Fidel Castro has been a part of my life since 1959.
We were living in Florida. My memory is that initially the adults in my life seemed happy with Castro. Then they weren’t. My father, in particular, grumbled about a Commie raising hell so close to home.
But for my father Castro ranked a distant second to the clear and present danger of a Catholic running for President.
I was 13 in 1959 so Castro, Cuba and Communism versus Kennedy and Catholicism were adult worries although I do recall being confused about Dad’s crack about Catholics. After-all it was Dad who insisted on sending me to a Catholic school to get a good education.
All these worries became trivial to my family when Dad died unexpectedly in May, 1960.
I ended up being sent off to a military school. I was about to get an education in life … Cuban style.
The Bay of Pigs fiasco happened about 4 months before my first day. There were a lot of Cuban cadets at the school. Some of them lost fathers in the invasion. They hated Castro, but they absolutely loathed Kennedy who was blamed for abandoning the Cubans trapped on the invasion beaches.
A year later the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted. I remember watching President Kennedy’s speech and watching my fellow cadet’s reactions. Some of them were already U-S military reservists. They looked petrified as the thought of being called-up dawned on them. The Cubans sat in hostile silence.
School was dismissed and everyone was sent home to await the coming Apocalypse. Back at home, I recall sitting on a seawall watching a horizon filled with cargo ships and troop transports heading south to Miami. The end of the world seemed very real.
The next unsettling moment came in 1963. The cadet corps was assembled to hear the commandant announce that President Kennedy had been assassinated. There was stunned silence then I heard soft cheering. It was the Cubans. This was the sound of revenge.
A couple of years later I was in Cuba courtesy of the U-S Navy. My ship was anchored in Guantanamo Bay. I went ashore a few times. It’s an awful part of the world. Castro must smile every year when the rent check arrives from Uncle Sam. That’s right, we pay him rent.
Nine U-S presidents have maintained an economic embargo on the Cuban people. After several assassination attempts, what brought Castro down may turn out to be Cuba’s health care system.
If there ever was a larger than life character, villain, hero, murderous dictator or charismatic leader it is Fidel Castro. Two and half generations of Cubans and Americans have only known Castro of Cuba. Hell, not only do few Baby Boomers remember a Pre-Fidel Cuba; there’s a sizeable number of Boomers who weren’t even born when Castro took over.
Let’s just say we won and move on.
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