Thank You and Farewell
The Council of State Havana, Cuba
The Honorable George W. Bush The White House Washington, D.C.
Dear Mr. President:
My final battle is nearing its end.
I have led the revolutionary struggle for so long that I have seen nine American Presidents leave office. But now it is certain that you will be the one who sees me give up my post in favor of my brother Raul, whom history commands to lead our noble Revolution and pass the torch to our next generation.
Before I relinquish my post, I must thank you for the steadfast political support you have provided for six years.
Mr. President, I have had lots of time recently to think about history. I conclude after careful analysis that not since President Kennedy has an American President done as much as you to help sustain our revolutionary project.
When President Kennedy decided to invade Cuba in 1961, it was not self-evident that we would emerge strengthened from the experience. The Revolution was young and vulnerable. We were fighting to cleanse our mountains of bandits and counterrevolutionaries. We had no allies to help us resist a full application of American military power.
But Mr. Kennedy chose to rely on Cuban mercenaries. He landed them at the Bay of Pigs, separated from the rest of Cuba by vast swamps and far from any conceivable source of support. He left them defenseless. Soon they surrendered in humiliation, and our moment of peril was shortlived.
Victory reaffirmed my personal leadership at home and throughout the Americas. But what mattered most was that President Kennedy’s decision allowed me henceforth to paint internal opponents of the Revolution as instruments of U.S. imperialism. My pledge to safeguard Cuban independence was no longer a reference to history; it was the Revolution’s response to an immediate threat. I made sure that this message was never lost on the Cuban people.
I do not wish to inject myself into your country’s political affairs, Mr. President, but something else was truly remarkable about President Kennedy’s conduct. After shamefully abandoning those men on the field of battle, he went to the Orange Bowl in Miami to bask in the applause of the survivors and their families. He accepted their flag and promised to return it “in a free Havana.” It did not matter, apparently, that his strong intentions were paired with weak measures and terrible results. Results were not required to win the support of those Cubans among you who live in hatred of me. I believe that you have taken this lesson to heart.
Since that time, other Presidents have come and gone, each doing their part to help me.
President Carter opened your ports to a wild flotilla that allowed me to export tens of thousands of undesirables.
During your father’s Administration, we watched and then dismantled the CIA’s entire operation here in Havana, and our film of your furtive agents made for a wonderful television program for the Cuban people.
Your father and President Clinton helpfully tightened your embargo (we call it the blockade) just as the Soviet Union’s demise made the Cuban people suffer the worst hardships in our history. They thereby renovated the blockade as my favorite political scapegoat.
I should also mention President Clinton’s granting 20,000 visas annually for Cubans to emigrate to the United States, a practice you have scrupulously continued. You assist me greatly by opening your doors to so many dissatisfied individuals, and by giving hope to many more that a visa might one day be theirs. When a Cuban decides to solve his problems by emigrating, his dreams of political activism come to an end.
So I thank you for that, but your contribution is much greater — like President Kennedy’s, it is of strategic proportions, and it is all the more remarkable because you live in a different time and you have carried out your task with great subtlety.
Let me explain.
Like President Kennedy, you have signaled a firm intention to bring the Revolution to an untimely end. This is an essential element that increases, for me, the political value of every other thing you do. At times you have had to temper your rhetoric because there is a limit to the number of “regime change” projects you can present at once. I fully understand this, Mr. President.
Yet when you had the State Department announce that the United States “will not accept a succession scenario” and that you seek to “hasten the end of the dictatorship in Cuba;” when you spoke cryptically about keeping lists of so-called human rights abusers; and when you had your top diplomat in Havana explain that a :successful transition process has an aspect of the punitive,” your signals came through loud and clear. The Revolution’s top leaders comprehend that this is personal; that their loss could be personal and complete if certain plans for “democracy” come to fruition. We have never before experienced such cohesion.
More than this, you have helped me to manage the difficult political task of governing a population where so many yearn for profound change.
Your 500-page report on “assistance to a free Cuba” presents detailed American notions on so many aspects of our national life — who ever thought to include management of Cuba’s national parks, Mr. President? — that even my strongest opponents wondered what part of governance could possibly be left for Cubans after a “transition to democracy” takes place. And when you named a “Cuba Transition Coordinator” to work in the State Department, that was, as you say, icing on the cake.
But your report’s greatest achievement was powerfully to fuel the average Cuban’s fear of change — a sentiment that has always helped me politically, even among Cubans who dislike my policies.
You envisioned that in a “transition” former owners of homes might return to Cuba and evict the “tenants” of those homes. This was a special gift, because here there is no greater generator of fear and unity than the thought of losing one’s home to a former owner returning from abroad. Also appreciated were the proposals that Cubans might have to pay for the health care and education they now receive for free, and retirees might have to return to work. My comrades who manage agitation and propaganda welcomed these clear, simple proposals, and they have used them widely in cartoons, billboards, radio spots, and essays.
You also tightened the blockade in useful ways. You did nothing to threaten our economic growth, which as you know from the CIA’s estimates is now eight percent.
But you did help me address a perennial political problem. Cubans agree with me that the blockade is unjust, but after five decades that message often gets stale. Political scapegoats work best when they are fresh.
In that regard it was very helpful that your new sanctions target Cuban families directly, limiting visits to once every three years, and banning any visits, cash, or gift parcels to aunts, nephews, cousins, and others not deemed “immediate family” in your regulations. Every Cuban knows a family that is affected, and they know the reason is Washington’s plan for a “transition to democracy.”
I recognize that you paid a political price for making it almost impossible for Americans to travel here for academic, religious, cultural, humanitarian, and people-to-people programs. As one who imposes travel controls of my own, I am familiar with the criticism. But it was worth it, I assure you. Our security services appreciate the reduced workload, and from an ideological perspective we prefer to have fewer Americans here. It has also been useful that you have virtually stopped visits of Cuban scholars to the United States.
The electronic sign you placed on the wall of your diplomatic mission in Havana last February was an interesting innovation. Its moving letters remind me of Times Square at night. Naturally, I had to treat this as a provocation. But it was with mixed emotions that I ordered a sea of black flags erected to block it from view because, true to form, you filled it with messages that were truly offensive to the Cuban people. They make their own jokes about communism, and did not like jokes sent by the United States government. In March, when you listed every food item on the free breakfast menu of the Miami public schools, the people thought you were flaunting your wealth and making fun of their hunger. Mr. President, you showed a rare skill by turning your abundance and Cuban shortages to my political advantage. Again I express my gratitude.
Last but not least, there is your aid to Cuba’s so-called dissidents. For years, I have attempted to discredit these individuals as agents of your government, and it has not always been easy. But then you made your aid to them a pillar of your effort to bring a “transition” to Cuba, and you helpfully announced that your programs have aspects that are secret for operational and security reasons, which leads everyone’s imagination to the CIA. Making my case has never been easier. Needless to say, you have done us another favor by managing the program so loosely that some of your Miami friends have used government money to send cashmere sweaters, Godiva chocolates, and PlayStations to these activists.
So you can see why I place you in President Kennedy’s category. Your words are fierce, your actions pose no threat, and your policy helps both you and me politically.
Looking ahead, Mr. President, I find myself wishing that my brother were like yours, gracefully exiting political life just as you approach the end of your term. This is an idle hope, of course, considering that my brother Raul has a constitutional obligation to succeed me.
Yet it is clear that he has his own ideas, and they are not entirely to my liking. He may lack the inclination and desire to plan and administer the economy in every detail, as is required of a true socialist leader. For years, he has admired the deviationist course of our Chinese comrades. I allowed him to carry out some reform ideas in our defense industries the 1980’s and then in the larger economy when our crisis of the 1990’s left me little choice.
In his interim role, Raul has respectfully refrained from changing policies, but he is busy sending signals that gain him political support at my expense. The bureaucracy already loves him because he only works during normal business hours and never calls meetings in the middle of the night — a trait that I know you share, but I have found irregular hours to be a great way to keep people on their toes. Everyone loves his brevity; his speeches since July 31 still do not add up to the length of one of mine. In one speech, instead of extolling our achievements in housing and transportation, he told the entire nation that he is sick of hearing excuses. His solution to corruption seems to involve risky economic theories rather than more rigorous planning, control, and discipline. He is encouraging open debate, a recipe for ideological disorder.
Yet I trust my brother. Where I am going, I will only be able to watch to see if indeed he undertakes a dreaded economic “opening.” The theory is that he can create new jobs and growth and become popular among misguided Cubans who want a taste of capitalism.
Whatever course he chooses, we know that because your Helms-Burton law took away all your diplomatic options, the United States will be sidelined from any diplomacy involving Cuba for years to come. For Raul’s sake, it was good of you not to tinker with that law, Mr. President.
You can see that Cuba’s future has an element of risk. After all you have done, it would be excessive for me to ask that you do more to safeguard our Revolution in a time of change and uncertainty. But if you choose to exercise a stabilizing influence, you know precisely what to do, I am quite sure of that.
I bid you farewell and remain yours,
In deepest gratitude,
Fidel Castro Ruz
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