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Castro: 1991 at Pan-American Village Ceremony

Dear Comrade Nelson Mandela and other members of the African National Congress [ANC] delegation, outstanding workers, athletes, guests:

I am going to be very brief. A few days ago we gave the banner to our team. Today we are meeting here in this simple ceremony for a really very important event. This is the symbolic dedication-and I say symbolic because the facilities are spread out in many places-of the construction projects for the Pan-American Games. As [Jose Ramon] Fernandez has explained here, there are 21 new facilities and 46 facilities that have been remodelled. In this case, good luck-because nobody planned it this way-has brought about a visit in these days by this extraordinary person, this prestigious fighter, known throughout the world, Nelson Mandela. [applause]

He is making a quick tour of Latin American and the Caribbean and has coincided with this date and also with the 26 July anniversary. That is why it has been a great honor for us and a great pleasure to have the opportunity of having him here. I must mention that Mandela likes sports. In his youth he played sports. Later he had to work in activities of great importance for his country and his fellow citizens. As a result of his struggle against apartheid, he had to suffer many years in prison. He was imprisoned more than once, but the last time was for more than 25 years, 27 years, in the harsh prisons of South Africa.

Although he could not play sports there, he did exercise every day. You only need the will to do exercises, and the awareness of the need to do exercises. Here we can see the results, which are a wonderful example to us, in his physique. In his case you cannot talk about obesity or a sedentary lifestyle. He has an athletic figure and above all, no one can guess his age. You cannot tell how old he is by looking at him. This is especially true when you take into account the tireless activities he carries out every day, at all hours, his health, the enormous contribution he personally makes in a decisive stage of his historic struggle for justice in his country, his historic struggle for equality, his historic struggle against racism, his historic struggle against apartheid, his historic struggle for a government of his people.

I think that we who are always preaching the need for sports and physical exercise have in Mandela a wonderful example to imitate. Of course, we are not going to forget about Manolo [not further identified], who has just raised the flag here in spite of the fact that Manolo does not look so athletic. [laughter] So his presence gives a special meaning to our dedication ceremony. I think our deepest appreciation, from all of us who are present here, from our people, should be expressed to those who built these projects here in the eastern part of Havana, or the western part, or in Plaza Municipality, or Lenin Park, or in many other places in the capital or Havana Province or Santiago de Cuba. If something can be stressed because of its special meaning, it is the fact that these projects have been built with immense patriotism, immense revolutionary spirit, and immense love.

Many facilities have been dedicated to sporting events, but I think that none has had such a spontaneous and enthusiastic participation by the people, such enthusiastic and massive participation. The mere fact that more than 300,000 Havana residents have participated in building these facilities says it all. A few thousand professional workers and hundreds of thousands of volunteer workers participated. I do not think this has any precedent in the history of sports, or of the Pan-American Games, or even of the famous Olympic Games. These facilities have been built with the people's sweat, the people's will, the people's care. So I think they have more than enough reasons to feel proud, and more than enough right to enjoy for an indefinite time this product of their work.

As extraordinary as that is, many of them have never built anything. We are not forgetting, of course, that we have become a nation of construction workers, a nation of workers, where students from secondary schools participate in one way or another in classes and work, so no one is afraid when they have to go to work in agriculture, or when they have to push a wheelbarrow, or when they have to lay bricks. We are not forgetting this, that we have become a nation of construction workers. However, it would not be possible to explain in this way the quality of these facilities. They have been able not only to build a great dealt, but to build well, with extraordinarily high quality.

Without any reservation I can say that I have never seen a more beautiful community than this Pan-American Village. [applause] It could be called Olympic Villa. It is truly beautiful. I have never seen a more beautiful neighborhood, even in places where the wealthiest families live, where such attention has been given to aesthetics. You cannot help but be amazed even when you spend a long time looking at it.

Those who created, planned, and built it deserve special congratulations. [applause] This shows what architecture can do, even the famous prefabricated components, when things are done intelligently and with a creative spirit. This is why we say that there will be two periods in the history of our architecture; before and after the Pan-American Games. [applause] There will be many towns and communities in Havana Province that will copy a large part of the style of these structures. We will not be able to build exactly the same communities inasmuch as all the styles and all types of prefabricated components are represented here but we will build communities almost as pretty as this one for our agricultural laborers. The same can be said about the facilities. In my opinion, the velodrome is a marvel. The stadium is extraordinarily beautiful. The swimming facilities are impressive. The same can be said about the others. I have not seen the Plaza multiple-use arena since it has been completed, but from the outside it also looks like a great architectural work. In Habana Vieja, where we are preserving the values of the architecture of another century, we have built a mulitple-use arena inside the facade of an old building without changing the style of the area one bit.

It is said that the facility for rowing events is also marvelous. Sadly, we have given up the dam that was going to be used for agriculture. It is a small dam. They promised us that it was only going to be used for the Pan-American Games. It turned out so good, so pretty, and so valuable, so exceptionally appropriate for that type of activity, that I forgot about the dam. [applause] It can be said that the matter was discussed, was discussed [repeats] at the highest level. The irrigation installations had not been built yet. Here we appreciate each drop of water, each dam, each reservoir. It is not a reservoir of 1 billion [measure not specified] like the Zaza Dam or like the Gabama Dam. No, it is a small dam of some 10 or 12 million cubic meters. What is the capacity? [unidentified speaker's answer indistinct] I am not so far off. I later discussed with the water management engineers how not to lose that water. If we use the irrigation systems, it will be empty part of the year. That dam is maintained like that; it is always full. If it is emptied, the boats cannot sail. It could only be used in the spring. I told them to think that in spite of everything we are not losing this water. Think if a little further down we could build a small dam and we can build two or three small dams a little further up so that we can use the water that is left over at the end of the spring, when everything is full. During the dry season we can use the water from the smaller dams and leave the water in the flooded dam.

I am telling you all this to give you an idea of how each one of these things was a subject of analysis and concern. I do not believe that there was bad faith on the part of Manolo, or Fernandez, or the INDER [National Institute for Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation] comrades. No, no. I am absolutely convinced of their good faith. But they could not imagine how well all this was going to turn out, and if they did imagine it they did not tell anyone. After it was built, it needs to be used for rowing forever. There is no alternative.

So, what is said about this village can be said about all the installations. I am not afraid to state that if we ever were given the chance we could organize even the Olympic Games. Nobody should be afraid. There are some that get scared. A lot of time will possibly go by before they give us the chance to host the Olympic Games. You know how the Olympics business is; it is for the powerful, extremely powerful. Nowadays, an Olympic Games in the Third World is almost unimaginable.

But I say that these facilities are Olympic quality, the velodrome, the pools. The stadium can even be expanded, and the areas we have here are for us to build more if we want. Part of these facilities will go to serve tourism. Most of the village will pass into the hands of those who worked to build it. Not all of them, because tens of thousands of people worked on this village, but most of the buildings and apartments will pass into the hands of those who worked regularly to build them. So about 1,000 families-I do not remember the exact number-will live in these palaces we have built as the Pan-American Village.

But we intend to continue to develop this area. Not far from here we have excellent beaches. As I said the day I gave the banner to the Pan-American Games team, in a short time we will recoup all the hard currency we have invested in our Pan-American Games facilities. Some money will be collected during the events, although this was not the aim; far from it. There was no economic aim, but naturally we have had to finish these construction projects during the special period, and we do not have the right to forget the economic aspect.

I said these were the most economical projects that had ever been built. The vast majority of the work was done by voluntary workers and with Cuban materials. The hard currency was used for materials we could not produce here, or for some equipment. Fernandez explained that they had granted us the village in 1986. [corrects himself] Not the village, the event, 1986, November 1986. Everything was going very well at that time. Then there were serious problems on the international front that had a very direct impact on our economy. As he explained, the projects were underway; the buildings were under construction. Most of the spending had already been done on what was necessary to build all this.

But we are not a nation that trembles. We are not men to tremble or become discouraged in the face of difficulties. It could be perfectly understood ....[rephrases] Some did not succeed in understanding this, but we understood perfectly well about our sense of honor and our international obligations. So when things became seriously complicated, or began to become complicated, in 1990, when the difficulties began, for the reasons we all know-it is not necessary to repeat them here-there was no doubt, there was no hesitation about pushing forward with the construction projects. This was not only the right thing, the healthiest thing, but we were not going to waste what we had invested. We were not going to leave this area turned into ruins or unfinished projects. No. We had to continue to move forward. We continued to move forward, and here we are, in the presence of what is really a marvel of human labor and intelligence.

I think our capital city has been enriched. It has been beautified. I think everyone who passes through the eastern side of the city for years and decades to come will have the opportunity of appreciating these marvels, and the new ones we will continue to build. I think the present and future generations will always be happy about the courageous decision to continue the construction when the special period started, and to finish it. Now, how much strength have we gained, because we have done this ourselves!

We have been building dozens of factories and economic facilities along with this. We have built more than 60 agricultural camps along with this. We have built tens of thousands of hectares of plot drainage and irrigation, and the engineering system for rice, and hundreds of kilometers of irrigation canals along with this. In the year that just ended, we made the largest investments in water management projects along with this. So our country did not work only on the Pan-American Games projects. They have been a very small part of our efforts. When one day there were 4,000 or 5,000 people working here regularly, there were almost 17,000 voluntary workers in the agricultural camps in Havana Province. Havana residents in those camps, Havana residents here, and the largest gatherings were on Sundays. When there were 10,000 here, there were 25,000 there.

So the people have worked, and they have worked on many fronts, many fields. We know very well what each of those who worked here know how to do, and what they should do now, where the professional forces should go, where the minibrigades should go, where the minibrigade contingents should go, where the Blas Roca Contingent should go, and all that enormous group of forces that participated in this feat. We should also not forget the extraordinary cooperation that prevailed between all the organizations. There was not a single institution that something here depended on that did not provide all its support. That is why this miracle has been possible, something that seemed like it would never be finished, and that we are dedicating today, 25 July.

We can only hope for rain. Not as much as fell while we were in the middle of building, but enough to make the grass grow. We have seven days left, more or less, until the games open. If the grass grows here the way it grows in the banana plantations, we can be sure we will have enough grass and green areas, even in the last ones that were planted. I said that the grass grows a lot in the banana plantations, but I mean that it used to grow, because they no longer let it grow. That is the result of the work by those mobilized from Havana and Havana Province, the weed-free state of our fields, and the way the different crops are growing. Their harvest will mostly be seen next year.

I said I was going to be very brief, but it seems I became involved and was inspired by these things. But in any case, I will be brief by my standards. [applause] I do not know what you are clapping for. It may be because I said I will be brief. I see how much you appreciate my speech. The only thing left for me to say is that our team is already staying at the village. It was natural for us, the hosts, to be the first. That is why the Cuban flag is already flying. I think the other teams are beginning to arrive now, and soon all these flagpoles will be filled by the countries that will come for the competition. I think it is an advantage for the athletes.

It has already been said and repeated that the number one medal must be for hospitality, but we should not renounce the others. I hope there will be many of them, and of high quality. I am sure our country will experience days of healthy enjoyment. It will experience days of happiness and festivities with these Pan-American Games. We are very sorry that Comrade Mandela will not be able to enjoy these games, but we will send him all the necessary news. We will send him a summary of how these Pan-American Games have been held, for which we have had the privilege of having his presence at the dedication of the facilities.

He is very interested in sports. One of the first things he asked me-because he has been here twice, I went to meet him twice, once during the refueling stop and the other time for the official visit-one of the first things he asked me was about [former boxer Teofilo] Stevenson, how Stevenson was, and if Stevenson was still boxing. I said that I think if someone provokes him he is capable of boxing and knocking out anyone, but he is no longer actively in the sport. I said that we would surely run into him somewhere, and Mandela would have the chance to meet him, because he told me he wanted to meet Stevenson. I see him here right now. So, Stevenson, come up here quickly, show that you are still agile, and shake hands. [applause]

Well, since this is a sports event, and with sports you should not talk about politics, but since the games have not yet started ....[changes thought] This is not the same as the opening ceremony. You know how the opening speech is. It is a straight line, of this and that and whatever, and nothing more. [laughter] That will really be a short speech. It will be shorter than the one I gave in Mexico. But since we are still all Cubans here, and in the presence of such an illustrious fighter, it is fitting to repeat once more: Socialism or death, fatherland or death, venceremos! [applause]
 

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