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Paul Coates -- April 9, 1959

April 9, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Coates Talks With Exiled Boss Batista

This is another in a series of columns by Paul Coates, based on a trip to the Dominican Republic, where he interviewed ousted dictators Juan Peron andFulgencio Batista.

By PAUL V. COATES, Mirror New Columnist

Paul_coatesCIUDAD TRUJILLO, Dominican Republic, April 9 -- Fulgencio Batista, the former dictator of Cuba, may be a lonely man. But he is far from alone.

He shares his exile with one of his sons, a retinue composed of his former government officials, and a covey of bodyguards with familiar bulges in their back pockets.

When I called on him at his third-floor suite at the Hotel Jaragua here, I was stopped by two men in civilian clothes who stood in front of the door.

"I have an appointment with Senor Batista," I told them.

They nodded, but still barred the way. Their eyes gave me a quick, professional frisk. Then they motioned me to enter.

Another two men were standing in the living room of the suite.

The Once-Over

1959_0409_astronauts They watched with intense interest as my cameraman, Red Humphreys, began unloading his suspicious-looking boxes of film equipment.

Finally satisfied, they walked into the corridor and left us alone in the room.

Batista's apartment in this hotel is lavish. It has a huge terrace overlooking the ocean and a number of sitting rooms that have been turned into makeshift offices for his assistants.

While we waited for the ex-strong man to appear, a maid served us demitasses of potent Dominican coffee. I made a quick survey of the living room.

Roy Rogers en Espanol

A couple of Roy Rogers comic books in Spanish shared an end table with copies of the New York Times, the Dominican Herald and an expensively bound Havana equivalent of the Social Register.

Suddenly, Batista entered the room.

He was wearing a neat blue suit, dark tie and white shirt.

I asked him first how I should address him. Should I call him "Generalissimo" or, now that the party is over for him in Cuba, just "Senor."

A Dignified Title

1959_0409_wright_roHe spread out his hands and smiled. "Who can say when a thing is over?" he asked me. "Maybe tomorrow it will be over for Castro and not for me. Nobody can say.

 You want to know how to address me?" he went on. "My title is 'Generalissimo.' But 'Senor' is a dignified title, too. Call me that."

We sat on the terrace and talked.

I asked him to tell me the worst thing about his exile.

"The worst?" he replied. "The worst is sitting here and reading in the papers about friends -- people who worked with me in my government -- being killed. That's the worst thing.

"And," he went on, "my family. We are all separated now. I have nine children. five boys, four girls.

"Four of them are with my wife in Florida. The others are in different places in the United States. Only one, my son George, is here with me."

I mentioned to him the constant rumor in the Caribbean that Castro is planning to invade the Dominican Republic. And I asked if this worried him.

1959_0409_painter  He shook his head.

"Castro only talks," he said. "He talks like a crazy man. But I am not worried."

An aide came onto the terrace and handed him a message. He read it, grunted and handed it back.

A moment later, as we were walking back into the living room, a door somewhere in the apartment slammed shut with a loud bang.

I jumped.

Batista, the most wanted man in Latin America, looked at me and laughed.

"You were scared, huh?" he said.

Then he shook his head slowly.

"That's no good," he told me. "A man must never be scared."