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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)

Shanken: Have there been any private negotiations to try to come to a mutual understanding that will result in the elimination of the trade embargo?
Castro: No. No, not at this time.

Shanken: The American trade embargo against Vietnam is ending. Russian and U.S. relations have been turned around. Even Israel and Palestine are trying to get together. Why is it, in your opinion, that Cuba continues to be embargoed? It is a question that we all ask. What do you think?
Castro: It is difficult to answer. It doesn't stand up to logic. Perhaps it is because we are too close geographically to the United States. Perhaps [because] we have resisted the blockade for over 30 years. Perhaps it is a matter of national pride for the U.S. government that has turned us into an exception and has given us the honor to be its only long-standing adversary. I think it is not logical. I don't know what history will say though.

Shanken: There would be many benefits to both sides, if you were willing to take the first step.
Castro: How can we take the first step? We are the ones whom the blockade is imposed against. If we had a mutual blockade, then we could take the first step. But how can we? The first step should be taken by the U.S.

Shanken: From what I read, the American government is looking for Cuba to undergo political reform and improvement in its human rights.
Castro: That is the pretext that they use, and for many years they have used many different pretexts. At one time when we were in Africa, they used to say if the Cubans withdrew from Africa, then the relations would improve. That pretext was left behind. Later they said that when the links with the Soviet Union were cut off, then our relations would begin with the United States. Now the Soviet Union is not supporting us anymore, and nothing has changed. They keep on moving the goalposts back. Before it was Latin American subversion, the situation in Central America...and when they talk about reforms in Cuba, it is a precondition that we cannot accept because it has to do with independence and the sovereignty of our nation. It would be like if we were to give a precondition to the United States that it must change something in the Constitution in order for us to open up relations again. That's absurd.

As far as human rights, and I will try to keep my answer brief, no one in the world has done more than Cuba has done for human beings, for its citizens--no one else, in every sense. The best evidence of that is that our health programs have saved the lives of over 300,000 children, and we have been helping out in other places around the world with our doctors, medicines and knowledge, more than any other country in the world. So, I think that no other country has as unblemished behavior about human rights considering how much we have done for man. That is a legend. It is a fabrication. It is an unjustifiable pretext.

Shanken: There are two issues that seem to come up. The first is about the Soviet missiles [in Cuba] in the '60s aimed at the United States.
Castro: There are not any missiles anymore.

Shanken: The second issue regards compensation for the properties taken from private Cuban citizens at the time of the Revolution. I would like to know your thinking as to whether or not there is any way to satisfy the Cuban-Americans whose properties were taken so that we can move on to the bigger agenda of living together in a neighborly way?
Castro: Those thousands of Cubans whose economic situation were affected by the Revolution were people who had experience in business, and thanks to the Revolution, they were given facilities in the United States that they would have never received if the Revolution had not been victorious. Those people are wealthier now than they were in Cuba. That they owe to the Revolution.

It would be to create a hope that our country were in an economic situation which would allow it to compensate those people whose property was taken. We cannot create that expectation because we do not have the resources and, also, because of the blockade, our country has been suffering great losses, several billion dollars' worth. We are a small country, and the blockade has been very harmful to us. Now we are suffering more with the demise of the Soviet Union and the socialist states, with which we supported ourselves. But we are still striving. We are putting up a fight, and we are trying our best.

You can be assured that, if, instead of Cubans there were Americans here setting the example that we are setting as far as our capacity for struggle and resistance, the American nation would be proud.

Shanken: Perhaps people in Washington will read this interview and begin to think more about how this impasse can be overcome.
Castro: It is a struggle between Goliath and David. Let's see if they wish one day to leave David alone. You say that Clinton smokes cigars?

Shanken: Yes. He has smoked for many years. But his wife, Hillary, has created a no-smoking policy in the White House. So now he just chews cigars, it seems.
Castro: Then I guess President Clinton and I will not be able to smoke our peace pipe or cigars in the White House.

Bottle shot of Kanon vodka.
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.


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Comments   2 comment(s)

Christopher Skinner July 22, 2014 1:16am ET

Great article and interview! Thanks for reposting 20 years later.


Nathan Johnson — Inver Grove Heights, MN,  —  August 7, 2014 10:07pm ET

This is such a cool article! Although I don't agree with Fidel's politics it would have been amazing to sit down with him and talk cigars - what an amazing experience. I found the part about Trinidads particularity interesting the rumor says that this was Fidel's brand but he him self says no.


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