Fidel Castro reads Bush
the riot act.
By Portia Siegelbaum
June 22, 2004 / Both sides of the Florida Straits are preparing for a
world without Fidel Castro.
The Bush White House is poised to enforce new get-tough measures to
hasten that day along. As of June 30, Cuban-Americans will only be able
to visit home once every three years, and practically all previously
approved travel to Cuba by US. citizens will be eliminated.
While on the island the 77-year-old Cuban leader is going public on what
he sees as life after Castro. And he doesn’t think things will be any
different than they are now
Reading a 33-minute open letter to President Bush in front of a cheering
crowd of 200,000 supporters on Monday, Castro declared a U.S. military
victory over Cuba is not possible.
“In the event of an invasion, my absence due to natural or other causes
will not affect our ability to fight and resist firmly,” he said.
Seemingly preparing his followers for the worst-case scenario, Castro
has made a U.S. military threat and his death themes of every public
appearance since the start of the Iraq war.
“Every political and military officer at every level and every
individual soldier, is a potential commander-in-chief…” Castro declared
in a reference to his own official title, Comandante en Jefe.
Castro charged Monday that the Bush Administration has plans to invade
if he dies in office.
He took the White House to task for saying the “first hours will be
decisive” with the idea of going to any lengths to prevent a new
pro-Castro political and administrative leadership from taking charge of
“Since you can only do this, by sending troops to occupy key positions
in the country, you are announcing your intention of launching a
military intervention,” Castro charged.
Castro, who has led his revolution for the past 45 years, informed Mr.
Bush that the succession is already in place.
“You will not have even one day, one hour, one minute or one second to
prevent the political and military leadership of the country from taking
charge immediately for the orders on what should be done have already
been given,” he said.
The U.S. has repeatedly denied any intention of militarily attacking
Cuba. After listening to the speech, a U.S. official told CBS News: “Mr.
Castro's speech was a retread of old themes: Cuba as victim, claims that
the U.S. is planning to invade, Bay of Pigs, the achievements of the
The official, who asked not to be named, said Castro’s problems are
domestic. “Half a million Cubans signed up in 1998 to get out of Cuba
and resettle permanently in the U.S. Seems Mr. Castro is more concerned
with creating an external boogeyman than in figuring out how to put food
on Cubans' plates.”
Castro also brandished the threat of a mass exodus to Florida shores as
a deterrent to military action. He said military action could send
Cubans to the seas, and his government might not be able to control the
This is the second government-organized protest of the stiff embargo
restrictions, and the second open letter from Castro to Mr. Bush. The
first, a march of a million Havana residents, took place May 14.
Both times Castro accused the White House of taking stronger measures
against Cuba as an election ploy in south Florida. He cautioned that
pandering to hard-line Cuban exiles could cost Mr. Bush votes next
November, and not just in Florida, home to the largest Cuban-America
community in the United States,
A Cuban-American currently visiting Havana agrees. He plans to defy the
new regulation and stay nearly another month past the June 30 deadline.
Under the new rules, Cuban-Americans can only make 14-day visits to
their country of origin.
“The historic exiles, the ones who left in the early '60s and have most
of their relatives in the United States, support the new measures. But
the rest are angry at the White House for legislating their family
relations,” he said after asking, for obvious reasons, not to be
Florida officials and businessmen have commissioned studies to predict
Cuba’s future, and the business opportunities that could open up in a
post-Castro world. One recent gathering in Coral Gables even discussed
how expensive and difficult it might be to open Coca-Cola bottling
plants on the island.
Some states, however, are unwilling to wait and have begun the limited
trading in food and agricultural items now allowed. The Minnesota
Department of Agriculture, for one, has been encouraging its state’s
sales to the island right now and pushing for a lifting of all trade
restrictions. The reason: They estimate Minnesota farmers could get
$45.5 million in new exports and the state total economic benefits of
nearly $92 million, including 900 news job, if the economic and trade
embargo was lifted.
It’s the votes of these farmers that Mr. Bush stands to lose if he
continues his current Cuba policy, say locals. “There’s room for
American products and tourists in Cuba right now,” said Victor
Hernandez, a hotel worker attending the protest rally.
Waving his hand in the direction of the U.S. Interests Section directly
behind the stage where Castro was speaking, Hernandez added, “Things
will get really bad here if they really put these new laws into effect.”
Source: La Nueva Cuba
Portia Siegelbaum has been the
CBS News producer in Havana since February. She has covered the story of
Cuba for more than 10 years. During that time, she worked on a number of
documentaries on Cuba for Discovery and the BBC.