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A Conversation With Fidel

Marvin R. Shanken travels to Havana for an extensive interview with Fidel Castro.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 1)

Castro: I should explain that. I got used to smoking in my early years. My father was a cigar smoker, and he really appreciated a fine cigar.My father was Spanish, and he originally came from Galicia. He was from the countryside. I remember when I was a teenager in high school. I was about 15 years old. I had lunch with my father when he presented me with a cigar. So he introduced me to cigars and he also taught me to drink wine....

Shanken: So he was a wine lover.

Castro: He used to smoke Cuban cigars and drink Spanish wine. And he taught me about both things. He liked wines from Rioja. I always smoked cigars and, on very few occasions, cigarettes. But I always kept the habit of smoking cigars. So I was always a cigar smoker, as far as I can remember, since I was 15 years old until I was about 59 years old. That's about 44 years of being a cigar smoker.

On two occasions in my life I didn't smoke. Once was during the Revolution because there was a great movement against cigars as a result of an uprising of the peasants on the plantations, and tobacco production went down. There was a great spirit against cigars. In order to be in solidarity with them, I quit for some time. But that was the only reason. Soon production recovered, and I started smoking again.

Later I did not smoke because of reasons of health. Many people in our country were against smoking. I didn't not smoke because I didn't like cigars. I was very much in the habit. But there was a whole national movement against smoking.

Shanken: In what year was this?

Castro: I can't remember exactly. It was '84 or '85. No. It was on Aug. 26, 1985. It was when there was a general health issue in Cuba against smoking. At first, I thought that I would simply try not to smoke in public for this campaign against smoking, and I did not make a commitment to it. I used to be with a cigar in my mouth all the time. I always had a cigar. When I was with a foreigner in a meeting like this, I would be smoking my cigars. Pictures would show me smoking cigars, or in an interview on television I was smoking cigars. And then the interview would be shown on television here, and you can imagine what people would think watching me smoke my cigars. Then I came to a decision that to really launch a campaign against smoking, I had to set the example and quit smoking. That was why I quit smoking. As I had a very strong motive, it was easier for me. I not only had a strong commitment; I had a strong motive. So, it was not so hard for me to stop smoking.

People used to ask me if I still smoked when I was alone because it seemed impossible to them that I could quit smoking cigars after all those years. I must be smoking at home.

Shanken: I question that, too. It's hard to believe that you've stopped completely.

Castro: I said, look, in order to smoke, you need some accomplices. You need somebody to buy the cigars for you. You need somebody to hide the ashes that are left around. You need at least three, four, five accomplices who know that you are smoking cigars. They would know that you are doing something like that. They would know that you are smoking behind closed doors, and I wouldn't want three, four or five people knowing that I was deceiving others. So I chose not to do that.

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