photo courtesy: Gazette Review
It was an extraordinary moment.
It was October of 1959. Ten months earlier, Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries overthrew the Cuban government of Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s Eve. A year later, President John F. Kennedy enacted an embargo on exports in response to Castro nationalizing American businesses in Cuba, including oil refineries.
So began 55 years of discord between the two countries until President Obama normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba.
But back in ‘59, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) still went through with its plans to hold its 29th annual convention in Havana at the Blanquita Theater – now the Karl Marx Theater – and its featured speaker was none other than Fidel Castro.
Here is a transcript of Castro’s speech on tourism to the agents.
“Ladies and gentlemen:
In line with my age-old difficulty, when I took the floor I was not sure whether I was going to speak in English or Spanish, but in the end I decided to do it in English because I want to make myself properly understood.
Well, here I am giving a speech, and you will probably go through the same thing I went through during this meeting as we listened to the speakers. However, I hope you will be able to understand my English (APPLAUSE).
I don’t have much to tell you; actually, it’s not the Government who should speak in these cases: what you get to see is what matters, and not what you have read or heard about the people. Whatever I say here in that respect is hardly important. What the people might say is what counts. Whatever you can see by yourselves through the eyes of the Cuban people is the most important thing. I just want to say that we in Cuba are very happy and grateful to you for honoring us all with your presence in this Congress and your visit to Cuba, because that’s what it is: a great honor as well as a great help for us (APPLAUSE).
As has become customary, tourism has increased very much in the places where you have held your regular meetings. The figures speak for themselves, proving that it is so everywhere you go.
Now you, the leaders of this organization, will understand the benefits of your visit, because the most prestigious travel agencies in the world are represented in ASTA (APPLAUSE) and our traditionally noble and hospitable people thank you for your visit. That’s why all Cubans have long been looking forward to having you here; that’s why our workers finished the airport for you, working night and day in nine- and ten-hour-long shifts, and many other works were finished as well in a few days (APPLAUSE). That’s why you will be warmly welcomed and treated in every hotel, every street, every taxi, and everywhere you go in Cuba.
We are quite confident of the way our people behave because we know them very well and have absolute faith in them. Cuba’s impression on you won’t come from my speech or my words. I could say many things here, but I’m sure that you will be very impressed with our people.
We don’t care much for political propaganda; we want you to believe in facts, not words. I know the world is not perfect; I know that people throughout history have dealt with all sorts of difficulties, but history has made it plain that these difficulties are not important, because mankind has solved many problems along the way, and people all over the world will keep on making progress in the future to overcome their difficulties.
It’s impossible to speak about ourselves, so I honestly insist here that we have no interest whatsoever in any kind of propaganda and ask you to please put all your political ideas aside. You and your friends are professionals, not politicians, and your mission is to help your friends find the happiness our world may provide.
We don’t have many things; we are not an industrialized country and lack a number of things, but in the field of tourism we have many advantages, like our sea, bays, beaches, all kinds of medicinal waters, mountains, game and fishing preserves, and the best temperature in the world.
Maybe we don’t have the great beauty of the snow, but we have summertime and sunshine the whole year long (APPLAUSE).
You and your friends need to have sunshine in the winter, and of that we have as much as you want, and we have as much blue sky as you want, as well as beaches with sands of every color and a gentle cool breeze in the summer. I don’t mean to boast when I say that we may not have many things but we do have many good things for tourists, in addition to our people, which is more important than all that natural beauty (APPLAUSE).
We have no doubt as to what tourists will find here. We expect many things from our people, although not everyone has the same cultural level because Cuba never had enough schools to teach the whole people to read and write. Now we will have as many schools as we need. Still, the Cubans are a noble and hospitable people, and what’s more important, they don’t hate anyone. Our people love all visitors and make them feel at home (APPLAUSE).”