Peace and Love for Cuba
Posted: Feb 19, 2008 10:53am ET
The news last night about Fidel Castro retiring from political duties in Cuba does not come as a surprise. The word on the streets of Havana has been nothing else but that for months. In fact, his brother Raúl has been in real power since Fidel passed the baton to him in July 2006. Everyone knows that.
I am excited for everyone -- Cubans as well as Americans. I can only pray that there will finally be some sort of discourse between our two nations. At the end of the day, we are the same. We are part of the world. And we are close neighbors. I have seldom met a Cuban that doesn’t love America. Honestly, I wish it were the same in the United States. It’s time to reach out.
There is talk in Cuba about Raúl’s ideas on changing economic policies as well as social and political programs. Everyone will have to wait and see. Raúl is going to say some important things at the end of the week during the Congress of the National Assembly.
Just about anything is possible, but it will be on Cuba’s own terms. That I know.
I keep thinking today about my five-hour meeting with Fidel Castro in February 1994. I was with editor and publisher Marvin Shanken and we interviewed the icon. I also took some amazing photos of the man smelling a Cohiba Esplendido. He didn’t smoke at the time but he was in heaven smelling the cigar. Every news organization in the world wanted a copy of the photo.
Anyway, Fidel said something that comes to mind at the moment. In fact, it was the end of the interview, and it still haunts me.
Marvin Shanken: "The American press repeatedly refers to the very poor conditions here in Cuba. The enormous shortages. The human suffering. Some are convinced you will fall soon or your government will be overthrown or perhaps you will step down. Like a great Broadway show, you have had a long run. Is it time to give someone else a turn? Do you have any such plans?"
Castro: "I wish I could. I wish I were free to do what I want to do. In easy times, you know, it is easy to talk about that, but in the hard times that we are living now, I would be shrugging off my responsibilities to my country if I did this. It would be like deserting the front line in the heat of the battle. I could not do that. I am not the owner of my life anymore. The most I can do is accept the responsibilities that I have been invested with by my fellow citizens and try to carry out those responsibilities for as long as I have them. But believe me I would enjoy now to be free to do what I would like to do; however, it is not possible for me to have the freedom in the hard times that I am living in now. Perhaps I could even smoke cigars again without all these very important obligations."
"There are many things I would like to do. I wish I were the problem. The problem is the Revolution, and the problem is our ideas. The United States, or some people in the United States, they do not just want Castro's retirement. They want the total destruction of the Revolution. And that is what the majority of our people would not accept."
"There is a new generation of Americans, and in the history of America, many similar things happened. First, you had the struggle for independence against the British with a long struggle that had great repercussions on the world. There was the Civil War in the days of Lincoln, which brought about great changes in American society."
"Now in the United States there is not a revolution but an evolution. But there are still many injustices to be changed. There are many people who are struggling in the United States for equality and social justice. One of the countries in the world where there are more social differences is the United States. The difference between the average salary of the workers and the executive. The executive makes 90 times' more than the average worker."
"There are many injustices in the United States, but that is your task to change and not mine. I would not set up preconditions for relations based on these injustices. On a realistic basis, we should respect each other, and, in the world, peace should prevail. There was a great Mexican leader who said that respect for other peoples' rights is peace. So peace should be based on mutual respect."
I hope Fidel finds his peace. More importantly, let there be peace between America and Cuba. I write that from the heart.
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