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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

Mort Zuckerman on Fidel Castro

Posted August 07, 2006 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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USnews.com | By Mortimer B. Zuckerman

Several years and many requests went by before I was finally granted my first one-on-one interview with Fidel Castro. But it was well worth waiting for. When we first sat down, we began talking at about 8 p.m. and didn’t finish till 5 the next morning, with Fidel’s translator, Juanita, providing brilliant support throughout. For the first four to five hours, Fidel pumped me for all kinds of information about America, from the role of the news media to race relations, from politics to the economy. Once he had exhausted his curiosity about the United States, he began answering my questions about Cuba, all of them.

The interview took place about 15 years ago, and we focused intently on two subjects. One was the Cuban missile crisis; the other was Fidel’s experience with the Russians and their military advisers, whom he utterly disdained.

Balls and strikes. To my surprise, as I was touring a medical research center after we finished talking, Fidel showed up and offered to serve as tour guide. We spent the rest of the day together, and the next two days after that. Each night, we sat down for dinner at about 8 or 9 p.m. and talked for seven or eight hours. At one point, I asked Fidel what was the biggest mistake he had ever made. He answered immediately: aligning himself too closely with Moscow.

To this day, I have one regret from that first visit. On my last day in Havana, Fidel invited me to join him at the Cuban World Series, which was to start the next day. In our younger days, both of us had been pitchers, and we both still keenly enjoyed the game. I had pressing business back home, however, and decided to leave. Terrible call. What a gas it would have been to sit next to Fidel in the Havana sunshine, talking balls and strikes.

We met many times after that, each time talking deep into the night about what was going on with our respective countries and about the prospect of improved Cuban-American relations. During my last visit, just a few months back, Fidel brought up the Cuban missile crisis again and mused sadly about how it had had such an awful effect on relations between our countries.

Fidel is one of the most intellectually curious men I have ever met, and, despite his advancing age, he showed no sign of flagging when I saw him last. In fact, he was consumed by two issues. Cuba’s energy grid had failed in three provinces during last year’s hurricane season, and Fidel had ordered a top-to-bottom review of the system and its reliance on old Soviet-bloc generators. He decided the old generators had to go, replaced them with smaller ones, and allocated funds to begin providing Cuban families with new energy-efficient appliances—all purchased from China. As he was explaining all this, he escorted me to a room next to his office filled with the new Chinese gadgets and began citing from memory Cuba’s hour-by-hour consumption of energy, the energy efficiencies of the new generators, and the cost savings from reduced energy imports. Without pausing for breath, he then segued into a description of another new program, to reward Cubans who use less energy rather than assessing everyone the same consumption cost. I told Fidel he was becoming a capitalist, but he disagreed. He was no capitalist, he said; he was just approaching the subject rationally. But Fidel, I replied, that’s what capitalists do. Our conversation was filled with moments like that. Indeed, as I reflect on the 150 to 200 hours of conversations with him, I am impressed that a man who maintained such iron-fisted control over such an authoritarian regime could be possessed of such a roving, inquisitive mind.

One of the things that amused me about Fidel was that he gauged his political strength not by the number of votes he won but by his opposition—the number of ballots destroyed, left blank, or marked with a “No.” From the limited view I had as I strolled around Havana, I had little sense that Fidel’s opposition has increased; if anything, Cuba’s improved economy, thanks to its surge in tourism, has led to a relative degree of contentment in the country.

It has been my experience in all walks of life, and in all the activities I have been involved in, that you meet people in the most unusual of circumstances, and either you do or don’t strike a bond with them. Fidel Castro was somebody with whom, despite our deep political differences, I was able to establish an extraordinary bond, with a remarkable ease of conversation. I look forward to talking with him again soon.

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Member Comments

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On August 07, 2006, Andrew Watson wrote:

Mortimer Zuckerman, really should be the one drafting a plan for sane normallized U.S.-Cuba relations. I, in my many visits to Cuba and when I immerse into the population, get a feeling about the real support Fidel has. When we unravel the rhetoric from the two countries we have two nations that really should be close friends. Fidel reached out in the very beginning and was shunned by vice president Nixon. It was at this point, Fidel reached out to the Soviets and at a huge cost. Deep down, Fidel is an idealist and really does care about all Cubanos. I am a true believer that dialogue could be had if the government of the United States showed respect to Fidel. He has delivered a society that has drastictly improved in education and health care. Many Latin American countries are envious of Cuba’s accomplishments and are seeking Cuba’s aid to help make their countries better. Fidel is not a perfect man, but the one thing I am very sure of, he is not the evil tyrant that the American government and tainted media have painted him to be. Some leaders in the past have accomplished sane personal relations with Fidel. Jimmy Carter and Pierre Trudeau had an understanding and mutual respect with Fidel. If a saner U.S.A. emerges sometime soon, it would be prudent to understand that some form of socialized healthcare and education combined with democracy and the ability to advance through capitalism is not a bad thing. In fact, the U.S.A. does have normal relations with such countries as Canada, France and Great Britan. It does not take a brain surgeon that extreme examples of communism and capitalism does not work. I do think the two examples of this is the U.S.A. and Cuba. I have read that waste of paper that Condie Rice and crew concocted. It would be far easier and less complicated for Cuba to start allowing other parties (not communist members) to run in the election system they currently have. Slowly ease into capitalism and begin taking in taxes from commerce. The government of Canada has already installed and helped the government of Cuba to be able administer tax collection. Actually, maybe Canada should get to work with Fidel to help Cuba evolve properly after Fidel leaves this earth. Sanity goes a long way with Fidel, unfortunatly the U.S.A. needs to find its own sanity before it imposes kaos in other countries in the world. I need not provide a list of Bush disasters in the works.

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On August 07, 2006, J. Perez wrote:

The world today would surely be a better place if Mr. Bush, as Mr. Zuckerman points out about Fidel, was an intellectually curious person. Cuba will change, will the US.?

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On August 08, 2006, Ralph wrote:

The reality on the ground is something like this: 30-35% of the population
support Castro regime,25% of them to their bones.65%-70% of the cuban
people are not uphold the castrism,15% of them are active,they are the core
of the real dissidence in Cuba,many are suffering prison,siege,etc,the rest
make utterances against Castro,se ëxplotan” a veces,but they have many
fears of being jailed,etc,the fact is that pent-up emotions against fidelism
are usual,simmering public discontent is customary in los barrios.The upholders
of Castrism are general,officials of the army,security apparatus,other organizations and normal people,so they have the real control of the situation,but by no means they could keep their control in a medium run without changes.Indeed the health index in Cuba are better than many of
the latinamerican countries,but the reality is the health programme in Cuba
is one thing on the official papers and reports and other very different in the
real life of the cuban on a daily basis,the lack of drugs,the lack of facilities is
since the last eighties a constant,no for the cronies,and privileged segment of
the population,but for the vast majority of the cubans.The education and sport achievement were so good in the seventies and eighties,after they have
been not so good and the cubans know about .The power of Castro has been
the rare ability to make many mistakes but find the way out,it is beyond question that Castro has the talent of leadership,he dreamt about Freedom
and better life not just for Cuba but also for the latinamerican countries,but
after some years in Power,he forgot everything and just enjoy the power and
become a tyran,nobody has facts to put straightfoward that deny that the castrism is just a dictatorship b/c even if 30% are supporting it,70% are fed
up with living like this and then the repression,the oppression make their inroads into and you have many people in jail just for criticizing the regime,
and in many places simmering public discontent.So at the end of the day we
will see that Castrism is a Fiasco.
changes

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On August 08, 2006, MiamiCuban wrote:

I agree with J. Perez, in that I don’t foresee the present U.S. administration making any changes.  Bush never acknowledges the mistakes he’s made in the past, and he lacks the sensibilities and wisdom so necessary for diplomacy.  I think it will take a new administration in the U.S., one more open to dialogue and exchange as in the Carter years, as Andrew Watson noted in his post.

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On January 23, 2010, kinggging wrote:

It is appalling and behooves me to ask what stake do you have in your romance with a dictator of Stalinist- Maoist thread. Mort claims his “conpatriota” is an idealist! Maybe even a true closet Capitalist. How about megalomaniac narcissist?  The premise of the interview was simply to bond with a tyrant. The seduction a lust for attention from Fidel is seen in Mort’s choice of pros . Notice how Mort declines an invitation from Castro to a Havana “World Series’ baseball game “playing hard to get” as if he was being courted to attend the prom. Why would Mort play hard to get this time as if you have not slept with him before? A Left wing journalist , publisher , billionaire is a simply promiscuous intellectual double standard capitalist . A slut. These comments I make today are three years after this article is written. Today Mort expresses disdain for the liberalism in the Democratic Party with socialist thread of the Obama Admin’s view of America. The one Mort had planned on a blind date with Fidel’s Cuba. Mort I think you should invite Fidel back to your apartment in NY and iron things out bring one of you supporter Mr.Watson as chaperone.

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On January 23, 2010, jimbo wrote:

You are absolutely wrong about Bush. Ask any oppressed citizen any where in the world who their favorite American president is and it is unanamously Bush.

The pinheads and left wing freaks want freedom and democracy for themselves but don’t care about the rest of the world. They like weakness and apologies like this historical wimp in the white house is serving up.

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On January 23, 2010, jimbo wrote:

I would like to get feedback as to kingging’s comment above. If anyone thinks it is valuable please make a comment. I am assuming that if a comment does not get feedback it needs to be more insightful. If you agree let me know. Kingging says he doesn’t care if no one responds. I think no response implies no value.

What do you all say?

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On January 23, 2010, kinggging wrote:

Here is my response to kingging comments. It seems that you want to support Bush who obvious does not support Castro and at the same time you want to give credence to Mort’s comment assessment on Castro that have no value or truth. You seem to be the same double standard capitalist Mort is but likely a irrelavent republican who may vote for snake oil moderate democrat with a good sales pitch that convinced you to buy shares of real value Boston Properties , Inc., a REIT M. Zuckerman chairs.
your truelly, King’s alter ego

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On January 23, 2010, jimbo wrote:

I am not sure what you mean, all I said is that I thought Bush was an excellent president. I am not a liberal, I vote small government all the time,
I believe Cuba is the perfect example of big oppressive government.

No one likes or respects Zuckerman so why waste your time with him. I actually thought he was laid off or working part time.

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On January 23, 2010, Lee wrote:

Jimbo,
Mort is a billionaire…Laid off? spoken like a true Bush airhead.

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On January 24, 2010, Yeyo wrote:

Billionaire?? that’s the kind of friends that Fidel enjoy.