Raul Castro Ruz - Interviewed


“Our disagreement is not about fighting terrorism, but about the methods used to fight terrorism.”

Below are excerpts from a press interview given by General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), to the national and foreign press on Saturday, January 19, at the Loma Malones observation point, Guantánamo, after the conclusion of the rally in a nearby municipality. Parts of the interview were broadcast live by U.S. television network ABC and it was summarised by foreign news agencies.

Vivian Sequera (AP): In the recent statement by your government regarding what is happening at Guantánamo Naval Base, Cuba's offer of support and medical aid is mentioned. Has there been any response from Washington?

Raúl Castro: I don't know of any reply received during the days I've been here in the eastern provinces, or very recently... but I don't think there has been one yet. As is only natural, the proposal is being studied, the process is beginning, the prisoners are now arriving. Some 100 should have already arrived.

(An aide tells him that the precise figure is 110.)

Raúl Castro: 110 have now arrived. Referring to what the Cuban government offered in the statement: eliminating vectors and pests, medical aid, although they're putting up a 4th-level hospital, and other services. Above all, the United States has a large number of logistical personnel and military police there. In other words, the needs will become clear in the future. In 1994, we established minimum cooperation links to deal with problems that sprang up. In the situation created in 1994, people were constantly wanting to come and go and we had to establish cooperation; both sides realized that. Both governments authorized a group of themes limited to the base and its perimeters, taking relevant measures to avoid accidents: out if this arose what used to be called a hot line - a telephone used for that type of activity - and it has proved very useful for, in reality, from the triumph of the Revolution until 1994, we had 35 years of a rather complicated and tense atmosphere along the 32-kilometer border, with some moments more tense than others. There came a moment when we moved back from our posts - not from the fence, but from out posts, in order to avoid incidents... because they would open fire on our posts. There was large amount of rotation of U.S. personnel and the degree of relations and the

complexity of our relations was manifested here. It was very complicated, and it was my responsibility to come and talk here. Every time a comrade died, I was designated to come to Guantánamo and talk to a multitude of incensed people, explaining to them what happened.

Later Mr Castro he referred to the last serious provocation at the base, explaining:

We went on December 7, 1989, to mark the transfer of the remains of our comrades who died in Angola. Together with Comrade Fidel, we were holding the main ceremony in Cacahual [near Havana] - and at the same moment there were funeral rites in 167 of the island's 169 municipalities for all those who died. It was a day of tremendous pain for the people, and in what was considered the main ceremony, which was very symbolic because it took place where the remains of General Antonio Maceo are buried. At that very moment, a shot was fired at two soldiers were standing at their post. One called to the other to tell him something, and as he turned his face a sniper's bullet entered the post, breaking the glass. You have to imagine what this meant, coming at a moment when the whole country was in mourning and paying tribute

to its dead who were being simultaneously buried, with their families and people watching. Because we didn't bring the remains of the bodies here, all the families were informed that all would return together when we fulfilled the mission in Angola and other places where smaller numbers of Cubans died. That was the moment when the attack took place. I don't know how but the people of Caimanera found out right away and someone was sent to speak to them. The

attack really was one of the stupidest and most dangerous acts of provocation. In 1994, the events concerning the Cuban and Haitian rafters created a situation that obliged us to cooperate. Since then, there has been absolute calm here, appreciated by both countries. About two years ago the United States finished withdrawing the tanks they kept here. We, without coming to any agreement, made the gesture of withdrawing our tanks from the frontline border to deeper positions. A year and a half later, we withdrew all the heavy artillery we kept in tunnels and different locations aimed at the base. And we even moved the mortar positions back. All that is left here are rifles and some anti-air missiles. Currently there is an atmosphere of cooperation, of mutual respect and collaboration.

I want to emphasize that our disagreements in this situation are not about fighting terrorism but about the methods used to fight terrorism. Referring to the question you asked me, we are willing - as our government's note states - to engage in any kind of cooperation. One day, while talking with a retired U.S. general about the positive atmosphere that has been created, I joked, "We are soldiers, we have a duty to the civil authority, to our governments. If our governments order us to bring out the cannons, we must obey orders." I went on, "Until the order comes, let's have civilized relations." And he understood that. Naturally, the situation is not acceptable to the animals in Miami, the folks at the [Cuban American National] Foundation and the worst elements of what was the Republic before the Revolution triumphed in January 1959. Through our government, the United States has informed us that it would bring prisoners and reinforcements to guard them. Up until today [Saturday, January 19], 110 prisoners have

arrived and between 1,000 to 1,100 reinforcements, mostly military police and logistical personnel. According to a public statement I read by Brigadier General Lehnert, who heads the Joint Task Force No. 160, their mission is to guard the prisoners. That same general, when he was a colonel, was also commander of a joint task force in 1995 when the rafters were here.

According to U.S. authorities' statements, they will follow all the norms established by the International Red Cross regarding the treatment of prisoners and have invited that organization to come to the base. They have declared that the necessary reinforcements do not imply any danger or threat to the zone's stability. We believe them; we understand that it is logical, if a specific number of prisoners are to be brought to the base – over which, as we've already said here we have no jurisdiction - then they have to bring in personnel, more or less the number mentioned. As the January 11 note from our government stated, we are not thinking of increasing our troops around the base's perimeter, because it's not necessary, because there's no tension, as I said. But there is more work, which is why I decided to appoint a second chief of the border brigade. You are all here now and journalists are constantly coming here so we must carry out other activities. And Lieutenant Colonel Victoria Arrúe has been appointed to the post. Lieutenant Colonel Victoria Arrúe is currently the president of the Association of Veterans of the Cuban Revolution in Guantánamo and she is the only member of that organization, with the exception of Major of the Revolution Almeida, who is authorized to wear olive green fatigues, because she is on active duty. He asked her to head that organization in the province about two and a half years ago, and we let her go, on the condition that she would have to return at some point, and this is the moment. I signed the order today, January 19, so now the brigade leader has three seconds-in-command and one of them must go to the academy soon. Speaking of Comrade Arrúe, she began with voluntary military service, which is how women join the armed forces. She then passed a course to become head of a company, then of the infantry, then of a battalion, and then of anti-aircraft defence. She went to Angola and headed the anti-aircraft artillery unit in Lubango, formerly Sa Da Bandeira, in southwestern Angola. Another female regiment, which was from Havana, went to the new Cahama airport, during the final stages of the offensive against the South Africans. Subsequently, she gradually increased her level of responsibility, until she led an anti-aircraft artillery regiment of women here in the city of Guantánamo.

She then entered the FAR Academy for the regular two-year course and specialized in anti-aircraft defense. She later went on to the National Defense School in Havana and returned as second head of the political section of an infantry division and now, from the Veterans’ Association, she is moving on to being second-in-command of the brigade. She is the only reinforcement we have brought here, because there is no tension, but there is a lot of work. All right, your question and that of a few others has been answered in detail.

Mary Murray (NBC News): You have expressed confidence in the United States' capacity to control the situation of the prisoners on the base, but if a prisoner manages to escape, what is Cuba's plan? If a prisoner is on Cuban territory, are you prepared to capture him and return him to the United States?

Raúl Castro: That question was asked of General Solá the other day, and he answered it well: "If one escapes, he'll be captured and our government, which makes the decisions, will be informed." Most probable, however, and this I can respond to, is that we would return him to the U.S. troops. What else could we do? That is, if he lives through the escape. I doubt that anyone will escape, with the measures they are taking, and if a case emerges and a prisoner escapes, I doubt he would be able to cross the minefields and get out of the area. So, that possibility is unlikely to occur. General Solá responded well the other day: he'll be captured and our government will be informed, but since my rank is a bit higher than Solá's, I'll say that he'll be caught and returned through the front doors of the U.S. base, whatever is left of him. Any other questions?

Vivian Sequera (AP): Could we move away a little from the subject of the base?

Raúl Castro: Don't take me away from the base. I granted the interview here because we are on the perimeter of the base.

Vivian Sequera (AP): But it's basically the same, because there's an environment of a lot of cooperation with the United States. There's no interest in creating tension and the current spirit is being maintained


Raúl Castro: No, there's not much cooperation with the United States, it's a minimal cooperation, what's necessary.

Vivian Sequera (AP): And in addition, there's the one-time exclusive purchase of food and the visits of senators and even governors. What's the next step? What can one foresee in relations, if we are in this level of, as you call it, cooperation or friendly relations?

Raúl Castro: That question should be asked of Fidel, because he's the one who directs foreign policy.

Vivian Sequera (AP): What do you think?

Raúl Castro: What do I think about that?

Vivian Sequera (AP): Yes.

Raúl Castro: That relations between the United States and Cuba are unpredictable. Did you know that I was talking to the majors of the Revolution about that very thing just yesterday? I said there is a series of steps being taken. What you're saying is interesting and positive. I, and I think all my comrades as well, applaud everything that is being done. Our position is already known. It's known that we don't want that base there and the day will come when it is peacefully returned, as General Espinosa said when you "attacked" him in the National Assembly, by peaceful means. But they are there, and it's a reality that the base is there and has to be taken into account. We know that they don't like our social system, but the reality is that we are here, and we plan to continue. I think, furthermore, and I was meditating and exchanging impressions with comrades when we were talking last night that this minimum cooperation that exists here shows that we can do the same in many other things, because we are looking at each other. Our officers, our troops are looking at their officers and troops in the face every day. There are things - within the current frame of relations that you're perfectly familiar with, so I don't have to refer to them – that have their ups and downs, despite these positive elements that you just mentioned, on which we can collaborate even more: the problem of drugs, the problem of uncontrolled immigration, the fight against terrorism. But not by ordering and commanding us, no one orders us around, our people give us the orders. I already told you a while ago that we don't have differences about the fight against terrorism, but about the methods, and much less do we want them to come and tell us now that "You're either with terrorists or with us." That's unacceptable. We deeply deplore the terrible blow on September 11, and we know how it feels. But we have had this terrible burden for more than 40 years. There have been 3,478 people killed in our battle against terrorism, state terrorism or the terrorists' disciples. The United States doesn't direct it anymore, but it does tolerate it. Furthermore, 2,099 have been maimed, not counting the thousands of injured who have completely recovered. That was constant. I'm not speaking of those who were killed in

internationalist missions to help other peoples; I'm speaking about those who were killed, victims of state terrorism, the consequence of that terrorism. Our diplomats assassinated abroad with firearms, and others who are missing to this day, as happened to two of our comrades in Buenos Aires during the military dictatorships, or killed by bombs placed in our diplomatic missions, or those killed in the passenger plane when it exploded off the coast of Barbados, or those killed at the Bay of Pigs, or those killed in the five-year battle against armed bandits from 1960 until January 1965. And that was in every province, for five continuous years. I remember when I arrived at MINFAR [the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces], we had the first meetings in the morning with various aides simultaneously, and each one had a list in his hand informing me of the events of the previous night or in the last 24 hours. It would start with Pinar del Río, where there were dozens of tobacco drying sheds burned down, cane fields burned down, battles with bandits in that province. At times I told them, "Give me what's most important," as sometimes there was intense enemy activity, and other times less. Comrades from the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior were dying every day, as well as ordinary people, whether or not they were fighting those bands. Because it's no feat to kill our adolescents who in 1961 were involved in the literacy campaign in the mountains, or campesinos who were learning to read, or campesinos who were known to support the Revolution. Those were five years of intense struggle. They freely dropped armaments by parachute during the night – a large part of them fell directly into our hands. They infiltrated the coasts. CIA ships came near - at that time the territorial waters were three miles, now it's 12 - sending small boats with silent motors at night. If they didn't pass in front of a border guard post, they wouldn't be heard. Comrade Ramiro Valdés, who was minister of the interior during those years, is with us here. In the midst of all this were the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and plans to continuously attack us. As a consequence of this aggressive attitude, Soviet missiles were brought to Cuba in 1962. Khrushchev told us, "They're going to invade, the only way to prevent it is by bringing missiles." As Fidel has explained on other occasions, we also accepted as a measure of solidarity with the rest of the socialist bloc, as we knew that there was no balance in nuclear weapons and they were at a great disadvantage. And afterwards came the formula for the solution to that crisis, and you all know our discrepant position that we still maintain (If two allies reach an agreement, how can they talk with third parties, without contacting us?) That also reminded us of the time in Versailles, France, when the United States and Spain discussed the war, the results of the war, and the final accords of the Cuban-Spanish-American War. The Spanish and the

Americans agreed not to include the Cubans. That is deeply engraved in the heart of Cuban history, and the resolution of the missile crisis was the same. But, well, if anyone doubts this, there are the documents declassified a year and a half or two years ago, showing that a dozen pretexts of provocations, supposed provocations on the part of Cuba, were presented to the president of the United States, Kennedy. One was that the Cubans shot down an airplane. And what was it? A passenger plane crossing the two air corridors that we had then - now there are three - hundreds of passenger plans, most of them from the United States, fly over the skies of our country. Were they going to shoot down one of those planes so they could blame it on the Cubans? I believe that it shows a lack of ethics and morals that in a state so powerful as this one, a four-star general and his Joint Chiefs of Staff were proposing to the president of the United States a pretext to attack Cuba. It was evident that U.S. policy had suffered a great defeat at the Bay of Pigs. They never wanted to forgive the Cuban people for our victory at the Bay of Pigs, just as they do want to forgive us for what we have done. We were speaking a moment ago about those 11,760 hectares of the naval base, for which they try to pay us rent of $4,085 USD a year. In the same statement the government did all the calculations and came up with 37.4 cents per hectare per year. It reminds me that in Cuba during the U.S. occupation, there were places where you could buy a hectare of land for 10 U.S. cents. I was born in Birán, in the municipality of Cueto, in northern Holguín province, near the border of Santiago de Cuba province. I remember

my father, a Spaniard, a Galician, and I'm very proud of him. But I'm Cuban, and my first political thoughts revolved around what I could see with my father's farm at the centre. To the north was the United Fruit Company, with 100,000 hectares of land and two sugar factories, Boston and Preston, which were renamed Nicaragua and Guatemala, respectively, after nationalization. To the south was the Miranda Sugar Company, today the Julio Antonio Mella

sugar mill, and other U.S. sugar mills were in the area. To the west was the Altagracia Sugar Company, today the Loynaz Echeverría sugar mill, which was called Marcané before, and another one whose name I can't recall. To the right, in the foothills of the Pinares de Mayarí in the Sierra de Nipe, the Nicaro Nickel Company and others (the Cuban Nickel Company and the Nickel Processing Company) that were mining the Pinares de Mayarí deposits. I said to myself, in the middle of all this was a Spaniard. And I asked myself, what did we Cubans have?

After discussing the Agrarian Reform Act of 1959, which returned the best lands - many of which has been in the hands of U.S. companies - to the country's control, he stated: Today it has been shown that we can coexist, they with their social system, we with ours, maintaining the cooperation within each side's possibilities, but within a framework of mutual respect and noninterference in the other's internal affairs. Actually, in the last 10 years the world has undergone a very spectacular transformation which, in my opinion, was accelerated by the Gulf War. You all know about the great political and military coalition that was created. The same thing was repeated during the aggression against Yugoslavia and now Afghanistan. I feel that this is not the path to solving the world's problems. Now, if they want to play the role of gendarme to the world, they must be willing to face more problems than they have up until now. That's not the way to solve problems, the problem of hunger or the problem of AIDS, which is doing so much damage in some countries, especially in Africa. We are willing to cooperate in every way possible, but without taking orders from anybody, much less threats. I believe that what has been achieved here, modestly, among persons who follow orders issued from above, has been to act rationally and with common sense. As for the airport at Tres Piedras, you have been there. As you saw, that runway is about three and a half kilometre long. When a plane lands from east to west - that is, in the direction from Guantánamo to Santiago de Cuba, the length of that runway is perfectly adequate. But generally the predominant winds here blow from the northeast, and therefore landings must go from west to east. For large-body military planes, especially the most recent ones that have arrived here, the head of the runway on the west end is very close to the line, and they have to make very violent turnabouts. In 1994 it was authorized, during a series of flights, that they could pass over a small piece of our territory, to make it easier for them to land. If you read the Cuban government note of January 11, you'll see that it talks about more facilities to avoid accidents, etc. So we have communicated this to them, we have said the number of kilometres of our territory that large planes can pass over, from west to east.

Vivian Sequera (AP): Now that you are talking about the runway, is that being done now? Are they using Cuban territory to land their planes now?

Raúl Castro: We have told them that they are authorized to do so. Sometimes pilots come who are not familiar with this area; they come here for the first time from faraway places and perhaps they are unaware of the authorization. In 1994 we gave authorization for a certain period of time, for the duration of the rafters' crisis. In other words, new themes may emerge which, within our possibilities, we are willing to help solve. How long are the prisoners going to be there? Those are things that have to wait until the future.

Vivian Sequera (AP): You're not afraid that when they have 1,000 or 2,000 prisoners there, a complicated situation could emerge, even on the base itself?

Raúl Castro: No, I don't think so. They are creating very stringent conditions. You have seen the number of military personnel for each prisoner, the measures they've taken. General Lehnert himself explained it at a press conference the other day.

Referring to the history of the signing of the second treaty in 1934, he noted: Although it was signed by President Mendieta, he did it on the instructions of Colonel Batista, who was the real power behind the throne.

Portia Siegalbaum (NBC): I have one last question. Do you think that the channels of communication that have been opened between the two military organizations can be extended to the two governments, and could include plans regarding immigration and other issues?

Raúl Castro: No, no. Those channels, which have functioned very well, are exclusively for the situation around the base and everything that has to do with it. For example, in order to avoid confusion, to avoid accidents and incidents, if we have some kind of manoeuvre we inform them, and they do the same. This has worked well, simply, based on mutual respect. That's why I say that this is a modest example, but this is limited to the situations that could arise and local solutions that both commands - that of the base and that of the brigade here - can find, and to the military region of Guantánamo and the Eastern Army

This text was sent to us by the UK Cuba Solidarity Campaign < http://www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk> and originated with the Cuban National News Agency and Granma Internacional