In the immediate aftermath of the recent devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, Cuba dispatched medical teams to the affected areas to provide care to victims. Their departure was marked by a farewell ceremony, which featured a large photo of Fidel Castro. It was quite appropriate, for the international medical solidarity which Cuba regularly extends to countries throughout the world is the brainchild of the late iconic leader himself, who, in 2003, proudly proclaimed that Cuba does not drop bombs on other countries but instead sends them doctors.
Though Castro retired from his official duties as President of Cuba 15 years ago to the day, he has continued to remain a leader in solidarity and in peace. Cuban doctors were sent to more than 70 countries over the years, including nearly 40 different countries in 2020 to help in the fight against Covid-19. In 2010, even the New York Times acknowledged Cuba’s successful campaign against the cholera epidemic which broke out in Haiti after another earthquake. In 2014, the Times similarly gave credit to Cuba’s leadership in successfully fighting Ebola in Africa:
“Cuba is an impoverished island that remains largely cut off from the world and lies about 4,500 miles from the West African nations where Ebola is spreading at an alarming rate. Yet, having pledged to deploy hundreds of medical professionals to the front lines of the pandemic, Cuba stands to play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus.
Cuba’s contribution is doubtlessly meant at least in part to bolster its beleaguered international standing. Nonetheless, it should be lauded and emulated.”
In addition, patients from 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries have traveled to Cuba to have their eyesight restored by Cuban doctors in what was dubbed “Operation Miracle.” Among them was Mario Teran, the Bolivian soldier who shot and killed Che Guevara.
In 2014, Fidel received the Confucius Peace Award for his efforts in ending tensions with the United States and for his work to eliminate nuclear weapons. In addition, he played a key role in helping initiate, host and mediate the peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas which resulted in a peace deal in 2016, ending 52 years of brutal civil conflict.
The historic role that Fidel Castro played was always outsized for a country as small as the island nation of Cuba, and as a result, his impact was felt beyond its borders. One of the first countries that Cuba aided, back in the early 1960s, was Algeria, which had recently won its independence from France. As described by Piero Gleijeses, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, in his book Conflicting Missions:
It was an unusual gesture: an underdeveloped country tendering free aid to another in even more dire straits. It was offered at a time when the exodus of doctors from Cuba following the revolution had forced the government to stretch its resources while launching its domestic programs to increase mass access to health care. “It was like a beggar offering his help, but we knew the Algerian people needed it even more than we did and that they deserved it,” Cuban Minister of Public Health Machado Ventura remarked. It was an act of solidarity that brought no tangible benefit and came at real material cost.
This can be said of all of Cuba’s acts of international solidarity.
Meanwhile, what very few in the West know is that Cuba, under Fidel’s leadership and with the support of the USSR, played a key role in liberating southern Africa from US and apartheid-era South African domination, and in ultimately ending apartheid in the country itself. It was for this reason that the first nation Nelson Mandela visited after his release from prison was Cuba. While there, Mandela lauded the nation as “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.” Even the Washington Postrecognized Fidel Castro as a hero of Africa.
After the Chernobyl disaster of 1989, Cuba took in and treated 24,000 affected children. Many of these individuals and their families still live there to this day. This act of solidarity cannot be understated given the economic conditions in the island nation at the time. While Cuba benefited greatly from the support of the USSR and Eastern Bloc after its 1959 Revolution, which Fidel led, by 1989 the Communist governments had fallen and aid from the USSR itself, which would collapse in 1991, was drying up. As a result of all of this, Cuba would enter what it called its “Special Period,” a time of great economic deprivation which many believed would lead to the collapse of the Cuban Revolution as well. But Fidel and Cuba hung on, and they continued to extend help to people around the world even while they were having trouble feeding their own people.
Due to the intensification of US sanctions and the blockade of Cuba under President Donald Trump, and continued under President Biden, Cuba has now entered a time rivaling the “Special Period.” Even before Trump’s tightening of the sanctions – unrelenting US economic war against Cuba, described by Havana as “genocidal,” had cost the country an estimated $1.1 trillion in revenue and had denied the Cuban people “life-saving medicine, nutritious food, and vital agricultural equipment.”
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US even blocked delivery of critical medical aid, including masks and diagnostic equipment, to Cuba.
The US is punishing Cuba and the Cuban people not for their shortcomings and failures, but because of their very successes. And amongst the successes of the Cuban Revolution which Fidel Castro led even after officially stepping down from power, is Cuba’s unequaled solidarity to the world. Fidel’s “doctors, not bombs” speech implicitly contrasted his country with the US, which is by far the world’s largest arms supplier while helping less and less with humanitarian aid. Indeed, US sanctions are directly standing in the way of humanitarian efforts in countries like Syria – a country the US continues to economically strangle even in the face of the recent earthquake.
Jose Marti, the Cuban revolutionary and poet who inspired Fidel Castro himself, once said that “there are two kinds of people in the world – those who love and create, and those who hate and destroy.” It is evident that Cuba, continuously inspired by the ideas and example of Fidel, is of the former type.
Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is author of the recently-released book Nicaragua: A History of US Intervention & Resistance.
On May 1977, the legendary leader of Socialist Cuba, Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, gave an interview to ABC’s reporter Barbara Walters (1929-2022). It was Fidel’s first interview to U.S. television since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Below you can read the full transcript of the interview, accompanied by a video.
When will your country and my country have normal relations?
I believe that Carter himself will have to remove many internal obstacles. History proves that any change in U.S. policy needs time and resistance must be overcome … It is not probable that in the following four years, relations will be re-established, if they are going to be re-established on serious and solid grounds … Maybe in Carter’s second term, between 1980 and 1984 … The obstacles cannot be eliminated overnight, believe that … the first steps have been taken. And I consider them positive. But there are also some manifestations of resistance. Recently, the House of Representatives opposed the motion presented by [Senator George] McGovern for a partial lifting of the blockade. And in spite of the fact that it did not solve the problem, it is undoubtedly a good gesture, a good initiative. In the Senate committee they have already agreed to adopt the partial lifting of the blockade in respect to food, medicine–only in one direction. That step alone wall very modest; if they do not buy food or medicine from us, we will not buy food or medicine from the United States. In principle, we cannot accept any type of unilateral formula for trade… As long as the embargo exists, in any form, adequate conditions will not exist to better relations between the United States and Cuba. Now then, I ask myself, does Carter want to lift the embargo? Can Carter lift the embargo?
Well, suppose the embargo is lifted …Would that mean normal relations?
I think it would be a decisive step toward normal relations. Then we could sit down on equal terms to discuss the differences between the United States and Cuba. Many problems could be discussed. But we cannot hold discussions if you are not on equal footing. This is the fundamental principle that we maintain.
We have made many gestures recently of friendship, or of trying to improve relations … Now, what signs from you? What gesture in return?
We have responded to the gestures of the United States. For instance, on fishing, we have historical rights to fish in those seas, since we respected the 12-mile limit that had been established. [Then] the U.S. government makes a unilateral decision, which does not correspond to an international agreement, to expand its jurisdiction to 200 miles. We did not have any alternative other than to expand our seas to 200 miles… We have accepted U.S. law and we have also been willing to reach an agreement … The United States has authorized U.S. citizens to visit Cuba … What does that mean? First, the re-establishment of a freedom for
U.S. citizens that they had been deprived of before … What has our attitude been? We have responded by authorizing these visits of U.S. citizens, facilitating that right of U.S. citizens to visit Cuba, even though we do not know how inconvenient that could be for us, because we face the risk that terrorist elements could come. We also face the risk of CIA elements coming in.
You also make some money.
We might earn some money. But the economic element has not been the decisive factor, because, as I say, there are risks. We have done this simply as a gesture of friendship to U.S. citizens. We are not going to solve our economic problems through those visits. We do not even have enough facilities to develop high-level tourism here. That is why I can tell you that it was a gesture, on our part, of confidence and of friendship to the U.S. people, being certain that they will be received with all of the courtesy, hospitality, and friendly spirit in our country. That is to say that for each gesture on the part of the United States, there has been a corresponding gesture on our part. But aside from that, you also mentioned the lifting of spy flights over Cuban territory. That pleases us. We appreciate that gesture … But we cannot respond with a measure equal to that, since we have never carried out spy flights over the United States … Who profits from this? Cuba gains in that we don’t have planes flying above us, that every once in a while would break the sound barrier and bother everybody … Who gains more in suspending these flights? Cuba or the United States? I think that it is the United States, in accepting international law; in eliminating an act that was an open violation of our sovereignty, they gain in the face of world public opinion, they gain in respect; so we both gain by this.
We have made these gestures, whether you think that they are to our benefit or not, as gestures of friendship. There are gestures that you could make in return. For example, you could let Cubans in the United States, maybe even second-generation Cubans, return to this country to visit their families; release any or all of the 24 Americans in prison here; reinstate the hijacking agreement that ended on April 15; make some effort toward compensation of the property, estimated at $2 billion, confiscated at the time of the revolution. Perhaps, at this time, you cannot do any of this, but maybe you could make one sign that shows your heartfelt intentions.
It seems funny that you speak about the possibility of a country under economic blockade by the United States making any promise for indemnity of U.S. property. First of all, these properties recovered, in benefits, at least 10 times the investments made in Cuba before the triumph of the revolution. Second, the United States, through 18 years of hostility, aggression, subversive plans, and economic blockade, has brought about far worse damage in our country than the value of the properties that, as you say, were confiscated. So in that sense, we cannot make any gesture. I admit that on these questions of mutual economic interest and of mutual economic damages we could hold discussions in the future when the blockade against our country has ceased. On the air piracy agreement, we cannot forget that only a few months ago a Cuban plane was sabotaged while in fight; 73 people died, including the whole youth fencing team that had just obtained almost all the gold medals in an international match … More than one million people accompanied the scarce remains of these victims to the burial place. That event that was perpetrated by people trained by the CIA, with the unquestionable complicity of the CIA, was the reason that we denounced the agreement … How could our people understand, only a few months after that criminal act, and at a time when we still have no proof that the United States has made the decision to take measures against these terrorists, our signing this hijacking agreement ? We have said that as long as the economic blockade exists we will not sign this agreement … We consider the economic blockade a serious act of hostility against our country, and it encourages terrorism. You blockade Cuba. On the other hand, you trade with South Africa; you make investments in a fascist country, a racist country, where 20 million blacks are discriminated against and oppressed.
Will you allow Cubans to visit this country, to visit their families?
Not until relations with the United States are normalized.
Is it possible to have any of the American prisoners released?
I cannot commit myself now to take any measure, but it is something that can be considered … You cannot hope that we will free them all, since some of them are important CIA agents … And speaking of gestures, I hear that you concern yourselves about some of these CIA agents that are in prison, and this is humane; and I ask myself, why has there never been any effort to free Lolita Lebron, for instance, and a group of Puerto Rican patriots who have been in prison for more than 25 years in the United States?
As I listen to you, I am reminded that Batista released you from prison and that you came back. Perhaps that has entered into your thinking.
Batista came to power by force, through a coup d’etat. He looted the country. All his acts were illegal. Our struggle against Batista’s regime was totally just, and totally legal. What’s more important, it was in agreement with the precepts of the constitution. I was as worthy of going to jail as Washington and Jefferson when they rose up against English domination in the old American colonies. And nobody questions the legitimacy, honor, and greatness of those American patriots who rose up against tyranny. And that is what we did. Batista was not the one who freed us; it was the people — the masses with their demands that coincided with Batista’s interest in an electoral masquerade. And he could not do it as long as we were in prison … The CIA agents are men who, coming from a foreign country, worked to overthrow the revolutionary government, thus committing a very serious act … We were doing something just. They were not doing anything just. We were serving our homeland. They were serving a powerful foreign power … I do not consider myself a George Washington or a Thomas Jefferson … I have never fought to occupy a position in history. I have always fought for concrete facts, for justice. I follow the slogan of Marti: All of the glory of the world fits in one grain of corn.
Can you have trade relations with the United States before the embargo is lifted and before we have normal relations?
Before the lifting of the blockade — you call it “embargo”– it is impossible, because the U.S. laws and agreements, the provisions of the government prohibit it. If the embargo is lifted totally, we could have trade relations before establishing diplomatic relations, but I believe that that step would create the appropriate conditions for further development of relations … Now then, if the embargo is lifted partially and only one side can purchase merchandise, that is to say, specific merchandise only, we could not have any trade, because we could not accept that discrimination, that is, that we buy food from the United States and the United States would not buy sugar or other agricultural products from us. But if it is partially lifted in both directions, then there could be a certain trade of agricultural products between the United States and Cuba.
But if the embargo or blockade is lifted one way, so that you can buy food and medicine, would you do that?
If the embargo is lifted so that we can only buy agricultural products from the United States and we would not be able to sell agricultural products to the United States, we would not buy anything at all from the United States, not even an aspirin for headaches-and we have a lot of headaches … The U.S. policy of hostility toward Cuba, that is its worst policy. I am totally convinced that in regard to Cuba a policy of normal relations and of commercial exchange would be much more intelligent.
Do you think that the United States will one day be a Socialist country?
I do. One day. Some time ago, the United States was an English colony. If an Englishman were asked if the United States would be independent, he would have said no, that it would always be an English colony. Afterward, the colonies liberated themselves, a nation was established, but it contained slavery. The slave owners would have said that slavery would never disappear, but slavery ended. salaried workers came, capitalism came, it developed extraordinarily, large multinational enterprises developed, and if a reasonable man is asked now if that will be eternal, he would have to say no. Some day the capitalist system will disappear in the United States, because no social class system has been eternal. One day, class societies will disappear. But you can be calm, I do not foresee in a short time any change toward socialism in the United States.
What do you think of Richard Nixon?
I was always of the impression that Nixon was a false man and that he was a mediocre politician, using tricks all the time. And I think that events have reinforced that impression.
Some Americans believe that you did not become a Communist until after you had control of the government; that when you were in the mountains, the people did not know that you were a Communist, so that you deceived the people. I would like to ask you, when did you become a Communist?
I became a Communist on my own, before reading a book by Marx, Engels, Lenin, or anyone. I became a Communist by studying capitalist political economy, and when I had some understanding of that problem, it actually seemed to me so absurd, so irrational, so inhuman, that I simply began to elaborate on my own formulas for production and distribution. That was when I was a third-year law student at the University of Havana. And I’ll tell you something more, because I do not hide my life, nor my origin, nor do I have any reason to invent things. If I were a false man, if my ideas were not deep and sincere, I would not have been able to convince anyone in this country, because when the revolution triumphed, the majority of the people were not Socialists, and the majority of the people were not Communists. But when the revolution triumphed, my convictions were Socialist, were Communist. I was born within a landholding family, I studied in religious schools, that is, my primary and secondary education. I arrived at the University of Havana being a political illiterate and no one instilled ideas in me. These ideas were the result of my own analysis and my own meditations. I am very sorry not to have had, since I was a child, someone who would have educated me politically. Since I had to discover that on my own, I became what could be called a utopian Communist. Then I discovered Marxist literature, the Communist Manifesto, the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Maybe there are some in Cuba and even outside of Cuba who remember listening to all the criticisms that I made about capitalist society when I had not even read one Marxist document … Before the revolution, our program was not yet a Socialist program … It was a program of national liberation, very close to socialism. I would say that it was the maximum that at that time and under those circumstances could have been understood by the masses of the population. Although our program was not Socialist as of yet, I did myself have deep Socialist and Communist convictions. When the revolution triumphed, the people were still not Socialists or Communists because they were still too deceived, too poisoned through anti-Communist propaganda, McCarthyist propaganda, too poisoned by bourgeois papers, bourgeois books, bourgeois cinema coming exclusively from the United States … What made our people Socialists and Communists? The revolutionary laws, the work of the revolution, persuasion, and education … Now the people are Socialists and Communists … That is a reality, and it is not going to change, no matter how many millions of tourists come here.
You have said that a man should not remain in office too long lest he become arrogant. Could that happen in your case?
I feel totally convinced that it could not happen. My life has always been an effort for constant improvement. A man in different stages may feel assaulted by arrogance, vanity, and all sorts of things. I have always been very much on the alert against these. In my opinion, the more one matures, the more one struggles, the more a purpose is instilled in you. It has always been said that power corrupts people … But do not forget that we have a doctrine. We are not tribal chiefs, whose influence and power are based on personality, our power, our strength, is based on ideas, on a doctrine, on convictions … The danger simply does not exist in my case. not only because of subjective ideas, but also because of objective matter. When the revolution triumphed, we could say that my power was very great, because I was the chief of a victorious army, and a war is not led through collective, democratic methods, it is based on the responsibility of command. Immediately after the triumph, we started to establish a collective leadership, to create a party… Afterward came the whole process, the war, and then after the triumph of the revolution the institutionalization of the revolution. Since then, we have always preached incessantly against the cult of personality, against making men gods. We prohibit statues, the names of the leaders used in streets. So that in my case, far from entering a process in which the individual had greater power, the individual bad to share his power even more.
But children kiss you. People shout. “Fidel! Fidel!” You are a legend.
They take me as a symbol. The children have schools, but I was not the one who built the schools. There were tens of hundreds of workers who built those schools. They have a camp. That camp was not built by me, that camp was built by hundreds of workers. The economy of the country, from where the clothes, the shoes, the food for those children come is not produced by me, it is produced by the workers, it is produced by millions of people. The merit is in the millions of people. What happens is that the people cannot thank millions of people and they thank one person. But I have never even thought that I deserve all that merit. I have merit. I am not going to deny that I know I have merit, because of the influence I have had on events. But that is not a reason for me to feel that I deserve the recognition that is the result of the work of millions.
Do you think that you will be president until your death?
I do not wish so. But I don’t think I have the right to resign… It would be, in my opinion, a selfishness on my part. So I could not do that. If I felt incapable, I would then have the obligation to do so, and the most probable thing is that if I myself did not understand that, my comrades would replace me. But as long as I have the capacity and as long as I can be useful in one position or in another, and as long as it is a demand of the revolution, I have the duty to carry out that job. Until when? I don’t know when I’m going to die. I don’t know if I’m going to die tomorrow, tonight, in an accident, natural death, I cannot know… Maybe if I have the capacity until that moment, maybe I could be up … until I die.
Your newspapers, radio, television, and motion pictures are under state control … Why not allow dissent in the newspapers, or an opposition newspaper?
Our concept of freedom of the press is not like yours… Our mass media serve the revolution. As long as the revolution develops, as long as hostility against Cuba exists, as long as there is counterrevolution supported by the United States, and as long as this struggle exists, we will not allow any paper that goes against the revolution. And besides, who would pay for it? Would the CIA?
I sometimes think that you feel everything, everything comes back to the CIA.
The problem is that the CIA has a budget of $5 million for espionage, murder, and sabotage. It’s a lot of money. The CIA uses more money each year than the total volume of Cuban exports, and you don’t want us to think about the CIA. The CIA has made plans to assassinate the leaders of the revolution for more than 10 years, and you don’t want me to think about the CIA. In fact, I am not the only one. Everybody here thinks about the CIA.
Do you have proof of the last CIA attack against you, the last plan perhaps to assassinate you?
That was in 1971, when I visited Chile … The CIA plans went on for more than 10 years, and I do not know when they ceased … At this very moment, I have no proof that the CIA has stopped its plans. I have not received any CIA message telling me that the plans have stopped, nor have we received any excuse from the U.S. government for the fact that the country’s authorities for more than 10 years have been preparing the plans to assassinate the leaders of the revolution. In spite of the fact that the Senate investigated, and verified a very small part of those plans, never has any U.S. authority addressed the government of Cuba to apologize for these events …
Do you think that Nixon ordered or specifically approved assassination attempts?
I don’t know how these mechanisms operate. I don’t know how an assassination is planned in the United States. I don’t know if they write down an order; I don’t know if they discuss it with the CIA director; I don’t know if they tell them directly, or if they tell them indirectly; that I don’t know. But what I can assure you is that if there were plans and Nixon Were confronted with these plans, he did not change them.
Mr. President, may we talk about Africa! Do you think that one day all of Africa will be Communist?
Let’s not say Communist. I don’t know what is understood by Communist. I don’t know if all of Africa is going to be Marxist-Leninist. I could not say that, because there are African countries that have a strong religious Islamic influence that determines their political philosophy. If you ask me if all of Africa will one day be Socialist, I could tell you that yes, it will be… They have no other alternative … In Africa, there is a terrible backwardness: sanitation conditions are terrible; there are countries that only have one doctor for every 100,000 inhabitants; there are no universities, or they have very few students; there are no technicians. Those countries cannot even allow the luxury of thinking of an anarchic development of the capitalist type-the path of neocolonialism, foreign investments that take over the national resources of the country. I am not denying the possibility of agreements existing between foreign enterprises and these countries, but, in essence, the control of the national resources should be in their hands, and economic development should be planned. The resources cannot be wasted, corruption cannot be admitted. If they don’t follow a Socialist path, they will never be able to solve their problems. You have created a specific way of life, and a society that has a lot of wealth-badly distributed in fact. Do you think that your way of life could be a model for Africa, for India, for China? Imagine each Chinese citizen having an automobile, and each Indian citizen having an automobile, and each African citizen having an automobile 20 years from now. How many years would it take before the fuel reserves, oil reserves were exhausted? So you have created a society that runs very well for you, if that is your criterion, but that cannot be the model for the underdeveloped countries of the world.
What do you see as Cuba’s role in Africa?
The role of Cuba in Africa is mainly of a civilian nature, not of a military one. For a long time, we have been assisting a large number of countries, sending them technical assistance, especially doctors. On certain occasions, they have asked us for military advisers, to help organize their armed forces. And we have sent them, at the request of these governments. The case of Angola was the first occasion in which we sent military units. But we always had relations with the MPLA [Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola] since they started their struggle for independence. And we assisted them. When they were at the point of achieving their independence an attempt was made to snatch it from them. The U.S. government invested some tens of millions of dollars to organize a movement, in Zaire, handled by the CIA. That is the famous FNLA [National Front for the Liberation of Angola]. The Portuguese organized another counterrevolutionary movement before they left-UNITA [the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola]. South Africa was determined to stop the victory of the MPLA. We had been assisting them for a long time, and we were sending them weapons, and we had sent them some military instructors. We sent our first military unit at a time when the South African regular troops invaded Angola on October 23, 1975. Tank columns, artillery columns, blitzkrieg-type, Nazi-type, apartheid style. They sent their regular army. So we had to make a decision. Either we would sit idle, and South Africa would take over Angola, or we would make an effort to help. That was the moment. On November 5, we made the decision to send the first military unit to Angola to fight against the South African troops. That is the reason why we made the decision. If we would not have made that effort it is most probable that South Africa would have taken over Angola. We would also have Angola in the hands of the South African racists. I don’t know what has been published in the United States about it, but I am sure that the American black people know the meaning of discrimination and of apartheid, and appreciate the effort we made. The American people, white or black, who understand apartheid will some day — if they don’t understand it today because they have not received the correct information — he totally in agreement with us for the effort we made to save a black people of Africa.
Will you remove your troops from Angola?
They will not be there forever. The mission is that of supporting Angola against any external attack while the Angolan army is organizing, training, and preparing… But now I should tell you that when the war in Angola ended, in agreement with the Angolan government, we immediately started a process of withdrawing military personnel. … When France and Morocco interfered in Zaire in April, we stopped the process, and we are studying the development of events … The day will come when the Angolans will not need us to defend them from South Africa or any other imperialist. That is the only reason to be there. What interest could we have in maintaining that military personnel there forever? It is expensive for us. It implies sacrifices.
Did Cuban advisers train troops to fight in Zaire?
No. During the war in Angola, these Zairean citizens of the province of Katanga were together with the MPLA, and there were contacts with them. Once the war ended, more than a year ago, we had no contact with these people of Zaire. Why? Because we thought that what Angola needed was peace. Even when we knew that Zaire’s government was one of the most corrupt, repressive, and reactionary governments, what Angola needed was to improve relations with its neighbors. That is why we avoided contacts with Zaire that could hinder that development. We have consistently followed that criterion. Now the CIA knows, the U.S. government knows, the French government knows, and everybody knows that we Cubans have neither trained, nor armed, nor had anything to do with that question of Zaire, because it is strictly an internal question. They all know about it. The rest are lies, simply to justify France’s, Morocco’s, Egypt’s interference with the approval, with the approval of the United States, to send troops from Morocco, Egypt, and other countries, with logistic support from France, to Zaire. That is why we stopped the program of withdrawal of Cuban military troops from Angola, because we have reasons to believe that behind all this there may be a further plan to attack Angola.
Are you now sending military advisers to Ethiopia?
We have sent diplomatic personnel to Ethiopia. All our personnel in Ethiopia are accredited as diplomatic personnel. There are no military advisers as such in Ethiopia.
What do diplomatic advisers do?
They are diplomatic advisers that have good experience in revolutionary matters, and they even have some experience in military questions. But, as such, we do not have military advisers there.
Do these diplomatic advisers assist in training Ethiopian troops?
We do not have military instructors in Ethiopia but we do not give up our right to send them if the government asks and it is in our power… Look what your friend Haile Selassie did. A friend of yours, of North America. When he died, there were only 125 doctors in the country … Ethiopia is a country with over 30 million inhabitants. It is a country that is carrying out a deep revolution [with] great mass-support from the peasants and the workers, who come from feudal conditions.
If you have the right to be in Africa, do you feel that we have the right to be there?
No, we do not have the right. The right is of the governments that request that we be there. Besides, we don’t have a bank, or a hectare of land, or a mine, or an oil well, or a factory. The civilian assistance and support we give Africa and the military advisers are totally at our expense.
If there were forces in Puerto Rico that wanted to change the political conditions and become Socialist, would you send advisers, diplomatic or otherwise, into Puerto Rico?
If Puerto Rico becomes an independent state and asks us to send advisers, we would have the right to send them, if they would be willing to receive them. We have been sending advisers to countries that have legally established governments, but this is not the case with Puerto Rico.
Are you trying to help them achieve their independence?
Even before our independence, there had been bonds between Puerto Rico and Cuba. The Cuban Revolutionary party, which was the party of independence founded by Marti, comprised Cuba and Puerto Rico. When U.S. intervention occurred — the Spanish-North American War, at the end of the last century — the United States took over Puerto Rico and transformed it into a colony. Historically speaking, political and moral support has been given to Puerto Rico always. I remember when I was a student at the university. I belonged to the Puerto Rico Pro-Independence Committee. One day, in front of the U.S. Consulate in Old Havana, the police beat me because I was participating in a demonstration to support the independence of Puerto Rico. The Cubans at the university have always given political and moral support to the Puerto Ricans fighting for their independence. No one can accuse Cuba of having promoted violence… Some North Americans say that the problem is that the majority of Puerto Ricans do not want independence. Well, 20 or 30 years before U.S. independence, many North Americans did not want the independence of the United States. May we now talk about China? Do you consider China a friend or an enemy?
I consider China a good ally of the United States.
Does that make her an enemy of Cuba?
To the extent that the United States is our enemy. But you have done very good diplomatic work with China. You have them at your side now in all fundamental issues.
Are you saying that China is in the pocket of the United States?
I can’t say that China is in the pocket of the United States because China is too large to fit in a pocket.
The United States supports Taiwan, China does not. The United States supports Israel. China does not. The United States in the United Nations voted against the Zionism-is-racism statement. China voted for it. They do not vote the way the United States votes in the United Nations. They certainly …
But what is the importance of having some differences in the United Nations if they agree in all other things. You know this as well as I do, and besides you are very pleased with it.
We are pleased that we are having new relations with China just as we would be pleased to have relations with you.
But we would not act like the Chinese. If I were to promise the North Americans that if the blockade were lifted and relations were established that we would act like the Chinese and turn into allies of the United States, it would be a terrible deceit.
I find that your thinking on our relationship with China is almost naive. China does not consider herself our ally. We’re just beginning to normalize relations. We don’t even have diplomatic relations. We disagree about Taiwan. We have totally different oil. We certainly do not have, in any sense, the relationship with China that you have with the Soviet Union.
No, no. Of course not. We have internationalist relations with the Soviet Union and China has reactionary relations with the United States. So there is no problem. You created Pinochet. China supported Pinochet. You created the FNLA and Holden Roberto. China supported the FNLA and Holden Roberto. You created Mobutu. China supports Mobutu… You created NATO. Didn’t you?
China does not support NATO.
China does support NATO. China supports the English Conservative party … China supports the reactionary forces of the German Federal Republic. I’m saying serious things. The Chinese Secret Services meet in Paris with those of France, the Federal Republic of Germany. England, and the United States. China opposes U.S. withdrawal from the Guantanamo Naval Base. China uses the very same arguments that the United States uses to attack Cuba. I do not know if some of these Chinese leaders will later be expelled, and then they will say that they are part of the Clique of Four. There are some things I do not understand about China. Now they blame Mao’s widow and three others for everything that has happened in China. But for more than 10 years, these things had been happening. What type of genius, what type of god, and what type of revolutionary was Mao Tse-tung whose wife and a group of attaches were able to do these things that the present Chinese leadership is fighting?
Do you not feel that Mao Tse-tung was a true revolutionary?
I do. I believe he was a great revolutionary leader. But I believe that Mao destroyed with his feet what he did with his head for many years. I’m convinced of that. And some day the Chinese people, the Communist party of China will have to recognize that. It is a question of time. That is my humble opinion.
What do you think Mao did to destroy; what were his mistakes?
First, cult of personality. He practically destroyed the Chinese Communist party. He unleashed a witch hunt there against many of the best cadres of the party. He admitted becoming a god and betrayed the people’s revolutionary solidarity. That was Mao’s gravest error. I think that he was an extraordinary man, with great capacity, who transformed China. What happens? The men that participate in these processes acquire great power and later abuse that power… I also acquired that power, but I never abused it, nor did I retain it in my hands. I distributed it. I gave it to the revolutionary institutions. What about Stalin? What about Lenin!’ Was there a personality cult? These are men who became heroes, legends.
One cannot compare Lenin with Stalin. Lenin was an extraordinary man in all aspects and there is not a single dark spot in his life from my point of view. Stalin also had extraordinary merits, but during Stalin’s time, the cult of personality developed and abuses of power did take place.
Do you not feel that China now is a true Socialist country?
I do think that China is a Socialist country. There are no great landowners. There are no capitalists. China’s paradox is that although it has a revolutionary domestic policy it is carrying out a foreign policy that betrays the international revolutionary movement. But since it does not have a domestic base, since this is a malformation of the policy. I am confident that this will not last long.
Turning to another subject, Mr. President, do you think that Jimmy Carter is deliberately trying to strain relations with the Soviet Union?
Unfortunately, yes… Well. I cannot say it is deliberate. Maybe he believes that is what he should do. But I know the Soviets well … and I know that the main concern of the Soviet Union is to avoid the arms race, to create an environment of detente and peace.
How do you reconcile the Soviet domination of countries like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia? How do you explain it when the Soviets put down what they call an uprising in Czechoslovakia?
I have relations with these countries. These countries have very close relations with the Soviet Union, in the economic, political, and ideological fields. But I can say that they are totally independent states. What you call domination is a type of unity that has been created within these countries.
Do you think Russia is a free country?
I think it is the freest of all countries.
What do you say about the intellectuals? … The writers, many of the artists, have complained worldwide of the restrictions on their intellectual freedom.
There are many intellectuals in the Soviet Union-writers, artists; the overwhelming majority of them support the Soviet power, support the Communist party of the Soviet Union. There is a minority, very much motivated by the West … because on many occasions the West converts a mediocre writer into an international hero. You do not realize …
Do you think that Solzhenitsyn is a mediocre intellectual?
I do not like his literature. Technically he may not be mediocre, but politically he is mediocre… Yes, there could be a very insignificant minority who are in disagreement. But who are those people compared with the dozens of millions of workers, of Soviet peasants who are the essence of the Soviet Union? Your mistake is to confuse the activity of four isolated cats with the formidable reality of the Soviet Union … You never speak of a worker, of a worker hero of the Soviet Union, of a peasant hero; you only speak of three or four dissidents … One question: Why doesn’t Carter receive a worker hero … an advanced peasant? Why does he only receive a dissident?
I think there are more than three or four dissidents . … If Russia is so secure, if its system is so good, why can it not tolerate these four dissidents, these four cats? We tolerate dissidents in our country. We may not like it, but we don’t imprison them, we don’t put them in camps, they write, they speak…
Why do I have to tolerate the allies of my adversaries? If you want to tolerate them, O.K., but not me.
Are you independent of the Soviet Union?
Maybe we are another state of the Soviet Union. I would hope that there would be no independent states, that borders would not exist, that all of humanity would be one Socialist family, without exploitation of man by man, with true equality, and without exploiting and exploited classes. That would he my ideal. I’m not saying that it is I or anyone in particular who is going to make this change. But nationalism has played its role in history. First there were tribes, then there were nations. Someday, one will look at nationalism as we look at tribalism today. Someday the borders will have to disappear … Now we are a sovereign country and an independent country. You know that perfectly well. Carter knows it. The CIA knows it.
The Soviets give Cuba approximately $1 million a day in money, and almost $3 million in other aid.
Of what? Where are these millions?
All right then, set me straight. How much aid does the Soviet Union give you?
The Soviets have given us an extraordinary amount of assistance. When the oil companies cut off our oil, they sent us oil. When the United States stopped buying sugar, they bought our sugar. When the United States imposed an almost worldwide blockade on us, the Soviets sold us raw materials. machinery, foodstuffs, and fuel. When the United States was preparing the Giron invasion, the mercenary attack, they sent us weapons that played a very important role at that time. During all these years our security has been threatened by the United States and they have freely supplied us with the weapons that we needed. When we faced difficulties from droughts or we were not able to fulfill our export commitments, they always fulfilled their commitments to us. Today, we have fulfilled all of our export commitments to the Soviet Union. We have established a satisfactory commercial exchange… If the United States and Europe would trade with all the underdeveloped world as the Soviet Union does with Cuba, the problems of underdevelopment would be solved. And that is what you call a $3 million, $4 million, subsidy.
1 used a figure of $1 million a day in money and almost $J million in aid. If we are wrong, what is the figure?
Do you want me to give you a figure? …
We have established agreements that if the goods they export to us increase in price, the sugar we export to them also rises proportionately in price… Our trade is based on just prices, more or less balanced prices. That’s the way it is. They pay us a just price for our products, that’s all. So forget the three, four, five, seven million. They simply pay us just prices for our goods.
How important is Guantanamo as a condition for normalization with the United States?
Guantanamo is militarily useless for the United States today. They keep it as a show of strength. They have no right to be there because they are there against our will. So let us say that the United States is there by force. We have never wanted to make Guantanamo a special problem … If some day we sit down to discuss normalization of relations, one of the points that must be discussed is the question of Guantanamo. Let us reach an agreement to see what day they will leave, what year. We have not used nor are we ever going to use force to recover Guantanamo. We are not going to wage a war against the United States because of Guantanamo.
Do you still have many political prisoners?
Maybe two or three thousand … But there were times when the activity of the United States was more intensive against Cuba, and we reached a point of having more than
15.000 prisoners. About 20 percent of the prisoners must still be in prison. They are not political prisoners, they are counterrevolutionaries, people who rose up in arms under the orders of the CIA in the Escambray Mountains and committed sabotage.
Cubans, yes … nurtured, encouraged, armed, and trained by the United States. No one
in Cuba could have imagined that there was a possibility of overthrowing the revolution unless they believed that the United States was behind them. Since those years of intensive CIA activity in Cuba, we have liberated more than 15,000 counterrevolutionary prisoners. This was not done because Carter asked us to do it. Can we now, when the blockade against Cuba is still maintained by the United States, free these counterrevolutionary prisoners? No, we can’t do it. These are people who have committed crimes, serious crimes.
If we lifted the embargo, would you release these prisoners?
Why are you demanding unilateral measures from us? We could reach a bilateral agreement. We free all counterrevolutionaries in prison and, at the same time, you liberate all those you have in jail, who had to steal because they were hungry, because they had no jobs, because they were impoverished. You free a certain number and we free another, bilaterally. Don’t try to impose conditions on us, because we are not going to accept them.
I have one personal question: Will you ever shave off that beard?
As an exchange for what? The ceasing of the blockade?
If we stop the blockade, you shave off that beard, eh? I don’t think that would make America do it, but . …
We would be importing Gillette razor blades, right? I don’t know if they still manufacture them in the United States, but … do you know why we left our beards? We left our beards because we did not have razor blades at that time. As time passed, the guerrillas came to be known by their beards. And finally, it became a symbol. But now what happens? When gray hair appears, it shows up first in the beard, and you notice it more. My idea now is to wait at least until it is totally white. And then I will make a decision, whether to tint it or shave it.
I would like to ask you to say some words to the American people about anything you want. Please, in English.
I feel the best wishes for the people of the United States. Every time when I know a new American always I have the reason to try to understand your people and I think that every time too. I find that the Americans, the newspaper, the worker, the technician are wonderful people. Really. I appreciate and admire the people of the United States for what they have achieved in technician, in science and because I see that you, your people, is a people well working, is an honest and idealistic people. Clearly that are my feelings, my sincere feeling to the people of the United States. I hope in the future we will understand better and we will be friends.
Originally published: Resumen English on August 11, 2022
These days Cuba is recovering from an unprecedented fire, which has kept Matanzas, the whole island, and especially rescuers, firefighters, and authorities on full alert since the night of August 5. The continuous explosions in one of the main oil storage facilities in the country left a trail of thick black smoke that covered the Havana sky for five days. It also left so far two deaths, 14 people missing, and over a hundred people injured. Now that the flames have been extinguished the next phase of clean up will begin and it will start with finding the remains of those brave firefighters who threw themselves immediately into battle for their homeland.
However, amid pain and agony, Cuba has one great consolation: since 1959, the people have never been alone in struggles, accidents, or catastrophes of any kind. Fidel never permitted it. Today, when the island is just 2 days away from remembering the 96th anniversary of his birth, the 6th that has passed without his physical presence, the people proved once again that his ideas and his example do not abandon them.
In the most uncertain moments of the fight to put out the fire, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermudez mentioned, again and again, a phrase well known to Cubans: “The protection of our citizens will always occupy the first place in our efforts. Nothing will have priority over this.”
Fidel repeated those same words in March 2003, a few months after two powerful hurricanes, Lili and Isidore, crossed the island in September 2002, both of which had an almost identical path, coming barely 11 days between one another.
“In the face of climate changes, the environmental damage caused by humankind, economic crises, epidemics and cyclones, our material, scientific and technical resources are increasingly abundant,” he added.
Cuba had already lived through other extreme experiences at that time. Hurricane Flora, for example, passed over the island in October 1963 and is remembered for its heavy rains, which overflowed rivers, ruined crops, and destroyed houses. More than 1,150 people died during that violent five-day storm, as well as thousands of animals.
According to Bohemia, Fidel directed the relief operations and moved from one province to another. First Santa Clara, then Camagüey, and even into the most dangerous area of the Cauto River.
“The Commander-in-Chief of the Revolution was, as always, in the front line. It was not uncommon to see him personally organizing rescue brigades, attending to the victims, sharing the pain of the people,” the magazine reported.
Fidel Castro was on the front line of the catastrophe, even during the battering of the winds and waters, even though the historic hurricane had not yet left the eastern province within which it performed several loops while trapped by the mountains.
The leader of the Revolution moved there with amphibious tanks of the Rebel Army and he personally saved many victims who remained on the roofs, the top of trees, or those who were trapped in the floodwaters. The helicopters fought against the heavy winds, taking advantage of every space of calm to save entire families.
All the victims received material assistance. The enormous damage was mitigated and everything was rebuilt. No family was left behind.
Since 2016, the year Fidel died, Cuba has faced other situations of great pain: Hurricane Irma (2016), the plane crash at José Martí International Airport (2018), and the tornado that destroyed hundreds of houses in Havana (2019), an unprecedented pandemic, a raging fire…
But Cuban leaders continue Fidel’s legacy. From the checkpoint stationed a few kilometers from the fire, after it was made known that the flames were already under control, Díaz-Canel took a few minutes to recall – as he does every day – some words of the man who remains and will remain present in each of our struggles: “Our people will be able to overcome any obstacle, any difficulty; our people will be able to march forward unstoppable, and they will be able to overcome their own weaknesses.”
In commemoration of Fidel’s birthday on August 13 we present Estela Bravo’s extraordinary documentary, Fidel the Untold Story
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) visited Cuba on May 8-9. He began by highlighting regional unity as good for equal promotion of economic development for all states. AMLO addressed themes he had discussed previously when Cuban president visited Mexico City in 2021.
At that time AMLO, by virtue of Mexico serving as president pro tempore, presided over a summit meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC). He proposed building “in the Western Hemisphere something similar to what was the economic community that gave rise to the current European Union.”
Two days later, AMLO included Diaz-Canel in a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence. Praising Cuba’s dignity in resisting U.S. aggression, he called for an end to the blockade.
Months later in Havana, on May 8, 2022, AMLO, speaking before Cuban leaders and others, recalled “times when the United States wanted to own the continent …. They were at their peak in annexations, deciding on independence wherever, creating new countries, freely associated states, protectorates, military bases, and … invasions.”
U.S. leaders, he declared, need to be convinced “that a new relationship among the peoples of America … is possible.” He called for “replacing the OAS with a truly autonomous organism.” CELAC presumably would be that alternative alliance. Formed in 2011, CELAC includes all Western Hemisphere nations except for the United States and Canada.
The United States in 1948 established the Organization of American States (OAS) for Cold War purposes. When the OAS expelled Cuba in 1962, only Mexico’s government opposed that action and later Mexico was one of two nations rejecting an OAS demand to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba.
AMLO predicted that “by 2051, China will exert domination over 64.8% of the world market and the United States only 25%, or even 10%.” He suggested that, “Washington, finding this unacceptable,” would be tempted “to resolve that disparity through force.”
AMLO rejected “growing competition and disunity that will inevitably lead to decline in all the Americas.” He called for “Integration with respect to sovereignties and forms of government and effective application of a treaty of economic-commercial development suiting everybody.” The “first step” would be for the United States “to lift its blockade of this sister nation.”
AMLO’s visit prompted agreements on practicalities. The two presidents determined that Cuba would supply Mexico with medications and vaccines – particularly Cuba’s anti-Covid-19 Abdala vaccine for children. Mexico’s government will send almost 200 Mexican youths to Cuba to study medicine; 500 Cuban physicians will go to Mexico to work in underserved areas. The two presidents signed a general agreement providing for expanded cooperation in other areas.
Before arriving in Cuba, AMLO had visited Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize. Along the way he reportedly complained that, “The United States may have awarded $40 billion in aid to Ukraine but doesn’t fulfill its promise of years ago of helping out Central America.”
The two presidents’ encounter in Havana raises the question of a long-term Mexican role in mobilizing collective resistance to U.S. domination and the U.S. blockade of Cuba. Mexico is well-positioned to lead that effort, what with strong economic and commercial connections with the United States. The United States, leaning on Mexico as an economic partner, may well be receptive to certain demands.
According to the White House-based Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, “Mexico is currently our largest goods trading partner with $614.5 billion in total (two way) goods trade during 2019.”
Beyond that, and in relation to Cuba, Mexico has its own revolutionary tradition and longstanding ties with Cuba. She is well-placed to lead a strong international campaign to undo the U.S. blockade.
In his major speech, AMLO cited support from Mexico in Cuba’s first War for Independence. He mentioned Cubans’ collaboration with Mexico’s much-admired president Benito Juárez and pointed out that Mexico in1956 hosted Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro as they prepared for their uprising against Batista. AMLO cited former Mexican President ,’s solidarity visit to Cuba in 1961 after the CIA -organized Bay of Pigs invasion. In token of cultural ties between the two peoples, Mexico was the guest of honor at Havana’s recently concluded International Book Fair.
José Martí warrants special attention. In exile, Martí lived, taught and wrote in Mexico City from 1875 to 1875. Afterwards he stayed connected with Mexican friends. Martí would later write admiringly about the liberal reforms of Indian-descended president Juarez, whom he regarded as the “impenetrable guardian of America.”
That “America” would be “Our America,” which became the title of a Martí essay with deep meaning for unity and for separation from the United States. “Our America” proclaimed that the culture and history of lands south of the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) originated autonomously, quite apart from European and U.S. influences. The essay appeared first in January 1891, in two journals simultaneously. One was El Partido Liberal, published in Mexico, the other being a New York periodical.
Unity among Latin American and Caribbean nations appears to be precarious as the U.S. government prepares to host the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, on June 6-10. The Summit is an offshoot of the OAS which, according to its website, “serves as the technical secretariat of the Summits process.”
The United States has indicated that the leftist governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua won’t be receiving invitations. AMLO, speaking in Havana, reiterated his objection and once more stated that if nations are left out, he will not attend. Nor will the presidents of Bolivia and Honduras, Luis Arce and Xiomara Castro, respectively.
The presidents of several Caribbean nations will also be staying away. They point to the hypocrisy of U.S.-appointed Venezuelan president Juan Guaidó being invited, but not Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel. Unhappy with U.S. advice on transparency of elections and Russia-Brazil relations, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro will not attend.
The conclusion here is that the old system of regional alliances is unstable and that the timing may be right for renewed resistance to U.S domination and the blockade. Now would be the occasion for U.S. anti-imperialists and blockade opponents to align their strategizing and efforts with actions, trends, and flux in Latin America and the Caribbean. And, most certainly, they would be paying attention to actions and policies of Mexico’s government.
Martí had often corresponded with his Mexican friend Manuel Mercado. His letter of May 18, 1895, the day before he died in battle, stated that, “The Cuban war … has come to America in time to prevent Cuba’s annexation to the United States. … And Mexico, will it not find a wise, effective and immediate way of helping, in due time, its own defender?”
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.