Meeting Fidel

cesarfidel

The author is on the right, drink in hand.

As a young medical student in Argentina I had been fascinated by Fidel Castro and his rebel combatants and followed with interest their advance from the mountains to the plains to the capital city of Havana. I longed to visit the island but the US blockade made it extremely difficult to travel to Cuba. Then, in 1981, the Pan American Health Organization invited me to attend a medical conference in Havana.

I went to Cuba with a tremendous sense of anticipation. I was curious to see Havana and I was very interested in the public health accomplishments of the Castro government. Already at that time, Cuba had among the best health and education indicators in Latin America and the Caribbean, comparable even to those in the United States. And they would only continue to improve.

I was also curious to learn how people felt about the revolution. Most of the people I spoke to were ardent Castro supporters. However, one day I went with a friend to Bodeguita del Medio, a restaurant made famous by its many illustrious visitors from all over the world. Among them were Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Marlene Dietrich and Ernest Hemingway.

As we were walking in a young Cuban man was yelling, “They don’t let me come in because I am Cuban! I cannot come in even though I have the money to pay for my drinks; they prefer the tourists’ dollars!” And then he asked us, “Do you see that guy in the corner?” When we agreed he continued,…

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