An Interview with Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro on communism, his own death, and the U.S. embargo.
EDITORS’ NOTE: The transcript of this interview was prepared by a Cuban stenographer, and both the rendering of Barbara Walters’ English questions and the translation of Fidel Castro’s remarks from Spanish were, in many instances, rough. The material in these excerpts has been edited to read smoothly, but the original substance and tone of the conversation have been preserved.
Castro released 11 American prisoners in June 1977. According to State Department estimates, at least 20 Americans remained in Cuban prisons on various drug, hijacking, or political charges. In August, Castro said he would permit the Cuban families of 84 U.S. citizens to leave Cuba.
In May 1975, I was one of a group of reporters who accompanied Senator George McGovern (D.-South Dakota) on a trip to Cuba. At that time I met Fidel Castro, who had a way of popping up and disappearing unexpectedly somewhat in the fashion of the Lone Ranger. During one of his appearances, I asked whether I could interview him at length. Castro agreed that if at any time in the future he granted a television interview to an American reporter, it would be with me. He promised to be back in touch with me within a year … but he never said which year.
I waited for two years. Every few months I called or wrote to the Cuban mission to the United Nations in New York, reminding them of Castro’s promise. Finally, the answer came back "yes," and I returned to Cuba on May 16, 1977. That was a Monday, and I was told I might see the president on Wednesday or Thursday. But instead, only minutes after my arrival at the Hotel Riviera in Havana, I was told to be in his office within 15 minutes.
There I found a very courtly, somewhat portly Fidel Castro. He apologized for making me wait for two years and said that now he wanted to cooperate. Castro (who asked the entire production team to call him Fidel except during the interviews) suggested that he personally escort us on a visit to other parts of the country, and he gave me the choice of places. I selected the Bay of Pigs and the Sierra Maestre mountains, where he lived with his small army of guerrilla fighters for three years before coming to power.
On Wednesday, Castro himself came to our hotel to pick us up, to the amazement of the American tourists there. Then, driving a Russian-made jeep, he took us to the Bay of Pigs, where we boarded an armed patrol boat. We thus became, according to Castro, the first Americans to cross the Bay of Pigs since the U.S.-supported invasion there in 1961.
On Friday, we traveled in a Russian-built plane to the province of Santiago. There We again jumped into jeeps and, with Castro at the wheel of the lead vehicle, drove for five and a half hours through the mountains, the last two and a half hours on unpaved roads. Hung across the dashboard of the jeep was a rifle. Castro’s belt with a .45-caliber revolver, his small box of cigars, a tin of hard candies, and a leather-bound copy of the selected letters of Ernest Hemingway rested on the floor of the jeep. Every time we crossed a stream (we forded 18 of them), J picked these things up, because water was seeping through the floor. Throughout our trip, we stopped at random, often at spots that J picked, to talk with farmers, tractor operators, or the people in small stores. Reaction ranged from cheers for Castro to a cool acceptance of the fact that he was making his first appearance in that part of the country in more than a year. This was the poorest part of Cuba. Castro has built schools and hospitals, yet the area is still extremely impoverished. There is little in the way of agriculture, but there are many lovely vistas and potentially fine beaches. Castro hopes to turn it into a tourist area, but that will be a long time in coming.
One security jeep full of soldiers drove far ahead of us and out of our view. There was no other security that we could see. The jeeps behind us were filled with our crew, including our two producers, Richard Richter and Tom Capra. Friday night we stayed at Castro’s camp somewhere in the mountains, where armed guards surrounded us. For dinner … roast pig and Algerian wine. Saturday we returned to Havana.
Our major interview was conducted Thursday night in Castro’s sparse headquarters in Havana. For almost five hours, until 1:30 in the morning, we questioned each other, argued and debated. Castro speaks English haltingly and agreed to do so in answering my final question; but because he has trouble expressing himself in English, most of his answers were given in Spanish with a simultaneous translation. The questions — none of which were submitted in advance, a few of which he refused to answer — covered a wide range of domestic, international, and personal topics. Again and again, Castro referred to the Central Intelligence Agency. He seems almost obsessed by the CIA, which becomes understandable when he tells you of the dozens of attempts on his life of which he is aware.
Castro particularly wanted to make the point in the interview that he was a revolutionary and a Communist long before he actually came to power. He insisted that reporters who wrote otherwise were incorrect. He became a Communist, he said, through his own reading at college. Castro does not want Americans to believe that he would change his philosophy if relations between the United States and Cuba improve.
A one-hour special, "Fidel Castro Speaks," was presented by ABC News on the evening of June 9, 1977. But in an unprecedented action, Castro had Cuban television air almost all of our original five hours of discussion, including our arguments and disagreements. The only part he deleted was my question about whether he is married and his evasive answer. "Formally, no!" That is a matter he would apparently prefer not be discussed in Cuba. This was the first time Castro had ever shown Cubans an interview with an American journalist, or an interview during which he had been openly called naive (an adjective I used to describe his views of the American relationship with China).
What you will read here is, for the most part, a portion of the interview.
Several months after I returned, another reporter for ABC visited Cuba, and Castro teasingly complained to him that after working so hard in the interview with me, he had earned nothing for the effort; he compared himself with Richard Nixon, who had earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for his televised conversations with David Frost. " Well, El Commandante," said my colleague, "that’s what happens when you are a Socialist president."
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 bas 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.