Fidel Castro Says North Korea Sent Cuba Free Weapons During Cold War

Castro in 2010.
In recent years, the aging Castro has traded in his trademark olive-green military uniform for track suits. Reuters


Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader and former head of state, turned 87 on Tuesday.  In a series of musings published Wednesday in the government's official organ Granma, Castro says he didn't think he'd live to see that day after he became "gravely" ill in July 2006.  Another revelation he makes in the article might pack a bite for Panamanian authorities, for one: his government, he says, received free weapons sent from North Korea in the 1980s.  Panama recently uncovered anti-aircraft defense weapons from Cuba on a North Korean boat as the freighter passed through its canal.  Cuba says it was sending them to North Korea for repairs to be later returned.

Castro writes that in November 1982, when Yuri Andropov took over the helm of the USSR, the maximum leader advised him that if the US were to invade Cuba, the island nation would have to defend itself alone.  He adds that Andropov assured him that the USSR would supply free arms.  But his government sought out weaponry elsewhere.

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"The compañero Kim Il Sung" - former North Korean leader who died in 1994 -- "a veteran and irreproachable combatant, sent us 100,000 AK-47 rifles and its corresponding ammo without charging a cent," Castro writes.

ABC News notes that Andropov, a former KGB chief, was the Soviet leader from 1982 until his death 15 months later in 1984.  The Soviet Union would go under five years later, plunging Cuba into the prolonged economic crisis known as the "Special Period".

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The Cuban head of state also makes reference to two extraordinary circumstances involving the press.  The first sees him receiving French reporter Jean Daniel in 1962 in the beach resort of Varadero.  Daniel had earlier interviewed US President John F. Kennedy at length about the October missile crisis, during which Kennedy had wondered if Castro had recognized what a dangerous moment it had been.  In Varadero, Castro and Daniel were sitting down to lunch to discuss just that when news broke of Kennedy's assassination. 

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Castro goes on to qualify the circumstances of Kennedy's murder - and the deaths of other Kennedy family members - as "strange", and praises John F. Kennedy Jr., who visited Cuba in 1997.  He also says he thought he was facing down his own death in 2006. 

"I was far from imagining that my life would be prolonged another seven years."


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David Iaconangelo is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.  Formerly editor of ZafraLit, a blog of new short fiction from Cuba.  He has lived in and reported from various Latin American countries.