With the U.S.-Cuba cold war finally melting away, it’s as good a time as ever to point out a few key sites from Fidel Castro’s trip to the area, and those associated with Houston’s Robert Ray McKeown, the machinist-turned-international businessman-turned-peripheral figure to the JFK assassination. McKeown was also Castro’s best buddy on Galveston Bay, and a man who claimed to have met Lee Oswald in San Leon and sipped beer with Jack Ruby at Jimmie Walker’s Edgewater Restaurant in Kemah.
The story begins in Houston in 1950. McKeown, then 39, was a machinist with his own shop in Pasadena. One day his ship came in: an inventor approached him with a plan for a machine that could clean coffee better than any other before it. McKeown built the machine, and apparently several more, and the two men went into business. McKeown trolled the coffee ports of Latin America for sales, which eventually lead to him moving to Santiago, Cuba during the administration of president Carlos Prío Socarrás, who would become a friend.