[DEBATE] : Excerpt from Castro's new book (from the Guardian)
tintinyana at gmail.com
Fri Nov 2 12:05:07 GMT 2007
["... I read Anthony Giddens' book, which contains the theory out of
which arose the so-called "Third Way". There's nothing of a third way
in it - it's the "way" taken by every turncoat in this world. Oh, I
could see that it was aimed against the social-security state achieved
by the Europeans: fewer resources for the retired, less aid to the
unemployed, because [aid] turns [the unemployed] into a bunch of lazy
bums - according to this theory - who then won't work, you have to
force them in some way. Well, I admit that you have to educate people,
but you don't have to force them."]
Conversations with Castro
Aged 81, the world's longest-serving leader is turning his thoughts to
his legacy and the succession. In an exclusive extract from his
autobiography, Fidel Castro talks to Ignacio Ramonet about vanity and
cruelty - and reveals his salary and plans for retirement
Saturday October 27, 2007
Those who criticise the revolution blame you entirely - they talk about
Those people tend to personalise, to make me the representative, as
though the people didn't exist. The millions of people who have
struggled, who have defended the revolution; the hundreds of thousands
of doctors, of professional people; those who farm, produce, study -
those people don't exist. All that exists is this evil guy named
The number of times I have to sign autographs - you can't imagine. When
I meet Americans who come here and talk to me ... sometimes there are
50 people at a meeting, they give me a bouquet of flowers or something,
and the number of books, cards, things I have to sign, the number of
pictures I have to let them take and so many flashbulbs that you can
hardly see, it's hardly to be believed. So I guess I'm some kind of
strange, unreal figure ...
Yes, somebody you have to get quick, so you can say, "Look, I got a
picture with so-and-so."
But I'm very self-critical. When I say too much or something comes out
of my mouth that might sound a little vain, I'm hard on myself, really
hard. You have to keep a watch on yourself.
Throughout the years, influence, power, rather than gradually making me
conceited, vain and all that ... every day, I think, I'm less
conceited, less pretentious, less self-satisfied. It's a struggle
against your instincts, you know. I believe that it's education, or
sincere and tenacious self-education, that turns a small animal into a
How do you think history will judge you?
That's something it's not worth worrying about. Napoleon talked about
la gloire - he was constantly concerned with glory. Well, in lots of
countries today, the name Napoleon is known more for the cognac than
for all the things done by the real general and emperor. So I say, why
Have you ever thought about retiring?
We know that time passes and that human energies fade. But I'm going to
tell you what I told our compañeros in the national assembly in 2003,
when they elected me president of the council of state. I told them:
"Now I see that my fate was not to come into the world and rest at the
end of my life." And I promised them to be with them, if they wished,
as long as necessary - so long as I knew myself to be useful. Not a
minute less, or a second more.
Every year, I devote more time to the revolution, I think; I give it
more of my attention, because one has more experience, one has
meditated more, thought more. Plato said in The Republic that the ideal
age for occupying ruling positions is after 55. In my opinion,
according to him, that ideal age should be 60. And I imagine that 60 in
Plato's day would be somewhere around 80 today ...
How is your health?
Well, I'm fine. Generally speaking, I feel fine; above all, I feel full
of energy, I have great enthusiasm for things. I feel quite, quite well
both physically and mentally. I'm sure the habit of exercise has
contributed to that; in my opinion, physical exercise helps not just
the muscles, it also helps the mind, because exercise has an effect on
blood circulation, on the delivery of oxygen to all the cells,
including the brain cells.
In 2005 the CIA announced that you have Parkinson's disease. What
comment do you have about that?
It must be a confession of what they haven't been able to do for so
long: assassinate me. If I were a vain man, I might even be filled with
pride by the fact that those morons now say they'll have to wait until
I die. Every day they invite some new story - Castro's got this,
Castro's got that. The latest thing they've come up with is that I have
Parkinson's. Well, it just doesn't matter if I get Parkinson's. Pope
John Paul II had Parkinson's and he travelled all over the world for I
don't know how many years.
If for some reason you should die, your brother Raul would be your
If something happened to me tomorrow, the National Assembly would meet
and elect him - there's not the slightest doubt. But he's catching up
to me in years, so it's also a generational problem. We've been
fortunate that we who made the revolution have brought up three
generations. There have always been close ties with young people and
I have a great deal of hope, because I see clearly that these people I
call the fourth generation are going to have three or four times the
knowledge that we in the first generation had.
So you think the baton can be passed on without trouble?
Right now there wouldn't be any problem of any kind, and there won't be
later, either. Because the revolution is not based on the cult of
personality. It's inconceivable in modern society - people doing things
just because they have blind faith in the leader. The revolution is
based on principles. And the ideas that we defend have been, for quite
some time, ideas shared by the entire nation.
You're a man who's admired, but others accuse you of being a cruel
I don't understand why I'm called a dictator. What is a dictator? It's
someone who makes arbitrary, unilateral decisions, who acts over and
above institutions, over and above the laws, who is under no restraint
but his own desires and whims. And in that case, Pope John Paul II, who
always opposed war, could be accused of being a dictator, and President
Bush considered the most democratic of rulers. That's the way the
industrialised countries in Europe treat him, without realising that
Bush can make terrible decisions without consulting the Senate or the
House of Representatives, or even his cabinet. Not even the Roman
emperors had the power of the president of the United States!
I don't make unilateral decisions. This isn't even a presidential
government. We have a council of state, and my functions as leader
exist within a collective. I have authority, of course, I have
influence, for historical reasons, but I don't give orders or rule by
What about the charge of cruelty?
I really think that a man who has devoted his entire life to fighting
injustice, oppression of every kind, to serving others, to fighting for
others, to preaching and practising solidarity, I think all of that is
totally incompatible with cruelty.
All that propaganda is based on hate and on lies. How can people say
that even one man has been tortured in Cuba? Or that I've ordered a man
tortured? Here, no one has ever been imprisoned for being a dissident
or because they see things differently from the way the revolution
does. Our courts sentence people to prison on the basis of laws, and
they judge counter-revolutionary acts. Down through history, in all
times, actions by people who put themselves at the service of a foreign
power against their own nation have always been seen as extremely
The idea that in Cuba we send people to prison for having a belief
that's different from the revolution's is ridiculous. Here, we punish
acts, not ideas.
Do you agree that terrorism is the biggest threat to the world today?
Cuba condemned the crime committed on September 11 in no uncertain
terms. And we have reiterated our condemnation of terrorism in all its
shapes and forms. The US has cynically included Cuba among the
countries sponsoring terrorism, but Cuba will never allow its territory
to be used for terrorist actions against the people of the US or any
I agree that terrorism is a serious threat to the world today, but I
believe humanity is facing other threats of equal or greater
seriousness: the accelerating destruction of the environment; the
deepening of poverty; the lack of health care. To all of which one
would have to add the hegemonic designs of the only superpower that
aspires to become the ruler of the planet, and its arrogant policy of
In 2005 you declared an "all-out war" on certain problems Cuba was
facing - theft from the state, the misappropriation of funds.
That's right. We've invited the entire nation to take part in a great
battle against any and all offences, whether petty theft or grand
larceny. Because we have several tens of thousands of parasites that
don't produce anything yet are getting rich. You should see how
deep-rooted some of these vices are, how much pilfering was going on,
how people were diverting resources, the way things were being stolen.
Don't you think Cuba's one-party structure is ill-adapted to an
increasingly complex society?
In many countries, the classical, traditional electoral system with
multiple parties becomes a popularity contest and not, really, a
competency contest. People wind up electing the most likable person,
the person who communicates best with the masses, even the person who
has the most pleasant appearance, the best advertising on television,
or in the press or on radio. Or, in the end, and this is practically a
rule, the person who has the most money to spend on advertising.
Is there corruption among the Cuban leadership?
It's happened with some officials who were negotiating with powerful
foreign businesses, and we've had to take measures. But it's not easy
As for me, I honestly don't own a thing. I have a few pesos, because
after you've paid the amounts that have been in place since the first
year of the revolution for each service, which are pretty reasonable,
you may have some left over. I'm paid the same salary I always was, and
out of that I have to pay the Party dues, so much per cent for housing,
you pay that every month ... I lack for nothing, materially speaking. I
have what I need. But I don't need much.
My salary, at the exchange rate of 25 pesos per dollar, is $30 a month.
But I've been put on that list of the world's richest people twice now.
I have no idea why they do it, what they're trying to achieve; it's
ridiculous. I don't have a cent of my own.
And I'll have the glory of dying without a penny of convertible
currency. I've been offered millions to write memoirs and books, but
I've never done it.
Castro on ...
It was my own father who gave me my first cigar; I must have been 14 or
15. And I remember that I smoked that first puro, and I didn't know how
it was done. Fortunately, I didn't inhale the smoke. Although you
always absorb a little of the nicotine, even if you don't inhale at
all. I've smoked too much in my life. Until one day, over 20 years ago,
I decided to stop. Nobody made me. I just decided to make myself stop
smoking. I believed that giving up that habit was a necessary
sacrifice, for the good of the country's and the people's health.
Listening to people talk so much about the necessity of a collective
fight against obesity, the sedentary lifestyle, smoking, I became
convinced that the ultimate sacrifice I should make on behalf of public
health in Cuba was to quit smoking.
Teach by example. I gave up tobacco, and I've never missed it.
I saw Blair one time, in Geneva at a meeting of the World Health
He had a swagger, he was haughty, as though he were looking down his
nose at people. We had a few words - brief but sharp. He had been
talking about child labour and I said to him, "Listen, I saw that you
were talking about child labour throughout the world, but I understand
that in England there are 2 million children who are working."
I said it very calmly. I think he thought it was a piece of insolence
from a nobody, a nit, a third-world know-nothing.
More than anything, I wear it for practical reasons, because with the
uniform I don't have to put on a tie every day ... It avoids the
problem of what suit to wear, what shirt, what socks, so everything
goes together. I only put on a suit for very special circumstances,
some international conference, or when the Pope came, or a meeting with
some head of state.
My usual uniform is very simple. I also have another, more formal
uniform that I wear for some occasions, with a shirt and tie.
Carrying a gun
Since those people in the CIA are always thinking things up -
assassination attempts and so on - you can imagine that I carry a
weapon, and a weapon ready to be used. I have a 15-shot Browning. I've
shot a lot in my life. I've always been a good shot - it was just luck
- and I still am.
The Third Way
I read Anthony Giddens' book, which contains the theory out of which
arose the so-called "Third Way". There's nothing of a third way in it -
it's the "way" taken by every turncoat in this world. Oh, I could see
that it was aimed against the social-security state achieved by the
Europeans: fewer resources for the retired, less aid to the unemployed,
because [aid] turns [the unemployed] into a bunch of lazy bums -
according to this theory - who then won't work, you have to force them
in some way. Well, I admit that you have to educate people, but you
don't have to force them.
The assassination of JFK
It's all very strange. With the expertise I acquired in sharpshooting,
I can't imagine that with a rifle with a telescopic sight such as Lee
Harvey Oswald had, you can fire, load and fire again in a matter of
seconds. Because when you shoot with a telescopic sight, if the weapon
moves a fraction of an inch you lose your target. Firing three times in
a row, so accurately, for somebody who almost certainly didn't have
much experience - that's very difficult. What the official version says
is quite simply not possible - not just like that, bang bang bang.
The other thing that is just incomprehensible to me is that once Oswald
was a prisoner, this charitable, noble soul, Jack Ruby, was so consumed
with grief that right there in front of the police and the TV cameras
he killed Oswald. I don't know if anything like that has ever happened
I'd like to have met Mao. That wasn't possible because of all those
problems and differences that came up because of Sino-Soviet conflict.
Among the great political strategists, great military leaders of any
era, one would have to include Mao Zedong. I can't forget the
posthumous letter from Mao asking China and the USSR to put their
rivalries aside and join forces.
This is an edited extract from My Life by Fidel Castro with Ignacio
Ramonet, published by Allen Lane on November 1 at £25. © Ignacio
Ramonet and Random House Mondadori, 2006, 2007. Translation © Andrew
Hurley 2007. To order a copy for £23 with free UK p&p go to
guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0875
Blogging as Leo Africanus at http://theleoafricanus.blogspot.com
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