The Times of India
October 25, 2002

Castro Jr looks beyond revolution

                           MAHENDRA VED

                           NEW DELHI: Though the world and his flowing beard have long changed
                           colours, the innings of Fidel Castro, the iconic Cuban leader, is far from
                           over. But another Fidel — it’s actually Castro Jr — has already come
                           out of the lengthening shadow of his legendary father, trying to adjust
                           his island to the new world and look beyond the concerns of the
                           generation of revolution.

                           Significantly, he has chosen India, the long-standing ally of his
                           beleaguered country, to unfold his agenda for the future.

                           Dr Fidel Castro Diaz Balart hopes relations between Cuba and the US
                           could improve ‘‘during my lifetime... provided American policies become
                           rational and less aggressive.’’

                           ‘‘Nobody has a crystal ball,’’ he mused while speaking to The Times of
                           India on the sidelines of the international climate change conference
                           now underway here.

                           He smiled when asked if Cuba, nestled in the Caribbean a stone’s
                            throw away from Florida, has ‘‘absorbed and digested’’ the US
                           sanctions imposed for the past four decades. There was already
                           people-to- people contact. People from 35 of the 50 American states
                           have already been coming to Cuba as tourists.

                           ‘‘What is Cuba’s future?’’ He was quick to reply: ‘‘It is not based on
                           relations with the US. The results of the last election have shown that
                           we have our own priorities and plans and decisions. We have survived
                           the (US) policy of blockade.’’

                           Castro speaks with pride of the rapid strides his country has made in
                           literacy from less than 40 per cent to near-cent per cent now. There are
                           62 universities and centres of higher learning in his country. Indeed, 6.3
                           per cent of the country’s population lives off education. ‘‘It is a
                           knowledge- based economy at work,’’ he says. ‘‘But that is the global
                           trend in the new millennium.’’

                           Fidel Jr is as tall and big as his father, but minus the battle fatigues.
                           Clad in a safari suit, he looks a benign bureaucrat.

                           India is part of the eternal search. ‘‘Christopher Columbus came to the
                           Caribbean looking for India. And now we come to India,’’ says Castro.
                           This present-day Columbus has been coming to India in search of
                           cultural ties, farming technology, to propagate biotechnology that his
                           country has made rapid strides in, and to see if Cuban pharmaceuticals
                           could find a market in India.

                           A nuclear scientist and scientific advisor to his President-father, Fidel Jr
                           rues the non-completion of a prestigious nuclear power plant in Cuba,
                           thanks to American sanctions. He is still looking for ways to get it
                           going. Things became difficult after the disintegration of the Soviet
                           Union and the Eastern bloc. Cannot India help? The technology, he
                           points out, is different.

                           Asked about the Indian nuclear tests of 1998, he replies: ‘‘Well, I am a
                           guest in your country and would not like to comment.’’ He pointed out
                           that Cuba has signed the NPT, the last country in the Western
                           hemisphere to do so.