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An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President

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“The US will come to talk to us when they have a black president and the world has a Latin American Pope.”

“The US will come to talk to us when they have a black president and the world has a Latin American Pope.”

The quote, attributed to Fidel Castro, has circulated around the world. The story has been reported in numerous languages.

The so-called quote is false.

The story began when an Argentine short story writer made “public” the bogus story. His name: Pedro Jorge Solans. Solans is not a Cuba scholar. He has been in Cuba once. Recently he wrote a book (El Sur Negro crónicas afrolatinas) that has been recognized for its originality dealing with the black autonomous settlements [palenques] throughout Latin America. Early this year Solans went to Cuba where his book was being sold.

On March 10, 2015 an argentine paper El Diario [eldiariodecarlospaz] he claimed that he heard the story of Fidel’s comment during his visit to Cuba this past January. And then the hearsay ran wild because of the Internet.

The story was as follows as related by the newspaper:

In 1973, just returned from a visit to Vietnam, Commander Fidel Castro was (speaking to international journalists). The journalist Bryan Davis from an English agency asked: “When do you think relations between Cuba and the United States, two countries as far away despite the geographical proximity, will be restored?”. Fidel Castro stared and replied to all who were in the room: “United States will come to talk to us when they have a black president and the world has a Latin American pope.”

Source: Read more at http://m.snopes.com/

The bogus story gained traction as mainline papers picked it up, and even some Cuban publications repeated the myth [Example: the Cuban Confederation of Labor’s webpage (labor movement in Cuba) published the fabricated quote in CUBA SINDICAL, the webpage of the CTC. That is, an official website in Cuba.] From there it was picked up by an FM Havana radio station, which is supposedly the very highbrow station: Radio Enciclopedia. They reproduced the quote as well. And then began to spread in all directions. Of course, the “left” as well as others who respect Fidel Castro rapidly swallow the bogus story.

Now let us review some facts:

* Solans was not in Cuba in 1973 when he claims that Fidel Castro made the statement. So he did not hear of it.

* At the time when the statement was supposedly made it was not reported by any of the journalists that were meeting with Fidel Castro then.

* Solans claims that Fidel Castro made the statement in 1973, but gave no precise date. Moreover, Solans claims that Fidel made the remark at a press conference after returning from visiting Vietnam. Fidel actually returned from a trip to Vietnam in September 1973.

Solans does not provide a date for the so-called press conference. Yet we know that on September 7, 1973 Fidel Castro was in Algeria for a meeting of the Non Aligned Movement. Then he went to North Vietnam. He was there from the 12th to the 16th. He returned to Cuba on September 17th, and, perhaps he had a press conference, although there is no published record of such. Moreover, it should be noted that at the time there what was a very pressing situation in Chile. In fact on September 11, 1973 the elected government of President Salvador Allende was overthrown and he was assassinated while at his office. Certainly, the Non-aligned Movement [Cuba was chosen to be the next head of the organization], the Third World revolutionary movements, and the alliance developing between China and the United States were the most pressing issues that the Cuban leader was dealing with at the moment.

Solans also claims that it was a reporter from England – a “Brian Davis” who asked Fidel Castro when he expected that relations between the US and Cuba would be established. Or so we are told. But Solans does not say what was the name of the newspaper that the Englishman worked for. So we do not know of the identity of a Mr Davis, nor the newspaper, nor the date when the statement was made.

And yet, Mr Solans published the exact question and the exact answer that supposedly were made. Solans writes, that Fidel Castro stated, “Estados Unidos vendrá a dialogar con nosotros cuando tenga un presidente negro y haya en el mundo un Papa latinoamericano”. [The United States will come to dialogue with us when it has a black President and there is a Latin American Pope in the world.”

Solans “source”? A taxi driver!

Now, here is the real interesting thing: Fidel just returned from Vietnam in September 1973. He had gone into liberated territory in SOUTH Vietnam. Fidel did give a press conference when he returned on that experience.

The myth-making story attributed the Fidel statement to Eduardo de la Torre who was a student at the time in Cuba. In other words, the Cuban – Eduardo – recalls an event that happened 42 years ago. But was Eduardo watching Cuban TV when Fidel Castro spoke? How come there is no evidence of that interview anywhere? The Cubans have collections of Fidel’s speeches and interviews, and so does the US government. Moreover, if it was not broadcast by the Cuban media, how did the former student and now taxi driver hear the Castro statement? Was he present in the same room? There is no printed version of the purported Fidel Castro interview with the foreign media. Then there is another peculiar item. The person who introduced Solans to the Cuban reading public was Marta Rojas who in 1973 was the Cuban writer/journalist reporting on the Vietnam war from Vietnam. It was Marta Rojas who introduced Solans to the Cuban reading public. Did she tell him the story?

Finally, is it possible that Fidel’s comment, regardless of the circumstances when it was made, was true?

Doubtful. At the time (1972-1973) Fidel Castro had a good and strong relationship with the Vatican representative in Cuba, Mons. Cessare Zacchi. In fact, the relations between him and Fidel Castro had become a model for the Vatican. Zacchi who had the rank of ambassador in Cuba was named president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, institution training Vatican diplomats two years AFTER the supposed statement from Fidel Castro was made. Moreover, by the early 1970s Fidel Castro had become a friendly defender of “liberation theology”. In fact, he thoroughly elaborated the theme that “He who betrays the poor betrays Christ”

It is far-fetched that the Cuban revolutionary would, implicitly, criticize the Vatican and the Pope in 1973 when his political objective at the time was to be in alliance with the progressive sectors of the Catholic church. *

*My thanks to Karen Wald for her comments.

Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

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