16. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Bluhdorn’s Meeting with Fidel Castro

PARTICIPANTS

  • The Secretary
  • Charles Bluhdorn, Chairman of the Board, Gulf and Western
  • Lawrence Levinson, Vice President, Gulf and Western
  • Matthew Nimetz, Counselor of the Department
  • Ira Wolf, C (Notetaker)

Cuba

(Bluhdorn prefaced his remarks by stating that his company did not expect to benefit financially from his trip to Havana and that because of the large number of ex-Cubans he employs it was critical that his trip remain secret.)

Bluhdorn said that Castro invited him to Havana because of his company’s involvement with sugar, cigars, tourism, etc., and because the Cuban Ambassador in Caracas had reported favorably on Bluhdorn’s previous meeting with Carlos Andres Perez. Bluhdorn spent six hours with Castro from 10:00 p.m. May 26 until 4:00 a.m. May 27.

Castro categorically rejected the possibility of Cuban military or other interference in the Caribbean. Clearly the United States would not permit such activity.

Castro said that his forces were not involved in Zaire. He had planned to withdraw his troops from Angola but stopped the withdrawal when the French and Moroccans came to the aid of Zaire.2 Castro criticized the United States for supporting the corrupt Mobutu regime and continuing to support military governments throughout Latin America. Castro said that while he will never become militarily involved in Zaire, that is not necessarily true in Ethiopia.

Castro appeared very upset by Bluhdorn’s claim that he was merely a “front-man” for the Soviets in Africa. Castro said he was totally independent of the Soviet Union and, although the two maintain a very close relationship, Cuba does not take instructions from the Sovi[Page 41]ets. Castro repeatedly emphasized that the Cubans are “militants” compared to the cautious Soviets who are most concerned about the pursuit of detente. In fact, the Soviets are restraining him in Africa in order to prevent problems with US/Soviet rapprochement. On the other hand, later in the conversation, Castro said that Cuban activity in Africa was directly correlated with US actions toward Cuba.

Castro stressed the affinity between the Cubans and the peoples of Africa; both are tropical, the same color, and understand each other. Cuban doctors go without money and without family, but they go with a doctrine. Although the United States possesses technological superiority, Cuba, with doctrine and belief on its side, will survive the American system.

Bluhdorn said that while Castro has perhaps grown more mature as he has aged he is still a fanatic, albeit a “considered fanatic”. He considers himself a first generation revolutionary with worldwide impact. He wants to play the same type of role, particularly in Africa, that Lenin played in the Soviet Union. But he also wants respectability and to be a world statesman. This comes from acceptance by the United States. On the other hand, Castro made it clear to Bluhdorn that Africa provides him with an avenue for global leadership. His place in history is Africa, and he would not abandon it, although he might reduce the level of his activities there.

Castro invited Bluhdorn to communicate with him directly at any time and to return to Havana for further conversations. Bluhdorn said that he has developed a good relationship with Castro and would be happy to serve as an informal channel of communications.

Economics

Castro said that Cuba receives thirty cents per pound for sugar from the Soviet Union (three million tons per year) while the world price is only eight cents per pound. The Russians are also selling him oil at 50 percent of the world price.

According to Bluhdorn, Castro purchased $150 million in high technology goods from Japan but cannot pay the bill. He has already drawn down one large hard currency loan from the Soviets but is too proud to request another. The goods are being held in Japan pending payment.

Castro expects to have an operating nuclear power plant by 1980.

Dominican Republic

After his meeting with Castro, Bluhdorn travelled to the Dominican Republic and met with Balaguer whom he has known intimately for many years. Bluhdorn said Balaguer is America’s best friend in the Caribbean but is very troubled that in eleven years in power he has [Page 42] never been invited to Washington. Balaguer believes the United States takes the Dominican Republic’s friendship totally for granted. Balaguer is too proud to discuss this with the American Ambassador, but Bluhdorn believes it would be in our interest to treat Balaguer better—beginning with an invitation to Washington.

  1. Source: Department of State, Records of Cyrus Vance, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Nodis Memcons 1977. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Wolf; approved by Twaddell. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office.
  2. In March 1977, Katangan rebels in Angola invaded Shaba Province in Zaire. In April, Moroccan troops, aided by the French, beat back the Katangan invaders.