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February 2003 • Vol 3, No. 2 •

An Interview With Fidel Castro

By Andrea Mitchell

[NBC News has made editorial insertions. These are reproduced in italics with a credit.—Socialist Viewpoint.]

NBC Editor’s note: Cuba’s absolute authority is Fidel Castro, chief of the Armed Forces, head of the ruling Communist Party and president of the island nation just 90 miles from American shores. At 76, Castro is the world’s longest-serving government leader. Cubans simply know him as “Fidel” or “El Comandante”—The Commander. And, he’s just as defiant as when he first seized power in 1959.

As his revolution turned 44, Castro gave a series of exclusive interviews to Andrea Mitchell, chief NBC News foreign affairs correspondent. Over the course of two days, Castro talked about his revolution, human rights, the global war on terrorism, Saddam Hussein, the U.S. embargo and much more. Here are highlights from those 20 hours of conversation.

Mitchell: We’ve spoken at length during our meetings about the situation in Cuba, the economic and social changes, the educational system, your health system, and I want to return to some of those issues tonight. But first I wanted to start with some issues of great urgency to the American people: the possibility of war with Iraq. What do you think the impact of a future war with Iraq would be on your need for oil and the obvious fact that oil prices would rise? What would be the impact of a war with Iraq on Cuba?

Castro: The impact is already being felt. The threat of war has already had a significant impact on many countries, including Cuba. Specifically, it has increased oil prices, very high for months now. That damages the economies of many countries around the world. It damages the world economy, except of course those countries earning huge revenues from their oil exports. Add to this the political situation in Venezuela. The conflict there has increased (oil) prices. So, everything impacts the existing situation. This is the kind of economic situation that has emerged.

You asked me about possible consequences [of war with Iraq]. It seems to me that it’s quite difficult to predict, to foresee. We don’t have enough elements to judge. There are always two sides. Technically speaking, if we may do that, the outcome of any military operation doesn’t depend on just one side. It depends on both sides.

Mitchell: What do you think Saddam Hussein should do? Should he make a bigger effort to open up his country and be honest about what weapons he might still have?

Castro: I wouldn’t like to use any adjectives, because adjectives could make it look like I’m taking sides in any potential conflict... That’s why, if I’m going to be honest, I’ll limit myself to condemning those who have announced military operations because if I label one of the sides, and then it’s attacked, it might seem I’m justifying the aggression. We do not wish to see a war. But I am also under the impression that if there’s no political solution, if the inspections fail to avert war, expect the Iraq people to resist any attack. This is what I think they will do.

I’m trying to imagine the situation based on the history of the last few years. They [the Iraqi people] are relatively used to war because they have been at war almost continuously. There have been many, many military operations, continuous air strikes. So, people have gotten use to military actions. Now, they’ll be forced to start all over again.

They were at war with Iran for years. They went through the so-called Gulf War. People’s mindsets adapt very easily to using weapons, no matter how destructive they may be. It’s only logical to expect them to resist. What would be the consequences of such resistance? It all depends on their tactics, strategies, and their concept of defense... It’s like a chess game..

Mitchell: Well, in a chess game like this, is the United States justified in going to war with Iraq if there is proof that Saddam Hussein has weapons like nuclear or biological or chemical weapons?

Castro: Yes. If there is any proof of that, I believe the American administration is disposed to launching an attack. It’s willing to find any sort of pretext. And I doubt that [it] can abstain from an attack even if they don’t find a pretext. It all seems very much pre-planned.

Mitchell: You think that George Bush is looking for an excuse to go after Saddam Hussein?

Castro: I can’t say whether or not he’s looking for an excuse. But I have the impression that he’ll be frustrated or disappointed if they don’t manage to find a bottle with some kind of liquid that could be labeled biological, chemical or nuclear product. Given his mindset, the discovery of ten ounces of enriched uranium could be enough of a pretext. It’s almost certain that among this high level group of inspectors, some would be willing to find something and some others may hold different opinions. Some people would see imminent danger; others would not.

This said, if having such weapons is justification for launching war, you couldn’t forget that there are other countries in the region with nuclear weapons. One country in the Middle East has some 300 nuclear weapons.

Mitchell: Israel?

Castro: And all the necessary means to sell them. Yet, it’s fairly unknown. I have publicly talked about how they got those weapons. For example, we know they supplied apartheid South Africa with seven nuclear weapons... And this was known by the whole world, by the United States. The regime there was extremely cruel—a fascist regime. They carried out genocide against the population. But, nobody ever threatened South Africa. I mention this as one example.

How many more countries have nuclear weapons or the capacity to develop them? Let me tell you: all nuclear weapons should have been destroyed at the end of World War II. It’s a miracle they haven’t been used in a war yet.

Mitchell: Well, in this situation, whom do you trust more? George Bush or Saddam Hussein?

Castro: Why should it be a matter of confidence in one or the other? Instead of talking about individuals, I prefer talking about concepts, ideas and rights—about whether or not the right exists to launch war just because a country may possess certain kinds of weapons. One country has some 10,000 nuclear weapons and the United States has even more. I believe that both sides have enormous deposits of chemical weapons, which are not easy to destroy. However, they have tried to avoid a war. There are other countries with few weapons. Non-industrialized countries. India had them. Does this give China the right to launch war against India? Or does it give India the right to attack China? Now, Pakistan has them. This no doubt poses a danger for India’s one billion people. Would this justify India attacking Pakistan just because it poses a potential danger? And the British have nuclear weapons.

Many countries might see that as a danger. Despite the fact that we’ve advocated disarmament for 40 years, the possession of these weapons is not a justification for launching an attack or war. It’s true we had the Gulf War. It’s true the U.N. intervened. Then as members of the Security Council, we strongly condemned the occupation of Kuwait. However, we opposed some sanctions. Cuba could never support an embargo of medicines and food. This was our principled position. And we opposed a military solution.

Mitchell: If it were possible to avoid a war—if Saddam Hussein decided to leave his country to avoid a war—would you take him in if he’s seeking asylum?

Castro: Are you trying to trap me? We have no desire to get involved in that conflict.

Mitchell: This is a mere hypothesis.

Castro: We do not want to see war nor become a country that grants asylum to any of the sides in this conflict. I know only too well what would happen if we were to welcome someone out of humanitarian concerns.

For example, the U.S. occupies the Guantánamo naval base. Without prior consultation with Cuba, the U.S. decided unilaterally to bring in hundreds of prisoners from Afghanistan—the Taliban, members of Al Qaida, an organization with which we have never had any links or contacts.

The United States made that decision and only told us about it later. This is the second time this has happened. During the Balkans war, they informed us they were bringing in Albanians. It didn’t matter what position we took on that issue. They were bringing them in anyway. So, we said “Okay, send in the refugees.” We are eager to cooperate, provide medical services or help in controlling hygiene.

We are willing to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who needs it. If asked, we would send medical teams to help the injured. If asked, we would send our vaccines against meningitis.

Mitchell: If the United States wants to launch war, nobody can stop the United States from doing that. Everybody knows how powerful it is and the weapons it has. But, on principle, we are against that war.

Castro: What did we do last time? Every time the issue came up at the U.N., we condemned Iraq. Nobody knows who led the Iraqi government to believe that the U.S. would tolerate that occupation. But, on the eve of war, I will refrain from voicing opinions that could be used as grist for somebody else’s mill. There are many people who think that it’s not fear for their own security but rather an attempt to control the world’s third-largest oil reserve—at a time when many people are becoming aware that the oil problem and hydro-carbons is far more serious than what’s being admitted...

At some point, [Iraq] must have had weapons because Europe helped them obtain missiles. They were supplied with the technology to be able to attack Israel. The Soviets sold them missiles. We know they had chemical weapons. I don’t know a lot about chemical weapons. And I don’t know if chemical weapons can be destroyed.

But analyzing this from a political angle, Iraq should have had the sense not to possess nuclear, chemical or biological weapons after invading Kuwait. It’s not enough just to have the weapons. You have to know how to use them and against whom. Logic indicates they should have destroyed those weapons.. It would be a huge mistake to use those weapons against someone who has 10 times your power.

Mitchell: Mr. President, you were talking about how it would make no sense for Saddam Hussein to use these weapons against such a powerful adversary, the United States?

Castro: It would be insane. After Kuwait, they should have destroyed all of those weapons. I don’t doubt they have tried to destroy them. I have no proof. But it’s elementary logic.

But men make mistakes. Saddam Hussein may be making a mistake or the United States government may be making a mistake. Even the American government cannot say for sure what the backlash may be—what cultural or religious conflicts may be unleashed. The United States has said that they will launch the war on their own even without Security Council approval. All of this by virtue of the power of the United States. So, I’d like to think about old problems—what risks the United States may be facing. For example, I know the U.S. is greatly concerned about terrorism.

Mitchell: I was going to ask you about this....

Castro: We have been subjected to terrorism for almost 44 years. No other country in the world has been harassed or subjected to the sabotage or terrorist actions that have befallen Cuba for over 40 years. The price of all these actions is well known. Without making an estimate, I can say that we’ve lost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in economic damages. Many have suffered. Thousands handicapped. Much destruction. Much damage. However, I can say that not one single American lost their life as a consequence of Cuban actions against the United States... Never has a single brick in the United States been destroyed as a consequence of Cuban “terrorist” actions. Not only is it a lie but also it’s cynical to include Cuba on the (State Department) list of terrorist countries because we are the Olympic champions in having endured more than 40 years of terrorism without ever having engaged in terrorist actions. Nor will we ever. It would have been stupid for us to take revenge against any American. Tens of thousands of Americans know that Cuba is the country where they are respectfully welcomed. We have not sowed any hatred against the American people….

Mitchell: I wanted to ask you about the war on terror. Does the attack on 9/11 justify the way the United States is pursuing the war on terror? Is there anything Cuba can do or has been able to do in terms of developing information that might be helpful to the United States about the spread of Al-Qaida?

Castro: You have asked me three questions in one. The right to defend itself—each country has the right to defend itself against terrorism. But, in practice, it seems that only the most powerful country has this right.

I once read a wire story saying that the U.S. Congress had suggested invading the Netherlands if the International Court of Justice (in the Hague) ruled against an American soldier. And I said, “Oh, good heavens, even a European industrialized country and a NATO member and U.S. ally isn’t safe from a U.S. preemptive attack.”

All countries have the right to defend themselves, including Cuba. But how can they defend themselves if the powerful countries can overrule every code, every rule. A small country like Cuba has to defend itself within its own territory, and to exercise every possible measure to neutralize (the enemy). A Cuban airliner was blown up in mid air, killing more than 70 young people aboard including Cuba’s junior fencing team. Everybody knows this story. But Orlando Bosch, the mastermind of that terrorist action, lives very happily in Miami making public statements about that action. Cuba has protected itself by developing sources of information. This was all Cuba could do. Cuba didn’t commit the stupidity of responding to those terrorist actions that were launched from U.S. territory.

At this moment, the situation is very complicated. The right to defend ourselves cannot be questioned. But, from an ethical point of view, you could question how to go about it. Also from a political, practical and realistic points of view. I have my own views on how an anti-terrorism policy should have been implemented. There was never a better occasion to create a real crusade against terrorism at every level. And this was not through war. As soon as we learned about the attacks on New York, we condemned those actions; we offered our airports for the thousands of planes in the air and forbidden to land at any U.S. airport. We offered medical aid, blood donations.

Mitchell: But the United States didn’t accept any of your offers. Did that surprise you?

Castro: No. Look, I can tell you the following. When California had that big earthquake, we made our usual offer of support. We don’t have search and rescue robots or dogs but we do have physicians and nurses. That was an act of good will and not new. We made the same offer to Nicaragua [after the 1972 earthquake] during Somoza’s rule—even though he lent his territory for the launching of the Bay of Pigs invasion. More than 30,000 Cubans have volunteered their services in Third World countries even at a time when we had a shortage of physicians. Now, we have the highest ratio per-capita of physicians—one physician for every 164 inhabitants. That’s double what the second best country has. This goes for education and other fields too. We sent teachers into Nicaragua’s mountains. Some were assassinated by the contras during the dirty war.

If you understand our philosophy on this, Andrea, it will help you understand Cuba. You may agree or not with our philosophy, just as you may or may not agree with a certain type of religion. But this doesn’t mean that people from one religion should be at war with people from a different religion. Europe spent centuries waging wars since the time of the Crusades—which had been condemned by the pope, including the inquisition of Galileo who said the earth moved around the sun.

But, Christianity, for the first time, offered a kind of ethical code. For me, the Old Testament differs from the New Testament in that the Old Testament recalls the history of man, the wars and everything that has happened while the New Testament preaches a generous code of behavior based on love for your neighbor, solidarity with the poor, and the miracle of fish and bread. We have tried to have enough fish and bread. And, a powerful country like yours with its abundant resources, should think about how to repeat the miracle of the fish and the bread instead of spending fabulous amounts of weapons….

You asked me about the right to defend ourselves against terrorism. What else did you want to know?

Mitchell: I was asking about Osama bin Laden?

Castro: You asked whether or not we had intelligence. All these questions are very delicate. But since day one, we declared publicly that our country would do its best to prevent our territory from being used against the U.S. people. And I can add that we will also do our best to prevent any harm to the American people from anywhere else. If we were to learn that someone planned to destroy an American city or commit an act of terrorism against the American people, we would do our best to prevent that….

Terrorism is a complex problem. We have to fight it first from an ethical point of view. What sparked those actions? We carried out an armed struggle [against the Batista dictatorship in 1959] but we never used terrorist methods. We never resorted to methods that cost the lives of innocent people. Look at the newspapers of the time. Read the history of the revolution. We attacked a military fortress. We fought in the mountains. We fought against an army that outnumbered us. We won through a combination of armed struggle and of gaining popular support. Batista helped in that by committing crimes against the population, by torturing people. We used explosives against soldiers and enemy tanks. We used mines against troops during combat. No one can deny this. Sometimes we destroyed a bridge used by enemy soldiers but never at the cost of any human life. So, we have authority to speak on this topic. Honestly, we are opposed to any action that jeopardizes the lives of innocent people—whomever they may be.

Much has been said whether or not it was right to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Ask the Japanese... That bomb was dropped on the eve of Soviet march through Manchuria. From the military point of view, there was no need to bomb those two cities. They could have bombed military bases. It would have been more than enough. There were many other targets. I would call the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki colossal acts of terrorism.

How many things have been done in history? How many Vietnamese died in air raids? Millions, Andrea. And they used chemicals that still cause damage. There’s a generation of Vietnamese affected by Agent Orange that has caused many problems.

Such events have happened in history. I don’t believe there’s any other way in this global world but to abide by ethical standards. There must be ethical reasons to struggle against terrorism. And I have said this to everybody including the revolutionary movement: We should condemn the use of methods that harm innocent people. Terrorism breeds hatred and rejection. No revolutionary movement will ever triumph by using terrorism and killing innocent people. I say this with the authority of having waged war. Not a big war, but a rather complicated war. And we were at a disadvantage. Our enemies outnumbered us. We had medical problems. But, we never resorted to such methods. If we had planted bombs, we never would have earned the support of over 90 percent of the people—not even 80 percent—not even 20 percent.

People reject crime. People reject such acts by their very nature. Many reject the death penalty because this touches them. They are affected by seeing people put to death in the electric chair or by being shot. Politically, no revolutionary movement will triumph by resorting to terrorism.

But you also need to struggle against terrorism from the religious point of view. Religion motivates or rules some people. Certain religious beliefs lead people to sacrifice their own lives. Some Iranians sacrificed their own lives to detonate land mines in Iraq.

We have to realize that certain religions carry their own code of ethics, rational or not. We have to struggle against all factors that may influence people. We suggest launching a major campaign against terrorism—creating a universal awareness against terrorism. It seems to me that this is the right way. That’s the path I would have taken if I were in America’s shoes. How can you get people to universally reject terrorism? Not through war. You can be absolutely sure of that. It creates hatred. José Martí (Cuba’s national independence hero) wrote: “Those who sow hatred, reap storms….”

Look, I will give you an example. Terrorist, operating from central America, considered blowing up some planes flying to Cuba. That was under Clinton. We spoke about this years later when Clinton was no longer president. I sent Clinton a letter through common friends. We never exchanged correspondence but I explained everything through a common friend. He responded in kind—taking it very seriously. He suggested we make the information public. I suggested that we should adopt other measures to discover what the terrorists were planning. (The Castro government sent Cuban security agents to infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups and gather intelligence on planned actions against the regime.). We passed on the information they gathered to U.S. authorities.

Do you know what happened? A few weeks later a group of Cuban patriots were arrested. Their main activities had been to obtain information about terrorist actions being plotted from inside the U.S. They have been condemned to life imprisonment. I wonder if the information we provided U.S. authorities was used to arrest and convict those who gathered the intelligence. Do you realize how strange all this is? And, these terrorist actions were carried out very recently. (Luis) Posada Carilles [one of Castro’s arch foes] attempted to assassinate me during the Ibero American summit with 40 kilograms of explosive. Once we learned that someone was ploting to kill (President Ronald) Reagan. Within hours, we relayed that information to the U.S. government. I doubt very much if any American administration sent us a message warning of the danger of any of the hundreds of attempts against my life. Where’s the ethics Andrea? Where’s the morals? This is not right.

Mitchell: I’m wondering Mr. President, do you think there could ever be an improvement in relations between our two countries with George Bush as President?

Castro: Yes.

Mitchell: How so?

Castro: Look, I believe that it’s too soon to reach a definite conclusion. He certainly took power as all the others—lacking information about Cuba, filled with biases against Cuba. There have been no exceptions since Kennedy came to office. I remember when Carter was elected. Carter, to me, has been the most noble and most ethical of all the Presidents that I have met.

Mitchell: And you’ve met nine of them? You’ve met nine presidents. You’ve outlasted nine presidents.

Castro: Are there nine? The present president is the 10th.

Mitchell: Since Eisenhower.

Castro: Yes. Eisenhower was in power when the Revolution triumphed. We have stood up against every campaign. First, of course, there was massive misinformation in the United States. But, we won’t look at the history of why.

Mitchell: But in the current time.

Castro: All of them when elected held many biases against Cuba—massive misinformation and underestimation, Andrea. Girón, (Bay of Pigs) for example, was a huge mistake, based on underestimation—believing the Cuban people would go and join an uprising. It seemed they really believed that. But this was not the plan. The real plan was to seize a piece of land as a beachhead in order to set up the government of Miro Cardona who would fly in and then be recognized as a “democratic patriotic government” with the recognition of the OAS (Organization of American States).

But you, as such a keen observer for so many years of American politics, do you think this president is unable or unwilling to reach out to the Cuban people because of Florida politics? There was a time when Florida had nothing to do with U.S. policy towards Cuba. It was the Cold War. But I wonder why they launched the Bay of Pigs expedition—just because we started agrarian reform. I’m not blaming Kennedy. Do you know who advised organizing the expedition? Nixon, who was then Eisenhower’s Vice President. The former administration organized the expedition. Kennedy took office and he was a man of certain qualities that I recognized and appreciated.

Mitchell: Why don’t you blame Kennedy? He tried to kill you. He tried to have you assassinated. He approved the invasion.

Castro: First, let me say that Kennedy already showed bias [against Cuba’s revolution] during his electoral campaign. Huge numbers of Americans thought as he did. Attacking Cuba was the political thing to do. Although there were two different mindsets: Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s. Look, we have to consider something when analyzing what happened.

People who fought for the revolution were not imbeciles but the Americans underestimated them. I’m not talking about myself but a whole group of popular leaders who emerged during the struggle and passed laws that benefited the average person. They won the overwhelming support of the Cuban people. A support they’ve never lost.

Still, some people believe or convince others to believe that most people oppose the Revolution. They ignore the fact that there’s more support for the Revolution now than ever. There are many who do know and understand this. If Nixon had been president instead of Kennedy, the U.S. military would have been deployed to rescue the (exile) brigade during the Bay of Pigs invasion.

But Kennedy behaved differently. Nixon would have sent support for the invasion. And in our country over 300,000 people took up arms. I can assure you even they (the U.S. military) could not have crushed the resistance. Of course, we’re talking about 1961 when most of today’s weapons didn’t exist. Then, we had no surveillance satellites, or sensors capable of gathering intelligence. Even today, and I believe that this was always the case, men are capable of going beyond technology. You might need to change your tactics, strategies, and modes of transportation but a country that resists can never be crushed. The Sahrawi people live in the desert and after 20 years they’ve not been crushed. They are a small country. The Russians, with all their power, have been unable to crush the resistance in Chechnya. That’s a real fact—which doesn’t mean to say we agree with the terrorism committed by the Chechens. We issued a very clear statement supporting the Soviet people and condemning the terrorist takeover of a Russian theater. We urged they do everything possible to avoid a massacre. But, in the end, there was a massacre when the decision-makers made a mistake.

Andrea, they make mistakes more often than not. But the reality is that there’s a religion, culture and nationality that rejects Russia’s occupation. They are very close and this country is very powerful. But I can tell you this: you cannot crush the resistance of a country with one million inhabitants. But, it’s all the more difficult when the country has 10 or 11 or 12 million.

We’re not looking for a fight. We weren’t looking for one back then. And Kennedy, newly elected and, as he put it, belonging to a new generation of Americans, did not want to begin his mandate by attacking a Latin American country. He wanted good relations with Latin America. He rejected the other and never gave the order to save the brigade because it would have meant engaging in war. Kennedy took full responsibility for that decision. “Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.” That was a very courageous act... And there was also a bias against Socialism, against communism. He said that the best communist was a dead communist. That was a political slogan—that the best communist was a dead communist. But, I don’ t think that the best capitalist is a dead capitalist. I wouldn’t even say that the best neo-capitalist or neo-liberalist is a dead one. I wouldn’t even say that the best imperialist is a dead imperialist. We don’t think this way. But Kennedy had that style.

And there’s something else. The Soviets made a huge error around the events leading up to the October Crisis—even if they based their actions on solid information that [the Americans] had approved an invasion of Cuba. All the recently declassified documents prove this. So, the Soviets were right. During the discussion we had here, [this past October Cuba hosted a conference marking the 40th anniversary of the missile crisis], it was revealed that [the Soviets] had been very concerned about Cuba’s security. At the time of Girón [the Bay of Pigs invasion] they (the Soviets) raised the issue of missiles, because when the British and the French occupied Port Said at the Suez Canal, Khrushchev stopped the aggression by threatening to use his missiles. Khrushchev argued that Berlin was a powder keg. Remember that American troops and tanks faced-off with Soviet tanks and troops. That’s when they put up the Berlin Wall.

So Khrushchev didn’t want a war. I knew Khrushchev well—an intelligent and clever farmer, a very bold person but susceptible to mistakes. He had a great sense of humor. But then we noticed many things—political and even military errors. But we were new to politics and the USSR was one of the two big superpowers, which lost tens of millions fighting Fascism. Just as the French, British, and American lives lost. They (Soviets in WWII) carried out the counter attack, assuming the burden of the whole war. They occupied Berlin, the rest of that region. They had a vast military experience—all veterans while we could be considered newborns. They devised the defense of Cuba, based on their certainty that the U.S. would attack Cuba....

All of us made political mistakes as well as military mistakes. This almost triggered war. Khrushchev tricked Kennedy, playing word games. He said they would not send offensive weapons to Cuba. To Kennedy this meant medium range missiles that could reach American targets. But Khrushchev was being simplistic, defining “offensive” according to the intention of the user. He couldn’t imagine Kennedy’s concern, why Kennedy would feel tricked by the Cubans.

I argued that the agreement (Havana-Moscow military accord) be made public. Why hide something when right is on your side? After all, the U.S. had agreements with many countries stating that an aggression against any of those countries would be considered an aggression against the United States. I believed a similar announcement between Moscow and Havana would have been sufficient. The problem is that Kennedy took Khrushchev at his word while Khrushchev deployed surface to air missiles.

Meanwhile the U-2 (American spy plane) flew freely (over Cuban territory) and we ended up on the brink of a war. The country faced real danger, because the U.S. could have launched a surprise attack to destroy the missiles. The Americans were very sensitive because they had nuclear missiles in Turkey. They made the political mistake of suggesting to swap (remove) those missiles for the ones in Cuba. But we didn’t want any Soviet troops or nuclear weapons here. We were more concerned about Latin America and our image and prestige; we didn’t want to appear to be a Soviet base.

Mitchell: But you wanted to keep the battlefield, the tactical nuclear weapons that the United States states it didn’t even know you had. I think you wrote to Khrushchev saying you wanted to keep those weapons, the smaller nuclear weapons?

Castro: You want to stay here talking until six in the morning? You want me to take all of the papers I have to prove to you this is nothing but conjecture? We could spend days talking about this. We just had a two-day discussion with McNamara [Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Kennedy] Kennedy advisors, and a key CIA player as well as the Soviet military officers who had been based here in Cuba and some of the Cuban leaders. My memory is still good. I remember the facts. In fact, we discussed this very issue in detail with a group of American historians who managed to have many of the documents declassified. Cuba behaved quite honestly through the entire crisis. But ultimately I had to be harsh with Khrushchev because he went ahead and reached a unilateral agreement (with Kennedy) for the withdrawal of missiles from Turkey and Cuba. We issued a very strong statement expressing our indignation and presenting 5 demands (to resolve the crisis). We never opposed peace but we never imagined the Soviets would make concessions….

Mitchell: Let me bring you back to today. We have George Bush as President.

Castro: Choosing peace or choosing war. I explained which one I favor. This was a golden opportunity for the U.S. to strike a blow against terrorism. Instead, they are breeding hatred and more hatred. For over a year, images shown on TV are evoking indignation, hatred and fanaticism.

Mitchell: Well, but ….

Castro: They are creating bigotry. You will never be able to defeat terrorist violence with bigotry.

Mitchell: What are your thoughts about George Bush’s brother Jeb? A lot of people say he’s possibly the next President after Bush. How would that affect U.S./Cuban relations?

Castro: You mean his brother? First of all, let me say I don’t believe there’s any chance this will happen. Americans are very smart. They may be misinformed but they are smart people. You had his father; now you have the son; and then you have the brother? And later on, the grandson? and finally the great grandson? That would be an absolute monarchy. Can Americans imagine that? I don’t know him. He has a very noble face. Jeb reminds me of a boy from school who came from a family of coffee planters.

He has the face of a good-natured man. I have nothing against him. I have no antipathy toward him. I don’t know what he knows about politics. He’s recently been concerned about a scandal. The Haitian problem. After more than 200 Haitian men, women and children landed, many of the black residents (of Florida) questioned why they were being sent back to Haiti when there are Cubans, even those with criminal records, who automatically are granted residency and work permits. Even those who enter the U.S. with fake documents. The moment they set foot on U.S. soil, they can claim the right to reside and work there.

How can it be said that the United States is protected against terrorism when any Cuban with a criminal record or a history of mental illness is welcome with open arms? Andrea, don’t you think this is a contradiction? We’re the only country in the world treated this way. Makes me wonder if we’re the worset? I believe you even trade with North Korea. Is any other country in the same boat? We won’t be jealous if some other country shares this dubious honor!

Mitchell: Since your country is treated uniquely under American law, you’re the only country treated this way with this particular kind of embargo, a country that we’re not at war with, at least. What do you think the impact would be on your country if the embargo ended—if Americans could come here, if American products could be sold here—without any limits? What would be the impact on Cuba?

Castro: Well, sometimes joking around, I’ve said to let me know in advance so I can move. An invasion of hundreds of thousands of American is enough to make us move. I’ve said this as a joke. But, to answer your question: we’re not afraid. It’s good to say this because there may be some people who think we want a blockade. Clinton himself said that we shot down the planes that often violated our air space because we feared the end to the blockade. (In 1996, the Cuban military shot down two small planes, killing four Miami exiles. In retaliation, the White House signed the “Helms-Burton Act” that beefed up the trade embargo.) No one knows what would happen if a Cuban plane even just once violated America’s 12-mile sea limit. We have never feared the end to the blockade. We may have to set a quota limiting American visitors to 10,000 a week. That’s our right!

Mitchell: Couldn’t it threaten the revolution’s ideals, if the United States with a very different economic system all of a sudden flooded Cuba with products and ideas and ideas and people?

Castro: Andrea, nothing jeopardizes the destiny of this revolution. The Cuban people now possess a certain level of knowledge and education that surpasses the average of other countries. These are people who base their actions on values. Our people are very patriotic, very progressive and socialist. Andrea, our people have learned that the revolution turned them into real human beings. We can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we weren’t human before. A small group held all the privilege and power. What is an illiterate person, Andrea? What about the 15-year-old who has to pay a child to write a letter to his girlfriend. Can you imagine their lack of self-esteem? Thirty percent of our people were absolute illiterates and, added to that, functional illiterates, the figure rose to about 90 percent. And that’s being conservative. Only 422,000 of the island’s 7 million inhabitants (in 1959) had reached 6th grade. Today, we have 20 to 30 university graduates for every one we had at the beginning of the revolution.

Mitchell: Mr. President, as I’ve seen with my own eyes, you have the most literate country. You have a country that is immunized with 13 different vaccines. You have universal healthcare, education. Yet because of the embargo, some people say there has been a lot of suffering. Do you believe that the embargo is the only reason? Because you have made changes in your economic system. You have adopted some free market practices, the dollar economy. Why have you made these changes? Are you changing your views about the revolution? Or about socialism?

Castro: The revolution turned millions of people into real persons. Gave them self-esteem. And the revolution is that much stronger because of this. Now, we have done some things we didn’t like because of the unique situation we faced. No country has had to live with a double blockade: the U.S. trade sanctions, and the overnight disappearance of its major suppliers and markets.

Mitchell: And the Soviet Union collapsed which is...

Castro: Fuel. That’s vital. Nobody believed Cuba would survive the demise of the Soviet Union. I wonder why? And I wonder why.

Mitchell: You joked earlier today that the Soviet Union was the good old days because you had the economic support, of course, from the Soviet Union. Do you think the world would be better off if the Soviet Union had not collapsed?

Castro: First of all, we’d be better off. Ultimately, we would be much better, much better. If we had suffered through the “Special Period” [Castro’s euphemism for the post-Soviet economic crisis] during 1961, ‘62 and ‘63, we would never have survived. We would have died honorably, draped in our national flag. But we never would have survived economically. Society then was marked by illiteracy and less political awareness. There have been 30 years of revolution, more than 30 years. I would say that from 1959 to 1992—33 years of revolution—we passed laws and measures benefiting the millions of Cuba’s sons and daughters who were sub-human, treated worse than animals. We were lucky, we trusted people. We trusted our history, the examples of our independence fighters and patriots. Everybody thought Cuba would collapse. We didn’t. Ten years have elapsed. We will not collapse. People in Miami packed their bags to return to their houses that we had turned into schools. These people had not been thrown out of the country but left voluntarily for the United States with the authorization of the Cuban government. In fact, everyone who has left Cuba—with the exception of those who leave illegally—since the signing of the Migration Accords (1991) have done so because the Cuban government allows them to do.

Mitchell: But why do you think so many other socialist countries and communist countries have moved toward free markets? Why has China evolved the way it has? And Vietnam? There’s been, as American Presidents say, a march of democracy across the world and a free market. But not here in Cuba.

Castro: Well, that’s the opinion of the President of the United States. I respect that opinion but feel sorry if he wants to be wrong his whole life. But it’s not my problem. But seriously, I don’t want to say things that could hurt anyone’s feeling. You know I’m joking. And besides, there’s no arguments to justify these statements.

Although some people may disagree, I believe we have the most humane system in the world. I don’t like to say this, but I must because people say the world is moving towards democracy. I say the world is moving towards subordination to a single power. The world is moving towards submission to the hegemonic power of the United States.

Look, the world has a single boss and it’s not the people. I’m speaking about the whole world. They have only one boss. There’s a man who decides the fate of every country without prior consultation—not even about launching war. Take the United Nations today. It’s a beautiful memory of good intentions. And a good idea that some day may take hold.

Today, there’s a world government that hasn’t been adopted or approved by any of the more than 100 existing States. That’s the truth. It’s a joke to say the world’s moving towards democracy. It’s like saying Americans are moving towards a society with greater civil rights and more respect. The United States has lived through different times. They lived through McCarthyism; don’t forget the witch-hunts. Afterwards, they got passed that and the U.S. went through a period of tremendous ethnic and racial problems; there were struggles, progressive laws passed and then setbacks. Everything that could have been achieved wasn’t. Now, the terrorism committed against the American people has created a favorable climate to impose considerable restrictions on individual rights and liberties. A world in which a country can be victim of a surprise preemptive attack is not a world moving towards democracy. A world in which the bombers, aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, the smart bombs have the last word, is not a world moving towards democracy. A world in which the president of a single country without even consulting his own Congress has the last word is not a world moving towards democracy. It would be like saying democracy ruled with the Caesars in Rome. It would be like saying that the empire was moving towards democracy….

The world is moving towards universal dictatorship. And, something else: we could affirm that the world is living under universal dictatorship—not an absolute dictatorship.

The United States dictates to the rest of the world. Who says no? China has not submitted to the United States. It’s too big and they have their own dignity. I respect the Chinese very much. Nor will I say that Vietnam has submitted to the United States. But, all of Europe has submitted, almost without exception—including the former socialist countries and the newly formed States. I wouldn’t say they are happy about this but it’s the result of having one country dominate the world. What’s the use of having the United Nations if every year 173 countries vote against that infamous embargo and the U.S. government just laughs at that vote? They ignore world public opinion. Is that democratic? Show me Andrea where democracy exists in the world. How can you say that the world is moving towards democracy? We should say quite the opposite.

So, they say the world is moving towards democracy because the Chinese introduced some reforms. The Chinese have a political system very similar to Cuba’s. They admit capitalists into the (Communist) Party. Our Party admits farmers earning a lot of money and religious people. Bush could just as well say that, based on what we’ve done here in Cuba, that we’re moving towards democracy. And that the world is moving towards democracy.

I believe we’re doing that. We’re moving more and more to a regime of equal opportunity and even greater equality. People need to go beyond their professional knowledge and gain a general comprehensive education. Those who don’t are functional illiterates. Without certain knowledge of history, you cannot understand the world. Without a basic knowledge of geography, you can ‘t understand how nearly 60 countries have come to independence in recent history. You need to know basic political economy to understand globalization and the international monetary crisis. Without a minimum knowledge of the arts, people won’t be able to understand newspapers. People need to know two to three languages, including English. That’s why we are teaching English in a massive way.

Mitchell: How do you see this country years from now? You have personified the social system and the revolution for millions of people. How do you see this living on? Who will you have lead this government?

Castro: I will not speak to you now about the system. But we want our people to have convictions. We want our people to possess knowledge and culture. You cannot speak about freedom without knowledge. You cannot speak about freedom without culture.

In a world with billions of illiterates, you cannot talk about freedom. It’s a lie to think you can be free without an education. You can’t let others think for you. You can’t allow specialists to bombard you with messages from the mass media and do your thinking for you. You can’t afford to let others to think on behalf of those around you. No wonder millions are influenced by commercials that convince people to smoke one brand of cigarettes over another, to drink one kind of soda or wear a certain type of shoe. If people were not at the mercy of others, commercials would not exist.

Herbert Marcuse said, “To be cultured is the only way to be free….” Through education, our people will become ever freer and live more humane lives. This doesn’t depend on the abundance of a consumer society. The consumption promoted by the developed world is unsustainable. Just imagine if China had the same amount of cars per capita as the U.S.? We should ask Bush what would happen in the world the day that China—with all its progress towards democracy, free markets and development—could have as many cars per capita as the U.S.

Mitchell: Mr. President, with George Bush and America, do you see better relations as possible between our two countries?

Castro: Quite often unexpected things happen. I remember when relations between the United States and China were not that good. Nobody could think that they would improve the way they did. Apparently nothing is impossible. Of course, I don’t have to be a pessimist, although I don’t have a lot to base my optimism on.

Mitchell: There are people in the United States, including this President, who say that things cannot improve until Cuba changes it’s system regarding human rights, the way elections are held, the ability to move from one place to the other without government permission?

Castro: First, what if we said that in order to improve relations with the U.S., you had to change your constitution. What if we said that the United States needed to change its political system? What if we said that the United States needed to change its economic system to improve relations with us? We’ve never said anything like that. It’s not logical to put those kinds of conditions on anyone else. Much less when you take into account that the United States does not put conditions on relations with other countries. The United States has relations with other countries without setting conditions.

Mitchell: There are international standards and the UN declaration of human rights, which you respect, says that people should have the right to free media without government involvement, the right to move from one place to another without government permission. Is the UN wrong, or is the rest of the world wrong?

Castro: I have my views about that... I think that our country has proven over a course of four decades that it has a very high conception of human rights. How do other countries in the world conceive of human rights? If there was a real understanding about human rights, 11 million children would not starve in the world every year. So many others would not die for lack of medicines and health care. And, practically one billion people in the world would not be illiterate. These things would not happen if there were real human rights in the world. And millions of people around the world have no access to schools or to an education; they lack the most basic elements of security. So, we respect human rights not only for the people of our country, but also for those in other countries around the world.

And this is nothing new. Even during the harshest years of the special period, thousands of students from other countries, poorer countries, came to study in Cuba on full scholarships. At the moment three thousand Cuban doctors are working for free in scores of countries around the world. We’ve also sent our teachers abroad. We have a universal concern for human rights.

Mitchell: That is universally acknowledged, and we have reported it, and many people have praised your educational system, your healthcare system, but still say, that dissidents should not be put in jail, that people should have more freedom of assembly, that there should be more freedom of speech here.

Castro: I should say here that I didn’t understand what you said earlier about freedom of movement. I don’t know where that comes from—the claim that we’ve taken measures to prevent what happens in other Latin American countries. The mega cities, shantytowns springing up around the big cities. Proof that there are few restrictions in Cuba is the fact that the city of Havana has doubled in size and population. People come and go freely in the country. There are no restrictions on travel inside the country. I think, Andrea, that is a simple fabrication. People move around freely.

I told you only yesterday that hundreds of thousands of people have left this country and a minority of them for political problems. Most are economic migrants—just as you find in Central America and Mexico. They are seeking a better standard of living. We’ll never be able to offer the same salaries that a wealthy nation can. Cuba has set no restrictions.

Mitchell: But if someone wants to move from one province to anther province, don’t they have to get government permission?

Castro: Andrea, of course, they are free to move about. You should travel around the country and ask people themselves. Ask them if they are free to move around the Island. It’s so absurd.

Mitchell: If I’m Cubana and I want to buy a car—a normal average Cuban without a special job or special status—don’t I have to get permission to buy and sell it at government rates? Many people can’t buy cars.

Castro: There are tens of thousands of cars in the country. Those people who have cars can sell it to each other. We don’t import cars, to commercialize them in the county. Over the past 40 years, we’ve imported very few cars because of gasoline and spare parts. That’s why there’s so many old cars and the Soviet-made Ladas.

But, we don’t want to become a consumer society. We’ve opened bicycle factories. In addition to public transit, bicycles are one of our main forms of transportation. Now the shops do not sell cars. There are things they don’t sell. Who here has the money to buy a car? Well, maybe the farmers because they make lots of money. It’s a question of economics. Cars cost convertible currency. And we have to consider very carefully what we spend our money on. Large fuel demands and spare parts are not easy for us to justify.

Mitchell: Can you see a time when you would move towards private property rights? There has been talk of this. Perhaps after the 6th party congress, you might move toward more property rights?

Castro: I don’t see that on the horizon. Maybe there’s some talk about it but I haven’t heard it. We have implemented a number of reforms but we’re not headed towards capitalism. Speaking honestly, we’ve implemented measures that have created inequality. There are now people who earn lots of money as compared to others. There’s some who have very little compared to others who own a car and earn lots of money or someone who owns a truck and can earn much more money than a doctor, including top surgeons. We cannot pay a surgeon as much as someone might earn by being self-employed. You also run into people getting fleeced by the private sector. Movers charge 1,000 pesos to move you in a day. That’s what the truck owner charges. So, we have these inequalities. Self-employment is allowed but it creates inequalities.

Education and culture are the most important properties people can own. If you want to ask me if we are headed towards capitalism, Andrea, I will tell you in all honesty that we are not. We are not marching towards capitalism. We are trying to have a more educated society, and to create better opportunities for everyone in order to narrow the gap between people who have lots of money and those who don’t. The workers, the ones who earn less money, are the backbone of the economy. We do not encourage parasites in this society.

Mitchell: You said this morning that one of the super- powers melted away. People around the world think it melted away because of the socialist or communist economic system.

Castro: Why haven’t we melted away—despite being blockaded during the “Special Period” and surrounded by all kinds of hostility? We’ve been threatened for 43 years with economic warfare. So, why didn’t we melt away? Our critics should know better.

I have my own ideas about what happened (in the socialist world). Those revolutions were important revolutions but imposed from the outside. In some cases, they lost the ideological battle. We haven’t. Rather, we’ve won it. Here, people live in socialism with the advantages socialism has brought them. Recently eight million people signed (a petition) making their socialist system untouchable. Eight million people support socialism in this country. And that’s our people’s reaction.

Mitchell: That’s because you are here. We see the way you are respected by the people who we visited. But, what happens as the future unfolds? What happens here in Cuba with the system to make sure your legacy continues? You told me once that your brother would succeed in the interim. Do you see a transition? Do you see a collective leadership?

Castro: Yes, my brother has seniority but we should talk about the next generation. Even my brother is not that young. We, the generation that made the revolution, hold the greatest authority and have the most influence because of our history and years of struggle. But when you talk to me about the future, I think of other generations, younger people.

There will be no problem if I die here tomorrow because we have lots of young people who are well trained, who know what to do, and we have comrades with great authority in this country. Yes, it’s true as you said. I have this prestige and authority but there are other comrades, too, younger people who have already won their stripes. But my brother and others are not so much younger than I am. We need to think about the future, when these key leaders are not here anymore—when the old leaders are gone. I am thinking about the younger generation and how they are prepared to preserve the future. Look, we have not had the conflicts other countries experience.

In China and the former Soviet Union, they’ve had major conflicts between the generations. That’s not been the case here. Here, the younger generations are better prepared than the old generation, than my generation. Wherever we go, we see lots of well-trained young people—tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands capable of leading. We have over 600 deputies to the National Assembly (Parliament) from all over the country. Lots are young people who experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m not a fortuneteller but I’m confident they are better trained, better prepared, and better educated than we ever were. And they have sounder ideas to defend.

Mitchell: When you got out of jail, or when you were arrested for fighting Batista, your defense was, I think, was that “history would absolve me.” Do you have any regrets about the revolution you’ve led, the way you’ve governed? How will history judge Fidel Castro?

Castro: My one regret: that we should have done many more things before now. We could have done things better, and many more things if we had realized earlier all that we could do, and if we had all the experience that we have today. We could have done much more. The most important thing is that we have not changed our ideas, our principles, our values.

As for history, Andrea, that is really relative. It seems to me that it would be vain for an individual to think about his legacy. I feel that it is not fair that leaders take credit for everything that happens around them. Millions of people accomplish things. It hurts me because there are millions of people who build, who teach. You saw the teachers in that school yesterday. There are millions of people doing things. We take some credit in the sense that we laid the groundwork for millions of people to accomplish things. But, that’s very different from taking credit for everything.

Second, we’ve studied the biographies of many politicians. They have illusions about themselves. I read a phrase when I was a boy. Someone said: “All the glory of the world fits in a kernel of corn.” Believe me! That’s one of those phrases that stuck in my mind. Some people tend to be vain. We try to avoid that. Over the course of history, humanity has made many mistakes. If humanity can finally survive its own mistakes, if humanity is capable of stopping the systematic devastation of nature, if within 100 or 200 years humanity is still around—and that’s only possible if values, education, knowledge and culture prevail—then those living in the future will look back at us the way we regard the primitive clans and tribes that began the evolution of society. We’ll be relics for those people 100 years from now. So, I don’t waste my time worrying about “my legacy.”

People are just specks in the universe. We live for a very short time in this world. I do not share the concerns of many other politicians.

What you in America call the legacy. I try to be realistic and rational. People pass away and things pass away. Earning merits is relative, depending on being in the right place at the right time. Many of my comrades died along the way and did not live to see our victory. It pains me to think about them. But, they did not die in vain. Others took their places, and more will follow.

Like Che Guevara, for example. He was such an outstanding person. I knew him well. From our first meeting in Mexico in the wee hours one morning, he became a part of our movement. And he was a doctor by training but he was also a great military strategist. Tremendously generous and selfless.

I’ve said that by the time practically every politician has been forgotten, people will still be talking about artists—Michelangelo, Raphael, da Vinci. The same people who love these artists couldn’t provide the name of even one of their contemporary politicians. You talk about the Seven Wonders of the World. The artist outlives the statesman or politician. Philosophers too, like Aristotle. People still discuss the Odyssey and the Iliad. Poets and artists. Anyone who really wants to be remembered should avoid the thorny grounds of politics and instead go into the arts. Cervantes, Shakespeare. Even Julius Caesar is remembered for the book he wrote about the battles he fought and won in the early days of Rome.

Mitchell: I think you have answered everything. Thank you, Mr. President. I think history will not forget a man who led Cuba for more than four decades.

NBC Editor’s Note: During their formal interview, Castro wore a business suit. But he chose his traditional olive green army fatigues when he escorted Mitchell to some of his government’s most secret sites. One of their first stops: Cuban biological laboratories—the perfect setting for him to angrily deny U.S. charges he may be secretly producing germ weapons:

Castro: The problem here is not whether the equipment can be used to create one thing or another. But it totally lacks common sense. Absolutely. It makes no sense to use all these resources to theoretically produce biological weapons. And the scientists would not be willing to do that. Our people have been trained to discover vaccines and medicines. So it is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t care about such charges, because it’s stupid to think we would spend our resources on that. Those accusations have been made in bad faith. The ones making those charges know they are lying. They should be ignored and I ignore them.

Mitchell: They say the same technology could be use for evil purposes.

Castro: We are producing vaccines to protect our people. We don’t have to account to anyone. The fact that we let the Center for Disease Control and other scientists come here was to see for themselves. For dozens of years, we have been the victim of all kinds of biological attacks. Of course, we defend ourselves—with our doctors and our health care system. It makes no sense for us to begin producing the same weapons. That would even present a danger to our own people. A risk. It makes no sense to try and create a useless weapon against an enemy that is a thousand times more powerful. Saying we produce those weapons really insults our people’s intelligence. When they made those charges, we protested in a statement. We ridiculed them. We are too old, Andrea, to fear slander, lies and threats.

Mitchell: Does it concern you, Mr. President, that you could export to Iran, which is one of the contracts, and Iran could use what they receive from you, the technology, for bad purposes?

Castro: When you export a product, you cannot extract just anything from that product. We have some joint ventures to produce vaccines. Specific vaccines. Vaccines against Hepatitis B, interferon. These are very specific products, so it’s a ridiculous charge.

Mitchell: The Cuban economy is still communist—under state control. But, perhaps nothing better symbolizes the potential for economic change in Cuba than a grain mill now grinding Kansas wheat—the first to be imported under a humanitarian waiver to the U.S. embargo in four decades.

Do you want this to be the beginning of more with America?

Castro: There’s a growing number of Americans who want to trade with Cuba. The U.S. Congress passed quite a rational bill. But, in the end, the enemies of that bill began adding amendments and more amendments until they whittled it down to practically nothing. They set very difficult trade conditions. For example, we had to apply for a license for every product every time. That made it nearly impossible to import anything from the U.S.

On the other hand, it was humiliating. And, on top of that, too many strings attached. But, after the tragedy of 9-11, we offered our help to the American people. We offered our airports. Then in November, we were hit by a devastating hurricane that destroyed thousands of homes. Many people suffered. The U.S. Administration offered us this humanitarian assistance. And, our policy is to reciprocate to every positive gesture with one of our own. The hurricane depleted our grain reserves. We needed to replenish them. We agreed to buy food. We did not want to receive it as charity. Almost 870 thousand tons of products will arrive from the United States this year. We have contracted more than one million tons next year. We’ve been paying in cash. Some people said we wouldn’t pay. We have paid without a second’s delay. Of course we need to tread slowly along this path. We need to be cautious because we cannot be tied to only one source of supplies. It would be too risky so we continue purchasing commodities from our traditional suppliers.

Mitchell: Mr. President, I wanted to ask you, while we are talking about the economy, you have had to restructure the sugar industry. And one out of five workers are losing their jobs. You’ve cut 156 to 71 mills. What can you do for the unemployed?

Castro: None of them have been laid off. We continue to pay their full wages. And we send them to school.

Mitchell: How can Cuba afford to support these people?

Castro: With part of the money we save by not producing sugar due to sugar’s very low prices and the very high cost of the fuel. Our sugar harvest is completely mechanized, demanding a lot of fuel. And those mills were anything but efficient. It cost us more to produce sugar than what we could sell it for. That’s why we had to close those sugar mills. This restructuring meant closing 70 sugar mills that were unprofitable. We have left 71 that are cost efficient.

Mitchell: What will happen to those workers?

Castro: The workers are very happy because they continue to receive their full salaries and are being re-trained to work in industries that pay more. They are not receiving unemployment benefits. People on unemployment can be quite miserable. It undermines their self-esteem. In this case, it’s quite the opposite. People are being paid to study and be retrained. So, the sugar industry was so unproductive, that we can continue to pay these workers and still save money. That’s the secret.

NBC Editor’s Note: During the two days in Cuba, one visit overshadowed the rest. Castro showed NBC News a new computer college—built on the ruins of a top secret Russian spy station that eavesdropped on America until this past August. In a classroom once used by the KGB, Mitchell asks Castro about his spy at the Pentagon for 18 years—Ana Montes, who pleaded guilty to espionage and is now serving a 25-year prison sentence.

Mitchell: You had a famous spy at the Pentagon?

Castro: No. I heard that she disagreed with the aggressions against Cuba, the blockade (embargo) and she spontaneously cooperated without being paid. It was a matter of conscience. She passed on some information, not strategic information. Just information of interest to Cuba.

What could we do? I think it was brave on her part, deciding to cooperate because she opposed U.S. policy. How many people in America might feel like that? Not all of them do the same. Their reactions are different. That’s what I’ve read in the newspapers.

Mitchell: But to you she is not a spy. She is a patriot.

Castro: I think she’s a noble, kind American opposed to a blockade that’s lasted over 40 years, plus all the terrorist actions committed against Cuba. Somebody who is capable of reacting that way is an exceptional person. I have not met her, nor have I been updated on the situation. This is what I have read about her. These are the statements she made at the trial and afterwards. She deserves to be respected and admired.

—MSNBC, January 23, 2003





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