The US tried hard to build Fidel Castro into a boogeyman. We translated this 1991 interview to help dismantle the myth. Holding forth on immigration and environmentalism, Castro embodies what Muriel Rukeyser said about communists being “exiles from the future.”
Interviewer: Mr. President, we find ourselves here in Guadalajara.
Something unprecedented has taken place: Cuba sat down at the Big Table of Latin American states. Not only that, it came to the table with a very stark position, with a message that rang out. How do you explain this? What is its importance for life in your country, and for life in Latin America?
Fidel Castro: Well first I think we need to say something about how this interview came to be.
You and I met in Havana. You explained that you were interviewing all the presidents of Latin America, and that you still needed to do one with me, and so I made a commitment to do the interview. I’d like to express my satisfaction at being able to fulfill that promise, even if it’s after the summit, so that you can finish your list. Well, I did sit down at a table but it wasn’t all that big, since it was a table for twenty-something people, although I understand what you mean by “Big Table”, insofar as it was an opportunity for all the presidents of Latin America to meet for the first time. I think the table was “big” not just for Cuba, but for everyone, because for the first time in history, since independence first arose in this hemisphere, since the struggles for independence towards the end of the last century, we had never held a meeting like this, except when Washington called upon us. When Washington would say “Come!”, everyone would take off to the United States, or wherever. Of course, Cuba never got those invitations.
So I see this meeting as a truly historic event of surpassing importance, convoked by Latin Americans, not by the United States. It’s the first time in history that we’ve done this, and it’s quite a remarkable achievement. This is how I see it.
Now, you mention the speeches. I expressed what I felt, the opinions I had.
It would have been hypocritical on my part to arrive at this summit and use Versaillesque [evasive] language and not say what I really thought.
I was respectful in the way I expressed myself, respectful to everyone.
I was careful and didn’t get too worked up at any point, even though I have a fairly passionate personality. And if there is contrast, or if there was contrast, it was in some ideas and, to a certain extent, in style, because I like to use direct language and not beat around the bush.
But I wouldn’t go so far as to describe my speech as stark, or as absolutely stark, since there were many declarations made, besides mine, that were… interesting. Strong. Serious. I listened closely to every single one of the speeches and what caught my attention was the way the various heads of state expressed themselves: with talent and energy, on serious issues, deep issues. In that sense you can’t say that I was an exception. Now, it is true that I spoke about every single topic we touched on. I don’t know if the speeches will be published. I think there must have been at least an audio recording and video for TV, and from a historical point of view it would be interesting if every speech could be published, though I imagine that is up to the organizers of the event. I spoke on every single topic.
At times I had thought to keep quiet, since it didn’t seem necessary to weigh in on every single topic. So at first I just listened to the other participants’ speeches and when I noticed some important omission, or anything else of importance, I would speak up.
I maintained the same tone throughout, a respectful tone. There was dialogue, there was some rapid back-and-forth, there were jokes, a little of everything. The risk is that we then go on to reinterpret what was said and that the public, national and international audiences, aren’t allowed to evaluate what was said for themselves. Therefore I would propose that we publish everything available regarding the summit.
Interviewer: I ask you this because precisely in this tour, in which we spoke with many presidents, we sensed one single direction uniting nearly all of Latin America: a tendency towards pragmatism, towards the de-ideologization of governance, towards market economics, and in this sense, it would seem that Cuba is more of an island than ever.
Fidel Castro: Yes.
My conclusion is that, well, there may have been two moments: before the summit, and after the summit.
Before the summit, many of us did not know each other and we did not know how the others thought. After all, I have my thinking, I have my ideology.
But you can’t really talk about de-ideologization, because I think that right now there is more ideology than ever in the international sphere, and it’s the ideology of capitalism and neoliberalism. And that is an ideology.
We also see evidence of a triumphalist spirit on the part of the defenders of capitalism and the old and unjust international economic order that has existed in the world. There is talk of “a new international political order”, but what we should be talking about instead is a new international economic order, the new order that the United Nations approved many years ago, in fact: to mitigate in part the poverty of three-quarters of humanity, to improve the developmental outlook of third world nations. But I think there’s more ideology now than ever, and it’s the ideology of imperialism, the ideology of capitalism. So we cannot talk about the end of ideology. But your purpose, I take it, was to discuss the end of those ideologies that are opposed to the dominant economic system.
Interviewer: And within this framework of domination, what can Cuba do? So small, so alone?
Fidel Castro: Well, almost every great idea arose from a small and lonely beginning.
If we look back to the origin, for example, of the different religions, every religion started somewhere in the world, from a small corner, a prophet. (Although I don’t want to compare myself to a prophet, but for the sake of the analogy.) The idea someone had, or a group of someones, then spread throughout the world.
What matters isn’t the size of the nation that defends an idea — what matters is the size of the idea, and the importance and the objective value of the ideas that you defend. And we, in this case, are defenders of ideas: ideas of social justice, ideas of international justice. And we are very proud to defend these ideas. There’s no question we must defend them with wisdom.
We cannot be dogmatic, because deep conviction is one thing, and dogmatism quite another. We are not dogmatic. And we also have to apply a dose of pragmatism given the world we live in, because the problem isn’t just to defend ideas, but to put them into motion, to give them legs. But I don’t think we’re alone in defending these ideas, because if you talk about ideas of justice in this world, if you talk about development, if you protest the looting our peoples are victim to, if you oppose the monstrosity of foreign debt, if you reject the idea that we can resolve social problems and develop while being looted…
It’s not just one country, there are many.
It’s not a man, or a group of men, or a party, but many men and many peoples that are suffering the same problems and defending the same ideas. If you defend the integration of Latin America, you are defending a vital necessity for the survival of many peoples.
Every day more and more people understand the need for integration. At least as far as the economic order is concerned, they understand it, and as for the political order, they’ll understand it better in time. Otherwise, what could Cuba do, what could the Third World do? What can Latin America do, divided, balkanized, to negotiate with the large economic powers: with the USA, with Japan, with Europe? What can each of our countries do, isolated? How can any one of us go at it alone, fractions of something that should be united as one? Negotiating with these enormous powers, one by one — anyone can understand that as a tactic it would be absurd, it would be madness. Which is why we make the case for the necessity of unity, to carve out a place in the world. There is already talk of the year 2000, of the Third Millennium. But what role will our nations play in this millennium? This is why I borrowed a phrase, thinking about the 200, almost 200, years that have passed since the movement for independence in our nations began, ever since the epoch of Bolivar, who with such clear foresight analyzed our countries’ problems, the destiny of our countries, the necessity for a union of our countries, remembering Martí, who understood these problems over a hundred years ago, thinking about what we could have been if we had united.
We could be a great economic power, a great economic community, similar to the existing great economic powers.
And so I said at some point, with pain, that we could have been everything, and instead we are nothing. I said it with pain because I think of the weaknesses that sap the strength we need to face this vital battle, for present and above all for future generations. And so ideas of this sort are what we have been defending everywhere: ideas that let us really envision a future. And I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks this way. These ideas are powerful, there is a logic to them. And I think there will be more and more awareness of this phenomenon, and I think these summits are proof.
Interviewer: I ask because there are those out there who have started a count-down regarding Cuba.
Fidel Castro: Yes.
Interviewer: They say “the Berlin Wall fell”, “the socialist world collapsed”, “the USSR is disintegrating”, “Marxism has been defeated”, “Cuba is heading towards a transition, a change, an end to the project they’ve had up until now.”
Fidel Castro: Well.
Well, I think that the revolutionary movement, the progressive movement in general, is passing through a difficult stage, and the fact that all this is said is proof of what I mentioned earlier: that in this moment ideology is stronger and more prevailing than ever, only it’s a reactionary ideology. Socialism is a new thing, still very new.
It just recently made its appearance in the world. Capitalism is thousands of years old — if not capitalism in the modern sense, then the precursors to capitalism. And it’s true that there have been setbacks in the countries of Eastern Europe.
The Soviet Union is going through great difficulties. What, have the causes that gave rise to the great revolutions disappeared from this world? The causes that brought forth socialism?
On the contrary, I believe these causes are more present than ever.
If you look at statistical data, more people are going hungry in the world today than ever before. There are more sick, more unemployed, more impoverished. In our own Latin America, which is not among the worst-off regions, the data are striking, shocking, about the existing levels of poverty. There are four billion people in the world in poverty, in underdevelopment. And where does underdevelopment come from? It’s born out of colonialism, out of capitalism, born out of the exploitation and looting of our peoples. And these causes are more present than ever before.
Who can claim that these problems have been resolved?
It would be far too triumphalist and far too optimistic to think everything is resolved.
Regarding progressive ideas, the ideas of socialism, they will be reborn more powerful than ever, like a phoenix from the ashes we are enveloped in today. Because — what has capitalism resolved?
It has solved no problems. It has looted the world. It has left us with all this poverty. It has created lifestyles and models of consumerism that are incompatible with reality. It has poisoned waterways, oceans — I mean rivers, lakes, seas, the atmosphere, the earth.
It has produced an incredible waste of resources.
I always cite one example: imagine every person in China owned a car, or aspired to own a car, every one of the 1.1 billion people in China, or that every one of the 800 million people in India wished to own a car — this method, this lifestyle — and that Africa did the same, and that nearly 450 million Latin Americans did the same.
How long would oil last? How long would natural gas last? How long would natural resources last? What would be left of the ozone layer? What would be left of oxygen on earth?
What would happen with carbon dioxide?
And all these phenomena that are changing the ecology of our world, they are changing Earth, they are making life in our planet more and more difficult all the time. What, has capitalism given the world a model to follow? An example for societies to emulate?
Shouldn’t we focus on more rational things, like the education of the whole population?
Nutrition, health, a respectable lodging, an elevated culture. Would you say capitalism, with its blind laws, its selfishness as fundamental principle, has given us something to emulate? Has it shown us a path forward? Is humanity going to travel along the course charted thus far?
There may be talk of a crisis in socialism, but there is today an even bigger crisis in capitalism, with no end in sight.
It has no solutions for the great problems of humanity, in any arena.
Not for human problems, nor for social problems, nor for environmental problems. We cannot continue to live according to its blind laws.
Man should have the possibility to chart his own course, to plan his own life, to employ human resources and natural resources rationally, instead of this mad race that has led us nowhere, and will lead us nowhere. And so I cannot see why people talk about the swan song of socialism.
I identify socialism with new ideas, with advancement, with progress, with the capacity of man to design his life, design his society, project himself into the future.
Capitalism promises none of these.
And so I would draw the opposite conclusion, in spite of these setbacks to the revolutionary movement. I would draw the conclusion that it is capitalism that is in an irreversible crisis, that has no solution to humanity’s problems.
Interviewer: What’s in the air now is a kind of excitement, in the sense of “you have to open markets”, “you have to have economies of…” — They tell us we’re heading towards a society of opportunity, liberty, and democracy. Meanwhile we see the masses in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, these countries, in a kind of libertarian euphoria, let’s say.
Fidel Castro: Well, briefly, since there was significant influence from the West. Don’t forget that socialism developed in the most backwards countries in Europe.
They were agrarian societies. Don’t forget that it was conjunctural, which isn’t the case for Cuba.
Our revolution was home-grown, as was the Mexican Revolution. In Cuba the Revolution was the product of our own decisions. It was not conjunctural, it wasn’t imposed on us by anyone. So our situation is very different from that of all those countries, where, what’s more, many different kinds of mistakes were made. But there was also an ideological battle; the presence of a consumerist society exerted a great deal of influence. Many believed that the next day they’d wake up living like people do in Paris or London, or even without having to go to work. There were many illusions. It’s like the people who go walking in the desert and in the distance, they think they see lakes, rivers, palm trees, and they turn out to be nothing but mirages. They didn’t see the terrible dark side of Western society: inequality, injustice, the lack of safety, alienating and alienated life, the frenzied competition of man against man, the jungle that is capitalism, in which the strongest must prevail.
And in fact the strongest does prevail. The injustice that exists in capitalism, the inequality, especially, that exists in capitalism, the presence of millionaires and beggars, the presence of people who have palaces, and people who sleep under bridges — millions of people have to live under bridges in the USA — and I tell you that in Cuba not a single person lives under a bridge. Millions of beggars who in winter get themselves thrown in jail to avoid freezing to death, to get warm, and something to eat. Millions of vices of every kind — all these problems of drugs, prostitution, gambling — they are consubstantial with capitalism. That doesn’t exist in a really socialist country. It doesn’t exist in our country, because we have a more just society, an organized society, a society that has the privilege of programming its future. But in a chaotic, unequal society, what liberty is there to speak of? When you consider illiteracy, when you consider the homeless, when you consider the unemployed, when you consider people without healthcare, who have no opportunities in life whatsoever. What democracy is there to speak of when families pass down hundreds of millions, billions, in inheritance, as one might inherit a throne, as people did inherit thrones?
What opportunity is there to speak of when this guy over here has nothing?
It doesn’t matter that you can point to isolated cases when, at specific historical moments, people who started out very poor people became rich — those are isolated examples, like Cinderella who married Prince Charming.
If I think of the story of my own father: he was the son of Spanish farmers, very poor farmers, and at a certain point, he got some workers together, he was able hire some other men, and they made something. There are such stories of people from very humble origins who made a fortune, but these stories are becoming a thing of the past, since possibilities now are only for major executives who studied in elite schools and come from families of stockholders in large transnational corporations. What opportunity is there for the poor, the children of peasants, the children of workers? They can’t be misled with a siren song about having the opportunity to become a Rockefeller.
The era of Rockefellers is over.
Of the men who started banks, railways, all those things, and made themselves millionaires. That era is over, so there really is no equality of opportunity.
It’s a lie, a complete falsehood, and in my own case I remember the kids that were my age — I was the landlord’s son, the only one who could go to school and reach sixth grade, the only one who could graduate from high school, the only one who could make it to university, and acquire that bare minimum of culture necessary to play a part in the life of his nation — but none of those hundreds of children had the slightest opportunity because they wouldn’t even make it to fifth grade. I’ve had the experience of someone who could study, who could find a part to play.
If instead of the landlord’s son I’d been the son of one of those peasants, I would have starved, or I would have died of some common disease that went untreated.
I wouldn’t have been able to do anything for my country. So I can’t bring myself to believe those fairytales, because they fly in the face of everything life has taught me about the realities of this world and I understand that our society is much fairer, much more democratic, not only in content but also in form.
Interviewer: Comandante, I ask all this because “capitalism”, “imperialism”, this kind of discourse is practically unheard of these days.
It seems to be out of fashion, because what’s at work in the world is something else.
Fidel Castro: The old, the old system, is what’s in fashion, but it can only be in fashion momentarily for all the reasons I’ve given.
Interviewer: Is there not a countdown on Cuba?
Fidel Castro: No, I think there is a count-up, or perhaps a countdown like the ones they do before take-off — the space shuttle has countdowns too.
Countdowns aren’t always bad; many times they’re good.
Interviewer: Because people talk; even in Cuba we’ve had the opportunity to talk to people.
You said something about access to education, and there are people in Cuba now who say “I’ve graduated, I’m an engineer, now I want to see the US” or they want more opportunities.
Fidel Castro: We don’t prohibit anyone from going to see the United States, it’s the United States that prohibits people from coming to see us. We have opened the door: first of all, anyone who wants to migrate can do so, and second, we’ve been making it easier and easier for anyone who wants to visit the United States to spend a while there, with family, or sightseeing, and then come back to Cuba, there and back again. There are tens of thousands of people who travel to the United States every year and come back, and we’re making it easier all the time.
Which is to say we don’t stop people from traveling, because traveling is knowledge, it’s experience.
Of course a revolution is a revolution, and it involves sacrifice. Because we aren’t Belgium, we aren’t the Netherlands, we aren’t Switzerland — developed countries, even overdeveloped — we are a Third World country that has to work very hard to develop. And this phenomenon isn’t unique to Cuba. Millions of Mexicans, in that oil-rich country, which has a decent level of industrial development, cross the border every year, despite the wall. There’s talk of the Berlin Wall and how it must come down. Why aren’t we talking about tearing down this gigantic wall the United States has on the Mexican border? With its electric fences, its border patrol, and much more. It’s said that a million Mexicans are arrested every year at the border, and deported. I ask myself: If we’re going to talk about walls, why not tear down that wall? Why not let every Mexican that wants to go see their family, or wants to find a job in the United States, travel to the United States if they please? Why don’t we open the US border to Dominicans, the tens of thousands of them who cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico, and then on to New York?
That’s how there come to be a million Dominicans in New York. So we have a phenomenon where many people from countries in the Third World emigrate — from Asia, from Africa, from Latin America. This is not a specifically Cuban issue. In Cuba we are embargoed by the US. For more than 30 years they’ve done unspeakable things to impede our economic development. We’re also dealing with the economic consequences of the fall of the socialist countries in Eastern Europe, with which we conducted the bulk of our trade, and the undeniable setbacks for the USSR. We’re going through a particular historical moment. It’s logical that there have always been people who wanted to travel to the United States, because there are, and always will be, people whose motivations are not patriotic or political or revolutionary, who think only of improving their standard of living, of making more money.
If the money you can make in a developed capitalist country is 15-20 times what you can make in a Third World country, this emigration phenomenon makes sense, the fact that many people head that way. Now maybe you tell me there’s some engineer saying “I’m already an enginer”, but I know thousands of engineers who studied engineering and have dedicated their lives to their country, to the task of its development, tens of thousands of scientists who are at the cutting edge of various fields of research, in scientific and technological work. I also talk to thousands, tens of thousands of people that are proud of their country, their revolution, and completely dedicated to their work to help the country succeed in the midst of these great challenges and difficulties. More than half a million Cubans have carried out International Missions of one kind or another in Third World countries.
No country on earth can boast of more generous, more beautiful, more solidary people than ours. I don’t think they have an equal in the world. I feel real pride and admiration for the virtues of our people, and these emigration issues seem incomparably larger in other countries.
In reality, it’s not something that’s unique to Cuba. In fact Cuba has the least brain-drain of any country. The most talented people in Latin America have emigrated to Europe, to the United States, seeking better research opportunities, better salaries, better living standards. It’s been a constant looting of talent. In Cuba, on the other hand, the best technical and scientific talent stays in the country and works for the country with great patriotism and great revolutionary spirit.
Interviewer: But how much sacrifice can Cuba take? Hasn’t the time come to allow certain inroads?
Fidel Castro: Well, I think all of us in the Third World have to make many sacrifices — we’ve been doing so for centuries. Because for four hundred years, the African people were subject to looting, to the kidnapping of their people, condemned to work as slaves in this hemisphere. The indigenous people of this hemisphere have spent 500 years suffering, marginalized, forced to make countless sacrifices. Humanity has spent thousands of years making enormous sacrifices, always dreaming of a better tomorrow, in this life or the next. Billions of people have had to settle, and they do, for the idea that a better life than this is possible.
Now, for the first time, humanity has a real hope of truly just societies, of a true spirit of equality, fraternity, and liberty, Those famous ideals, slogans of the French Revolution, that spread throughout the world but haven’t been realized anywhere. Because, I wonder, what liberty does the beggar have next to the millionaire?
What equality is there between them?
What fraternity is there between them?
I say beggar, but you might just as well say the unemployed, the homeless, people who can’t get an education for themselves or for their children, the landless, the destitute, of which there are hundreds of millions in this hemisphere alone. UNECLAC says there are 183 million poor, and the congress held in Quito last year puts the figure at 270 million poor, of which 84 million are homeless. You’ll find that no one is homeless in our country.
We aren’t a rich country, but there isn’t a single homeless person or beggar or barefoot child panhandling in the street, while people sit here coolly talking about 270 million poor in this hemisphere, 62% of the population. Which is not to say that the rest are rich. There are middle layers and then there’s the top 10% that receives 50% of income.
Where’s the justice in this? How can those parameters make for a positive example?
I saw at the conference that many people spoke of the need for redistribution and social justice, and I was glad, but I also felt like I was hallucinating, hearing so many fine words from the others, who were, perhaps, under the influence of the paintings on the walls.
I hear this language, but does it have anything to do with the facts?
What is the program, and the mechanism, by which we are going to abolish poverty and homelessness?
These are realities we see every day, and it’s something you don’t see in our country, even though we are a Third World country.
You won’t find a single person illiterate, you won’t find a single person unemployed, because the unemployed receive a subsidy due to the cutbacks we’ve had to make as a result of raw material shortages. We don’t kick anyone to the curb, we redistribute what we have. Every graduate from our universities receives gainful employment. Even if factories don’t need them, at least they can apprentice with more experienced engineers, constituting a workforce in reserve for the future.
So these are our objectives, our ideals.
I believe that they’re much more just, much more egalitarian, much more solidary, much more fraternal, much more free, and I wonder if a capitalist society can speak in these terms.
Interviewer: But why, for example, in this framework, do you not allow the organization of people who think differently, or open up space for political freedom?
Fidel Castro: The problem is that, in our country, forces have been polarized: those who side with Cuba, and those who side with the United States.
We’ve endured over thirty years of hostility, over thirty years of war in all its forms — among them the brutal economic blockade that stops us from purchasing a single aspirin in the United States. It’s incredible that when there’s talk of human rights, not a single word is said about the brutal violation this constitutes for the human rights of an entire people, the economic blockade of the United States to impede Cuba’s development. The revolution polarized forces: those who were for it and those who, along with the United States, were against it. And really, I say this with the utmost sincerity, and I believe it’s consistent with the facts on the ground, but while such realities persist, we cannot give the enemy any quarter for them to carry out their historical task of destroying the revolution.
Interviewer: This implies, for example, that political dissidence will not have a space in Cuba?
Fidel Castro: If it’s a pro-Yankee dissidence, it will have no space.
But there are many people who think differently in Cuba and are respected.
Now, the creation of all the conditions for a party of imperialism? That does not exist, and we will never allow it.
People who know me know I’m a candid person; I speak my mind.
We seek pluralism within our party, and a good example of this is the nomination of candidates as circumscription delegates who together constitute the electoral base of all the higher bodies. It’s not the party that nominates candidates, it’s neighborhood assemblies. Since ancient Greece — which by the way was hardly a democratic society, but instead a society of property owners and slaves — the slaves and other classes had no rights, but they gathered in the public square, and then, of course, the ruling class… In our country everyone gets together in their districts, and it’s those public meetings that nominate candidates to the municipal assemblies. They can nominate up to eight people. It’s not the party that does it. There can’t be more than eight — we’re not going to have eighty candidates from one district — or less than two. And to get elected to the municipal assemblies they need a majority of the votes, half plus one. And our elections have a turnout of more than 95%. Naturally, you won’t hear about this from the United States. They aren’t going to broadcast how our society really works. And you know that there’s a great monopoly of the world’s media but that fact is ignored, people don’t want to think about it. But in our country it’s the people that nominate, not the party.
Interviewer: But isn’t a one-party state too restrictive a framework for democracy?
Fidel Castro: Well, it depends on the democracy.
For revolutionary democracy it’s been an ample framework, and in that Party you’ll find the most devoted and self-sacrificing people, people who are driven to do volunteer work in international missions. Being a member of the Party really means being deserving of the respect of the people, but it also demands the greatest effort and sacrifice. The most advanced people in our country, the most self-sacrificing and revolutionary, are in the Party, and we believe that our Party has enabled a greater degree of popular participation than anywhere else in the world.
This is the concept we have, this is our guiding principle.
Or what, is there only one form of democracy? I’ve been talking about some of the characteristics of capitalist democracy that, from my point of view, cannot by any means be considered a model of democracy.
Interviewer: There are those who told us, e.g. Patricio Balbi, that the presidents of Latin America have achieved legitimacy, and now must work on efficiency.
And in general the presidents insist that their authority comes from elections, from the ballot box. And you saw the press.
People insist: “Why are there no elections in Cuba?”
Fidel Castro: Well, why do they ignore that there are elections in Cuba?
We hold elections every two and a half years and every five years the National Assembly is elected which then elects the Council of State, via an electoral method in which the people themselves nominate candidates directly.
So there is an openness in this sense that no other country can claim.
It’s not the party that decides, it’s the citizens themselves who decide who will run for office and who elect those representatives that collectively wield the various powers of the state at different levels.
Interviewer: And what about the presidency?
Fidel Castro: The National Assembly is elected, and it elects the Council of State, which elects the president.
There’s a collegial goverment, is what I’m saying. I as president have fewer powers than any other president in Latin America. I cannot appoint ministers. I cannot appoint ambassadors, and I never do. They are appointed by the Council of State.
I participate as one of many within the Council of State, in the election of a minister, in the election of an ambassador, in the election of principal functionaries.
If you analyze the powers invested in me by the constitution, they are far fewer than those of any other president in Latin America. Power is much more distributed. If your question is whether I have authority, yes, I have authority, moral authority, an authority derived from our history. Do I have influence? Yes, I have influence. But I cannot appoint a minister.
And in general, most of the time, I don’t even propose anyone for the post.
The proposals come from various places, from the Council of State, when we have to replace a minister. I intervene when I deem that a minister should be replaced for some reason, because greater efficiency is needed, or because they’re worn out. I can make a proposal, but I don’t find a replacement for the minister, I can assure you. The executive powers of other presidents in Latin America are far greater than my own. The type of authority or influence I wield is different: it’s moral. And a president like that of the United States has, and it’s not just me saying this, many more executive powers than I do, much greater prerogative than I have, many more powers, more leeway than a Roman Emperor. They can declare nuclear war, just imagine.
Is there anything of more surpassing importance than nuclear war? And the President of the United States has the ability to start one, to use nuclear weapons, without congressional approval, without consulting anyone. So if we investigate in depth, if we analyze the situation, we find a mountain of false premises in the arguments deployed against Cuba.
Interviewer: And nevertheless they are very common complaints.
Fidel Castro: Well, how do you explain that?
We don’t have the media reach that empire has. The New Rome creates public opinion, and everyone believes it. The influence of its media is often such that the citizens of our countries don’t know who the founders of their independence were.
Instead they know lots of characters from TV shows coming from the United States or celebrities from the United States.
You find that many children know very little about the history of their own country, yet they know plenty of canned information and entertainment exported from the United States to Latin America. Why don’t we think about these things that are so harmful to our culture and our national identity? Why don’t we reflect on these truths, that there is a media monopoly, delivered by satellite? And financed to the tune of billions of dollars? What, do you have the media reach that the United States has? Could you, via your channel, guarantee that this interview was seen by all of Latin America? And, at the same time, in Africa, Asia, and Europe? I can talk to you for hours.
But when you think about the number of people that will have the opportunity to see this interview, it’s one thousandth the number that has the opportunity to see and hear what’s transmitted by the big TV chains of the United States. Why do we fail to account for this reality?
Interviewer: But, in this world that’s so open, is it possible to maintain a closed process?
Fidel Castro: What do you mean by closed process?
What, do we have to arrive at capitalism one way or another?
Perhaps your question is whether, in this capitalist world, the ideals of socialism can survive in one country, or in several.
I maintain that it is our core duty, because we are men of principle, men of conviction. To fight til the last breath, to defend these ideas — I don’t think history will condemn us for that.
And as this world is so unjust, it cannot prevail forever.
As it is so unequal and so inhumane…
Even if we were cut to pieces some day…
Because many of the great ideas were founded in martyrdom.
If we had to be martyrs for these ideas, we would not see it as a loss. On the contrary, we would be contributing, with our sacrifice and our blood, to the triumph of these ideas and these principles in the future.
Interviewer: I ask because there are many people who claim that the main obstacle to Cuba’s integration with the rest of Latin America is the continuation of the socialist system.
Fidel Castro: I don’t think so.
What Cuba has is precisely what’s needed to integrate, economically as well as politically. Of course, we must seek to adapt, to cooperate. As Salinas de Gortari says, “Unity does not mean uniformity.” We cannot conceive of a Latin America integrated in a unity based on uniformity.
We can instead use imagination, the creative spirit, to unite our economy with the Latin American economy at large, and in this sense we are very open.
As we suggested in the conference, we are willing to give preferential treatment to Latin American capital invested in Cuba and we have to find practical ways of carrying out this integration, and what’s most needed, fundamentally, is will. We are an absolutely independent country that can achieve anything it decides is necessary to reach economic integration and then the political integration of a Latin America that is beginning to take the first steps in that direction and with which we are willing to integrate.
And we are willing to understand each other.
That said, is anyone demanding that Mexico relinquish its publicly owned oil company?
For the sake of integration?
Or that Venezuela relinquish its publicly owned oil? No one makes such demands. Many of the Latin American states have control of their core national resources.
They’ve made inroads, there’s been privatization of other kinds.
Some have gone so far as to privatize the parks and the streets. That’s an exaggeration, let’s say.
But there are mixed economies among these same Latin American countries.
Why can’t we have mixed politics and mixed economies among the countries of Latin America? Some with greater investment in public property, some with less. These are subjects worth studying in depth.
My deepest conviction is that we are in better conditions than any other country to achieve economic integration, even political integration. I’ve said this in the past: I’m no chauvinist. If someday we feel that we need to abandon our beloved flag, we’ll do it, if it must be done, as a prelude to the integration and political unity of Latin America. For us that is the supreme value. Just as if someday the world wanted to organize a just world government, not a world under the heel and domination of a superpower that imposes its rule, if humanity advanced so far that it began to consider universal economic and political integration, we would give up our flag, because we’re internationalists. We’re not chauvinists, we’re not hidebound nationalists.
We are patriots, we love our country. We respect and uphold our national values, but our philosophy is fundamentally that of internationalism, and this makes us much more prepared for integration than anyone else.
The political education of our people makes them more than ready for any step in this direction.
Interviewer: It’s a shame, there’s so much left to discuss.
Mr. President, lastly, there have been two days of hard work in Guadalajara.
You’ve spoken to many presidents, you’ve seen the people in the streets. We’d like to know, what impression does Fidel Castro take away from this meeting? Yesterday President Salinas said he had felt the “hearth of integration”.
Fidel Castro: Yes, he put it in those terms, a very apt metaphor.
Well, it wasn’t really two days, it was three, of work.
Two here, and the ones leading up. Countless meetings. My impression of the summit is very good. I’d say that the summit, just for having taken place, is historic.
We could have sat around drinking coffee, and it would have been historic. But in the meeting there was real dialogue, we tackled interesting topics. There were many capable people at the table, and many things were discussed with great interest. Now, we shouldn’t expect miracles, but we have taken a gigantic step. We’ve had the opportunity to connect with a lot of people, and I think it’s let us get to know each other, to learn, and to come closer together with the countries of Latin America. As for the organization, it’s been excellent. Mexico has demonstrated a great skill at organization to put together a difficult event like this one. We’ve received excellent treatment; the hospitality was superb. I will never forget the affection and the care everyone’s shown us, especially the workers, the people of Guadalajara. Which is why I feel, once again, committed to Mexico. I have one more reason to be eternally grateful to this great nation and its great people.
Interviewer: Thank you very much, Mr. President.