I was very moved by the extraordinary documentary of Argentinean filmmaker Carolina Silvestre, which dissects the lies about democracy and human rights advanced by developed and globalized capitalism.
For days, following the Venezuelan
referendum of December 2, going over the hundreds of pronouncements that I have
made as part of my revolutionary efforts, I had been trying to bring to mind a
statement that concretely defines our position on
I asked for copies of several materials in which I tackled the issue. Fortunately, one of the most precise statements I made on a Round Table program. It was relatively recent, slightly less than seven years ago.
We are involved in an electoral process. I consider ideas to be the basis of my political life. I would use the closing remarks of this material, whose text I am sending you, as the title: “History will decide who is right".
I ask that you broadcast it, if possible, on Thursday, tomorrow.
My remarks were inspired by the
statement made by then Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien at the 3rd
At the time, they may have seemed of little significance.
Fidel Castro Ruz
December 13, 2007
Fraternal greetings to all Round Table participants. Thanking you in advance for your prompt response,
RESPONSE BY PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, TO A QUESTION POSED BY THE MODERATOR OF A ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION ON A STATEMENT MADE BY CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER JEAN CHRÉTIEN DURING THE III SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Fidel Castro.- Very well, and now, I will ask for your patience. This document might be of interest, if you will give me the floor.
I felt it would be worth devoting a few minutes to this matter.
Were you going to talk about the host country?
About the host country of the 3rd
Fidel Castro.- Yes, I chose one of the statements made by the prime minister, because he is the one I know better, and the one I have more of a friendship with.
Well, so that the people understand what this is all about.
“Quebec city (Canada), April 19 (EFE).- Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien justified the exclusion of Cuba from the III Summit of the Americas citing the Cuban regime’s failure to take any action in regards to human rights, despite the fact that he had ‘spent hours trying to convince’ Fidel Castro to change his policies.
“Upon arriving at the
convention center in
“‘I have not changed my opinion,’ Chrétien answered.
“The Canadian Prime
Minister was curt when asked if
“Likewise, when pressed to indicate what other country on the continent had opposed Castro’s participation in the third Americas Summit, Chrétien told the journalist, ‘ask them.’
“The Canadian prime minister added that he had spent ‘hours and hours trying to persuade Castro’ to sign some conventions on human rights, but that there had been no action on the part of the Cuban regime.
“‘I spent hours with him (Fidel Castro) trying to get him to sign some United Nations resolutions,’ Chrétien insisted.”
I have reflected a great deal on this pronouncement of Mr. Chrétien. I felt no need to issue a hasty and improvised public statement on that meeting.
Instead, I have spent time collecting information and reconstructing as objectively as possible what we discussed and the atmosphere in which our exchanges took place.
I have brought with me a written reflection, given the need for precision when approaching such delicate subjects.
The meeting had barely
begun when he rather abruptly placed a short list of names on the table, a list
that he had obviously received shortly before. I could almost guess what it
was. This was what usually happened whenever we were visited by a political
figure from a
Those who were of
greatest importance or interest to the
The Canadian prime minister reminded me that, as a result of the Pope’s visit, a number of individuals sentenced for their counterrevolutionary activities had been pardoned, and he said he had pledged to request the same for those on the list.
In fact, the Pope never raised this subject with me; he did it through his Secretary of State, in another meeting with our Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Without waiting for a
response, he immediately proposed that
I recall that he then went on to mention the North American Free Trade Agreement among Canada, Mexico and the United States, and the plans to extend it to the rest of Latin America, expressing his view that Cuba could make an important contribution.
Lastly, he referred to
the treaty against anti-personal landmines, lamenting that
I asked him if it was common for Canadian politicians to begin by the most difficult questions, and jokingly added that we might be spoiling the visit if we did not do well on this initial test.
I seem to remember that the meeting lasted around two hours and that it unfolded in an atmosphere that was cordial and respectful but franc, too. I must confess that I used most of the time since I needed to present in considerable depth the rational behind our positions, especially with regard to three of the points.
It would be impossible to repeat here each one of these arguments. I will limit myself to a very brief summary, with the essential points.
I said that I could
not decide anything personally and immediately, or commit myself on any of the
issues, or raise false expectations concerning the decisions we would adopt. I
said that the highly publicized matter of alleged prisoners of conscience was
an old story after almost 40 years of all kinds of misdeeds and crimes
At one point he told me that his desire was
for this situation to be overcome, in order for us to return to the big family.
I told him that we were Latin Americans, and I asked him if it was a matter of
us returning to the big family, or of the big family returning to us. I
concluded on this point by telling him that he had brought a list of
individuals who were mercenaries in the service of the
It was not all dramatic. There were moments of humor and even jokes interspersed. This part of the exchange, recounted somewhat extensively, reflects the intensity of our first hour of talks.
With regard to his
emphasis on the hemispheric family, I told him that it pleased me greatly, but
that I also thought about the world family: Europe, Asia and
With regard to the
second point, the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights, I did not hesitate to point out that we could sign all of the articles
except two, articles 8 and 13. The first, I said, may be well and good for
capitalist countries like
This article of the
Covenant refers to the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the
trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization
concerned, for the promotion and protection of their economic and social
interests. Now, in a socialist country like Cuba, where manual and intellectual
workers are all organized in their respective trade unions and solidly united
as a revolutionary class that shares power with the rest of the people, with
the peasants, women, students, neighborhood residents and citizens in general,
such a precept could serve as a weapon and a pretext for imperialism to try to
divide and fracture the workers, create artificial unions, and decrease their
political and social power and influence. In the
The other article could not be signed either, because it would open the doors to the privatization of education. In the past, that gave rise to painful differences and intolerable privileges and injustices, including racial discrimination, something our children will never again have to face. A country that managed to eradicate illiteracy in just one year, that has achieved an average educational level of ninth grade, and that has an extraordinary and massive contingent of professors and teachers and the most sound and successful educational system in the world does not need to commit itself to such a precept.
I told Chrétien that
Chrétien proposed that we sign the Covenant and state our reservation with regard to the two articles in question. We responded that afterwards there would be talk of non-compliance with the Covenant, and nobody would know about or remember the reservations with which it was signed. You cannot play around with these things!
With regard to the
Treaty on landmines, we did not spend much time on the subject during that
meeting. I told him that we were not going to sign it. I explained that we had
He later broached the subject once again, from an angle that I never would have suspected at the time. At the end of this first meeting he told me, with obvious satisfaction and sincerity, that it had been an excellent discussion. This summary of the main points addressed at our first meeting might give the impression that it took place in a gruff atmosphere, but nothing could be further from the truth. The atmosphere was warm and friendly at all times.
It seemed clear to me –although he did not state it like that but I picked it up from the whole of what Mr. Chrétien said– that in the presence of such a powerful neighbor, with which it shares an 8,644 kilometer-long border, he feared for the future of his country. Being aware of their strong and deeply rooted --but also different-- cultures and traditions he is concerned about the risk posed to his country’s unity by any ambitions, errors or upheavals on the part of its neighbor. For this enormous and rich territory, with a population of hardly 32 million, whose natural resources include –as Chrétien himself indicated– one quarter of the world’s drinking water reserves, the United States constitutes a major headache, perhaps even more so than it does for Cuba.
At what was perhaps
the most interesting point of the conversation, when Chrétien stated his most
intelligent idea, capable of inspiring a sense of solidarity even in a listener
with a considerably different ideology, he said that he had been opposed to the
idea of a Free Trade Agreement with the
At one point he told
me that Canada was extremely sensitive about its independence with regard to the
United States, that it was very important for it to preserve its independence
from the United States, and that its policy was to sustain close and friendly
but very independent relations with that country. He proudly informed me that
The second meeting with Chrétien and his delegation took place at night. There was a dinner, and a broader exchange. At a certain point, when the subject arose of the plot to assassinate me on Margarita Island, a plot organized by the infamous Cuban-American National Foundation, he commented that this was often the cause of major difficulties; the incident with the aircraft, he said, was aimed at creating a problem when the U.S. government was ready to take a positive step in relation to Cuba. I then described to him about the Cuban Adjustment Act, and its absurd and irrational consequences.
We also discussed the
Helms-Burton Act. He told me that the
As for the incident with the aircraft in 1996, used as justification for the signing of the Helms-Burton Act, I told him that he could find an almost complete account of the incident in the January 26, 1998 edition of The New Yorker.
When he asked me about
the FTAA, I told him that we would have to be patient, and wait to see what
happened in Latin America with this Free Trade Agreement, what the consequences
would be not only for our countries, but also for the rest of the world, as
well as the tricks that would be used to impose a Multilateral Agreement on
Investments. I also said that these issues are a source of deep concern to us
and they should be thoroughly studied. I talked to him about concrete aspects
of our economy, and the measures adopted to cope with the special period. I
pointed out that it would be impossible for many countries in Latin America and
For my part, I told
him frankly that I believed the Latin America countries would benefit from the
success of European integration and European competition with the
We even talked about Canadian nuclear energy technology and the possibility of our acquiring Canadian reactors in the future, although at this point, this is neither the best nor the most economical option for the rapid growth in electrical power generation that we need with certain urgency.
I also spoke to him about all of the Mexicans dying on the U.S. border, where many more people now die every year than the total number who died throughout the almost 30 years of existence of the Berlin Wall.
There were very few major issues not covered in our talks.
Then, in view of the
propitious atmosphere, and mindful of Canada’s involvement in the political
events in Haiti, currently in a process of normalization, and Canada’s presence
in that country, I pointed out that Haiti was a close neighbor and one of the
poorest countries in the world, with terrible health indicators, including the
prevalence of AIDS, which threatened to become a human catastrophe. I said that
together we could set an example of cooperation by working out a joint health
care program for
He asked me if I had discussed this with the Haitian president. I said that I could not offer him such a thing without coordinating it first with the Canadian government, but I was certain that they would accept.
He spoke of his
special interest in French speaking countries, given the fact that an important
part of the Canadian population is francophone, and he was therefore interested
in projects for
would appear that this idea immediately brought another to his mind. He
proceeded to tell me that he had a proposal to make concerning another joint
project: a joint project with
countries had committed funds for clearing landmines, he explained, including
undoubtedly did not realize how offensive his proposal could be: a humanitarian
cooperation project in which
For a moment I felt overwhelmed by a sense of outrage, recalling the selfless spirit of sacrifice, the clean and noble history of a people who had confronted a brutal economic war and special period ready to die for their ideas. Could anyone pretend to take advantage of this situation to try tempting us with such a mission?
In view of my interlocutor’s character, and the friendly, candid, trusting and even good-humored atmosphere in which –I remember– our talks took place, I still believe that what he said and the way he said it were not a conscious act of what could be objectively interpreted from his words.
explained that in
great composure, I proposed what I considered a reasonable solution: we were
willing to train all of the necessary personnel from
This subject took up almost all of the last part of our second exchange, although the conversation continued for several minutes more in the same friendly and cordial atmosphere. We had addressed the unfortunate issue calmly and reasonably, and our viewpoints were listened to and seemingly understood and accepted by the Canadian delegation.
The bases for two major cooperation projects with third countries had been agreed upon in principle, and work would continue on these bases.
I carefully observed the Canadian prime minister’s character and personality. He is a pleasant conversationalist and has a good sense of humor, and one can strike up an interesting exchange with him on various subjects. He is concerned about certain problems in the world today, and shows great enthusiasm for his favorite projects. He is acquainted with many political figures, knows how to make use of his experience, and enjoys telling stories that are generally timely and interesting. He appeared to be sincerely patriotic. He is loyal to his country and proud of it. He is a fanatical believer in the capitalist mode of production, as if it were a monotheistic religion, and in the naive idea that it is the only solution for all of the world’s countries, on every continent, in every era, in every clime or region. He was educated in this belief, and I am not sure if someone with this belief can fully comprehend the realities of today’s world.
knew Pierre Trudeau, an exceptional statesman, an extremely modest and humble
individual, a profound thinker, and a man of peace. I am certain that he
understood the world very well, and that he understood
there were other activities. I attended a reception hosted by Chrétien in the
patio of the Canadian embassy. He was cheerful, talkative, in a good mood. He
would be meeting with
Some time later, I
received a handwritten letter from Chrétien informing me that he had passed on
went by, and there was no news about the Haitian project. For our part, we were
merely waiting for a brief response. Along came Hurricane Georges. It
the last gales of Hurricane Georges were still blowing, in the north of
“I am asking the international community: Do you want to help this country which, not so long ago, experienced a military invasion and intervention? Do you want to save lives? Do you want to give proof of a humanitarian spirit? We are talking now of a humanitarian spirit and we are talking about the rights of human beings.
“... we know how
15,000 lives can be saved every year, how approximately 25,000 lives in
“Based on the premise that the government and people of Haiti would welcome an important and vital aid package in that field, we are proposing that if a country like Canada, which has close links with Haiti –or a country like France which has close historical and cultural relations with Haiti, or the European Union countries which are integrating and now have the Euro, or Japan– would provide the medications, we are prepared to provide the doctors for that program; all the doctors needed, even if we have to send an entire graduating class or the equivalent.
1998: seven months had passed, and there was still no word from Chrétien about
the projects we had discussed. Canadian Health Minister Alan Rock visited
explained to him in detail the joint cooperation project we were proposing. He
appeared to be a sensitive and capable man, who understood the potential and
importance of such projects. I asked him to expedite the steps required for the
joint cooperation project with
late February, the Cuban minister of foreign affairs reported that he had
learned through unofficial sources that the Canadian government would donate
300,000 dollars to the medical project in
10 months had gone by without an official response from
“... I have been informed of legislation recently introduced in the Cuban National Assembly on February 16, 1999, entitled “Law for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy,” intended to target increased criminality and subversive acts.”
“I have asked my officials
to prepare an assessment of recent Cuban measures, including the forthcoming
sentencing of the members of the Internal Dissidence Working Group, in order to
determine how this will impact on the broad series of activities that we have
undertaken under the bilateral Joint Declaration. Until this assessment is complete, I am
asking my officials to refrain from undertaking new joint initiatives. I will
be writing to my Cabinet colleagues to appraise them of this situation in order
that they reflect on their own programs of bilateral cooperation with
“The days ahead will
be important in reviewing whether
Was it a coincidence?
A pretext to justify the heavy pressures from its neighbors to the south? Total
insensitivity to the tragedy in
Although I do not want to offend anyone, not even the distinguished author of this letter, it is impossible to ignore the arrogant, overbearing, interfering and vindictive tone in which this letter was written.
What bothered me most, personally, were not the punitive measures and threats against Cuba –after 42 years we are used to such treatment– but rather the fact that the 300,000 dollars would never reach the sick people in Haiti --and I do not even know if they were U.S. dollars or Canadian dollar, worth 64 cents of a U.S. dollar according to the exchange rate yesterday, April 24, 2001, since I have not had time to find out what it was worth on March 15 of that year. To me it was inconceivable that they would punish us at the cost of the lives of perhaps thousands of Haitian children, lives that could have been saved because at that point there were at least 25,000 children dying in Haiti every year, and the majority of those deaths could have been prevented with simple vaccines that could have been bought with those dollars, whether U.S. or Canadian. Undoubtedly, someone had made a big mistake.
I had believed the unofficial information passed on to me from the Foreign Ministry, because it seemed so plainly logical. At that point in time, I could not even determine if it was true or not.
There is no longer any
need for regrets. Today there are 469 Cuban doctors and health care workers
providing their services in
This year marked the
beginning of the first stage of a massive vaccination campaign against eight
preventable diseases. All of the vaccines have been supplied by
With the victory
Today, nobody can
Today, I am thankful for the talks I had with Chrétien. They have served to prove that such initiatives are possible, as is joint cooperation with the participation of two, three or many countries. They also demonstrate that the hours that both he and I invested in these talks were not useless, and I followed his advice, working even harder for human rights, for saving lives, and trying to deactivate the gigantic anti-personal landmines that are placing our world on the brink of devastating explosions.
These small examples of what any small country can do carry more weight than any major agreements that the powerful make null and void, or any acts of demagoguery and publicity-seeking for the sake of personal vanity and ambition.
I am sure that Trudeau would never have said that he spent four hours giving advice to someone who had not asked for it; nor would he seek excuses for excluding an honorable country from a meeting that it did not ask to attend, or ask it to sign an agreement that it would never have signed.
History will say who is right.