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A Late Night With Fidel

Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

It was nearly midnight. Rain and stillness filled the air.

After nearly two years of unrelenting letters and phone calls with Cuban diplomats in the United States, Europe and Cuba, I was about to get my wish: a private audience with President Fidel Castro. My time had come. It was Thursday, February 3, 1994. A number of meetings and telephone conversations beginning at 8:00 a.m. and continuing throughout the day preceded a night I will long remember. At each point along the way the response: "Maybe tonight," "we can't promise," "it looks like it may happen," or "it's looking good." No one would say, "yes, tonight you will meet el presidente," but I saw in their eyes that my time was near. And with all my persistence, they, my Cuban connections, were rooting for me.

I had been told to stay in the Hotel Nacional that evening and be in my room at l0:30 p.m. on standby, waiting for the call. A nerve-racking hour-and-fifteen-minutes later than promised it came. I was asked to meet a Foreign Affairs official in the lobby, a woman I had met with several hours earlier.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

"As ready as I'll ever be," I replied.

We walked down the front steps of the hotel into the silent night air. Waiting by the curb was a chauffeur-driven, older, dark-blue Mercedes. Off we drove into the narrow streets of the city. It was now about midnight.

"Where are we going?"

"To the Palace."

"The Palace?"

"The Palace of the Revolution."

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