Cuber and Diplomacy
By R. D. Flavin

3-25-2016


Fidel Castro pitching at a brief exhibition game in 1959.

     I was a little boy when our president invoked his New England accent and used “Cuber” instead of 'Cuba' when describing the George H. W. Bush fiasco, the so-called Bay of Pigs, with the official name of the attempted invasion of Cuba being called “Operatio Zapato,” coincidently Bush's oil company at the time was named Zapata Offshore, and the two transports ships were christened “The Houston” and “Barbara,” just like Bush's wife, Barbara, and this was long before his 1975 official appointment to the C.I.A. And, as if time really can heal all wounds, outstanding diplomacy has brought Cuba all the way from being discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 to this week's visit to the still communist country, by U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, the first such since 1928's stopover by Pres. Calvin Coolidge. It's a shame about the communism, but at least we seem to be getting better at diplomacy.

     When I turned 18, a few states in the Midwest experimented with an odd law which entitled 18-21 years-of-age young adults to enter bars, but only 'allowed' them to order beer and wine, not 'hard' stuff. As I was, cough, mature for my age, once inside a bar I'd order my then-favorite cocktail, a 'cuba libre' (rum and coke), named after the popular slogan from Cuba's fight for independence from Spain in 1898, that is, “Cuba Libre” or “Free Cuba.” The famous taking of San Juan or Kettle Hill by Col. Teddy Roosevelt on horseback and cheering on his “Rough Riders” into a heroic battle is well deserved. However, Spain quickly dispatched 600 soldiers to re-take the hill, but not before a Lt. Parker installed some Gatling guns, two 7mm Colt–Browning machine guns, which took out some 560 of the 600 Spanish soldiers in a surprise and solid defense. Good for Teddy, but nice fortification, Lt. Parker! The so-called Spanish-American War was over before it really got started, though war-mongers got their thrills with the sequel, The Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. Team USA! Team USA!

     Okay, back to Cuba... One of the last countries to attempt to surf the ripple of the socialist and anti-capitalism wave generated by Marx and Engels in 1848, Cuba became communist after Fidel Castro overthrew the superbly corrupt tyrant and dictator, Fulgencio Batista, in 1959 (“Fuera de la sartén y en el fuego...”). Born into a rich family, Castro caught the communist bug while studying at the University of Havana to become a lawyer, where he soon became an anti-imperialist (i.e., specifically anti-USA). A couple of years later, after receiving a death threat because of his public speeches, Castro began to carry a gun to university and traveled with buddies who were also packing heat. In mid-1947, Castro joined a 1,200 strong 'invasion' force to take over the Dominican Republic, though the 'invasion' quickly failed and Castro headed back to university studies (read: rabble rousing). In early 1948 Fidel got the Castro beaten out of him after one of his speeches. Afterward, he journeyed to Bogotá, Columbia and played 'revolutionary' with the locals, likely being involved with the theft of many guns from a police station. Later in 1948, Castro married a fellow 'student' who just happened to be from an extremely wealthy family. The father-in-law is said to have given the newlyweds “tens of thousands” of dollars to spend on their honeymoon, yet various sources place the honeymoon in New York City or Miami (my money is on Miami). In 1949 he continued his university studies, but also spoke out against various 'gangs' which rampaged unchecked by anyone, including the police. The gangs got angry with Castro, Fidel decided spending several weeks in Miami might not be a bad idea, and returned to Cuba keeping a very low profile. Juggling revolutionary antics (and alleged assassinations, as well) with his studies, somewhat remarkably he graduated in 1950 with a Doctor of Law degree. He subsequently set-up a small firm with another 'new' lawyer, but made very little money and his wife later complained they were too poor to buy medicine for their son, Fidelito, born the year before.

     Fidel Castro, the revolutionary and lawyer, soon turned his attention to politics and ran for office in 1952. His speeches were quite rousing and popular (said to have been modeled after Hitler and Juan Perón), but proved too antagonistic to his party, who dropped support for his candidacy. Castro, who had tremendously enjoyed giving speeches, he then started his own radio-program. After returning from an extended vacation in the United States (Team USA! Team USA!), Fulgencio Batista ran for president (his second such, as he was president from 1940-1944), however three months before the elections Batista pulled a coup and named himself as president. Fidel took the natural next step ...and began writing nasty attack articles in a newspaper, El Acusador (“The Accuser”). Apparently journalism left Castro unsatisfied, so he went back to hands-on revolutionary ways and began to recruit men for an attack on the nearby Moncada Barracks, a military garrison of reasonable strength and decent weaponry. When Castro led his 165 hand-picked men against the pro-Batista army in July of 1953, it was a near instant failure. Deaths, many wounded, and almost everyone else arrested. As these things go, some 'prisoners' were immediately shot, and the rest were sent off to await trial for their crimes against Batista's Cuba. Fidel represented himself and managed to receive a 15 year sentence to be served at a cozy hospital wing in a prison located on the lovely Isla de Pinos, In 1955, Batista must have awoken on the 'good' side of the bed for a change, and released Castro and the rest of the prisoners from the Moncada Barracks attack. Also, in 1955, Castro and his wife were divorced, bombings and open anti-Batista demonstrations began, and Fidel decided a trip to Mexico would be proper. Fidel and his brother, Raúl, soon began to hang out with the likes of Che Guevara. Back in Cuba, more and more anti-Batista movements were forming, so Castro crossed the border into the United States to try and raise money for his revolution in Cuba.

     In 1956, with Che and Raúl beside him, Castro began a series of small, irritating, and demoralizing (to Batista's troops) attacks. This tactic, best known as guerrilla warfare, worked and Castro's revolutionary 'army' steadily increased as locals became inspired and Batista's soldiers after being treated with dignity decided to follow Castro. By 1958, the U.S. had stopped supplying Batista with weapons and near the end of the year, contacted Batista's senior General, Eulogio Cantillo, and ordered him to get rid of Batista. Cantillo revealed himself to be a poor gambler, gave Batista the head's up (who immediately left Cuba with some 300 million bucks), agreed to a ceasefire with Castro, meanwhile Cantillo fled to Havana and 'appointed' a Cuban Supreme Court judge the new president of Cuba, which lasted a couple of days before Che showed up with many, many friends. Shortly afterward, Castro himself reached Havana, a humble lawyer was designated provisional president, but Fidel would only accept an association with the one-time revolutionary army, but now the official military of Cuba. In February, Castro accepted the title, Prime Minister of Cuba. So, what should the new Prime Minister of Cuba do? Go to the United States of course and meet with Vice President Richard Nixon. Castro would later comment he immediately disliked Nixon. No big surprise there…


Fidel Castro at the Lincoln Memorial in 1960.

     As is well known, many bad years followed. Russia backed Castro's Cuba, especially after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, as well as the intensely creepy 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis with the U.S. and Russia threats to use nukes against one another, enabled Cuba to increase its military might exponentially. During the 1970's, Cuba sent 18,000 troops to Angola to flex small island communist muscle on a global stage (Cuban's involvement with Angola became a pet-project of castro and continued until 1988). There are many stories of Castro doing this and that, yet the people of Cuba, those who 'inspired' Castro's revolution, became somewhat akin to a mosquito trapped in amber for eternity. With economic embargoes imposed by the U.S. and almost all capitalist countries, as well as way significant funds spent on Cuba's military, the Cuban people seemed 'trapped' in the early '60s as far as automobiles, unemployment rates, food shortages, inadequate medical care, and minimal education. Though Cuba managed to compete in the Olympics (as an amateur event it was okay, as Castro had outlawed professional sports in 1960), the average Cuban lacked a television to watch the games on. In 1980, with Fidel's permission, some 125,000 Cubans fled to Florida and freedom. History refers to it as the 'Mariel boatlift'.

     Finally, in 2006 Fidel Castro began to slowly relinquish control and empowered his vice president and brother, Raúl. His brother would assume the presidency in 2008. Fidel began writing an occasional opinion column, started to use Twitter (what the…), in 2010 he gave his first public speech in some time, and in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI stopped by for a visit. Concerning what some were calling the “Cuban Thaw,” that is, the improved relationship between Cuba and the United States, Castro remarked it was a positive change, though he still didn't trust the U.S. Apparently except for a honeymoon destination, fund raising, and running a victory lap after his defeat of Batista. I guess speaking at the United Nations in New York City shouldn't count.

     Much of the so-called “Cuban Thaw” is from the progressive positions advanced by Raúl Castro, probably with Fidel's approval, though I'd like to believe Raúl independently crossed the 'party line' all by himself. He's announced his personal retirement in 2018 to be immediately followed by open elections. I'm sure the casino people and the gangsters are already making plans.

     While it's well known it takes two to tango, it also takes two to fight, and two to reach out for peace. Credit for this week's visit to Cuba by U.S. Pres. Obama should be equally shared with the brave thoughtfulness of Raúl Castro and his dedicated approach to the future of the Cuban people and the wise diplomacy of both of them. Team USA! Team USA!  And, a nod to Cuba...

Thinking about the Cubano sandwiches (press-grilled pork and ham, pickles, Swiss cheese, mustard) sold in J. P., MA,


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