Monday, November 28, 2016

Memories of Fidel Castro In Houston

Two Castro stories. 

So. . . after all these years my memory is a bit hazy, but not long after he came to power, Fidel Castro checked into the Houston Shamrock (now razed, sadly), and two Rice University freshman took notice.  Diana G. and Roberta T. were unusual for that time in that they had an academic interest in Russia and the Soviet Union. In those bad old days (Hello Putin!) even expressing curiosity about Russia and (eeek!) Communism could get you some weird looks. Diana and Ro didn't let this bother them. 
And they pulled off a stunt that I still remember. 
They left the dorm at night and visited Fidel and Raul and Che at the Shamrock Hilton, squeezing out numerous reporters. And interviewed the motley crew of Cubans.  The Houston Chronicle took note.  God only knows what the powers that be at Rice University (then Rice Institute) thought, but hey,  this was a pretty good hack (a word not known in those days) and academic curiosity and enterprise and nerve will get one far.  The girls were disciplined (mildly) for being out after curfew and eventually the brouhaha died down, and Roberta went on to have a stellar academic career and wrote several books about Russia, which obviously retained its interest for her.  
The revolutionaries had apparently just finished a huge meal and were in an expansive mood.  There is an unfounded rumor that a prostitue was excused before the girls were allowed to enter.  The Rice girls got a good interview.  I'm sure the sight of serious, thoughtful eighteen-year-old Houston coeds sincerely interested in their revolution gave the Cubans food for thought.  There were other rumors that the Cubans arrived with chickens, etc., but I do no take this seriously.  On the other hand, if they'd been scrounging off the countryside for years, well. . . you never know.  I've always had a soft spot for rebels.  

Another Cuban Revolution story:  some time before Castro came to power, my British History Teacher, Dr. William Nelson,  was with a friend driving a jeep through the Cuban back roads, maybe the jungle.  Anyway, they were meandering in rebel territory.  Suddenly, men in fatigues with rifles appeared in the middle of the road.  The jeep stopped.  Were hearts pounding?    The  men (I think there were two) were asked for identification.  My professor, Dr. Nelson, pulled out his Socialist membership card.  
"Brother!"  They were welcomed with open arms.  I don't know if Fidel, Raul or Che met them, but apparently it was like old home week. Brothers! Hermanos!

 A few nights ago, we watched a special of travel writer Rick Steves on Cuba.  He advised his audience to go now, while Castro was still alive, because after he died, the old Cuba would be gone. I hope maybe Ro and Dee  (their nicknames) got down there sometime in the last umpteen years.    

Of course, Cuba's history did not stop with the revolutionaries coming down from the mountains.  Soon the firing squads started and Fidel proved little better than Batista.   The Bay of Pigs fiasco did not help relations between our countries nor did moving Soviet missiles onto Cuban soil.  The embargo kept Cuba poor and bitter, especially after the East Bloc countries fell like the dominoes that had been predicted for shaky countries and dictatorships propped up by our money.  Of course the Mariel Boatlift didn't help when convicts (not all of them political prisoners) were shipped off to our shores.   Basically, no good guys in this story.  I have no idea whether it is because Che Guevara was a physician, but Cuban medicine and medical care is outstanding. 
 It will be  interesting to see what transpires, but Obama has done a remarkable deed in opening relations again between the countries and let's hope the good will and friendship continues. 
To repeat:  few good guys in this story.  Sometimes history really sucks.

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