“I put on the radio, and just at that moment there was a chilling report informing us that the president had been assassinated in Dallas,” Fidel Castro wrote in a recent newspaper column. The usually voluble former president of Cuba recalled being struck dumb. “For all intents and purposes there was nothing that we could talk about.”
In Cuba, Kennedy was reviled for authorizing the Bay of Pigs invasion and perceived as bellicose during the missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
“Every Cuban felt like that president was attacking us. You couldn’t have the slightest good will for him,” said Manuel Rodriguez, a 74-year-old former bank employee and militia member who was mobilized during the Bay of Pigs attack and the missile crisis.
He remembers that Kennedy’s assassination shocked Cuba and provoked fears that new tensions would roil the island. Once again he was called up for military duty.
His view of Kennedy has softened somewhat over the years; today Rodriguez believes the hostile U.S. policy toward Cuba was set by Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, and that Kennedy had to “keep up the pace.”
In Bogota, Colombia, Maria Cristina Reyes remembers exactly what she was doing when Kennedy was shot.
He had touched her life.
Reyes was 16 and newly married when JFK pulled up in a black limousine with his wife and Colombia’s president on Dec. 17, 1961. She and her husband were among people building simple one-story red brick houses financed by Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress” initiative.
One of the homes would be the Reyes family’s, in a district which would be named Barrio Kennedy.
“We felt great joy to see someone who was not from our country come and give something to people who were really in need,” said Reyes.
Neighbor Martha Garay, now 77, remembers Kennedy’s impact: “He was dashing, attractive, impeccable, and so was his wife.”
JFK lingered, visiting a lot of the houses, “and spoke some Spanish though it wasn’t anything that was very understandable,” Garay said, chuckling.
Reyes said she was housecleaning when word of the assassination reached her. “We turned on the radio when they announced the terrible news.”
Today, having lived through Bogota’s violent decades, she sounds fatalistic when she thinks back to Kennedy’s murder.
“When a person like President Kennedy comes around and tries to help, they always cut him down,” she said.