It’s a story that is only now being told, in Politico, “thanks to declassified official documents and, most important, Howard’s own unpublished diaries and letters.”
Lisa Howard, an ABC News reporter, first met Fidel Castro at a Havana nightclub in 1963. They talked for hours. Their conversation was wide-ranging. She came away “impressed by Castro’s breadth of knowledge” and later wrote in a letter: “Never, never have I found a Communist interested in the sentiments of Albert Camus.”
Months later, they met again, this time in a Havana hotel room. Again, they talked for hours. She took El Comandante to task for his regime’s social repression.
“To make an honorable revolution,” she told him, “you must give up the notion of wanting to be prime minister for as long as you live.” “Lisa,” Castro asked, “you really think I run a police state?” “Yes,” she answered. “I do.”
And then it happened: after the flunky who’d accompanied him was swept out of the room, Castro “slipped his arms around the American journalist, and the two lay on the bed, where, as Howard recalled in her diary, Castro ‘kissed and caressed me … expertly with restrained passion.’” They didn’t go all the way, not because she refused but because Castro chose not to: “You have done much for us, you have written a lot, spoken a lot about us. But if we go to bed then it will be complicated and our relationship will be destroyed.”
The next morning “a huge bouquet of flowers” was delivered to her room. She sent a four-page thank-you letter. “I wanted to give you something to express my gratitude for the time you granted me; for the interview; for the beautiful flowers,” it began. “I have decided to give you the most valuable possession I have to offer. Namely: my faith in your honor. My faith in the form of a letter, which, if revealed, could destroy me in the United States.”
In the letter, which she described as “a tribute, a poem to you—the man,” she told him: “I do not want you destroyed.…You possess what George Bernard Shaw called ‘that spark of divine fire.’” He was not a “ruthless, cynical tyrant,” she insisted. “I do not believe you have meant to hurt people, though, in all candor, I am both saddened and outraged that you have destroyed thousands and harmed many more without just cause.” She urged Castro to be true to his heart, as she perceived it:
What you have to offer the world that is meaningful and universally applicable is not some capricious brand of tropical Marxism (the world scarcely needs that), but your humanity; your compassion; your deep knowledge and sense of justice; your genuine concern for the poor; the sick; the oppressed; the defenseless; the lost; the despairing.…And your sacred duty, your solemn obligation to mankind is to make that quality ever stronger, to make it a reality for your people—all your people, every class and sector. Let flow in the most untrammeled way the goodness that is your substance and can be your salvation.
She closed the letter by addressing him as “my dearest Fidel.” She then returned to the U.S. And it’s what she did in the U.S. that really matters.
More on Thursday.