For the Spanish, the 23-F It is an important date since in 1981 Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero enter armed to Congress of Deputies in full voting of the investiture to Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo as president.
It was an attempt to coup that would have changed the country forever. That same date, but 23 years earlier, was the day of another major incident that occurred in the Formula 1. And its protagonist was, neither more nor less, that Juan Manuel Fangio.
On February 23, 1958, the worrying news came to the world: FANGIO KIDNAPPED BY CUBAN REVOLUTIONARIES. Only a character like Fangio would end up being friends with his kidnappers. Luckily, everything was a scare. pic.twitter.com/Lb697jhMJY
– Jose Miguel Vinuesa (@Josemivn) February 23, 2021
On February 24, 1958, the second edition of the Cuban Grand Prix, an attempt by the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista to whiten his regime and make his benefits known to the world. The previous year had been won by Juan Manuel Fangio, already an entire institution in world sport, and that is why he was chosen for a propaganda operation … on the opposite side.
The July 26 movement that the young guerrilla commanded Fidel Castro planned the kidnapping of ‘Chueco’. The objective was to show that Batista was incapable of guaranteeing the safety and good work of an event the magnitude of a Formula 1 GP. Everything was planned to make the race canceled.
The day before the race, the 23 of February, in the hall of the Lincoln Hotel in Havana, Fangio was intercepted by Manuel Uziel, one of the commandos of the operation organized by the well-known guerrilla Faustino Perez and one of Castro’s strong men. With a revolver in his hand, he was very clear in his words to Fangio: “You have to accompany me. You remain in the hands of the July 26 Movement”.
Fangio took it almost as a joke, not being aware of what was happening, until they put him in a car. He was circulating around the city for several hours, a moment that he took the opportunity to try to negotiate his release, and they even stopped at Uziel’s own house, where he introduced him to his wife and his newborn baby. The objective of this ‘friendly’ kidnapping was to convince Fangio to act as an international speaker for their demands.
THE TRAGIC CUBA GP of 1958
- Frenchman Maurice Trintignant replaced Fangio in one of the most tragic races in competition history. The Cuban Armando García Cifuentes crashed into the stands that were located in the circuit of the Avenida del Malecón. Six people died and another 40 were injured. Fangio always attributed to providence that the kidnappers prevented him from living (and perhaps dying) that accident.
The members of the operation and the pilot ended up in an apartment. There, the kidnappers make it clear to him that they will not release him in time to contest the race on Sunday, which he did not even see on television. He was spared feeling the horror of the tragedy that occurred: a local pilot, Armando Garcia Cifuentes, lost control of his car and crashed into the stands. Six people died and 40 were injured. The race stopped and the winner was Stirling moss.
At the end of the race, the kidnappers were faced with an event they had not planned: what to do with Fangio and how to free him. The mediation of the journalist Manuel Camín led to his arrival at a nearby apartment where the Argentine ambassador to Cuba picked him up. Raúl Aurelio Lynch, which was also familiar to Ernesto ‘Ché’ Guevara.
Fangio never held a grudge against his kidnappers. In fact, he became friends with several of them. Faustino Perez Y Arnol RodriguezAs senior officials of the Castro regime, they invited him to Cuba in 1981 where he was received by Fidel himself as a guest of honor.
That 23-F ended well for Fangio (he always considered that the kidnappers had saved his life, since he could have been in the accident), it was a coup for the revolution and Castro used it in numerous propaganda campaigns. The ‘Chueco’ admitted later that, “like Argentine”, He claimed that the rebels had a noble cause behind his kidnapping and as such should support him. The political right of his country never forgave him.