JACQUI GODDARD | Scotsman.com
THE 1962 missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion, exploding cigars - relations between the US and Cuba have always been tense.
But the latest international spat is unlikely to lead to the onset of a third world war, with Cold War enmities dissipating into playground name-calling.
Cuba’s president Fidel Castro teased Jeb Bush, brother of the US president George W, as his “fat little brother in Florida”, during a speech to students at Havana University.
The Florida governor, 52, declared himself “flattered” to be singled out for abuse, claiming it was a “high honour” to be criticised by the dictator.
The 79-year-old Cuban leader quipped: “Forgive me for using the term ‘fat little brother’. It is not a criticism, rather a suggestion that he do some exercises and go on a diet, don’t you think? I’m doing this for the gentleman’s health.”
Governor Bush, who would rather be noted as a political heavyweight for his leadership qualities rather than his burgeoning belt-line, hit back with a few choice words of his own.
President Castro’s stature, he said, was none too healthy either. “Oh boy ... I will take any criticism from Fidel Castro, of all people, as an honour, given the fact that eight million people, I believe, live on the island - eight million people are repressed and they’ve been that way for 40 or 50 years,” he said.
“To be criticised by a man like that, who has repressed people for such an extended period of time, is a high honour. He can call me whatever he wants.”
While the Florida governor is head of one of America’s fastest-growing states, Mr Castro’s detractors say that poverty and tyranny are about the only things to have flourished in Cuba since he took power during the revolution of 1959.
Now the world’s longest- serving leader, he orders political dissenters to jail, while the nation’s broken economy leaves his people struggling regularly with food shortages.
In the 2005 fiscal year, which ended in September, the US Coast Guard intercepted 2,712 Cubans as they tried to cross the Florida Straits on smugglers’ boats and makeshift rafts to seek asylum in the US, 90 miles from Cuba. It was the highest number for 11 years. Over one million Cubans now live in Florida.
Mr Bush’s aides acknowledge that their boss, who, along with the president, is one of Mr Castro’s leading critics, has packed on a few pounds since he was sworn into office in 1999.
The towering governor, who stands 6ft 4in tall, currently tips the scales at 16st 1lb. Weight Watchers International suggests that the ideal weight for a man of his height should be no more than 14st 11lb.
Keeping on top of his weight, he admits, can be a little tricky as he is whisked everywhere by chauffeur and has little time for physical work-outs.
In October, while attending the launch of a fitness scheme in which school pupils in Tallahassee were fitted with pedometers and advised to keep fit by taking at least 10,000 steps a day, the governor confessed that he was finding that target to be a bit of a stretch.
After his own pedometer indicated that he had taken only 735 steps so far that day, he jumped up and down on the spot to boost the reading. “This is kind of a struggle for me,” he puffed.
One clue to the bulking-up of his once-svelte frame might lie in The Bush Family Cookbook, a new publication that divulges some of the culinary secrets of America’s first family.
Since childhood, the book reveals, Jeb and George Bush’s favourite dessert has been Baked Peaches Flambé, a calorie-rich dish their mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, still rustles up for them at home in Texas.
The recipe includes generous doses of brown sugar, butter and brandy. Once served, the recipe book suggests, there is just one thing left to do to ensure the dish slips down easily - “pass whipped cream around”.