I hadn’t known about Donald Trump in 1975 when I first went to Cuba, but I had known about Fidel Castro, who, almost singlehandedly overthrew Cuba’s sitting dictator, Fulgencio Batista.
I thought that American politicians would never be able to outsmart him.
I admired Fidel and his group for removing that particular noose from around the necks of the Cuban people. So I was very happy to get approval to go to Cuba in 1975 to see the person who brought about the great change to that country.
I was lodged in a beachfront house in a development just outside of Havana, which is where Fidel came to visit me. We sat outside for what came to be a six-hour conversation about everything either one of us could think about. Fidel spoke through an interpreter, although I was told that he was able to speak English, he preferred the safer use of an interpreter.
He told me about the efforts by the CIA to assassinate him, coming close a number of times. He spoke of his efforts to develop cattle, in the early days of the revolution, that would be able to withstand the heat of the Cuban summers and still produce milk. He described the exact formula he developed to cross Brahmas with Holsteins using fractional formulas, which, he said, was a perfect formula to feed Cubans from healthy, cross-bred cattle. He then took me for a ride in his jeep — after kicking the driver out, leaving only the translator, me, and Fidel driving.
During the trip, he pointed out various locations that he was fond of. When villagers saw the jeep coming into their village, small crowds would gather, all of the people waving and shouting “Fidel!” as though he were a neighbor just coming through their village.
At one point I told Fidel that I had gone to the State Department before coming to Cuba to tell a low-level official that I was headed for Cuba and that I expected to meet with him. “I’m interested in normalizing relations between the two countries. Do you have any message to send with me?,” I asked. The official replied, “Tell him that we’ve done all we could do and that the next move is up to him.” I told Fidel what the official had said, asking if he had any comment. Stroking his sparse beard, Fidel finally said:
Tell them that I could remove the blockade I have around the United States.
When I could laugh no more, I thought that American politicians would never be able to outsmart him.
Waving and shouting “Fidel!” as though he were a neighbor.
I asked his number-two man, who was a real communist, if Fidel ever started out with the idea that he might have a democracy. The number-two man told me that, at the beginning, Fidel sought help from the Eisenhower administration to feed the Cuban people. When then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to help, Fidel had nowhere else to turn but to the Soviet Union, which was happy to have a base in our hemisphere and began to pour money and foodstuffs into Cuba to achieve that end. Had Eisenhower agreed to help Cuba get on its feet after the revolution, Cuba would have been an ally of the US, obviously saving us a great deal of trouble and worry that resulted from his alliance with the Soviets.
Unfortunately we haven’t learned that lesson, as we can see from our current misadventures in the Middle East. Perhaps someday we will have leaders who can tell the difference between enemies and friends.