Letters and Messages

Fraternal message to the Mexican people

News follow one another very quickly in this convulsive world where we must live. Barely two weeks ago, an item of special interest for Cubans and Mexicans excitedly circulated round the press agencies. Something unusual: an incident in Cuban-Mexican relations. The cause: some reflections of mine at the end of the SELA (Latin American Economic System) meeting held in Havana on 2 December last. All sorts of things were published in Mexico about this, some of them so serious that Mexican friends of Cuba --among the many we have had the privilege of knowing and appreciating through almost 40 years-- expressed their concern at the prevailing atmosphere and even conveyed their ideas and advice to avoid any damage to our relations.

The fact is that nobody knew what was said, how it was said and why it was said. Those who knew Cuba and its leaders well were absolutely certain that some imputations were the result of misinformation, misinterpretation or ill will.

I preferred to wait patiently, as I have often done in my life, for everyone to calm down. But, at least some things had to be unavoidably clarified.

Meanwhile, new events and news of great international importance were occurring. As I am writing these lines, at 4:12 in the afternoon of December 17, on the eve of our Foreign Minister’s trip to Mexico, hundreds of bombs from so-called intelligent weapons --despite their frequent mistakes and deviations-- are falling for the second consecutive night on buildings in cities, towns, fields and targets in Iraq that only the Pentagon and its computers know about beforehand.

A true show of technology which allows for massive strikes to be launched from thousands of kilometers away without anybody's permission, without any previous warning, to destroy anything they want, to terrorize millions and to kill or injure in a matter of hours thousands of people, military or civilian in a country lacking the capacity to respond, as anyone familiar with the issue knows. A country where hundreds of thousands of innocent people have already died of diseases and hunger after eight years of ruthless blockade; all this without the powerful attackers risking a single life. This is the world order established by a very close neighbor that both Mexico and Cuba share. At such a time, would it be worth the trouble talking about real or simply imaginary differences between Mexicans and Cubans?

Actually, we are not living in the times of Cortes when the Conquistadors had the divided peoples who inhabited our virgin territories fighting each other. The weapons they threaten us with today are not steel swords, crossbows, harquebuses or horses which the hospitable and noble natives thought to be an inseparable part of the rider. Their instruments of domination are infinitely more powerful, both in the economic and in the technological and cultural fields.

Now, as it is a necessary, allow me to refer to this subject with absolute honesty and as briefly as it can be explained.

It would be impossible to list the various information and interpretations published. I neither received them all nor have I been able to read all that I received. But there is an article in Proceso magazine dated December 6, 1998 relating quite accurately the details, phrases and occurrences at the closing ceremony of the meeting. Proceso has its critics --more or less severe-- and its devotees. But being a magazine that on more than a few occasions has been critical of, and not always fair with, Cuba and the Revolution I find it more useful to refer to the aforementioned article by Homero Campa.

I do not see in that article any intention to distort, hurt or lie on what he saw there or was quite objectively told. I would just like to point out that the figure on trade between Canada and the United States that I mentioned is one billion dollars a day and not that one which appears in paragraph eight, column one, on page 10 of said edition. I take responsibility for the quotes used by the author. Of course, for the sake of the brevity that an article demands some phrases do not appear in full. For example, when I talked about the cultural invasion and its effect on children, I said that the same thing was happening throughout Latin America, that it was not Mexico's exclusive problem.

Having said this, I should add that the author of the article is exclusively expressing his subjective views. At times, when mentioning a phrase where I referred to Mexico in something that might be construed as criticism, he begins by saying: "Ironically smiling, Fidel Castro lightly waved his hands and said from the podium…" (Here, he includes the phrase where I mentioned Mexico's entry to the OECD. As I usually do, when I share friendship and familiarity with those I am speaking with --in this case the members of the Mexican delegation-- I cracked a joke with them saying that we had been left in a shantytown.) If it is then added that there was general laughter, you can understand the disastrous effect on a Mexican reader who is not aware of the atmosphere of friendship and the total absence of formality that prevailed all along that limited meeting.

On another occasion the columnist, when referring to my words in a paragraph where Mexico is mentioned, begins by saying: "He then qualified this..." Further on: "He again qualified this..." To the reader, these might seem like very calculated words, deliberately aimed at criticizing Mexico. I repeat in all sincerity that I do not perceive in that article any intention to manipulate or misinform. It is simply a style, a way of putting things, of describing, giving life to what is being told and expressing personal impressions. I wish people can understand me, when I speak, the same way I understand that journalist.

But that kind of detailed, more serious information --regardless of their interpretation-- appeared only later. At the beginning, all that was published were out of context unconnected fragments and distorted statements that might seem offensive and harmful to Mexico.

Those who were amazed that I had supposedly launched a political attack on Mexico and the Mexicans were completely correct. When I have to give a written speech, I write it myself; I do not have a speech writer. In my agitated revolutionary life, I have so often found myself obliged to address closing events and meetings, or others have obligated me, that I have adopted the method of listening all the time to the debates or taking part in them without missing any of it. I try to grasp the essence of what is discussed and to express ideas. Rather than making speeches, what I do at the end is reflect and converse with the audience.

But spoken language is quite different from written language. In the former, one talks with the hands, the face, the tone of voice, the body language, pauses, emphasis, words that are repeated, pointing from time to time at someone who said something that is known by all those present; a variety of forms of expression are used that cannot be translated into writing. This is why, when everything is transcribed, I am never totally satisfied. I become demanding because the reader who was not at the meeting would not be able to understand a lot of details. I then take out words that were repeated for emphasis and are redundant in writing. I change the word order and complete ideas, although I never take out anything essential that has been said. It is after they have been so revised and published in a written form that, for me, they take on the character of an official statement. This is my method, with far less time and possibilities to revise and improve what has been expressed than those insatiable writers of prestige.

Many speeches are not published or I wait in order to do so later on. I did not intend to publish the speech that I gave at the SELA meeting, that is, to make it official. That way one can speak much more freely and intimately, based on the fact that we are working in the common interest of all those present. However, I am never afraid that what I say may be known.

There were journalists from Cuba and Latin America there. Moreover, what I said and the way, the tone and the spirit in which I said it could not hurt anyone. I spare the attacks and the relentless criticism for the enemy; for friends, only sincerity and a fraternal and respectful message. The conference on December 2 was a meeting of friends, of brothers and sisters, to discuss issues that are crucial for our peoples and our world.

I deeply regret that my words have been used in an attempt to plant division between two peoples so closely linked by centuries-long ties of brotherhood, ever since those who conquered us left Cuba to conquer Mexico. Today, we are a mixture of the blood and culture of the conquered and the conquerors. Today, we share a glorious and heroic history in the quest for independence and in the revolutionary struggle at different times and different stages.

This is why I wish to state categorically that it never once crossed my mind the idea or the intention to offend or hurt Mexico. I can assure you that Mexico was not the focus of my reflections. I only mentioned it in passing several times. Nobody has the right to accuse me of such an unfair intention, whatever the differences between our social and political systems. "The respect for the rights of others…" --which includes sovereignty and ideology-- proclaimed by one of Mexico's most illustrious sons has been an unchanged rule in our reciprocal attitude toward that country.

There are plenty of reasons for which I would never offend the Mexican people. I have never admired any country as much as I have Mexico, ever since I was a schoolboy. My desire to know every detail of the Mexicans' admirable resistance to the European conquest could never be quenched although the history we were taught had been written by the conquerors. My admiration grew as I became increasingly aware of, and gained greater knowledge about, the true history of the extraordinary battle fought by the Aztec capital against the technology, the weapons and the military experience of the Conquistadors, an unprecedented event in the history of the Americas. I said that in Madrid, and I was perhaps the only one who did, at the Ibero-American Summit held exactly five centuries after the famous discovery.

I can never recall without a deep feeling of indignation the United States expansionist and aggressive war which seized more than half of Mexico's land.

It is impossible to forget the feat of the people who, in the second half of past century, defeated Europe's best soldiers who tried to impose an empire in Mexico through bloodshed and fire.

To all Cubans, Juarez was always a teacher and an inspiring example.

The Mexican Revolution was the most radical social change in this hemisphere after the slave revolt in Haiti and their victory over Bonaparte's soldiers in 1804. The revolutionary events in Mexico in the second decade of this century, its heroes, its Constitution, its great social and political achievements were the set of events that, in the first decades of this century, had the strongest impact and influence on, and brought the greatest hope to, the people of Cuba that endured neo-colonization, frequent interventions and constant humiliation.

It is not an overstatement. I am neither looking for facts, nor do I need to, in order to explain the Cuban people’s consistent affection for the Mexico that nationalized oil at a time when such a measure seemed unthinkable; the one that sustained for such a long time the most upright conduct toward the legitimate government of Spain, three years before fascism unleashed the Second World War; the Mexico that granted asylum to thousands of Spanish refugees, to every democrat persecuted in Latin America.

We learned from Marti our love for Mexico, a country that he admired and loved more than any other.

Mexico provided a haven for Julio Antonio Mella, the pride of our youth, a founder of the Federation of University Students and of the first Communist Party of Cuba. He died there, wily murdered by agents of the Machado tyranny. It was to Mexico that Antonio Guiteras was heading when he was killed. Like all the progressive and revolutionary people in Our Americas, we have always perceived Mexico as a part of us, like a common homeland where we were entitled to find refuge, get ready and organize our return to liberate a piece of the great Latin American homeland. No legal technicality imposed by the unnecessary and sterile division of our peoples could prevail over this deep moral conviction.

That is why we went to Mexico. That is why we set off from Tuxpan in the Granma yacht and that is why we landed in Cuba on precisely one December 2, almost exactly 42 years ago. No date could be more inappropriate for spreading the poison of alleged offenses which would be, more than anything else, a negation of our history and an act of ingratitude toward Mexico and its people.

It is hardly necessary to say and recall for the thousandth time that Mexico was the only Latin American country that did not sever diplomatic relations with Cuba and that did not join the economic blockade against Cuba.

I am leaving out countless other demonstrations of solidarity with our people. I will note just three: on 17 April 1961, when mercenary forces taking orders from the United States landed at Giron, a glorious man who was then, who is still today and will always be, a symbol and a living legend wanted to come to fight alongside us: it was Lazaro Cardenas. Together with Venezuela and Cuba, Mexico founded SELA, the first Latin American organization we could join at a time when Cuba, like a Cinderella, was always excluded from any continental institution. Mexico made possible our country's presence at the Ibero-American Summit in Guadalajara which has become a true force of unity and integration for our countries and of relations with Europe. I could mention other important services to the blockaded Cuba but I would rather leave them out for now.

On December 2, I spoke about the 300 immigrants, the vast majority of them Mexican, who die every year at that enormous and sophisticated fence rising up on the Mexican border, on the very lands snatched from them. I am aware that some considered it incorrect that I should have mentioned this subject which they regarded as an internal affair. I am of a different view. Cuba will never consider the death of Mexicans and Latin Americans, in the United States territory as a result of that fence, a matter of internal affairs. Thus, I cannot promise not to continue denouncing it. It is a question of the utmost importance because if the free flow of capital and goods between the United States and Latin America is intended, human beings are worth much more than capital and goods. It is a crime that in a global world with an increasingly integrated economy, men, women and children should die because that same freedom of movement is denied to them.

I have just one more point to make about the malicious slander that I offended Mexican children. Nothing could be more outrageous, offensive and harmful for someone who has paid such a heartfelt homage to, and expressed a thousand-and-one times his infinite admiration for, those who he has always considered to be a paradigm of patriots and heroes, those who jumped from the Chapultepec Castle wrapped in the Mexican flag rather than surrender to the invading Yankee troops.

I know that there are even some who say that it is but a legend. But even if it were so, to me it is a matter of faith because no legend could more beautifully express the concept that somebody once had, and has always been preserved, of the children of Mexico. That is how I see them and will continue to see them.

To denounce the cultural invasion by the United States which is destroying the heroic effort of teachers and educators causing so much damage to the children, adolescents and youth not only of Mexico but of the whole of Latin America is not to offend but rather to defend all the children of this hemisphere, including the American children saturated as they are with films and serials that show some of the most violent scenes of all those produced in the world, leading them to even murder other children at school. This is much more serious than the example I gave when I mentioned the alienating influence and the space occupied in the minds and knowledge of children by the heroes of their films, among which I certainly quoted perhaps the most modest of all, because I was also influenced by them.

I learned of the value of spinach, something useful perhaps, with Poppeyed the Sailor, a popular one in my days. But I also watched lots of Tarzan films --a far from veiled form of spreading racial prejudice and contempt for the African peoples-- or the always irritating films produced by the thousands where, if there is a Mexican he is at best a good, submissive, respectful and obsequious gardener, a servant or the like. These are stereotypes used to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race. How long shall we have to put up with that?

I did not invent that nefarious and growing influence. I have read about it more that once in research and surveys conducted not only in Mexico but in many Latin American countries as well. I leave aside those who might have been misled by distorted information but to the Pharisees who, in such bad faith, have accused me of offending Mexican children my response is that in no country of the world has more been done for children than in Cuba and that cannot be the fruit of contempt for the children of any country in the world but rather, the fruit of love.

I invite them to denounce the true and unforgivable offense: the children who die every year in the countries of Latin America whose lives could be saved with suitable medical care. I will provide a simple fact: if all Latin American countries had the infant mortality rate of Cuba --an economically blockaded country ruthlessly harassed by the most powerful nation that has ever existed, struggling all alone and enduring the harshest sacrifices-- the lives of over 400,000 Latin American children could be saved every year. That is more than offending, that is killing. What system is that and why does it kill them? Why do we not all join efforts to save them? Cuba would willingly send thousands of doctors to the most distant areas where no medical care has ever been provided.

The cultural invasion that destroys our identities, which has been described as the nuclear weapon of the 21st century for the control of the world, is a real problem deeply hurting to a very large extent peoples that share our language and blood, a problem affecting everyone: children, youths and adults. This can be mathematically demonstrated by the incredible percentage of films, television serials and other programs and video-cassettes from America shown in our countries amounting, in some of them, to 90 percent of what is shown. That is what we are warning against and denouncing.

It is almost midnight in Cuba. The bombings in Iraq have very likely stopped with the coming of daylight. There are birds of prey that only attack at night.

I have been writing for many hours. I did it with pleasure for all of you. We wish to preserve the treasure of our friendship.

If, despite all my efforts to directly explain to you my thoughts and my feelings for you all, millions of Mexicans or hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, a few hundred or one single Mexican feels offended by my words, I have no objection in asking for excuses. What’s more, if one single child still feels offended by what I wanted to express with all honesty and affection, I humbly beg for pardon.

Fidel Castro.