A fight broke out

October 13, 1962

We had a Cuban missile crisis this morning. The Soviets were transporting one of their big missiles from a bunker to a concrete launching pad they had just finished. A truck was pulling a huge trailer, with the missile lying on it like a gigantic shiny white log. But they came to a corner they couldn’t get around because of a row of mailboxes out by the road. The Soviets said they had to uproot all the mailboxes in order to make it around the corner. But the Cubans in the neighborhood couldn’t understand what they were saying. Some pushing and shoving started, one thing led to another, and a fight broke out.

One of the Russians spoke some English and a couple of the Cubans spoke some English as well. They began shouting at each other in “Spanglish” and “Sprussian.” A call came through to my headquarters. They reached me in my jeep west of Havana. I went straight to the scene and, within a few minutes, I could see the problem. The Soviet comrades needed to remove the mailboxes. The Cubans thought the Soviets were trying to steal their mailboxes. As I listened to them, it seemed they had a mailbox domino theory: first they steal the mailboxes; then they steal the farm animals; then they steal our wives and children; then they steal our country—“Cubita”—little Cuba. Don’t ever think Cubans lack imagination. I think these ideas come from Santeria. If you believe burnt chicken bones will give you good luck, you’ll probably believe every weird idea that comes along.

We have to take extraordinary measures, which include dislodging mailboxes, if necessary, to allow the Soviets to get their missiles operational. I jumped out of my
jeep and explained all this to the Cuban residents. But this ancient woman—at least 80 or 90 years old, without a single tooth in her mouth, got up in my face and said, “Fidel, dammit, these pale beasts are evil. And what are these giant tubes they are moving around, anyway. My santero told me they hold the penises of giant Russians back in Russia. Tell, us, Fidel,” she went on, “what is going on?”

What to say? I pondered what the lady said. Finally, I said, “mama, you know how we are David and the gringos are Goliath?” She said she understood this perfectly. Then I said: “imagine, mama, the other Goliath, the pale blond Goliath, is now on our side, and they have lent us some of their biggest penises to give us strength. Once the tubes are set up, we will bring some santeros in to bless them with cigar smoke and to bite the heads off a few chickens and burn them on the site. The gringos won’t stand a chance after that.

“Mama” almost fainted with delight. Maybe she even blushed a little bit. Who knows why? “Viva la revolucion,” she squeaked. “Patria o muerte.”

The mailboxes came down immediately. The missile turned the corner. The mailboxes were reinstalled. And the big Russian dickey-holder continued to the missile site. So the latest Cuban missile crisis was resolved.