Jorge Serrano is a former president of Guatemala, a businessman, an evangelical Christian. And in our meeting in Panama, it struck me that even conservatives and capitalists spoke with some touch of respect for Fidel Castro. I asked him why.
Where do you meet with Fidel?
“On two occasions. Once in Mexico, in Guadalajara, and another time in Spain.”
Did you like him personally?
“First meeting was, you know, he was very impressive, because Fidel, when you talk to him, he is charming, he has a strong personality, but very open. He had respect for me because he always recognized that I kept an independent course. He was following me since I was one of the members of the National Reconciliation Commission, the national body promoting the peace accords. So, I had some indirect communication with him. But the first direct meeting was in Guadalajara.”
President Serrano talked to Fidel about his efforts at ending the thirty year civil war, and asked him to be a positive influence with the guerillas.
Fidel agreed. “I am going to help you. I don’t have too much influence in Guatemala, but I am going to speak to them. And he did. He helped me. At least they knew that the opinion of Fidel was going to be in my favor.
“At that time, he was explaining all the liberties in Cuba, and talked about religion. I said, oh Fidel, if it is so, I would like to send some Bibles to Cuba. If I can send them, let me how can I do that?”
“Half a million.”
“OH, CHICO!! You want to evangelize all the island. Why, so many?”
Serrano answered, “Exactly for the same reason that you were sending propaganda to Latin America.”
Somebody called Serrano from the ministry of foreign affairs and told him that President Castro said that he can send the first ten thousand Bibles. “So I made all the connections to the Bible societies. And then the ministry said, you are going to give us the Bibles to distribute. And I said no, I am going to send the Bibles to somebody to distribute. I came to send thirty thousand, a big difference (from a half million), but it was OK.”
It’s interesting to me that, you are a capitalist, and a Christian, and Fidel is neither, and yet it seems that even those who oppose his ideology or history have appreciation or respect for him at some level.
“I told my wife we were going to meet him. And my wife said no. Look at what he has done to my country. I am not going to meet with him. But I said it was a piece of history. After 20 minutes with Fidel, she was laughing and they were best friends.
“In Madrid, some of the presidents of Latin America had a meeting. And President Felipe Gonzalez, instead of having the seats in the usual way, they put the seats in the round. So all the presidents had the opportunity to be seeing each other. Then Castro gets into the room and the Paraguayan president gets into the room and they sit across from each other.
“When I come into the room, Fidel says, Serrrano come sit here. I sat with him and started to talk. So, in order to pass the time, Fidel asks the Paraguayan President, “How many hectares do you have?”
He answered, twenty.
Fidel said, “Oh, but that is a minimum!”
Felipe Gonzales said, “And you Fidel, what are you talking about, you have a complete island!”
Fidel said, “Yes, but I cannot sell it, and I am not selling it!”
Why do you think Fidel didn’t liberalize after some years?
“Ah, I asked him. You know there was a meeting with the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Bolivia and they got together in Vera Cruz, because at that time there was a rumor that the Americans were going to try to start a conflict over the bases in order to get into Cuba.
“The meeting was a disaster. After the problem was presented, after twenty minutes, Fidel stands up, and asks all his people to get ready and go back to the island. He cut all communication with these presidents. So the president of Venezuela called me and said, Jorge, Fidel Castro appreciates you, so we would like to ask you to talk to him. We need to open his eyes because a bloodbath can come to Cuba.”
Which year was this?
“So the next day, I saw Fidel in a reception, and I said I need to talk to you alone. He said, let’s do it in Barcelona, because we were going there for the inaugural ceremony of the Olympic Games.
“I was resting in the hotel before the inauguration, and a knock comes on my door, and I was told President Castro is available if you have the time. I told Fidel we are really worrying about this situation because it will cause a real problem for Latin American countries. He listened. He was not alone, as I asked, there were two guys, one from the government party and the other from foreign affairs.
“Fidel said, ‘Serrano, I accept your concerns. Because it is from you and not from one of these servants of the imperialists. But I am going to live with the revolution, and I am going to die with the revolution. I am not going to be like (Ceaucescu of Romania). If I open the door THIS much, they are going to get in, and destroy the revolution. So the revolution will continue till I die or I die with the revolution.'”