Cuban heels add extra stature to Castro visit: Phil Davison reports from Santiago de Compostela on Fidel's trip to his father's Spanish homeland

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The Independent Online
HE CAME, as has become his custom, in two Soviet-built Ilyushin airliners. One was a decoy, to double the odds against any assassination attempt. Earlier, he had slept in hotel suite 148, instead of 146, doubling them again and confusing a room service waiter with an untouched breakfast.

His own cook, Toni 'El Negro' (Blackie), insisted on opening each mineral water bottle destined for el Jefe Maximo personally, to ensure none had been doctored. Paranoia could be Fidel Castro's middle name, and with some reason. The CIA is said to have once tried to 'eliminate' him with an exploding


Visiting the ancient Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela yesterday, near where his father was born, the 65-year-old Cuban leader showed he can still pull a crowd. Castro strolled through the town's narrow, winding streets, grinning and waving as a few dozen locals waved Cuban flags, shouted his name and chanted: 'Cuba Yes, Yankees No'.

Most residents appeared at their doorways or on balconies. Some tourists continued with their beer or mejillones (mussels) before metal chairs, tables and plates were sent crashing by the joint media and security circus.

A few residents produced polite applause but most looked bemused by the passing roadshow of scuffling, stumbling photographers and no-nonsense guardia civil, flown in from Madrid, in overalls and baseball caps.

Corine van Groningen, a young tourist from Utrecht, at first screamed with excitement when told who was at the heart of the surging throng. It could just as well have been Michael Jackson. When she spotted the grey-bearded, hatless figure in the olive fatigues, her reaction echoed that of most local residents. 'I don't like his ideas, not at all. But it's not every day you get to see a legend.'

The legend himself, who attended an Ibero-American summit in Madrid last week, then visited the opening of the Olympics in Barcelona and Expo '92 in Seville, did indeed look larger than life. Since his father was Galician, and Fidel stood head and shoulders above his hosts here, one could only surmise that his mother, a Cuban, was an extremely tall lady. Finally catching a glimpse of his boots as he walked up the gangway of a tuna fishing boat at Puebla del Caraminal, 36 miles from Santiago, reporters noted that two-inch 'Cuban' heels added somewhat to the legend's impact.

After the guardia cleared a path through curious bystanders from the local xunta (provincial government) building, the Cuban leader entered Santiago's world-renowned Gothic cathedral and did what millions of pilgrims have done before him. At the Portico of Glory, just inside the entrance, he placed his palm against a carved central column, where the erosion from the touch of countless visitors has left five clear finger-shaped grooves. According to tradition, pilgrims can make five wishes, one for each finger, and one will be granted.

If the Cuban leader happened to wish for a horse, he may find the wish granted. A local livestock ranch plans to present him with an Arab thoroughbred called Demon Son of Jaja. Ronald Reagan received an animal of the same blood line from King Juan Carlos, the ranchers said.

The aggressive security around the Cuban leader here was possibly the result of a hiccup a day earlier in Seville, when an exiled Cuban opposition leader, an ex-schoolchum of Castro, Jose Ignacio Rasco, managed to get face to face with the great man in Cuba's pavilion at Expo '92. 'Fidel, you must change, change for your own good,' Mr Rasco said before security men gave him the heave-ho.

The Cuban leader's host here was Galicia's Prime Minister, Manuel Fraga, a minister under Franco and still the power behind the throne in Spain's conservative Popular Party. Mr Fraga is also a product of a Galician father and a Cuban mother. He and Castro are said to have struck up a friendship of 'good chemistry' during Mr Fraga's visit to Cuba last September.