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JFK and Che

The Man Who Drafted the Order for the Cuban Embargo Recalls Puffing Cigars in the Kennedy White House, and a Not-So-Chance Meeting with the Famed Revolutionary

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"It's too late now, Mr. President," I rejoined, unaware that one of the plots to assassinate Castro had involved poisoned cigars. But perhaps he didn't know, either. Pointing toward the inlay on the box, he asked, "What's that?"

"It's the Cuban seal," I explained.

"Well, I can always keep the newspapers on top of it," he said, carefully placing the box on the table behind his desk.

In days to come he would allow me to take one of the cigars when I entered the Oval Office. (My own box was consumed rather swiftly.) A week or two later, I was emboldened to ask him for a cigar. "Your friends sent them, Dick," he said jokingly (I hoped), "take one." He opened the box, but it was now empty. He grimaced. Our disappointment was mutual. "Well," he said, "take the box. It's very nice, but I don't think the Cuban seal is exactly the right decoration for me." I took it, and have kept it ever since. It reminds me not only of those hope-charged years with Kennedy, but even more of Che, the romantic revolutionary who was killed while embarked on a doomed effort to lead a revolution in Bolivia. I was with Robert Kennedy when we learned of Che's death. It was not a happy moment. He might have been an "enemy," but he was a man of passionate belief who, in his own way, shared with us the conviction of the Sixties that entrenched power could be made to yield to human will and courage. And I liked him.

Richard Goodwin, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, is a writer living in Concord, Massachusetts.

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