It was on this day, 16 February 1959, that Fidel Castro was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba’s newly created provisional government. He formally retained power until he resigned as head of state in February of 2008, making him by far the longest-ruling leader in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most “successful” dictators of all time. He still holds the post of First Secretary of The Cuban Communist Party, which means his influence on Cuban affairs is still quite powerful. His 49 year reign saw events ranging from the nuclear brinksmanship of The Cuban Missile Crisis to the collapse of Soviet Communism. And still he hangs on.
Two stories are often repeated about Castro’s life before his revolutionary days. One purports that Castro was scouted by an American major league baseball team. This is usually framed as being a find of Joe Cambria, the Washington Senators’ famous eye for Cuban talent, who in fact did bring many Cubanos into major league ball. This tale further has Casto’s bitterness at being rejected growing into a general hatred of all things American.
Unfortunately, there is not a shred of evidence to support this claim, and Yale professor Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, in his history of Cuban baseball, notes that the only link between Castro and baseball that has been discovered is a 1946 box score from a Havana University game which list the pitcher as “F Castro.” Oh well, it makes a great story even if it is not so.
The other anecdote about Castro and the United States tells of a 12 year old Fidel writing a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt asking for money: in the letter dated November 6, 1940, Castro asked the President, “If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american … because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.” (He also stated “I don’t know very English …”) He signed the letter, “Your Good Friend, Fidel Castro.”
In addition to being a nifty little tale, this historical Footnote has the advantage of being authentic: the actual letter is preserved in the United States National Archives. Apparently Roosevelt did not send the requested sawbuck to young Fidel; if he had, who knows how differently things might have turned out?
Flower Mound, Texas