EARTH SUMMIT : Castro’s Speech Is Stunning--for Its Brevity


It was midday Friday, and the Earth Summit was running badly behind schedule. Fourteen prime ministers and presidents had taken their turns at the podium, many of them talking beyond the seven-minute limit. Next up was Cuban President Fidel Castro, famous for his long, long lectures on the sins of capitalism.

With the leaders of an increasingly capitalistic world in his audience, hope for brevity seemed scant.

Maybe with that in mind, maybe not, Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello, the summit host and chairman, cautioned that if speakers continued taking so much excess time, the session would end 1 1/2 hours late. Collor asked his colleagues to “observe the time limit of seven minutes so that we can make this session more comfortable for all of the ladies and gentlemen present.” He then introduced Castro.

When he spoke, Castro surprised no one by blaming “consumer societies” for “atrocious destruction of the environment.”


But the speech, for Castro, was stunningly brief: five minutes.

If not a record, it certainly was a notable effort.

Later, someone asked President Bush, who had joined the applause, what he thought of Castro’s speech. “Good. Seven minutes,” Bush said, exaggerating a bit on the time.

Bush did not comment on the Communist leader’s message, a scathing swipe at the United States and other industrialized countries.


“It is necessary to point out that consumer societies are the main ones responsible for the atrocious destruction of the environment,” Castro said. “They were born from the old colonial metropolises and from imperial policies, which in turn generated the backwardness and poverty that today lash the majority of humankind.

“With only 20% of the world population,” he said, “they consume two-thirds of the metals and three-fourths of the energy produced in the world. They have poisoned the seas and the rivers, polluted the air, weakened and perforated the ozone layer, saturated the atmosphere with gases that change climatic conditions with catastrophic results that we now are beginning to suffer.”

Alluding to the collapse of communist governments in the Soviet Union and other countries, Castro declared: “When the supposed threats of communism no longer exist, there are no pretexts for cold wars, arms races and military expenditures.” He asked why money spent on armament could not now be spent on development in poor countries and the environment.

When he finished, official delegations applauded heartily--many obviously for the speech’s biting content, some perhaps for its unexpected brevity. It was the loudest ovation of the morning session.


“I was surprised Castro announced the end of communism and even more surprised he finished in time,” quipped Michael K. Young, a deputy assistant secretary of state who was a key U.S. negotiator for the summit.