In a stinging response to George W. Bush’s speech in Miami on May 20, Cuban President Fidel Castro last Saturday contrasted the island nation’s social and economic achievements with the grinding poverty and oppression that earlier dominated the lives of most Cubans.

“On May 20, it was ironic to listen to Mr. W. claim strongly for independence and freedom – not for Puerto Rico but for Cuba; and to talk much about democracy – not for Florida but for Cuba,” Castro said as he addressed some 400,000 Cubans at a protest rally against Washington’s blockade and threats against the island nation, in Holguin Province. Bush “made a special point of defending private property, as if it did not exist in Cuba,” Castro said, but “the socialist revolution has created in Cuba more property owners than all those created by capitalism throughout centuries.”

“The only property right known by most Cubans before 1959 was the right of the big foreign companies and their allies in the national oligarchy to own enormous amounts of farmland in our country,” the Cuban leader added. These same forces owned the country’s natural resources, biggest factories, crucial public services, banks, hospitals and other economic and social facilities.

During his childhood and youth, Castro said, “I never saw hospitals or schools for ordinary people and their children. I did not see brigades of doctors and teachers. I only saw extreme poverty, injustice and hopelessness everywhere. The Cuban people had been … stripped of any property.”

Today, he said, hundreds of thousands of peasant families own their land, for which they do not even pay taxes. Others have the use of the land, free of charge, and work it either individually or in cooperatives, owning the machinery, workshops, livestock and other goods.

“But most of all,” Castro added, “the Revolution gave the people the property of their own country.” What the Revolution eliminated, he said, was the ownership of basic means of production, financial institutions and other crucial services by the rich and privileged, leaving the poor and Black people out.

Citing the many enormous social advances made by the Cuban people since 1959, Castro pointed out that every Cuban child has high quality health services and education, absolutely free of charge.

No other Latin American country even comes close, he added. In Cuba, he said, no child begs in the streets or works to make a living instead of attending school.

“For Mr. W., democracy only exists where money solves everything and where those who can afford a $25,000-a-plate dinner … are the ones called on to solve the problems of society and the world,” he said.

“Don’t be a fool, Mr. W. Show some respect for the minds of people who are capable of thinking,” the Cuban leader concluded. “Show some respect for others and for yourself.”