ROBERT MacNEIL: For our lead focus section tonight we return to our interview with Cuban President Fidel Castro, then we have an official State Department response. Our four-hour conversation with Castro in Havana last weekend touched on many subjects. In our Monday program we covered relations with the U.S., last night human rights in Cuba. Castro kept saying, “Ask me anything,” and one of the few questions he refused to answer directly concerned El Salvador.
I asked him specifically what aid Cuba was giving to the guerrilla groups in El Salvador.
PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO (through interpreter): I said that I do not want to make any declarations or any commitments about that. I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no. In practice, in reality it is almost impossible, almost impossible to send — for military supplies to reach the revolutionaries in El Salvador. That’s what I said. Because it is practically impossible to have military supplies reach them.
The revolutionaries in El Salvador had the capabilities to resist indefinitely, even if they would not receive any military supplies, even though they would not receive any supplies, not even a single bullet. They are in a position to resist indefinitely. They are also in a position to receive supplies; that is, the way we did in our struggle — with the weapons that belonged to the army of El Salvador. And I believe, I am absolutely convinced about the fact that the revolutionaries in El Salvador can indefinitely resist without receiving any type of supplies, a supply of weapons from abroad. And that that is not the essential issue.
ROBERT MacNEIL: I also asked the Cuban leader, looking at the hemisphere as a whole, which countries he considered ripe for revolution right now.
PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO (through interpreter): I would say that, from the point of view of social conditions and objective conditions, not only Central America, but actually and more important, South America. In that area a situation has been created, from the objective point of view, that is a pre-revolutionary situation. I am absolutely convinced of that. I am not wanting to say that this hemisphere will unavoidably explode, but I am absolutely convinced of the fact that the problems are very serious, that the social problems have tripled, that the population have doubled, and that they face situations in which you find no way out.
During Kennedy, when Kennedy put forth the Alliance for Progress, he thought, he worried already to try to avoid revolutionary situations. He believed that by investing $20 billion, in a certain number of years and with certain social reforms the problems of Latin America could be solved. Twenty-four years have elapsed since then. The population has doubled, I repeat. The social problems have tripled. The debt is 360 billion. And only in interest they must pay $40 billion per year — double that of what Kennedy thought was going to solve the problem in a certain number of years.
To this we must add the flight of capital, the repatriation of profits and other problems. The prices are depressed and, in my opinion, it is most critical and serious situation that history has ever learned of — the history of this hemisphere. I rmly believe this. And if a solution is not found to the problem of the debt, I am convinced that the Latin American societies will explode because there is a situation of despair among the workers, among the middle strata and even in the oligarchy.
But in this case the problem is general, it’s a general problem. And it may explode not in one country but it may explode in many countries. I believe that the debt — that they cannot pay for the debt. It is not that they don’t want to pay it. No, they can’t pay for it. But I’m not only referring to the debt. The interests, the $40 billion in interests, they cannot pay for it. Even if they wanted to, they cannot pay for it.
And the effort or imposition to force them to pay for it will actually bring about a social convulsion, a revolutionary explosion. I even believe that it will be necessary, as at least to have a 10 to 20 years of grace that would include interests.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Let me understand you. You’re saying that to prevent an explosion in Latin America that the international banking community needs to give them 20 years of grace on interest? Is that what you mean?
PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO (through interpreter): Right. I am absolutely convinced that if under the present circumstances they are obliged to pay not the debt, because they could postpone the debt for 10, 15 years and it could be in echelons up to 25 years, the interests on the debt, they cannot pay for them. And if they continue demanding on the payment of these interests, an explosion will take place.
As long as it’s a question of social changes in small countries, in Grenada, in Central America, in Cuba, mention can still be made of the madness of solving them through invasion. If one day a change takes place in South America — in Brazil, in Peru, in Chile — I forgot to mention it, which is really one of the countries of the southern column, where, in my opinion, there is a pre-revolutionary situation.
The United States knows now, at least they understand that, that it’s if the situation of Chile continues, in the not-too-distant future they might face a Nicaragua or even something worse than Nicaragua in the southern column. And that is the situation that we see. How will they solve it? Will they send a battalion of the 82nd Airborne and send it by air? Anybody understands that that cannot be.
And if those risks exist I believe it will be convenient for the United States to change its conceptions on this hemisphere and stop being the sworn enemy of social changes and learn to coexist with them. That’s my reasoning.