BEFORE WE START COULD YOU TELL US, SO WE'LL HAVE IT STRAIGHT, IN 1963,
DURING THE PERIOD WE'RE GOING TO BE TALKING ABOUT, WHAT WAS YOUR POSITION THEN?
I was Editor-in-Chief, director of L'Expresse. And L'Expresse, was to
develop..., the managing director was Francois Hereau, and Jean-Jacques Cervanches-le-Repaire
(?), and at the same time I was the French correspondent for New Republic, which was run by
Gilbert Harrison at that time.
HE WAS THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF L'EXPRESSE, WHICH WAS A WEEKLY MAGAZINE.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW DIRECTED BY AND ALL THAT...?
Kennedy on Cuba
...AND WAS AT THE SAME TIME THE FRENCH CORRESPONDENT FOR THE NEW
IN YOUR OCTOBER 24 MEETING 1963 WITH KENNEDY HOW DID YOU HAPPEN TO BE
TALKING ABOUT THE SUBJECT OF CUBA?
Kennedy agreed to see me so quickly because he knew that I was going to
Cuba already. It was Ben Bradley, who is now the director of the Washington Post, and who was at
that time the head of Time magazine in Washington. Bradley told Kennedy at a party of Joe
Craft's, that I was to do a long interview with Castro, and that Castro had agreed to see him at
length. And these circumstances are why, Kennedy agreed to see me so quickly. I do not think
that he would have otherwise called to meet with me.
Ben Bradley was a very close friend of mine, because he stayed in Paris
for Time magazine before Washington.
DID WHAT KENNEDY TELL YOU ABOUT CUBA SURPRISE YOU AT ALL?
Yes, it surprised me a lot. Less, perhaps, by the content of his
statements than by the form, the tone, the passion which he emitted. There was something else
which also surprised me, and that was the self-criticism which he made. Both at his own actions
and at the comportment of the United States with regard to Cuba.
Could I add something?
HE'D LIKE TO ADD SOMETHING.
The general sense of this self-criticism was that Kennedy had the
impression that communism in Cuba had come about by the fault of the United States. And that
they seemed to him (the United States), guilty for these unfortunate communists.
EXCUSE ME, COULD YOU START OUT BY SAYING KENNEDY FELT...PUT IT IN A
Kennedy felt guilty for the United States, because he thought that the
United States had shown a colonialistic attitude towards Cuba, not directly colonialist, by the
possession of the island of Cuba, but by the manner in which the United States used Cuba. In the
months following my meeting with him, he two or three times, particularly in a speech at Miami,
made allusions to this attitude, this using by the United States of Cuba. With general
puritanistic religiosity, he felt that the comportment of the United States debauched Cuba, and
that it was humiliating for the Cuban people. That was the thing which struck me the most. Then,
when Battista was overthrown, and Castro took power, the United States was guilty for not
showing the Cuban people that it approved of the revolution. Kennedy claimed he always said that
it was not the idea of the revolution which the U.S. deplored, it was the fact that it was a
communist revolution, and a communist revolution associated with the Soviet Union. But it was
good that the people were allied against Battisa.
You have to remember that...there was at any time, that Kennedy was
saying that he wasn't a Marxist, that he wasn't a communist, and at that time when he had just
tried to see Nixon, that Nixon had left him standing had very unhappy ...
YOU MEANT TO SAY THAT "CASTRO WAS SAYING THAT HE WASN'T A MARXIST…."
YOU SAID KENNEDY.
It is necessary for you to remember that Castro, Fidel Castro, several
times declared that he was not a Marxist, that he was not a communist, and that he repeated this
or he tried to repeat this when he came to Washington. And when he was received by Nixon, but
not very well, he was left to sit alone in an office, he found this humiliating.
YOU WROTE IN YOUR ARTICLE IN THE NEW REPUBLIC IN DECEMBER OF THAT YEAR
THAT YOU COULD SEE THAT KENNEDY HAD SOME DOUBTS ABOUT HIS POLICY TOWARDS CUBA, THE ECONOMIC
BLOCKADE AND THE CIA ACTIVITIES, AND THAT HE WAS SEEKING A WAY OUT. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT A
Kennedy estimated that he had been fooled by the CIA, and perhaps, in
my own personal interpretation, his personal advisers regarding the popularity of Castro and his
companions with the public (or lack thereof). And he himself kept a bitter memory of the Bay of
Pigs, and other attempts at arguing with Castro, thus he sought another voice through which he
might use to deal with Castro. That was the reason... that was the reason that Kennedy used
people who were not diplomats, he sent many people, he had sent many people who were specialists
in information. Now he had no confidence in professional intermediaries which he had had between
Castro and himself.
Effect of the Cuban Missile Crisis on Kennedy
WHAT DO YOU FEEL THE IMPACT OF THE MISSILE CRISIS WAS OK KENNEDY'S
ATTITUDE TOWARDS CUBA? DID IT CHANGE HIS ATTITUDE?
This changed his attitude because as he repeated and said to me,
because of Cuba the world was on the edge of a nuclear war, and therefore, he pondered to
himself the question of whether Castro was extremely conscious and responsible, or whether
Castro was an adventurer who played with the fate of the world, or if actually Castro was simply
unconscious of the risks he was running with the entire world. Therefore, he was in a stage of
great anger and annoyance with Castro and with the Soviet influence in Cuba.
COULD YOU START AGAIN, BEING SURE TO MENTION THE CUBAN MISSILE
The missile crisis changed Kennedy's attitude. In the process of this
crisis, he was given the impression and even the certitude that the world was on the brink of
nuclear war, and he asked himself if Castro was a man of conscience, or if he was a man who took
the risks of an adventurer.
I want to add something
HE WONDERS WHETHER HE SHOULD ADD SOMETHING ABOUT THAT.
SURE. GO AHEAD.
The missile crisis changed the behavior of Kennedy because Kennedy had
also the impression of a huge... a huge lie, a huge imposter, because just until the last
moments Cuba with the Soviets lied when Castro claimed he had no missiles. And Stevenson, who
was then at the U.N., had to show the aerial photos of the missiles which did exist in Cuba.
That was the proof of the huge lie which Kennedy had felt fooled by, therefore this changed his
behavior towards Cuba even more.
Kennedy’s Message for Castro
KENNEDY ASKED YOU TO SEE HIM AFTER YOUR RETURN FROM YOUR MEETING WITH
CASTRO. DID YOU FEEL YOU WERE HELPING TO CONVEY A MESSAGE TO CASTRO ON KENNEDY'S
Yes, in a sense. It was, it was a message. I don't believe at all that
I had any diplomatic role, that I didn't take the responses seriously...about health...that I
had a real journalistic, professional opportunity. But at the same time, it is true that he
asked me to say certain things to Castro.
COULD YOU TELL ME THEN WHAT WERE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT KENNEDY ASKED
YOU TO CONVEY TO CASTRO? AND AGAIN COULD YOU START BY STATING, "KENNEDY ASKED ME..." WHATEVER
THE FACT IS AGAIN SO THE AUDIENCE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOUR ANSWER REFERS TO.
Kennedy asked me two essential things. The first was to tell Fidel
Castro that he, Kennedy, was not concerned about Castro's being a Communist, or that they got on
well with people like Tito and Secuture. Kennedy's concern was that he may have become an
ally of the Soviet Union in an area of U.S. influence. That was the first thing. The second
thing for Kennedy, was to know to what extent Fidel Castro was again ready for a new settlement
with the United States, provided that, desereselian with the Soviets. Those
were the essential concerns; the rest were just nuances and details. The essential in all this
was to say that he very much wanted to know, that he was very curious to know what his response
was, because I had reported it to him.
Castro and the Cuban Missile Crisis
I'M GOING TO ASK YOU SOME QUESTIONS NOW ABOUT YOUR INTERVIEW WITH
CASTRO. HOW DID CASTRO DESCRIBE HIS FEARS REGARDING THE UNITED STATES' INTENTIONS FOR CUBA
LEADING UP TO THE MISSILE CRISIS?
Castro told me a long story about the reasons why he believed that he
had been threatened by the United States. He added that it was even more interesting that he
also feared that there was a kind of agreement or resignation between the Soviet Union and the
United States. To pardon it, which is dying, this long story justified this ennui problem that
he was using any weapons he could to protect his revolution.
AT THAT TIME DO YOU THINK THAT CASTRO FEARED THAT THE UNITED STATES WAS
PLANNING ANOTHER INVASION?
Castro did indeed believe that he couldn't absolutely rule out another
invasion of Cuba by the United States. We were in the time of the blockade. He often told me
that if there were a Soviet ship, which had arrived but two days earlier, which made port to
replenish its electric power supply, and of the principal also, the principal commodities, so
Castro believed that there would be a new invasion of Cuba.
WHOSE IDEA WAS IT TO PUT THE NEW NUCLEAR WEAPONS ON CUBA'S SOIL? WAS IT
CASTRO'S OR KHRUSHCHEV'S?
I've read a number of books regarding this question, and I haven't
managed to formulate an exact idea. But I can tell you what I was thinking at that time, when I
spoke with Kennedy, and with Castro. And at that time, it seemed to me that Castro had requested
the missiles that he hadn't waited long for them; he finished, then, by accepting them from
I want to add that Khrushchev was much more of an adventurer than
Stalin. He was ready to take many more risks, and he was less responsible. He was perhaps more
liberal, in domestic policies, but he was much more adventurous in foreign policies. And I
believe that the idea of impressing and making the United States fearful was a Soviet idea that
came from Khrushchev. I believe that today.
I would like to tell you more, other things about...the nuclear risk
that, there were experts, strategists, who believe to the contrary that, at the time of the
missile crisis, that was the first moment of détente. They believe it was a confrontation
between the French and the Americans; they believed that by placing the missiles in Cuba,
Khrushchev knew that he was saving Cuba, but that the missiles would have to be brought back,
returned, one day or another. So, that was a time when the world was also more fearful of a
nuclear explosions, or a nuclear conflict that the...strategy was launched; this conflict was,
to the contrary... at that moment, it was, to the contrary, ended.
WHAT DID CASTRO THINK ABOUT PLACING THE MISSILES IN CUBA, DID HE THINK
SOMEHOW TO PREVENT A WAR BETWEEN THE U.S. AND THE USSR?
Fidel Castro refused my questions on this subject, because he said that
a country was going to use all the threats it could to protect itself. And that he understood
the difference in size between his country and the United States, he could only accept it. It
was not a good idea to make use of the weapons that he proposed to Khrushchev; their purpose was
rather to obtain protection for Cuba. Fidel Castro also didn't believe there would be a global
conflict. But he didn't want to address the question on this point.
IN YOUR INTERVIEW WITH CASTRO HE SAID THAT HE THOUGHT THAT KENNEDY HAD
INHERITED A DIFFICULT SITUATION WHEN HE CAME INTO OFFICE. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT,
That was the situation... No, Castro said that Kennedy, when he took
over the presidency of the United States, had inherited all the American prejudices against
Cuba. And the proof was that he tried to explain the Bay of Pigs adventure. He said that in
order for his government to make such a mistake, the background dossiers on Cuba that he found
when he reached the White House had to be stupid... dossiers that were both stupid and
irresponsible. So he granted that Kennedy was surrounded by some extenuating
CASTRO TOLD YOU THAT AFTER THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS THAT KHRUSHCHEV
DESCRIBED KENNEDY AS A MAN THAT YOU COULD TALK TO... WHAT DO YOU THINK CASTRO'S IMPRESSIONS OF
KENNEDY WERE AT THAT TIME?
The night I talked with Castro, he believed, in fact, that Kennedy was
a man with whom he could now talk. At that time, certainly. Not because he believed that the
American chief of state was a particularly understanding and open man, but because he could deal
only now, after bad experiences, after the Bay of Pigs, after his...after attempts, after the
missile crisis, that it wasn't easy to be done with Cuba. With those experiences behind him, he
was indeed a man with whom one could talk.
TED SCHULTZ HAS QUOTED CASTRO AS SAYING IN THE LAST MONTHS OF HIS LIFE
KENNEDY WAS RETHINKING HIS POLICY TOWARD CUBA. WHAT DID CASTRO MAKE OF YOUR VISIT? WHAT WAS HIS
REACTION TO WHAT YOU TOLD HIM FROM KENNEDY?
I believe that if Kennedy had not been assassinated he would have in
effect modified, corrected his politics towards the United States. But the assassination of
Kennedy on the contrary frightened Castro, even radicalized his attitude. After the
assassination, he was afraid that there was a movement for revenge because at certain times it
was said that Kennedy was assassinated by Cubans, pro-Castro Cubans. And he again at this time
drew nearer to the Soviet Union. He was hesitant because of his entourage. There was a
difference of opinion between Che Guevara and Raoul Castro. Guevara, after the missile crisis,
estimated that Russia gave in too easily to the U.S. and that it was necessary to turn towards
China. And Raoul Castro on the contrary said that the tie with the Soviet Union was the one to
depend on. But one should not say as Ted Schultz that these changes took place because of the
assassination of President Kennedy.
WERE YOU ACTUALLY WITH CASTRO WHEN YOU HEARD THE NEWS OF KENNEDY'S
ASSASSINATION, AND IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW HE REACTED?
Yes, I was in the middle of lunching at Castro's villa, which he has on
the sea, when he received a telephone call announcing that there had been an attack. And on the
telephone he asked, if the attack was serious, and was told it was very serious. He came back to
the table and said, "It's bad news, very bad news." The first reaction of Castro's, when he
learned of the attack, was to be crushed by the news, as if he were in mourning. But I could not
say if he was emotionally unhappy or whether he found this very serious for Cuba, or both. But
in the heart of the moment I was certainly very surprised, because I never got the impression
that he reacted as an enemy would be expected to react to the news.
FROM YOUR VANTAGE POINT, DO YOU THINK THERE WAS ANY POSSIBILITY THAT
THIS ASSASSINATION HAD ANY CONNECTION WITH CUBA?
This is a question which I cannot answer, I cannot know, I have no
impressions. I believe that it is a historical mystery, and what I can say is to continue what I
said before. In the 48 hours after the Kennedy assassination which I spent in Cuba the island of
Cuba was also in mourning for what had happened in the United States. I cannot explain this to
myself, because it was at the same period when they considered the U.S. enemies, trying to
dethrone or overthrow Castro, and they had posters up against the U.S., against the "Yankees."
Just before the assassination these people were living as enemies of the United States. Just
after the assassination, there was general mourning, and consternation. It was even as if they
themselves were another state of the same government. This struck me very much.
Kennedy and Castro’s Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis
CAN YOU SUGGEST ANY LESSONS WHICH CASTRO AND KENNEDY HAD LEARNED FROM
THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS?
I believe that Kennedy learned two lessons...The first that it was not
possible to trust the Soviet Union, and that we could not be naive in the cooperation for
détente. About this he told me that the Soviets were liars. And the second lesson was that at
any price the Alliance for Progress--you know the Alliance for Progress was the grand project of
Schlesinger--was his advice. And that the United States must have courage, to support the
revolutions in the Third World against communism. He wanted this alliance to succeed. These were
the two lessons learned by Kennedy. On the part of Castro, it was a little the same. That is,
that Castro also saw it necessary to continue their important alliance with the Soviet Union. At
the same time, it was also necessary to pursue other possibilities with their neighbor, because
their neighbor (the U.S.) had shown its determination would go very far.
COULD YOU JUST STATE AGAIN THE LESSONS YOU THOUGHT CASTRO
As for Castro, on his part, he learned two other lessons. The first was
the same as the one learned by Kennedy, that it was necessary to develop the alliance with the
Soviet Union because the Soviets would propose to put in and take out missiles from Cuba without
really even consulting Castro. And the second lesson was that it was absolutely necessary to
find some sort of agreement with the U.S., because the U.S. was their geographic neighbor and
this neighbor had demonstrated that it would go very far, even to confronting the Soviet
TO WRAP IT UP, COULD YOU SUM UP YOUR ROLE AS A MEDIATOR BETWEEN CASTRO
By chance, and by circumstances in effect I found myself in a place or
a role for which I was not particularly qualified; I was a simple journalist, not particularly
known in France, and a foreigner. And yet it is true, since I in the circumstances did have the
meeting with John Kennedy and since Fidel Castro attached such importance to this meeting I had
had, that I was made by this into a messenger.
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD?
I believe...I don't think I could answer anything because I don't have
in mind what your position is regarding the risk of the nuclear war. What I will perhaps say is
that, to return to the experts I mentioned, I believe that it is true that the beginning of
détente emerged from that crisis. And I believe that, at this time, we are also witnessing,
several hours after four o'clock, that by depleting what could create fear, the bombing of Libya
by the United States on the assumption that Libya is slightly closer to the Soviet Union,
assuming that the Soviet Union declares that its interests aim at assimilating Libya, a reason,
a kind of nuclear risk, I just recently came to understand the possible connection between the