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Looking Back on Castro's Cuba

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

I remember him when -


NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: I remember Fidel Castro in 1960, when the Soviet Union was making overtures to him and the Eisenhower administration was hatching the first of many plots to un-seat him, not necessarily alive. When it was announced that the first high-ranking Soviet official, Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan, was going to visit Cuba, CBS assigned me and camera crew to go to Havana and get a line on whether we were going to have a Soviet satellite in America's backyard.

During a lavish reception, I managed to corner Mikoyan and Castro together, our camera behind me. After several remarks about friendship and trade, I asked Castro whether, as reported, he had discussed with Mikoyan the furnishing of MiG fighters to Cuba for defense against the United States.

Castro spread his arms wide and said, but that is a secret. The film of that interview created something of a sensation back in the United States. Some 40 years later, I had occasion to remind Castro of that revealing remark when we met during a conference in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.

After all those years, Castro said he still remembered that interview. It was his first on American television. He said the reason for saying that is a secret was his fear that if he confirmed an agreement to receive Soviet warplanes, President Eisenhower could use that as a justification for an invasion of Cuba.

That was not just paranoia talking. As it later turned out, Vice President Nixon was supervising discussions in the Eisenhower White House about a possible invasion of Cuba using Cuban exiles. That plan was leftover for the Kennedy administration and that was the Bay of Pigs invasion, which 40 years later, Castro discussed with exhilaration.

For years under several presidents, but especially under President Kennedy, plots were hatched, sometimes in alliance with the mafia, to eliminate what was regarded as a Communist menace on our doorstep. He leaves his mark on history in the hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles and conservative Americans who have hated him for all those years. But in the end, Castro survived them all.

This is Daniel Schorr. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr passed away on Friday, July 23, 2010. See an obituary, photo gallery and an archive of Schorr's commentaries for NPR.