Speech made by Dr. Fidel Castro on the current world crisis, on the occasion of his inauguration as President of the Republic of Cuba. Havana, Cuba, March 6, 2003.
Dear fellow Cubans:
We have just come back from traveling around the world, on a trip without a moment’s rest or respite. It had to be done. On February 24 and 25, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, an important summit meeting would be held, in the midst of the almost certain threat of war in Iraq and the aggravation of the international economic crisis. It was also necessary to make visits to very close friends like Viet Nam and China, scheduled for the days before and after the Summit, and to make an inevitable stopover in Japan, from where I had received invitations from important and valued friends.
Most vital of all: an event of transcendental importance had been scheduled for March 5, namely the constitution of the National Assembly and the election of the leadership of both the Assembly and the Council of State, and their presidents and vice presidents.
As a result of the weather conditions, we were unable to leave Hiroshima on March 3. Thus, foreseeing a delay, we had to beg our comrades in Cuba to postpone the meeting until March 6.
I had to write these lines during the return flight.
Traveling around the world in these times is not easy. Doing it with discretion, and waiting as long as possible to report flight plans, request the necessary authorization, etc., is even more difficult. Traveling on an IL-62, given the age of these planes, their flight equipment, their fuel consumption and the noise, make everything even more complicated. They make noise when they taxi down the runway, which has to be very long, and also when they are taking off, but they always take off, and whenever they take off, they land.
I flew on one of these planes for the first time 32 years ago, when I visited President Salvador Allende in Chile, and I have done so ever since. They are built strong, like the Soviet farm tractors of the same era, built to stand up to the test of Cuban tractor drivers. Their pilots are Olympic champions. The technicians and mechanics that repair them are the best in the world. We have just flown around the world in one of them for the second time. At least I hope so, since there are still a few hours left to go on this flight. But in all seriousness, I truly admire these excellent machines from the former USSR; I am deeply grateful for them, and I recommend them to my fellow Cubans and to tourists. They are the safest planes in the world. And I am proof of that.
You cannot take everything too seriously in this world today. If you did, you would run the risk of a heart attack, or a nervous breakdown.
A necessary travel report
Our delegation left on February 19, a few minutes before midnight. We made a brief stopover in Paris, the only place possible. We were supposed to rest for a few hours in a hotel in the city. It was useless. I could not sleep. I spent the time looking out over a part of this beautiful and famous city from a high-up floor. I looked at the roofs of three- to six-story buildings that looked like works of art. I wanted to know what they had been made of 150 years ago.
I remembered Havana and its problems. These buildings were of a silvery gray color. Nobody could answer my question.
A few kilometers away was an enormous block that broke the harmony. Further to the right, high office and apartment buildings that also ruined the view. I remembered the heliport built in Old Havana a few months before the revolution, behind what was once the colonial Palace of Government. For the first time, the Eiffel Tower and l’ Arc de Triomphe, so admired by everyone, appeared to me like two humiliated and belittled objects. I had suddenly become a frustrated urban planner. In Paris, I did not call up or speak to anyone. I left still holding the memory of everything I had read and dreamt of in my youth about its glorious Revolution and the heroic and grandiose history of France. I admired its valiant stance today in the face of the humiliating unilateral hegemony of the United States government.
We made a stopover in Urumuqi, in the westernmost region of China. An architecturally beautiful airport. Friendly and hospitable treatment. Refined culture. Ten hours later, when the sun had already set, we landed in Hanoi, capital of our beloved and heroic Viet Nam, but a very different city from the one I last visited in 1995, eight years ago. Its streets were full of activity and light. There was not a single pedal bicycle in sight; all of them were motorized. The streets were flooded with cars. Reflecting on the future, on fuel, pollution and other tragedies, it was the only thing that made me feel somewhat uneasy.
Luxury hotels have risen up everywhere. Factories have multiplied in number. Their owners, foreigners as a rule, follow strict capitalist rules of management; but this is a communist country, which charges taxes, distributes income, creates jobs, develops education and health care, and steadfastly preserves its glories and traditions. Oil, thermoelectric plants, hydroelectric plants and other basic industries are all in the hands of the state. A human revolution par excellence. All those who have been and continue to be forgers of the revolution are treated with utmost respect. Ho Chi Min was, is and will forever be a lofty example.
I spoke at length with Nguyen Giap, the brilliant strategist. His memory is excellent. I reminisced, both sadly and fondly, about a great many people, such as Pham Van Dong and others who have already passed away but who continue to inspire endless affection. The old and new leaders showed unlimited affection and friendship. Our ties have deepened and expanded in all regards.
The differences between the situations in the two countries are considerable. We are surrounded by a group of neighbors who have nothing to invest, and one neighbor in particular, the wealthiest nation in the world, maintains a rigorous blockade against us. Added to this is our firm determination to preserve the maximum wealth and benefits of our country for present and future generations. Yet, these differences in no way impinge upon our beautiful and eternal friendship.
From Viet Nam we traveled to Malaysia. This is a marvelous country. Its prodigious natural resources and an extraordinarily and talented leader, who avoided the development of a wild capitalism, are the reasons for the progress it has achieved. He was able to unite the three main ethnic groups, that is, Malayan, Indian and Chinese. Investment was attracted that poured in from industrialized Japan and other parts of the world. Strict rules and regulations were established. Wealth was distributed as equitably as possible. The country grew at a good pace for 30 years. Education and health care were attended to. It enjoyed long years of peace, unlike Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, attacked first by colonialism and then by imperialism.
Then, when the major crisis that devastated the rest of Southeast Asia struck it, Malaysia disobeyed the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other similar organizations, the state intervened and established currency exchange controls thus preventing the flight of capital and saving the country and its wealth. A world away from what is happening in our own long-suffering hemisphere, in Malaysia they have developed a genuine national capitalism that, despite large disparities in income, has brought wellbeing for the masses. The country enjoys great prestige and respect. For the West and the new economic order, it has become a headache and a bad example.
China. We arrived there around midday. As was the case in Viet Nam, never before has a Cuban delegation been showered with so much attention and honors. Official welcoming dinner February 26. Meetings with former and current leaders of the Party and the state, some of them still in office –Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, Wen Jiabao, each with their respective assistants– followed one after another from the first afternoon until the 27. On the morning of February 28, a visit to the Beijing Technology Park and a trip to Nanjing with President Jiang Zemin to visit the Panda television factory. For the first time in my life I boarded a jumbo jet. Dinner and meeting with the Party first secretary of the Jiangsu province. Departure for Shanghai. Farewell.
The hospitality extended to the Cuban delegation in Viet Nam and China is unprecedented in the entire history of the Revolution. It was an opportunity to speak at length and in depth with genuinely exceptional individuals, true friends who have cemented the friendship between our peoples forever. Both, China and Viet Nam, were our best friends during the incredibly difficult days of the special period, when absolutely no one believed that the Cuban Revolution could survive. Today, their peoples and governments respect and admire this small country that has managed to stand firm despite its geographic proximity to the sole superpower that has hegemonized the world with its immense might.
This recognition is not deserved by any of us who received those honors, but rather by the heroic and glorious people who fulfilled their duty with dignity.
Our conversations were not limited to issues of bilateral interest and the latest developments in our economic, scientific and cultural ties. We also addressed, with the utmost interest, frankness and mutual understanding, the most significant international issues of the day.
From China we flew to Japan. There, we were received with hospitality and respect. Although this was only a stopover, old and steadfast friends welcomed us. We held lengthy meetings with Tomoyoshi Kondo, chairman of the Cuba-Japan Economic Conference; Mr. Watanuki, speaker of the National Diet of Japan; Mr. Mitsuzuka, chairman of the Parliamentary Friendship League; a courtesy visit with former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto; and a meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
On the initiative of the Japanese, we addressed matters related to the tense situation in the Korean peninsula, which is of concern to everyone. We will provide detailed information on these talks to the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with which we have shared friendly diplomatic relations since the triumph of the Revolution.
On March 2, we traveled to Hiroshima. We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where we laid a wreath. We attended a private lunch with the Governor of the Hiroshima Prefecture.
There are no words or enough time to describe how deeply moved we all were by the genocide perpetrated against the civilian population of Hiroshima. The human imagination cannot even begin to comprehend what happened there.
That attack was absolutely unnecessary, and can never be morally justified. Japan was already defeated militarily. All of the occupied territory in Oceania, Southeast Asia and even Japanese sovereign possessions had been regained. In Manchuria, the Red Army was advancing unstoppably. The war could have ended in a matter of days, without the loss of even one more American life. All it would have taken was an ultimatum, or as a last resort, the use of that weapon in a battlefield or on one or two strictly military Japanese bases, and the war would have ended immediately, regardless of any pressure or intransigence on the part of the most extremist leaders.
In my opinion, and although Japan started the war with an unjustifiable surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, there was no excuse whatsoever for that terrible slaughter of children, women, old persons and innocent people of any age.
The Japanese people, noble and generous, did not utter a single word of hatred against the perpetrators of that crime. On the contrary, they have built a monument to peace, so that something like this may never happen again.
Millions of people should visit this site, so that the world will know what really happened there.
I also had the moving experience of seeing there a picture of Che [Guevara], when he laid a wreath at that modest yet immortal reminder of one of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity.
It is the fate of this generation of our species to live through fully unprecedented situations, which are not in the least bit ideal or desirable. We hope that humanity can overcome them. Before, during our own era, it seemed that men controlled events, but today it seems that events control men.
This trip of ours has coincided with a number of events that have sowed uncertainty and insecurity all around. The pillars and values of a whole civilization are in crisis. Concepts like sovereignty and independence are practically a fiction. Truth and ethics, which should be the first rights or attributes of human beings, are finding their space increasingly reduced. Wire stories, newspaper reports, radio, television, cellular phones and the Internet turn out torrents of news from every corner of the world every minute of the day. Following the course of events is not at all easy.
In this sea of news, human intelligence can easily lose its bearings. Fortunately, it is often the instinct for survival that makes it react.
Never before have all the nations of the world found themselves subjugated by the power and the whims of those who lead a superpower with seemingly unrestrained power, while no one has the slightest idea of their philosophy, their political ideas, their notions of ethics. Their decisions are practically impossible to predict or to challenge. Their strength and capacity to destroy and kill seem to permeate every statement they make. This logically leads to fear and restlessness in many state leaders, especially in view of the immense military power that accompanies the political, economic and technological power of those who will not stand to be disobeyed.
The dream of a world ruled by certain norms and of an organization that would represent the will and the desires of all of the peoples is quickly evaporating.
Many meters up in the air, I read a wire story that stated, "In his weekly radio address, President Bush expressed his disrespect for the UN, and revealed that he consulted this organization more ‘out of obligation to our friends and allies’ than because the outcome of their deliberations matters to him."
A growing number of people around the world are becoming ever more vocal in their opposition to the idea of the globalization of a universal tyranny.
The United Nations, an organization that emerged from a war that took 50 million lives, including the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Americans, should matter a great deal to all of the peoples and governments of the world. It has major flaws, and it is anachronistic in many ways. Its General Assembly, where all of the states of the world are represented, is simply a forum for deliberation that has no real power, and merely issues opinions. The Security Council is supposedly an executive body where only the votes of five privileged states count and where the will of just one can completely override that of the rest of the nations of the world, and one of them, the most powerful, has used this prerogative to suit its own purposes countless times. Still, this is all we have.
Its absence would lead to a repeat of the worst era in history, the one that preceded the rise of Nazism, and would lead to a catastrophe. Some of us have witnessed what happened in the last two-thirds of the 20th century. We have seen the birth and vigorous growth of a new form of imperialism, total and encompassing, a thousand times more powerful than the famous Roman Empire and a hundred times more than its current unconditional ally, the shadow of what was once the British Empire. Only fear, blindness or ignorance could obscure the obvious.
This is only the dark side of the problem. But reality could different. Never in such a short period have so many massive demonstrations been organized throughout the entire world, in truly record time, as has happened in response to the war announced against Iraq.
The United States’ government two most important allies, Great Britain and Spain, have been plunged into a crisis. Public opinion in both countries, by an overwhelming majority, is opposed to this war. While it is true that Iraq committed two grave and unjustifiable acts --the invasion of Iran and the occupation of Kuwait-- it is also true that that country has been subjected to extremely tough reprisals. Hundreds of thousands of its children have died of hunger and disease, its people have endured constant bombing for years, and it does not have the military capacity to pose the slightest threat to the security of the United States and its allies in the region. This would be a completely unnecessary war, with dubious purposes, a war opposed by the entire world, including a significant part of the American people, if it is done without UN approval.
The world economy, mired in a profound crisis from which it has been unable to recover, would suffer the inevitable consequences, and after that there will be neither security nor tranquility for any country on Earth.
Worldwide public opinion is protesting as well, and it could even be said that it is for their own security and that of the other peoples of the world. The United States cannot be allowed to launch a war to intimidate the world with its power, to test new weapons, or to train its troops. This is something you can feel everywhere, but it was especially palpable at the summit meeting of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations held in Malaysia.
It was a momentous meeting, where the heads of state and government expressed their views with respectful language, sincere declarations and a great sense of responsibility. Dr. Mahathir guided the discussions in an orderly, intense and efficient manner.
And as is only natural, with all of the prudence required by the almost total dependence of the Third World countries on the United States and its financial institutions, since upsetting them could mean the end of a government or the destabilization of its economy.
A number of things were almost unanimously expressed in the speeches heard during the conference.
One: A war should not be waged against Iraq, much less without the approval of the United Nations.
Two: Iraq should strictly comply with the regulations adopted by the Security Council.
Three: Practically no one had any hope that the war could be prevented.
Four: As one would assume, underdevelopment, poverty, hunger, ignorance, disease, the unpayable external debt that has accumulated, the fateful destabilizing efforts of the international financial institutions and countless other calamities that afflict the Third World nations were subjects for analysis and denunciation.
Our delegation attended the sessions of the Summit and also held dozens of meetings with other delegations. We were asked for information, exchanges of experiences, and in some cases, cooperation in specific fields.
We were able to see there how personalities of the most varied cultures, religious beliefs and political ideas treated us with familiarity and trust. It was clear to us that our people are admired and recognized for their solidarity and firm commitment to their principles.
We explained and offered documented information to many of them about the fascist coup in Venezuela, and the damage caused to the world with the boycott of the production of three million barrels of oil a day, a production that was virtually shut down but is now recovering thanks to the overwhelming victory of the Bolivarian people. We also explained the risks involved, for both the rich and poor nations, in a war in such a critical area as the Middle East. We shared with others our belief that it might still be possible to avert this war, if Iraq were able to demonstrate not only to the Security Council, but also to legislators from all over the world –including those of the United States, where many have doubts, and of Great Britain, Spain and Italy, its most unconditional allies, where many are opposed-- to demonstrate to the parliaments, to the leaders of the non-aligned countries and to the leaders of social organizations that Iraq has complied and is complying with each and every one of the requirements included in the UN Resolution.
The battle for peace and the integrity of Iraq is a political battle, not a military one. If truth can be ensured and lies can be exposed, peace in the region can still be saved, and this would also benefit the American people. The only winners in this war would be the manufacturers of weapons, or those who cling to the impossible dream that 6.3 billion human beings, the vast majority of them hungry and poor, can be governed by force.
We support the Iraqi government’s decision to destroy its Al Samoud missiles, and we urge Iraq to destroy every last bit of any chemical or biological weapon that may remain, if any still exist or could have been produced.
The government of the United States would have no legal or moral pretext whatsoever for attacking Iraq, and even less so when the world can plainly see that a true genocide is being committed against the Palestinian people, and the state of Israel has an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons and the means to transport them, supplied by the United States.
Only the full truth, irrefutably demonstrated to the world, could give the Iraqi people the moral force and total international support to defend their homeland and its integrity to their last drop of blood.
Without a clear vision of the times we are living, this major political event that has gathered us here today would have only relative importance. Cuba is one of the few countries in the world today that enjoys certain exceptional privileges. We face the same global risks as the rest of the world, of course, but no country is better prepared politically to confront the problems that are currently afflicting a large part of the world and to work out plans and dreams that will undoubtedly make us one of the most humane and just societies on Earth, as long as our species is able to survive. No country is more united, more resolute or more capable of withstanding external or internal threats.
When I speak of internal threats, I am not thinking of political threats. The strength and awareness built up over these last 44 years of heroic struggle are so great that not even all of the members and treacherous theorists of worldwide subversion and destabilization at the service of imperialism combined could subvert the internal order and the socialist course of our Revolution.
When someone extremely powerful demanded from abroad that we change that course, our people’s response was to set forth in the Constitution of the Republic the irrevocable nature of socialism in Cuba. They have no choice now but to invent tricks and lies to feed their meager and ridiculous hopes.
When I speak of internal threats, I am only thinking about social or moral dangers than could affect our people and jeopardize their safety, education or health. It is well known how hard we have fought against the habit of smoking, and how it has been greatly reduced. We are similarly fighting against alcohol abuse, or the unfortunate practice of its consumption during pregnancy, which can lead to the birth of children with mental retardation or other serious physical disabilities.
Faced with the incipient emergence of drug abuse, primarily with substances that reach our country by washing up on our coasts during international trafficking activities, we have not hesitated for a minute in adopting all of the necessary measures to prevent and eliminate this terrible scourge which afflicts the vast majority of societies on Earth. We were perfectly aware that any mention of this issue would lead to a barrage of publicity, as if we were the worst and not by far the best in this regard, given the purity of our society. Yet, we do not hesitate to bring it up here as all our battles have always been waged and won with the support of the people.
There are other battles still to be waged, some of which will take quite a long time, because they are linked to old habits and customs, or they depend on material factors that are not completely within our reach. Nevertheless, we have invincible weapons. The foremost is education. Although we had undertaken the greatest efforts ever by any nation in this field, we were still a long way from comprehending its enormous potential, and above all, the optimal use of the immense human capital we had created. Everything will be transformed, and we will soon be the most educated and cultured people in the world. No one has any doubt of this now, either inside or outside Cuba.
Advances are being made with the same impetus in the field of health care, where we are already rated among the best in the world. In this sector too, the human capital and experience accumulated over the years will be decisive factors.
Advances will be made in culture, the arts and science.
We will reach the highest peaks in sports.
These are only a few examples of the great tasks that await us. None will be neglected.
But, as always, it is preferable to let action speak for itself.
The decadent imperialist capitalist system in its phase of neoliberal globalization can no longer offer any solutions for the huge problems facing humanity, which has quadrupled in number in barely a century. That system has no future. It is destroying nature and expanding hunger. Our noble and humane experience in numerous fields will be useful to many peoples in the world.
In the face of climate changes, environmental damage caused by other factors, economic crises, epidemics and hurricanes, our material, scientific and technical resources are ever more abundant. The protection of our people will always take first place in our efforts. There could be no higher priority.
In the face of political threats and aggression from abroad, our determination to defend our homeland and socialism will never be weakened in the slightest. On the contrary, we are profoundly studying and increasingly perfecting our concepts of the war of all the people, for we know that no technology, no matter how sophisticated, can ever defeat man. At the same time, our conviction and conscience will grow ever stronger.
The battle of ideas, our most powerful political weapon, will not let up for a minute.
This past February 24, on none other than the day we commemorate the beginning of the last war of independence called upon by Martí, a gentleman named James Cason, head of the United States Interests Section in Cuba, met in an apartment in Havana with a group of counterrevolutionaries paid by the U.S. government. They were gathered, no less that to commemorate the Cry of Baire, a date of patriotic symbolism that is sacred to our people. Other diplomats received invitations, but only this illustrious character attended the event.
However, he would not limit himself to discreetly attending. Asked by a journalist if his presence there did not in fact confirm accusations made by the Cuban government, Cason replied, "No, because I believe they have invited the whole diplomatic corps, and we as a country always support democracy and people who fight for a better life. I am here as a guest."
"I am not afraid," he answered simply in response to a question from another reporter, as to whether his presence at the oppositionist activity could not be taken as an unfriendly gesture towards the Cuban government, which denounces dissidents as subversive groups.
Then, rudely and offensively, he added in perfect Spanish, "Sadly, the Cuban government is afraid, afraid of freedom of conscience, afraid of freedom of expression, afraid of human rights. This group is demonstrating that there are Cubans who are not afraid. They know that the transition to democracy is already underway. We want them to know that they are not alone, that the whole world supports them. We as a country support democracy, and people who fight for a better life and for justice."
The news report reads, "Although foreign diplomats often meet with dissidents, it is not usual for them to appear at public events or express opinions on the government to the press."
"I am here as a guest, and I am going to go around the whole country visiting all the people who do want freedom and justice."
Anyone can see that this is a shameless and defiant provocation. It would appear that both he and those who ordered the offensive performance by this bully with diplomatic immunity were revealing that they are in fact afraid. Otherwise, his behavior was so odd that anyone could rightly be wondering how much alcohol was served at that "patriotic" event.
Actually, Cuba is so much afraid that it will calmly take all the time needed to decide on its course of action regarding this bizarre official. Perhaps the numerous U.S. intelligence agents working at the Interests Section could explain to him that Cuba can easily do without this office, a breeding ground for counterrevolutionaries and a command post for the most offensive subversive actions against our country. The Swiss officials who represented the US interests for many years did an excellent job, and did not engage in espionage or organize subversion. If this is really what they want to provoke with such insolent declarations, they could show some honesty and courage and say so. Someday, no matter when, the American people will send a true ambassador of their country, "fearless and untarnished," as they used to say about Spanish knights.
In the area of the economy, we shall apply the new experiences we have acquired in recent times. Oil production and saving will continue to grow.
We are in a better position than ever to raise efficiency and bring much greater discipline to our enterprises, which by placing excessive emphasis on being financially self-sufficient in hard currency sometimes commit errors that ultimately affect the country’s central resources.
We have learned a great deal, and we will continue to learn a great deal more. New sources of revenue are emerging, and the management of our resources must be increasingly rigorous. Old and new bad habits should be removed. Constant vigilance is the price of honesty and efficiency.
The previous legislature fulfilled an important stage in history. This one should not and cannot do any less. The last general elections were the best in our history. I do not say this because of the figures, which improved in all regards but do not say much in terms of quality, because they were already so high. I say this because of the extraordinary enthusiasm of the voters, which I was able to see with my own eyes, and through the experience of many years. In this it is not easy to be mistaken. I had never seen anything like it. This enthusiasm was clearly the fruit of the battle of ideas and the rapid growth of our political culture.
I want to thank all of you, comrade deputies, and our dear people, on behalf of the Council of State, for the trust you have placed in us once again, and on my own personal behalf, after 50 years of revolutionary struggle, which did not begin precisely on the day of the first battle. We all know that time passes and energy is running out.
Perhaps the endless struggle trained us for such a long battle. I think that the secret may lie in the power of a great dream, of endless enthusiasm, and of a love for our noble cause that has grown with every day of life. But life has its own inexorable laws.
I promise that I will be with you, if you so wish, for as long as I feel that I can be useful, and if it is not decided by nature before; not a minute less, and not a second more.
Now I understand that it was not my destiny to rest at the end of my life.
Long live socialism!
Long live independence!
Long live peace!