Cuba Politics

Sean Penn interviews Raul Castro - Obama meeting and subservient to Fidel

Posted November 26, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

Rob Sequin | Havana Journal

This article touches on two points taken from Sean Penn’s interview with President Raul Castro; Raul Castro’s interest to meet with President Obama and Raul Castro’s subservient behavior to Fidel Castro.

From what I know of Sean Penn, he is a real left wing Liberal socialist and outspoken hater of President Bush. I always discounted anything I heard him say.

Then I read this article he wrote for regarding his personal interviews with Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro. After reading the article I still think Sean Penn is a left wing Liberal socialist but I do give him credit for asking some pressing questions to Raul Castro AND writing down so much during their SEVEN hour meeting.

One thing that I have learned to do well during my ten year long interest in Cuba is to read between the lines so I have pulled out a few paragraphs that stood out for me and summarized them with my comments. I look forward to reading other Havana Journal readers’ comments on the article and my commentary.


I give Sean Penn credit for pressing President Castro on his willingness to meet with President Obama Sean Penn is the narrator here:

““What about Guantánamo?” I ask. “I’ll tell you the truth,” (Raul) Castro says. “The base is our hostage. As a president, I say the US should go. As a military man, I say let them stay.” Inside, I’m wondering, Have I got a big story to break here? Or is this of little relevance? It should be no surprise that enemies speak behind the scenes. What is a surprise is that he’s talking to me about it. And with that, I circle back to the question of a meeting with Obama. “Should a meeting take place between you and our next president, what would be Cuba’s first priority?” Without a beat, Castro answers, “Normalize trade.”“


I want to ask Castro my unanswered question a final time, as our mutual body language suggests we’ve hit the witching hour. It is after 1 am, but he initiates. “Now,” he says, “you asked if I would accept to meet with [Obama] in Washington. I would have to think about it. I would discuss it with all my comrades in the leadership. Personally, I think it would not be fair that I be the first to visit, because it is always the Latin American presidents who go to the United States first. But it would also be unfair to expect the president of the United States to come to Cuba. We should meet in a neutral place.”

He pauses, putting down his empty wine glass. “Perhaps we could meet at Guantánamo. We must meet and begin to solve our problems, and at the end of the meeting, we could give the president a gift…we could send him home with the American flag that waves over Guantánamo Bay.”


I like the tone of Raul Castro’s reply. It is pragmatic and without much propaganda. You would not get this answer from Fidel. With regards to Raul discussing it “with all my comrades in the leadership”, of course he means “If Fidel says I can”. Read on to see why I am more convinced than ever that Raul answers to Fidel. I know sense more than ever after reading this article (see my comments below) that Fidel is the willing master and Raul is the willing submissive.


These three partial paragraphs are unedited but taken out of the article as written. Collectively they offer an interesting insight into the relationship between Raul Castro and Fidel Castro. Sean Penn is the narrator:

“Soon enough I’m sitting at a small polished table in a government office with President Castro and a translator. “Fidel called me moments ago,” he tells me. “He wants me to call him after we have spoken.” There is a humor in Raúl’s voice that recalls a lifetime of affectionate tolerance for his big brother’s watchful eye. “He wants to know everything we speak about,” he says with the chuckle of the wise.”


“Raúl interrupts himself: “You are probably thinking, Oh, the brother talks as much as Fidel!” We laugh. “It is not usually so, but you know, Fidel—once he had a delegation here, in this room, from China. Several diplomats and a young translator. I think it was the translator’s first time with a head of state. They’d all had a very long flight and were jet-lagged. Fidel, of course, knew this, but still he talked for hours. Soon, one near the end of the table, just there [pointing to a nearby chair], his eyes begin to get heavy. Then another, then another. But Fidel, he continued to talk. Soon all, including the highest-ranking of them, to whom Fidel had been directly addressing his words, fell sound asleep in their chairs. So Fidel, he turns his eyes to the only one awake, the young translator, and kept him in conversation till dawn.” By this time in the story, both Raúl and I were in stitches.”


As we exit his office, we are followed by staff as President Castro takes me down the elevator to the lobby and walks me to my waiting car. I thank him for the generosity of his time. As my driver puts the car in gear, the president taps on the window beside me. I roll it down as the president checks his watch, realizing that seven hours have passed since we began the interview. Smiling, he says, “I will call Fidel now. I can promise you this. When Fidel finds I have spoken to you for seven hours, he will be sure to give you seven and a half when you return to Cuba.” We share a laugh and a last handshake.


You can read how subservient Raul is to his older brother Fidel.

First, Fidel calls Raul about a meeting with Sean Penn? Is that really necessary? I can only imagine how much Fidel must interfere with Raul on bigger issues. Then Fidel tells Raul to call him back right after the meeting? This is important to Fidel and worthy of attention from the President of Cuba? Why can’t Raul’s aide brief Fidel after the meeting. Remember, we’re only talking about Sean Penn here. No offense to Sean Penn but he is not exactly a world leader or even really a person of influence.

Second, Raul tells the story of how long winded and frankly, rude Fidel Castro was to his Chinese guests and Sean Penn says they were “in stitches” meaning that Raul was telling this story in a derogatory way towards Fidel. I think Raul would probably like to have had that story off the record.

Third, after a seven hour meeting, it is the first order of business for Raul to call Fidel AND Raul gets in one more dig at Fidel stating how Fidel will have to our perform Raul.

All this is a pretty sad look into Raul’s submissive personality and lack of independent leadership ability… all this in his own words. If Fidel reads my summary of this article in the Havana Journal, Raul’s phone will probably ring yet again.

Member Comments

On November 26, 2008, abh wrote:

Rob: are you surprised that Fidel is a micromanaging control freak?  Really?
I thought that story about Fidel with the tired Chinese folks was hilarious, and I have to say that Raul’s sense of humor is probably his most redeeming quality.  I’m not a big fan of him but I think that his humor and his habits like drinking more accurately reflect the Cuban populace than some of Fidel’s more outlandish practices.

On November 27, 2008, cubanpete wrote:

Did Sean Penn remember to wear his knee pads?  No wonder Madonna divorced him.  smile

On November 28, 2008, edward wrote:

I agree with ABH…

It does indeed sound like they both have a sense of humour. Mostly in public of course one would rarely get to see this side as they have a serious role to play. It’s also interesting to get an indication into the machinations of the cuban administration without all the crap that’s thrown around.

I thought Penn’s journalistic style to be refreshingly honest and free of bullshit, which makes a change from most of the other stuff that passes for journalism and reporting today. I too thought the story about the chinese delegation especially amusing. Penn has done well to enable Raul to relax enough to be quite candid about the politics of Cuba and the relationship with America. Good stuff, and Sean, if you’re reading this, I look forward to reading the transcript of your interview with Fidel.

On November 28, 2008, abh wrote:

It really is funny that Penn is doing this…
But Publisher I agree that the most interesting part of the article is how Raul refers to Guantanamo.  I never have been able to figure out how it was the Castro brothers   looked at that issue.
Also the way he immediately says “normalize trade”.
We are on the precipice here but it is going to be a delicate situation, I can feel it.