“Elections here are not like those in the United States, where only a minority votes. We can never allow that to happen, because here the people lead.”
SHORTLY before 5:00pm on February 3, the applause and cheering of people gathered at Electoral College No. 1, Area 13, Constituency 13 in Plaza de la Revolución, announced the arrival of the leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro, the Comandante en Jefe, walking slowly and carefully but with his characteristic smile and good humor, ascended the access ramp to the voting area, his two ballots in hand, and exercised his right to vote in Cuba’s general elections.
Registered as No. 28 in the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution No.1, Fidel joked affectionately with members of the electoral board about the time of his arrival, noting that when he was reminded of the elections, he asked to attend in person to vote.
“This has changed a bit since I was last here,” he recalled, his memory as acute as ever, upon asking permission to deposit his two ballots: one for delegates to the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power and the other for deputies to the National Assembly.
As always, he captivated the children guarding the ballot boxes, asking their ages, where they went to school, and where they lived. Then, seeing the television cameras, press photographers and journalists, the conversational and media conscious Fidel was reborn, having first asked the permission of electoral personnel to speak with them.
Despite the lateness of what was a chilly day, Fidel spoke with the press and the hundreds of neighbors who arrived, having heard the rumor of his presence, for more than 90 minutes.
With his prodigious memory, he recalled anecdotes, information and even historic dates; at times the interviewer and, at others, the interviewee. He spoke about the Cuban and global economy, national and international politics, the past and recent history of Latin America, and the challenges of contemporary Cuba. He also referred to the role of the press; the need to avert wars; even agriculture and how to achieve better results in this sector.
Fidel who, as he has stated on many occasions, has survived many assassination attempts, when asked about the elections, joked that he could not reveal who he voted for so as not to violate the law.
“I will just tell you, that I voted for the women and, of course, for one man on the slate, so that the men wouldn’t be offended,” he said mischievously.
“Women are taking more and more of a leadership role in Cuba and in the world,” he reflected more seriously, seeing a number of women journalists there. “And that’s the way it should be,” he emphasized.
Returning to the subject of the elections, the leader of the Revolution quickly changed roles and asked about the number of people who had voted at the precinct, how many still had to do so, how many nationwide and how many precincts and, noting the time, acknowledged the high degree of participation.
“Elections here are not like those in the United States, where only a minority votes. We can never allow that to happen, because here the people lead,” he stressed.
In response to a question on the current changes taking place in Cuba, he emphasized, “The greatest change of all has been the Revolution itself. But, of course, nothing is perfect, many things that we know today, we didn’t know then, and we need to work on continuing to improve the country. It is our duty to update the Cuban socialist model, modernize it, but without committing errors.”
Looking to the future, Fidel went on to talk about the current world situation, the crisis in Europe and the United States, high unemployment rates and wars, one of the problems to which he acknowledged dedicating much study and reflection.
“Now that I have a little more time to read, watch television, to reflect, I am using it to study, to think about these problems, because people, with their many daily concerns, sometimes don’t think about them.”
“I am more and more convinced that, as history demonstrates, wars are almost inevitable, due to egotism, ambitions, this natural and savage instinct within human beings,” he observed.
“We were at the point of being involved in a world conflagration on many occasions, as happened with the Crisis of October, or having nuclear weapons used against us, as was the case when we were fighting in Africa. But wars are very different when they are fought for a just cause, for freedom or in solidarity, and we were prepared to run those risks.”
Following this same line of thought, Fidel, who loves to return to history for its lessons, noted how many great historical figures became famous as a result of the wars of conquest they led, such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte.
“Only one man in history became famous for undertaking great military campaigns, but to liberate peoples. That man was [Simón] Bolívar,” he affirmed. He then emphasized, “Bolívar, but Martí and Chávez have also been very important for Latin America.”
Asked about his close friend Hugo Chávez , who is recovering from surgery in Cuba, he acknowledged that he is informed of the Venezuelan President’s condition every day.
“He’s much better, recuperating. It has been a difficult battle, but he has been improving. We have to cure him, Chávez is very important to his country and to Latin America.”
In response to questions from other journalists, the issue prompted the leader of the Cuban Revolution to discuss the recent Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, “a very important step in the context of unity, of which Hugo Chávez has been one of the major architects.”
Many issues were covered in the close to 90-minute conversation, during which he asked how long the tape recorder batteries lasted and noted the use of cell phones for recording his words. He commented that he frequently used one, “with a bit of help because sometimes the key letters are very small.”
This curiosity about everything around him led Fidel to the subject of new technologies, the recent discovery of the human species being far older than thought, exploratory voyages to Mars, attempts to colonize this planet. “These are issues to which I devote a lot of time, because I believe the most important thing at the moment for anyone is to be well informed.”
“That is why the role you are playing is so important,” he stated to journalists present. “It’s about constant study in order to better inform, and I am not saying this as a criticism, because I have much respect for the work of the press, but because I am convinced that journalists are a strength for the country and for the Revolution.”
Two sentences swept away any doubt that, as Raúl said, Fidel is still Fidel.
The first was in response to being asked if he could give any message to the Cuban people. He looked directly at the journalist, and after barely a second’s thought, affirmed, “…This is a valiant people. We do not have to prove that. Fifty years of blockade and they have been unable to defeat us… Just say, that the people are everything, without the people, we are nothing, without the people there would be no Revolution.”
The other, upon insistently asking him to say something directed at young people, he looked at me mischievously, as if he knew that some historic phrase was expected of him, and said, “Just tell them that I am very envious of them.”