What would it take to change your image from that of a bad Communist to a good Communist?
Unfortunately, if changing that concept of a bad Communist to that of a good Communist implies that we stop denouncing the things we deem incorrect, that we stop assisting the causes we deem just, that we break our ties of friendship with the Soviets, that we become anti-Soviet in order to be good Communists, acceptable to and applauded by the United States, then that will never happen. If one day the United States changes its image of Cuba and public opinion has the chance to learn the truth, it will have to be on the basis of its ability to realize that neither Castro nor the Cuban people are opportunistic, turncoats, people who can be bought.
And you feel that the U.S. treats the rest of Latin America as if it can be bought?
I’m convinced that this U.S. policy toward Latin America, the idea of acting as the proprietor of the peoples of this hemisphere, in contempt of the peoples of this hemisphere, is evident everywhere–in the simple things, in speeches, anecdotes and stones, in the toasts that are made, in contacts with Latin-American leaders. I have the impression that when Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro and the European conquistadors reached this continent, they treated the Indians in almost the same manner and with the same philosophy–which included bartering mirrors and other trinkets for gold. I think that is the American attitude.
I notice it, I feel it. Not when they talk with me, because with me, none of those visitors can talk like that–besides, the visitors I receive are usually a different type of person, right? But when I look at the Presidents of the United States in their relations with Latin America, it is impossible not to sense their contempt, their underestimation of these Latin-American peoples–this strange mixture of proud Spaniards, black Africans and backward Indians; an uncommon and strange mixture of people who deserve no consideration or respect whatsoever.
I think that someday, that policy–the policy of intervening in all countries of Latin America, setting guidelines, saying what type of government should be elected, the social changes that can or cannot be performed–will give out and result in a crisis, and I really believe that that moment is drawing nearer.
The United States has been lucky in that up to now, these problems have come up in small, isolated countries like Cuba or Grenada or Nicaragua, in Central America; it can still afford to speak of invasions, acts of intervention and solutions based on force, as had already been the practice in 1965 against another small Caribbean country, the Dominican Republic. But when it is faced with these problems everywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, in any one of the large or medium-sized countries in South America, it won’t be able to solve them through intervention, dirty wars or invasions; that would be catastrophic.
Since I can picture very clearly what will happen, I have been raising these problems, insisting on discussing them with all American people I meet, and maybe my effort will be useful to some extent and make at least some American people reason things out.
Maybe if, when the United States was about to embark upon the Vietnam war–as it enthusiastically did–someone had persuaded the people of what was to happen there, he might have done a great service to the American people. For instance, it is said that if The New York Times had published the story it had concerning the Playa Giron [Bay of Pigs] invasion, it would have done Kennedy a great service and would have prevented that mistake. We are now doing exactly that with respect to Central America: As we watch the United States–or the U.S. Government; I can’t say the U.S. people, because 72 percent of them are against intervention in Central America–move with similar enthusiasm toward intervention in Central America, we are not doing the people of the United States a disservice when we insist on warning them of the consequences to them, to all of us.
There is obviously support for that position, as evidenced by the votes in Congress blocking Reagan’s proposals to support the Sandinista’s adversaries. But that is hardly a ringing endorsement of either the Sandinista or the Cuban regime. In fact, there is a general feeling that when a Marxist government takes over, the inevitable result is repression, curtailment of human rights, imprisonment of political dissidents.
The idea that anyone is in prison in Cuba, no matter what you have heard, for holding ideas that differ from those of the Revolution is simply nonsensical! [Stands again, begins pacing] No one in our country has ever been punished because he was a dissident or held views that differed from those of the Revolution. The acts for which a citizen may be punished are defined with precision in our penal code. Many of those laws were adopted prior to the triumph of the Revolution, in the liberated territory of the Sierra Maestra Mountains, and were applied to punish torturers and other criminals.
We have defended ourselves and will continue to do so. I don’t expect that the counterrevolutionaries will put up a statue for me or that our enemies will honor me. But I’ve followed a line of conduct in the Revolution–and throughout my life, in fact–of absolute respect for an individual’s physical integrity. If we had to mete out punishment–even drastic punishment–we meted it out. But no matter what our enemies may say, no matter how much they may lie and slander us, the history of the Revolution contains no cases of physical abuse or torture! All the citizens in this country, without exception, know this.
I’m sure that every day, United States citizens see things in their country that are never seen here, things that simply can’t happen here, acts of violence against people.
That’s a sweeping denial, Mr. President. Does that mean that any story told about unfair imprisonment or torture in Cuba through the years has been a lie?
Yes. We’ve never had to resort to anything illegal–to force, torture or crime. Throughout the entire history of the Revolution, no one can point to a single case of torture, murder or disappearance–things that are common, everyday happenings in the rest of Latin America. Another thing: Never has a demonstration been broken up by the police in Cuba. Never in 26 years has a policeman used tear gas, beaten a citizen during a demonstration or used trained dogs against the people. Never has a demonstration here been broken up by the army or the police–something that happens every day everywhere else, in Latin America and the United States itself.
As well as in the Soviet Union and in the Eastern Bloc. But why is it you claim that Cuba is the exception?
Because the people support their government, the people defend it. The true repression I speak of occurs in countries whose governments are against the people, whose governments have to defend themselves against the people: in Argentina, with the military dictatorship; in Chile, El Salvador and elsewhere, with repressive forces and death squads trained by the United States. When the people themselves are the Revolution, you may rest assured that there is no need for violence or injustice to defend it. Ours is the only government in this hemisphere–and I can state this proudly–that has never inflicted any bodily harm on an individual or committed any political assassinations or abductions.
Are you claiming that the way you deal with political dissidents actually results in greater freedoms than Americans have?
I’m sure that every day, United States citizens see things in their country that are never seen here, things that simply can’t happen here, acts of violence against people. Here, nobody has ever seen–nor will they–the murder of a champion of civil rights, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Actions such as this have never occurred here, yet we don’t go around bragging about the Revolution’s humanitarian spirit and respect for human rights.
You yourself were in prison before the Revolution. How do you remember it?
I was in isolation for a very long time. Batista’s men didn’t want me to go to trial, because I had been so vocal; I had denounced all the crimes that were being committed, so it was clearly political. And even in prison, I was able to organize such political activities as a school, with courses in history, philosophy, politics.
I was sent to the Isle of Pines–we now call it the Isle of Youth–and we organized while we were there. Once, I remember hearing that Batista himself was visiting the island to inaugurate a small power plant. The moment he was set to leave, we in the prison began to sing our anthem based on our uprising of the 26th of July. Batista thought he was hearing a song in his honor–he may have thought it was the Angels’ Chorale or something. But once he heard some of our lyrics–“insatiable tyrants,” and so forth–the policemen came into the prison and took harsh, repressive measures. One comrade was beaten–he was a black man and the author of our anthem. Others were put into isolation. I was in solitary detention for more than a year; they even shut off our electricity during the day.
Was it always so harsh?
I could say a few good things about prison. We took advantage of the time; we read a lot–14, 15 hours a day. I studied a lot of Marxist works. They even let us receive Das Kapital.
There has been speculation over the years as to when you became a Marxist. Some have said it was only after you took power and were pushed to embrace communism because of Washington’s hostility. But it sounds as if you left prison a committed Communist.
No, I was a Marxist before I entered prison. Before our defeat at Moncada, which sent me to prison, I already had the deepest convictions. I had acquired them earlier, upon reading books about socialism. I was already a Utopian Communist. I became convinced of the irrationality, the madness of capitalism just by studying its economics. I was in my second year in law school when I felt inclined toward Marx’s theories. I did not have the knowledge I have today, but if I hadn’t had a Marxist orientation, I would not have conceived of the struggle against Batista.
It has recently been reported that Cuba has dramatically expanded its own defenses. After all these years, do you still fear an attack or an invasion by the United States? Do you think of it as a real possibility?
[Very intensely] It’s no secret that we have increased our defense capability considerably in the past four years. Not just that, we’ve actually revolutionized the way we think about defense. Over these past four years, we have incorporated more than 1,500,000 men and women into the country’s defenses, besides the army and its reserves; we have trained tens of thousands of cadres; we have prepared for all possible scenarios of aggression against Cuba, even in the most adverse circumstances; the population is organized, even in the remotest corners of Cuba, to fight under all circumstances, even under occupation.
Why have we done this? Obviously, not as a sport; not for fun or for the love of arms. I’d rather have said, like Hemingway, “Farewell to arms.” It has been in response to an open, declared policy of force and threats against Cuba implemented by the U.S. Government.
You say this has happened in the past four years, so it’s obviously the Reagan Administration’s policies you feel threatened by.
We launched this effort even prior to the present Administration, when we realized that the wave of conservatism and great economic difficulties might turn the U.S. constituency in favor of a chauvinist policy, when we saw there was a possibility that the Republican Party could win the elections. We were familiar with its program, ideas and philosophy concerning all Caribbean and Latin-American issues; the Republican Party didn’t hide them. Indeed, it openly proclaimed them in its platform. We perceived a strong ideological component in this Administration: With the ideas and mentality of crusaders, they virtually proclaimed their objective of sweeping socialism off the face of the earth. In other times, there were people who had the same goal, and we know what happened then. Our effort was intensified after the U.S. invasion of Grenada. What we’ve done is perfectly logical. We couldn’t wait until the U.S. Administration decided to invade Cuba to start making ready. That’s a mistake we could not afford to make; those who made it didn’t survive.
Do you think the United States will intervene militarily in Nicaragua?
I do not rule out military intervention. It is obvious that the Reagan Administration is obsessive about Nicaragua. To be more precise, the President of the United States has an obsessive attitude and a very high degree of personal commitment on this issue, which could lead–at a certain moment–to direct intervention. It is quite evident that the Administration has been preparing to that end; it has built new airstrips in Honduras and has rebuilt and expanded three old ones; it has set up land and sea military installations, training centers and numerous troops; the military exercises and maneuvers are all obviously aimed at creating the conditions for an invasion of Nicaragua, if that decision is ever made. Now it is possible: Tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment–all the military conditions are in place.
Do you believe that the Reagan Administration does not really want a peaceful solution in Nicaragua?
The objective of the Reagan Administration regarding Nicaragua is to crush the Sandinista Revolution; regarding El Salvador, to exterminate every last revolutionary; more generally, to destroy once and for all the spirit of rebellion in this Central American people. It’s as if the Reagan Administration wants to teach an unforgettable lesson so that no one else in Central America or in Latin America will ever again think of rebelling against the tyrannies serving U.S. interests, against hunger and exploitation–so that no one will ever again fight for independence and social justice.
Washington would argue that it is not how Cubans or Nicaraguans run their own countries that is a threat but your policy of spreading revolution to other countries.
I once said that Cuba does not have nuclear rockets but it does have moral rockets. If the U.S. feels threatened by the altruism and sacrifice of Cuban teachers and doctors in other countries, perhaps they are right to feel threatened–because those workers are expressing a morality that is superior. If they want to fear our ideas, then I will say yes, they are right to fear the ideas–that is why so many lies have to be invented. But to say that we represent a physical danger to the U.S.–that’s absurd!
How can Cubans or Nicaraguans be a threat to a country that has 16 or 17 aircraft carriers, 300 bases throughout the world, thousands of nuclear weapons? How can a Third World nation that does not produce any airplanes be a threat to a country thinking about Star Wars defenses? It’s ridiculous; it’s brainwash.
Let’s discuss El Salvador. Your critics claim that Cuba is working to overthrow the newly elected government of President José Napoleón Duarte inEl Salvador by supplying military arms to the rebels. Is that true?
I don’t know where this notion of the legality of that government comes from. Everyone knows that there was a civil war there; everyone knows that over the past six years, more than 50,000 people have been murdered there by the death squads and by the Salvadoran army itself; everyone knows that true genocide has been going on there and that Duarte has contributed to that genocide. He has actually been a coconspirator and an accessory to those crimes, and he cannot shirk his responsibility for what has been taking place in El Salvador for the past five years.
But isn’t it true that Duarte was elected president by the people of El Salvador in an open and free election?
No! [Pounds table] Everyone knows under what conditions the elections took place: amid the most ferocious repression, terror and war; everyone knows that the electoral campaign was planned by the United States, that the political parties were manipulated by the United States and that the electoral campaigns were funded by the CIA. The present government and all other allegedly legal bodies are the result of all that manipulation and all those maneuvers by the United States. Augusto Pinochet of Chile could also say that his government was legal after the fascist constitution was imposed upon the people in an alleged plebiscite in which no one but he and his constitution took part. Actually, one can’t help wondering why the United States considers the El Salvador elections to be legal and, in turn, considers the Nicaragua elections illegal. In spite of the fact that the elections in Nicaragua were sabotaged by the United States, the people turned out to vote with enthusiasm, granting the Sandinistas and the left more than 70 percent of the vote. This was witnessed by more than 1000 people from all over the world: representatives of governments, political organizations and parties and journalists from everywhere.
As you say, it can be argued both ways. The question remains, Isn’t it true that Cuba has worked, and is actively working, to overthrow the government of President Duarte? If so, what right does Cuba have to intervene in the internal affairs of another country?
I’m not concerned in the least about charges against Cuba in relation to our solidarity with El Salvador. We have stated that the United States knows perfectly well that sending weapons to the Salvadoran revolutionaries is very difficult, in practice almost impossible; but I have no interest whatever in clarifying anything on this subject, because I consider that morally, it is absolutely fair to help the Salvadoran revolutionaries. They are fighting for their country; it’s not a war from abroad, like the dirty war the CIA carries out in Nicaragua; it’s a war born inside the country that has been going on for many years.
What I can assure you is that, in fact, the main supplier of the Salvadoran revolutionaries is the Pentagon, through the weapons given to the Salvadoran army. That also happened in Vietnam; the revolutionaries there seized huge amounts of weapons delivered by the United States to the puppet army. I really don’t know who could feel morally entitled to criticize Cuba for allegedly supplying weapons to the Salvadorans when the United States admits to supplying weapons to the Somoza mercenaries to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.
What evidence do you have that the CIA manipulated the presidential elections in El Salvador? Didn’t they have the same kind of scrutiny as Nicaragua’s elections, which you claim were fair?
The information was published in the United States–and the CIA admitted it publicly. It gave money not only to the Christian Democrats but also to all the other parties and covered the expenses of the election campaign. Proof is not necessary in the face of a confession.
You’ve mentioned Grenada. How do you explain the failure of the socialist revolution in that country?
The invasion of Grenada by the United States was, in my view, one of the most inglorious and infamous deeds that a powerful country like the United States could ever commit against a small country. What was occurring there had nothing to do with the failure of socialism. What had been taking place in Grenada was a process of social change, not a socialist revolution. I believe that what opened the doors for invading that country, what gave the United States a pretext on a silver platter, were the activities of an ambitious and extremist sectarian group. I believe that the main responsibility for the domestic situation created there lies with Bernard Coard, an alleged theoretician of the revolution, who was really advancing his own ambitions to conspire against the popular leader, Maurice Bishop.
Do you believe that the United States would have intervened in Grenada had Bishop still been in power?
No. If Bishop had been alive and leading the people, it would have been very difficult for the United States to orchestrate the political aspects of its intervention and to bring together that group of Caribbean stooges in a so-called policing coalition that didn’t include a single policeman from the Caribbean–it was exclusively U.S. soldiers.
You say the U.S. invaded on a pretext. But President Reagan argued that the United States had no choice but to intervene in Grenada, because Cuba was building an airport and stockpiling weapons with which to export revolution–and, of course, because the American medical students studying in Grenada were in mortal danger. Why didn’t the U.S. have a right to protect its citizens and prevent the spread of revolution?
The U.S. invasion was accompanied by unscrupulous lies, because for one thing, U.S. students on the island never ran any risk. The first thing the coup group did was to give assurances of safety to everyone, particularly the medical students. The safest people in Grenada were the U.S. students. As to the airport, Washington claimed a thousand times that was a military airport, but not a single brick that went into that airport was military. It was built with the participation of the European Economic Council and England, Canada and other United States allies.
What explains the fact that the Grenadian people cheered the United States intervention and rallied behind its goals and objectives?
I doubt very much that that support is as deep and widespread as you suggest. Bishop was a man greatly loved by the people. He was the leader of the Grenadian people. He had the real, sincere and enthusiastic support of the people. The group involved in the coup plotted against Bishop, arrested him, fired on the people when they revolted and, furthermore, assassinated Bishop and other leaders. Naturally, this caused great outrage and confusion among the masses. The United States intervened, stating its sole purpose as the noble aim of liberating the country from those people and that it would punish Bishop’s murderers and those who had fired on the people. It was logical for a large number of people in that country, even most of the population, to be susceptible to accepting invasion as desirable.
What about public support in the U.S.? The overwhelming majority of the American people rallied behind President Reagan’s decision.
Public opinion in the United States was manipulated by a pack of lies told over and over again. Melodramatic elements were brought into play: the students kissing U.S. soil on their arrival; the bitterness and frustration resulting from the Vietnam adventure and its humiliating defeat; the problem of the Marines killed in Lebanon and the memory of the Iran hostages; all these elements, latent in the spirit of the U.S. people, were manipulated in a cold, calculated manner. People can be manipulated; they can even applaud crimes. When the Nazis annexed Austria, the German people applauded; when they occupied Warsaw, the vast majority of Germans applauded. Some Americans applauded at the start of the invasion of Vietnam; later we saw the consequences. I believe future generations of U.S. citizens will be ashamed of the way their people were manipulated.
You compare the “shameful” Grenada invasion to actions by Nazi Germany; some would say that the actions of Soviet troops in Afghanistan are a more appropriate comparison. How can the bloodshed caused by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan be anything but a shame and an embarrassment to socialist countries?
Afghanistan is one of the most backward countries in the world, where a feudal regime had existed until April 1978. It had an illiteracy rate of 90 percent and an infant mortality rate of 235 for every 1000 live births–one of the highest in the world. Two thousand families owned 70 percent of the land, and the population consisted of around 1500 tribes. I believe that Afghanistan was one of the places in the world where a revolution was becoming more and more indispensable. As soon as that revolution took place–as it inevitably had to–the CIA began its subversive activities, exactly like the ones being carried out in Nicaragua. The United States has invested one billion dollars in helping the counterrevolutionary gangs since the beginning of that Revolution.
The Afghan Revolution led to a series of tensions in the region. Cuba was involved in trying to find solutions, including hosting the sixth summit meeting of the non-aligned countries in Havana, in 1979. There I met President Taraki of Afghanistan. I had also met the man who was to overthrow him and cause him to be murdered–Amin. He was a man who came to resemble Pol Pot, the genocidal leader of Cambodia. You can’t imagine what a pleasant man he was! You know, I’ve had the rare privilege of meeting some figures whom you would find courteous, well educated, who have studied in Europe or the United States, and later on you find out that they’ve done horrible things. It’s as if at some moment, people go mad. It seems that there are people whose brain neurons aren’t adapted to the complexities of revolutionary political problems, so they do crazy things that are really amazing.
In any case, everyone had a hand in that situation until the events that took place in Afghanistan in later 1979. The Soviets were helping the Afghans–that is true–because Taraki originally requested their help. Amin also asked the Soviets for help later, and a lot of Soviets were there, assisting in a wide range of fields–military, economic, technical, all kinds–up until Soviet troops were sent into the country on a massive scale.
I wonder: Is there any fascist regime in the past 40 years that has not been an ally of the United States?
That is, when they invaded. You say that was based on what provocation?
Essentially, counterrevolutionary actions fostered from abroad. Revolutions always entail more than a few complications and headaches. No revolution has ever avoided that; not the French Revolution of 1789, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Chinese Revolution, the Vietnamese Revolution, the Cuban Revolution or the Nicaraguan Revolution. There are no exceptions, and all the problems arise from the invariable attempts made from abroad to overthrow the revolution. This is also what happened with the revolution in Afghanistan.
You blame the invasion on the CIA, then?
The CIA was doing, and continues to do, everything in its power to create problems for the government of Afghanistan and for the Soviets. It’s pouring enormous numbers of weapons and amounts of money into Afghanistan, using the émigrés, playing on the political backwardness of a part of the Afghan people, using religion–it’s making use of every tool it can to create difficulties for the Afghan revolutionaries and for the Soviets. I don’t think the CIA is particularly interested in promoting peace in the country.
Yet there was a bloody invasion. How can you defend the Soviet action, and at the same time preach the philosophy of revolution and liberation?
I sincerely believe that the Afghan Revolution was just and necessary, and we could support nothing that would jeopardize it. We sympathize with and support the Afghan Revolution; I say this frankly. But I think Afghanistan could be a nonaligned country–but one in which the revolutionary regime was maintained. If a solution is sought that is based on the idea that Afghanistan should go back to the old regime and sacrifice the Revolution, then, unfortunately, I don’t think there will be peace there for a long time. I think it’s in the interest of all the neighboring countries, including the Soviet Union, to find a solution. And I believe that the observance of the principle of respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and for its right to make social changes, build the political system it deems best and correct and have a nonaligned government–as a Third World country–should serve as the basis of a solution for the problems there.
You repeatedly describe the United States as the source of many of the world’s problems while either praising or avoiding criticism of the Soviet Union. Yet many see Soviet foreign policy as warmongering and expansionist. The invasion of Afghanistan and the crushing of Solidarity would seem to fit that category.
You can’t ask the Soviet Union to remain impassive if it actually feels threatened. I believe that these accusations of warmongering have no historical foundation whatsoever. Let’s go back for a moment. Any scholar who knows the history of the Soviet Revolution can’t ignore the fact that while Lenin’s first decree was a proclamation of peace–immediately, 24 hours after the victory of the 1917 Revolution–the first step the Western countries took was to invade Russia. It was Lenin who first stated the principle that the nations that had made up the czarist empire had a right to independence.
Pardon us, but—
[Waving away the interruption] I would cite the example of Finland, which was part of that empire and became an independent nation. Yes, everyone who has studied history knows that Lenin waged a great battle for the enforcement of that principle. It can’t be ignored that as this was happening, there were armed actions against the Soviet people from all over the West: from the Germans, who attacked and penetrated the Ukraine to Kiev; from the French in the south; from the English in the Murmansk region in the north; from Japan and from the United States in the eastern territory. Everyone joined in. World War One had already ended, but intervention in the Soviet Union went on for several more years.
What happened in later years is well known: Even Finland itself was used by Fascist Germany to attack the Soviet Union. The country was invaded, and I believe that contemporary history doesn’t know of any other example of such massive destruction and death as was caused by fascism there.
After World War Two, the Soviet Union was surrounded by dozens and dozens of nuclear bases–in Europe, the Middle East, Turkey, which lies on the Soviet border, the Indian Ocean, Japan and other Oriental countries–and by military fleets near its coasts in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean. No one can deny these facts. It was surrounded by nuclear bombers, nuclear submarines, military bases, spy bases, electronic installations–a country totally surrounded. How can the Soviet Union be accused of warmongering and aggressive attitudes in the face of these historical realities? How can we not explain the Soviet Union’s highly sensitive reactions regarding anything that occurs near its territory? Who is historically responsible for this lack of trust on the part of the Soviets? How can international politics be explained so simplistically?
Many people believe that the next full-scale war will break out in South Africa. As an opponent of apartheid, what do you think can be done there?
[In the most impassioned tone of the entire interview] Apartheid is the most shameful, traumatizing and inconceivable crime that exists in the contemporary world. I don’t know of anything else as serious–from the moral and human standpoint–as apartheid. Particularly after the struggle against Nazi fascism, after the independence of all the former colonies, the survival of apartheid is a disgrace for humanity. The major industrialized countries, however–the United States included–have made heavy investments in and have collaborated economically, technologically and through the supply of weapons with the apartheid regime. In fact, South Africa is an ally of the West’s, and it is the West that has actually made it possible for that system to endure. The United States has systematically opposed all sanctions against the South African regime.
What international measures would you propose to force South Africa to abandon its policy of apartheid?
As long as South Africa continues to receive technological assistance, economic assistance and assistance in the form of weapons, it will remain unaltered and will continue in its blackmailing position. South Africa, like Pinochet, the West’s other fascist ally, parades itself before the West as the great standard-bearer of anticommunism and other social changes.
I wonder: Is there any fascist regime in the past 40 years that has not been an ally of the United States? In Spain, the Franco regime; in Portugal, the Salazar regime; in South Korea, the fascist military; in Central America, Somoza, the military dictatorships in Guatemala and El Salvador; and Stroessner, the military dictatorships in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, as well as the Duvalier regime. I don’t know of any reactionary, fascist state that has not been a close ally of the United States.
Yes, the West is responsible for the survival of apartheid. How can you justify the aggressive, subversive measures against Nicaragua, the economic blockade of Cuba–which has already lasted 26 years–and then talk about constructive relations with the apartheid regime? If South Africa were effectively isolated, economic measures were implemented against it and everyone were to support them, the apartheid system would come to an end. The measures the United States take against socialist countries are not taken against apartheid! Nothing about apartheid has produced sufficient revulsion in leaders of Western countries, just a few embarrassing situations that they try to explain with hypocritical statements.
Would you favor, then, an international war against South Africa?
No. I’m not saying that violent measures should be taken. They’re not needed. What is called for is simply international political, moral, technological and economic pressures. This will not in the least harm the vast majority of South Africa’s population, who live in the ghettos and who are being massacred and assassinated every day. Not a month goes by without a slaughter of greater or lesser magnitude.
You are passionate about South Africa, yet Cuba has been widely condemned for its extensive military involvement in Africa. How do you justify sending Cuban troops to such countries as Ethiopia and Angola?
We sent troops for the first time outside our country in 1975, precisely when South Africa invaded Angola, at the moment of its independence. We are the only country that has actually fought the South African racists and fascists, the only country in the world–in addition to Angola, of course, which was under attack. You can be sure that all the African countries have always admired and been thankful for this action by Cuba. The troops are still there, to defend Angola against another operation by the South Africans. It was simply that, an unexpected situation in which somebody had to fight against the racists, and not part of some larger plan by the Soviet Union, as the United States has claimed.
What about Ethiopia? There was no South African invasion there.
Until very recently, Ethiopia had lived under a feudal regime. Before the Revolution, there was even slavery in Ethiopia. We appreciate the importance of the Revolution in Ethiopia, one of the largest African countries, with the longest tradition of independence, but a very poor country, one of the poorest in Africa. Right after the Revolution, contacts were established between the new Ethiopian leaders and ourselves. We supported their socialist experiment and also sent them doctors, instructors and weapons.
Then came an invasion to seize some oil-rich land, this one from Somalia, in the south, while the separatist movement in the north was being fanned with the aid of such American allies as the Sudan and Saudi Arabia. It was a difficult moment for Ethiopia. The Revolution could have collapsed; the Ethiopian people needed our help and we sent it. No one could help them when they were invaded by Mussolini’s troops, but this time they received support from tiny Cuba.
In one case you intervened in what would be called a civil war, and in both cases you have troops in African countries well after the crisis has passed. Do you really claim that Cuban troops are still there in a just cause?
Only a few well-equipped units with combat capabilities remain in Ethiopia, as a symbol of solidarity. They will remain there as long as the Ethiopian government deems it convenient. That is not the situation in Angola, a nation with a smaller population and less experience and one faced with South Africa’s military might. There, too, the dirty war was organized by the South Africans, who did just what the United States is doing in Nicaragua. I consider what the Cuban troops are doing a truly honorable cause, among the most honorable in the history of Africa. I think that nothing can stop the course of history. Nothing shall prevent the tens of millions of Africans living in ghettos and bantustans in their own homeland from someday becoming the masters of their own destiny. The concentration camps of Dachau and Auschwitz also came to an end.
You’ve talked bitterly in the past about the 26-year trade blockade by the U.S. Because of its effect–and your own domestic problems–haven’t you had to reduce many needed programs and services that your revolution promised in its early days?
No, not at all. We already know what we are going to do during the next 15 years in all fields of economic and social development–in the industrial, agricultural, housing, educational, cultural, sports and medical programs. And despite the blockade, there are some areas, such as public health and education, in which we expect to be ahead of the United States in the not-too-distant future. That is, we use our resources rationally to achieve sustained economic development in the interests of the people. We certainly won’t adopt any such measures as cutting aid to the elderly, reducing old-age pensions, cutting medicines for the sick, reducing hospital and school appropriations. We don’t sacrifice social programs, as they do in the United States, for the sake of building aircraft carriers, MX missiles and other engines of war that the world abhors.
Do you mean to suggest that Cuba can boast a stronger record of accomplishment in the social realm than the United States?
What I’m suggesting is this: While the United States has recently adopted a policy of cutting or freezing its social-assistance programs, in our country these are top-priority items. Rather than being cut, as has been suggested in the United States, they are increasing every year, as our economic performance improves.
You’re also saying that, despite the problems you mentioned earlier, Cuba is not really facing an economic crisis, as other Third World countries are.
Precisely. Due to the factors mentioned, we are the only Latin-American or Caribbean country that hasn’t suffered from the present economic crisis. We haven’t been exposed to the crisis, except as it affects the 15 percent of our trade that is carried out with Western countries–which, of course, charge high prices for their products, pay low prices for ours and force us to pay high interest rates on our foreign debt.
And, of course, your economy is tied to that of the Soviet bloc.
Eighty-five percent of our trade is within the socialist community, and this is what gives us a solid foundation for the sustained growth of our economy. That is why we are morally entitled to speak about the economic crisis and Latin America’s debt; we don’t have to keep silent. That is precisely why we are energetically denouncing it. But we can feel secure, because, fortunately, we depend very little on the Western world, and we don’t depend at all on economic relations with the United States. I wonder how many other countries can say the same.
Some would say you have merely traded a former dependency on the United States for another dependency–on the Soviet Union.
That question is older than the rain. Actually, we consider ourselves the most privileged nation of all, because in a world where everyone depends on the United States, there is one country–Cuba–that does not. It is a unique privilege.
But you have paid a price for that support–some of your independence.
The Soviets have given us their support with no conditions; they do not say what Cuba can or cannot do. In 26 years, I cannot remember a single time when the Soviets have attempted to tell us what to do in our foreign or domestic policy. And criticizing us for our dependency on the Soviets is like telling us, “Look, we sank the ship–and you used a lifesaver!”
No country in the world can be an economic island. You in the United States depend on Saudi Arabia, on Kuwait, on the Persian Gulf states for your oil. We depend on others, too, to a greater or lesser degree.
Let’s speculate: What would happen if the United States were to resume trade relations with Cuba?
Frankly, the United States has fewer and fewer things to offer Cuba. If we were able to export our products to the United States, we would have to start making plans for new lines of production to be exported to the United States, because everything we are producing now and everything we are going to produce in the next five years has already been sold to other markets. We would have to take them away from the other socialist countries in order to sell them to the United States, and the socialist countries pay us much better prices and have much better relations with us than does the United States. There’s a folk saying that goes, “Don’t swap a cow for a goat!”
Talking about economics for a wide audience can be cumbersome, but one thing everyone has heard about is the staggering debt Latin-American countries owe to Western countries, particularly the U.S. You have recently spoken out against attempts to pressure these countries to repay that debt. Don’t you think they have a moral responsibility to pay their creditors?
Some 20 or 25 years ago, Latin America had practically no debt; now it amounts to 360 billion dollars. What did that money go for? Part of it was spent on weapons. In Argentina, for example, tens of billions of dollars went for military expenditures, and the same was true of Chile and other countries. Another part of that money was embezzled, was stolen and wound up in banks in Switzerland and in the United States. Another part was returned to the United States and Europe as a flight of capital. Whenever there was talk of devaluation, the more affluent people, out of mistrust, would change their money for dollars and deposit it in U.S. banks. Another part of that money was squandered. Another part was used by some countries to pay the high prices of fuel. And, finally, another part was spent on various economic programs.
But, with respect, you’re avoiding the question. Don’t these nations have a moral responsibility to repay the debt?
You say that they have a moral responsibility. When you talk about nations, you’re talking about the people, the workers, the farmers, the students, the middle class–the doctors, the engineers, the teachers, the other professionals–and the other social sectors. What did the people get out of the billions that were spent on weapons, deposited in U.S. banks, misspent or embezzled? What did the people get out of the overvaluation of the dollar or out of the interest spread? They got absolutely nothing. And who has to pay for that debt? The people: the workers, the professionals and the farmers; everybody has to make do with reduced wages and reduced income and make huge sacrifices. What is the morality of imposing measures that result in a blood bath in an effort to make the people pay the debt, as was the case in the Dominican Republic, where the International Monetary Fund’s measures resulted in dozens of people’s being killed and hundreds more shot? The people have to protest, because they are being forced to pay a debt that they didn’t contract and that brought them practically no benefits.
Mr. President, are you saying that Third World countries should simply cancel their debts?
Even if they wanted to repay them, it would be an economic impossibility, a political impossibility, a moral impossibility. You would practically have to kill the people to force them to make the sacrifices required to pay that debt. Any democratic process that tries to impose those restrictions and sacrifices by force will be ruined. The debt simply cannot be paid. “Give me liberty or give me death.” The choice for those governing Latin America now is between the cancellation of the debt and political death.
Do you honestly feel that any of this is realistic–that creditors should simply swallow the losses from the canceled debt?
I’m not suggesting that the banks lose their money or that the taxpayers pay more taxes. I am suggesting something very simple: using a small percent of military expenditures–which wouldn’t be more than 12 percent–so the governments of the creditor nations can assume the debts from their own banks. That way, neither the banks nor the depositors would lose; to the contrary, the banks would have that money guaranteed. Who could guarantee this better than the rich and powerful industrial states of which the Western nations are so proud? They consider themselves capable of dreaming up and waging “star wars” while giving barely a thought to the risks involved in a thermonuclear conflict that would in the first minute destroy a hundred times more than what is due their banks. In short, if the idea of universal suicide doesn’t scare them, why should they be afraid of something as simple as the cancellation of the Third World’s debt? It’s a simple accounting operation. It’s not going to close a single factory; it’s not going to stop a single ship along its route; it’s not going to interfere with a single sales contract on the market. To the contrary, employment, trade, industrial and agricultural output and profits would be increased everywhere. It isn’t going to hurt anybody. The only adverse effects would be on arms and military spending.
What effect do you think a change in U.S. military spending would have?
The avoidance of financial catastrophe for all of us. What will be the consequences for the future U.S. economy of spending two trillion dollars in only eight years for military purposes, instead of investing it in industry, technology and economic development? The only significant development has been registered by the arms industry, but weapons aren’t goods that the population can consume. Rifles, bullets, bombs, bombers, battleships and aircraft carriers increase neither the wealth nor the productive capacity of a country; they can’t meet any of man’s material or spiritual needs. You can’t even fish with those boats; you can’t do anything with them that’s useful for human life, health or the struggle against cancer and other diseases that kill so many U.S. citizens every year.
Again, you focus on the dire economic consequences of military spending by the U.S., even though the Soviet Union–a socialist state–is engaged in the very same arms race.
A socialist can better understand–is better prepared to understand, from a theoretical point of view–the folly of spending on weapons the resources needed to meet the pressing needs and problems of any human society. The socialist states know what can be done with those resources both at home and abroad. A glance shows the poverty and disasters that plague our planet. The arms race is a crime against mankind. Why not opt for a sincere effort to seek peace and cooperation among all countries, based on full respect for the sovereignty and the social system that each people has chosen for itself? As for the Soviets, they are not to blame for the arms race. Their response reflects decisions made in Washington–the desire to protect themselves against possible U.S. aggression. But they are not the culprits. They are not to blame for the arms race.
What will happen, in your opinion, if the industrialized world refuses to cancel the debt?
If a negotiated solution cannot be found, the Third World will impose a solution–unilateral cancellation. Industrialized nations will not have any actions open: economic blockades, invasion of Third World countries, repartitioning of the world’s territories and resources, as in past centuries, are simply impossible today. Any rational person can understand this. They couldn’t invade ten countries, blockade 100 countries.
Since it’s not likely that the industrialized world will follow the course you’re recommending, what do you see as the final outcome?
If we want to be madmen, if we want to continue the arms race and keep this unfair economic order, we will continue along the path leading to large-scale famines, great social conflicts and–what is even worse and probable–a large nuclear conflict, until all people, both sane and insane, are wiped off the face of the earth. By the way, it may also be said that not all madmen are in government, and not all who govern are mad.
I must admit that pride may have influenced my attitudes from time to time.
You have made several literary references during this Interview. To shift again, as we near the end, to a personal topic, are you still an avid reader? Do you still find time to read?
Yes, though my tastes have varied with time. Of course, when I was younger, literary works and novels, for example, interested me more than they do now. Obviously, a good novel is pleasant reading, really recreational reading, so I read many novels. I remember perfectly that during the 22 months I spent in prison, there weren’t enough books there for the 15 or 16 hours a day that I read. I read literary, economic, historical and political works, but throughout my life I have usually preferred history books, biographies, books about nature, narratives.
I’ve read many memoirs, from Churchill’s–which is quite unwieldy but interesting, with a lot of historical data–to DeGaulle’s. I’ve also read numerous books on the World Wars and the main events that took place then. I’ve read most of the books dealing with the actions carried out by both the Western powers and the Soviets. I’ve read practically all those books–memoirs, narratives, particularly about the military actions. I’ve always been interested in that kind of literature.
Once in a while, I delve into the roots of the language and reread Cervantes’ Don Quixote, one of the most splendid works ever written. If it weren’t for the long narrative passages it contains, which make it somewhat boring at times, I would read some excerpt from it every day.
I’ve also read all of Hemingway’s works, some more than once. I’m really sorry he didn’t write more. I’ve also read most of García Márquez’ novels, stories, historical works and newspaper articles. Since we are friends, I’ll dispense with the praise.
It is amazing, isn’t it, to think of the enormous number of quality publications that are printed every year and the tension between the desire to read all of them and the real possibility of reading very few?
You mentioned Don Quixote. Is there anything about Don Quixote, the character, with which you specifically identify?
Well, I think that a revolutionary is what Don Quixote resembles the most, particularly in his desire for justice, in that spirit of the knight-errant, of righting wrongs everywhere, of fighting against giants. It has been said that Don Quixote was written to ridicule the romances of chivalry. I believe it was written very ingeniously. In fact, I think that it is one of the most marvelous exaltations of man’s dreams and idealism and, above all, it’s very interesting. We have the two characters: Sancho, with his feet on the ground, looking at all the problems and giving advice, a model of caution who remembers all the details; and the other, who’s always dreaming about a cause to defend. Don Quixote’s madness and the madness of the revolutionaries are similar; the spirit is similar. I like that character very much. I’m sure Don Quixote wouldn’t have hesitated to face the giant of the North.
Have you ever had any self-doubt?
Let me state, in all frankness, that I have never harbored personal doubts or a lack of confidence. That may be good or it may be bad. But if you see your actions as objectively correct, then not having doubts is good. I must admit that pride may have influenced my attitudes from time to time. But once I came to a conclusion as to what was right, I had great personal confidence in those ideas. This doesn’t mean that I am not self-critical. Quite the contrary: I constantly question the rightness of my beliefs and actions. In that sense, I’m quite hard on myself. I’ve never fallen victim to the trap of complacency. But I have always persevered.
Clearly, you cannot live forever. What plans, if any, do you have for the succession of power? Is there an heir apparent?
Well, of course I don’t have any plans for dying. I’ll tell you this: Since the beginning of the Revolution, since the very first year, and particularly when we started realizing that the CIA had plans to shorten my life, we suggested the prior nomination of another comrade, Raul Castro–today second secretary of the party–who would immediately assume leadership. In my opinion, the comrade chosen is the most capable, not exactly because he’s my brother but due to his experience and revolutionary merits.
If you were to step down tomorrow, what would happen in Cuba?
In this question, I am not yet dead, correct? [Laughs] Let me tell you one thing. If tomorrow I were to resign all my functions, first, there’d have to be a truly convincing reason for the population to understand it–it would have to be logical, natural and justifiable. I couldn’t just say, “I’m going to drop these activities because I’m bored or because I want to lead a private life.” It would be difficult to explain and difficult for the people to understand. The people have also been instilled with the idea that one must do everything possible, that one must give top priority to all revolutionary obligations.
I haven’t the slightest doubt that although I can still be useful and make further contributions to the Revolution–there are still some things that need a little time to mature–I believe that the opinion and the recognition of the people with respect to the role I’ve played and my efforts in the Revolution would be truly high if I were to quit tomorrow. This in no way means that everything has been perfect, free of errors or anything of the sort. But I’m quite sure that there’d be a high opinion of my services. I haven’t the slightest doubt.
Let’s end on a note of imagination. Here, is something truly wonderful from your point of view: Suppose the U.S. canceled Latin America’s foreign debt, as you propose, and offered substantial aid to boot–in other words, offered to treat the hemisphere with the fairness you think it deserves. What would you do then? Reassess your views?
If the United States were to spontaneously do what you say–if such an inherently selfish, neocolonialist system were capable of that generosity–a real miracle would have taken place, and I would have to start meditating on that phenomenon. I might even have to consult some theologians and revise some of my opinions in that field. If that were to happen, I might even enter a monastery.
We asked you toward the beginning of this interview whether or not you considered yourself a dictator. Do you again deny the charge?
I would say that I am a sui generis type of dictator, one who has been subjected here to the oppression, torture, demands and impositions of a journalist and a legislator from the United States and who has shown his willingness to discuss any topic openly, frankly and seriously.