Fidel in Manhattan

Fidel in Manhattan

Fidel Castro came to New York this past fall and had the wisdom to conclude his visit by popping into the offices of the New York Times. He boasted about how he had tricked the Times correspondent Herbert Matthews into believing that he, Castro, had commanded lots of troops in the Sierra Maestra in 1957. “I ordered the same troop of weary soldiers to parade past him again and again.” Castro is still a genius at managing the press. He came and went from New York strictly on his own terms. President Clinton’s and Mayor Guiliani’s provincial bad manners in excluding Castro from the UN fiestas actually helped his press campaign—New Yorkers were embarrassed at the gaffe— but it does not account for the meek, muffled, and meager reports we got from the New York media moguls who had private meetings with him. What the public was handed were social notes—what mogul munched what hors d’oeuvre with Castro—not journalism. No one seemed able to give a coherent account of their meetings with Castro. Since this was not the Sierra Maestra days, why was the public being kept in the dark?

My own week with Castro, or, more accurately, not with Castro, played out in a strange way. I sent my credentials over to the Cuba Mission to be put on the journalists’ list for Castro’s visit. I am well known to them; they read my columns in El Pais. (El Pais is Spain’s equivalent of The New York Times, and its international edition is read throughout the Latin American world.)

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