Fidel Castro's 1960 Address to the U.N. General Assembly: "The Problem of Cuba and its Revolutionary Policy" - Part 1 of 4
by Ron Kurtus (revised 22 January 2017)
Cuban leader Dr. Fidel Castro spoke before the United Nations on 26 September 1960. Castro was known as an eloquent speaker but also as long-winded. Often his speeches ran 3 to 4 hours long. In this speech, he alludes to that fact and promises to present a much shorter speech. Castro's presentation was primarily a complaint against U.S. policy toward his country and interference in their internal affairs.
Questions you may have include:
- How can I use this speech to improve my writing skills?
- How can I use this address to improve my speaking skills?
- What is the historical significance of the speech?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Learning from speech
Read this address to gain insight on improving your speech writing, public speaking, and historical knowledge.
Things to note when studying the speech are:
- The length of the sentences and the number of commas. Short phrases make for effective delivery.
- The logical flow of the speech.
- The use of imagery and emotional appeal
Outline the the speech to show where new ideas are presented and grouped. Point out where effective imagery, examples, or emotional appeal is used.
Read part of the speech aloud—perhaps to a small audience or to yourself in a mirror. Pause at the commas and periods to allow for better understanding by the audience. Vary your pitch, rate and emotional level as you see fit.
Castro was not welcome in the United States and was considered an enemy because of his Communist doctrine and especially due to his alliance with the Soviet Union. But since the United Nations was headquartered in New York City, he was allowed to enter the country and give his speech. The logic of his presentation gained sympathy from many countries, except the United States. But its historical impact seems muted and nothing much changed after his speech.
Outline the speech to determining the major points Castro was trying to make. Did he try to achieve his goals? Did he achieve them? If not, why not?
Was the speech too long winded, or was it enough to get across his points?
Audio of address
You can hear an audio of Fidel Castro's speech to read along. Note that it is not Castro's voice but a slightly mechanical computerized voice. Unfortunately, it does not contain the inflection and emphasis of a true orator.
Note: If you want to hear the text being read, click the Play button. It takes a few seconds for the sound to start. The voices are somewhat mechanical for computer use.
Length of speech segment = 32 min. 25 sec. Total length of speech = 1 hr. 55 min. 27 sec.
Since the speech is so long, I divided it into four 30-minute segments, with a new page for each section.
Dr. Fidel Castro
Mister President, fellow delegates:
Although it has been said of us that we speak at great length, you may rest assured that we shall endeavor to be brief and to put before you what we consider it our duty to say. We shall also speak slowly in order to cooperate with the interpreters.
Some people may think that we are very annoyed and upset by the treatment the Cuban delegation has received. This is not the case. We understand full well the reasons behind it. That is why we are not irritated. Nor should anybody worry that Cuba will not continue to the effort of achieving a worldwide understanding. That being so, we shall speak openly.
It is extremely expensive to send a delegation to the United Nations. We, the underdeveloped countries, do not have many resources to spend, unless it is to speak openly at this meeting of representatives of almost every country in the world.
The speakers who have preceded me on this rostrum have expressed their concern about problems the whole world is concerned about. We too are concerned about those problems and yet, in the case of Cuba, there is a very special circumstance, and it is that, at this moment, Cuba itself must be a concern for the world, because, as several delegates have rightly said here, among the many current problems of the world, there is the problem of Cuba. In addition to the problems facing the world today, Cuba has problems of her own, problems which worry her people.
Body of speech
Much has been said of the universal desire for peace, which is the desire of all peoples and, therefore, the desire of our people too, but the peace which the world wishes to preserve is the peace that we Cuban have been missing for quite some time. The dangers that other peoples of the world can regard as more or less remote are dangers and preoccupations that for us are very close. It has not been easy to come to this Assembly to state the problems of Cuba. It has not been easy for us to come here.
I do not know whether we are privileged in this respect. Are we, the Cuban delegates, the representatives of the worst type of Government in the world? Do we, the representatives of the Cuban delegation, deserve the maltreatment we have received? And why our delegation? Cuba has sent many delegations to the United Nations, and yet it was we who were singled out for such exceptional measures: confinement to the Island of Manhattan; notice to all hotels not to rent rooms to us, hostility and, under the pretense of security, isolation.
Perhaps not one among you, fellow delegates, you, who are not the individual representatives of anybody, but the representatives of your respective countries and, for that reason, whatever happens to each of you must concern you because of what you represent, perhaps not one among you, upon your arrival in this city of New York, has had to under go such personally and physically humiliating treatment as that which the President of Cuban delegation has received.
I am not trying to agitate in this Assembly. I am merely telling the truth. It is about time we had an opportunity to speak. Much has been said about us for many days now, the newspapers have referred to us, but we have remained silent. We cannot defend ourselves from such attacks in this country. Our day to state the truth has come, and we will not fail to state it.
As I have said, we had to undergo degrading and humiliating treatment, including eviction from the hotel in which we were living and efforts at extortion. When we went to another hotel, we did all in our power to avoid difficulties. We refrained from leaving our hotel rooms and went nowhere except to this assembly hall of the United Nations, on the few occasions when we have come to General Assembly. We also accepted an invitation to a reception at the Soviet Embassy, yet this was not enough for them to leave us in peace.
There has been considerable Cuban emigration to this country. There are more than one hundred thousand Cubans who have come to this country during the last twenty years. They have come to this country from their own land, where they would have liked to remain for ever, and where they wish to return, as is always the case with those who, for social or economic reasons, are forced to abandon their homeland. These Cubans were wholly devoted to their work; they respected and respect the laws of this country, but they naturally harbored a feeling of love for their native country and its Revolution. They never had any problems, but one day another type of visitor began to arrive in this country, individuals who in some cases had murdered hundreds of our compatriots. Soon they were encouraged by publicity here. The authorities received them warmly and soon encouraged them, and, naturally, that encouragement is reflected in their conduct. They provoke frequent incidents with the Cuban population which has worked honestly in this country for many years.
One of such incidents, provoked by those who feel supported by the systematic campaigns against Cuba and by the authorities, caused the death of a child. That was a lamentable event, and we should all regret such an event. The guilty ones were not the Cubans who lived here. The guilty ones were, even less, we, the members of the Cuban delegation, and yet undoubtedly, you have all seen the headlines of the newspapers, which stated that "pro-Castro groups" had killed a ten-year old girl. With the characteristic hypocrisy of those who have a say in the relations between Cuba and this country, a spokesman for the White House immediately made declarations to the world pointing out the deed, in fact, almost fixing the guilt on the Cuban delegation. And of course, His Excellency, the United States Delegate to the Assembly, did not fail to join the farce, sending a telegram of condolence to the Venezuelan Government, addressed to the victim's relatives, as though he felt called upon to give some explanation for something Cuban delegation was, in effect, responsible for.
But that was not all. When we were forced to leave one of the hotels in this city, and came to the United National Headquarters while efforts were being made to find accommodation for us, a hotel, a humble hotel of this city, a Negro hotel in Harlem, offered to rent us rooms. (There I met American Negro Malcolm X, who treated me kindly.) The reply came when we were speaking to the Secretary General. Nevertheless, an official of the State Department did all in his power to prevent our staying at that hotel. At that moment, as though by magic, hotels began appearing all over New York. Hotels which had previously refused lodgings to the Cuban delegation offered us rooms, even free of charge. Out of simple reciprocity we accepted the Harlem hotel. We felt then that we had earned the right to be left in peace. But peace was not accorded us.
Once in Harlem, since it was impossible to prevent us from living there, the slander and defamation campaigns began. They began spreading the news all over the world that the Cuban delegation had lodged in a brothel. For some humble hotel in Harlem, a hotel inhabited by Negroes of the United States, must obviously be a brothel. Furthermore, they have tried to heap infamy upon the Cuban delegation, without even respecting the female members who work with us and are a part of the Cuban delegation.
If we were the kind of men they try to depict at all costs, imperialism would not have lost all hope, as it did long ago, of somehow buying or seducing us. But, since they lost that hope a long time ago--though they never had reasons to sustain it--after having stated that the Cuban delegation lodged in a brothel, they should at least realize that imperialist financial capital is a prostitute that cannot seduce us--and not precisely the "respectful" type of prostitute described by Jean Paul Sarte.
Now, to the problem of Cuba. Perhaps some of you are well aware of the facts, perhaps others are not. It all depends on the sources of information, but, undoubtedly, the problem of Cuba, born within the last two years, is a new problem for the world. The world had not had many reasons to know that Cuba existed. For many, Cuba was something of an appendix of the United States. Even for many citizens of this country, Cuba was a colony of the United States. As far as the map was concerned, this we not the case: our country had a different color from that of the United States. But in reality Cuba was a colony of the United States.
How did our country became a colony of the United States? It was not because of its origins; the same men did not colonize the United States and Cuba. Cuba has a very different ethnical and cultural origin, and the difference was widened over the centuries. Cuba was the last country in America to free itself from Spanish colonial rule, to cast off, with due respect to the representative of Spain, the Spanish colonial yoke; and because it was the last, it also had to fight more fiercely.
Spain had only one small possession left in America and it defended it with tooth and nail. Our people, small in numbers, scarcely a million inhabitants at that time, had to face alone, for almost thirty years, an army considered one of the strongest in Europe. Against our small national population the Spanish Government mobilized an army as big as the total forces that had fought against South American independence. Half a million Spanish soldiers fought against the historic and unbreakable will of our people to be free.
For thirty years the Cubans fought alone for their independence; thirty years of struggle that strengthened our love for freedom and independence. But Cuba was a fruit, according to the opinion of a President of the United States at the beginning of the past century, John Adams. It was an apple hanging from the Spanish tree, destined to fall, as soon as it was ripe enough, into the hands of the United States. Spanish power had worn itself out in our country. Spain had neither the men nor the economic resources to continue the war in Cuba; Spain had been defeated. Apparently the apple was ripe, and the United States Government held out its open hands.
Not one--but several--apples fell in to the hands of the United States. Puerto Rico fell. Heroic Puerto Rico, which had begun its struggle for independence at the same time as Cuba. The Philippine Islands fell, and several other possessions. However, the method of dominating our country could not be the same. Our country had struggled fiercely, and thus had gained the favor of world public opinion. Therefore the method of taking our country had to be different.
The Cubans who fought for our independence and at that very moment were giving their blood and their lives believed in good faith in the joint resolution of the Congress of the United States of April 20, 1898, which declared that "Cuba is, and by right ought to be, free and independent."
The people of the United States were sympathetic to the Cuban struggle for liberty. That joint declaration was a law adopted by the Congress of the United States through which war was declared on Spain. But that illusion was followed by a rude awakening. After two years of military occupation of our country, the unexpected happened: at the very moment that the people of Cuba, through their Constituent Assembly, were drafting the Constitution of the Republic, a new law was passed by the United States Congress, a law proposed by Senator Platt, bearing such unhappy memories for the Cubans. That law stated that the constitution of the Cuba must have an appendix under which the United States would be granted the right to intervene in Cuba's political affairs and, furthermore, to lease certain parts of Cuba for naval bases or coal supply station.
In other words, under a law passed by the legislative body of a foreign country, Cuban's Constitution had to contain an appendix with those provisions. Our legislators were clearly told that if they did not accept the amendment, the occupation forces would not be withdrawn. In other words, an agreement to grant another country the right to intervene and to lease naval bases was imposed by force upon my country by the legislative body of a foreign country.
It is well, I think, for countries just entering this Organization, countries just beginning their independent life, to bear in mind our history and to note any similar conditions which they may find waiting for them along their own road. And if it is not they, then those who came after them, or their children, or grandchildren, although it seems to us that we will not have to wait that long.
Then began the new colonization of our country, the acquisition of the best agricultural lands by United States firms, concessions of Cuban natural resources and mines, concessions of public utilities for exploitation purposes, commercial concessions of all types. These concessions, when linked with the constitutional right--constitutional by force--of intervention in our country, turned it from a Spanish colony into an American colony.
Colonies do not speak. Colonies are not known until they have the opportunity to express themselves. That is why our colony and its problems were unknown to the rest of the world. In geography books reference was made to a flag and a coat of arms. There was an island with another color on the maps, but it was not an independent republic. Let us not deceive ourselves, since by doing so we only make ourselves ridiculous. Let no one be mistaken. There was no independent republic; there was only a colony where orders were given by the Ambassador of the United States.
We are not ashamed to have to declare this. On the contrary: we are proud to say that today no embassy rules our country; our country is ruled by its people!
Once again the Cuban people had to resort to fighting in order to achieve independence, and that independence was finally attained after seven bloody years of tyranny, who forced this tyranny upon us? Those who in our country were nothing more than tools of the interests which dominated our country economically.
How can an unpopular regime, inimical to the interests of the people, stay in power unless it is by force? Will we have to explain to the representatives of our sister republics of Latin America what military tyrannies are? Will we have to outline to them how these tyrannies have kept themselves in power? Will we have to explain the history of several of those tyrannies which are already classical? Will we have to say what forces, what national and international interests support them?
The military group which tyrannized our country was supported by the most reactionary elements of the nation, and, above all, by the foreign interests that dominated the economy of our country. Everybody knows, and we understand that even the Government of the United States admits it, that that was the type of government favored by the monopolies. Why? Because by the use of force it was possible to check the demands of the people; by the use of force it was possible to suppress strikes for improvement of living standards; by the use of force it was possible to crush all movements on the part of the peasants to own the land they worked; by the use of force it was possible to curb the greatest and most deeply felt aspirations of the nation.
That is why governments of force were favored by the ruling circles of the United States. That is why governments of force stayed in power for so long, and why there are governments of force still in power in America. Naturally, it all depends on whether it is possible to secure the support of the United States.
For instance, now they say they oppose one of these governments of force; the Government of Trujillo. But they do not say they are against other governments of force--that of Nicaragua, or Paraguay, for example. The Nicaraguan one is no longer government of force; it is a monarchy that is almost as constitutional as that of the United Kingdom, where the reins of power are handed down from father to son. The same would have occurred in my own country. It was the type of government of force --that of Fulgencio Batista--which suited the American monopolies in Cuba, but it was not, of course, the type of government which suited the Cuban people, and the Cuban people, at a great cost in lives and sacrifices, over threw the government.
What did the Revolution find when it came to power in Cuba? What marvels did the Revolution find when it came to power in Cuba? First of all the Revolution found that 600,000 able Cubans were unemployed--as many, proportionately, as were unemployed in the United States at the time of the great depression which shook this country and which almost created a catastrophe in the United States. That was our permanent unemployment. Three million out of a population of somewhat over 6,000,000 did not have electric lights and did not enjoy the advantages and comforts of electricity. Three and a half million out of a total of slightly more than 6,000,000 lived in huts, shacks and slums, without the slightest sanitary facilities. In the cities, rents took almost one third of family incomes. Electricity rates and rents were among the highest in the world. Thirty-seven and one half percent of our population were illiterate; 70 per cent of the rural children had no teachers; 2 per cent of population, that is, 100,000 persons out of a total of more than 6,000,000 suffered from tuberculosis. Ninety-five per cent of the children in rural areas were affected by parasites, and the infant mortality rate was therefore very high, just the opposite of the average life span.
On the other hand, 85 per cent of the small farmers were paying rents for the use of land to the tune of almost 30 per cent of their income, while 1 1/2 percent of the landowners controlled 46 per cent of the total area of the nation. Of course, the proportion of hospital beds to the number of inhabitants of the country was ridiculous, when compared with countries that only have halfway decent medical services.
Public utilities, electricity and telephone services all belonged to the United States monopolies. A major portion of the banking business, of the importing business and the oil refineries, the greater part of the sugar production, the best land in Cuba, and the most important industries in all fields belonged to American companies. The balance of payments in the last ten years, from 1950 to 1960, had been favorable to the United States with regard to Cuba to the extent of one thousand million dollars.
This is without taking in to account the hundreds of millions of dollars that were extracted from the treasury of the country by the corrupt officials of the tyranny and were later deposited in United States or European Banks.
One thousand million dollars in ten years. This poor and underdeveloped Caribbean country, with 600,000 unemployed, was contributing greatly to the economic development of the most highly industrialized country in the world.
That was the situation we found, and it is probably not foreign to many of the countries represented in this Assembly, because, when all is said and done, what we have said about Cuba is like a diagnostic x-ray applicable to many of the countries represented here.
What alternative was there for the Revolutionary Government? To betray the people? Of course, as far as the President of the United States is concerned, we have betrayed our people, but it would certainly not have been considered so, if, instead of the Revolutionary Government being true to its people, it had been loyal to the big American monopolies that exploited the economy of our country. At least, let note be taken here of the wonders the Revolution found when it came to power. They were no more and no less than the usual wonder of imperialism, which are in themselves the wonders of the free world as far as we, the colonies, are concerned!
We surely cannot be blamed if there were 600,000 unemployed in Cuba and 37.5 per cent of the population were illiterate. We surely cannot be held responsible if 2 per cent of the population suffered from tuberculosis and 95 per cent were affected by parasites. Until that moment none of us had anything to do with the destiny of our country; until that moment, those who had something to do with the destiny of our country were the rulers who served the interests of the monopolies; until that moment, monopolies had been in control of our country. Did anyone hinder them? No one. Did anyone trouble them? No one. They were able to do their work, and there we found the result of their work.
What was the state of our reserved when the tyrant Batista came to power. There was $500,000,000 in our national reserve, a goodly sum to have invested in the industrial development of the country. When the Revolution came to power there was only $70,000,000 in our reserves.
Was there any concern for the industrial development of our country? No. That is why we are astonished and amazed when we hear of the extraordinary concern shown by the United States Government for the Fate of the countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia. We cannot overcome our amazement, because after fifty years we have the result of their concern before our eyes.
What has the Revolutionary Government done? What crime has the Revolutionary Government committed to deserve the treatment we have received here, and the powerful enemies that events have shown us we have?
Did problems with the United States Government arise from the first moments? No. It is perhaps that when we reached power we were imbued with the purpose of getting into international trouble? No. No Revolutionary government wants international trouble when it comes to power. What a revolutionary government wants to do is concentrate its efforts on solving its own problems; what it wants to do is carry out a program for the people, as is the desire of all governments that are interested in the progress of their country.
The first unfriendly act perpetrated by the Government of the United States was to throw open its doors to a gang of murders who had left our country covered with blood. Men who had murdered hundreds of defenseless peasants, who for many years never tired of torturing prisoners, who killed right and left--were received in this country with open arms. To us, this was amazing. Why this unfriendly act on the part of the Government of the United States towards Cuba? Why this act of hostility? At that time we could not quite understand; now we see the reason clearly. Was that the proper policy as regards relations between the United States and Cuba? Certainly not, because we were the injured party, inasmuch as the Batista regime remained in power with the help of tanks, planes and arms furnished by the Government of the United States; the Batista regime remained in power thanks to the use of an army whose officers were trained by a military mission sent by the United States Government; and we trust that no official of the United States will dare to deny that truth.
Even when the Rebel Army arrived in Havana, the American military mission was in the most important military camp of the city. That was a broken army, an army that had been defeated and had surrendered. We could very well have considered those foreign officers as prisoners of war, since they had been there helping and training the enemies of the people. However, we did not do so. We merely asked the members of that military mission to return to their country, because after all, we did not need their lessons; their pupils had been defeated.
I have with me a document. Do not be surprised as its appearance, for it is a torn document. It is an old military pact, by virtue of which the Batista tyranny received generous assistance from the Government of the United States. And it is quite important to know the contents of Article 2 of this Agreement:
"The Government of the Republic of Cuba commits itself to make efficient use of the assistance it receives from the United States, pursuant to the present agreement, in order to carry out the plans of defense accepted by both Governments, pursuant to which the two Governments will take part in missions which are important for the defense of the Western Hemisphere, and, unless permission is previously obtained from the Government of the United States of America ..."
"and unless permission is previously obtained from the Government of the United States, such assistance will not be dedicated to other ends than those for which such assistance has been granted."
That assistance was used to combat the Cuban revolutionaries; it was therefore approved by the Government of the United States. And even when, some months before the war was over, an embargo on arms for Batista was put into effect, after more than six years of military help, once the arms embargo had been solemnly declared, the Rebel Army had proof, documentary proof, that the forces of the tyranny had been supplied with 300 rockets to be fired from planes.
When our comrades living in this country laid these documents before the public opinion of the United States, the Government of the United States found no other explanation than to say that we were wrong, that they had not sent new supplies to the army of the tyranny, but had just changed some rockets that could not be used in their planes for another type of rocket that could--and, by the way, they were fired at us while we were in the mountains. I must say that this is a unique way of explaining a contradiction when it can be neither justified nor explained. According to the United States, then, this was not military assistance; it was probably some sort of '"technical assistance."
Why, then, if all this existed and was a cause of resentment for our people ... because everybody knows, even the most innocent and guileless, that with the revolution that has taken place in military equipment, those weapons from the last war have became thoroughly obsolete for a modern war.
Fifty tanks of armored cars and a few outmoded aircraft cannot defend a continent, much less a hemisphere. But on the other hand they are good enough to oppress unarmed peoples. They are good for what they are used for: to intimidate people and to defend monopolies. That is why these hemisphere defense pacts might better be described as "defense pacts for the protection of United States monopolies."
And so the Revolutionary Government began to take the first steps. The first thing it did was to lower the rents paid by families by fifty per cent, a just measure, since, as I said earlier, there were families paying up to one third of their income. The people had been the victim of housing speculation, and city lots had also been the subject of speculation at the expense of the entire Cuban people. But when the Revolutionary Government reduced the rents by fifty per cent, there were, of course, a few individuals who became upset, the few who owned those apartment buildings, but the people rushed into the streets rejoicing, as they would in any country, even here in New York, if rents were reduced by fifty per cent. But this was no problem to the monopolies. Some American monopolies owned large buildings, but they were relatively few in number.
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Resources and references
The following are resources on this subject:
Castro Speech Database - Embassy of Cuba and Univ. of Texas
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Fidel Castro's 1960 Address to the U.N. General Assembly: "The Problem of Cuba and its Revolutionary Policy" (Part 1 of 4)