The Havana-Miami Carousel

Angela Maria Castro Ruz
        Angela Maria Castro Ruz, the oldest sister of Ramon, Fidel, and Raul Castro, died at dawn Tuesday, Feb. 28-2012 in Banes, Cuba, near the ancestral Castro home. She was 88.  
Lina Castro
         Angela Maria was the first of Lina Castro's seven children and, like her mother, all her life she supported the revolutionary ideals of her two famous, and infamous, brothers. She lived very modestly and many of her neighbors rarely associated her last name with her always friendly persona. She was notably non-political. However, one of Angela Maria's quotes that made the Santiago de Cuba newspaper in 1984 when she attended a musical concert came when she bristled at a lady that she perceived had made an anti-Fidel remark: "If you want a ticket to Miami to join the Mafia that he kicked off the island, I'll help you get it!"
Juanita Castro Ruz
          Juanita Castro Ruz, one of the four Castro sisters, announced the death of Angela Maria in Miami before it was mentioned in the Cuban media. Poles apart from Angela Maria, Juanita worked for the CIA in Havana,  defected to Miami where she became wealthy in the pharmaceutical business, and wrote an anti-Castro book.
      The other two Castro sisters, Emma and Augustina, also spent time in Miami but, unlike Juanita, their visit was not a defection. Emma and Augustina are shown above in Miami at a function in 1957 to raise money for their brothers' anti-Batista revolution, which seemed to them a sisterly thing to do. 
        In fact, Fidel was also quite fond of using Miami as a source of money to aid his revolution. The above photo shows him making a rousing anti-Batista speech at the Flagler Theatre in Miami in 1955, shortly after his exit from a Batista prison on Cuba's Isle of Pines. 
        That's Fidel on the right gyrating at the microphone as he mesmerized his Miami audience in 1955, with the photo of Jose Marti at center stage between the U. S. and Cuban flags.
        In 1948 when he married Mirta Diaz-Balart (above) Fidel took her to Miami to celebrate their honeymoon.
Mirta and Fidel on their wedding day
       In addition to Miami, Fidel also liked visiting New York City. That's him strolling in Central Park in 1950 while Fulgencio Batista, between his two Cuban dictatorships, was living in his Miami mansion near his Mafia friends.
         Fidel's daughter Alina (from his 1955 affair with Havana socialite Naty Revuelta) followed his sister Juanita's path to riches in Miami where Alina today hosts an anti-Castro radio show, writes anti-Castro books and articles, and flies all over the U. S. making lucrative anti-Castro speeches on college campuses. And, oh yes, Alina's first haul of Western dollars came from a Spanish publishing company when she sold the love letters Fidel wrote to Naty while he was imprisoned, breaking her mother's heart because Naty, to this day, remains deeply supportive of Fidel.         
       Mother and daughter Naty and Alina were very close in Havana, till Alina made a clandestine trip to Spain and from there defected to Miami where she began her very rewarding anti-Castro career.
       Naty (Natalia Revuelta), shown above giving a rare interview to U.S. News & World Report, remains "100% supportive of Fidel" to this day. She depicts their daughter's defection to Miami this way: "It is one of those things, money you know; Fidel was born rich and never took money for himself and never showered it on those around him. Alina held that against him. Most of us admire him for it."
Photo courtesy: Cuba Y La Masoneria
        Fidel's mother Lina was a peasant woman working as a maid for his father Angel. But Lina and Angel were married by the time the above photo was made. Lina was born in 1903 in Cuba and Angel was born in 1875 in Spain.
          Angel Castro became a multi-millionaire in Cuba. He owned 36,000 acres and his own railroad took his produce to the city.
          All his life Fidel has deeply loved his mother but was never close to his father. He strongly resented Angel's contract with the Boston-based United Fruit Company that he believed was enslaving poor Cubans. So his mother Lina, the peasant maid, was his idol as a boy. Above, he stares at her photo long after she died.
 The above photo of Fidel's beloved mother is pertinent to historians. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January of 1959, Fidel ordered that the Castro home place be flooded to provide irrigation for surrounding peasant farms, with a plan to move his mother to a big city. Lina took exception and used the rifle shown above to chase her eldest son Ramon off her property when he came to explain Fidel's reasoning to her. Lina then famously went to see Celia Sanchez, knowing that Celia was the only person on the island who could over-rule Fidel. Celia agreed with Lina and simply tore up his written order, and that was the end of it. Georgie Anne Geyer, in her seminal Castro biography, explained in detail that episode, including the decisive role played by Celia Sanchez.
        Lina and Angel, by the way, had three sons to go with their four daughters. Ramon was born on September 30, 1924; Fidel was born on August 13, 1926; and Raul was born on June 3, 1931. As of June-2019 Ramon and Fidel, both of whom reached the age of 90, have died of old age and, at 87, Raul is semi-retired former Education Minister and non-revolutionary Miguel Diaz-Canel the new President of Cuba.
         The three Castro full brothers had a half brother named Martin Castro, shown as the taller of the two farmers in the above photo. Martin was born in 1930 with Angel Castro his father and Generosa Mendoza, a woman who worked for Angel, his mother. Martin has been offered a home in Havana but chooses to live on his farm near Biran, Cuba. He is well known to all his neighbors as Fidel's half brother and for being the father of triplets.
 Fidel Castro as an infant
Dressed for his first day at school
Fidel Castro and his first girlfriend
Fidel Castro at the University of Havana, 1945
Fidel Castro, student and street leader, 1947
Fidel Castro, on the left, on a tumultuous street in Bogota, Colombia, in 1948
Moncada Military Barracks, Santiago de Cuba, 1953
Fidel's mugshot after he led the ill-fated attack on the Moncada Military Barracks on July 26, 1953
Fidel undergoing interrogation after the Moncada attack
         Fidel is shown above serving his 15-year sentence at Batista's Isle of Pines prison. Most of the Moncada prisoners were tortured to death but Fidel was not simply because of his high profile as the hero of the majority peasants and because the media, especially Fidel's huge fan (Herbert L. Mathews) at the New York Times, kept a close watch on the young rebel's welfare.
      The two female Moncada attackers, Melba Hernandez and Haydee Santamaria, shown above at the Isle of Pines prison, were unmercifully tortured by Batista goons. Haydee's brother Abel was Fidel's 2nd in command for the attack. While Haydee was tied to a chair in her cell, she heard Abel and her finance being tortured to death in a nearby cell, after which their warm eyeballs and testicles were rubbed over Haydee's face and chest. Melba is still alive and still a huge supporter of the Cuban Revolution. The full name of Haydee's murdered brother was Abel Santamaria Cuadrado; the full name of her murdered fiance was Reynaldo Boris Luis Santa Coloma. Haydee's experience at the Isle of Pines prison propelled her to become one of the two greatest female guerrilla fighters of all time although she never recovered from the deaths of her brother and fiance.
       Fidel, on the right, is shown leaving the Isle of Pines prison in 1955 after Batista was forced to grant amnesty to the Moncada prisoners because Batista's key supporter, the United States, was finally embarrassed by the New York Times and other influential media reports about the incredible atrocities being committed by the Batista dictatorship.
        Fidel first of all comforted his two female Moncada warriors, Melba on the left and Haydee on the right, as best he could.
        The fiercely motivated Haydee Santamaria, shown above at the head of a guerrilla column in the Sierra Maestra, quickly joined Celia's anti-Batista rebels. Those two women (Celia Sanchez is right behind  Haydee Santamaria in the above photo) would change history and become, beyond question, the two greatest female guerrilla fighters in world history.
 Rebels directed by Celia Sanchez operating in the Sierra Maestra.
       After 23-year-old Frank Pais and his teenage brother Jesus were captured and murdered in 1957, Frank's funeral march lined the streets of Santiago de Cuba (above) and Celia Sanchez was left as the lone major recruiter and organizer for the anti-Batista movement. 
         When Batista's U. S. - supplied warplanes caused havoc against her guerrilla units, Celia Sanchez procured Browning Automatic Rifles from her Venezuelan backers to bring down several low-flying bombers, and give pause to other would-be warplanes, especially the smaller spotter planes. (Photo courtesy: Wisconsin Historical Society; Dickey Chapelle Collection)
       At this point, Celia Sanchez was directing the operation in the Sierra Maestra, including the audacious planning of hit-and-run attacks as well as continuing her vital recruitment of rebels and supplies. At one point she sent her best guerrilla fighter, Haydee, on a trip to Miami to secure money for the overall viability of the revolution. And by now Fidel Castro, freed from the Isle of Pines prison, was taking her directions too because, without ever having seen her, Fidel's worship of Celia Sanchez began when he learned about her while he was imprisoned.

        Fidel (shown above the very night of his fortuitous alignment with Che Guevara in Mexico City) was spirited off to Mexico via a series of Cuban safe houses followed by trips to Miami and New York City...all because Celia Sanchez well knew that Batista had put death squads on Fidel's trail soon after his release from prison. Celia's fierce desire to keep Fidel alive was because he was the rebel idolized by the majority peasants.
        After some trials and tribulations, including three weeks in a Mexican prison on an arms violation, Fidel bought an old yacht (the famed Granma shown above) and piled himself and 81 other rebels -- including the Argentine doctor Che Guevara, his brother Raul, and Camilo Cienfuegos -- on board the yacht that, in its heyday, was designed for 12 passengers, not 82, and it was not built to handle the weapons, ammunition, and gas cans that basically covered the deck. But the Granma almost made it to the arranged rendezvous with Celia Sanchez and her rebel unit at a prescribed beach on the southeastern edge of Cuba near the Sierra Maestra mountains. But the old boat began leaking and Batista helicopter pilots, tipped off by phone calls from Mexico City, spotted it just offshore as it was barely moving and beginning to sink. A strong Batista army set up an ambush but Fidel still had to order his men to abandon the yacht and swim ashore as best they could...three miles from where Celia waited to protect their arrival! The ambush picked them off unmercifully but a total of 17 of the 82 managed to crawl into the dense briar-infested thickets and were eventually saved as Celia's rebels rushed to their aid. The Castro brothers, Che, Camilo, and Juan Almeida were among the 17 survivors and the wonder is how many of the other 65 rebels who didn't survive would have also become famous revolutionaries if they had lived beyond the ill-fated Granma landing.   
        In that context, Antonio "Nico" Lopez comes to mind. Nico, the one with the glasses and moustache, is shown above with Raul Castro in Mexico City in November of 1956, a few weeks before they joined 80 other rebels aboard the Granma to go back to Cuba and wage war against the Batista-Mafia dictatorship. Nico played an historic role in Mexico City. He met Che Guevara and it was Nico who talked the young Argentine doctor to go with them to Cuba to free the island from the Batista scourge. Nico then was the rebel that first took Che to meet Fidel Castro, an epic meeting that will fascinate historians for generations to come. But Nico prior to that venture in Mexico had garnered revolutionary fame. On July 26, 1953, Nico led a 21-man squad that attacked the Moncada barracks, and 12 of his men were killed either in the attack or later when they were "questioned." Nico was captured and, like Fidel and Raul, sentenced to 15 years in prison. Extremely close to the Castro brothers and Che Guevara, Nico was among the 65 men on the Granma who were killed in the ambush as they swam and crawled to shore. Nico is a prime martyr with an oil refinery among the things named for him today in Cuba. But Celia Sanchez, who would know, said years later (in 1970 when she and Fidel visited Trinidad, Cuba), "Frank (Pais) and Nico (Lopez) died so young in our fight. Had they lived, I have always wondered if those two would now be ahead of Fidel and me in the leadership of the island." That magnanimous and surprising Celia Sanchez quote was heard in Trinidad by a Spanish reporter and it later appeared in Bohemia Magazine.
        The above map shows the perilous trek of the Granma from Mexico to the Sierra Maestra and then the progression from December-1956 to Jan.-1959 till the Cuban Revolution defeated the Batista-Mafia dictatorship, creating history by becoming the first rebels to overthrow a U. S. - backed dictatorship. But even more significantly, the overthrown Batista-Mafia stewardship in Cuba became the first and only overthrown U. S. - backed dictatorship to quickly, and it seems eternally, reconstitute itself on U. S. soil, namely the Mafia havens of Miami and Union City (NJ).
         Fidel and Celia, the new leaders of Cuba, took their time from January 1 till January 8, 1959, to make the trek from Santiago de Cuba, the old capital on the southeastern tip of the alligator-shaped island, to the current capital of Havana on the western tip. Fidel relished the acclaim but Celia detested it, as indicated by the victorious photo above.
         For the next 21 years Celia Sanchez made the decisions for Cuba, with the total support of Fidel Castro, whether or not he always agreed with those decisions. Thus, Celia was always the studious one, allowing Fidel to sometimes just sit back in his rocking chair with his slippers off, as depicted in the above photo, while Celia, quite appropriately, was hard at work. Note: Whether it's machismo or the fact that Celia, the angelic doctor's daughter, was a bit harder to demonize, to this day many of the controllers of Cuban history, namely the radical Cuban exiles in Miami, minimize Celia's incomparable role in the Cuban Revolution. But Cuba's top historian, Pedro Alvarez Tabio, got it right: "If Batista had managed to kill Celia Sanchez anytime between 1953 and 1957, there would have been no viable Cuban Revolution, and no revolution for Fidel and Che to join." And Cuban insider Roberto Salas, the renowned photographer in Cuba from 1959 (when he was 14) till today, got it right: "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones." But as far as the biased and self-serving U. S. chroniclers of the Cuban Revolution -- the radical fringe Cuban-exiles in Miami and Union City -- are concerned, Celia Sanchez, of course, was "a non-factor." If she had been, those two generations of radical exiles would not be in charge of Miami and Union City while also dictating the U. S. Cuban policy; they would still be ruling and robbing Cuba, probably with, as usual, Washington's blessing. 
Dicky Chapelle photo, Sierra Maestra, 1957, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society
        Celia Sanchez was a chronic note-taker, rarely seen without a writing pad. She discussed options and registered the opinions of her associates, whom she called companeros. However, she reserved for herself the final decisions. Beginning in the Sierra Maestra at the start of 1957, Fidel never failed to support her positions and therefore it didn't matter much what others thought. This relationship was prioritized by Fidel himself for the rest of Celia's life. Was it because he felt she had saved his life and the life of the revolution? Yes. Was that the only reason? No. He trusted her and he loved her, far above and beyond any other person during his lifetime. To understand Fidel Castro, one must understand Celia Sanchez. They were the ultimate collaborators, and much more.
        But the two people Fidel Castro has most idolized during his long lifetime -- history's two greatest female guerrilla fighters, Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria -- both died in 1980, with Haydee committing suicide after Celia died of cancer at age 59. That definitive version of the deaths of Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria has been confirmed by, among others, Celia Hart, Haydee's daughter who was named for Celia Sanchez, and Haydee's American biographer Betsy Maclean of New York City.  
       Fidel Castro's two soul mates have been gone a long time and he is now 85-years-old and convalescing from a near-fatal intestinal illness that beset him way back in July of 2006. The reconstituted, still determined, utterly rich and immensely powerful Batistianos remain, since January of 1959, headquartered in nearby Miami and still in control of Washington but not Havana. And 2012 is the year that the Guinness Book of World Records finally and officially recognizes that the old man has survived the most assassination attempts in history -- 638! All of which is a reminder of the most famous Celia Sanchez quote, dating back to 1959 (and later repeated at least four times):  "The Batistianos will never regain control of Cuba as long as I live or as long as Fidel lives." When the coda is written on the Cuban Revolution, that Celia Sanchez prophecy should get more than a footnote but, as usual, all that will depend on who writes the history.
       Meanwhile, the famed Versailles Restaurant, the centerpiece of the Little Havana section of Miami, is bracing for the most boisterous celebration in its raucous history -- and that will occur when word reaches Miami that Fidel Castro has finally succumbed to old age (if not to assassination attempt #639). All of which brings us back around to the theme that tops this essay: "The Havana-Miami/Miami-Havana Carousel." In all of history, there has never been anything like it and there has never been a fiction writer that could have envisioned it. For example, it permanently redefined the meanings of such rancorous terms as "dictator" and "democracy" not to mention "terrorist" and "embargo."  In other words, it is, shall we say, "rather unique."  The Cuban Revolution elevated an island onto the world stage far out of proportion to its size and population, and it reshaped a simple U. S. - backed dictatorship into the first and only overthrown one to reconstitute itself on hallowed U. S. soil. Its scenic, sinuous, bewitching rhythms seem both endless and timeless although, admittedly, a bit disjointed and, at times, obstreperous. And since Jan. 1-1959 till today the arduous, continuous, and irrepressible vacillations include this immutable fact: If Fidel sneezes in Havana, someone is sure to catch a cold in Miami, punctuating the world's most fascinating and endearing carousel.  When will it end? No one knows! And that's the most fascinating thing of all.
     Fidel Castro died on November 26th, 2016, at age 90. His ashes are entombed in a huge rock on the southeastern tip of the island far from Havana. But it's his legacy that still sustains the island during the dire threat from the latest Republican administration in the USA, Trump's, determined to strangle, starve, and overpower the vulnerable island on behalf of the rich and politically powerful Batista-exiles entrenched in Little Havana, Miami.

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