Pope Francis meets Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. The Vatican described the 40-minute meeting at Castro's residence as informal and familial, with an exchange of books. (AP Photo/Alex Castro)
Pope Francis meets Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. The Vatican described the 40-minute meeting at Castro's residence as informal and familial, with an exchange of books. (AP Photo/Alex Castro) Alex Castro

Thankfully for one Aussie MP, Castro could take a joke

A RISKY decision to crack a joke with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro by poking fun at the length of a four-hour speech he delivered, paid off for one former Sunshine Coast politician.

Castro, who died late last week, was renowned for his speeches which could take anywhere from two to six hours to deliver.

Once he started talking no one was allowed to leave until the revolutionary was done.

Former Fairfax MP Alex Somlyay was in Havana in April, 2001, as leader of the Australian delegation to the Inter Parliamentary Union - a twice annual gathering of parliaments from across the globe.

Fidel Castro's opening address, delivered in Spanish, lasted four hours and was followed by a meet and greet with delegates.

Even though he could speak perfect English, Castro spoke in Spanish through an interpretor.

Mr Somlyay recalled how the Cuban leader spoke in praise of the 2000 Sydney Olympics at which a Cuban boxer had won a gold medal.

"He asked what I thought of his speech,” Mr Somlyay.

"I responded that I hadn't known you could get Deep Vein Thombosis from a speech. He laughed which showed he did have a sense of humour.

"It was fascinating to watch him. I didn't agree with his philosophy but I knew I was in the presence of greatness.”

Mr Somlyay said Castro did not mention the United States by name, referring to it only as the "barbarians to the north”.

Fidel Castro, 90, died on Friday (Cuba time) having outlasted nine US presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton.

He ultimately stood down, handing power to his brother Raul during the George W Bush administration.

The Inter Parliamentary Union is similar to the United Nations except in that it unites the world's parliaments, rather than governments.


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