A successful revolution hinges on not just how you wage war, but how you wield words. Fidel Castro — whose rhetoric helped turn the island of Cuba against its democratically-elected government — is a living testament to that.
Castro, who held control over Cuba for half a century, is not known for his pithiness. Indeed, over the course of his life he has often given three-hour speeches, and will answer a simple “yes” or “no” question with an entire defense of the impoverished and a searing indictment of capitalism.
Still, rhetoric is not reality. The latter finally set in for the Cuban people in the 1970s, when Cuba became the poorest nation in the Soviet bloc, plagued with disease and totalitarianism. The revolution came, thanks in part to Castro’s words, but it did not produce the paradise about which Castro waxed poetically.
With that in mind, here’s a handful of the most intense Fidel Castro quotes you’ll ever read:
On the revolution's rewards:
Jorge Rey/Getty Images“One of the greatest benefits of the Revolution is that even our prostitutes are college graduates.” - 2003, to director Oliver Stone in the documentary Comandante
On Santa Claus:
Kena Betancur/Getty Images"The leading symbol of the hagiography of US mercantilism." - 1998
On his similarity to Jesus Christ:
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images“I never saw a contradiction between the ideas that sustain me and the ideas of that symbol, of that extraordinary figure, Jesus Christ.” - 1985
On capitalism and poverty:
Mario Tama/Getty Images"Capitalism has neither the capacity, nor the morality, nor the ethics to solve the problems of poverty." - 1991
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/GettyImages“A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past." - 1961, speech on the second anniversary of the Cuban Revolution
On his use of violence:
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images“Condemn me, it does not matter: history will absolve me.” - 1953, at his trial for the raid on Moncada Barracks
On George W. Bush:
Spencer Platt/Getty Images"For a country that can read, write and think, no one can make a more eloquent criticism of the empire than Bush himself." - 2008
On George W. Bush, again:
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images"You cannot utter the word democracy, because, among other reasons, everyone in the world knows your ascent to the US presidency was a fraud." - 2004
On Jeb Bush:
Sean Rayford/Getty Images"Forgive me for using the term 'fat little brother' ... It is not a criticism, rather a suggestion that he do some exercises and go on a diet, don't you think? I'm doing this for the gentleman's health." - 2005
On his beard:
ISMAEL FRANCISCO/AFP/Getty Images“I’m not thinking to cut my beard, because … my beard means many things to my country. When we have fulfilled our promise of good government, I will cut my beard.” - 1959 interview with CBS, 30 days after the start of the Revolution
On the future of US-Cuba relations:
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images"United States will come to talk to us when they have a black president and the world has a Latin American pope." - 1973
JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images“If people call me Christian, not from the standpoint of religion but from the standpoint of social vision, I declare that I am a Christian.” - 2007
On his health:
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images"I have a heart of steel.” - 1972, in response to journalists asking about his heart condition
On combatting imperialism:
MIGUEL ROJO/AFP/Getty Images“I propose the immediate launching of a nuclear strike on the United States. The Cuban people are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the cause of the destruction of imperialism and the victory of world revolution.” - 1992
On a good speech:
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images"I have concluded – maybe a little late – that speeches must be short." - 2000
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