Monday, April 09, 2007

A long time ago

It seems like a long time ago.

Easter 1980.

In Havana, Fidel Castro seems invincible. His reputation as a supposed champion of the poor and dispossessed in the Third World grows by the day. His masters in Moscow – the old men in the Kremlin who really call the shots – are happy to continue to bankroll "the Revolution". In return, Cuban troops are now in Africa, spreading Communism. The regime is unassailable.

And then something totally unexpected happens.

On April 1, a 31-year-old bus driver by the name of Hector Sanyustiz borrows a bus and with three others on board, does the unthinkable: he crashes through the gates of the Peruvian Embassy compound in Havana.

Cuban security agents stationed at the embassy gates open fire, wound the driver and one of the other passengers, who nevertheless make it inside the grounds and seek political asylum.

The indiscriminate shooting by the Cubans, who have been trained by the East German secret police, results in one of the guards being killed.

Castro is enraged.

He goes on national television, blames the gate-crashers - "scum" - for the death of the Cuban guard and demands that the Peruvian authorities return the “criminals” at once – or face the consequences.

No one stands in the way of Fidel Castro.

Except for one man: the improbably named Ernesto Pinto-Bazurco Rittler, a German-born Peruvian diplomat who is running things at the Havana embassy at the time.

Mr Pinto-Bazurco Rittler refuses to hand over the embassy-crashers. Instead, the diplomat agrees to give them political asylum.

As the world media continues to broadcast news of the diplomatic crisis, a despondent Castro throws the mother of all tantrums (again!) and removes the Cuban guards from the embassy gates, effectively inviting Cubans to take over the place.

They do. But not in the way Castro imagined.

Over the next two days or so, close to 11,000 Cubans rush into the place. Not as a protest. But seeking political asylum and a ticket out of the Communist island paradise.

The rest, as they say, is history …

I have no idea what happened to Mr Pinto-Bazurco Rittler. I have no idea if he is a good guy or not. A quick Google search would appear to suggest he is still a diplomat. It seems he is highly regarded. A professional. I do not know.

But back then, in 1980, Mr Pinto-Bazurco Rittler had the courage to do the right thing. He stood up to Castro. He was not intimidated.

It seems like a long time ago …

Today, of course, we have Miguel Angel Moratinos.

PS: For more on what happened later, I commend Finding Manana, an excellent account of the Mariel boatlift by Mirta Ojito, which you can buy from Amazon.


Blogger El Güinero said...

Ay coño, que días esos. Cuando empezaron los actos de repudios la cosa se puso fea, pero así y todo fue la primera indicación que el régimen no era tanta cosa, ni tenia tanta fuerza.

12:36 am  

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