Cuban President Fidel Castro recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of his nation's socialist revolution.
In a great number of Latin American countries there were better objective conditions for a revolution than there had been in Cuba. And we gave them our support...
At the beginning of the Revolution ... we made two statements, which we called the First Declaration of Havana and the Second Declaration of Havana. That was during a rally of over a million people in Revolutionary Square. Through these declarations, we were responding to the plans hatched in the United States against Cuba and against Latin America -- because the United States forced every Latin American country to break off relations with Cuba. ... [These declarations] said that an armed struggle should not be embarked on if there existed legal and constitutional conditions for a peaceful civic struggle. That was our thesis in relation to Latin America. But remember that there was Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, the military governments in El Salvador, the repressive governments which have caused the disappearance of more than 100,000 people in Guatemala, since 1954 right up to our days. In Venezuela they had Perez Jimenez, and so on and so forth. There were constant repressive governments which closed up all the legal avenues.
So our thesis ... was that if legal and constitutional avenues for the [socialist] struggle existed, they should be pursued. We have always defended that thesis, and it was actually the thesis they applied in Chile. There were several countries, like Uruguay, for instance, where the left was very strong, and they acted within the framework of the constitution. In Argentina, there were frequent coups d'etat, and there were coups in other Latin American countries. So the legal channels were interrupted.
On Cuban support for Chilean President Salvador Allende:
Allende was an outstanding figure, a very talented, capable man, very honorable. And also a man of peace, a very good friend of the Cuban revolution, and a leftist. I would say he had a socialist mentality. So we supported the political line he was pursuing. He went to the polls about three times, and we agreed with that avenue. We never had any discrepancies with him, because in spite of everything, we admitted the possibility that socialism could also be attained via that [democratic] road, and we agreed with his actions...
We trained some people to look after his personal security, something in which we had experience, because we had had to defend ourselves from the attempts of those who wanted to get rid of us. And we conveyed our experience to [Allende] because we felt that he had some enemies and that he should be careful; so we trained some of his people to look after his personal security and we provided his bodyguards with some light arms. I even presented him with a rifle, which was the one he used the day he died fighting at La Moneda; I presented him with a rifle, and he liked shooting with it. He always said that he would not be taken alive at La Moneda, that he would die defending the constitution. And he kept his word without any hesitation.
[Allende] had a policy towards the military: he spoke with the military, he cared for the military, and he tried to win their support. He had no policy of hostility towards the military. ... I talked to the military when I traveled around [Chile]; I talked to them a great deal in order to assist Allende's policy and encourage them to remain loyal to the constitution and friendly towards Allende -- because there were left-wing forces but there were also right-wing forces in Chile, and there were many people trying to exert their influence. The United States also tried to exert their influence, and they enjoyed very good relations with the Chilean military. During the whole of Allende's government, when he was being refused credits and development assistance, the military never stopped receiving all the technical and economic cooperation they required...
[And] the extreme right tried to exert its influence on the army. To this we must add the growing economic difficulties the government was facing for lack of outside resources, and also because there were many needs to meet, in the area of health, education, employment, economic assistance. Remember that in the last few months of Allende's government, $100 million worth of meat were imported, whereas a few months after the coup Chile was already exporting meat. A popular government has a duty to attend to the people's needs, but for that it needs resources, and the economic situation [in Chile] was getting worse; there was a shortage of goods, and this helped to create an atmosphere which encouraged plots. The right-wing forces organized strikes and demonstrations, and tried to influence the army, and all that created a situation which culminated in the coup d'etat. But he didn't need any advice about this; we simply supported him, we sincerely supported his political line. ... What happened later proved that a profound revolution can really only be made in the kind of conditions which prevailed in Cuba. I believe that the Chilean coup was also a blow to many left-wing people's belief that it was possible to build socialism via the constitutional road.
On Cuba's support for the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua:
The Sandinista movement emerged after the triumph of our Revolution, and the Cuban Revolution had a great influence on it. The conditions there were very difficult, because the American intervention in the Twenties, in the days of Sandino, had left a dynasty, the Somoza dynasty, and power was passed from father to son. There was widespread poverty. And when the Cuban Revolution came, it had a great influence on the young, and the Sandinista movement was organized. And we supported them -- not out of revenge because the expedition that landed in the Bay of Pigs had left from Nicaragua, but we supported them simply out of revolutionary principle. When Somoza dispatched the [Bay of Pigs] expedition, he asked them to bring him back some hairs from my beard. They were so optimistic about winning that in 1961 they were asking for hairs from my beard -- they weren't even prepared to wait for them to fall off by themselves -- and Somoza wanted them as a trophy. Anyway, the Sandinistas had all our support and cooperation over the course of many years. We also struggled to achieve unity among the Sandinistas, who unfortunately were divided. In Central America, we really did help the Nicaraguans, the Salvadorans and the Guatemalans. And the first kind of assistance we provided was to work for the unity of the revolutionary forces, because those three countries were divided into four or five groups.
So that was our first contribution. Apart from that, we also helped in the training of cadres and personnel, and towards the end we sent as many weapons as we could to the Nicaraguans. So that is the history of our total support for the [Nicaraguan] government at the time. We were not the only ones; allow me to say, without naming names, that we had accomplices, because other Latin American governments helped. Somoza had become a threat to the neighboring and other countries, and he was really hated by various Latin American governments, so at a crucial moment those governments cooperated with us in the dispatch of arms that the [Sandinistas] needed at a decisive stage of their battle. But I won't mention their names; I will reserve those names on paper for the future, but I want you to know that we were not the only ones involved, so we can't be accused of being the only ones who helped the revolutionary movements in Latin America. Yes, we did want a revolution, and what's more, we believed that such a revolution was possible -- we were absolutely convinced that it was possible in Latin America.
And that would probably have changed the course of history. As I say, I'm well aware of the social conditions of poverty and hunger in Latin America, and the abuses and injustices. And ... there were better conditions [in Latin America] than in Cuba for a revolution such as we had here. We could say that ultimately the subjective conditions failed, not the objective factors. [Otherwise] no one would have been able to stop that revolution, and it would have changed the course of history, and even perhaps the political thinking of the United States -- not in terms of carrying out a revolution in the United States, but in terms of developing a different kind of peaceful coexistence between the United States and Latin America, a coexistence and peace which was as much needed by a capitalist United States as by the socialist Latin American states. We saw it as a mutual need. Just like the Vietnam War, which had an influence on American thinking, a radical revolution in Latin America would have had a tremendous influence on U.S. policy.
That's what I believed then, and I still do. True, times have changed; the world has changed. I'm not proposing that kind of recipe now, but I'm talking about the way we felt then, under those circumstances in which a revolution could have been possible. I said that the subjective factors failed, but there were other factors as well: the divisions in the international revolutionary movement, and the division between the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and in Chile, which did tremendous damage to the revolutionary movement in Latin America, because both these countries had a great deal of influence on the left-wing forces in their own country. Cuba of course had its influence, but it couldn't be compared. Well, it had more influence on many left-wing forces than the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union had more influence on the Communist Parties. And the Chinese also enjoyed a great deal of prestige and influence, so that that division [between the Chinese and the Soviets] fragmented the revolutionary forces in Latin America, and the enemies of revolutions or of socialism will one day be able to erect a monument to that famous historical division between the Chinese and the Soviets. If that had not happened, the course of history could have been different.
However, the course of history will change in the future; it will change because this globalized world is untenable within the framework of capitalism and neo-liberalism. This is my belief. But with respect to Latin America, and what we did and how we did it, I wanted to mention this point which no one remembers: the tremendous damage wrought by these divisions. And that's why the first thing that we did in any country was to try to unite the left forces, and perhaps that was the greatest service we did to those countries. Now whether or not a revolution was possible in Latin America -- revolutionaries in small countries like El Salvador brought their government to the point of collapse, and it was only saved by the torrent of arms, technology and money that the United States sent them. Otherwise, the Salvadoran government would have been unable to sustain itself. In countries as small as those in Central America -- which is not Latin America or South America -- the revolution triumphed in one of them, and almost triumphed in others, and the United States had to resort to all its power to prevent it. Now imagine if there had been a revolution in other South American countries with better geographical conditions and a larger population -- it would have been much more difficult for the United States to deal with than the Vietnam War, and that's without the use of nuclear weapons. That's why I said earlier, and I affirm that I think this is the first time I speak about this publicly, that the course of history could have been different, because a revolution similar to the Cuban one might have taken place in Latin America.