(This article was first published in The News newspaper in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Aug. 2nd, 2013 and is republished with permission)

The News journalist Duggie ‘Nose’ Joseph received an invitation to visit Cuba last weekend when that country celebrated the 60th anniversary on the attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

On June 26th, 1953, Fidel Castro led a group of armed men and attack the barracks and many considered it the start of the Cuban Revolution which brought Castro to the fore of the leadership of the country.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves led a delegation to the ceremony and it includes Dr Douglas Slater, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Luke Browne and Marlon Joseph.

Following the Santiago de Cuba ceremony, Dr. Gonsalves, Joseph, Dr. Gonsalves’ daughter, Isis, and his wife’s niece, […] made a trip to Havana to meet with Fidel.

The two young ladies were not part of the official delegation.

Vincentian journalist, Duggie "Nose" Joseph is introduced to former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro. Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, is at centre. Vincentian journalist, Duggie “Nose” Joseph is introduced to former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro. Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, is at centre.

Dr. Gonsalves was greeted with a big hug from Fidel, while Joseph received a firm handshake and the two young ladies kisses on the cheeks.

With an interpreter present, Dr Gonsalves and Fidel began their conversation and it became clear that the two were very good friends and that Fidel still had all his mental faculties.

The conversation began with colonial St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Cuba, to some of Fidel’s experiences during the Cuban Revolution, Fidel’s imprisonment and his writing of ‘History will Absolve me’, the missile crisis, his thoughts on Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, food security and ended with Dr. Gonsalves telling a story that had Fidel laughing for at least three minutes.

“It was the first time he has laughed like this in years,” the woman who takes of him said in Spanish and was translated in English.

Tears of joy flowed from his eyes and at the end of his laughter, it was time for the hugs and hand shakes to signal the departure from Fidel’s home by the Vincentian delegation.

“It was the issue of Chavez’ body not being mummified that really sparked my interest and I started to take notes,” Joseph said. “Fidel was so clear and I realised I was sitting in the presence of someone who was in sync with reality.”

Fidel made the point that there are 200 countries in the world and if every leader was to be mummified, “what would become of the world?”

He then traced the history of Cuba, stating that when Columbus came to Cuba he met “200,000 peaceful people living in Cuba,” with Dr. Gonsalves interjecting that British colonialists had difficulties taking control of St Vincent and the Grenadines because of two reasons.

“The high mountains and the resistance from the Garifuna people,” Dr. Gonsalves said.

As the conversation continued, one could grasp that Fidel’s memory was becoming sharper and sharper as he turned to the missile crisis that almost see the USA and the Soviet Union then, almost coming to “blows” — war.

That during the early stages of the revolution, and Fidel pointed out that military chiefs from the USA visited him for talks as the missile crisis began to take form.

“I didn’t want the missile crisis. I did not want it to appear that the country (Cuba) was becoming a Russian Satellite. I think (Nikita) Khrushchev (Soviet Union President) made some mistakes,” Castro said, as he pointed out that while the USA were worried about missiles just off Florida, “there were missiles in Turkey that could have reached America.”

“(John F.) Kennedy was misled on the missile crisis,” Castro said, and said that his bother, Edward ‘Td’ Kennedy was a “very recognised” politician.

Despite the many talks of “bad blood” between Cuba and the USA, Fidel said Kennedy’s children visited Cuba but stopped short of saying if any of them visited him.

Fidel spoke of his time in prison and said he started writing ‘History will absolve me’ using “lemon juice” and when he was confronted by one of his jailors for slipping out the papers to be published, he was threatened with death. “ I said to him ‘kill me’ and I went back to writing.”

When asked about the Barack Obama administration, Fidel said a black man as U.S. President was a “good thing” but feels a “Tea Party President” would be the first to go to war.

The war in Angola, help for the African National Congress, ANC, and sending doctors all over the world, were some of the subjects Fidel spoke about.

When the issue of food, especially pork came up, Dr Gonsalves made the point that Rastas do not eat pork and a smiling Fidel said: “I can’t believe Rastas don’t eat pork. So I am a Rasta as well? which brought out one of Dr. Gonsalves’ haughty laughs.

Fidel now has a strict diet and his companion ensures he follows it daily.

Those visiting the Cuban icon were given samples of what he eats, with green bananas boiled and then crushed into a pulp, along with the fish bonita, cooked and soaked in vinegar and olive oil and placed in the refrigerator for a day or two before it is served, form part of Fidel’s daily earing routine.

At age 86, Fidel’s work for his country is taking on a new dimension.

He gets up early every morning, writes and does research with plants, fruits and animals.

The study of what is known as the “Bajan cherry” is one of the studies he enjoys and drinks half of a very small glass each day.

His home is surrounded by plants and he eats what is grown on the land.

Fidel loves to laugh and also tells a good story. He pointed to a portrait of himself hanging on the walls.

The portrait was given to him by a past Colombian President and it is made from the leaves of coca plant, the base for the cocaine drug.

“If the police come to my house they could lock me up,” he quipped.

Vincentian journalist, Duggie "Nose" Joseph sits in on a conversation between former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves in Havana.
Vincentian journalist, Duggie “Nose” Joseph sits in on a conversation between former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves in Havana.

It was Castro, Dr. Gonsalves said, who was one of the first world leaders to raise the issue of reparation at a United Nations conference on discrimination in 2001. The baton is now carried by Dr Gonsalves as he trumpets the call from the floors of the U.N. to the halls of CARICOM.

Fidel has left the political stage, but he is deeply engross in finding ways to make food security a top priority for the Cuban people.

Before the group’s departure, Dr. Gonsalves decided to tell one of his stories, about a meeting he had with South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma.

According to Dr Gonsalves, they were both at a conference and during of their lighter moments together, President Zuma put the question to Dr. Gonsalves, asking him if he would like to become a member of the Zulu clan, which Zuma belongs.

Dr. Gonsalves said he asked Zuma how he could become a member and his reply was: “you are now a member” and instructed the Vincentian Prime Minister to inform his wife, Eloise, who was also at the conference, that she was now the main queen and one of her roles was to find more wives for Dr. Gonsalves.

As Dr. Gonsalves relates the story, the Cuban interpreter made every pronouncement to Fidel, who became somewhat transfixed with what he was hearing.

“ I told Eloise when I got back to the hotel and she said: “I will cut it off!”

When the translation was relayed to Fidel, his laughter was loud and tears of joy flowed from his eyes, as he had to continuously used his hands to wipe them away.

The Vincentian delegation had spent five hours and fifty minutes with the man who helped changed the face of world history.

11 replies on “Up Close with Fidel Castro”

    1. John Alexander says:

      Peter, it is absolutely amazing that such a not-so-young man like you could be so BRAINWASHED about Fidel Castro and his stance against imperialism.

      One would have expected that from a much older person who may not have been as enlightened.

      You, Peter Alexander, are the true disappointment!

  1. Teacherfang (@Llijame) says:

    Fidel Castro was a man for the times…unfortunately, he never recognized when his time was up.The following excerpt perfectly sums up the general feeling towards Fidel Castro…

    [[Cubans of my generation either feel hatred or love for Fidel, or perhaps a mixture of both. We do not see him simply as a European or American head of state, questionable, sometimes ridiculous and always exposed to criticism. He is the living legend of a revolutionary era. A solemn and heroic presence with an almost familiar, intensely affectionate relationship with the people. Cubans like me, born a little before or a little after 1959, neither criticize nor judge Fidel: we adore him or despise him, loathe or idolize him. We were born in a country where a revolution, headed by him and personified by him, radically transformed the social order, presenting itself as a symbol of the rebirth of the Cuban nation.

    …When one begins to distinguish between a democratic and dictatorial regime, it is inevitable to associate Fidel Castro’s image with the longest personal dictatorship in the history of Latin America.]]

    Excerpt taken from an Essay by Rafael Rojas:Fidel Castro’s Feat
    Historian and essayist Rafael Rojas is a professor and researcher at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (C.I.D.E.) in Mexico City.

  2. This nasty old man has the blood of thousands of people on his hands, he is a disgrace to humanity.

    All those who hero worship him bathe in the same blood, its a matter of scum worshipping scum.

    He should be shot without any trial, like those who he summarily executed.

    What on earth is our PM doing involving us in this crap. If he likes murderers go and live the life, go and live in Cuba.

    We the people do not accept your indoctrinated crap, poke it where the sun doesn’t shine.

  3. John Alexander says:

    Imagine Peter calling Fidel Castro a “nasty old man?”

    This just shows how limited Peter is regarding regional, social and political history.

    Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela are two of our most accomplished political leaders of all time.

    As the saying goes: “It is better to be silent, and thought of as a fool…..than to open your mouth, and remove all doubt.”

  4. Castro’s so- called compassion in sending doctors worldwide is a cynical fraud. Here is an example of Castro’s compassion from http://therealcuba.com/Page10.htm. Letter from a slave doctor in Angola

    A relative of a Cuban slave doctor, who was sent by the Castro regime to work in Angola, have sent me copy of a recent e-mail he received where the doctor explains how the Castro brothers exploit those who are forced to abandon their families and go work in foreign countries.

    The name of the doctor has been omitted for obvious reasons. Here is a translation of what he said:

    “Let me explain how the contract works. The Angolan government pays Cuba US$10,000 monthly for each doctor, but from that total, the Cuban government pays Angola’s Ministry of Health US$6,000 per month to guarantee our housing and transportation. We have to pay for our own food. Of the US$4,000 left we only receive US$600, but 30% of the $600 is paid to an account in Cuba. I spend about US$150 buying food that I have to cook myself and if you check the phone bill, it cost around US$40 to call Cuba. As you can see, it is not easy.”

    Note – According to the relatives, the 30% that is paid in Cuba is in CUC Convertible Cuban Pesos that are worthless outside of Cuba.

    Based on this breakdown, Cuba is receiving US$4,000 net after expenses for each doctor. The Cuban government pays US$420 ($600 less 30%) to the doctor and 180 CUC, go to an account in Cuba.

    And the difference, approximately US$3,400, goes to the pocket of Castro & Castro Slave Traders Unlimited.

    Some exiled doctors that I’ve talked to believe that the figure that the Cuban government pays for the “housing and transportation” seems high and is probably what the government told the doctor.

    If that’s the case, the difference that goes to the Castro brothers pockets could be even higher.

    Multiply that by the thousands of Cuban doctors who are currently working in foreign countries and you can understand why Forbes lists Fidel Castro as one of the world’s richest dictators.

    Next time you hear one of those foreign ignorant talking about the “generosity” of Cuba’s leaders in “sharing” thousands of Cuban doctors to help the poor and the needy around the world, show them this letter.

  5. John Alexander, as long as you have a hole in your arse that wicked piece of filth Castro, cannot begin to be compared to Mandella.

    It just shows everyone what a really disturbed mind you must have, to suggest so, or even to think so. To mention Castro in the same breath as Mandella is a mortal sin.

    He has been responsible for bombing and strafing Caribbean islands with his airforce. Killing millions in Africa and the introduction of communism and revolution into the African continent. In the past he has had minds of foreign students tuned to Marxism and returned home to await their political election. Training terrorists and calling the freedom fighters all over South America and the Caribbean. This man deserves prosecution for crimes against humanity. May I add along with his brother and many other such criminals.

  6. John Alexander, Fidel Castro can’t even compare to Mandella. You are really a fool for even suggesting something like that. You are comparing a man like Mandella who freed his people, to a man who re-enslaved his people to this very day. You are a sick man, and it shows why you support this government.

  7. I HAVE RE-SENT CASTRO ALL THE WIKILEAKS STUFF. IT SEEMS CASTRO IN ALL HIS SENILITY FORGOT ABOUT THAT, WELL I HAVE REMINDED HIM AND ALL THEIR NEWS AGENCIES AND MINISTRIES.

    1. John Alexander says:

      BLANE, you have showed just how shallow you are.

      Who was COMPARING Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro?

      I simply said that those two are our most successful, accomplished, and productive political leaders.

      You, Blane, are the one who compared Mandela’s “freeing of his people.” I certainly did not do so.

      Unfortunately Blane, YOU KNOW NOTHING about Cuba prior to the Castro-led revolution, hence your idiotic and ignorant comments.

      Blane, people like you who nothing about Caribbean History ought to keep your dumb traps shut!

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