The Castro buses
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?’