The Washington Post
Friday, January 8, 1999; Page A26

A Photographer's Eye on Fidel

                  By Nora Boustany
                  Washington Post Foreign Service
                  Timing is everything. When Roberto Salas, an 18-year-old budding
                  photojournalist, decided to follow Cuban leader Fidel Castro from New
                  York to Havana in January 1959, he made the career decision of a
                  lifetime. It began, he explained over tea at the Madison, with a "journalistic
                  attraction to the place."

                  Born and raised in New York to a Cuban-born father who came to the
                  United States when he was 14 and stayed for another 34 years, Salas
                  arrived in the Cuban capital on the second day of the revolution, went up
                  to shake the bearded leader's hand and within days had become his
                  personal photographer, globe-trotting with him and shooting amazing
                  snapshots of the world's last communist dictator. Eventually, Salas was
                  joined by his father, Osvaldo, also a photographer, and together they
                  amassed a portfolio that has just been published here in a book titled
                  "Fidel's Cuba: A Revolution in Pictures." It has photographs capturing
                  Castro in private settings and historic public scenes never printed before:
                  Fidel lying in a hammock in his undershirt; Fidel without his shirt, offering a
                  piece of meat roasted on a long stick in the forests of Turquino, Cuba's
                  highest peak; Fidel sharing a moment of complicity with Ernest Hemingway
                  at a fishing tournament; portraits of Fidel in a trance of mesmerizing oratory
                  or waving from a hotel balcony across from Grand Central Station after he
                  won the revolution or huddling late at night with Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

                  Three boxes of negatives that were supposed to go into a book called
                  "Cuba 1959" disappeared mysteriously from an apartment Salas rented in
                  Manhattan at 60 W. 76th St. in 1959, with no traces of a break-in.
                  Suspecting the U.S. government had a hand in their disappearance, he has
                  filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to get them back, he

                  Salas recently returned to the United States for the first time in 40 years for
                  a photo exhibition tour. His timing could not have been better, coinciding
                  as it does with small steps by Washington to adjust an obsolete Cuba
                  policy and a growing debate acknowledging the anachronism of sanctions
                  against the island nation. Salas said he does "not regret anything I've done,"
                  but he would have liked the prolonged problems between both his
                  countries to be over. "I am a little in the middle of it all. I live in Cuba and I
                  love both countries. If in any small measure this book can help, I would be
                  happy," said Salas, a dapper man with silver hair and clear green eyes who
                  has kept a New York accent and his American citizenship. "If we have
                  normalized with Vietnam, why not with Cuba?"

                  Salas said he had no reason to return to New York before. "I identified
                  with the revolution. But when I was 18, I did not know nickels from dimes
                  in politics. [Dictator Fulgencio] Batista was bad; the objective was to try to
                  do something good. When these guys won, I showed up in Havana," he
                  said of the Castro revolution. "For me, this was a big adventure," he
                  added, noting that times in New York were hard then, when he was an
                  unknown photographer taking the subway to work every day.

                  When he finally returned, he was overcome with nostalgia: "I cried like a
                  baby when I saw the skyline, thinking about my father and wishing he was
                  still around." His father died in 1992. "I wish my father were alive to see it,"
                  he said of the book.