Castro] No, because the missiles were a consequence of the poor relations. The missile crisis marked the start of detente between the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus, the international political atmosphere improved.

[Shaw] When writing his autobiography, Retired General Colin Powell quotes from a conversation held with Soviet diplomat (Anatoli Dobrini), in which (Dobrini) told Powell: You, the Americans, pushed Fidel into our arms. My question is: do you believe that the Americans truly pushed you or did you walk toward the Soviets?

[Castro] Things were not really that way. We were not pushed. Problems arose, the [Playa] Giron invasion, ulterior plans regarding Cuba, the dangers of a direct invasion with conventional weapons. The elements that determined the possibilities of installing those missiles were influenced by factors... [pauses] I remember... [pauses] We were informed of a conversation between Kennedy and Khrushchev - - in Austria, I believe -- in which Kennedy spoke in terms that caused Khrushchev much unrest. We were informed of this conversation and sincerely, there was Soviet concern because they had pledged Cuba much support. Something of mutual convenience then arose: for us to have what nowadays is called a nuclear umbrella. For the Soviets, to my way of thinking, and as seen after all this time, it meant improving their correlation of strategic forces with the United States. Under these circumstances a visit to Cuba by a Soviet delegation took place, presided by (Ratchinov), who was party secretary in Uzbekistan and an agriculture expert, it was said, because he developed cotton over there in the steppe. He came with the head of Soviet rocket science. When speaking about the risks Cuba was taking, he asked me what could they do -- just in those words. I replied that the only thing that could serve as practically a total guarantee against a U.S. invasion was for the United States to be made to realize that an invasion to Cuba would mean war with the Soviet Union. On more than one occasion the United States had said the invasion of any ally would be cause for a war. The Soviets replied by asking how could we make this guarantee? At that moment they said that a firm step was needed and proposed the installation of the missiles. On the other hand, we immediately understood that if we had an advantage, so would they. We then told them to wait, to please let us think about it. We gathered all the revolution's top leadership, we analyzed the matter, we included a moral element -- whether we want the Soviets to fight for us if we are attacked -- our moral duty is to run a risk in the interest of Soviet security. We then gave our reply -- we told them yes, that we were willing to receive the missiles. This is exactly how I remember things happened. Then came all the story afterward. I can reply to any other question you may have on this.

[Shaw] I noticed you smiled when I mentioned Colin Powell's name. Would you like to see Gen. Powell as a U.S. president?

[Castro] [words indistinct] Gen. Powell and (Dobriniv) and you said that we had been pushed. I disagree with that point of view because events took place, as I explained to you, and it shows that both Colin Powell and I have a good memory on historic events. He remembers what he spoke with (Dobriniv) and I remember what the Soviets spoke with us about.

[Shaw] No, to be clear, what I said was that in Gen. Powell's book he said that Ambassador (Dobriniv) had told him...

[Castro, interrupting] I will explain that to you. In our country and among us, and with me personally, Powell's book -- or Powell, or Powell, is that how I should pronounce it -- stirred great interest, historic interest, and human interest. As soon as the book was published, no, not the book, as soon as the excerpts appeared in TIME magazine -- about 45 pages that I could read -- as soon as the first edition was published our Interests Office sent it and we assigned 46 translators to translate the book. They translated Powell's book in four days. But I have not yet been able to read the entire book because I had meetings, the visit to Uruguay, the meeting in Bariloche, the meeting in Cartagena, the meeting in New York. But as soon as I get some time I plan to read the 500 pages of Powell's book because of the interests I explained to you - - historic, political, and human. I am, therefore, among his readers. But Colin needs to be warned that we will not print his book, but we already have it translated into Spanish. It is the first translation into Spanish. If he wishes we can lend him the material, which may be useful. Books take too long being translated afterward into Spanish and we had a need to get to know the book well. [words indistinct]

[Shaw] What would you think of Colin Powell becoming a presidential candidate?

[Castro] It would seem to me something very interesting; something new in the United States and would make the current political situation even more uncertain.

[Shaw] Mr. President, your daughter Alina Fernandez Revuelta is in New York streets denouncing you and your policies. How do you feel as Alina's father?

[Castro] Look, you are asking me a question of a personal nature, a delicate question. I feel that I should not discuss this topic publicly. It would not be gentlemanly, it would not be reasonable to do so. I prefer you to excuse me from replying to that question.

[Shaw] I understand and I respect your wishes.

[Castro] Thank you.

[Shaw] Personal contacts and discussions with world leaders are important to you. What would a meeting between you and President Clinton do for Cuban-U.S. relations?

[Castro] I believe that any conversation intended with a constructive spirit can be very useful, but that any conversation now in the short term between President Clinton and I will be very difficult considering current political circumstances in the United States with the election campaign close-by, the controversy and uproar that Cuba seems to elicit. I really wish Clinton the best success. In general, I can talk to all presidents once they cease being presidents, but while they are still presidents it is quite difficult. It is for this reason why I believe that such a talk would not take place. I was near Clinton during the photo opportunity. He was standing near-by looking around, smiling.

[Shaw] Did your eyes meet?

[Castro] Briefly. Therefore, I believe it would be safe to say that I received a speck of Clinton's glance and his smile which was also intended for everyone gathered there. Afterwards we walked by each other and he was also sitting at a table near-by. I listened to his address and applauded when he walked toward the podium and when he finished, as well as when he spoke during lunch as a matter of courtesy and because of some of the content of his speech.

[Shaw] Speaking of presidents who are no longer presidents, around the world former President Carter has helped to resolve conflicts in Haiti, North Korea, Africa and in other places. Would you welcome President Carter becoming involved in establishing a new dialogue between Cuba and the United States?

[Castro] I sincerely believe that current circumstances are not the most convenient for a successful mediation. I understand that Carter is a man of goodwill, and that he would like to struggle for peace all over the world. I recognize that he would also like to do something to improve relations between Cuba and the United States. Conditions, I repeat, are not yet fitting and I believe that Carter would be risking his reputation in an effort that might not be productive. It if for this reason why we would prefer to maintain some type of contact or exchange, but for now, not think about any mediation aimed at improving relations taking into account that we are in the middle of an intense and complex election campaign. I believe that we must protect Carter.

[Shaw] President Castro, American fugitive Roberto Vesco is under arrest in Cuba, what do you intend to do with him, and would you extradite him to the United States?

[Castro] I would like to say something. He is under arrest on account of his conduct breaking our laws. Some of the activities he carried out in our country are illegal. Vesco arrived in Cuba when he was going through a very serious health problems. Friends of ours in Costa Rica, or I should say a well-known friend in Costa Rica, whose name I will refrain from mentioning, [words indistinct]. We accepted, he underwent treatment and he ended it successfully. Afterwards, all he needed were periodic tests and that is how Vesco arrived in Cuba. Afterwards, he requested a resident permit which, considering his background and as per requests from Central American friends of ours, we accepted as long as he was willing to accept our laws, and conducted himself accordingly. Thus, he lived in Cuba for several years. However, from the start, orders were relayed within the government that no business relations would be maintained with Vesco. That was the policy established. I understand that some people took advantage of his business expertise but the government had no relations with him. However, Vesco was very insistent and started to develop some activities that ended up violated standard policies as well as the countries' laws. We arrested him and launched an in-depth investigation into his activities. Now, you may ask me if we would be willing to extradite him back to the United States. I would ask, why? There is no record of the United States ever returning any person to Cuba, regardless of the crime they may he carried out. Hundreds of war criminals sought refuge in the United States after the victory of the revolution. These are people who killed thousands of Cubans and [word indistinct] and the United States has never extradited one of these persons. Therefore, there is no reason for reciprocity or to return Vesco to the United States. There would be no rationale or justification for this. One thing I can assure you is that Vesco will not be allowed to violate Cuban laws, and we intend to be very strict in applying these laws in a public trial and according to standard procedures.

[Shaw] If the United States were to return to Cuba the fugitives you want, would Cuba send to the United States the people the FBI and Justice Department wants; people who are wanted for murder, air piracy and crimes?

[Castro] Well, air piracy is severely punished in Cuba with several years imprisonment. This decision came about as result of one of our initiatives to put an end to a dilemma that could eventually end in a tragedy. We did not invent air piracy. Air piracy was invented against Cuba and then became a sort of boomerang. At any rate we were the ones who decided to solved the problem once and for all when one day we returned two air pirates to the United States to stand trial. They were two Cubans who had sought refuge. I understand that they were sentenced to 40 years in jail, and never once where their relatives allowed to visit them. On several occasions we requested that the U.S. authorities allow the two Cubans to serve their sentence in Cuba, to which they never accepted not even out of humanitarian reasons. So we decided to take whatever measure was necessary. Now, there is no extradition treaty, and if there was ever one it probably expired years ago because it was never honored. However, we find no reason not to have an extradition treaty with the U.S. authorities.

[Shaw] If there were a reciprocity?

[Castro] Yes, of course, it could not be any way otherwise.

[Shaw] In the U.S. Congress there is bill pending to tighten the economic embargo. Some of its provisions include that any country that [words indistinct] Cuban entry to world financial institutions. Your reactions?

[Castro] Quite well. I am at ease. We have been used to this sort of lunacy for some time now. However, to prevent an American citizen from tasting a candy made with Cuban sugar is to bar him from one of the best pleasures of the world. Many things can be made with molasses, even an excellent rum. In addition, there is a decorative aspect about molasses and Americans are being deprived from all of that. In addition, at this time, we still have more markets than mere sugar. Of course, there is a moral implication in all of this, an intention to intimidate all those who trade with Cuba and attempt to discourage them. The bill also has other measures just as the Torricelli bill, which is already in effect. This bill is practically approved. I say practically because we still do not know yet what will happen. One thing I can assure you is that the United States has strong opposition originating from Bariloche, Cartagena, and the United Nations. Overall, since the blockade was imposed it has cost Cuba more than $40 billion. Therefore, the United States has a tremendous debt with Cuba.

[Shaw] Before we pause for a very brief break, one quick question: If you were locked in a room with Senators Jesse Helms, Bob Dole, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, what would you tell them, what would you say to them?

[Castro] I do not know whether they smoke cigars. I do not know whether they drink rum. I do not know if they are people who like to talk. However, I could begin by inviting them to try Cuban cigars or to have a drink of rum. We could talk amicably, not only amicably, but respectfully. We could discuss anything they want because I feel that we are right and we are not afraid to discuss with anyone.

Now then, you would have to ask them. They would surely say: With Castro, never. We would never share a word with him. Perhaps they would say that, but I do not have their prejudice. I am more open-minded.

In the United Nations, there are countries that have differing views on many topics, and yet there is a dialogue there. But you asked me about my attitude, what would I say to them? First of all, I would have to confirm that they are people to which one can talk. Then, we could discuss any topic they choose or that was of our interest.

[Shaw] President Clinton has signed an executive order to ease travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans to Cuba, to ease restrictions on scholars, artists, and clergy members to allow [word indistinct] and human rights groups to work in Cuba, and to allow Western Union to open an office so that money transfers from the United States to Cuba can be cashed. The president has signed an executive order that will allow U.S. news agencies to open bureaus in Cuba and if you permitted this, Cuban news agencies could also open bureaus in the United States. Will you permit this?

[Castro] Are you asking, particularly the former question or are you asking me about...

[Shaw, interrupting] I do not want to seem as if I have a personal vested interest in the news bureaus. Of course, we are seen as yet another news agency that wants to be in Cuba, but the crux of the President's executive order, every aspect of it.

[Castro] That executive order, Bernard, is not completely clear. It is not understood yet. It says that under extreme circumstances, under an emergency, Cubans would be allowed to visit Cuba, that is the Cuban-Americans or the Cubans who come from the United States because they reside here. What is meant by extreme or emergency situations? Well, a grandmother who is about to die, is that an emergency situation? Or is it a mother with a terminal cancer, or a man who wants to see a cousin, or a man who wants to visit his girlfriend? I understand that from the human point of view, if an individual has a sweetheart in Cuba, he would get permission only once a year to see his girlfriend. Those are not the best conditions for the development of a romance. Thus, what is understood by that? To me, the visit to a sweetheart is within the circumstances, it is extreme and it is an emergency. Thus, all that is not understood too well. It is not clear to us yet, that about the executive order.

It established the possibility for the Western Union to act in the remittance of money to Cuba.

But you see, Cubans are the only U.S. residents who are not allowed to visit their relatives under normal conditions. They are the only ones prevented from helping their families under normal conditions. It is a true discrimination. Well, you know that the Torricelli Law exists and the so-called track two of the Torricelli Law.

It has been said publicly that there are two ways to destroy the revolution: one, through the Torricelli law and the other, through the Helms-Burton law. But the Torricelli law is a harsh law. It is truly a harsh law and Clinton said that he intended to reinforce the blockade against Cuba.

It is a kind of a remark which we feel is not totally clear. They want exchange, they want to send us sociologists, philosophers, politicians. However, they do not want to send experts on computers, mathematics, biotechnology, exact sciences, or research. They want an unequal exchange of ideas. We do not want that many scholars to send to the United States or that many scientists.

But let us turn to the press issue. Actually, all the journalists who have wanted to visit Cuba have done so. Hundreds of journalists have been there. The entire problem of the rafters' massive exodus was carried by all the agencies and the television stations that wanted to go to Cuba to transmit that to the entire world. We raised no obstacles to that.

Now, what does this mean? That news bureaus can be created and that we can do likewise, for every 100 bureaus created in Cuba, we wouldn't be able to create a single one in the United States because we do not have the resources. We do not have the money for that. It would be an unequal exchange of information. Thus, all kinds of news could be collected in Cuba, from the point of view of the foreign media and we would not be able to do the same with regard to the U.S. policy. Therefore, it is an unique situation. We truly prefer bilateral agreements with U.S. firms, with U.S. journalists, instead of an agreement of this sort, in these moments, under these conditions, when things are not too clear for us.

[Shaw] President Castro, what are U.S. businessmen telling you about their wish to do business with Cuba?

[Castro] What do I think?

[Shaw] What do U.S. businessmen tell you about their wish to do business with Cuba?

[Castro] U.S. businessmen, from what I have been able to observe, because I have talked to many of them, are against the blockade. Call it blockade, call it embargo. But this is much more than an embargo, it is an economic war, an economic war against Cuba. But they do not agree. First, because they have economic and commercial possibilities and they are prohibited from taking part, second, because they are men who are used to struggle and are men who like competition. It is the same as if you are a prizefighter or if you play baseball or basketball and you are not allowed to compete. It is a problem of morale, mentality, and they suffer when they are not allowed to compete. I notice, I really observe, and today more than ever, a new phenomenon that is the great interest by U.S. entrepreneurs for economic relations with Cuba and the possibilities of investing in Cuba.

[Shaw] If the economic embargo were lifted tomorrow, would there be no freedom, political or otherwise, for the Cuban people?

[Castro] In Cuba, we can do what our country sovereignly decides to do. Our position is that we do not accept any types of conditioning that may affect the country's sovereignty and independence to solve economic problems between the United States and Cuba or political problems between the United States and Cuba. This is an old position. I can assure you categorically that we would not accept political conditioning.

[Shaw] Recently, you met with opposition leader Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo. Are you evaluating the possibility of allowing the formation of a political opposition party in Cuba?

[Castro] For the time being we are not thinking about that. [words indistinct]

[Shaw] What do you mean when you say: for the time being?

[Castro] That is true, we are not considering it. I do not know about tomorrow, or within 10 years, 20, or 100 years. In accordance with our way of thinking, our country is not served well by a multiparty system because we cannot fragment our people. We must keep them united, we cannot divide them in a thousand pieces.

[Shaw] But there are people who argue that this solidarity that you treasure is a form of oppression.

[Castro] Which one?

[Shaw] You say that political parties would divide the country and some would argue that this is exactly what Cuba needs, to break-up.

[Castro] If we had divided, if our people had broken- up, the people would not have been able to resist the terrible blow the U.S. blockade dealt for 35 years, nor would it have been able to support the disappearance of the Socialist field and the USSR. Only a united people could support such a blow. And this is in accordance with our tradition, because when the struggle for independence was organized, Jose Marti organized a party. But we do not have a system of parties, Bernard Shaw. This is something that must be understood because our party does not nominate or elect. In our country, nomination is directed by citizens, neighbors. It would be too long to explain. I say that it is the citizens who nominate. It is the circumscription deputies the ones who nominate National Assembly deputies. The deputies have to be directly elected by the people and they need more than 50 percent of the votes and they are the ones to elect the Council of State and the President of the Council of State. In Cuba, there is no presidential regime. President Clinton has many times the power I have. Latin American presidents in general have more power than I. As president of the Council of State I cannot even appoint an ambassador, I cannot appoint a minister. I cannot appoint officials that in many parts of the world are appointed by the president. They have to be elected by the Council of State. That is the reality.

[Shaw] President Castro, you are a student of history and you are a very imaginative thinker. Your have made sacrifices before. Have you ever considered resigning for the economic well-being of your country?

[Castro] Has anyone offered this to me? First, someone would need to make an offer. I do not see how my resignation could improve the country's economy. What I have said is that I will always be willing to do whatever is necessary for the good of the country. I do not have personal ambitions; I simply comply with the obligations that have been imposed on me. I have not imposed them on myself, it is life, it is the revolution itself, the people itself who have imposed on me those obligations. I have already said that we would not be willing to accept any sort of political conditions. If I accepted this idea I would be admitting that in Cuba political changes could be made, including the resignation of the revolution's leaders, in exchange of solutions to economic problems. We are willing to give our lives for the country, but we are not willing to sacrifice its independence, the country's sovereignty. We are not willing to sacrifice the principles. If I accepted that, I would be in contradiction of what I said before.

[Shaw] What will happen in Cuba after Fidel?

[Castro] I was telling a group of friends who were asking me that same question yesterday, that this is not my problem; that is someone else's problem. The dead do not give opinions and when those who are retired give an opinion, no one pays much attention. This is the truth.

[Shaw] We are all mortal beings. One day I will be dead, you will be dead. How would you like to be remembered by the Cuban people and by the world?

[Castro] Don't you think that it is a bit difficult to speak about oneself? I do not allow myself to be carried away by vanity, by glory, or by history's judgment. Men pass, history passes, and once in a while, one is remembered. The important thing is to do one's duty and wage one's battle. I have some evidence that despite all the propaganda against Cuba and against myself, there are many people in the world who appreciate Cuba. I have just visited Uruguay and I was really amazed by the hundreds of thousands of people who mobilized in that country. I could hardly understand it because perhaps, thanks to you, Bernard, you have made me famous, you have turned me into a sort of David. The feelings that I was able to appreciate there were extraordinary. I have been in other places. In the Rio de Janeiro environment conference, there were representatives of the world over there. I spoke there...

[Shaw, interrupting] That is why I asked...

[Castro, interrupting] I have no complaints. There were so many people who went to greet me, so many people showed me support. I went to Copenhagen, and exactly the same thing happened. Today I spoke at the United Nations and the U.S. people witnessed what took place there. Then not everyone, Bernard Shaw, has such a bad opinion of me despite everything that has been said against me and everything that has been done against me. And as I am practically the only country that propaganda is concentrated on, then I have all the much more merit. Now there are no longer any attacks to the USSR, attacks to the PRC, Vietnam, the DPRK -- only Cuba is attacked. All the campaign is against Cuba and Cuba has never had as many friends as it has now. I ask myself why? Could it be that we are right? Could it be that the people admire our struggle? Could it be that people criticize the cruel blockade against our country that kills men, women, children, youths, and the old? As I said today, it is just as if they were silent atom bombs. You know, Bernard, contemporary people do not have such a bad opinion. What will be the opinion afterward? That is something that should not be fundamental for a man -- for a man who struggles, for a man who wants to accomplish a task, a man who acts in accordance with certain principles. But if the opinion that many have today counts, perhaps future opinions will also be good.

If there is one thing no one can deny it is that for the past 35 years we have been able to resist all the pressures, harassment, and threats from the most powerful nation on earth. We were able to withstand it in the political, economic, and military sphere. We were able to withstand the fall of the socialist block and the Soviet Union. People are capable of admiring those features. However, they are not entitled to attribute those merits to me, but to the Cuban people. I can sincerely say that I do not care what people may think of me, but I do care of the way our people will be judged and that our people are due a significant historical consideration.

[Shaw] Religion. When and where will you meet with Pope John Paul II?

[Castro] When and where? I cannot answer you at this time. There have been talks, it is not an impossibility. There are some political issues associated with our relations with the Cuban Catholic hierarchy that has influenced the visit one way or another. We do not want the Pope's visit to be transformed into an instrument of friction, contradiction, or conflict between the Catholic church -- the hierarchy not the church -- and the revolution. They have made some public statements that have been published, but it has been managed with tact and very carefully. Nevertheless, it is an element that has blocked the pope's visit to Cuba. Please allow me to add that I have a very high regard for Pope John Paul II. He is one of the most brilliant and extraordinary figures of this century, and one which I agree with on most issues, although not all. Nevertheless, he is a person who deserve all our appreciation and respect.

[Shaw] Mr. President, we are running out of time I have ten more questions. I will continue.

[Castro] You can continue, I will try to be brief, however you are the one who forces me to talk.

[Shaw] The human rights America's Watch group says that many of the meetings of the Evangelical-Christian movement, many of their meetings have been shut down by your government. Does the Evangelical-Christian movement annoy or disturb you and your government. Do you perceive it as a threat?

[Castro] No, on the contrary, from the beginning we have had excellent relations with the Evangelical church, ever since the beginning of the revolution to date. Unfortunately, the Catholic church in our country was always associated with the wealthy. There was not one single Catholic church in the rural area. This is an historical truth. On the other hand, the Protestant church went to the more into the popular sectors of the population and had preachers in the rural area associated with the poorest sectors. When the revolution arrived good relations developed with all churches, but with some exceptions. Sometimes we have had some problems with, for example, the Jehovah's Witnesses on account of reasons which we are all aware off such as military service, the flag, the country's symbols, and so forth. However, recently, our relations with the Jehovah's Witnesses has improved significantly, and also with the Evangelical churches.

[Shaw] I miscalculated. I have less than a minute so I will ask you two questions very quickly. You are wearing a business suit more and more these days. Why?

[Castro] The reason for this is because in Cartagena during a summit meeting we were advised to wear a guayabera, and I discovered that I did not have one since I have not worn one for a long time. Neither did I own a suit. Some friends of mine decided to design a suit and give it to me as a gift. Here I am, dressed as a civilian for free. I feel quite well. I have done like Colin Powell who has now dressed like a civilian. However, only for formal and international events.

[Shaw] One last question and very briefly please [preceding three words in Spanish]. The world series is under way between the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves. Your favorite team, please?

[Castro] Most likely because of my friendship with Turner, I choose the Atlanta Braves.

[Shaw] President Castro...

[Castro, interrupting] Maybe it could have been a Cuban team competing.

[Shaw] President Castro, thank you very, very much for this one hour interview. It was a pleasure.

[Castro] Thank you very much.

[Shaw] You are welcome. [preceding three words in Spanish]