In four weeks, I will be travelling to Cuba with a dozen Oglethorpe students and faculty for ten days of study on the island. I should note we get to spend New Year’s Eve in Havana. Not sure how much studying will take place that night. In preparation for the trip, I am making my way through The Cuba Reader, an anthology about Cuba’s history, culture and politics. 723 pages long. When I tackle a new subject area, I always am struck by how little I know about the world. Horribly embarrassing, if truth be told.
The book begins with a joke, which I will shorten and re-tell here. When Pope Paul John visited Havana in 1998, he was welcomed by Fidel and toured the city in the Pope-mobile, top down. A gust of wind arose and blew the Pope’s hat (his zuchetto) off his head into the sea. Fidel jumps out, leaps over the seawall and heads out in the water. He actually walked on top of the water, all the way out to where the zucchetto lay, picked it up and returned it to the Pope. The next day, headlines from all over the world reported the incident:
From the Cuban Communist Party paper: Fidel is God; He Walks on Water.
From the Vatican: Pope Performs a Miracle: Makes Fidel Walk on Water.
From the Miami Herald: Castro Doesn’t Know How to Swim.
Through more than 100 articles and stories, the reader is exposed to ”the truth” from all sides. About three-quarters into the book, there is a chapter on the assassination plots. Yes, from 1960 to 1965, there were no less than eight CIA plots to assassinate Castro. Here’s my favorite, although admittedly it falls short of assassination, but I just love the creativity behind it. We would undermine Fidel’s charismatic appeal by dusting his shoes with thallium salts, a strong depilatory that would cause his beard to fall out. Without his beard, the thinking went, his support among the Cuban people would wilt away. The plan was foiled when Castro didn’t leave his shoes outside the hotel door. If we only had a drone missile…