371. Despatch From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State 1

No. 605

SUBJECT

  • Fidel and Raul Castro and the ASIA (American Society of Travel Agents) Meeting

Fidel Castro attended the opening meeting of ASIA at the Blanquita theater on the morning of October 19. He was about 40 minutes late. His speech, which he made in English, was very well received. There was not a great deal of substance to it but he projected his personality and his mannerisms in a way that appeared practically irresistible to the immense majority present. That evening Fidel Castro attended a reception given by President and Mrs. Dorticós at the Capitolio. This affair was attended by at least 2000 ASTA delegates plus a great many local people. It was very crowded. President and Mrs. Dorticós, Fidel Castro, as well as the President of ASTA and Mrs. Allen, and Mrs. Bonsal and I, eventually found ourselves at a small table entirely hemmed in by people seeking Dr. Castro’s autograph. While we were being more or less served with food and drink, Dr. Castro sat for 90 minutes signing his name on ASTA badges, visiting cards, dollar and peso bills, etc. etc. He took no food, stating that he was on a diet. He said this experience reminded him of being back at school when he used to be obliged to write out so many lines as punishment. He was cordial and friendly but took no part in any conversation with any of those at the table. He departed at about 10 p.m. for the meeting of bank workers at which he made a television appearance reported elsewhere.2

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In the course of the dinner, Raul Castro appeared and sat down next to me. He too was most cordial and friendly. He refused a glass of wine stating that the entire Cuban Army has just been ordered to refrain from any alcoholic beverages for a period of two years. I asked him whether this applied only to persons on duty or in uniform. He replied in the negative, adding that “Habana has been too much for some of my boys who have gotten out of hand.”

Raul Castro expressed an interest in meeting the various military attachés accredited here, including those from the United States. (Such meetings have not hitherto been possible to arrange; perhaps now that Raul is Minister of the Armed Forces they can be set up.) Raul Castro told me that he did not expect to move his offices from Camp Libertad.

He mentioned the “sea furies for jets” matter only in passing and somewhat apologetically, regretting that this should have occurred. He was most cordial, stating that he and I must have a long talk soon and urging that I accept an invitation to go fishing with him at the Laguna del Tesoro in the Ciénaga de Zapata at an early unspecified date.

On leaving the Capitolio both Fidel and Raul were given great ovations by the crowd assembled there. I also received a good deal of favorable notice as I departed. (It is just possible that this particular crowd was pre-arranged.)

Philip W. Bonsal
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.13/10–2059. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Bonsal.
  2. In telegram 871 from Havana, October 20, the Embassy characterized Fidel Castro’s television appearance of the previous night as “highly emotional and aggressive.” Castro violently condemned the “enemies” of the revolution, including some elements in the United States. According to certain American correspondents, the speech was the “most violently anti-American performance in some time.” The Embassy observed that the speech appeared “unpremeditated, illogical, unnecessary, and contrary to” the Cuban Government’s desire to have the ASTA convention succeed. (ibid., 737.00/10–2059)