Castro at the Lincoln Memorial
Between April 15 and April 26 1959–a few months after he took power in Cuba–Fidel Castro went to the United States, invited by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In one of those forgotten episodes of the Cold War, Castro went to the US for loans. Castro hired one of the best public relations firms to present his new government. Castro answered impertinent questions jokingly and ate hot dogs and hamburgers. His rumpled fatigues and scruffy beard cut a popular figure easily promoted as an authentic hero.
However President Eisenhower did not believed Castro’s talk of neutralism in the Cold War. Instead of meeting Castro, Eisenhower left Washington to play golf. Vice President Nixon met Castro in a 3-hour long meeting. Nixon asked about elections, and Castro told him that the Cuban people did not want elections. Nixon complained that Castro was “either incredibly naive about communism or under communist discipline.” His guess, he said, was the former.
Fidel Castro laid a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial–where the moment was immortalized by his photographer Alfredo Korda–and he met the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and told them that he would not expropriate the property of Americans and that he was against dictatorships and for a free press. He went back to Cuba denying that he was a communist because communism was the dictatorship of a single class and meant hatred and class struggle. After his visit to the United States, he would go on to join forces with the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, signing into law many Communist-inspired laws starting the next month.
Fidel Castro remained an admirer of Abraham Lincoln for the next half a century. He had a bust of Lincoln in his office, and wrote that Lincoln was devoted “to the just idea that all citizens are born free and equal”, and once even saying, “Long Live Lincoln!”