The Khrushchev-Castro Hug

This AP photo of Khrushchev belly-hugging Castro on 9/20/1960 was reprinted today in newspapers around the world following Castro’s death. My father, Ed Koterba, was a Scripps-Howard reporter who covered the 1960 UN General Assembly in New York City. His description of that hug may be the most detailed account ever reported. His column appeared the next day. Following is a reprint of that article, also included in “The Essential Ed Koterba” (pages 411-12).

Hammy, but Effective (September 21, 1960)
(The reader is also referred to the articles on Fidel Castro in this chapter.)
NEW YORK—It looked ludicrous from this perch—the way Nikita Khrushchev belly-hugged Fidel Castro, and the pirouetting duet that followed on the floor of the assembly hall. The clammy chill that slipped up my spine came not from the cold draft of this aerial booth. It came from the realization that the frightful hands across the sea had, indeed, been fused in the flesh for the whole world to see. Until this very moment—this instant of infamy—the ominous love affair between Khrushchev and Castro was still a thing of distance and vagueness. No longer. The Soviet premier planned this UN drama with the precision that comes only from intuition. Hammy, yes. But effective.

For thirty-five minutes, as delegates poured onto the arena, Khrushchev marked time at his aisle seat, the ninth row back, the far-left section. Then, just moments before the fifteenth session of the General Assembly was gaveled to order—when the hall was good and full, and television cameras now hot—he rose. A Cuban accompanied him, and he bobbed briskly the one hundred paces to the front of the hall, up the stairs carpeted in velvet green, out behind the podium, and then directly to Castro, in the far-right front row of the vast hall, directly below me. In his wake, herds of photographers almost leaped over each other in a frenzy to be there first. They knew where he was headed.

The Kremlinite pulled the hairy, towering Cuban toward him, then turned him—to make sure all the cameramen in this frenzied arc got a clean shot of their embrace. Khrushchev seemed to be saying, haughtily—“If anyone had doubt about the Moscow-Havana axis before, you won’t have it now.” No question about it, this illicit love affair is now official.

Premier Castro, though, was nervous in the minutes preceding this display. Extremely nervous. After his entrance to the hall, six minutes behind Khrushchev, Castro was unable to control his tenseness. First he tumbled a Cuban box of wax matches, over and over and over. Then he picked up a long yellow pencil, twirled it, rolled it on the green baize of his desk. As if aware that his nervousness was betraying him, Castro tried to hide it. Finally, he slipped his hands under the table, but I could see him tensely crossing and uncrossing his forefingers.

As one witnessed this “spontaneous” expression of togetherness, there remained no doubt that this dictator duo had set the UN one for the weeks to come.

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