Sen. Lowell Weicker Angles for Lunch with Fidel Castro—and Pulls Off a Feat of Shutter Diplomacy
updated 11/10/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/10/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST
At the end of their three-hour meeting in Havana, the Cuban leader decided to join the Connecticut senator on a skin-diving expedition. A so-so swimmer with one crash course in scuba equipment, Weicker passed up spearfishing with Castro, citing sportsmanship ("In those waters the fish come right up to your nose"). But he came back with the pictures on these pages (taken by him and his aide Bob Wicklund) and a fresh, mostly favorable view of Castro, his country and the benefits of more cordial relations.
"It was a common love of the sea that got us out there," says Weicker, 49. "It had nothing to do with sticking points between our nations." Indeed, their lunch—Castro's catch washed down with rum (Cuban) and white wine (French)—was unmarred by talk of Cuban military adventurism or allegations of torture at the Isle of Pines prison just over the bow of the official yacht. Weicker sampled lobster a la Fidel—dissected by Castro's personal surgeon and eaten raw with salt and lime juice—and invited his host's reminiscences of the revolution.
The eight-and-a-half-hour encounter left the senator with the impression of "a man of enormous intellect and idealism. Castro's been known to snow people, but he didn't snow me," Weicker says. "We flew all over the place and I saw what he's done with my own eyes. They deliver a quality of life to those people they've never known before. By Caribbean and South American standards, it's Park Avenue. I want to know why the U.S. isn't there. We can gain the affection of the Cuban people by working side by side."
To that end, Weicker invited Castro to send scientists to work at the NOAA's research lab in St. Croix and is now urging the agency to exchange scientific publications with the Cubans. "Somebody who's going to play a role in the history of this hemisphere is somebody we should be talking to," he reasons. "Castro is there to stay."