By Steven Cohen
On September 18, 1960, four months before the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba and 56 years before Barack Obama would become the first sitting American president in almost a century to step foot on Cuban soil, Fidel Castro arrived in New York City for the 15th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Castro had taken in the Big Apple the previous year, fresh off the successful overthrow of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. He ate ice cream at the Bronx Zoo, and posed for smiling pictures with blond-haired children. Wherever he showed his scraggly bearded face, from Yankees Stadium to the New York Press Photographer’s Ball, the fatigue-clad prime minister was fawned over like a celebrity—even as animosities between his young revolutionary government and the great superpower to the north were already starting to reach a breaking point.
The reception that awaited him the following fall wasn’t nearly so warm. Castro and his bohemian entourage got off to a bad start with management at the elite Shelbourne Hotel, which allegedly demanded an exorbitant advance ahead of the Cuban delegation’s stay. Soon, New York tabloids were circulating reports that these “uncouth primitives” had “killed, plucked, and cooked chickens in their rooms at the Shelbourne and extinguished cigars on expensive carpets.” One subsequent Cuban defector later claimed that Castro had staged the drama. In any case, the Cubans left the Shelbourne, checking in instead at the Hotel Theresa, up past 124th Street in Harlem.
Read more: When Castro Came to Harlem | New Republic
Check out the WNYC piece below that provides some keen insights into Castro’s 1960 trip to Harlem.