Humberto Fontova

“Fidel Castro could have been Cuba’s Elvis!” (Dan Rather.)

“Fidel Castro is one hell of a guy! “You people would like him!” (Ted Turner to a capacity crowd at Harvard Law School during a speech in 1997.)

“Fidel Castro is old-fashioned, courtly—even paternal, a thoroughly fascinating figure!” (Andrea Mitchell.)

“Castro has brought very high literacy and great health-care to his country. His personal magnetism is powerful, his presence is commanding.” (Barbara Walters.)

“Viva Fidel! Viva Che!” (Jesse Jackson while arm in arm with Fidel Castro himself in 1984.)

"Fidel Castro is very shy and sensitive, I frankly like him and regard him as a friend." (George Mc Govern.)

(Fidel Castro is) “Very selfless and moral. One of the world’s wisest men.” (Oliver Stone.)

(Fidel Castro is) “A genius.” (Jack Nicholson.)

“Fidel, I love you. We both have beards. We both have power and want to use it for good purposes. ”(Francis Ford Coppola.)

But on August 13th Fidel Castro’s birthday came and went precious few salutations from his friends. Cuba’s captive (literally!) and normally boastful media scrambled frantically but could only report three birthday salutations from heads-of-state or celebrities to the ailing and moribund Stalinist: presidents Viktor Yanukovich of the Ukraine, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua --not exactly A-listers.

In fairness, Castro’s famous American friends mostly hailed from Hollywood, Manhattan and Washington D.C., notoriously the capitols of fair-weather-friendships. “If you want a friend in Washington,” said Harry Truman, “get a dog.”

But back in January 1996 Fidel Castro’s visit to New York, New York saw him hailed as “King of the Hill, Top of the List, Head of the Heap!”—and then some.

“The Toast of Manhattan!” crowed Time magazine regarding Fidel Castro’s reception by Manhattan’s beautiful people on the mass-murderer’s visit. “The Hottest Ticket in Manhattan!” also read a Newsweek story that week, referring to the social swirl that engulfed Castro in New York by the media luminaries who barely escaped incineration by his hand.

First, there was a luncheon at the Council on Foreign Relations. After holding court there for a rapt David Rockefeller, along with Robert McNamara, Dwayne Andreas, and Random House’s Harold Evans, Castro flashed over to Mort Zuckerman’s Fifth Avenue pad, where a throng of Beltway glitterati, including Mike Wallace, Peter Jennings, Tina Brown, Bernard Shaw, and Barbara Walters all jostled for a photo-op and stood in line for Castro’s autograph. Diane Sawyer was so overcome in the mass-murderer’s presence that she rushed up, broke into that toothy smile of hers, wrapped her arms around Castro and gave him a warm smooch on the cheek.

“You people are the cream of the crop!” beamed the Stalinist/terrorist to the smiling throng he’d come within a hair of nuking.

“Hear, hear!” chirped the delighted guests, while tinkling their wine glasses in honor of the smirking agent of their near vaporization.

In the process of plunging a nation with a standard of living higher than half of Europe’s and swamped with immigrants into a pesthole that repels Haitians, the Castro brothers and Che Guevara deprived an estimated 100,000 Cubans of birthday celebrations. Let’s honor at least on one of these here.

In 1961 a 20-year-old boy named Tony Chao Flores took his place at La Cabana’s execution stake, but he hobbled to it on crutches. He'd taken 17 bullets from their Czech machine guns when the Castroites captured him. On the way to the execution stake at the old Spanish fort turned to a prison and execution ground by Che Guevara, Tony was forced to hobble down some cobblestone stairs. Tony tumbled down the long row of steps and finally lay on the cobblestones at the bottom, writhing and grimacing. One of Tony's bullet-riddled legs had been amputated at the hospital, the other was gangrened and covered in pus. The Castroite guards cackled as they moved in to gag Tony with their tape.

Tony watched them approach while balling his good hand into a fist. Then as the first Red reached him BASH!! right across his eyes.

"I'll never understand how Tony survived that beating," says eyewitness former political prisoner Hiram Gonzalez who watched from his window in la Cabana prison. The crippled Tony was almost killed in the kicking, punching, gun-bashing melee but finally his Soviet-trained captors stood off, panting and rubbing their scrapes and bruises. They'd managed to tape the battered boy’s mouth, but Tony pushed the guards away before they bound his hands. Their commander nodded, motioning for them to back off.

Now Tony started crawling towards the splintered and blood-spattered execution stake about 50 yards away, pushing and dragging himself with his hands as his stump of a leg left a trail of blood on the grass. As he neared the stake he'd stop and start pounding himself in the chest. His executioners seemed perplexed. The crippled boy was trying to say something. But his message was muzzled by the gag Dan Rather’s idol made obligatory for his thousands of execution victims.

Tony's blazing eyes and grimace said enough. But no one could understand the boy's mumblings. Tony kept pushing himself, shutting his eyes tightly from the agony of the effort. His executioners shuffled nervously, raised their rifles, lowered them. They looked towards their commander who shrugged. Finally Tony reached up to his face and ripped off the tape Diane Sawyer’s cuddle-bunny required for his condemned.

The 20 year-old freedom-fighter's voice boomed out. "Shoot me RIGHT HERE!" roared Tony at his gaping executioners. His voice thundered and his head bobbed with the effort. "Right in the CHEST!" Tony yelled. "Like a MAN!" Tony stopped and ripped open his shirt, pounding his chest and grimacing as his gallant executioners gaped and shuffled. "Right HERE!" he pounded.

On his last day alive, Tony had received a letter in jail from his mother. "My dear son," she counseled. "How often I'd warned you not to get involved in these things. But I knew my pleas were vain. You always demanded your freedom, Tony, even as a little boy. So I knew you'd never stand for communism. Well, Castro and Che finally caught you. Son, I love you with all my heart. My life is now shattered and will never be the same, but the only thing left now, Tony . . . is to die like a man."

"FUEGO! “ Che Guevara’s lackey yelled the command and the bullets shattered Tony's crippled body, just as he'd reached the stake, lifted him and stared resolutely at his murderers. But Che's firing squads usually murdered a hero who was standing. The legless Tony presented an awkward target. So some of the volley went wild and missed the youngster. Time for the coup de grâce.

Normally it's one .45 slug that shatters the skull. Eyewitnesses say Tony required . . . POW!-POW! . . . POW! — three. Seems the executioner's hands were shaking pretty badly. But they finally managed. Castro and Che Guevara had another notch in their guns. Another enemy dispatched — bound and gagged as usual.


Humberto Fontova

Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and is the author of four books including his latest, The Longest Romance; The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro. For more information and for video clips of his Television and college speaking appearances please visit www.hfontova.com.