Castro: 1996 Welcomes Olympic Athletes
Speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro during a
ceremony held at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana to welcome
the Cuban athletes, who participated in the Olympic Games in
Let me turn off the music. Dear
comrades: The long trip, the desire to be with your
relatives, the place, and the sun do not make for the best
conditions for a speech. That is why I was not planning to
speak. Vicky [Victoria Velasquez, first secretary of the
Union of Young Communists] has already expressed our
feelings. I still wanted to greet and congratulate you
anyway, I wanted to say a few words. First of all, I wanted
to tell you that you have returned with the medal of
dignity. That is the most important one for us. Secondly, I
wanted to tell you that you have carried out a sports feat,
all of you. You have fought with honor, with dignity. There
were truly outstanding things in the Olympic Games. It is
impossible to remember or repeat them all. I remember that
our people closely followed everything that went on in
Atlanta. Our people have lived the emotions with you and
have shared the times of joy with the successes and have
shared the times of sorrow in the difficult moments. [Words
indistinct] for example, the Ana Fidelia Quirot race because
we saw in her, the culmination of a heroic battle of many
years. That is why when a reporter asked me how she did, I
told him she had not won a gold medal, but that she had won
a medal of diamonds. [Castro is interrupted by an airport
announcement] The airport. [laughs]
Those were really significant feats. The one Driulis
[Gonzalez] won [in judo], the gold medal she won because we
know under what conditions she went there to fight. A few
weeks ago she had been walking around with a printing
machine [minerva]. It seemed a miracle impossible to
achieve. It was also the miracle of our medicine.
Ivan Pedroso [in the long jump] did not win a medal and
he was sure to win a medal. You know he had a difficult
accident. I still remember seeing him in the hospital a few
weeks before the Olympics. He was wearing a cast. It was
almost impossible. I imagine they took him because they took
into account his desire and determination. It was impossible
to compete under those conditions. I consider him a gold
medal winner because of the effort he made to classify in
that competition. We hope the day he completely recovers he
will be able to achieve the goals we had expected of him
before the Olympic Games. He is sure to win a medal.
The victory of our baseball team was especially
outstanding because you know what happened. You know how the
great adversary prepared himself. You know how they tried to
leave us without pitchers. You know how the team had to lift
up its spirits to attain what he was able to attain. The
team gave the country one of its greatest satisfactions. It
undermined one of the greatest dreams of the adversary.
[Words indistinct] women's volleyball team, real difficult
games, always coming from behind. They fought until they
obtained their victory, which gave the country a huge
satisfaction. The effort made by our boxers was also
brilliant. They won four medals. I consider the one won by
boxer Duvergel is a gold medal, even though it is silver in
color. He demonstrated his expertise, his experience, and he
fell in combat as a soldier in the front lines, who is shot
while fighting with courage in the front lines. He has the
honor of falling in combat just when he was leading 15-5.
What can we say about the others, who fought with
courage. Those who won gold medals in the areas in which our
adversary thought it could defeat us. They could not defeat
us. The effort of our wrestlers, weight lifters, swimmers,
and track and field athletes was brilliant, including that
incident in the 4x400 meter-relay, in which our comrade fell
down. We could have won a medal there too. I am sure that
all the Cuban people will speak to you about the
competitions. I do not think they did anything else but
watch television. It has experienced great emotions these
days. Our country was the one that watched the most hours of
Olympic Game coverage, almost twice as much as the number of
hours watched by the United States, which carried the games,
but mixed in with the commercials and 20 other things. The
advertisements we carried here were placed on a little
corner or on the bottom of the screen now and then. No
commercial interrupted any event or any competition in Cuba.
There was a difficult moment in which we did not know where
to put... [pauses] because both television channels carried
certain competitions in which we had volleyball on one and
boxing on the other. Sometimes viewers chose Channel 2, but
sometimes it had to carry normal programming. On the other
hand we had Channel 6 carrying the other competitions. That
was crazy. I do not know how many television sets were
broken by viewers switching channels back and forth
depending on how the event was going, the volleyball game
sets were 14 points to 15 or the boxer was three points
ahead or behind.
Now that I mention boxing, I must say that they behaved
like giants. I am not just talking about Felix Savon, who is
a giant. I am talking about [word indistinct], who is not a
giant in height. He became a giant on the ring. He obtained
a great victory on the ring. There were many things to
praise, but the fundamental thing is that we must praise the
courage, the effort, and the courage with which they fought.
The lessons they have learned are also important. The
competitions are more difficult.
More countries participated. In general, the countries
made great efforts and we even contributed to such efforts.
We felt the medal a Thai won was partly ours, because he had
an instructor. How do they call them? [unidentified
speaker: adviser] Not adviser... [unidentified speakers:
trainer] A Cuban trainer. And other medals were won there
with the help of Cuban instructors [as heard]. We will,
nevertheless, not be so selfish as to deny others the
possibility of improving in sports, especially in the Third
World, where our trainers are, although some developed
countries (?have asked us) for some trainers. We must draw
the lesson that the Olympics will be increasingly difficult.
We missed the participation of Cuban athletes in many
sports and we watched, with a certain sadness, that other
countries did participate. The Olympics, of course, served
to confirm how poorly the world is doing. There is enormous
difference between the rich and developed countries and
Third World countries.
There was a great ostentation of resources. They
participated in all competitions, and we participated in
about only half of them. How could countries of Africa and
many countries of Asia and Latin America compete in
horseback riding, which is a very expensive sport? Or in
tennis, which has always been a sport for the rich? I do
not know how many courts we have [chuckles] and what we do
with them. Or swimming, which is a sport for the rich? And
what about other sports for which no Latin American or Third
World countries have enough resources? The Olympics is,
therefore, a competition between rich and poor.
And the host country did all it could to display its
arrogance, wealth, power, and resources. I read dozens of
news dispatches from all over the world, you probably saw
them, about the criticism of the host city due to its
disorganization, poor news dissemination and housing, many
criticisms regarding the way it handled advertising, and the
television in which it featured only its athletes.
Those who said we were going to be smashed in
football... [pauses] I mean in boxing, never mentioned
boxing again. And those who said they were going to sweep us
in baseball, never mentioned baseball again.
And I want to tell you a simple anecdote. A rumor had
been spread there that I was going to attend the Olympics. I
would have of course been very pleased to have been there
with you, but you know that the situation is not the best,
because one does not even know if a visa would be granted.
A rumor to this effect had spread at the State
Department. They were asking whether this was true, because
they had to be told in advance and so on. Someone said: Why
will he come? To see how we will defeat their baseball
team? Those were his actual statements. Someone said this
but later mentioned baseball no more.
Our expectations or rather the results failed to match
our expectations. We must carefully analyze this. How good
was our information, what data did we have, what was the
situation? We must also analyze the fact that we failed to
realize the competition was tougher, much tougher; and that
many countries, which have many resources, put them behind
their teams. We must analyze the information we had and so
on, as well as our expectations. If we were driven by
optimism... [pauses] in general, our sports institution has
never been over optimistic, because we have always surpassed
On this occasion we lost medals; for example, we lost a
medal when Pedroso suffered an accident. The great champion.
He would have jumped much higher than this man jumped; I
think that it was [words indistinct]. He would have won
medal for sure. The accident, because the blow was
accidental. These blows can only be received by the
courageous ones, by those who do not settle to be 10 points
ahead, by those who fight. With Duvergel's we would have
collected 10 medals. We won some of them despite the
accident [words indistinct].
We gained experience in Atlanta. Our team fought and
achieved feats that others did not and could not. This was
also the achievement of our trainers and doctors, and of our
journalists, whom we must not forget. We must not forget the
nearly 300 hours, I cannot recall how many they were at this
time, but I think they broadly surpassed the 250-hour mark
of television coverage, in addition to radio coverage. The
world country that watched more of the Olympics and knows
more about the Olympics at this time is indisputably Cuba,
because, I repeat, the host country transmitted I think 140
hours of television and 250 hours of advertising. That
leaves nothing to watch.
The host country [chuckles] that boasts so much, has
been criticized even from the U.S. domestic press, from very
serious members of the media, for the way in which publicity
in general was handled. There has also been too much
commercialization of sports, as I said before. The current
leadership of the Olympic movement is to be held responsible
for having practically professionalized the (?marathon). In
addition, various countries have adopted several measures in
the field of sports, for example, in baseball. However, what
our female volleyball players did shows that we can win.
Even if they introduce professional players, we are going to
win, and we are going to win, home run after home run.
Actually, we won most of the events in these games, and I
mean this. This shows we can defeat them even if they bring
whatever they want to bring in.
They prepared a super team, and they super trained
them. At the end, we remained undefeated, in spite of the
money they spent and the violations they committed in order
to take away from us the athletes we needed in those
competitions. We will show that it can be done, in spite of
all those circumstances. However, it is not enough to have
goodwill. We must think over about all of these factors, we
must meditate deeply in an intelligent manner about the
Atlanta games and think about how the other games will be.
We must analyze why we are weak in some sports. How does our
system of training athletes operate?
Perhaps we are conceited and we think that our system
is very good, but our system requires some modifications. In
what proportion are we practicing sports? Why are some of
them not practiced? Because... [pauses] well, how many
pools do we have? Sometimes, these pools have even been
without chlorine. How do we use them? How do we use the few
tennis courts that we have? Why could we not win some medal
in tennis also?
We have to analyze what is happening with the long
distance races, and even with the fast races. Where have we
stayed behind? We must analyze all of the work done by the
institutions of sports, all of the work of the various
branches of our sports; how are they working, what do we
need to do? Because I think we can do more, much more, and
if necessary, even in Ping-Pong. It is no longer that
difficult for a Cuban to qualify for a Ping-Pong
competition. I think we have to think this over, we have to
deeply think over about everything we do in sports, and how
we are doing, and what we can improve so that we will win
more medals all of the time, even if there are more
countries participating and even if the countries spend much
more money all the time.
There will always be arguments. For example, if there
is such and such a thing; if Ana Fidelia was thinking about
the Motola woman or Motorola...[pauses] I do not know what
her name is. [Someone says Maria Motola; Fidel chuckles] It
seems as if the entire competition was only with her.
Nonetheless, she made a very wise, emotional statement to
the press. She said that she had warned that one should not
ignore the two Russian women, that they worked in pairs to
put obstacles... [pause] so that one would help the other.
Then, others say that even if Duvergel had the lead he
should have been more careful. However, we must not
criticize the courageous one. I say that was a coincidence.
But those are just a few. In general, the people felt he was
going to win the match. He was superior all around, and when
he again meets his rival somewhere, this gentleman is not
going to make it. The difference will be even greater.
We will always find that there are various opinions.
However, above all what prevails here is admiration for all
of you. There is a feeling of recognition for our Olympic
delegation; we are proud of your achievements. You provided
us with great satisfaction with the victories you achieved
in key sports and which we all appreciate very much. A
defeat in baseball would have been terribly bitter, the same
goes for women's volleyball. We achieved victory, struggling
mercilessly with an unsurpassable dignity. The people feel
recognition, gratitude; there is a feeling of emotion that
is very great and unforgettable about what you did in these
Olympics right there, yes, right there where you did it. And
what can we say about the many decent persons who at times
applauded our teams? They applauded our athletes because
their quality inspired them with admiration for what you
I am going to end now. There are no more clouds or
shadows looming around, and I want to express the pride of
our country for what you have done. I want to voice our
gratitude and promise that with or without the special
period, regardless, because these are the Olympics we
attended during the special period when we have lacked so
many resources, the country will continue struggling so that
we may continue to have more and more glory in sports for
the fatherland, so that we may continue to have more and
more happiness for you and for our people.
Socialism or death! Fatherland or death! We will win!