Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fidel Castro's Last Beret

The Spanish Basque Nicolás Gregorio Rodríguez, an 89-year-old "war child", has kept the olive-green beret he was given by Fidel Castro all his life. Nicolás met Castro in Cuba where he worked as a translator for the Soviet military.
"Fidel gave it to me, and afterwards he did not wear any beret anymore," said Nicolás, a native of Bilbao, at his home in Moscow.
The octogenarian keeps the beret along with a discolored photo in which he appears next to the deceased Cuban communist leader in a Soviet military unit on the island, where he was destined for two and a half years.
"I told him that I was Spanish, but that I now live in the Soviet Union, and that I had come to Cuba as a volunteer.
At the time, Castro was "interested" in the workings of the T-55 tank, a tank that the Soviets kept secret for years and ended up giving away to the Cuban regular army.
"They needed a regular Army to defend themselves against a possible US invasion." Everybody was on the street with guns in their belts, Fidel carrying a Soviet Stechkin pistol with a wooden handle, "he says.
Nicolás, who arrived in the USSR in 1937, was deeply affected by the death of "compañero" Fidel, as he called him, since he was a "fantastic" character.
A book on Fidel written by the daughter of the commander, Alina Fernández, and a diploma of honor signed by Raúl Castro, is kept in a privileged place.
The Spaniard traveled to Havana in December 1962 on the same boat as the young Cubans who had been instructed by Soviet military at the Georgian naval secret base of Poti (Black Sea) as part of the Kremlin's aid to the Cuban Revolution.
"I saw myself more often with Raul, who was the head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. When I was on duty and he came, I translated for him, since I was fluent in Spanish and Russian." He also met Ché Guevara, with whom he spent some time when they sat together in the Havana stadium to see Valeri Lobanovski's legendary Dinamo Kiev.
"He smoked cigars that were long, even though he had asthma," he recalls, gesturing graphically.
Nicolás liked Cuba so much that he asked to have his stay extended so as not to have to return to Moscow in the winter, and he stayed on the island until May 1965, after which he returned to the train parts factory where he worked at Outskirts of the Soviet capital.

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