The Cas­tro buses

The Oldie - - READER'S LETTERS -

SIR: When Fidel Cas­tro said ‘Thank you for the buses’ to Iain Leg­gatt in Bucharest (I Once Met, March is­sue), he might have added ‘pity about the 42 that were sunk in the Thames’. Th­ese buses were be­ing shipped to Cuba un­der a con­tract for 400 ve­hi­cles, won in Jan­uary 1964 by Ley­land; they had just been loaded aboard an East Ger­man freighter, the MV Magde­burg, at Da­gen­ham Dock, when the ves­sel was hit in the side in dark­ness by a Ja­panese ship, the Ya­mashiro Maru. The im­pact was so great that the Magde­burg turned over be­fore it sank.

But was it an ac­ci­dent? Dirty work by the CIA was sus­pected. The US had in­sti­tuted what pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son called a ‘trans­porta­tion block­ade’ of com­mu­nist Cuba. Nev­er­the­less, Ley­land boss Don­ald (later Lord) Stokes – with the ap­proval of the prime min­is­ter, Alec Dou­glas-home, and his suc­ces­sor, Harold Wil­son – would have none of it and the bus con­tract went ahead.

Sus­pi­cion that the CIA had a hand in the sink­ing was com­pounded by the fact that the cap­tain and pi­lot of the Ya­mashiro Maru – which was al­legedly nav­i­gat­ing the wrong way in the river, giv­ing mis­lead­ing sig­nals – re­fused to an­swer ques­tions about the col­li­sion.

Alan Bunting, Harpen­den, Hert­ford­shire.

SIR: Iain Leg­gatt’s I Once Met Fidel Cas­tro brought back me­mories of the year 1971, dur­ing which I was liv­ing and work­ing in Cuba. I did not meet Fidel but I did spend a day with his younger half-brother, Ramón Cas­tro. Ramón was very much like Fidel in ap­pear­ance, with a black beard, and the usual fa­tigues. I be­lieve Fidel’s fa­ther was quite a phi­lan­derer and there were a few half-brothers and sis­ters.

Ramón’s role was as the man­ager of a dairy farm, and I was there to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of de­vel­op­ing an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem for the pas­tures. I found him easy to talk to and it was a very pleas­ant day.

One of the prob­lems with the farm, a few miles out­side Ha­vana, was the ter­rain, quite hilly and very stony. Boul­ders are not kind to au­to­matic ir­ri­ga­tors. In those days, Richard Nixon was pres­i­dent and the ul­ti­mate en­emy of the Cubans. In the lo­cal press his name was al­ways spelled with a swastika in­stead of an ‘x’. I sug­gested in jest that they should hurl all the rocks over the Gulf to Florida. Ramón laughed up­roar­i­ously.

I was later in­vited to join him for lunch, along with two other farm work­ers, at his rather run-down shack on the farm. It had only two chairs and a sin­gle bed-frame (no mat­tress). I was of­fered one of the two chairs but said I was happy to sit on the steel frame (it looked slightly safer). This seemed to im­press Ramón. Un­like the Cuban pop­u­la­tion, who were strictly ra­tioned, we were served with ex­cel­lent large, juicy steaks, fol­lowed by Camem­bert cheese and as much rum as we could drink.

Ramón’s last words when I was leav­ing were: ‘You would make a good com­mu­nist.’ He died in Fe­bru­ary last year.

Brian Pear­son, More­ton-on-lugg, Here­ford­shire.

‘You are ac­tu­ally go­ing to do some­thing about this, aren’t you?’

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