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23 February 2011

On this day in history: Juan Fangio kidnapped in Cuba, 1958

On 23rd February 1958, the Argentinian racing car driver Juan Fangio, was approached by a man brandishing a revolver in the lobby of the Hotel Lincoln in Havana, Cuba. The man was Manuel Uziel, a member of Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement then struggling to overthrow the regime of President Batista. Uziel asked Fangio to identify himself, but the five time Formula One Champion thought it was some sort of joke, until Uziel was joined by several other rebels carrying sub-machine guns. They explained that they intended to keep him captive until after the Cuban Grand Prix, in which Fangio was going to defend his title the following day.

They took him to an apartment where he received a visit from Faustino Pérez, one of the leaders of the 26th of July Movement, who apologised for the inconvenience. The rebels treated Fangio well, feeding him and giving him a radio so that he could listen to the race, but he chose not to. The race itself ended in disaster after only six laps when the Cuban driver, Armando Garcia, ran into the crowd killing several people and injuring many more.

Good to their word, the rebels released Fangio the following day. He told police that he had been "treated very well - as though I was a friend of the rebels." When asked about the kidnapping he said, "If what the rebels did was in a good cause, then I, as an Argentine, accept it" He declined to identify his captors, with whom he remained good friends.

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