'These 50 Years Have Been Ones of Resistance and Strength of the People’
Interview with General of the Army Raúl Castro, president of the Councils of State and Ministers
from Cuban Television’s News System, December 31, 2008, "Year 50 of the Revolution."
Journalist: During the initial years of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Commander of the Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz affirmed to the people that, although the Revolution had been victorious, nobody should think that everything would be easier in the future, but that everything might be more difficult in the future. How difficult has it been in the last 50 years to construct a socialist Revolution in the face of imperialist aggression and the complex international panorama?
Raúl Castro: I vividly remember that phrase of the Commander in Chief, stated on January 8, 1959 after his arrival in the capital, at the former Columbia military camp, the dictatorship’s main garrison, because I was greatly impressed at how he could see into the future, and even more so 50 years later, because of the accuracy of his foresight.
That idea warned: "The dictatorship has been defeated. There is immense joy. But, nevertheless, there is still a lot to be done. Don’t let us deceive ourselves by believing that everything in the future will be easy; maybe everything will be harder from now on."
And that is how it has been, since the initial days. With the first measures taken in defense of the Revolution, the capture and trial of the worst killers and torturers of the dictatorship, a confrontation began with the media in the hands of the dominant forces on the continent and the planet, or part of the planet at that moment.
I remember the gigantic campaign mounted in the early months after the triumph of the Revolution. Very little time had passed and the Revolution was already advancing. On May 17, after four-and-a-half months, Fidel approved the first Agrarian Reform Act in the La Plata command headquarters in the Sierra Maestra, the location of the Council of Ministers. That law affected many U.S. interests, given that they owned the best land, basically appropriated with the advantage of the U.S. occupation of the country at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, where it was the case that they made a symbolic payment of 10 cents for hectares of magnificent land. Logically, that was the first serious affect on U.S. interests when Cuba recovered that fundamental wealth which is land.
I think that that measure was comparable to the Rubicon of the Cuban Revolution. The Rubicon was a river that delineated the border between Italy and the Roman province of Gaul. When Julius Caesar decided to cross it after the Roman Senate prohibited him from entering Italy with his army, the phrase "He crossed the Rubicon" became famous; in other words, he took an irreversible decision. And, by affecting those U.S. interests, it (the Agrarian Reform Act) was the Rubicon that unleashed, with total virulence, the class struggle and imperialism’s aggression of Cuba.
One could say that it was the first significant step, followed by others.
The constant acts of aggression, the blow delivered us when the United States refused to refine the oil that we bought more cheaply in the Soviet Union, our notification that they had to refine it, that that was its obligation, its insistence on refusing, the decision taken to nationalize its refineries, and so on, initiated a succession of blows and counter-blows. One highly important step in that summer of 1960, and a consequence of the struggle that we could not halt or the Revolution would be defeated, was the nationalization of all those large U.S. companies. We took advantage of a Latin American Youth Congress in Havana and, in the former Cerro stadium – now the Latin American Baseball Stadium – we improvised an event. I remember that we set up a small tribune, holding no more than a few dozen comrades, out there in the centerfield and, among Latin American and Cuban youth and a great population of workers and the people in general, Fidel proclaimed the nationalization of all those companies.
One cannot say that the transition of one social system to another can take place overnight, that’s impossible; it is a process of many steps, which concludes with the predominance of goods produced in the majority hands of the population.
In the case of Cuba, if there is one day that can be proclaimed as such, it is precisely that one, given the weight in the economy that the combination of all those properties that moved from being U.S. private properties to being the property of all the people, via the recently emerged Cuban state.
That time, in 1960, was when the counterrevolutionary bands started to unleash their war and grew strong in the mountains of the Escambray; although they attacked in various provinces, particularly those with mountain systems.
It has to be taken into account that the U.S. government of Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), already in its final stage, had already perpetrated the invasion of Guatemala in 1954 – seven years earlier – the progressive Guatemala of Jacobo Arbenz, a colonel, an honest man, who came to the presidency via elections and, faced with the abject poverty of the great mass of native Indians and Guatemalan campesinos, made a small reform. Small, if we compare it to the reach and profundity of ours, and that was sufficient for his revolutionary process to be sentenced to death. Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, his secretary of state, and the latter’s brother, Allan Dulles, who was director of the CIA, took that decision.
It was a smaller invasion than that of the Bay of Pigs, it was a land one, there was no resistance, President Arbenz vacillated; he did not arm the people, who were determined to fight, judging by demonstrations that could be observed. We followed that situation through the press that reached the Presidio (Model prison) on the Isle of Pines, where we had been imprisoned for 12 months for the assault on the Moncada Garrison.
In the initial years of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, that trio still decided policy in the United States (Eisenhower, the Foster brothers and Allan Dulles), while sharing or at least sharing information with the future administration that had already been elected, headed by John F. Kennedy (1961-1963).
That is why they were planning the aforementioned operation (Bay of Pigs) in 1960 and brought it forward, because they knew that we were already training pilots for MiG aircraft in the socialist countries, so they wanted to accelerate it and they noticed that we were acquiring weapons to strengthen the defense of the Revolution.
However, Eisenhower’s Republican mandate ended and the Democrat John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency on January 20, 1961.
Before continuing with this phase, it has to be said that Foster Dulles – Eisenhower’s secretary of state – was an attorney for the United Fruit Company, the one that encouraged and basically supported the intervention in Guatemala; the company owned large banana plantations and other properties in that country, as well as in other Central American countries. United Fruit had a different name in Cuba: the United Sugar Company; bananas there and sugar here. Their adventure in Guatemala in 1954 produced the desired results and they tried to do the same things, with a slightly larger, force, more aircraft, more ships, because we are an island and the invading forces had to be transported by boat; but the same people and the same interests organized the Bay of Pigs aggression, long before there was any talk of socialism here.
On January 2, 1961, utilizing the pretext of Fidel’s speech on January 1st in Plaza de la Revolución, the United States decided to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba. It was a pretext; the Bay of Pigs had already been planned. The aggression of our country was decided before the proclamation of the socialist nature of the Cuban Revolution, which, as you know, was on April 16, 1961, thus demonstrating that the conditions were already being created for ending diplomatic relations and attacking us.
Two-and-a-half months after assuming the presidency, Kennedy launched the Bay of Pigs invasion, which began with the bombardments of April 15.
That is one example – one of many – why I say that there is only one party in the United States. On that occasion, the invasion was planned by the Republicans and executed by the Democrats. That would be like two parties existing in Cuba: one led by Fidel and the other by Raúl, with slightly different tones, but basically the same.
It should be said that the Bay of Pigs operation involved a young and promising CIA official, who took care of recruiting the majority of the mercenaries enlisted in Florida and subsequently transferred to Central America for training and their subsequent departure for Cuba. That young official, who later became director of the CIA and later still, president of the United States, was George. H. Bush (1989-1993), in this case the father of the current leader George W. Bush (2001-2009) – so that you can see that everything is the same power, the same elite alternating in power, according to circumstances.
When the Bay of Pigs took place we were making the country literate. The counterrevolutionary bands had already been dealt a powerful blow with the mobilization of thousands of workers – in the main from the capital – for what was called the Cleansing of the Escambray, and they were thinking of landing in Trinidad so that, if they failed, they were just a step away from the ill-named Escambray massif; its real name is Guamuhaya.
Given those blows to the counterrevolutionary bands in 1960, they then started studying the Bay of Pigs variant – not a bad one – it is the largest wetland area in the Caribbean – I’m referring to the Caribbean islands –difficult in terms of access, with a highway – the main communications route – that crosses the swampland, the principal communication route. There, in a place called Pálpite, in the middle of the swamp, but with a little more terra firme, they launched their parachute forces, and we had to create an offensive of tanks in Indian file: the artillery, the soldiers, the troops could not spread out, and that is one of the reasons that we had more casualties than the aggressors.
Fidel’s warning and the order to liquidate the invasion in 72 hours is known. It had to be liquidated in 72 hours, because Fidel foresaw, with much lucidity on his part, that if we didn’t do that, once the beachhead had been consolidated, they would have transported to it their puppet government, already formed and headed by Miró Cardona, waiting in a U.S. military base in Florida.
With a consolidated beachhead, a puppet government on terra firma, recognized by the United States, recognized by the OAS (Organization of American States), to whom it could turn for immediate aid, plus U.S. ships in sight, it would be easy and logical to land those troops in support of the mercenaries. That was why the invasion took place in 1961.
And making an operational jump, as we soldiers say, we were expelled from the OAS in January 1962 under the dictates of the U.S. government, and all the Latin American countries, with the honorable exception of Mexico, broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. The country that had been attacked a few months earlier in the Bay of Pigs invasion, had now been expelled from the OAS, under U.S. instructions to its Ministry of Colonies, as Cuba Foreign Minister Raúl Roa called the OAS.
Why was that? Because, once defeated at the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy’s, the U.S. administration and that the system could not take that affront, that humiliation, that defeat by a tiny little country facing its military might, and so the expulsion from the OAS was to create conditions. Just like the Yankees did before, breaking off relations in January to have their hands free and attack us in Girón in April, the OAS expelled us in January on account of our system being incompatible with its "democratic system." The objective was a direct invasion, probably in 1962 itself, which was only prevented by the presence of Soviet nuclear rockets in Cuba; on the contrary, we would have been invaded. If anyone had any doubts as to if that was the case or not, those doubts were dispelled years later; the declassification of secret documents made it evident that the aggression was already being prepared.
I am only noting the most visible aspects, the most talked about, the most significant of those years. They were five or six very hard years. The blockade was already in place, but the Soviet Union existed under the leadership of the Communist Party and Khrushchev, who had a very positive attitude. These played a very important role given that the Revolution was able to survive and resist. We were endowed with a good quantity of weapons of every type, until attaining the strength that we have today from the military point of view.
In other words, let there be another Bay of Pigs, let there be an agreement between two presidents, one assassinated and another removed from office; but then came Operation Mongoose, directed by the president’s brother, or controlled and supervised by Robert Kennedy, the U.S. attorney general, who also participated in the contacts made with the U.S. mafia for the known and already-investigated attempts on the life of Fidel, out of the many that they planned.
They were five years of constant internal struggle; thousands of dead and injured, victims of state terrorism, directed, organized and led by the United States.
At that time a CIA station was created in Florida, the largest after its central offices in Langley. Hundred of CIA officials directing activities against Cuba, first the Bay of Pigs and then Operation Mangosta; that center was only superceded by the one established years later in Saigon, the city now called Ho Chi Minh, in south Vietnam, during the aggression against that country; only that base exceeded the one that they built in Miami for fighting against us.
As is known, it grew to have 179 armed counterrevolutionary bands of different sizes operating all over country; sometimes they joined up, delivered a blow, split up again; on two occasions they were in six of the country’s provinces, before the current political-administrative division, including in the south of Havana, when it was just one province.
That was for six years, I think it wasn’t until 1965 or January 1966 when we annihilated the last band in that stage; after that more emerged in different periods, which were rapidly eliminated. The Revolution gradually strengthened, there were the campesino militias, highland companies.
As I was telling you, it was only in the Escambray that they became a strength. Oriente was a very dangerous place, it was the largest province, nowadays six provinces, the most mountainous area, where there was a U.S. military base; and back there in the 1960’s, when the situation began to get complicated, Fidel said to me: "Look, you go to Oriente and I’ll take charge of the Ministry of the Armed Forces with the chief of general staff," who was Sergio del Valle, now deceased. "You go there, go and organize the Eastern Army, if we can save Oriente, we can save the Revolution." That’s the confidence he had concerning the strength of Oriente, the importance of Oriente, and in the people of Oriente province; that confidence that we have always had, in its tradition of struggle. And that’s how it was; I was there for 18 months, I founded the Eastern Army, came to Havana periodically, took part in the most important meetings, and then later, just like Fidel sent Che to Pinar del Río and Almeida to central Cuba, he sent me to Oriente every time that there was a crisis of that caliber, of that magnitude: the October Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs; but on the occasion I was telling you about, I was there for about 18 months.
That, together with the blockade, the constant sabotage – I have told you how sometimes I would arrive at the Ministry of the Armed Forces and four or five aides, links with the different territories, armies and regions in the country, would arrive with a list of what had occurred in the last 24 hours or at least, the last 12 hours of the previous night: dozens of tobacco curing houses in Pinar del Río set on fire, so many dozens of cane fields burning throughout the country; so many combats waged, so many bombs in cities and other places, so many acts of sabotage of electricity cables. Sometimes I would say to them: "Tell me the most important ones," and that was, without exception, with a greater or lesser intensity, for five or six years.
Those are some examples of a period of great activity, of much enemy aggression, although of greater or lesser intensity, that has been the struggle of these 50 years. The damage has been great, but the advantages have likewise been great.
Journalist: Starting from that historical tour, how would you define the participation of the people in terms of confronting these aggressions for the past half century?
Raúl Castro: I would say to you that these 50 years have been ones of resistance, years of survival, years of the determination of the people, in which we have maintained our strength, and that refers to the vast majority of the country.
Later came the heavy blow of the dissolution of the socialist bloc, particularly the Soviet Union, with whom we had 85% of our commercial exchange, and when the Gross Domestic Product – the value of the country’s entire production – fell by 33%; transport collapsed, everything began to collapse – at least we had warehouses full of spare parts – and a new period began, the Special Period, a term that we military personnel use for planning in the event of war. The economy went through a special period, why this term is used. But, 10 years later, Fidel described that era as the most glorious in 50 years of Revolution. Why? Because of the resistance of the country.
We cannot overlook the terrorist attacks and crimes such as the passenger plane blown up off the coast of Barbados; we cannot forget our young people who were working as literacy teachers in the mountains and were killed by those bands that were operating during those first years. And so on and so forth; we cannot forget the numbers of fatal victims – which, after 50 years, stands at 3,478 – or those who have been permanently disabled, who number 2,099.
We cannot forget the 101 children who died from hemorrhagic dengue. According to international health organizations, what occurred in Cuba could no have been the result of natural causes. In the course of just a few hours, 344,203 people had to be admitted to hospital, and led to the record of 11,400 new patients being reported in just one day, July 6, 1981.
These are the issues that come up, flashing through my mind like a speeded-up film; above all today, on this date when, 50 years ago, Batista’s army surrendered to Fidel, the garrisons in Santiago, the moments that we have experienced in these last 50 years; January 1st, when we could see the army crumble, an army founded by the Americans when they dissolved the Mambí army at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th; the Rural Guard that they bequeathed to us, this army instructed by them which was beaten by the Rebel Army.
What was the Rebel Army? No more and no less than the Mambí army; it took up the arms of the Mambí army once again. [The Mambi Army was the National Army of Liberation that defeated the Spanish through two wars: 1868-1876 and again 1895-1898. Mambi is a Congo word. Recent estimates of the participation of Cubans of African descent in the Mambi Army run as high as 92%. – explanatory note courtesy of Associated Content.] The Mambises were disarmed by imperialism, by a nascent imperialism that was beginning to gather strength; hence Lenin described that Spanish-Cuban-U.S. war as the first imperialist war. The world had already been divided by the great powers during a meeting in Berlin in the last quarter of the 19th century and, in order to obtain new land, had to take it from other colonial powers. That was the pretext they used to hold onto Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Particularly Cuba, because it was the nation that had fought the hardest, for a space of almost 30 years, with its ups and downs, which allowed it to have a national anthem, a flag, a shield and a constitution with an amendment named Platt after the senator who proposed it.
That amendment gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuba whenever it deemed it necessary and it was used on more than one occasion.
The Platt Amendment remained in force until after the fall of the Machado dictatorship in the 1930’s, but things remained the same. Realistically, in terms of history, the first U.S. soldier entered Havana on January 1, 1899. That war was fought in Oriente and they entered Havana once the Spanish troops had surrendered, on January 1, 1899; and thanks to the ironies of history, the first guerrilla columns of the Revolution sent by Fidel – those of Che and Camilo – also entered Havana on January 1, another January 1, that of 1959.
That is to say that absolute U.S. control of this country lasted exactly 60 years. It is a fact that some U.S. capital had already entered Cuba prior to that; but the absolute control of U.S. imperialism in Cuba lasted 60 years, from one January 1 to another.
And those 60 years had their ups and downs; they left the country with in great complexity, great confusion and great pain. Until, from the ashes of those events, popular movements began to reemerge. The first Communist Party emerged in 1925, founded by Mella and Baliño, one a brilliant young man and the other, a veteran and friend of Martí, an independence fighter. The imperialists who controlled the country installed the Machado dictatorship and made the revolution that defeated it fail; Batista emerged, a general staff sergeant who knew all about the inner world of the Army, and with a group of sergeants, carried out a coup d’état. A few days later, he was awarded the rank of colonel; he was the next instrument of imperialism as the power behind the throne from 1933 until the 1940 elections. He was president until 1944, then went to live abroad, and we witnessed the so-called authentic and corrupt governments of Grau San Martín and Prío Socarrás, until 1952. On March 10 that same year, Batista once again emerged, as always, adopted by the U.S. government. This time, the dictatorship would last seven years.
In that period, Latin America was plagued by dictatorships in the style of Batista, which was the method used by the United States, basically to gain total control of the continent, and also the Caribbean. There were still British colonies in the English-speaking Caribbean, but the Dominican Republic and Haiti – the island called La Española and the second largest in the Greater Antilles – had the dictatorships of both Trujillo and Duvalier. That was the situation on the continent.
That’s when the struggle of Moncada began, which is well-known by our people. Batista’s dictatorship lasted for seven years, from March 10, 1952 until January 1, 1959: five years, five months and five days had passed, from the assault on the Moncada garrison to the triumph of the Revolution, coincidentally three fives together.
Journalist: It is an unprecedented event in the history of humanity that the principal leaders of a revolutionary process have, after 50 years, been able to see the fruits of the ideals for which they fought and are continuing to work so that those ideals may be consolidated. On a personal level, what sentiments are you experiencing today?
Raúl Castro: So many things, sentiments, sensations and experiences have occurred during those 55 years since the Moncada assault. We have had the opportunity to live through this era, the most glorious years in the history of this nation, one of tremendous tension, and today we are respected. The Cuban people feel proud of themselves, they feel sure of themselves, they are proud of their Revolution and have a sense of belonging to their Revolution.
Journalist: You have spoken on reiterated occasions on the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, which has lasted for almost 50 years and which has cost the Cuban government and its people years of struggle and resistance; and also on the complex international panorama of wars, disunity and natural disasters. In today’s Cuba, after 50 years of Revolution, what strategies are you implementing internally in order to continue defending the socialist Revolution that we are constructing?
Raúl Castro: First and foremost, basing ourselves on our own efforts – Fidel already stated that some time ago – and, in particular, as we were left on our own after the dissolution of the socialist bloc; the need to base ourselves on our own work. Fidel already said that in his magnificent definition of the concept of "Revolution" on May 1, 2000 in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución.
One vital issue is the development of internal production, increasing exports, producing all the food that can be produced in this country, and saving. Nobody, no individual or state, can spend more than what is produced, that would be to leave a vast debt for our children and grandchildren; that is not ethical, we have no right to do that.
We have solved many problems but development itself entails other new ones.
The birth rate is low. By the end of this year it has increased to a certain extent, the total exceeds that of last year by 10,000 births, but it is still small.
Life expectancy has increased. We have thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of elderly people. Equally necessary is to create day care centers for children – which, as you know, there are not enough of, many have closed, others have been affected. At a certain age, it is necessary to build homes for senior citizens, who can spend the day in these homes and go to their own home at night with the rest of their family; but there are cases in which they will not be able to do that on account of their advanced age. At present they have to be with their family and it is difficult for these families when they have reached a certain age, we will have to create more old people’s homes.
A high life expectancy is a great advantage. When we assaulted the Moncada garrison, the life expectancy rate was only 59 years while today it is 77.97 years. Infant mortality is reducing.
These are many positive things that bring with them new problems that we have to face.
We have not had peace, we have not had tranquility. The enemy says that socialism has been a failure. Why don’t they leave us in peace to fight on equal terms? But it has not been a failure, not even under these conditions. It has been an incessant battle.
We have had to dedicate gigantic expenditure to defense, because, as we have said on other occasions: for us, avoiding war is equivalent to winning it; but as we have added: in order to win it, by avoiding it, we have to spill rivers of sweat and not a few resources, thousands of kilometers of tunnels; apart from our warships, all units are underground. That costs, that provides security.
However much they might bomb us in one day, however much they blockade us, the problem is that in order to solve the problem of Cuba they will have to disembark, and that is when we would be equals, soldier against soldier; that is a different situation.
I would not like to see, not even in a laboratory, what would be a U.S. aggression against Cuba because the price that our people would have to pay would be very costly, very high. Although Marti stated it; freedom is very costly and one has to resign oneself to living without it, or be ready to pay the necessary price. And what we have done is known: for more than one century we have been ready to pay the necessary price, we have paid it.
But we have to save, we have to eliminate work-related incentives. If we want to balance wages in the just role that they should play, we must, little by little, or simultaneously, set about eliminating unjustified incentives, that emerged here and there, and excessive subsidies. The state always has a need to keep providing subsidies in order to create balance, helping those of lower income for one reason or another; there must always be subsidies for one thing or another, but it shouldn’t be abused. Nobody remembers what they receive in subsidies and work incentives; they only calculate their monthly wage and that calculation is a bad one. We need to learn that two plus two equals four, not five; sometimes, maybe within socialism, two plus two equals three. These are fundamental issues.
We need to know that we have been living and will have to continue living in a tense and difficult situation. A turbulent world is going to befall us, is already here, a turbulent world with an economic and financial crisis whose origins are known, but not how or when it will end, much worse and more serious than the one of 80 years ago in the 1920s. It is going to affect everyone and, as is natural, the poorest countries and, within the rich countries, their poorest citizens. Maybe, in certain aspects, we will be less affected. We have a trained population, more than 70% of the population was born under blockade conditions; if there is one country that is trained to resist these types of situations, it is ours and it is demonstrated that we are alive.
We have to give true value to work and we might well become hoarse talking and preaching that concept, but if we don’t take measures so that people feel the vital necessity of working to satisfy their needs, we will never come out of this hard patch, and we will come out of it.
Maybe we cannot solve many of the problems with the rapidity required. We have to work, we have to dedicate ourselves to that concept which is working, creating and saving. That is the situation, I think that it will be understood. These are truths, harsh as they may be, we cannot sweeten them, we have to state them.
For 2009, we have major tasks: to continue the distribution of land in usufruct; it has advanced and we are now leaving behind the initial obstacles we encountered that came from atavistic bureaucratic habits. At least in part, we are emerging from the damage occasioned to agricultural production because of the three terrible hurricanes that lashed us.
These hurricanes cost us a little over $9.7 billion – you can never come up with an exact figure of the damage caused us because it is very difficult – which is equivalent to around 20% of the country’s GDP. We used the reserves that we had to feed the population; there are no complaints in that respect. We cannot solve, in the short term, the housing debt that we have from earlier hurricanes in 2002, 2005, plus the new homes destroyed, until we have homes in every part of the country that can resist hurricanes with their protective roofing and that can resist steadily more frequent and violent hurricanes.
We have decided that in many coastal areas, above all on the southern coast, where hurricanes are continuous and repetitive or where there is sea flooding that destroys homes, to construct them further back. The population wants them rebuilt where they were, but if another phenomenon of this type hits, we’ll be in the same situation again. In Cuba, anything can serve as a home on account of the climate, but not everything can resist hurricanes. We are already experiencing that they are more frequent and violent because of the known reasons of climate change, fundamentally due to human irrationality, and a problem that has not been resolved.
We are full of optimism, we have always been optimists even in the worst moments, we learned that from Fidel, ever since –50 years ago on December 18 – with his two rifles joined to the five that I carried, he asked me the famous question: "How many guns have you got with you?" "Five." "And with the two that I have, seven. Now we can win the war!" He was always the same, finding strength where it seemed that there was no possibility of even surviving or of continuing to advance. That is a constant story.
These 50 years have been heroic years. Years that we had the privilege of consciously experiencing and actively participating in all of these great events, together with our people, we have to feel proud of everything we have lived through, that glory that we cannot tarnish, that we cannot let fall, that we have to continue, because imperialism is still there.
Journalist: Since the recent result of the presidential election in the United Status, various analysts in the international press have speculated that there are expectations of change with Barack Obama’s rise to the White House. What is your assessment of that?
Raúl Castro: Now there is a president that has aroused hopes in many parts of the world; I think excessive hopes, because although he is an honest man, and I believe that he is, a sincere man, and I believe that he is, one man cannot change the destiny of a country, and far less – I mean one man alone – in the United States. He can do a lot, he can take positive steps, he can advance just ideas, he can curb the tendency, almost uninterrupted since the emergence of the United States, of almost all presidents to have had their war, or their wars. He said that he goes to get out of Iraq, good news. He says he’s going to double the forces in Afghanistan, bad news. The solutions to the problems of the world cannot be founded on war.
I think that there is no solution in Afghanistan, except for one: to leave the Afghanis in peace. Only Alexander the Great entered that country and returned unscathed, maybe because he married an Afghani princess, but, above all, because he left quickly. The British suffered a defeat there in the 19th century; in the 20th century the Soviets suffered another defeat, which we all experienced, and in the 21st century the U.S. and other forces remaining in Afghanistan will also suffer a defeat. These are realities and that is negative.
The vast resources that they are being dedicated to military matters, to war, since the war in Vietnam… Why the Vietnam War? Why the aggression? Close to 60,000 U.S. soldiers killed for what? I do not know the huge quantity – it must be two or three time greater – of those disabled, wounded, mutilated. Why four million Vietnamese from both parts killed? For what objectives? What did they achieve? Why the 50-year blockade of Cuba, what have they achieved? They have made us stronger, we feel prouder, our resistance, we are stronger, we are more confident.
I hope that I am wrong in my appraisal. Hopefully Mr. Obama will have some successes; in terms of us, that he is successful, but in a just policy, and that he can helps to solve, with the power that they have, the grave problems of the world.
Our policy is well-defined: any day that they want to discuss, we’ll discuss, in equality of conditions; as I have already said, without even the smallest shadow over our sovereignty and as equals. And, as is usually the case, or was the case, that from time to time someone would come along to ask us to make a gesture, just as I received a letter from a former president suggesting – before the U.S. elections – that changes were approaching and that it would be good if Cuba was to make a gesture, with the same kindness that he wrote me I responded: the time for unilateral gestures is over; gesture for gesture. And we are disposed to talk whenever they decide, without intermediaries, directly. But we are not in any hurry, we’re not desperate, and, of course, we have said it and Fidel has said it for years: we will not talk with the stick and the carrot, that time is over, that was in another period.
That is our position, we shall go on patiently waiting. It’s incredible that with the Cuban temperament we have learnt patience; we have it and at least in this we have demonstrated it.
Journalist: During these 50 years the United States has done everything possible to isolate Cuba from the world. Recently our country has broken that isolation of the regional integration mechanisms with its entry into the Rio Group. What does that event represent for Cuba?
Raúl Castro: It was very emotional when, in the state of Bahia, Brazil, where three of the summits that I have participated in took place, in the presence of almost all of the heads of state of the Latin American and Caribbean, that for the first time in history meeting without the presence of the extra-regional powers – let’s say Canada, the United States or Europe – when I said with much emotion that I regretted that Fidel was not seated there at that moment, everyone applauded. That was a great recognition and a great joy for us, caught by the people because it was a recognition of our resistance, as I said said: "We are here because we have resisted, we have resisted for half a century!" And of course, we have to be prepared to resist for half a century more.
Life is a permanent battle, it’s an eternal fight, and there are those who tire and then renege on what they have done; thankfully, they are few. The people are standing firm and thus will maintain their Revolution for ever.
Journalist: There are many reasons to celebrate a day like today, the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. How will you pay tribute to this commemoration?
Raúl Castro: I think that tonight, at 12:00 p.m. I will be at the Mausoleum of the comrades from the Second Front who died or were subsequently buried there after the triumph of the Revolution. I want to place flowers for them, for Vilma (Espín) too, to listen with them to the cannon firing for the 50th anniversary of the great dawn and the national anthem. And early tomorrow, in the name of Fidel, I want to place some flowers for Marti, to those who fell in the assault on the Moncada, to those who fell in the underground struggle, for Frank País and the internationalists from Santiago de Cuba, as a tribute to those throughout the country. I will do so with content, with emotion and full of optimism for the future.
Journalist: Thank you very much and congratulations on the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution.
Raúl Castro: Thanks to our heroic people.