A Pictorial Flashback That Flashes Forward

  The above photo shows a 14-year-old Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1940. He was already a star athlete (baseball, basketball, and track) and an academic whiz who displayed a photographic memory. At fourteen, Fidel's lifelong obsession with girls/women was already in vogue. This was also the period when Fidel wrote the famous letter to President Roosevelt asking for a "green" ten dollar bill; he received a return generic note and signature from Roosevelt but no ten dollar bill, which he only wanted as a curiosity because his father, Angel, was a wealthy Cuban who owned 36,000 acres, a sugar mill, a cattle ranch, etc.
     In 1948 at age twenty-two Fidel married Mirta Diaz-Balart. They honeymooned in Miami and New York but Fidel, who never (contrary to his critics) cared for money or luxuries, had to borrow money in order to return to Cuba. Fidel and Mirta quickly had a bubbly little boy, Fidelito. They divorced after Fidel, while imprisoned in 1953-55 after his failed July 26-1953 attack on Dictator Batista's Moncada garrison, learned that both Mirta and her lawyer brother Rafael were on Batista's payroll, and by then Mirta also had knowledge of torrid love letters Fidel wrote in prison to his fellow revolutionary Natalia (Naty) Revuelta. Fidelito is one of eight (yes) Fidel sons and all eight remain very loyal to him as, amazingly, does Mirta. She is a frequent and welcomed visitor to the island. Fidilito is now a semi-retired nuclear scientist who once led the top scientific institute in Cuba till he was famously fired by Fidel, who succinctly declared, "He was fired for incompetence. This is not a monarchy."
     The above photo shows Fidel and Mirta on their honeymoon. She represents an enigma (one of the many) in the fascinating and unending Cuban-U. S. conundrum. Mirta to this day loves Fidel; her brother Rafael and his sons Lincoln and Mario (her nephews) were/are among the richest, strongest, and most visceral anti-Castro zealots in Miami-Washington from January of 1953 till the present day.
     Mirta's brother Rafael Diaz-Balart, shown above armed with a pistol at a 1958 political rally, was a top Minister in the Batista dictatorship. The infamous Masferrer brothers, known to history and to Batista dissidents as extremely cruel enforcers, are on each side of Rafael. They all fled the victorious Cuban Revolution to set up shop in South Florida. Rafael Diaz-Balart created the first anti-Castro paramilitary unit in Florida and called it The White Rose after Jose Marti's most famous poem. The Masferrer brothers, who led a fierce 3,000-man army of enforcers in Batista's Cuba, joined the long list of Cuban exiles with their own anti-Castro paramilitary unit operating out of South Florida. Rolando Masferrer, the most infamous of the brothers, died in a car-bombing in Miami in 1975; Rafael died of old age with two of his sons (Lincoln and Mario) in the U. S. Congress from Miami and with one of his most famous obituaries listing him as a "self-made billionaire" (with a B) but, like the Cuban exile billionaire (with a B) Jorge Mas Canosa and the unfortunate Rolando Masferrer,  he never realized his dream of returning to Cuba as its leader.
     The above photo shows Naty Revuelta with her daughter Alina, Fidel's daughter. In 1950s Cuba Naty was considered Havana's most beautiful socialite, married to a very wealthy doctor. But she hated the plight of the massively maligned majority peasants in Batista's Cuba. So, she clandestinely aided and financed the young rebel Fidel Castro, including her support of the ill-fated, Fidel-led attack on Batista's Moncada garrison on July 26, 1953. Fidel's subsequent imprisonment would surely have led to his execution except for the fact that the media, including the New York Times' famed reporter Herbert L. Mathews, closely monitored the treatment of Fidel, who by then was the hope and the hero of the majority peasants. When Fidel was released from prison in 1955, everyone knew death squads (out of the view of the media) would dog his every trail, which they did. But Naty and other urban underground women bravely provided Fidel safe houses till he could escape the island, and one of the safe houses owned by Naty was where Fidel impregnated her, resulting in their daughter Alina.  
     As far as anyone knows, Fidel has never said an unkind word about Alina privately or publicly. But, shortly after the above photo was taken, she defected. From her base in Miami, Alina is now a very, very rich woman. Her wealth is based on her anti-Castro books, her anti-Castro talk show on Miami radio, and her ubiquitous and unending anti-Castro speeches on university campuses from coast to coast (her minimum fee is $7,000 plus expenses). Her theme, never challenged at any of her forums,  casts her as a freedom-loving Cuban and, of course, American patriot. Soon a Hollywood movie of her life, financed by anti-Castro zealots, will expand on that theme. However, a visitor to Cuba who asks about Alina will, in unanimity as far as I could tell, get this randomly solicited perspective: "Alina doesn't have a political or patriotic bone in her body, because she only knows one thing -- greed. Does she hate her father because of his politics? No. She hates him because he would never shower her or her friends with luxuries, the same principle he applied to his other nine children, all of whom are loyal to him."  The least known of Fidel's eight sons, Redondo,  chooses to live far out of the spotlight in rural Cuba. Fidel's two daughters are the well-known Alina and the little known Francisca, better known by her nickname Panchita.  Panchita lives quietly in Miami with her husband and with Fidel's blessing. Alina in the overly compliant and often not-too-accurate media is sometimes billed as "Fidel's only daughter." Panchita is also his daughter. Alina, perhaps, could more accurately be billed as "the only one of Fidel's ten children to turn against her father, some say because of her abiding interest in freedom and others say because of her abiding interest in money." In any case, Alina joined a lucrative and huge cottage industry in the U. S.  Since 1959, being "anti-Castro" in the U. S. has created at least two billionaires and innumerable millionaires, and the beat goes on. Even the now 85-year-old Fidel wonders "how much money will they make AFTER I really die?" 
     Christina Kirchner, the President of Argentina, visited Fidel Castro to personally check on his recovery from his near-fatal (and still very serious) illness. When she returned to Buenos Aires, President Kirchner told several news conferences that he was "far better" physically and mentally than she anticipated. "As usual," she said, "he spent most of our time joking with me about topical items that interested him and me also. He held up a Miami paper that had indicated he was dead and a Washington paper that discussed the thousands of people in the U. S. who had become obscenely rich just from telling the U. S. government they were anti-Castro. Well, after we had pored over those newspapers he straightened up, laughed, and said, 'How much money will they make after I really die?' That typical gesture from him told me he is not quite ready to die, maybe because he loves to read those American newspapers so much."  
    The above photo shows the green-eyed Naty Revuelta in the 1950s when she was considered the most beautiful socialite in Havana, a time when she was married to a very wealthy doctor but also madly in love with and massively supportive of the budding young anti-Batista rebel Fidel Castro. "I loved him as a man but mostly I loved his love for the poor Cuban peasants," she later told the notable U. S. journalist Linda Robinson. The recipient of the torrid Fidel love letters from prison, Naty later gave birth to Fidel's daughter Alina, a pregnancy that ended her marriage to Dr. Fernandez. Alina, after her defection from Cuba, began her anti-Castro path to riches by selling those love letters to a Spanish newspaper/magazine chain, much to Naty's sorrow. Thus, exact copies of those letters appear in books about Cuba, including my biography of Celia Sanchez (The Legend of Cuba's Revolutionary Heart) and the astute Julia Sweig's seminal book Inside the Cuban Revolution
        Today Naty Revuelta still loves Fidel Castro passionately. The above photo shows Naty in Havana contemplating her answer to a question from Linda Robinson for a major article in US News & World Report. Linda's question: "After all these decades is there anything critical or bad you want to say about Fidel?"  Naty's answer: "Not even with the petal of a rose."  (Naty's reference to "the petal of a rose" phrase was borrowed from a famous Jose Marti poem).  Fidel had many out-of-wedlock affairs -- one, briefly, with the famous Ava Gardner and others with not-so-famous beauties such as Marita Lorenz. But the most fascinating, by far, was the one with Naty Revuelta because it is that prism that provides the deepest insight into the historic figure known as Fidel Castro.  Naty's longevity and Fidel's longevity add layers of dimensions to the Castro legend. To this day -- through many decades of hell, hurricanes, wars, lies, truths, etc. --  Naty still loves the Cuban peasants dearly and she still loves Fidel dearly. And to this day, her daughter with Fidel, Alina, hates him with a passion. Is that passion based on Alina's love for American-like freedom or her love for American-like money? You choose the answer because it will also be a part of history, albeit a small part. Wendy Gimbel's 1998 book Havana Dreams, published by Alfred A. Knopf, was essentially a biography of the publicity-shy Naty. After thinking about Naty, Latin American writer Alma Guillermoprieto called Cuba an "Enchanted Island" and "an anachronism adrift in the Caribbean." Incomparably beautiful, anachronistic, enchanted, revolutionary...the 1950s Natalia Revuelta personified Cuba then and now. She told Linda Robinson in the U. S. News & World Report article that she uncompromisingly loved and loves Fidel but she let go of him during her Alina pregnancy because she was convinced he would "be killed." After all these decades, does Naty still believe in the revolution as much as she did when she largely funded his attack on Batista's Moncada garrison back in July of 1953. "Yes...yes."   
     As a young man Fidel Castro had the misfortune to be imprisoned twice -- once in his native Cuba in Dictator Batista's aforementioned Isle of Pines prison and later in a foreign prison. The above photo shows a bored but not defeated Fidel reclining in a Mexican prison after he was arrested in that country for amassing weapons he intended to take back to Cuba to battle the Batista dictatorship. But after twenty-two days the Mexicans relented and Fidel resumed his tasks -- which including amassing more weapons, talking the newly graduated Argentine doctor Che Guevara into joining him on his return to Cuba, and purchasing an old yacht named Granma  (after someone"s grandmother) that he hoped would take him and 81 other rebels on the perilous journey from Mexico to Cuba. As it turned out, the perils exceeded Fidel's fears. The old yacht began to leak as it neared Cuba and a Batista surveillance helicopter spotted the over-loaded, sinking Granma and radioed a Batista army in time for it to set up an ambush on the shoreline. All but seventeen of the 82 rebels were killed on or near the shoreline but among the survivors were Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos. The female guerrilla fighter primarily responsible for saving the lives of those seventeen rebels was a petite doctor's daughter named Celia Sanchez. On that beach, Playa de los Colorado near the town of Las Coloradas, Fidel Castro experienced the epiphany of his life -- the beginning of his lifelong worship of one person, Celia Sanchez.
     The red line above illustrates the journey that confronted the creaky, leaky, over-loaded Granma yacht, which in its prime was intended to hold twelve people. Fidel had 82 men on it, plus oil cans (3,200 gallons of fuel were needed), weapons, food, water, etc. Fidel's goal was to reach a beach that fronted the town of Niguero in Oriente province. In History of Cuba here is how Jerry A. Sierra described what happened: "Waiting for them on December 2 (1956) was Celia Sanchez, one of the founders of the July 26th Movement, with an assortment of trucks, jeeps, food, weapons, and about 50 rebels. Leaking and running days behind schedule, the Granma was spotted by a helicopter, and the rebels were forced to beach the ship...about fifteen miles south of the designated spot. The new landing was more of a swamp than a beach, and the rebels were unable to unload most of their weapons due to the muddy waters, the thick undergrowth plant life and small crabs. The rebels were attacked at Alegria de Pio...most were killed in battle or as they attempted to surrender."
      Thus, long before Fidel Castro ever set foot in the Sierra Maestra as a fighter, and long before Che Guevara ever set foot on the island of Cuba, Celia Sanchez had a daunting guerrilla fighting unit against anything the Batista dictatorship was sending after her. Despite the Granma being forced to beach fifteen miles south of the planned rendezvous with Celia, she miraculously raced at the head of her fifty rebels to the swampy Playa de los Colorados area and managed to save seventeen rebels including the twelve that were healthy enough to join her guerrilla unit. Those twelve were: Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Juan Almeida, Efigenio Amejeiras, Ciro Redondo, Julio Diaz, Luis Crespo, Calixto Garcia, Universo Sanchez, and Jose Ponce. Thus, before the Castro brothers and Che Guevara emerged as three of the best known names in the annals of history, Celia Sanchez had to save their lives in a Cuban swamp known as Playa de los Colorados.
       Just as Celia Sanchez was the definitive figure in Cuba's Revolutionary War and later in Revolutionary Cuba, Celia Sanchez rendered the definitive quotation related to the historic landing of the Granma, a quotation you'll find in countless books including Carlos Franqui's The Twelve, Jerry A. Sierra's History of Cuba, Georgie Anne Geyer's seminal Guerrilla Prince biography of Fidel Castro, Rich Haney's Celia Sanchez biography The Legend of Cuba's Revolutionary Heart, etc. Here now is that historic Celia Sanchez quotation: "Just consider where the landing took place. If they had debarked right on the beach instead of at the swamp, they would have found trucks, jeeps, gasoline. It would have been a walkaway."
        Many entities -- the Batistianos, the U. S. government, some historians, some journalists, etc. -- have chosen, either self-servingly or ignorantly, to minimize Celia Sanchez's leading role in both Cuba's Revolutionary War and Revolutionary Cuba. But the man most identified with both of those historic events, Fidel Castro, has never failed to shine the largest revolutionary spotlight where it belongs -- over the petite figure of the doctor's daughter, Celia Sanchez.  He considers her the greatest female guerrilla fighter and the most outstanding revolutionary leader, male or female, of all time. There are many who agree, including myself. And including Linda Pressly, probably the world's best news and documentary producer.
     Linda Pressly is the senior news/documentary producer for England's BBC. I consider her and Mariana van Zeller, who works for the Current network on Vanguard documentaries, the two best documentary producers...and my passion is watching documentaries on the Military, History, Discovery, Current, and BBC networks. Lo 'n behold, I got an e-mail two weeks ago from my Celia Sanchez publisher, Algora of NYC, and they forwarded to me an e-mail they had received from Linda Pressly, who asked them how she could get in touch with me because she was preparing a BBC documentary on Celia Sanchez. Wow! I immediately recognized Linda Pressly's name because, to my mind, she's produced the world's best documentaries. In the last couple weeks I've exchanged many Celia Sanchez-related e-mails with Ms. Pressly and she calls me (London to Virginia) for long Celia Sanchez-related phone calls.  
      It's not surprising that the brilliant Linda Pressly, as she ponders the imminent transition to a post-Castro Cuba, is currently preparing a major documentary on Celia Sanchez. Nor is it surprising that most Americans would be surprised, even though Celia Sanchez was the most important figure in the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba, both of which say so much more about the United States than they say about Cuba. After all, the United States is the strongest and richest nation in history. And, after all, Cuba is only a small island. So, why is it politically incorrect and even unhealthy (especially if you are allergic to car bombs) to give Celia Sanchez her proper due in the United States. (In 1976 in Miami the top Cuban exile newscaster, Emilio Millan, was typically car-bombed after he spoke kind words about "notable child-loving Cuban heroines Celia Sanchez and Vilma Espin still on the island" and then lamented Cuban exile terrorist acts such as the bombing of the child-filled Cuban civilian airplane; the car-bomb message was loud and clear and since then the media has been careful, very careful, about what it says about any Cuban exile in Miami or Union City).  The Batista/Mafia dictatorship deposed by the Cuban Revolution has simply been, since 1959, reconstituted on U. S. soil, mostly clustered in the historic Mafia havens of Miami and Union City (NJ). Those quite unique, reconstituted dictatorships, via sheer political and financial power, have mostly dictated what Americans know about the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba. Also, Latin (especially Cuban) machismo prefers to project the notion that macho men like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos kicked them off the island, certainly not a petite doctor's daughter. Also, the doctor's daughter had an angelic reputation (except when it came to the Batistianos) as a fervent protector of peasant children. It would be much, much easier to vilify those macho rebel men than it would be to cast dispersions on the petite doctor's daughter. (And casting aspersions in the other direction is the prime motive of the Batistianos). Thus, in a changed and altered democracy (changed and altered by the Cuban Revolution), Americans are not supposed to know about what a now silent Emilio Millan tried to tell them. That's why Americans should look forward to the upcoming BBC documentary on Celia Sanchez. Americans don't necessarily need to devour Cuban history (anymore than, say, Haitian history) but they do need to know what created and sustained the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba, both of which have so mightily affected the United States for all these decades. And to know those things, as Linda Pressly so markedly comprehends, Americans and citizens of the world need to know Celia Sanchez. Why, for example, do everyday Cubans (as depicted in the photo below), with no particular prodding from the government, still sit around outside Celia Sanchez's childhood home and discuss why she still means so much to them? As post-Castro Cuba looms on the horizon, Americans need to know what everyday Cubans on the island are thinking and not just rely on what visceral, self-serving Cuban exiles tell them. There are two sides to the Cuban story and the side actually on the island should be viewed by Americans, and that's probably why, for going on six decades now, the one place on the planet Americans have not been able to freely visit is...nearby Cuba! The Cuban exiles who dictate America's perception of Cuba say, "Uh, Celia Sanchez, who's that?" Cubans on the island know her; international experts like Linda Pressly know her. Americans also have a right to know her, regardless of what the visceral minority Cuban exiles self-servingly dictate.  (To be continued...I hope, just as Emilio Millan hoped).
     Cubans in front of the Celia Sanchez childhood home discussing what she meant/means to them; one thing she means to them, I think, is that the Miami/Union City Batistianos will not dictate post-Castro Cuba to them. The doctor's daughter who died of cancer at age 59 on January 11, 1980, remains a force on the island and an obstacle to those off the island who have unsavory designs on her mi Cubita bella ("my beautiful little Cuba").
Mrs. Fidel Castro (Dalia Soto del Valle)
     As per Celia Sanchez's final request to Fidel, he married Dalia in 1980 shortly after Celia died of cancer. (Cuban insiders such as Marta Rojas and Cuban experts such as Ann Louise Bardach all agree with that assessment and the date of the marriage). Dalia was a beautiful, red-headed teacher in the south-central colonial city of Trinidad when Celia became her dear friend, after which Fidel noticed her stunning beauty. Celia would be very proud of Dalia, who has been Fidel's fiercely loyal wife for over two decades. She is the doting mother of five sons by Fidel and all their names start with "A" -- Angel, Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis, and Alexander. Dalia and all five of her sons, especially Alexander, have been exceedingly protective of Fidel since his near-fatal illness in July, 2006.
  Into the year 2016 Dalia still takes good care of the 88-year-old Fidel.

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