Havana, November 29, 1999
Mr. Jim McDermott
U.S. Member of Congress
State of Washington
Dear Congressman Jim McDermott,
Upon the conclusion of the 9th Summit of Ibero-American Countries in Havana and the intense program of activities involved in both the summit itself and the official and working visits made to our country by various participating heads of state, with no pause to rest I devoted myself entirely to reading materials related to the upcoming meeting of the World Trade Organization and to studying the complex themes I would need to address in presentations, speeches, meetings, discussions, press conferences and public statements during the brief days of my stay in Seattle.
The meetings requested by numerous political figures, notwithstanding, the program of activities was really tight and intense. However, I was ready for the challenge. I had promised you that I would consider the possibility of attending, although aware of the obstacles that would have to be overcome, I was not able to give you any assurances of the decision I would finally adopt. So, I asked you for more time. Meanwhile, I kept feverishly preparing for the meeting. I wanted to go, and was practically determined to make the trip, until insurmountable difficulties arose.
In view of this possibility and the basic measures of discretion I am obliged to observe for obvious reasons, I would refrain from publicly announcing my decision until the last minute. Likewise, I would postpone the visa application. I know all too well that before an hour has passed in the State Department the news has leaked out. It then follows that the restless organizers of assassination attempts financed by the Cuban-American National Foundation every time I travel abroad –-a linkage that the U.S. authorities are not unaware of-- immediately learn all of the details.
There has been a flood of speculation regarding the possibility of my traveling to Seattle in response to the invitations I have received, which are publicly known.
On November 19, the Notimex news agency reported: "The possible presence of Cuban President Fidel Castro at the meeting of the World Trade Organization to be held from November 30 to December 3 in Seattle sparked controversy in the U.S. Capitol today."
"In the U.S. Congress, the simple invitation provoked immediate reactions of anger and frustration."
"At the University of Seattle, preparations are already underway for the Cuban leader to speak there on December 2, and this has further irritated numerous Republican legislators."
Also on November 19, AP reported: "His allies are thrilled with the idea. His enemies are on the lookout."
"‘Fidel Castro’s presence combined with the attention paid by the press to the WTO meeting will provide an excellent opportunity to inform citizens of the United States about the inhuman blockade against our neighbors,’ said Patsy Behrend, co-director of the National Network on Cuba."
On Monday, November 22, James Rubin, the State Department spokesman, declared, "We are waiting to react once we have a request for a visa. With regard to our position on the visa, we are waiting for, and have not received, a request for a visa before proceeding to issue any statements on the matter."
According to various news agencies, Rubin "was not able to say if the visa would be granted in the event that it was requested."
The ANSA news agency reported in a cable dated in Washington that an official U.S. source observed that "the meeting in Seattle is a meeting of ministers, not of heads of state, and Castro’s presence would be ‘inappropriate.’"
For its part, Reuters announced that "official sources (note the use of the plural) said that the WTO meeting is at a ministerial level and Castro’s presence would not be ‘appropriate.’"
Twenty-four hours later, on November 23, the news came that Republican Congressman from Florida Lincoln Díaz-Balart had asked U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to take provisions to order the arrest of the Cuban president on charges of murder, in the event that he attended the meeting in Seattle.
On November 24, according to a Notimex cable, "The Washington Times (which speaks for the extreme right) maintained that the Cuban leader should not be given an opportunity for press coverage for being present at the ministerial meeting to be attended by President Bill Clinton."
That same day, the EFE news agency reported: "The Cuban exile organization Brothers to the Rescue announced today that it has asked the Florida Federal Attorney’s Office to ‘criminally prosecute dictator Fidel Castro for murder’ in the event of a possible trip by the Cuban leader to the United States."
"The Cuban-American National Foundation, one of the most powerful exile organizations, and various other anti-Castro groups have joined in the petition made by U.S. Congressman Lincoln Díaz Balart to prosecute Castro for the death of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots."
These successive and combined actions were all reported in just 72 hours following the statements made by the State Department spokesman on November 22.
I will leave aside the hysteria and threats of the noisy terrorist mob in Miami, who are always eager to provoke a bloody armed conflict between Cuba and the United States, which in this case would be an inevitable consequence of any attempt to forcibly hold me in Seattle. The first battle would immediately erupt, much to our regret, in that peaceful, cultured and hospitable city, the very moment the U.S. authorities treacherously attempted to arrest me in Seattle in line with these despicable pretexts and outrageous lies.
What was most important to me was the United States’ position with regard to my right to participate in an international meeting of the World Trade Organization, of which Cuba is a founding member. It would soon be evident that the U.S. government was opposed to my presence at the meeting in Seattle. I was certain that the State Department would not grant me a visa. Therefore, I did not even bother to apply. I did not wish to be subjected to this humiliation. We were soon to confirm this supposition.
On November 26, in the early hours of the afternoon, the head of the State Department’s Cuban Bureau and a senior State Department undersecretary arranged a lunch meeting with the director of the North American department at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, comrade Dagoberto Rodríguez, who was in Washington on his way to Seattle. During lunch, the two U.S. officials warned Rodríguez of the possible consequences of the trip, using the same arguments as the Cuban-American extremist mob, and thus washing their hands off the matter like Pontius Pilate. There was unquestionably a plot, backed by the State Department, against my traveling to Seattle. This confirmed my perceptions on the opposition to and even political and moral fear of my participation in the WTO meeting in Seattle.
On November 26, hours before that lunch in Washington, we had instructed the Foreign Ministry to submit to the United States Interests Section in Cuba, before 11:00 a.m., a visa application for 30 comrades, headed by our Foreign Minister. Our national airline company was instructed to request flight authorization for an Il-62 aircraft to take off for Seattle at 3:00 p.m., Cuban time, on November 29.
However, I did not want to make this decision public until you had received this message.
What was most encouraging for me to travel to Seattle was not the meeting itself, where I would have only five minutes to speak about truly complex issues, but rather the possibility of meetings with students, professionals and academics, where I could present my points of view and engage in an exchange of opinions and an in-depth discussion of the crucial issues of our era, thanks to the numerous invitations that had been kindly extended to me for this possible visit. But it would be impossible for me to travel to the United States if official government spokesmen were declaring the visit ‘inappropriate’ or, even worse, if they were consciously involved in a major provocation in Seattle.
Nevertheless, I did not feel it would suffice to send a simple letter explaining the reasons for my absence to the numerous personalities and institutions, including religious institutions, that were looking forward to my visit with such generosity and interest. Therefore, we have decided to send a delegation headed by our young and combative foreign minister, engineer Felipe Pérez Roque, who has worked with me for over seven years and is profoundly familiar with and fully shares my views and ideas on the current international situation and its potential evolution.
Traveling with him as well are Foreign Trade Minister Ricardo Cabrisas, a committed advocate of the interests of the Third World countries, and other members of the team involved in our daily work of analyzing the serious problems facing the world economy. The head of our Interests Section in Washington and the prestigious chairman of the Cuban Federation of University Students are also part of the delegation.
We have decided to send with them part of the security detail and communications personnel who have accompanied me on my most dangerous trips abroad, to provide support to the Cuban delegation in Seattle and guarantee their protection against any provocation or physical aggression by the Cuban-American terrorist mob.
Our foreign minister has been instructed to contact and meet with the institutions and personalities that invited me to Seattle and expressed interest in meeting with me, and to explain the reasons for my absence. He will be able to answer any questions, provide information and discuss all issues related to Cuba’s positions just as well as I myself could have and perhaps even better.
As for me, what I could have said in Seattle, I will say instead at the International Economists Conference to be held in Havana this coming January 24 to 29, and at the major Summit Meeting of the Group of 77 and China, which now comprises 133 Third World Countries. In compliance with a decision adopted by that group this meeting will be held three months later, from April 10 to 14, in Havana. I will thus have more time to update myself on the development of events, to gather and absorb more information and more extensively analyze my views, at the pace imposed by the dynamic of world events.
Our highly respected friend, Jim McDermott, you were undoubtedly the most enthusiastic and tenacious defender of the idea of inviting me to take part in the discussions in Seattle. Later, the idea won the support of those who, like you, defend the courageous and sincere exchange of opinions, above and beyond the fanaticism, dogmatism and prejudices of the ignorant, who have no serious ideas to defend, nor arguments to defend them. This earned you criticism from the extreme right fundamentalists in your country.
Possibly, you will not agree with my views as expressed in this message on the attitude of your country’s authorities, because men of honor and integrity, like you, tend to think that traditions are respected and that there are sacred principles and norms that no one would dare to violate.
Forty years of struggle waged by this small island neighboring your country have shown us that, despite your great people’s considerable nobleness, idealism, sense of honor and self-esteem there are numerous exceptions when it comes to abiding by the ethical rules that honorable men blindly believe in and respect.
We were extremely honored by the gesture that you and your beloved Seattle have made to me and to Cuba. We will always remember it. For this reason and because of our respect for you and for what has already become for us the unforgettable and beloved city of Seattle, I have limited myself to strictly explaining what has happened as objectively as possible, avoiding in this message even the slightest complaint or criticism against your country.
Many thanks to you and to everyone.