'If there is a God, Castro is his agent on Earth'

Following a holiday in Cuba, London cabbie Tony Caccavone, 57 (right), came home and began an extraordinary personal crusade in support of the Caribbean island, which lead back to Havana and a meeting with Fidel Castro. Tony's builder son Paul, 25 (far right), was, and remains, appalled by his father's passion.
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Tony Caccavone

Tony Caccavone

A holiday in Cuba was suggested to me five years ago by some Canadian tourists I picked up. I told my wife, Tina, where I wanted to go on holiday and she was not happy. She said there was fighting on the streets and people were all trying to get out on boats and rafts. Paul wasn't happy about it either, but my wife and I went anyway.

I couldn't believe the destruction I saw in Havana. Every shop shelf was empty, and I felt I had to tell everyone back home what was going on. Back in London, I went to the Cuban Embassy and asked what I could do, became a member of the Cuban Solidarity Campaign and painted the Cuban flag on the cab. It became a great talking point with passengers. I then took photos of my cab outside famous London spots, and sent them to Castro - though I'd no idea if he got them or not.

Three years ago I took part in an embargo-busting convoy with some American campaigners. I shipped my cab to New York and then drove it to Canada at the front of a 50-vehicle convoy loaded with provisions. Then we all flew to Havana. We didn't know if we would get to meet Castro, so I couldn't believe it when I was told I could present a photograph of my cab to him.

We met on stage. My story was told to him and a big smile broke on his face and he put his arms around me. I said: "I hope you get invited to Britain someday and I get to ferry you around." His handshake lasted a whole minute. You know when you're in the presence of someone special - I'm an atheist, but if there is a God, perhaps his representative on Earth is Castro.

Paul doesn't agree with any of this. Oh, the rows we've had. We've argued about politics for years. His mother goes to bed and then shouts at us to stop arguing. Paul's brainwashed by the press. I also think he can't agree with me because I'm his dad. But Paul's a lovely lad. He's never caused us any worry.

I know I am just a pawn in a bigger game. But the cab has spread the word. I have been on radio and TV. I was in my cab in Whitehall oncewhen John Prescott drew up beside me in his chauffeur-driven car. Down rolled his window and his head popped out to take a look at the cab. I shouted: "John - isn't it time we invited Fidel Castro to London?" He gave a big chuckle and said it was a bloody good idea.

Paul Caccavone

Home has been a battle zone since I was 13 or 14. For years we could not have dinner because a row would start. My mum would have to scream for calm.

My dad has always been a socialist. I voted Labour at the last election, and though he votes Labour too, it's not socialist enough for him. At home he was always shouting at the TV news. So I started reading newspapers and began to see a different side - but for dad nothing ever has two sides.

He's always been forceful about politics. Once this bloke who lives two streets away came round to canvas for the Tories. He was just doing his job - but my dad ended up following him down the street shouting socialist slogans. I have never let my dad shout me down.

Cuba has been his biggest thing, but I remember during the 1984 miners' strike he told us to send the miners all our old clothes. I don't actually know how much he donated, but we were struggling at the time. And he couldn't afford to go to Cuba when he did - he was irresponsible.

I think he thinks like he does because he has a working-class chip on his shoulder: he came from poverty and he's done well for himself. But he could never have done so well somewhere like Cuba. At least in the West, if you are prepared to sweat, you can have it all. I'm always trying to convince my dad that it's human nature to want to make a little more than the neighbour. You wait and see what happens in Cuba the minute they are allowed to make a few quid.

Emotionally, my dad is supportive, and I know he loves me. He has a lot of bottle, even if you don't agree with him. A couple of things have brought us together in last couple of years. He is more interested in the garden, which I used to do by myself. But money is an even stronger bond. Since I moved out to a rented place, he realises it is a struggle being a young person in London. We can speak calmly about finance forever - but then the news comes on and you know there is going to be another row.

'Photo to Castro', part of the 'Picture This' season, is broadcast on 6 September, BBC2, at 11.20pm

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