Fidel Castro's 1960 Address to the U.N. General Assembly: "The Problem of Cuba and its Revolutionary Policy" - Part 2 of 4
by Ron Kurtus (revised 27 November 2005)
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 would be 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
Since the speech is so long, we have divided it into four 30 minute segments, with a Start button at the beginning of each part.
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 = 24 min. 4 sec. Total length of speech = 1 hr. 55 min. 27 sec.
Since the speech is so long, we have divided it into four 30-minute segments, with a new page for each section.
Contination - part 2
Then another law was passed, a law canceling the concessions which had been granted by the tyranny of Batista to the Telephone Company, an American monopoly. Taking advantage of the fact our people were defenseless, they had obtained valuable concessions. The Revolutionary Government then cancelled these concessions and re-established normal prices for telephone services. Thus began the first conflict with the American monopolies.
The third measure was the reduction of electricity rates, which were the highest in the world. Then followed the second conflict with the American monopolies. We were beginning to appear communist; they were beginning to daub us in red because we had clashed head on with the interests of the United States monopolies.
Then followed the next law, an essential and inevitable law for our country, and a law which sooner or later will have to be adopted by all countries of the world, at least by those which have not yet adopted it: the Agrarian Reform Law. Of course, in theory everybody agrees with the Agrarian Reform Law. Nobody will deny the need for it unless he is a fool. No one can deny that agrarian reform is one of the essential conditions for the economic development of the country. In Cuba, even the big landowners agreed about the agrarian reform--only they wanted their own kind of reform, such as the one defended by many theoreticians; a reform which would not harm their interests, and above all, one which would not be put into effect as long as it could be avoided. This is something that is well known to the economic bodies of the United Nations, something nobody even cares to discuss any more. In my country it was absolutely necessary: more than 200,000 peasant families lived in the countryside without land on which to grow essential food crops.
Without an agrarian reform, our country would have been unable to take that step; we made an agrarian reform. Was it a radical agrarian reform? We think not. It was a reform adjusted to the needs of our development, and in keeping with our own possibilities of agricultural development. In other words, was an agrarian reform which was to solve the problems of the landless peasants, the problem of supplying basic foodstuffs, the problem of rural unemployment, and which was to end, once and for all, the ghastly poverty which existed in the countryside of our native land.
And that is where the first major difficulty arose. In the neighboring Republic of Guatemala a similar case had occurred. And I honestly warn my colleagues of Latin America, Africa and Asia; whenever you set out to make a just agrarian reform, you must be ready to face s similar situation, especially if the best and largest tracts of land are owned by American monopolies, as was the case in Cuba.
It is quite possible that we may later be accused of giving bad advice in this Assembly. It is not our intention to disturb anybody's sleep. We are simply stating the facts, although the facts are sufficient to disturb everybody's sleep.
Then the problem of payment arose. Notes from the State Department rained on our Government. They never asked about our problems, not even out of sheer pity, or because of the great responsibility they had in creating such problems. They never asked us how many died of starvation in our country, or how many were suffering from tuberculosis, or how many were unemployed. No, they never asked about that. A sympathetic attitude towards our needs? Certainly not. All talks by the representatives of the Government of the United States centered upon the Telephone Co., the Electric Co., and the land owned by American Companies.
How could we solve the problem of payment? Of course, the first question that should have been asked was what we were going to pay with, rather than how. Can you gentlemen conceive of a poor underdeveloped country, with 600,000 unemployed and such a large number of illiterates and sick people, a country whose reserves have been exhausted, and which has contributed to the economy of a powerful country with one thousand million dollars in ten years? Can you conceive of this country having the means to pay for the land affected by the Agrarian Reform Law, or the means to pay for it in the terms demanded?
What were the State Department aspirations regarding their affected interests? They wanted prompt, efficient and just payment. Do you understand that language? "Prompt, efficient, and just payment." That means, "pay now, in dollars, and whatever we ask for our land."
We were not 100 per cent Communist yet!
We were just becoming slightly pink. We did not confiscate land; we simply proposed to pay for it in twenty years, and in the only way in which we could pay for it: in bonds, which would mature in twenty years at 4 1/2 per cent, or amortized yearly.
How could we pay for the land in dollars, and the amount they asked for it? It was absurd. Anyone can readily understand that, under those circumstances, we had to choose between making the agrarian reform, and not making it. If we choose not to make it, the dreadful economic situation of our country would last indefinitely. If we decided to make it, we exposed ourselves to the hatred of the Government of the powerful neighbor of the north.
We decided to go on with the agrarian reform. Of course, the limits set to latifundia in Cuba would amaze a representative of the Netherlands, for example, or of any country of Europe, because of their extent. The maximum amount of land set forth in the Agrarian Reform Law is 400 hectares (988 acres). In Europe, 40 hectares is practically a latifundium; in Cuba, where there were American monopolies that had up to 200,000 hectares--I repeat--in case someone thinks he has heard wrong, 200,000 hectares—an agrarian reform law reducing the maximum limit to 400 hectares was inadmissible.
But the truth is that in our country it was not only the land that was the property of the agrarian monopolies. The largest and most important mines were also owned by those monopolies. Cuba produces, for example, a great deal of nickel. All of the nickel was exploited by American interests, and under the tyranny of Batista, an American company, the Moa Bay, had obtained such a juicy concession that in a mere five years--mark my words, in a mere five years--it intended amortizing an investment of $120,000,000. A $120,000,000 investment amortized in five years!
And who had given the Moa Bay company this concession through the intervention of the Government of the United States? Quite simply, the tyrannical government of Fulgencio Batista, which was there to defend the interests of the monopolies. And this is an absolutely true fact. Exempt from all taxes what were those companies going to leave for the Cubans? The empty, worked out mines, the impoverished land, and not the slightest contribution to the economic development of our country.
And so the Revolutionary Government passed a mining law which forced those monopolies to pay a 25 per cent tax on the exportation of minerals. The attitude of the Revolutionary Government already had been too bold. It had clashed with the interests of the international electric trusts; it had clashed with the interests of the international telephone trusts; it had clashed with the interests of the mining trusts; it had clashed with the interests of the United Fruit Co; and it had in effect, clashed with the most powerful interests of the United States, which, as you know, are very closely linked with each other. And that was more than the Government of the United States--or rather, the representatives of the United States monopolies--could possibly tolerate.
Then began a new period of harassment of the Revolution. Can anyone who objectively analyzes the facts? Who is willing to think honestly, not as the UP or the AP tell him, to think with his head and to draw conclusions from his own reasoning and the facts without prejudice, sincerely and honestly--would anyone who does this consider that things which the Revolutionary Government did were such as to demand the destruction of the Cuban Revolution? No. But the interests affected by the Cuban Revolution were not concerned about the Cuban case; they were not being ruined by the measures of the Cuban Revolutionary Government. That was not the problem. The problem lay in the fact that those very interests owned the wealth and the natural resources of the greater part of the peoples of the world.
The attitude of the Cuban Revolution therefore had to be punished. Punitive actions of all sorts--even the destruction of those insolent people--had to follow the audacity of the Revolutionary Government.
On our honor, we swear that up to that moment we had not had the opportunity even to exchange letters with the distinguished Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. That is to say that when, for the North American press and the international news agencies that supply information to the world, Cuba was already a Communist Government, a red peril ninety miles from the United States with a Government dominated by Communists, the Revolutionary Government had not even had the opportunity of establishing diplomatic and commercial relations with the Soviet Union.
But hysteria can go to any length; hysteria is capable of making the most unlikely and absurd claims. Of course, let no one think for a moment that we are going to intone a mea culpa here. There will be no mea culpa. We do not have to ask anyone's pardon. What we have done, we have done consciously, and above all, fully convinced of our right to do it.
Then came the threats against our sugar quota, imperialism's cheap philosophy of showing generosity, egoistical and exploiting generosity; and they began showing kindness towards Cuba, declaring that they were paying us a preferential price for sugar, which amounted to a subsidy to Cuban sugar--a sugar which was not so sweet for Cubans, since we were not the owners of the best sugar-producing land, nor the owners of the largest sugar mills. Furthermore, in that affirmation lay hidden the true history of Cuban sugar, of the sacrifices which had been imposed upon my country during the periods when it was economically attacked.
However when quotas were established, our participation was reduced to 28 per cent, and the advantages which that law had granted us, the very few advantages which that law had granted us, were gradually taken away in successive laws, and, of course the colony depended on the colonial power. The economy of the colony had been organized by the colonial power.
The colony had to be subjected to the colonial power, and if the colony took measures to free itself from the colonial powers that country would take measures to crush the colony. Conscious of the subordination of our economy to their market, the Government of the United States began to issue a series of warnings that our quota would be reduced further, and at the same time, other activities were taking place in the United States of America: the activities of counterrevolutionaries.
One afternoon an airplane coming from the north flew over one of the sugar refineries and dropped a bomb. This was a strange and unheard-of event, but we knew full well where that plane came from. On another afternoon another plane flew over our sugar cane fields and dropped a few incendiary bombs. These events which began sporadically continued systematically.
One afternoon, when a number of American tourist agents were visiting Cuba in response to an effort made by the Revolutionary Government to promote tourism as one of the sources of national income, a plane manufactured in the United States, of the type used in the Second World War, flew over our capital dropping pamphlets and grenades. Of course, some anti-aircraft guns went into action. The result was more than forty victims, between the grenades dropped by the plane and the anti-aircraft fire, because, as you know, some of the projectiles explode upon contacting any object. As I said, the result was more than forty victims. There were little girls on the street with their entrails torn out, old men and women wantonly killed. Was this the first time it had happened in our country? No. Children, old men and old women, young men and women, had often been killed in the villages of Cuba by American bombs supplied to the tyrant Batista. One one occasion, eighty workers died when a mysterious explosion--too mysterious--took place in the harbor of Havana, the explosion of a ship carrying Belgian weapons which had arrived in our country, after many efforts by the United States Government to prevent the Belgian Government from selling arms to us.
Dozens of victims of war; eighty families orphaned by the explosions. Forty victims as a result of an airplane that brazenly flew over our territory. The authorities of the United States Government denied the fact that these planes came from American territory, but the plane was now safely in a hangar in this country. When one of our magazines published a photograph of it, the United States authorities seized the plane. A version of the affair was issued to the effect that this was not very important, and that these victims had not died because of the bombs, but because of the anti-aircraft fire. Those responsible for this crime, those who had caused these deaths were wandering about peacefully in the United States, where they were not even prevented from committing further acts of aggression.
May I take this opportunity of telling His Excellency the Representative of the United States that there are many mothers in Cuba still awaiting his telegrams of condolence for their children murdered by the bombs of the United States.
Planes kept coming and going. But as far as they were concerned, there was no evidence. Frankly, we don't know how they define the word evidence. The plane was there, photographed and captured, and yet we were told the plane did not drop any bombs. It is not known how the United States authorities were so well informed.
Planes continued to fly over our territory dropping incendiary bombs. Millions and millions of pesos were lost in the burning fields of sugar cane. Many humble people of Cuba, who saw property destroyed, property that was now truly their own, suffered burns in the struggle against those persistent and tenacious bombings by pirate planes.
And then one day, while dropping a bomb on one of our sugar mills, a plane exploded in mid air and the Revolutionary Government was able to collect what was left of the pilot, who by the way, was an American. In his documents were found, proof as to the place where the plane had taken off from. On its way to Cuba, the plane had flown between two United States military bases. This was a matter that could not be denied any longer: the planes took off from the United States. Confronted with irrefutable evidence the United States Government gave an explanation to the Cuban Government. Its conduct in this case was not the same as in connection with the U-2. When it was proved that the planes were taking off from the United States, the Government of the United States did not proclaim its right to burn over sugar cane fields. The United States Government apologized and said it was sorry. We were lucky, after all, because after the U-2 incident the United States Government did not even apologize, it proclaimed its right to carry out flights over Soviet territory. Bad luck for the Soviets!
But we do not have too many anti-aircraft batteries, and the planes went on flying and bombing us until the harvest was over. When there was no more sugar cane, the bombing stopped. We were the only country in the world which had gone through a thing like this, although I do recall that at the time of his visit to Cuba, President Sukarno told us that this was not the case, for they, too, had had certain problems with American planes flying over their territory.
But the truth is that in this peaceful hemisphere at least, we were a country that, without being at war with anyone, had to stand the constant attack of pirate planes. And could those planes come in and out of United States territory unmolested? It has been stated that the defenses of the world they call "free" are impregnable. If this is the case, how is it that planes, not supersonic planes, but light planes with a velocity of barely 150 miles per hour, how is it that these planes are able to fly in and out of United States territory undetected.
The air raids ended, and then came economic aggression. What was one of the arguments wielded by the enemies of the agrarian reform? They said that the agrarian reform would bring chaos to agricultural production, that production would diminish considerably, and that the Government of the United States was concerned because Cuba might not be able to fulfill her commitments to the American market. The first argument--and it is appropriate that at least the new delegations in the General Assembly should become familiar with some of the arguments, because some day they may have to answer similar arguments--the first argument was that the agrarian reform meant the ruin of the country. This was not the case. If this had been so, and agricultural production had deceased, the American Government would not have felt the need to carry on its economic aggression.
Did they sincerely believe in what they said when they stated that the agrarian reform would cause a drop in production? Perhaps they did. Surely it is logical for each one to believe what his mind has been conditioned to believe. It is quite possible they may have felt that without the all-powerful monopolist companies, we Cubans would be unable to produce sugar. perhaps they were even sure we would ruin the country. And of course, if the Revolution had ruined the country, then the United States would not have had to attack us; it would have left us alone, and the United States Government would have appeared as a good and honorable government, and we as people who ruined our own Nation, and as a great example that Revolutions should not be made because they ruin countries. Fortunately, that was not the case. There is proof that revolutions do not ruin countries, and that proof has just been furnished by the Government of the United States. Among other things, it has been proved that revolutions do not ruin countries, and that imperialist governments do try to ruin countries.
Cuba had not been ruined; she therefore had to be ruined. Cuba needed new markets for its products, and we would honestly ask any delegation present if it does not want its country to sell what it produces and its export to increase. We wanted our exports to increase, and this is what all countries wish; this must be a universal law. Only egotistical interests can oppose the universal interest in trade and commercial exchange, which surely is one of the most ancient aspirations and needs of mankind.
We wanted to sell our products and went in search of new markets. We signed a trade treaty with the Soviet Union, according to which we would sell one million tons of sugar and would purchase a certain amount of Soviet products or articles. Surely no one can say that this is an incorrect procedure. There may be some who would not do such a thing because it might displease certain interests. We really did not have to ask permission from the State Department in order to sign a trade treaty with the Soviet Union, because we considered ourselves, and we continue to consider ourselves and we will always consider ourselves, a truly independent and free country.
When the amount of sugar in stock began to diminish stimulating our economy, we received the hard blow: at the request of the executive power of the United States, Congress passed a law empowering the President or Executive power to reduce the import quotas for Cuban sugar to whatever limits might deem appropriate. The economic weapon was wielded against our Revolution. The justification for that attitude had already been prepared by publicity experts; the campaign had been on for a long time. You know perfectly well that in this country monopolies and publicity are one and the same thing. The economic weapon was wielded, our sugar quota was suddenly cut by about one million tons--sugar that had already been produced and prepared for the American market--in order to deprive our country of resources for its development, and thus reduce it to a state of impotence, with the natural political consequences. Such measures were expressly banned by Regional International Law. Economic aggression, as all Latin American delegates here know, is expressly condemned by Regional International Law. However, the Government of the United States violated that law, wielded its economic weapon, and cut our sugar quota by about one million tons. They could do it.
What was Cuba's defense when confronted by that reality? It could appeal to the United Nations. It could turn to the United Nations, in order to denounce political and economic aggressions, the air attacks of the pirate planes, besides the constant interference of the Government of the United States in the political affairs of our country and the subversive campaigns it carries out against the Revolutionary Government of Cuba.
So we turned to the United Nations. The United Nations had power to deal with these matters. The United Nations is, within the hierarchy of international organizations, the highest authority. The United Nations' authority is even above that of the OAS. And besides, we were interested in bringing the problem to the United Nations, because we know quite well the situation the economy of Latin America finds itself in; because we understand the state of dependence of the economy of Latin America in relation to the United States. The United Nations knew of the affair, it requested the OAS to make an investigation, and the OAS met. Very well. And what was to be expected? That the OAS would protect the country; that the OAS would condemn the political aggression against Cuba, and above all that would condemn the economic aggression against our country. That should have been expected. But after all, we were a small people of the Latin American community of nations. We were just another victim. And we were neither the first or the last, because Mexico had already been attacked more than once militarily. In one way they tore away from Mexico a great part of its territory, and on that occasion the heroic sons of Mexico leaped to their death from the Castle of Chapultepec enwrapped in the Mexican flag rather than surrender. These were the heroic sons of Mexico.
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Resources and references
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 2 of 4)
<< Return to Part 1 | Continue to Part 3 >>