The Castro Quote That Wasn't

Urban legend of the month


Back in the '70s, Fidel Castro supposedly declared: "The United States will come talk to us when it has a black president and the world has a Latin American pope." That would have been an extraordinarily prescient wisecrack if the Cuban dictator had really said it, but The Guardian has looked into the matter and concluded that it didn't happen:

As long as I'm idly speculating about the future, I suggest you avoid the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

Several Spanish-language outlets, at least one French one, and untold retweeters have reported or re-reported the quote, citing an anecdote writer Pedro Jorge Solans told in the Argentinian paper El Diario. Reporting from Cuba in March, Solans relays a colorful story of how his Havana taxi driver, Eduardo de la Torre, "recalled the episode as if he were giving a lecture of eternity."…But Solans does not attempt to fit his vignette of a quirky Havanan cab driver with any historical record, and none appears to exist to corroborate his claim. Rafael Rojas, author of A Brief History of the Cuban Revolution, told Mexico's El Universal: "I don't believe Fidel Castro ever said these 'prophetic' words."

The Guardian goes on to note that before Solans' story appeared, The Havana Times had cited the line as "a habitual joke these days on the island" and a Mexican writer had relayed a similar gag in an op-ed. (In that version, Castro tells Che Guevara that Cuba will have diplomatic relations with Washington again on the "day when the US president is black and the pope an Argentinian like you.") The writer wraps up by mentioning that in 1977,

Castro told Barbara Walters in an interview that he thought the US and Cuba could restore relations between 1980 and 1984, during Jimmy Carter's second term in office.

The interview likely should have put to rest all doubt about Castro's skills of prediction: in 1980 Ronald Reagan knocked Carter out of office in the biggest electoral defeat since the Great Depression.

I'm not sure what led the reporter to think Carter's loss in 1980 was larger than McGovern's in 1972 or Goldwater's in 1964, and I suppose someone deeply committed to the Castro story can hold out hope that the rest of the story is equally unreliable. But the alleged quote looks like a joke turned urban legend to me.