What did Fidel, the humorist world statesman, mean?

By Ron Ridenour

Havana, Cuba, Summer 2010.

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 15 — A former self-confessed socialist turned mass media career writer and friend of Zionism, Jeffrey Goldberg, wrote an important think piece on a probable war against Iran: “The Point of No Return”, The Atlantic, September, 2010 issue.

A prolific reader and analyst of world affairs, Fidel Castro read the article and took a unique tactical step: he invited the Establishment writer to hear the leader of Cuba’s revolution “warn the world public opinion hoping…to contribute to avoid” yet another war in the Middle East that could “have lethal consequences for the rest of the world. This is what Fidel told his University of Havana audience, September 10, in response to Goldberg’s writings. (http://havanatimes.org/?p=29161)

Fidel accepted the presence of Goldberg’s friend, Julia Sweig, the Council of Foreign Relations director for Latin American Studies, a Rockefeller Senior Fellow. Fidel and Sweig also know one another. I believe Fidel knew that with Sweig present he could send a message directly to the major capitalist class and its politicians in Washington and Jerusalem. (http://www.cfr.org/about/history/cfr/anniversary_foreword.html)

But Fidel made a mistake by not having the sessions tape recorded—or did he. Perhaps his people did record the conversations but Fidel decided to let his style of talking between the lines lead
to interpretations of what he meant. As it stands now there is voluminous speculation about what Fidel really meant about two important issues: 1) Does the Cuban “model” work? 2) Did Fidel make a mistake in the 1962 missile crisis?

1) What did Fidel mean when he replied to Goldberg’s question: “I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.” Both Goldberg and Fidel agree that Fidel replied: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

Goldberg wants us to believe that there can only be the literal interpretation: it doesn’t work. And then, one is to assume Fidel is advocating some form of capitalism. Goldberg, however, is unaware of how humorous Fidel is.

Fidel Castro with Rev. Lucius Walker Jr. in July 2010

Fidel explained his reply during his September 10 speech, in which his new book, “The strategic counteroffensive”, was launched. He said that Goldberg’s question “implicitly suggested that Cuba exported the Revolution”, something Fidel has long denied, at least since the end of the 1960s. So, I think that Fidel’s reply was a humorous way of saying Cuba does not export its economy or its revolution generally.

Fidel has always opposed the capitalist system, as he reiterated in this speech, but his government was forced to survive upon the fall of Cuba’s economic-political partners in 1989-90, and it adopted various market mechanisms, partial sales of some property and joint ventures with foreign capital, plus the use of foreign currency by all who can acquire such—still a minority of the population. These regressions from socialism have sometimes been employed by nearly all communist party-led governments from the time of the New Deal during Lenin’s life down to today.

Ron Ridenour

Cuban leaders are indicating that the economy is failing, and more reforms are about to occur. But are the ones just announced—cutting out one million state employees, encouraging them to become self-employed or join new private companies—the best for a socialist economy and equalitarianism? I doubt it. What should be reformed?

As a solidarity worker-writer for and with Cuba since April 1961, and during eight years working for Cuban media, I have long encouraged implementing worker control, putting the working class truly in power by diminishing the nearly exclusive power of government officials (and civil servant bureaucrats) to make the most important decisions. In short, to stimulate worker enthusiasm, worker creativity and production, let Cuba be what is called a “proletarian dictatorship”, and thereby a more true democracy. That cannot happen if “new private enterprises”, as the government announces, are in the hands of employers, that is, capitalists. Workers must be the owners and producers, and decision-makers.

2) On the matter of whether Fidel was mistaken about the 1962 missile crisis when, according to Goldberg, Fidel “recommend[ed] that the Soviets bomb the U.S.” And Fidel allegedly answered, “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.”

I will not try to interpret what Fidel meant, but he did not say he had been mistaken in his September 10 speech. Read Fidel’s reply. (http://havanatimes.org/?p=29161)
I must admit I am uncertain what Fidel really did mean. He goes on to talk about a drunken Russian president.

Fidel Castro during a July visit to the National Aquarium. Photo: estudios revolucion

What is important about this question of possible nuclear war back then is that Fidel is worried about nuclear war today. It seems that he is so worried that he has taken the extraordinary step of criticizing an ally, Iran, which is aiding Cuba economically. According to Goldberg, Fidel “criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the `unique´ history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.”

Unfortunately, in this writing on his blog, Goldberg does not actually quote Fidel’s criticism but rather describes and interprets it. The same can be said about the title of this September 7 piece: “Fidel to Ahmadinejad: `Stop Slandering the Jews´”. While the inter-quotes indicate these are Fidel’s words, this is not written in the text.

Fidel seems to appeal to Jews around the world, including Zionists, by speaking favorably about them, their culture and religion, their long struggle of survival against pogroms and the Holocaust, and he spoke admiringly of their resistance and intelligence. He told Goldberg, “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims.”

Fidel seems to appeal to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Muslims around the world, in his September 10 speech: “Muslims were attacked and persecuted for their beliefs by the European Christians for much more than 12 centuries.”

He added: “Palestinians are deprived [of] their lands, their homes are demolished by gigantic equipment, and men, women and children are bombed with white phosphorous and other extermination means.” And he added that other Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are being murdered by conflicts imposed upon them by US presidents.


1. To Goldberg: Perhaps you were not allowed to tape record, otherwise tape recording important interviews with leaders is essential to avoid just what is happening: “I didn’t mean that”. Always double check when in doubt about what leaders mean, especially if you are not allowed to tape record. Then again, perhaps Goldberg was pleased that the meaning was vague, not elaborated upon. In that way, he could make a sensation.

2. Regardless of the exactness of the statements in question what is important about Fidel’s initiative here is that this great political leader and statesman is speaking directly to the major players and encouraging an ally and two enemies to accept the olive branch.

3. Fidel is also encouraging criticism and self-critique among friends and allies.

I hope that political leaders, communist party members, solidarity workers with Cuba, with all ALBA lands and oppressed peoples take Fidel’s intentions to heart. We must be open to dialogue, to criticism and self-critique. And we must work tirelessly to prevent and stop wars.

PS: Fidel invited Goldberg, Sweig and Adela Dworin, the president of Cuba’s Jewish community to see his favorite animals exercise in Cuba’s dolphin aquarium. Goldberg wrote that Fidel thinks the dolphin show is the best in the world, “completely unique”, because it is an underwater show with human divers performing acrobatics with them. And Goldberg concluded that he had never seen anyone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel did.

I know the show myself. It was a favorite of mine when I lived there. What is interesting to me about this is: a) The world’s major communist leader is a fan of these intelligent kindly animals and sends a message to war makers: be as gentle as dolphins; b) On the same day, I was observing a wild dolphin “show” where Rio Sado meets the Atlantic Ocean, in Setúbal, Portugal. And this was during Europe’s largest festival (Avante newspaper) of communists and other leftists sending a message of world peace.

6 thoughts on “What did Fidel, the humorist world statesman, mean?

  • I’ve been studying Cuba under Castro over forty years now and he meant exactly what he stated. There’s some
    great changes happening in Cuba and the integration of Cuban Expatriates with those now living in Cuba
    will make this country one of the finest in the world. This will get better and more interesting….

  • As a long-time watcher, and admirer, of Fidel Castro, I must say that I find his words, once again, of extreme importance to the world.

    I.e., when he says, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”, it is an acknowledgement that the Cuban ‘revolutionary’ model does not work *anymore*, in the new world environment. It is simply an admission of fact that the world has changed, Cuba has changed, and Fidel has changed. What is so controversial about this ‘truth’? There can be no doubt that the revolutionary model was influenced by forces outside Cuba’s borders, both on the left and the right. There can be no doubt that the time has come for the revolutionary model to be retired, and in its place a “Cuban” model, that incorporates the aspirations of ‘all’ Cubans. What has been misinterpreted in these words is that the revolutionary model had, or has, no credible legitimacy. An unfortunate twist of the meaning and intent of Fidel’s words.

    The people of Cuba have paid a very high price for ‘their’ revolution. It is a price that entails suffering and hardship, but it is also a price that produced a population literacy and life-expectancy equal if not exceeding that of the United States; the highest in Latin America. Prosperity is fleeting, as millions of Americans have come to realize, but the legitimacy of the socialist movement throughout Latin America is just becoming evident, as the Cuban model is shown to be ‘no longer’ relevant. That in no way is a admission of failure, it is simply the realization that the time for change has arrived. Although Fidel has denied repeatedly that Cuba does not export revolution, the present ascendancy of socialist governments throughout the region cannot be envisioned without the support of the Cuban revolution. It was to Fidel, and Cuba, that those who were called terrorists, looked to for support, and now are the leaders of progressive governments throughout the region.

    These words are not to minimize the unfortunate communist aspects of the Cuban revolution. Neither are they an excuse for the inhumanity suffered by those who tried to subvert that revolution. ‘All’ are Cuban, ‘all’ are equally deserving of their Cuban heritage, and ‘all’ should be equally proud that the Cuban people have endured the longest revolution in the modern era. Fidel himself fully recognizes that he, who fathered that revolutionary model, is still relevant as the one who should lead in the dismantling of that model. Thank God, he still has the life and the ability to do so.

  • Well done CED!

    I think there is a sort of aggreement between the two Castro
    Little Castro takes care of Cuba
    older Castro of international affairs

  • I’ll have to admit. There will never be another political figure with the cunnig, timing and mass understanding as Fidel Castro Ruz, never.
    Look at his latest inspiration. He comes out of seclusion to prophesize a world catastrofic war between US/Israel against Iran. I returned from Cuba a few weeks ago and a lot of the people I engage in conversation, they seem accepting this event as inevitable. Then, he begins ponticiating and calling on Obama and other Western leaders to exercise prudence. Well here I will indulge myself and predict the future:
    a) if such stupid event takes place, Fidel was right all the time and he apealled and beg but failed to be heard. And (b) if such an event never happens, Fidel will announce that in his modest ways, perhaps his words contribute to defuse the situation thus modestly contributed to World Peace. What a crock!
    How about addressing the real problems of his fellow citizens instead of day dreamins apocaliptic scenarions.

  • George I am sorry but Fidel mean exactly this
    “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore”
    no interpretation is needed.
    Why is everyone trying to interpret ?
    He was never a man of few words and one who could have a way with words so he knew exactly what he was saying.

  • Just a quick comment with regards to the “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore” statement, and Fidel’s response to Goldberg that it meant the exact opposite of how the capitalist press interpreted it.

    I think what Fidel meant was that the international situation and resulting special period which he recently said hadn’t ended, has so saturated Cuba with elements of capitalism that the Cuban model isn’t working, i.e. it is not socialist enough. I am not referring to the recent changes afoot, the introduction of private self-employment and co-operatives as these can still be seen as socialist, but the foriegn companies operating in Cuba and the underground market are examples of capitalist corruption. Thus in answer to whether Cuba should export its revolution, Fidel was merely observing that Cuba hasn’t even managed to secure socialism internally yet, let alone export it.

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