A Snake Charmed By Fidel

By Abner Barrera Rivera on May 6, 2021

The journalist Arleen Rodríguez wrote in 2007 that “there are at least 2,000 journalists who request an interview with Fidel each year.”

What would Fidel’s life have been like if he had granted even 10% of those interview requests each year?  And, to this, it is necessary to add that there was no trip that he took outside of Cuba where there was not a crowd of representatives of different media and different countries, all wanting just a minute of his attention, which would have vaulted them professionally higher.

In an Extraordinary Commemorative  50th Anniversary Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations,  on October 22, 1995, Fidel Castro gave a fascinating and electrifying speech, classified later as historic by both friends and adversaries.  Before he left New York, and after long days of work with very little rest, Fidel participated in an interview on Telemundo for a program by the journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, the daughter of Cubans who had fled the island in 1959.  For Salazar, already known in those days as an incendiary counter-revolutionary, the meeting with the Cuban leader was the most wished-for achievement of her career. This is how she introduced Fidel: “We appreciate very much that you have come to speak for the first time on Spanish-language television in the United States.  As I explained to you, this program reaches 30 million Hispanics in the United States … and we are grateful that you have taken the trouble come to talk to us.”

The questions were about human rights, democracy, freedom of expression, multi-party systems, political prisoners, elections, and migration; it was thought that Salazar would be incisive and crushing, that she would make the Cuban leader uncomfortable with her questions and give him a bad time.  What actually occurred is that this was a relaxing moment for Fidel on his way back to Cuba; he never showed any sign of pressure or any doubt; he didn’t avoid any questions and he treated her with delicacy and he joked with her.  As he put forward his arguments, Salazar’s face transformed, she began by always calling him Comandante and to tilt her face toward him in a devoted way; her previous history of irreverent counter-revolutionary attacks vanished in seconds.  In an international context in which neoliberalism was rampant, and when Cuba was in the worst of the Special Period, Fidel demonstrated the failure of capitalism and the importance of defending socialist ideas.

Toward the end of the interview, Salazar, who today is a Republican Congress woman from Florida and openly supports the counter-revolutionaries in Cuba, asked about “dissidents” and Comandante Fidel told her that there are people who support the US blockade and want to destroy the Revolution, that dissidence is a profession, that they receive aid from the United States in money, resources, and political support; they are enemies of their country.  The journalist, a star in Miami, was dumbfounded; she looked at him with her eyes bugging out and she moved and shifted around in her chair because she knew that she was posing for posterity at the side of a Giant.

What happened in that interview was what Roberto Fernandez Retamar once described: “Fidel was a man who had tremendous force, but at the same time great delicacy, and this, along with his intelligence, made him a true snake charmer.  It was difficult for anyone to get close to Fidel and not be magnetized, conquered by his personality.”

Source: Red in Defense of Humanity, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English