• Opinions compiled by journalist Luis Báez
I GET NERVOUS
Cuban prima ballerina Alicia Alonso
Maybe Fidel hasn’t noticed, but every time I am in his presence I feel that I must stop to defend him against anything they might want to do to him. Every time I meet with Fidel I get nervous.
NEVER GET SEPARATED FROM FIDEL
Division General Efigenio Ameijeiras Delgado
“Son, never get separated from Fidel, remember what I’m telling you, always try to be at his side, nothing is going to happen to this man. Listen to what I’m saying, it’s for your own good, always try to go wherever he goes. You’ll see, you too are going to be lucky.” Fidel smiled because of the way my mother spoke to me.
ON AN ALTAR
Cuban family doctor Rosa Báez Dueñas
Immediately after we began to implement the Family Doctor program, I commented to Fidel how much I was impressed by what I found in the home of an elderly woman I visited. She, Octavio Padilla, is over 70 years old, lives alone, retired, and in one corner of her living room she had an altar with a number of levels and saints, and on the top level, up there, next to Santa Bárbara, the Virgen de la Caridad, San Lázaro and others, there was a photo of the Comandante with a candle and a lit cigar. Fidel’s expression was serious, he didn’t say anything, and suddenly, looking at me, he stated, “Work hard, so that one day this people will also put all of you on an altar.”
THIS UNIFORM AND THESE BEARDS SIGNIFY THE REBELLION OF THE SIERRA MAESTRA
Luis M. Buch, Cuban revolutionary
In the early hours of February 16, 1959 (Fidel was being inaugurated as government Prime Minister that day), he phoned and asked me to come to the Havana Hilton (now Havana Libre) and asked me, “Do I have to take off my uniform?”
I answered, “Well, Fidel, I don’t know; but think about the dominant opinion in America about soldiers as heads of government.” To which he replied, “Ah, no, no, this uniform and these beards signify the rebellion of the Sierra Maestra and of our Revolution, and no way am I taking them off. Find another Prime Minister!”
SON, IT’S THE ONLY ONE I HAVE!
John Cabañas, American-Cuban business executive
The first time I saw Fidel Castro was on December 2, 1955 when he visited my house in Key West, in the United States, where he was welcomed by my father, Cabañas Jr, my mother Emilia Carbó and my older sister Josefina. I was very young. He was touring various American cities seeking support for his struggle to liberate Cuba. I noticed that Fidel was wearing a heavy wool suit. I touched the pants and asked him why he was dressed like that in the heat. My father told me off and smacked my head, and Fidel said to my father, “Julio, don’t hit him,” and turning to me, said, “Son, it’s the only one I have!”
HE MUST TAKE CARE OF HIMSELF
Brigade Chief (ret) Juan Escalona Reguera
On one occasion, Fidel sent me to Angola to talk with Leopoldo Cintra Frías (Polo) and asked me to give him the following message, “Tell him that if winning the war in Angola means losing him, it isn’t worth winning. That he’s to stop the craziness, stop being in the frontline, that he must take care of himself.”
A VERY GRATEFUL MAN
Max Lesnik, Cuban journalist resident in the United States
Fidel is a very grateful man. He never forgets anyone who has done him a favor. In spite of being Communications Minister in the Batista regime, Ramón Vasconcelos was the proprietor and editor of Alerta, the only newspaper which published an interview during which Fidel announced in Mexico, “If I leave, I arrive; if I arrive, I enter and if I enter, I triumph.” The word ingratitude does not exist in Fidel’s vocabulary. The gesture he made with Vasconcelos, when he came to die in his native land, he had made with many others, this is part of the human details which make up his greatness.
HONEST MONEY TO MAKE CUBA FREE
Guido García Inclán, Cuban journalist
I had the opportunity to participate with Fidel in the constitution of the 26th of July clubs abroad. He always stated that he wanted honest money to make a genuine Revolution. And he kept his word. Nobody could touch that money. Not in a million years. I will never forget the hardships we went through, and especially Fidel, who in spite of having one pocket full of money, had the other one completely empty, and was incapable of taking a single cent which was destined for the revolutionary cause. Even in that he is just like [José] Martí.
A CANTO TO LIFE
Cuban athlete Ana Fidelia Quirot
On January 22, 1993, I suffered various burns as the result of a domestic accident. I was a patient at the Hermanos Almeijeiras Hospital. It was night and I sensed that someone was walking with very firm steps toward my room; suddenly I heard a very well known voice asking me, ‘How are you?’ I turned my head to the left and saw a very tall person dressed in khaki, but with a green gown over his uniform, like the ones doctors wear to enter the rooms. I knew that I knew him, but I wasn’t sure, until I discovered it was our beloved and invincible Comandante en Jefe. He was very concerned about my health. He never abandoned me at any moment. When I saw him, it was like experiencing a canto to life.
MY IDEAS, MY PRINCIPLES WILL NEVER CHANGE
May 6, 1995. There was a reception at the Bolivian embassy which Fidel attended. The migration agreements between Cuba and the United States had just been signed. Journalists approached him. A Bolivian woman wanted to know if he would change his political position. Fidel responded, “My ideas, my principles will never change. They will accompany me to the death.”