BY DAVID R. FRAZIER, editor
Yesterday’s death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro brought back memories of one of my biggest international photo assignments nearly 40 years ago as I accompanied Senator Frank Church on a historic visit to Cuba in 1977.
Upon arrival in Havana at Castro’s office, Sen. Church made a little speech saying the trip was a historic event as it marked the first time a U.S. Government aircraft had landed in Cuba in 17 years. Castro raised a finger and interjected, “legally that is.” The remark drew chuckles from all present.
Castro was a charismatic figure who dominated the room wherever he stood. Dressed in a combat fatigue uniform, complete with sidearm pistol, I found it telling that he wore handmade designer boots with square toes and zippers.
During the three day visit, Castro became more and more comfortable with the senator and the media. At one point he confessed that he had a bet with Nikita Khrushchev during a fishing trip off the Cuban coast. The Russians were to provide a foreign aid grant if Castro caught the most or biggest fish. Unknown to Krushchev, Castro had a security agent in scuba gear attaching fish to his line and giving it a jerk. He told the story to the senator while visiting Hemingway’s house where “Old Man and The Sea” waswritten.
He told of shooting mortars at the Bay of Pigs. One round was short, the second sailed past the target vessel. Just as Castro’s men fired the bulls eye round he realized the vessel was abandoned. “I could have had a nice boat,” he said as he smacked his forehead with his hand and grinned.”
When we visited a cattle ranch, Castro confided in Church that the USA embargo of goods to Cuba was not all that good. He bragged that his prize herd of black angus cattle came from North Dakota via Canada in the form of semen.
Highlight of the trip and a memorable moment for me came when we ran out of time one day when I had planned to get a shot of Church and Castro at the Bay of Pigs. Castro came over to me, put his hand on my shoulder, apologized for leaving and said, “I will make it up to you tomorrow.”
On the day of departure I found a bag of bling on my hotel door knob. Inside were two bottles of Cuban rum, a box of Cohiba cigars and Fidel Castro’s business card. The rum has long since been consumed, I impressed my friends with “Castro’s cigars,” and have one dried up stogie left for show and tell.
To insure more advertising-free Boise Guardian news, please consider financial support.