Monday, July 8, 2013

The time Fidel Castro hung out in Columbia Heights

Viva la Revolucion en el Parque Meridian Hill!

That was the scene (maybe) in 1959 at Meridian Hill Park, when a 32-year old Fidel Castro paid a visit to DC. He was staying at the Cuban Embassy at 2630 16th Street NW, which is now the Swiss Embassy's Cuban Interests Section. Since the US doesn't have diplomatic relations with Cuba, the building is technically Swiss territory.

Castro was in town just a few months after the Cuban Revolution overthrew Fulgencio Bastista to meet with American diplomats and more. Ghosts of DC has a great post on the visit with photos via Old Time DC (a great Facebook group.) Above is the man himself holding a kid in from Columbia Heights in Meridian Hill Park, and below is a report from the Washington Post and Times Herald that Ghosts of DC dug up. Interesting stuff. 

Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro said yesterday the executions in Cuba are “a lesson for the future.”
The bearded, 32-year-old revolutionary said in an interview at the Cuban Embassy that the people’s faith that the Batista regime leaders would be pubished legally prevented great bloodshed in the final days of the revolt.
The interview took place at the foot of the long, marble staircase in the red-carpeted Embassy foyer, just as the weary Castro was hoping to escape to his room for a brief rest. Through the day, he had been interviewed almost endlessly, mostly by the Spanish press, lunched at the Statler Hotel with Acting Secretary of State Christian Herter, and returned to the Embassy for more interviews and for a walk.
At the luncheon, he told Acting Secretary Herter and others that he hoped the people of the United States would one day “recognize the whole truth of the revolutionary struggle” and said he saw now reason why relations between Cuba and the United States should not be “the best,” and he and Herter exchanged assurances of friendship.
Castro, smiling and at ease most of the day, though perpetually surrounded by a herd of Spanish and American reporters and photographers, was dressed in his usual offhand manner. The collar of his olive green shirt was open. He kept his Army hat on, and he carried a great big Cuban cigar that kept going out.
When he arrived at the Embassy, at 2630 16th st. nw., Wednesday night, he showed the same disdain for security regulations that he had at the airport.
Esther Guzman, Embassy attache, pointed to a crowd of about 150 persons–both Cuban and American and apparently not unfriendly–across the street. She suggested he go up to the balcony and wave.
“I’m no man on a balcony,” Castro snorted, and took off, dodging nimbly through the traffic, to meet the people.
Returning to the Embassy, where a crowd of about 200, all cleared by security guards, awaited him, he went to his third-floor room. flopped on a bed fully clothed, and announced, “I’m tired. Tired.”
And then he began practicing English with one of his party, He was awakened after only a few hours of sleep, at 3:30 a.m., for some more English practice.
“He just rolled over,” an Embassy worker said, “and went back to sleep.”
Up a few hours later, Castro, whose hair isn’t as wild as that of some of his followers found out he needed a comb and a toothbrush, and an aide was dispatched to the drugstore.

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