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From the archives: Ringing in the New Year with Fidel Castro (January, 1960)

[BEN CATE | Times]

[BEN CATE | Times]

Back in 2011, the Times sent its historical photo collection – about 1.1 million images – out to be digitized. You'll find many of those photos available online at tampabay.com/photosales. We still have about that same number of photographic negatives in our archives. Many of these are from the past 30 years or so, but we also have a large number of negatives from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Sorting and organizing these older negatives is a laborious process, one of the rewards of which is that we sometimes come across some real treasures amongst the Yacht Club luncheons and Chamber of Commerce meetings. (Not that there's anything wrong with luncheons or meetings, of course.) We hope you enjoy seeing these treasures as much as we enjoyed discovering them.

This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on January 12, 1960. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos taken by the reporter.

REVOLUTION STILL ALIVE

Cuba Likes Americans But Dislikes America

Times reporter Ben Cate recently took advantage of Cuba's offer to refund half of the fare of American tourists who visit Havana. He writes his impressions of the new Cuba at the beginning of the New Year.

By Ben Cate

HAVANA - As midnight heralded the New Year atop the 25th floor of the Habana Hilton Hotel, Fidel Castro rose from behind a large dish of radishes and the band played the Cuban national anthem.

The anthem was followed immediately by the Star Spangled Banner. Castro did not budge and remained at attention.

BEN CATE | Times

BEN CATE | Times

This would not have been surprising a year ago but, in light of recent events, it was rather startling.

For a moment the hate-America campaign seemed to come to an abrupt halt. But it has not. The government's displeasure with the United States seems more pointed at Uncle Sam as an image than at the American as an individual.

Whether the Castro regime pleases America hardly matters.

REVOLUTION STILL FRESH

The revolution has given the people a leader of their own. Most Cubans still call it the revolution and even after a year the word is still fresh and new.

The average Cuban, be he cab driver, hotel porter or small shop owner, glows with pride when Castro's name is mentioned.

BEN CATE | Times

BEN CATE | Times

The idea of a counter revolution seems preposterous to a Cuban. When Castro took to the hills to fight his running guerilla war with Fulgencio Batista, he had a cause – freedom.

Today, despite the purge of some of Castro's wartime friends, the average Cuban feels he is free and that Castro is the man who freed him.

But there is another side of the coin. Secret police are everywhere. Uniformed men carrying a variety of guns prowl the streets. And they all have great power.

BEN CATE | Times

BEN CATE | Times

This may explain why no Cubans criticized Castro in talks with this reporter.

750,000 JOBLESS

On top of this, there are still 750,000 unemployed of Cuba's six million population. And unrest in the countryside could start again.

The New Year celebration in the streets was normal for any Latin country – noisy and gay.

BEN CATE | Times

Even Castro's gun-happy warriors were under strict orders: "Don't fire your weapons in the air." Slugs that go up must come down, an official decree noted.

The many Americans who cashed in on a 50 percent air fare reduction – financed by the Cuban government – were warmly welcomed.

The Cubans do not, as many believe, resent the presence of American tourists in Havana. They welcome them, particularIy their dollars and cents.

The press, on the other hand, is looked on with great suspicion.

The James Buchanan incident and others of a less serious nature (10 foreign newsmen arrested since Castro's coup d'état) may be the premier's way of telling correspondents to stop meddling in Cuba's internal affairs.

Newspapers and magazines which buck the Castro line are headed for rough times.

Newsmen assigned to Havana may disagree about the land reform program and other Castro measures but they all agree that they don't know what is going on.

Government ministers keep no regular hours. Castro may call a cabinet meeting at 2 a.m. in one of six or more places.

At times, as one reporter painfully explained, a department chief hasn't the foggiest idea what his number two man is doing.

ROVING BANDS

The confusion is multiplied by roving bands of sloppily dressed uniformed men. Some are police, some are soldiers. Some are city public works employees and some are self-styled revolutionaries. All carry guns as if they were attaché cases.

Guns are almost a fetish with Cubans. If there isn't a .45 hanging loosely from your belt, well, you're only partially dressed.

BEN CATE | Times

BEN CATE | Times

Havana at first appears to be an armed camp. But this feeling quickly vanishes. Everyone accepts the gun-toters as Americans do milk men – it's just part of the revolutionary game.

And the revolutionary game was played atop the fashionable Habana Hilton at Castro's New Year party.

Here bearded characters with hairy chests showing through unbuttoned fatigues mingled with be-jeweled women sipping rum.

The gunslingers slipped through the crowd eyeing newsmen, women and drinks.

Several persons remarked about Castro's white shirt, black tie and neat olive drab uniform. He apparently had it recently pressed.

BEN CATE | Times

BEN CATE | Times

BEN CATE | Times

BEN CATE | Times

Editor's note: Joe Louis, though not mentioned in Ben Cate's 1960 story, is shown in the lead photo for this post, on the far right. The ex-heavyweight champ was part of a public relations firm which signed a $285,000 contract with Castro's tourist bureau to encourage black Americans to travel to Havana. Louis later withdrew from the agreement.

Times staff writer Tim Rozgonyi contributed to this post. Contact Jeremy King at jking@tampabay.com.

From the archives: Ringing in the New Year with Fidel Castro (January, 1960) 04/28/16 [Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2016 9:20am]
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