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Transcript of CNN's interview with Fidel Castro

March 24, 1998
Web posted at: 7:47 p.m. EST (0047 GMT)

Larry: Mr. President, CNN has learned today that President Clinton is expected to announce tomorrow an easing of measures against Cuba, which would include the resumption of direct flights to Cuba, the ability of Cuban Americans to remit $1,200.00 a year to Cuba and an easing of restrictions on the sale of food and medicine to Cuba from the United States. What is your reaction to this news?

President Castro: Well, first I would have to try to know about that attitude, the content of the statement, since I will not be able to give an answer to that question without my knowing first the full content of that statement, because sometimes one word is there another word is not there, if there is an addition, perhaps they say humanitarian flights instead of flights.

If it comprises all the flights, if it is the rights of the Cubans to travel to Cuba as they used to travel before, if there's no restrictions in that if that is the kind of restrictions to be lifted, I mean, I think all the details are important when we're talking about declarations. Regarding what you have concretely asked me and abiding strictly by the words you have said, those three measures that you have just mentioned sound to me positive, they would be a positive thing, constructive measures which would be helpful and conducive to a better climate in relationships between the United States and Cuba. But, as I'm telling you we would have to study them fully in order to be able to express our views in that connection.

When I'm saying this I'm abiding by the three concrete points that you raised. I am very happy to hear what you are saying. Yes, I had read something in a press dispatch, but I have been with you. I have been here with a CNN in a program sitting here for hours, how could I know? I have not been able to learn about that news and its full content. One could perhaps add a demand, one more demand to that list of uh, that seems to be Clinton's, and it is to prevent the CIA to travel to Cuba to often, otherwise I will have no time left to do anything else but to give interviews to the CNN. We have been here for about 5 hours, I've been your hostage for all this time. Anyway I feel compensated, I feel rewarded with this news you have just given me. It seems to me positive and constructive if they are like that they will be appreciated.

Larry: We greatly appreciate your time and I feel terrible for asking these questions but I would be irresponsible if I didn't try.

President Castro:: No, you know what, I never protested questions, quite the opposite. I've felt very well during this meeting, this conversation we have had. I have found the questions very interesting, you have made me think, you have made me work and I'm really pleased and grateful to you for posing these questions. I know that you have been moving lots of equipment. I could have solved the problem only talking to you for half an hour or 45 minutes, that would have been the easiest way of course, but since you have made all these efforts and all these studies I felt that I should give you broad answers to your questions so as far as what you tell me is concerned, if I pay attention to what you have just said we will have you here more often than we have had so far if you're able to travel in straight flights then we will be having you around more often, if that is so, we have nothing against it. Well the Cubans continue to travel you know, but they have to go around the world.

There are some remittances sent by those Cubans but it's hard for them, there are many people capitalizing, doing business on the relatives that send remittances to their families in Cuba because they charge them a lot for the remittances of money they send to Cuba. I'm sure in the United States there are many families which are going to be very happy if that measure which you have just described is true.

Larry: Let me ask you one final, broader question. Following the visit of the Pope to Cuba, and the possibility of this measure, or other measures, do you sense a better atmosphere for a better relationship this year between Cuba and the U.S. in a mutual way?

President Castro: Yes, I think yes. Yes I think it is so. The Pope's visit which was supposed to be a complicated event came out to be a great success you know. It was such a successful visit. It was really successful and it was so widely reported all over the world. Our people were so disciplined, there was such a sense of organization, discipline, culture. Our people showed such a degree of civility that it did not only please the Pope, it did only please the Pope's entourage and the church in general. In Rome, in Latin America, the United States and Cuba but it also helped to carry the image of Cuba, different image of Cuba that was done through the mass media. It was an image different from what many people believe Cuba is.

And in spite of the fact that the visit took place simultaneously with the outbreak of scandal in the United States, I do not want to mention that problem, I simply mention it because it happened, it was one more scandal in the United States. In such a way it took some space from the Pope's visit. I mean the time taken by other kinds of problems and the time devoted to the Pope's visit to Cuba. We would have liked for the American people as a whole to be able to see the visit, to watch the visit on TV, every one of the Pope's activites which were on TV, because I know that in the United States many people were interested in that. And I know that in spite of everything, we have received news from many parts of the United States where people felt they could have a good perception of Cuba's image through the networks.

Of course there were favorable and unfavorable news about Cuba but altogether over 100 networks coincided in Cuba for that coverage. And actually for almost a week the country was left, the country and the mass media of our country were left in the hands of the Pope as well as in the hands of thousands of foreign journalists and millions of people in the streets. It was something really that never before had happened and people that had been present in all of the Pope's visit have made us the honor of presenting this visit and talking about this visit as the best of all the visits, the best organized of all the visits made by the Pope. It was so well organized that we did not even have a traffic accident in those days, we did not even have traffic accidents in the days the Pope was here. We had no soldiers in the streets with guns, not even the police carried sidearms in those days. I think that was a great proof for everyone of what Cuba can do.

The success of the Pope's visit to Cuba, his authority, he was critical of us and with great respect we listened to his criticisms. He expressed his viewpoints in full freedom, the same way he does everywhere, and our TV stations carried it live, all the mass and all the homilies and the Pope's speeches were broadcast to the nation as well as the archbishops and bishops speeches. But he also said other things. He spoke about the fact that we live in a world where the poor are poorer and the rich richer. He expressed his wishes for Cuba to be open to the world and the world to be open to Cuba and he said in his farewell speech, three words. That economic actions against Cuba from abroad were both unjust and ethically unacceptable.

Those two lines, those two lines, those few words had a great impact in the United States, a country where 95 percent of the people are believers of one or another religion. And though I know there are 1,600 religious denominations in the United States, different religious denominations, there is no doubt that this Pope has acquired a great international authority. He's listened to, he's respected and I think all that contributed.

In addition to the Pope's words the work of the journalists, how they were able to carry to everybody what was going on in our country. We get news of course not only from the United States but from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Asia. No one knows how many people have been watching the Pope's visit on TV, but mainly on CNN. In China, in Japan, in Vietnam, everywhere, so I should thank you because that image of Cuba was carried not only in the United States but all over the world and it was carried by the CNN. I wish we can also be successful in preserving as much as possible an objective information about Cuba, both the good and the bad things, but in an objective fashion. The things that make the praise and the things that are worth being criticized.

As I said to the pope during six minutes that I addressed him and his entourage before his departure, I said at that moment that we had nothing to hide from the world, that we have confidence in our ideas, in our principles. When he arrived I said that we could only offer him, that the only thing we had to offer him was our people, an educated people, instructed, civilized people, people who trust themselves and who feel all of the world's respect for him and that would listen to him with great respect. I said that to him when he arrived and it was really a pleasant experience to all of us but some people wondered why we had invited the pope. Some thought that we had a master plan about the pope. And we have not invented anything. We had no master plan.

The pope's visit has a background, you know, it comes from the first time he came to Mexico at the beginning of his pontificate. Since the nineties we have been discussing about the possibility of his visit in our country. And it was the church's interest for him to visit our country and many people were interested in his coming to Cuba and it was the Vatican's interest too. And it was the Pope's personal interest, it was not our creation. There were some people who believed or affirmed that I had invented a plan, a scheme, to bring the pope to Cuba in order to profit from the publicity and the propaganda that it could bring me, and actually the pope visit is not an easy thing. To organize a pope visit we needed a year work, a year in which we had to work in the organization, detail by detail, in order to create the perfect conditions for it to be a total success. It was no easy task and it was not a Castresque invention as some tend to say. We simply discharged our duty, we had a certainty that it was going to be a good visit, I mean we have great confidence in our people, in our people's instruction, culture, discipline, it's capacity to respect and to show that respect. And the masses were attended both by believers and none believers alike. I even asked the evangelical protestant churches' cooperation to help us in the organization of the pope's visit, to help us with the success of the visit, I asked for their cooperation in a meeting I had with the representatives of all the churches. You know there is always some rivalry and some competition among religions, you know. And it's logical, but everybody cooperated, really.

Do you have any other question Larry?

Larry: Just, do you preceive this year, by the end of this year, a possibility of better relations between the U.S. and Cuba given this current atmosphere?

President Castro: The best I can say about that is the hopes we may have that those relations improve. Possibilites, well they're always there and there's always plenty of time ahead for the improvement of those relations. We trust that one day those relations will be improved. As far as we are concerned we are willing to do whatever we can.

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