Dear Fidel Castro

The last revolutionary has stunned the United Nations by joining the sober-suited classes. A man who has shaken his hand explains why he'd like to ... er ... shake his hand
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The Independent Online
I don't know if you remember me, but you gave me your card in 1966 and shook my hand. A clammy, limp fish of a handshake as I recall, but you can be excused that. Mine was, after all, late in the line of the thousand or so hands you shook that day at the Chess Olympics in Havana.

Anyway, because we are on cordial, hand-shaking terms, the editor asked me to have a word with you about that suit. You know - the one you wore for your United Nations speech the other day. Whatever came over you? I hardly recognised you without your usual battledress, though the shaggy beard, still unkempt after all those years, is a giveaway. Mind you, I never thought olive-green was really your colour but it had become so much your trademark it was a shock to see you dressed in anything else.

We know it wasn't a lost luggage or laundry problem, because you changed back into fatigues immediately afterwards to address a loyal crowd in Harlem. ("How could I go to Harlem dressed in a business suit?" you asked.) You know, I always suspected that your military attire was just your working gear, and you slipped back into a suit and tie to relax at home.

Is that the explanation? Are you finally tiring of your uniform - a victim of fatigues fatigue - or is it the sign of something more sinister?

All the symptoms - an elegantly tailored suit, speech cut from your usual two hours to a mere seven minutes, prompt arrival for your appointment (you kept us all waiting 90 minutes for your opening speech at the Chess Olympics) - point to only one thing: you've been spin-doctored, haven't you?

Your asesores de imagen have assessed your image, spun it, trimmed it and kitted it out in a new suit. And how right you were to take their advice! In 1960, your first speech to the United Nations was delivered in army fatigues, lasted four hours and nobody took any notice. On Sunday your besuited seven-minute sound-bite shook them all out of their complacency.

You spoke of the "new colonialism" exemplified by a misuse of the veto privilege by Security Council members; you laid claim to "a world of peace, justice and dignity"; you castigated, without once mentioning the words "United States", "ruthless blockades that cause the death of men, women and children ... like noiseless atom bombs". The important thing was that you did so, not as a revolutionary dressed for battle, but as a representative of the suited classes.

Your words could more easily have been dismissed as the rantings of the last dinosaur of Communism had you not changed clothes for the occasion. Your suit put Nelson Mandela's happily gaudy shirt in the shade and, on the matter of sartorial appropriateness, even Yasser Arafat would have had to take his keffiyeh off to you.

Just once piece of advice, though. Your tie. Too drab by half. If you really want to be taken seriously, try an MCC one. Or the Garrick.

I really must dig out your card again and give you a ring. Perhaps we could have lunch sometime. Dress informal.

WILLIAM HARTSTON

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