Fidel: Revolution will live beyond me
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Mon Mar 19 05:51:44 MST 2001
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The revolution will live beyond me, Castro says
Durable leader shows wit, grasp of details
By Laurie Goering
Tribune Foreign Correspondent
March 18, 2001
HAVANA -- President Fidel Castro on Friday insisted the future of one-party
socialism is safe in Cuba after his death and that no successor will be able
to change the system against the will of the people.
"The pope can't turn his followers into Muslims. No one has the power
in this country to change its course," he told visiting Tribune
Co. executives and reporters Friday in a wide-ranging five-hour
interview at the Presidential Palace. The meeting was called to mark
the formal opening of the Tribune's news bureau in Havana.
In discussions that ranged from human rights to the new Bush
administration, a loquacious and often witty Castro also offered
observations on everything from the right temperature to cook lobster
to the value of the Internet.
Cuba's durable 74-year-old leader, however, refused to offer much
insight on what he sees for his country in the years to come,
insisting that he does not spend much time pondering his own death or
"I have never thought much about that because I don't attach much
importance to what happens after" his death, he said, insisting he has
appointed no successor---and that the country has nothing to worry
about when he dies.
Felipe Perez Roque, Cuba's foreign minister, who sat in on Friday's
talks, said in a separate meeting Thursday that Cuba does have a
formal succession plan, updated every five years. He did not disclose
Publicly, Cuban officials have said Raul Castro, Fidel's 69-year-old
brother and second in command, would succeed him. Analysts outside
Cuba have long speculated that unlike his legendary brother, Raul
Castro might not have enough charisma to hold the island's reins for
more than a caretaker term.
"I trust ideas better than people," Cuba's president, clad in his
trademark green fatigues, said Friday. "No one has the power to change
the line of the revolution because that's what people believe in."
Castro, who appeared fit if increasingly gray, guided visitors on a
short tour of the palace's ground floor, which is tiled with black
marble and decorated with tall ferns imported from the island's
eastern Sierra Maestra. It was from those mountains that Castro
battled Fulgencio Batista's government on his way to power in
Showing that his fascination with detail has not waned, Castro
recounted the student-to-teacher ratios for most of the island's
schools and explained the cost-benefit ratios of solar power
collectors. Looking over a sumptuous luncheon table but nibbling only
on grapefruit and yogurt, he opined on the antioxidant powers of red
wine and on the proper temperature---180 degrees---to cook lobster.
At one point, he had an aide pull out his personal 402-page bound
daily briefing book of news stories and other information gathered
from the Internet, saying the Web had become an invaluable resource
for him and the island.
"The Internet has been one of your best creations in the United
States, really," he said.
Castro quizzed Tribune executives about the proposed Bush
administration tax cut and the recent downturn in the U.S. stock
market. He in turn was questioned about Cuba's human-rights situation
and was asked about the fairness of regulations that exclude Cubans
from most of the island's luxury resort hotels and from access to
foods such as lobster, a point of criticism by many Cuban-Americans in
the United States.
"What you have said, it's true," Castro replied. He said Cubans cannot
be given access to their island's luxuries because exporting a ton of
lobster brings the government enough money to buy 15 tons of powdered
milk, for example.
"We need to deprive ourselves of lobsters," he said, in order to
instead pay for government-provided medical care, education and other
services. He admitted, however, that he had been petitioned by Cuban
officials to lift some of the restrictions, which critics charge
effectively reduce Cubans to second-class citizens in their own
Perez Roque noted that many other poor Latin Americans---including 50
million Mexicans who live in poverty---similarly have no access to the
good life enjoyed by richer members of society and tourists.
Perez Roque said Thursday that he is not optimistic about how
relations between Cuba and the Bush administration will develop,
largely because anti-Castro Cuban-Americans, most of whom are
Republican, want economic sanctions against the island maintained and
are lobbying hard to have an increased voice under the new
"We have now reached the point of absurdity where both countries are
held hostage by a minority," he said, suggesting that the Bush
administration had "surrendered before the battle even started" over
The foreign minister said he was hearing "the same refabricated
phrases" from the new administration and accused the U.S. of holding
on to a Cold War mentality about Cuba that is no longer
Still, if the U.S. embargo against Cuba were lifted tomorrow, he said,
U.S. capital "absolutely" would be welcome, even if its effects proved
a challenge to Cuba's socialist structure.
Lifting the embargo "would pose a great risk to us---political,
ideological---that we are willing to take on," he said. Analysts who
suggest the island's leaders benefit politically from the embargo and
secretly prefer that it remain in place "are mistaken," he
Questioned about the dissident movement in Cuba, Castro and Perez
Roque characterized the estimated 300 to 400 activists as puppets
organized and funded by the U.S. government and anti-Castro forces in
the U.S. He said they would have no future role in Cuba.
"If these people did in the United States what they did in our
country, with money they receive covertly and overtly ... you would
keep them in jail for 30 years," Castro charged, saying that the
"so-called opposition has been organized from the outside."
Political dissidents in Cuba deny such charges, saying they are jailed
and harassed simply for demanding multiparty elections and issuing
treatises under titles such as "The Country Belongs to All." Many
have lost their jobs because of their activism and struggle to care
for their families.
Perez Roque suggested Thursday that if the U.S. embargo were lifted,
Cuba might be willing to tolerate opposition views, something he said
it cannot afford now while it feels "under siege."
The foreign minister dismissed any notion of a multiparty future for
the island, saying Cuba does not believe that "the idea of democracy
should be connected to multiple parties."
During Friday's meeting, a jovial Castro shared a little of his
personal past, including his childhood penchant for collecting
cracker-box trading cards of Napoleonic battles. He recalled his youth
in a Jesuit school watching U.S.-made romantic movies while being
subjected to what he jokingly called "sexual apartheid"---a school
with no women.
Asked what he thought of the long line of U.S. presidents he has dealt
with during his 42 years in office, Castro praised John Kennedy
despite tense showdowns between the two over the failed Bay of Pigs
invasion---which marks its 40th anniversary next month---and the Cuban
"I would say that he had personal courage," Castro said of the former
He also had kind words for Jimmy Carter, a man he said had done more
than other presidents to warm relations with Cuba.
"I would say the American who was very ethical ... was Carter," Castro
Castro repeatedly brought up the Catholic Church and religion in
general during the meeting. He spoke in clear admiration of Pope John
Paul II, who visited the country in 1998. He also praised Protestant
groups and suggested that "religion can be a comfort to many people
and give them hope."
"I'm an ecumenical, and I respect every religion," he said. He did not
answer questions about his own beliefs.
After a long discussion of growing oil exploration and production in
Cuba, Tribune executives noted that Castro's plans for increased
production seemed to have a rather capitalist tone.
Cuba's leader waggled a long finger and laughed.
"You know, there are many good things about capitalism," he
said. Cuba's economy---a meld between the island's longtime socialist
state economy and a new host of joint ventures and efficiency
efforts---is "a handmade economic model. We're designing it by hand,"
"Perhaps having the United States as a neighbor has helped us have a
more pragmatic approach."
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