(Less than three weeks after Elian Gonzalez arrived in the United
States, and well before the Cubans began their relentless fight to
win his freedom, Fidel Castro gave this interview in which all the
key issues in the struggle were patiently and clearly laid out.)
Excerpts from an interview given by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President
of the Republic of Cuba, to Andrea Mitchell, head foreign affairs
correspondent for the NBC-News Network related to the case of Elián
González. Latin American School of Medical Sciences, December 14,
1999, Year of the 40th Anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution.
(Translation of the Council of State transcript)
Andrea Mitchell. - We were talking earlier about the child who has
remained in the United States, about the damage this could cause him.
Your were saying that the longer he stays there, the greater the
chance that his personality will be altered. What are your concerns
with regard to this matter?
Fidel Castro. - One of the things that has most upset the people is
that this child has been overwhelmed with sophisticated toys; they
even put him in a toy airplane pretending he could be a pilot for the
Brothers to the Rescue. They have dressed him in clothing and
T-shirts with the emblems of the infamous Cuban-American National
Foundation, which in any case is not national but binational since it
is made up of ex-Cubans and a number of Americans. This has hurt our
people very, very much.
The day before yesterday I was reading in the wire cables that young
Mas Santos --I do not know if he is a saint (Santo means "saint" in
Spanish) but he is certainly naive and disrespectful to the President
of the United States-- tried to take the child with him to an
electoral fundraising dinner presided by Clinton. For a people with a
high political culture, the fact that a child was taken to such
function is extremely offensive, especially since he was taken by
none other than the man who is currently the chairman of that
Foundation created many years ago by the United States government for
very specific purposes, and which is even involved in terrorism.
Taking the child to this fundraising dinner for a political party was
really going too far.
I know, for example, that the boys father and family here in Cuba
have gone for 48 hours without being able to talk to the child
because first they were dressing him up and getting him ready for the
fundraising dinner, and then, on Sunday and Monday, they took him to
Disney World to have his picture taken with all those fantasy figures
and spend the night in a cabin there.
During those 50 hours, the family was not able to talk to the child.
They were only able to finally talk to him last night, and the
conversations are meted out, rationed, and under pressure.
These things are disturbing and they have raise concern among leading
scientists, psychologists, specialists in child psychology and
education, because something vicious is being done to this
six-year-old child, in view of the whole world. Next Thursday, two
days from now, there will be a round table discussion with some of
the most qualified people in the field and the subject will be
related to this case: how long it takes to change the mind of a
six-year-old child. This is why the time factor is so important. It
is not just a question of sparing more suffering to the family,
terrible suffering; the father especially is suffering terribly and
the grandparents, too. These are the people with the right to the
custody and care of the child. It is not a question of a few days
more or less. This is a vital question: the time it takes to change
the mind of a six-year-old child.
Andrea Mitchell. - Is there any concern that at some point the child
may say that he wants to stay in the United States? That he will be
seduced by all those toys and all those things?
Fidel Castro. - No. Gabriela Mistral --we were talking about this
when I told you about the article published yesterday in the workers
newspaper-- said that children do not dwell in the future or the
past, but in the present. And in view of the whole world, they are
trying to dazzle this child with all these things. His father and the
rest of the family have said to us that the child is being coerced,
very strongly coerced, and the distant relatives in Miami have told
them that the child has said that he does not want to live in Cuba;
they have crudely declared this. According to a publication from
Miami, a radio station reported that the child was overheard
whispering to a distant cousin that he did not want to go back to his
The problem is that the boys real family here in Cuba cannot resign
themselves to this idea, and the people cannot resign themselves to
the idea that these shameful maneuvers are being used to alter a
childs mind, to uproot him from his real family, his most intimate
loved ones, to break all the ties between this innocent and helpless
child and his family, to destroy them. What would be left of this
Therefore, we want to learn from the scientists and specialists how
long it takes to change the mind of a child at this early age.
I have asked several people: Can a childs mind be altered in a
month? And they have told me --several people, not specialists-- that
yes, it can be altered in a month.
I have asked myself, why are they delaying this? Could it be because
they want to change the childs mind, to destroy this childs mind?
What will this childs psychological condition be like? How will he
adapt to being with his real family again? And I know that his family
is aching because at times they have sensed a certain shyness in the
child that was not there before, as if someone were trying to destroy
his love for his father. This is a crime, one of the most hideous
crimes ever committed.
If somebody saw a child being murdered, having his life torn away
little by little, they would certainly be against it. If they see
that a child is having his mind destroyed, completely altered, for
shameless propaganda purposes, then it is worse, worse than physical
death, and I am sure that many people have come to realize that it is
the obliteration of a six-year-old childs mind that is at stake
After all this, I do not know how anyone, how any U.S. leader, can
talk about human rights --this without entering into other areas,
only this one-- if they allow something like this to happen in their
country. And our people are not willing to let that happen, quite
simply. This is the current situation, and it is not easy for our
people to resign themselves to the way things are being handled.
Everyone was informed yesterday --also by television-- that the boys
father had agreed to be interviewed by an U.S. official, and to turn
over documents proving his paternity. Why is the solution being
delayed? That is the key question.
The day after tomorrow will be a very important day because the
entire population of Cuba will find out about the effects, on the
mind and the psyche of this child, of the prolongation of this
kidnapping and his subjection to all the things they are using to
overwhelm this six-year-old boy. Science will have the last world,
and we truly are concerned because the people are impatient, the mood
of the people is one of bitterness and great indignation.
Will our people resign themselves to this? They will not make war,
they will not turn to violence. Firstly, we believe we have enough
influence with the people to discourage any acts of violence;
secondly, these are educated people and they understand. In other
words, it will not be a violent struggle but a battle of national and
worldwide opinion, and this battle will not let up until that child
is returned. This is what I want to tell you in all sincerity.
Right now there is an impasse, there are no mobilizations; but if
this is prolonged even a minute longer than is tolerable, they will
start up again. There will not be any material damage, for two
reasons: our peoples highly developed political culture and the
influence of our countrys leadership, and our political and mass
organizations that our people trust. And so, I do not see any danger
in this. Where will our energies be focused? On a battle of opinion,
not only nationally but internationally as well.
I believe that the U.S. authorities have placed themselves in an
unsustainable position. This battle will be kept up one way or
another until the child is returned to his family and his homeland.
We are currently in an impasse, really; I hope this is not prolonged.
For us, it has been very, very difficult, while the child is being
held there, a source of great concern to our people, to prevent them
from expressing themselves like the people in that painting, for
example, (he points to a painting on the wall by the artist Mariano,
depicting a revolutionary crowd) by one of our best painters.
At this particular moment, there are no mobilizations, no
demonstrations. Believe me, we do not like to say this but in all
sincerity I tell you that from the beginning we did everything
possible to prevent all this. To begin with, my words were
misinterpreted when I said, "It will not be long before a great
protest is unleashed in Cuba and the world..."
I think that some progress has been made, I concede that much, that
is, this past Sunday and Monday, as a result of the exchanges of
diplomatic notes between the two governments. I would say that
progress was made in those two days since conditions were created for
an honorable solution.
The requirement identified as the main obstacle was adequately
fulfilled with the meeting sustained by the father and the rest of
the family with the representative of the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service and the head of political affairs at the
The proof of paternity is irrefutable. They asked the father for
papers to prove that he is in fact the father, and yet they turned
the child over to distant relatives never asking for a single piece
of paper to demonstrate that they were the childs great-uncle or
some other family member.
Progress has been made. Yet, I can see that there will be other
problems in their minds and there is the danger that a solution will
be unjustifiably and perhaps even indefinitely delayed, as I said
before. Given that this is a case of a child being spiritually and
mentally murdered, the time in which this can possibly be prevented
Andrea Mitchell. - Is there any message you would like to send to
Bill Clinton with regard to this?
Fidel Castro. - No, not a particular message. Many people in the
United States appreciate Clinton and there are enough people there
capable of advising him. I have my own perception of him, which I
told you about the first day we spoke. I have the perception that he
would like the child to be returned as quickly as possible. I have my
doubts about whether he will be able to achieve this, however,
because who knows what kind of legal maneuvers will be undertaken by
the others to delay this process? Delaying the arrival of this child
awaited by the entire population would actually have a very negative
effect on the mood of the people. That is the truth about this
From the very beginning we tried to prevent this heated feud. I
already told you that I was only able to begin attending to this
matter on December 2. The childs father wrote a letter on November
26, and on November 27 our Foreign Ministry presented a note. There
was no reply for 11 days. It was only on December 2, six days after
the father had submitted his letter that I could personally attend to
the matter. I invited him to come and talk to us because we wanted to
know more about him, how he felt, what he wanted, what kind of
relationship he had with the child. I personally discussed with him
all these crucial details. We needed to know the whole truth before
we moved a finger.
As you can understand, a national and international battle of opinion
cannot be waged but on solid foundations.
Andrea Mitchell. - You must know that some people in the United
States have said that the father has been coerced by the government
and he has not been allowed to speak freely.
Fidel Castro. - And how can we prove that this is false? Does he have
be taken off to Miami like a meek lamb to be devoured by the
terrorist mob and the extremists tolerated and supported by the U.S.
government, in connivance with the authorities, judges and venal
officials? From the very first moment --we are certain of this, and
have proof-- he said that he did not want to travel to the United
States. He also said that he was demanding the immediate return of
the child, and that he would not even accept any contact with the
Cárdenas population is of tens of thousands of people who know him
and the family well: doctors, teachers and many other decent, honest
people. But, what was happening to him? He was not left alone for a
minute, day or night. He has a telephone in his house, everyone got
the number and they kept calling him, a mob of reporters, phone calls
day and night. He was deeply shocked by the kidnapping of his son
truly believing that he had every right to his child, whom he had
cared for so attentively and lovingly. The child often slept with him
and his new family, because the mother sometimes had to work very
late, until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. The father had a new wife
and a three-month-old baby, and little Elián slept with them in the
same double bed.
On the hospital certificate it reads as follows: "In case of
emergency, contact the father." So, he was a father who truly cared
about his son, almost obsessively, I would say.
He was the one who wrote the letter requesting support from the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nobody said to him, "Write a letter." He
wrote it a few hours after receiving word that his son was in an U.S.
hospital. The man was terribly shocked given his close relationship
with his son, and was constantly calling the child when they allowed
him to talk to him.
When I visited the school, I found that the father was exhausted; his
wife, who was nursing the new baby who had just turned three months,
was tense and sick; the baby had had diarrhea for three days. You
see? And so he left his house and has been living elsewhere with his
wife and son. We have kept him informed, step by step, every detail
of the developments in this matter.
He was informed about the letter sent to him by the U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service, with details of everything they were
requesting. Very little time had passed since the problem had begun.
The first reply arrived on December 8, that is, 11 days later. We
sent our reply on December 9 at 3:12 in the afternoon. Our diplomatic
note contained remarks and various questions related to certain legal
and judicial concepts covered in their note.
On December 9 at 4:20 p.m., officials from the U.S. State Department
had a conversation in Washington with the head of our Interests
Section, which lasted close to two hours. We received a full report
on the content of that conversation, which addressed the remarks and
questions in our note from the morning of December 10.
That same day, we wrote another note, around seven or eight pages
long, double- spaced, where our position was clearly laid out to the
State Department. We had to wait about 50 hours for a reply to this
message, which only arrived on December 12, that is, Sunday, at about
10:30 in the morning. It was a brief note. They insisted on the
decisive importance of a meeting with the father although it had been
explained that the father had delegated authority to his own mother
for that purpose. They did not completely rule out the possibility of
accepting this, but take note: they insisted that the Interest
Section officials contact with the father was of paramount
importance, really decisive.
In our response to this third note from Sunday morning, we reiterated
our position and our previous arguments. We sent our response in the
late afternoon, after we had certain crucial information, including
some from our own Interests Section in Washington. In that note, we
said that with regard to their concrete request of a meeting with the
father --they had requested it-- they would be informed later that
evening. We had to consult the family, because we could not simply
send a note and tell them yes ignoring how the family, particularly
the father, felt about it.
The family was informed. The father had to decide, and not just him
but the whole family, everyone in the household. Late that same night
on Sunday 12, they received a fully detailed report on everything
that had happened, from the time the father sent his note to the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs up to the content of the latest note
received here that Sunday and the response sent in the afternoon,
that as I said it explained in one of its paragraphs that a response
would be given later as to the meeting with the father. It was
crucial to contact the whole family, explain the situation and ask
them for a response. I do not want to expose the content of the notes
exchanged but I feel obliged to give you an idea of the discussions.
Andrea Mitchell. - Now then, if this impasse were to be drawn out, if
the situation were not resolved, what would Cuba do? Because there is
a certain fear in the United States that you will open up the borders
and there will suddenly be another major exodus of refugees. Would
this be an option?
Fidel Castro. - I do not think that this would be an option, since we
are being particularly cautious as we are well aware of its
importance. As you can see, viewpoints and arguments from both sides
were calmly discussed yesterday, throughout the entire day. The
meeting to review the migratory agreement was not obstructed in any
way although it was closely related the childs problem because if it
were not for the infamous Cuban Adjustment Act there would not be
this case or many others.
The case of this child is a dramatic example of the consequences of
the Cuban Adjustment Act, dating back 33 years. Illegal migration has
been thus encouraged for 33 years.
We have kept this issue separate from the migratory issue. We have
avoided all kind of interference; there was not even so much as an
insinuation. We would have had more than enough reasons to suspend
that meeting but we did not think it would be constructive to do it
and to start mixing the migratory agreement with the concrete issue
of the kidnapped child, although everything that has happened to this
child and his relatives, and the people who died in that accident, is
actually related to this law and other migratory provisions that
serve merely to incite illegal emigration by Cubans.
There are hundreds of nations and thousands of ethnic groups in the
world but only one nation and one mixed ethnic group to which they
apply a migratory policy that is not applied to anyone else.
You may ask, "Do you want this to end?" To us it seems like the most
constructive thing that could be done because if they decide to
maintain this law then they would have to be asked to establish an
Adjustment Act for all of the countries of Latin America, an
Adjustment Act for Mexicans, Central Americans and South Americans.
We are not so selfish as to want this law applied only to our
Andrea Mitchell. - But Mr. President, the U.S. government says that
you are the only country that is still communist, the only country
where there are no free elections, where there is no freedom of
Fidel Castro. - If we got into this topic, your crew would run out of
film. I do not think we should address these matters, if you will
forgive me. I do not want to discuss that right now, I do not want to
make comparisons. I do not think it would help much. We could talk
about this matter for an entire day and fill up a ten-hour interview.
I will only say that I do not accept the claim that we are the only
communist country and that there are no free elections here. I accept
with pride the fact that we are a communist country, but we are not
the only one, we do not have such a high honor. With our socialist
and communist ideas, we have managed to create a social system which,
in our very modest opinion --and we can prove it mathematically-- is
much more humane and enjoys much more internal support than any
system anywhere, because it is based on greater solidarity, greater
fraternity and a complete avoidance of selfishness. Also, because its
construction and development truly involve the participation of all
of the people. In capitalist countries the people are at war with
each other; this is a well-known fact. From Adam Smith to the almost
fully globalized world of today, we have had the opportunity to see
what happens in the rest of the world and what does not happen here.
That is why, if you want to discuss these matters, I would suggest
that it not be on this particular occasion. However, for the benefit
of the American people that I know is very prejudiced I will say that
that we are proud of our ideals, of the society built in Cuba where
it has been possible to do the things we talked about earlier, after
touring the Latin American School of Medical Sciences. But, we
certainly do not have the honor of being the only communist country,
that would be too much of an honor.
Andrea Mitchell. - No, I meant in this hemisphere.
Do you believe that the issue of the child could become a permanent
obstacle between our two countries?
Fidel Castro. - No, because this cannot remain unresolved. No,
because the United States cannot afford the terrible price of keeping
this child kidnapped, and I have confidence in the American common
sense, I have confidence in the common sense and the talents of its
more realistic politicians, and they will not persist in this error.
That is why it will not be a permanent obstacle. But it will, in any
event, be a terrible example to demonstrate how much hypocrisy there
is in this world and what terrible crimes can be committed, of which
this is no more than a small sample.
We could talk about children who murder one another in U.S. schools.
We are afraid that young Elián could be killed in a gunfight at
school; we are afraid of the drugs consumed there, not here; we are
afraid that in spite of the good material things in the United
States, this child would not only lose his identity, but also be
deprived of the many good things guaranteed to him in the country
where he was born, in social, moral, spiritual and human terms. The
most honest and patriotic people here are truly afraid of life in
United States. And so, in our view, it cannot last. There is no way
that this can last and so the case of the child will not become a
permanent obstacle to relations.
I have already explained that there are important sectors in the
United States that are supportive of the childs return. Therefore,
when we protest and denounce this to the rest of the world, and wage
a battle, we are also doing it for those within the United States who
believe that the fairest and most proper thing to do is to return the
child to Cuba. It is not a battle against the United States, it is
not even a battle against all political sectors in the United States;
it is a battle against those who oppose the return of the child so,
it is a battle in favor of the United States. Yes, I say this in all
sincerity because I am absolutely certain that the sooner the problem
is resolved, the better it will be for your countrys prestige, and
the longer the delay, the more costly it will be from a political and
ethical point of view for the United States prestige.
I beg the American people not to consider me an adversary of their
country but I cannot avoid holding the United States accountable for
this crime. Let us say that, at least, we are struggling together
with many in the United States who would like to see justice done and
the child freed. After this is over there will certainly be some
wounds to heal. However, our people will have gained a greater
conscience and a slightly higher political culture than when this
Andrea Mitchell. - Thank you very much, Mr. President. You have been
very patient with us.
Fidel Castro. - I have had no need to be patient, it was a pleasure
because I know that it has been constructive.
The time to talk of other matters will come. You can count on me for
Andrea Mitchell. - Thank you for receiving us in this institution. I
think there are really a lot of interesting things to be said about
this institution and about the ideas around it, and we will do it; we
are thinking about reporting on it.
Fidel Castro. - I hope you will have enough time to broadcast at
least a small part of everything I have said. (Laughter)