HAVANA — Fidel Castro said Friday his comments about the Cuban economic model no longer working were misinterpreted by a visiting American journalist – taking back an admission that caused a stir around the globe.
The 84-year-old ex-president said he was not misquoted but meant "the opposite" of what he was reported as having said by The Atlantic magazine reporter Jeffrey Goldberg.
Goldberg wrote Wednesday that during three days of interviews with Castro in Havana last month, he asked the former leader over lunch and wine if Cuba's communist system was still worth exporting to other countries. He said Castro replied: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."
Castro read from Goldberg's blog during an event at the University of Havana and said he was misunderstood.
"I expressed it to him without bitterness or worry. It's funny to me now how he interpreted it, word for word, and how he consulted with Julia Sweig, who accompanied him and gave a theory," Castro told those assembled. "The reality is, my answer meant the opposite of what both American journalists interpreted about the Cuban model."
Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations who came to Cuba with Goldberg, confirmed Castro's comment earlier this week, telling The Associated Press it was in line with calls by Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and successor as president, for gradual but widespread economic and labor reform on the island.
Goldberg blogged that Sweig told him Raul Castro "is already loosening the state's hold on the economy."
Since July 2006, when serious intestinal illness nearly killed Fidel Castro and forced him to cede power to Raul, Cuba has implemented reforms such as allowing the unrestricted sale of cell phones, privatizing some state-run barbershops, licensing more private taxis and distributing fallow government land to private farmers in hopes they could put it to better use.
Still, Cuba's former "Maximum Leader" maintained Friday that wasn't what he meant at all.
"My idea, as the whole world knows, is that the capitalist system no long works – neither for the United States nor the world, which it steers from crisis to crisis, which are ever more serious, global and repetitive, and from which there is no escape," Castro said. "How could such a system work for a socialist country like Cuba?"
The comments came during an unveiling at the university of "The Strategic Counter-Offensive," Castro's second book on his revolution that toppled Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 that he has written and released in less than a month.
His tone was not angry, more baffled and even a bit bemused. At one point Castro said, "I continue to think that Goldberg is a great journalist. He doesn't invent phrases, he transmits them and interprets them."
Castro had invited Goldberg to Cuba to discuss Iran – not domestic island politics – and he apparently did not elaborate on his comment about the economy, making it difficult to decipher the meaning.
Still, it made headlines globally: The Guardian newspaper of Britain called it "an aside heard around the world."
Castro said Goldberg missed the irony in his quip and took issue for the same reason with a a Goldberg blog entry from Tuesday, when he wrote that during another conversation, Castro questioned his own actions during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – including his recommendation to Soviet leaders that they use nuclear weapons against the United States.
Goldberg wrote that with Castro, he revisited the Missile Crisis, asking: "At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?"
He said Castro's answer surprised him: "After I've seen what I've seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn't worth it all."
"It's true that I broached the subject as (Goldberg) relates," Castro said Friday. But he added that if he had known the true nature of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, he would have pushed for another course of action.
Castro said his remark to Goldberg came in "obvious reference to the treachery of the Russian president who, saturated with alcoholic substances, gave the United States all his country's most important military secrets."
Castro did not take issue with other aspects of Goldberg's reporting, such as his revelation that the gray-bearded revolutionary criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and for what he called anti-Semitic attitudes.
Blogging about his trip to Cuba – which included a visit with Castro to the dolphin show at Havana's aquarium – Goldberg said he would post further items and write a longer piece for The Atlantic.
"He didn't mention many other aspects of our conversations," Castro said Friday. "I will respect the confidentiality of the matters we discussed while waiting with great interest his extensive article."