Fidel in Russia after the October Crisis: The Memories of Nikolai Leonov

By Jorge Petinaud Martínez.

The 59th anniversary of the beginning of the so-called October Crisis brings to the present an interview granted to Prensa Latina in 2013, in Moscow, by Nikolai Leonov, author together with Vladimir Vorodáev of the political biography in Russian of the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution , Fidel Castro.

The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, with the Soviet president, Nikita Khrushchev, in Moscow’s Red Square in 1963. Photo: TASS.

From a hardwood armchair and leather sitting room in the living room of his house, in the center of the Russian capital, the blue eyes of the Lieutenant General (retired) of the Soviet intelligence services shone half a century later like that April 27 1963, when the author of The Story Will Absolve Me first arrived in the Soviet Union.

Before starting the conversation, with the frank smile that he always dedicates ‘to my Cuban friends’, the also author of the first biography about President Raúl Castro, touched both arms of the hardwood chair and leather seat and expressed special thanks .

“It is the main treasure in this house. Fidel gave it to me and nothing is worth so much to me,” he confessed.

Later, with fluent Spanish developed in long years of service in Latin American lands, and almost at the age of 85, Leonov seemed to be looking at the tall bearded man, dressed in olive green, who after 12 hours of flight began to descend in Murmansk from the Soviet-made Tu-114.

“The first visit of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro to Russia has great international and historical interest even now, because neither before nor after, the Soviet Union or my country, regardless of the name it bears, has received a guest with so many honors”, the translator recalled back then.

The retired officer assured that “there was not a statesman visit that lasted so long, because it lasted more than 40 days, during which time Fidel traveled almost the entire country, from Siberia to Ukraine, from northern Murmansk to Georgia and Uzbekistan.” .

The author of several books on Latin American heroes stressed that no other statesman has had the opportunity to make such a great, profound and important visit because of its consequences.

“On the part of the Soviet Union, whose leader was Nikita Khrushchev, the basic historical desire was, as we said, to heal the wounds that remained in the Soviet skin after the outcome of the Caribbean Crisis of 1962,” explained the historian.

The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, with the Soviet president, Nikita Khrushchev, in 1963. Photo: TASS.

The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, with the Soviet president, Nikita Khrushchev, in 1963. Photo: TASS.

He added that “Khrushchev resolved things directly with the United States, without consulting with Fidel, and of course, that action left a very painful mark on the conscience of many Cubans at that time and on Fidel’s heart as well.”

Leonov believes that Khrushchev wanted all these scratches and wounds to be forgotten, and that is why he opened all possible and impossible doors, and inaccessible for other statesmen from the West or the East to satisfy Fidel.

“He not only saw Soviet nuclear submarines of that time, but he got inside one to see how it worked – the witness continued – how it was organized, he even wanted to see a rocket installed in the submersible, and they also showed him.”

He warned that “he visited an intercontinental rocket base, stored in strategic silos, no statesman, ever again, nor before, has had access to this type of rocket base.”

“For his revolutionary merits, Fidel was awarded the Gold Medal and the Lenin Order, which signified the rank of Hero of the Soviet Union, an honor rarely conferred on a foreigner,” said who accompanied the visitor throughout the trip.

The high-ranking official recalled that the Cuban statesman was honored as Doctor Honoris Causa of the Lomonosov University in Moscow, for his contributions to political science.

Photo: TASS.

“However, the most important thing for Fidel was to know the Soviet Union from the inside, to understand where the roots of socialism lay, why the multinational state became so powerful,” he said.

In Leonov’s opinion, the Cuban leader found the answer in two factors, and the first is the people.

“The way of receiving Fidel has no other parallel, without any type of pressure or call on radio or television, people spontaneously took to the streets to applaud him, that can be seen in the photographs of that time, that people even risked life sometimes, they climbed into the trees, on the balconies, on the windows to see the Cuban hero. Something incredible, “he recalled.

Leonov estimated the length of the line of people who took to the streets to receive the strategist from the Sierra Maestra at 25 kilometers.

“Wherever Fidel was, people received him with an enthusiasm and sympathy that I have never seen more in these 50 years, I have not seen a statesman who received so many expressions of affection, sympathy, solidarity,” said the exceptional witness .

He added that “another experience that the Cuban commander captured is the role of the Party, because wherever the leadership of that organization always received it; in the region, the republic, wherever, and he saw that the skeleton of the nation, the skeleton of the State , it was the Party. “

In his opinion, this experience served to enrich Fidel Castro’s political experience.

“It was a visit, in short, which, as I said, has absolutely no parallel in the history of Moscow’s international contacts with other states.”

In explaining the general sympathy and popularity of the Cuban leader among the Soviets of then and the Russians of today, Leonov considered that it is due to his prestige as a legendary revolutionary.

“Nobody knows and nobody saw the scenes of the assault on the Moncada barracks, there are few chronicles in Russian of the war in the Sierra Maestra, but in people’s memory he is a Robin Hood, he is a man who defies dangers, a Don Quixote that attacks any evil to straighten the wrongs of this Earth, “he reasoned.

Photo: Archive.

The interlocutor stressed that ‘of course he was not deceiving anyone, because he had a large, powerful figure; and a clear, open, energetic way of speaking that caught people right away. ‘

“It is a rare case, one of the statesmen who since the assault on Moncada – 60 years have passed – everyone respects him, from the extreme left to the extreme right,” he recalled.

The military veteran emphasized that “few hate him, the majority have great sympathy for him, and everyone recognizes that there is now no political figure in the world who can compare with the spontaneous love and sympathy that is felt for him throughout the world. , it is a truth that nobody can deny “.

(Taken from PL)

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