One by one, other officials filed up to the platform, loyally vamping for their absent leader while the assembled press fidgeted and perspired under the hot lights. Cuba had relied too much on such unhealthy sports as nightclubbing and gambling, Castro’s aides said. Fidel would keep the clubs and the wheels, but he was building 43 centers for hunting and fishing too. Cuban ducks, and particularly Cuban pigeons, would fly and die for tourists. There would be vacation cabins, clubhouses, boat-launching ramps, sports rental shops, skiffs and boats for hire. In remote areas there would even be mother ships where families could relax in comfort while father took off by small boat in search of fish and game in Cuba’s keys.
A PRESENT FROM FIDEL
The minutes passed, turned into hours, and the list went on and on. Under the direction of the national Administration of Public Beaches and Tourist Attractions, Castro’s officials said, a circling string of 60 public beaches on the north and south coasts of Cuba were being prepared for the public, tourists included. Each would have restaurant, locker rooms and cabanas. The city of Santiago, center of revolutionary activity in Oriente Province, with its memories of the Spanish-American War, would be turned into a great tourist city. A new jet airport would be built, and in two years travelers would be offered direct jet service from New York. Six hundred miles of country road would be built, and travelers would be invited to enter Cuba at one end, drive cross-country visiting its new resorts and its old cities all along the way and leave at the other end. To start the tourists flowing again $400,000 would be spent in advertising between now and year’s end. Another million and a half would be spent in 1960. Not only would such annoyances as the $2.50 landing tax be swept away, but each arriving tourist would be given an envelope containing 25 postage-paid picture postcards. Fidel, they said, wanted to give each departing tourist a gift, too, and the tourist office had suggested maracas, a recording of Cuban music and a drum. Fidel himself had redesigned the package in the form of a Cuban hat and added packages of Cuban fruit.
About one a.m. there suddenly was a flurry at the entrance, and the by now familiar figure strode in, tall, heavyset, bearded. Momentarily roused, the newsmen rose and politely applauded. Unperturbed, a tourist official explained that this worthy was not Castro but a Cuban actor who frequently appears as his double.
When, a few minutes later, the real Castro appeared, there was another shock. In contrast to the affable atmosphere of the earlier morning meeting and the autographing, photographing, lionizing session at the capitol, the press conference, so long delayed, quickly disintegrated into an acrimonious political debate that did not break up until 3 a.m.
The next day, Tuesday, the convention awoke to find the delegate-wowing headline on their own paper as well as a present from Fidel they hadn’t expected. The Premier, so full of welcomes earlier in the day, had spent the intervening hours between the reception and the delayed press conference delivering a heated television diatribe against the U.S. CASTRO TEARS INTO HIS ENEMIES IN THE U.S., the Miami Daily News proclaimed that noon—and indeed he had. While the ASTA press had sat and sweated, listening to his aides unfold the tourist dream, the Premier himself had been denouncing the very country whose citizens he was so ardently wooing. Said he: “We will dig in our trenches and fight from hill to hill to defend our revolution.”
This seemed unbelievable, and most of the ASTA delegates apparently considered it so. Tuesday was given over to serious meetings, and on Wednesday the delegates were free to play, swim and travel, some even as far as Santiago, a 1,200-mile trip set up so that they would be back in time for a gala party Wednesday evening. Castro himself was off somewhere in Camagüey on a hush-hush mission. I went to Morro Castle to look at the spot where the Maine had been blown up (“it was an accident,” was now the official line) and heard other high points of the war of liberation that followed (“the intervention” is now the preferred phrase). At El Salado, a beach near Barlovento, I saw the first beginnings of the string of resorts Castro’s associates had described: a rakish central tower growing out of a nest of locker rooms complete with gleaming tiled showers, automatic hand-dryers; turquoise soap and big fluffy towels; cabanas down the beach, the first of 50 to be built, sporting television sets, electric kitchens, air conditioning and maid service, all for $15 a week, by contrast to the normal $20 a day charged by hotels.
Cuba seemed almost herself again in those two days, but Wednesday afternoon the illusion ended. Out of the blue came an airplane showering the capital with anti-Castro leaflets. Not tolerant of such point-of-sale criticism, Castro’s forces opened fire with machine guns and antiaircraft shells. Two policemen in a squad car even tried knocking down the airborne interloper with pistol fire. Cuban planes rose to give chase, but one was hit by gunfire from the ground, and the intruder escaped. There were two street explosions, and two people were killed and 45 injured. Nobody that day suggested that the explosions had anything to do with the intruding plane. Police charged, instead, that hand grenades had been thrown out of speeding cars at the height of the leaflet raid.
SOME NEW VISITORS
Meanwhile in Camagüey, Castro himself was busy arresting an old revolutionary friend, Major Hubert Matos, who, disillusioned now by the turn the revolution had taken, had offered to resign and return to private life so that his four children “would not hear their father called a traitor in the streets.” Matos and his entire staff, a group variously reported at anywhere from 19 to 38, were brought back to Havana’s La Cabaña fortress.