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.
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.
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.