Fidel Castro: 1926 - 2016
I wanted to write a blog acknowledging one of the iconic figures of modern history without antagonizing those that hold the extreme views that this person can sometimes illicit.
I enjoy contemporary history, and the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Bay of Pigs were all part of the curriculum in my high school history classes. You may have studied the same things - but how many of you actually had an opportunity to meet and talk to Fidel?
I met Fidel Castro at a reception in Havana about a decade ago. As I recall it was at an estate that had once been the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Cuba.
There was some buzz at the party that night that a high ranking Cuban official would make an appearance but as the night progressed that possibility seemed to diminish.
After enjoying the garden and the warm Havana breeze, I came back indoors to reload at the buffet table, and who was standing there but Fidel in his usual army fatigues and several bodyguards wearing the Guayabera shirts preferred by Cuban men.
Apparently Fidel was supposed to have arrived at the reception sometime earlier but had stopped to make an impromptu 3 hour speech along the way - something Castro was well known for.
Immediately I noticed the heels on Castro's shoes which gave him some additional height, and the cheap fabric of his fatigues.
Over the course of the next several hours he took the time to speak and charm every single person at the reception (including me) and including the staff. He spent a little extra time with any of the attractive woman, and also with Dr. Ron Taylor, a Canadian physician and former professional baseball player with two World Series rings (The Miracle Mets). It is well documented that Castro was an accomplished baseball player himself, and attracted the interest of professional scouts.
After speaking to everyone, he was whisked away by his entourage around 3:30am apparently going on to a meeting with his ministers. Fidel is rumoured to have slept very little, for keeping Cuba from grinding to a halt required long hours and incredible energy.
My other recollection of that night was when a colleague tried to tell Fidel a humorous story through his interpreter, a joke which apparently was not as funny in Spanish as in English as Castro's face turned stone cold, and there was a lot of backtracking on the part of my colleague to avoid an unintended incident.
Most people think of Castro as a communist but in fact he was a socialist whose socialist revolutionary movement joined with the established communist sentiment in Cuba to overcome Batista's puppet regime.