Wed Apr 22,2009
HAVANA – Fidel Castro says President Barack Obama "misinterpreted" his brother Raul's remarks regarding the United States and bristled at the suggestion that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on dollars people send to the island.
Raul Castro touched off a whirlwind of speculation last week that the U.S. and Cuba could be headed toward a thaw after nearly a half-century of chilly relations. The speculation began when the Cuban president said leaders would be willing to sit down with their U.S. counterparts and discuss "everything, everything, everything," including human rights, freedom of the press and expression, and political prisoners.
Obama responded at the Summit of the Americas by saying Washington seeks a new beginning with Cuba. But as he prepared to leave the summit Sunday, Obama also called on Cuba to release political prisoners and reduce taxes on remittances from the U.S.
That appeared to enrage Fidel Castro, 82, who wrote in an essay published Wednesday that Obama "without a doubt misinterpreted Raul's declarations."
The former president appeared to be throwing a dose of cold water on growing expectations for improved bilateral relations — suggesting Obama had no right to dare suggest that Cuba make even small concessions. He also seemed to suggest too much was being made of Raul's comments about discussing "everything" with U.S. authorities.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had a different perspective on Fidel Castro's essay while speaking about Cuba policy with the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. She said that while Fidel Castro had "contradicted" his brother's previous statements about Cuba's willingness to discuss a whole range of issues with the U.S., it shows "there is beginning to be a debate" inside Cuba about how to move forward with U.S. relations.
Fidel Castro's remarks put into doubt the true meaning of his brother's statements and raised questions about Cuba's position on detente with the United States. Although he surrendered the presidency to Raul in February 2008, he retains enormous influence and remains head of Cuba's Communist Party.
Raul Castro himself, meanwhile, has not jumped in to clarify the confusion and is not likely to, out of respect for his older brother.
"When the President of Cuba said he was ready to discuss any topic with the U.S. President, he meant he was not afraid of addressing any issue," Fidel Castro wrote of his 77-year-old brother, who succeeded him as president 14 months ago.
"That shows his courage and confidence in the principles of the Revolution," Fidel wrote.
"No one should feel astonished that Raul spoke about pardoning those who were convicted on March, 2003, and about sending them all to the United States, should that country be willing to release the Five Cuban Anti-Terrorism Heroes," Castro wrote, referring to five Cubans serving espionage sentences in the U.S.
Fidel also defended Cuba's right to levy a 10 percent fee on every U.S. dollar sent to relatives on the island by Cuban-Americans, saying if the money arriving from abroad "is in dollars, all the more reason we should do it because it is the currency of the country that blockades us."
All top Cuban leaders routinely call the 47-year-old trade embargo against this country a blockade.
"Not all Cubans have family members overseas that send remittances," Castro wrote, adding that Cuba uses the revenue from fees on exchanging dollars to provide free health care, education and subsidized food to all of its population.
The ex-president has previously expressed admiration for Obama, but this time he blasted the new U.S. president for showing signs of "superficiality," and called on him to wait no longer before lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
"We are living in a new era. Changes are unavoidable. Leaders just pass through; peoples prevail," Castro wrote.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
YESTERDAY I referred to the comic angle of the "Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain."
Today we could refer to the dramatic angle. I hope that our friends will not be offended. Between the document that reached us as a draft to be submitted to the Summit hosts and the definitive one that was published, there were differences. In the last-minute rush, there was no time for anything. Certain points had been discussed in long meetings in the weeks leading up to the event. At the last minute, proposals such as the one presented by the Bolivian delegation complicated things even more. It was included as a note in the document and stated:
"Bolivia is of the view that the development of cooperative policies and arrangements intended to expand biofuels in the Western Hemisphere could adversely affect and impact on the availability of foods and raise food prices, increase deforestation, displace populations due to the demand for land, and ultimately aggravate the food crisis. It would directly affect low-income persons, especially the poorest economies of the developing countries. Thus, while the Bolivian government recognizes the need to seek and use alternative, environmentally-friendly sources of energy, such as geothermal, solar, wind energy and small and medium-sized hydroelectric plants, it proposes an alternative vision based on living well and in harmony with nature, developing public policies aimed to promote safe, alternative energies that guarantee the preservation of the planet, our "Mother Earth."
Analyzing this note from Bolivia, it should be borne in mind that the United States and Brazil are the two major producers of biofuels, opposed by a growing number of people on the planet and whose resistance has been growing since the murky days of George W. Bush.
Obama’s advisors posted on the Internet their English version of the president of the United States’ interview with journalists in Port of Spain. At one point he affirmed:
"One thing that I thought was interesting – and I knew this in a more abstract way but it was interesting in very specific terms – hearing from these leaders who when they spoke about Cuba talked very specifically about the thousands of doctors from Cuba that are dispersed all throughout the region, and upon which many of these countries heavily depend.
"And it's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence and have -- have a beneficial effect when we need to try to move policies that are of concern to us forward in the region.
"And I think that's why it's so important that in our interactions not just here in the hemisphere but around the world, that we recognize that our military power is just one arm of our power, and that we have to use our diplomatic and development aid in more intelligent ways so that people can see very practical, concrete improvements in the lives of ordinary persons as a consequence of U.S. foreign policy."
Journalist Jake: Thank you, Mr. President. You've heard from a lot of Latin America leaders here who want the U.S. to lift the embargo against Cuba. You've said that you think it's an important leverage to not lift it. But in 2004, you did support lifting the embargo. You said, it's failed to provide the source of raising standards of living, it's squeezed the innocent, and it's time for us to acknowledge that this particular policy has failed. I'm wondering, what made you change your mind about the embargo?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, 2004, that seems just eons ago. What was I doing in 2004?
Jake: Running for Senate.
PRESIDENT: …and the fact that you had Raul Castro say he's willing to have his government discuss with ours not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human rights, political prisoners, that's a sign of progress.
"…There are some things that the Cuban government could do. They could release political prisoners. They could reduce charges on remittances to match up with the policies that we have put in place to allow Cuban American families to send remittances. It turns out that Cuba charges an awful lot, they take a lot off the top. That would be an example of cooperation where both governments are working to help Cuban families and raise standards of living in Cuba."
Without any doubt, the president misinterpreted Raúl’s statement.
On affirming that Cuba is prepared to discuss any issue with the president of the United States, the president of Cuba stated that he has no fear of approaching any issue whatsoever. That is a demonstration of courage and confidence in the principles of the Revolution. It should not come as a surprise to anybody that he spoke of pardoning those sentenced in March 2003 and sending them all to the United States, if that country would be prepared to release the five Cuban anti-terrorist heroes. The former individuals, as was the case with the Bay of Pigs mercenaries, are in the service of a foreign power that is threatening and blockading our homeland.
On the other hand, the statement that Cuba charges an "awful lot" and "takes a lot off the top" [of remittances] is an attempt on the part of his advisors to cause a rift and divide Cubans. Every country charges certain sums for hard currency transfers. If they are dollars there is all the more reason to do so, because it is the currency of the state that is blockading us. Not all Cubans have families abroad who send remittances. Redistributing a relatively small part to the benefit of those most in need of food, medicine and other goods is absolutely fair. Our homeland does not have the privilege of converting into hard currency the bills that leave state printers, what the Chinese have frequently called "junk dollars," as I have repeated on various occasions, and which has been one of the causes of the current economic crisis. With what money is the United States saving its banks and multinationals, in its turn indebting future generations of U.S. citizens? Would Obama be disposed to discuss those issues?
Daniel Ortega put it very clearly when he recalled his first conversation with Carter, which I will repeat again today:
"I had the opportunity to meet with President Carter and when he told me that now that the Somoza dictatorship had gone, that the Nicaraguan people had defeated the Samoza dictatorship, ‘it was time for Nicaragua to change.’ "I said to him: ‘No, Nicaragua does not have to change, it is you that have to change, Nicaragua has never invaded the United States; Nicaragua has never mined U.S. ports; Nicaragua has never thrown a single stone against the U.S. nation; Nicaragua has not imposed governments on the United States; you are the ones who have to change, not the Nicaraguans.’"
During the press conference and the final meetings of the Summit, Obama showed signs of smugness. The abject positions of certain Latin American leaders were not far removed from that attitude of the U.S. president. I said a few days ago that what everyone said or did at the Summit would be made known.
When he stated, responding to Jake, that today, 2004 seemed like eons ago, that was superficial. Do we have to wait that many years for him to suspend his blockade? He didn’t invent it, but he has made it his just like the other 10 presidents of the United States. Going down that road a definite failure can be augured for him, like that of all his predecessors. That was not the dream of Martin Luther King, whose role in the struggle for human rights will more and more illuminate the way of the U.S. people.
We are living in new times. Changes are inevitable. Leaders pass, the peoples remain. We will not have to wait for thousands of years, just eight will be enough, until – in a more heavily armored car, a more modern helicopter and a more sophisticated aircraft – another president of the United States, doubtless less intelligent, promising and admired in the world than Barack Obama, occupies that inglorious office.
Tomorrow we shall have more news of the Summit.
Fidel Castro Ruz
April 21, 2009
Translated by Granma International