In July, 1963, Fidel Castro knocked on my door at the Habana Libre. I had been scheduled to depart that very morning, having exhausted my funds in what seemed like a hopeless attempt to reach him with my request for a 'portrait' for the French weekly Paris Match. A last minute intervention by the foreign minister, then by the head of the propaganda department of the ruling party, changed what would have been the next 50 years of my life.
I became what at the time was a very small group of people who had experienced the Cuban Revolution first hand. Some of them became life-long Cuba watchers, and I, too, reserved a corner of my brain to keeping up with the Revolution, while exploring the part of the world that lie behind the Iron Curtain, to which Havana had given me access.
Today, from an unplanned vantage point a few blocks from where I was born, and from where I lived before embarking at age fourteen on the life of an ex-pat (yes, I was fourteen), I contemplate with dismay what the world has become: a battlefield between a small group of Muslims that have taken the world's fastest growing religion hostage, globalization, led by my own country, a global left that no longer has the faith, and a rising right that looks different from its forerunners and whose impact will be felt worldwide.
The Europe I loved and whose reunification I foresaw in a book that only an outlier academic would publish, is disintegrating, caught between desperate refugees and American demands that it punish its powerful neighbor, while Latin America struggles to maintain the determination that Fidel Castro inspired to escape that same dependency.
Today, the exiles in Little Havana, Florida, dancing in the streets, seem identical to the ones I joined on a flight to Madrid in 1963, after following Fidel around for two weeks in a prelude to two years of familiarity with Raul, Che, Celia Sanchez and all the other ministers of that time. Those whom Fidelistas referred to as 'worms' were elated: they were "free"!
Since the year Kennedy was killed, there has scarcely been a part of the world that has not been impacted by Fidel's thirst for knowledge, his energy and his generosity. Meanwhile, the US"s protege, Haiti, located fifty miles across the Caribbean from Cuba, has still not recovered from an earthquake that struck six years ago, and the country that obsessively sought to silence him heads into the unknown.
Few countries have had leaders so determined to lift their people out of poverty (in the US, no one has come close to FDR) and those of us who witnessed his efforts, can only wonder how much longer it will be before the rest of the world's South catches up to Cuba.