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A Late Night With Fidel

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

(continued from page 1)

It was at this moment that I finally realized it was really happening. Cigar lovers from around the world were going to have their day. In a significant departure, Castro was about to give one of his very rare one-on-one interviews in his 35-year reign--not to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, CBS, ABC or CNN, but to the editor and publisher of a two-year-old, small circulation, special-interest magazine called Cigar Aficionado.

Pinch me! Am I dreaming or what?

Upon arriving at what seemed to be the back entrance of the Palace, I was whisked through double glass doors into an elevator, where a security guard pressed "3." From there, I was escorted into a large, simply furnished reception room while my bags were taken away for a security check.

A half hour later, roughly 12:45 a.m., a gentleman dressed casually in a powder-blue shirt and tan slacks entered the room, smiled and said, "please come with me." I was wired and ready, if you know what I mean.

We walked down a wide hall, then took a right turn down a long, narrow hallway lined with armed soldiers. At the end of the hallway, there was a small group of soldiers clustered by an open door to the left.

I reached the door, and there he was, standing inside the entrance in his familiar, olive-green military uniform, waiting to greet me.

We shook hands; we both smiled, then he led me to a corner of his expansive office, where we sat and began our visit.

I told him that I had two dreams. The first, as would be true for almost any cigar lover, was to visit Cuba's cigar factories and the Vuelta Abajo. The second was to meet Fidel Castro and "talk cigars." As this was my fifth visit to Cuba "on assignment," the first dream had already been realized. Tonight, my second dream was now coming true.

We spent the first half hour getting acquainted, talking about the magazine, Cuba, cigars--you name it. He had lots of questions. He told me he is a big fan of my magazine. He likes the articles, the photographs, even the paper stock. He wanted to know about my readers. Who you are, where you live and how the magazine is doing. I unashamedly told him the truth--the magazine is doing fantastically well.

When the moment seemed right, I said, "Fidel, my readers would love to hear from you; I have a few questions." He nodded his head, and from out of nowhere came an assistant with a tape recorder along with the palace photographer.

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