Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Photographing Fidel Castro

Photographing Fidel Castro
Gilbert Grellet
Tue, 14 Aug 2007

A Spanish photographer who spent four months with Fidel Castro just
before the ailing Cuban leader seized power in 1959 from dictator
Fulgencio Batista remembers him as a talkative idealist.

"He talked all night. He wanted me to tell him everything about (former
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel) Nasser and his agrarian reforms,"
Enrique Meneses said in an interview with AFP at his small Madrid apartment.

Meneses (71), who began his career in Egypt, recalls vividly his days
spent with Fidel, his younger brother Raul and Ernesto "Che" Guevara in
the Sierra Maestra, Cuba's largest mountain range, in late 1957 and
early 1958.

Photos, which he took during this time, were published in the French
weekly magazine "Paris Match" in March 1958, a scoop giving the world
its first glimpse into the daily life of the bearded men who were
leading the Cuban revolution.

"They were idealists, especially Fidel, but it turned out badly," he said.

Shortly after coming to power the charismatic young Castro embraced
communism, seized US assets, nationalised banks and industries and
jailed his rivals and critics.

Fidel, who is famous for delivering marathon speeches lasting several
hours, ceded power to his brother Raul following emergency bowel surgery
just over a year ago and has not appeared in public since.

In a newspaper interview published last week Fidel, who turned 81 on
Monday, said he is still consulted on major government decisions but
gave no indication that he intends to resume the power.

"Fidel won't come back and Raul will carry out the transition,"
predicted Meneses, who has continued to follow Cuban politics closely.

Raul is more "pragmatic" than Fidel because of the "favourable influence
on his character" from his daughter Mariela Castro, a campaigner for gay
and lesbian rights, and his late wife Vilma Espin, a key figure in
advancing equality for women in Cuba.

Vilma, who fought alongside Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution,
died in June.

A photo of a her smiling with a flower in her hair taken in the Sierra
Maestra was included in a major retrospective of Meneses' works
organised this summer in Madrid by the Madrid Press Association.

Among the other photos on display was an iconic picture of Fidel lying
on his back as he writes a message by candlelight in the middle of the
Cuban forest.

Meneses takes credit for the trademark-bearded look used by Fidel and
his guerrillas.

"When they wanted to shave I told Fidel that if you do that my 2000
negatives will be worth nothing anymore," he recalls.

After his time spent in the Sierra Maestra, Meneses never again returned
to Cuba. He was kicked out of the Caribbean island in the spring of 1958
after being arrested and "beat up" by the Batista police, he said.

But Castro never allowed him to come back after taking power in 1959.

"Che" Guevara told him why some years later when the two men met again
outside of Cuba: "Castro is furious because you said we were surrounded
by communists. He thought you were one of us!" Meneses recalls him saying.

Meneses, and free spirit, went on to have a diverse career in Spain,
including stints on radio and television, as well as abroad.

He even edited the Spanish version of adult entertainment magazines
"Playboy" and "Lui" in the late 1970s following the death of right-wing
dictator Francisco Franco.

"The country needed to be woken up sexually," he said with a smile.



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