Fidel at the dolphin show

It’s the Cuban dictator like you’ve never seen him before. And I do mean never.

Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic recently received an invitation to meet with Fidel Castro, after his recent article on Israel and Iran caught Castro’s eye. “Always eager . . . to interact with readers of The Atlantic,” Goldberg decided it wasn’t an opportunity to be missed, and so he flew to Havana to discuss nuclear proliferation… with the man at the heart of the Cuban missile crisis.

Goldberg reports many interesting comments from their conversation — not least among them Castro’s acknowledgment that “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore” — but the most surreal scene unfolds with one question from Castro in particular: “Would you like to go the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

“Goldberg,” Fidel said, “ask him [the director of the aquarium] questions about dolphins.”

“What kind of questions?” I asked.

“You’re a journalist, ask good questions,” he said, and then interrupted himself. “He doesn’t know much about dolphins anyway,” he said, pointing to Garcia. He’s actually a nuclear physicist.”

“You are?” I asked.

“Yes,” Garcia said, somewhat apologetically.

“Why are you running the aquarium?” I asked.

“We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!” Fidel said, and then cracked-up laughing.

“In Cuba, we would only use nuclear power for peaceful means,” Garcia said, earnestly.

“I didn’t think I was in Iran,” I answered.

Fidel pointed to the small rug under the special swivel chair his bodyguards bring along for him.
“It’s Persian!” he said, and laughed again. Then he said, “Goldberg, ask your questions about dolphins.”

It only gets stranger with the appearance of the resident veterinarian — Che Guevara’s daughter. You have to read the whole thing to believe it. Goldberg should do more of these conversations with controversial world leaders — maybe a visit to the zoo with Ahmadinejad is in order?

(Original caption for the above photo: “I’m in the low chair; Che’s daughter is behind me, with the short, blondish hair; Fidel is the guy who looks like Fidel if Fidel shopped at L.L. Bean.”)


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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