My mem­o­ries of a gi­ant who al­ways stood tall

China Daily (USA) - - FIDEL CASTRO - Zhao Huanxin RE­PORTER’S LOG Con­tact the writer at zhaohuanxin@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Iwas thrilled in 2004 when I was given an as­sign­ment to cover Pres­i­den­tHu Jin­tao’s visit to Cuba. I had re­gret­ted never see­ing Ernesto “Che” Gue­vara, the late rev­o­lu­tion­ary, in per­son. How ex­cit­ing it would be, I thought, to meet his clos­est com­rade and a gi­ant of the 20th cen­tury.

A month be­fore the visit, Fidel Castro, then 78, had in­jured his left knee, so I was sur­prised to see him on Nov 22 at a cer­e­mony in the Palace of the Rev­o­lu­tion, where he andHu wit­nessed the sign­ing of a raft of agree­ments be­tween Bei­jing andHa­vana.

I stood just me­ters from Castro. He wore a dark suit and red tie, and was seated in an arm­chair, with his leg rest­ing on a cloth cush­ion. He was tall and thin, and had gleam­ing, pen­e­trat­ing eyes. His sig­na­ture long, black beard had turned a wispy gray.

As the sign­ing cer­e­mony fin­ished, he jerked his in­dex fin­ger and the hall erupted in ap­plause. I no­ticed, too, that he at­tempted in vain to move his left leg.

The next day, when the coun­tries’ na­tional an­thems were played at the hall, I sawCas­tro push him­self against the arm­chair and, with the help of a walk­ing stick, he stood for the first time since his in­jury. He went on to de­liver a pound­ing speech, hail­ing the broth­erly re­la­tions be­tween China and Cuba.

I vis­ited Cuba again on Sept 25 this year. This time, I didn’t have an op­por­tu­nity to see Castro. But at theHo­tel Na­cional de Cuba, I no­ticed a huge pic­ture of him as a rugged sol­dier fight­ing in the east­ern Sier­raMaes­tra moun­tains. This pic­ture will re­main for­ever in the mem­ory for peo­ple in­Ha­vana and be­yond.

ERNESTO MASTRASCUSA/ GETTY IMAGES

Hun­dreds of peo­ple gather on Satur­day at the Univer­sity of Ha­vana to mourn their for­mer pres­i­dent’s death.

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