Castro on Obama: ‘An honest man’

Excerpts from speech delivered by President Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City on Saturday (April 11), as translated by Progreso Weekly. The translator’s clarifications appear [in brackets].


We have expressed to President Barack Obama — and I reiterate this to him now — our readiness to a respectful dialogue and a civilized coexistence between both States, within our profound differences.

A younger Barack Obama.
A younger Barack Obama.

I appreciate as a positive step his recent statement that he will decide swiftly upon the presence of Cuba on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism on which it never should have been, imposed under the government of President [Ronald] Reagan.

We, a terrorist country! Yes, we’ve engaged in some acts of solidarity with other peoples that might be considered terrorist, when we were at bay, cornered and harassed unto infinity. There was only one alternative: surrender or struggle. You know which one we chose, with the support of our people.

Who could think that we were going to force an entire nation to make the sacrifice that the Cuban people have made to survive, to help other nations? (APPLAUSE). But “the Castro dictatorship forced them” — same as it “forced” 97.5 percent of the population to vote for socialism.

I repeat that I appreciate as a positive step President Obama’s recent statement that he will decide swiftly on the presence of Cuba on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, where [Cuba] should never have appeared, as I told you, because, when this was foisted on us, it turns out that we “terrorists” were the ones who contributed the dead — I don’t remember the exact number — just the victims of terrorism inside Cuba and, in some cases, Cuban diplomats in other parts of the world who were assassinated.

My comrades just gave me the figures: at that time, we had 3,478 dead and 2,099 disabled for life, plus many others who were wounded.

CIA agent Félix Rodríguez during younger days.
CIA agent Félix Rodríguez during younger days.

The “terrorists” were the ones who contributed the dead. Where did the terror come from, then? Who provoked it? They were some who have been in Panama in recent days, like CIA agent [Félix] Rodríguez, who murdered Che [Guevara] and took away his severed hands to prove, through his fingerprints (I don’t know where) that it was the body of Che, which we later recovered through the efforts of a friendly government in Bolivia. But, well, ever since then we’ve been “terrorists.”

I truly apologize to President Obama and other attendees to this event for expressing myself this way. I told him in person that passion flows out my pores when it comes to the Revolution. I apologize to him because President Obama is not responsible for any of this. How many [U.S.] presidents have we known? Ten before him; all of them have a debt with us, except for President Obama.

After saying so many harsh things about a system, it is fair that I apologize to him, because I am one of those who think — and I have expressed this to several chiefs of State and Government who I see here, with whom I’ve had private meetings in my country — that, in my opinion, President Obama is an honest man.

I have read part of his biography in the two books that have appeared — not in their entirety, I’ll do that more calmly. I admire his humble origin and think that his demeanor is an expression of that humble origin. (PROLONGED APPLAUSE).

I pondered these words a lot before speaking them. I even wrote them down and erased them. I wrote them down again and I erased them again. Finally, I spoke them — and I’m satisfied.

So far, the economic, commercial and financial blockade that has been applied in full force against the island has provoked damages and shortages to our people and is the essential obstacle to the development of our economy. It constitutes a violation of International Law and its extraterritorial reach affects the interests of all the States.

The almost unanimous vote [against the blockade] at the United Nations for so many consecutive years — with the exception of Israel and the United States itself — is not fortuitous. And while the blockade exists — which is not the President’s responsibility and, because of subsequent accords and laws, was codified in Congress with a law that the President cannot amend — we have to continue to struggle and support President Obama in his intention to liquidate the blockade (APPLAUSE).

Establishing diplomatic relations is one thing; the blockade is something else. That is why I ask you all — and life also obligates us — to continue to support that struggle against the blockade.

[To read the entire speech, in Spanish, click here.]