It was well after midnight on July 24, 2000, when I heard a knock at the door of our room on the Hotel Nacional’s sixth floor. Visiting hours in Cuba run later than they do in the United States, but even by Havana standards, this was a tad late. My husband opened the door to reveal Jerry Brown, the mayor of Oakland, former governor of California, former presidential candidate, and one of the most original and unpredictable politicians in American history.
It’s true you never know who you’ll run into at the Nacional Hotel in Havana. A shabby Grand Hotel, whose suites are rumored to be secretly wired, the very walls of the Nacional seem to breathe intrigue.
Think Casablanca on the Caribbean.
And never more so than in the summer of 2000. Fidel Castro, after all, was celebrating his greatest triumph since the Bay of Pigs: the return of the miracle rafter child, Elian Gonzalez.
Welcomed into our modest room, an amiable Brown, who had put on some weight and lost some hair in recent years, first inquired what we had to drink. Finding something to his liking in the minibar, he settled into the room’s one upholstered chair and put his feet up.
Earlier in the evening, we had encountered and chatted with Brown and his aides in the small dining room on the Nacional’s sixth floor. He and his companions said they were enjoying Cuba’s many enchantments, including the hotel’s mojitos, when not attending to official business.
My Havana meeting with Brown came at the beginning of his one-week Cuban adventure, a Caribbean getaway that perhaps did not take into consideration his future political ambitions. It was unlikely that Brown anticipated he would soon be the attorney general of California or that 10 years hence he’d be throwing his hat into the ring once again to be governor of California. Or that his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, would be willing to pony up some $150 million to defeat him. Until last week, Whitman was basking in a five-point lead, numbers that plummeted after revelations of her long-term employment of an undocumented Latino housekeeper.
Suddenly Brown, in a state where Latinos cast 22 percent of the vote, has the five-point advantage. But as it turns out, Brown had his own Latin misadventure, one that may have skirted the law.
Indeed, by the time Brown returned from his Cuban idyll on July 29, 2000, he had bonded with its Maximum Leader and lunched with the world’s most famous 6-year-old, Elian Gonzalez.
And all thanks to a trip planner who happened to be a former CIA officer-turned-double agent-turned-tour guide. (don't miss the rest here at San Francisco Sentinel)