ralph lauren babies on the occasion of his inauguration as President of the Republic of Cuba
We have just come back from traveling around the world, on a trip without a moment’s rest or respite. It had to be done. On February 24 and 25, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, an important summit meeting would be held, in the midst of the almost certain threat of war in Iraq and the aggravation of the international economic crisis. It was also necessary to make visits to very close friends like Viet Nam and China, scheduled for the days before and after the Summit, and to make an inevitable stopover in Japan, from where I had received invitations from important and valued friends.
Most vital of all: an event of transcendental importance had been scheduled for March 5, namely the constitution of the National Assembly and the election of the leadership of both the Assembly and the Council of State, and their presidents and vice presidents.
As a result of the weather conditions, we were unable to leave Hiroshima on March 3. Thus, foreseeing a delay, we had to beg our comrades in Cuba to postpone the meeting until March 6.
I had to write these lines during the return flight.
Traveling around the world in these times is not easy. Traveling on an IL 62, given the age of these planes, their flight equipment, their fuel consumption and the noise, make everything even more complicated. They make noise when they taxi down the runway, which has to be very long, and also when they are taking off, but they always take off, and whenever they take off, they land.
I flew on one of these planes for the first time 32 years ago, when I visited President Salvador Allende in Chile, and I have done so ever since. They are built strong, like the Soviet farm tractors of the same era, built to stand up to the test of Cuban tractor drivers. Their pilots are Olympic champions. The technicians and mechanics that repair them are the best in the world. We have just flown around the world in one of them for the second time. At least I hope so, since there are still a few hours left to go on this flight. But in all seriousness, I truly admire these excellent machines from the former USSR; I am deeply grateful for them, and I recommend them to my fellow Cubans and to tourists. They are the safest planes in the world. And I am proof of that.
You cannot take everything too seriously in this world today. If you did, you would run the risk of a heart attack, or a nervous breakdown.
Our delegation left on February 19, a few minutes before midnight. We made a brief stopover in Paris, the only place possible. We were supposed to rest for a few hours in a hotel in the city. It was useless. I could not sleep. I spent the time looking out over a part of this beautiful and famous city from a high up floor. I looked at the roofs of three to six story buildings that looked like works of art. I wanted to know what they had been made of 150 years ago.
I remembered Havana and its problems. These buildings were of a silvery gray color. Nobody could answer my question.
A few kilometers away was an enormous block that broke the harmony. Further to the right, high office and apartment buildings that also ruined the view. I remembered the heliport built in Old Havana a few months before the revolution, behind what was once the colonial Palace of Government. For the first time, the Eiffel Tower and l’ Arc de Triomphe, so admired by everyone, appeared to me like two humiliated and belittled objects. I had suddenly become a frustrated urban planner. In Paris, I did not call up or speak to anyone. I left still holding the memory of everything I had read and dreamt of in my youth about its glorious Revolution and the heroic and grandiose history of France. I admired its valiant stance today in the face of the humiliating unilateral hegemony of the United States government.
We made a stopover in Urumuqi, in the westernmost region of China. An architecturally beautiful airport. Friendly and hospitable treatment. Refined culture. Ten hours later, when the sun had already set, we landed in Hanoi, capital of our beloved and heroic Viet Nam, but a very different city from the one I last visited in 1995, eight years ago. Its streets were full of activity and light. There was not a single pedal bicycle in sight; all of them were motorized. The streets were flooded with cars. Reflecting on the future, on fuel, pollution and other tragedies, it was the only thing that made me feel somewhat uneasy.
Luxury hotels have risen up everywhere. Factories have multiplied in number. Their owners, foreigners as a rule, follow strict capitalist rules of management; but this is a communist country, which charges taxes, distributes income, creates jobs, develops education and health care, and steadfastly preserves its glories and traditions. Oil, thermoelectric plants, hydroelectric plants and other basic industries are all in the hands of the state. A human revolution par excellence. All those who have been and continue to be forgers of the revolution are treated with utmost respect. Ho Chi Min was, is and will forever be a lofty example.
I spoke at length with Nguyen Giap, the brilliant strategist. His memory is excellent. I reminisced, both sadly and fondly, about a great many people, such as Pham Van Dong and others who have already passed away but who continue to inspire endless affection. The old and new leaders showed unlimited affection and friendship. Our ties have deepened and expanded in all regards.
The differences between the situations in the two countries are considerable. We are surrounded by a group of neighbors who have nothing to invest, and one neighbor in particular, the wealthiest nation in the world, maintains a rigorous blockade against us. Added to this is our firm determination to preserve the maximum wealth and benefits of our country for present and future generations. Yet, these differences in no way impinge upon our beautiful and eternal friendship.
From Viet Nam we traveled to Malaysia. This is a marvelous country. Its prodigious natural resources and an extraordinarily and talented leader, who avoided the development of a wild capitalism, are the reasons for the progress it has achieved. He was able to unite the three main ethnic groups, that is, Malayan, Indian and Chinese. Investment was attracted that poured in from industrialized Japan and other parts of the world. Strict rules and regulations were established. Wealth was distributed as equitably as possible. The country grew at a good pace for 30 years. Education and health care were attended to. It enjoyed long years of peace, unlike Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, attacked first by colonialism and then by imperialism.
Then, when the major crisis that devastated the rest of Southeast Asia struck it, Malaysia disobeyed the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other similar organizations, the state intervened and established currency exchange controls thus preventing the flight of capital and saving the country and its wealth. A world away from what is happening in our own long suffering hemisphere, in Malaysia they have developed a genuine national capitalism that, despite large disparities in income, has brought wellbeing for the masses. The country enjoys great prestige and respect. For the West and the new economic order, it has become a headache and a bad example.
China. We arrived there around midday. As was the case in Viet Nam, never before has a Cuban delegation been showered with so much attention and honors. Official welcoming dinner February 26. Meetings with former and current leaders of the Party and the state, some of them still in office Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, Wen Jiabao, each with their respective assistants followed one after another from the first afternoon until the 27. On the morning of February 28, a visit to the Beijing Technology Park and a trip to Nanjing with President Jiang Zemin to visit the Panda television factory. For the first time in my life I boarded a jumbo jet. Dinner and meeting with the Party first secretary of the Jiangsu province. Departure for Shanghai. Farewell.
The hospitality extended to the Cuban delegation in Viet Nam and China is unprecedented in the entire history of the Revolution. It was an opportunity to speak at length and in depth with genuinely exceptional individuals, true friends who have cemented the friendship between our peoples forever. Both, China and Viet Nam, were our best friends during the incredibly difficult days of the special period, when absolutely no one believed that the Cuban Revolution could survive. Today, their peoples and governments respect and admire this small country that has managed to stand firm despite its geographic proximity to the sole superpower that has hegemonized the world with its immense might.
This recognition is not deserved by any of us who received those honors, but rather by the heroic and glorious people who fulfilled their duty with dignity.
Our conversations were not limited to issues of bilateral interest and the latest developments in our economic, scientific and cultural ties. We also addressed, with the utmost interest, frankness and mutual understanding, the most significant international issues of the day.
From China we flew to Japan. There, we were received with hospitality and respect. Although this was only a stopover, old and steadfast friends welcomed us. We held lengthy meetings with Tomoyoshi Kondo, chairman of the Cuba Japan Economic Conference; Mr. Watanuki, speaker of the National Diet of Japan; Mr. Mitsuzuka, chairman of the Parliamentary Friendship League; a courtesy visit with former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto; and a meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
On the initiative of the Japanese, we addressed matters related to the tense situation in the Korean peninsula, which is of concern to everyone. We will provide detailed information on these talks to the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with which we have shared friendly diplomatic relations since the triumph of the Revolution.
On March 2, we traveled to Hiroshima. We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where we laid a wreath. We attended a private lunch with the Governor of the Hiroshima Prefecture.
There are no words or enough time to describe how deeply moved we all were by the genocide perpetrated against the civilian population of Hiroshima. The human imagination cannot even begin to comprehend what happened there.
That attack was absolutely unnecessary, and can never be morally justified. Japan was already defeated militarily. All of the occupied territory in Oceania, Southeast Asia and even Japanese sovereign possessions had been regained. In Manchuria, the Red Army was advancing unstoppably. The war could have ended in a matter of days, without the loss of even one more American life. All it would have taken was an ultimatum, or as a last resort, the use of that weapon in a battlefield or on one or two strictly military Japanese bases, and the war would have ended immediately, regardless of any pressure or intransigence on the part of the most extremist leaders.
In my opinion, and although Japan started the war with an unjustifiable surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, there was no excuse whatsoever for that terrible slaughter of children, women, old persons and innocent people of any age.
The Japanese people, noble and generous, did not utter a single word of hatred against the perpetrators of that crime. On the contrary, they have built a monument to peace, so that something like this may never happen again.
Millions of people should visit this site, so that the world will know what really happened there.
I also had the moving experience of seeing there a picture of Che [Guevara], when he laid a wreath at that modest yet immortal reminder of one of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity.