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Peace and Love for Cuba

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.
Ernesto Padilla Miami February 19, 2008 1:24pm ET
Fidel Castro looms like a wraith over the remarkably calm but highly revealing pages of Heberto Padilla's memoir, ''Self-Portrait of the Other.'' The author, one of Cuba's leading poets (''Legacies: Selected Poems'') and novelists (''Heroes Are Grazing in My Garden''), knew Fidel Castro at the beginning of the revolution, became one of his followers and was given a cultural post in the Foreign Commerce Ministry. Then, as the revolution turned into an oligarchy, the poet allowed his disenchantment to show openly.In a final face-to-face meeting with the Maximum Leader, Mr. Padilla is told that he is free to leave Cuba -and to return some time in the future. ''Stay as long as you want,'' Mr. Castro tells him, ''and when you want to come back, give me a call. If you are a true revolutionary, you will want to return.'' Then Mr. Castro lectures his old friend in these antediluvian words in defense of a police state:''What is most obvious in your conduct over the past years is your blind hatred for State Security. Would you mind telling me what government on this earth is able to do without it? It is inevitable in a revolution. People who criticize a revolution may be mistaken, they may be sincere, but they are dangerous nonetheless. To create a new society, we have to demand national unity. Marx and Lenin are the prototypes of a revolutionary and they were both implacable with their enemies.'' To which, the author comments, ''For Fidel, an enemy was anyone who displayed the merest disagreement with his ideas.''
Ernesto Padilla Miami February 19, 2008 1:27pm ET
Here are some quotes to think about."Why are dictators of the left not scorned in the same way as those of the right? Was General Pinochet in his 17 years in power, less cruel or less bloody than Fidel Castro has been in his four decades ruling Cuba?- Mario Vargas LlosaThe New York Times, November 1, 1999
Ernesto Padilla Miami February 19, 2008 1:28pm ET
Undemocratic conditions in Cuba, we encourage all thebrave Cubans who endure persecution and years of prisonfor their loyalty to the ideals of freedom and human dignity."- Vaclav HavelNobel laureate and President of the Czech RepublicArticle on the similarities between the Cuba present and Czech past
Ernesto Padilla Miami February 19, 2008 1:29pm ET
"The only leader in Latin America who always wears a military uniform, and who steadfastly and on principle refuses elections, is Fidel Casto. Cuba citizens are forbidden by law to use hotels reserved for the rich and may not even enter many stores and pharmacies which trade only in dollars. After 40 years, there are few senior black faces in the supposed 'leadership'.Many doctors have been trained, but they are paid less than the hotel doormen or policemen in the segregated tourist districts. The regime publishes a daily newspaper which all the literati's can ion of it given by the late Argentinean editor and dissident Jacobo Timerman, who described his morning encounter with that same paper as "A degradation of the act of reading.- Christopher HitchensArticle "Havana Can Wait"Vanity Fair, March 2000
Ernesto Padilla Miami February 19, 2008 1:30pm ET
"I am not a communist and neither is the revolutionary movement."- Fidel Castro, 1959"I am a Marxist Leninist and I will be one until the last day of my life."- Fidel Castro, 1961
Ernesto Padilla Miami February 19, 2008 1:30pm ET
"Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two maindangers. One stems from confused and incompletereadings of foreign texts, and the other from the arroganceand hidden rage of those who, in order to climb up in theworld, pr to have shoulders on which to stand."- Jose Marti
Jorge Armenteros Princeton, NJ February 19, 2008 2:27pm ET
"Peace" and FRIENDSHIP too!!! Friends can disagree and still be friends.... well said James.
Nelson Boronat Canton,GA February 19, 2008 2:58pm ET
James,Your comments are well intended but the fundamental difference is that one country is the oldest living democracy and the other is not. Fidel is an intriguing and contradictory icon. In one sentence he condemns the social differences in the US, but fails to recognize that the revolution he triumphed failed in creating the very equality he preached. Some argue that all the revolution did was create simplicity. Simplicity in life, and total government control. This may work for some but the inherent trait to succeed and explore our differences is what made this a great democracy.
James Suckling February 19, 2008 3:23pm ET
Ernesto: Where's the love? Peace be with you.
tim de rosen February 19, 2008 7:48pm ET
Thank G-d. May he rot in h-ll
Ernesto Padilla Miami February 20, 2008 12:50pm ET
James, Peace with you as well. All the best to you. I do hope there is a peaceful transition to a Democratic form of Goverment that has been long over-due.
tom orange February 20, 2008 3:34pm ET
I don't understand this magazine's love affair with this tyrant. The Dictator seized the assets and property of many of this magazine's most significant advertisers and supporters. Yet he is somehow viewed as an iconic hero to people like Mr. Suckling...The good news is he is expiring. I wish the very best to the Cuban people who have had to live with the dictator for far too long.
Alan Downs Latrobe PA February 20, 2008 4:24pm ET
Fidel Castro is a Leftist Dictator Thug!! Where was all the love as he destroyed Cuba's economy and forced everyone on the island to live in poverty for almost 50 years. Let's hope that Raul comes out of his insanity(that's what marxism is) and brings some love and democracy and capitalism to the poor souls in Cuba!
James Suckling February 20, 2008 6:15pm ET
Mr. Orange. You are very mistaken. The love affair is with Cuba and its people. If you don't like the magazine, read something else!
tom orange February 21, 2008 3:05pm ET
James,Thank you for your eloquent response. I am not only a loyal, longtime reader but also a retailer of your magazine. Cigar Aficionado has been instrumental for more than a decade in helping to bring attention to our industry. I believe the magazine can take great pride in being one of the primary reasons cigars have enjoyed a renewed popularity around the world. And I think CA is generally great for the industry. My only criticism was regarding the Dictator, and the attention he receives from CA (iconic photographs smelling a cigar, interviews etc.) The man is a dispicable torturer of his "own" people.So James, I will not take your advice to "read something else!". Despite your best efforts to turn me and my customers off of what is otherwise a great magazine. All The Best.
James Suckling February 21, 2008 4:33pm ET
Thanks for your explanation. I took offense to you saying that I considered Fidel Castro a personal hero. Just because the magazine covers Cuba doesn't mean it supports the country's government. I think the magazine offers some of the most unbiased coverage on Cuba in the world.
Charles Horan February 22, 2008 11:58am ET
Don't have to love Castro to love and enjoy a good CC and all it stands for
Dion Giolito February 23, 2008 8:02pm ET
"There was the Civil War in the days of Lincoln, which brought about great changes in American society." - Fidel Castro. "As I would not be a slave, So I would not be a Master." - Abraham Lincoln. Castro cannot possibly compare and justify his means through Americas struggle for freedom. Whereas Lincoln incited Revolution to free an enslaved segment of a country, Castro incited Revolution to enslave an entire country. Dion Giolito.

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