A More Unbiased Critique Is Needed
Any unbiased and competent historian could easily reach the conclusion that the two young Cubans above -- Frank Pais on the left and Celia Sanchez on the right -- were/are the two most important figures in the historic, ongoing Cuban Revolution.
The more biased and less competent historians will, undoubtedly, continue to project and dissect the myth that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were/are the most important figures of the Cuban Revolution. The fact that they are wrong seems not to factor into the equation but I believe it should, especially at this propitious time.
Fidel Castro has passed his 86th birthday and heads into the fall of 2012 barely clinging to life. Quite mindful of history and his legacy, and somewhat of an authority on the Cuban Revolution, he has long maintained to intimates that Celia Sanchez was/is the most important figure in the Cuban Revolutionary hierarchy. It is also known that he would not disagree with the notion that Frank Pais also should rate with her in the Top Two spots. When discussing that topic recently, he lamented, "It has been said that the winners of revolutionary conflicts get to write its history. But it's clear now that the losers, the ones who fled the Cuban Revolution to a permanent superpower sanctuary, have mostly written the history of the Cuban Revolution. That is why, to many in the Western World, the two people most responsible for its success, Celia and Frank, are rarely even mentioned." Okay. An old man who would know and who probably realizes that he has nothing more to gain or lose from his legendary spot in the historical perspective is most likely correct -- about the losers, this time, writing the history and about Celia Sanchez and Frank Pais being the Top Two in importance when it comes to the Cuban Revolution. Let's examine his reasoning and start at the beginning -- where Fidel and most historians believe the Cuban Revolution started.
On July 26, 1953 a band of about 130 rebels, organized and led by Fidel Castro, attacked the Moncada Army Barracks on the edge of Santiago de Cuba, the island's second biggest city located on its eastern end. All of the rebels were either killed or captured. That day young Frank Pais led a successful diversionary attack in the nearby city of Bayamo.
Fidel Castro [shown above being interrogated] was among those captured after the ill-fated Moncada attack. He was shortly sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Only two things prevented him from suffering the fate -- torture and execution -- of most rebel prisoners in Batista's Cuba and they were (1) Fidel was the hero and hope of the vast majority of Cubans; and (2) journalists as famed as Herbert L. Mathews of the New York Times kept a close watch on the most notable young rebel prisoner. But for all intents and purposes, in the summer of 1953, Fidel Castro, except for his stoic reputation, became a non-factor in the fledgling anti-Batista revolution, at least for the next very vital three years. And in any case, no one believed any revolution would ever be a serious threat to the powerful Batista dictatorship that was supported by the world's strongest criminal organization, the Mafia, and by the world's strongest nation, the nearby United States. All three entities wanted to cling to their ownership of the island because, for the greedy few, it was indeed a goldmine.
But a handsome young school-teacher named Frank Pais [above] picked up the mantle dropped by Fidel. At the time, in the summer of 1953, Frank was 18-years-old (he would not turn 19 until December 7th). With incredible courage Frank ventured from city to city, from farmhouse to farmhouse, creating and recruiting anti-Batista cells. As his successes mounted ever so slowly, Batista put powerful forces, including the infamous and murderous Masferrer Tigers, on Frank's audacious trail. Anyone -- male or female, adult or child -- remotely tied to Frank were rounded up, tortured [to reveal information], and then gruesomely executed.
In June of 1957 Frank's 17-year-old brother Josue Pais was captured, tortured, and executed. Then his body [above] was left on a street in Santiago de Cuba as a warning to Frank. But Frank worked harder than ever and by now he had urban and rural anti-Batista cells throughout the island, especially in the eastern region far from Havana. Batista increased the soldiers and police assigned to track down Frank. And a huge bounty was put on his head. The bounty led to Frank being betrayed. He was captured at what he thought was a safe-house. He was tortured to reveal information about his operation and to divulge other rebel names. Frank gave them not one iota of information nor did he beg for his life, angering his captors.
Frank Pais was then taken to a public street in Santiago de Cuba and murdered, execution-style, on July 30, 1957. Note the cocked pistol [in the above photo] that was placed near Frank's right hand. It was put there to give the impression that Frank died in a shoot-out. Of course, he had been disarmed back at the safe-house where he was captured. Frank -- who was born on December 7, 1934 -- was 22-years-old.
The Frank Pais funeral cortege [above] filled the streets of Santiago de Cuba in defiance of the brutal Batista dictatorship.Frank Pais was laid to rest with the July 26 banner [commemorating the Moncada attack as the start of the revolution) across his chest. That day, July 26-1953, when Fidel led the ill-fated Moncada attack, the teenage Frank Pais at that moment was leading a successful diversionary attack in Bayamo, another nearby Cuban city.
Above is the tomb in Santiago de Cuba where Frank Pais and his younger brother Josue are buried. At the time of his death, Frank Pais was considered more vital to the revolution than even Fidel Castro because Frank was responsible for the recruitment and organization of the rebels and supplies that awaited Fidel and Che when they entered the fight in the Sierra after their journey from Mexico.
So that's why young Frank Pais ranks #2 in the pantheon of Cuban Revolutionary heroes, topped only by a heroine named Celia Sanchez. [Fidel and Che, I believe, round out the Top 8 along with Vilma Espin, Haydee Santamaria, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Raul Castro] So, you ask, what makes Celia Sanchez more important than Fidel Castro and more important even than Frank Pais? First off, from 1953 till Frank's death in July of 1957 Celia was every bit as brave and every bit as successful as Frank in recruiting rebels, supplies, and money that formed the foundation for the incredibly successful revolution. Cuba's top historian, Pedro Alvarez Tabio, has recounted the startling bravery of Celia in carrying out those endeavors. Yes, Batista put the feared Masferrer Tigers on Celia's trail and Tabio as well as fellow rebels have detailed instances when she had to shoot her way to safety. And, of course, Batista put a huge bounty on her head. But they never captured her and no one ever betrayed her.
Thus, the great historian Pedro Alvarez Tabio [above] rendered the decisive quote regarding why Celia Sanchez rates above Frank Pais and Fidel Castro on the pantheon of the most important Cuban revolutionaries. Tabio stated: "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." That expert and definitive quotation reminds me of Fidel's recent comment about, in the rare case of the Cuban Revolution, the losers, not the winners, writing its history. He meant the Batista and Mafia exiles from the island who maintained the support of the United States, the world's only superpower and, in regards to Cuba, remain the primary chroniclers of Cuban history, which, in fact, is not exactly the way the Batistianos and the Mafiosos envisioned it and tried there best to construct it. But, you know, the next best thing, I reckon, is to write it...and that they have done, conveniently leaving out or diminishing the roles played by the young school-teacher Frank Pais and the young doctor's daughter Celia Sanchez. Demonizing and vilifying macho men was easier in the reconstruction of history as opposed to admitting that a very young school-teacher and a 99-pound doctor's daughter were the prime reasons they lost.
Roberto Salas [above], the great photographer, wrote in his book "The Pictorial History of the Cuban Revolution": "Celia Sanchez made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones. When she died of cancer in 1980, we all knew no one could ever replace her." Considering that the highly respected Salas has known Fidel Castro intimately from the 1950s till today, his quote must be tough for the reconstructors of Cuban history to deal with. So, I guess they pretend there is no Roberto Salas, and no such quotation related to the revolution's most formidable icon.
Marta Rojas [above] was a young reporter who befriended Fidel after the Moncada attack both while he was on trial and in prison and then years later, in December of 1959, she introduced Fidel for his first television address to the nation. She is internationally renowned as a historian, journalist, and author [published by Random House, etc.] When Linda Pressly of the BBC contacted me because she was doing a documentary on Celia Sanchez, I told her via email and phone calls that on her research trip to Cuba she had to talk with Marta Rojas because Marta knows more about Celia Sanchez, Fidel Castro, and the Cuban Revolution than anyone on the planet. In a 2005 email, Marta told me: "Since Celia died of cancer in 1980 Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he precisely perceives Celia would want him to rule it." Considering that the deeply admired Marta Rojas is the world authority on the Cuban Revolution, I imagine the reconstructors of Cuban history pretend there is no Marta Rojas and no such quotation relevant to a female guerrilla fighter her enemies would prefer to forget.
That's the young Marta Rojas above, in December of 1959, introducing Fidel Castro for his first television address to the nation.
The photo above is the first one ever taken of Fidel Castro and Celia Sanchez together. It was at daybreak on February 3, 1957. He is examining a telescopic rifle that she had just given him. A couple of months earlier she had saved his life when a Batista army ambushed the 82 men debarking from the leaking yacht that had transported them from Mexico to rendezvous with Celia's rebel unit at a pre-arranged beach the old yacht didn't quite reach. All but 17 of the 82 men were killed before Celia's rebels could race to the thicket-plagued beach and beat off the Batista soldiers. In other words, before the names "Fidel" and "Che" would become two of history's most famous names, someone had to save their lives under dire conditions at a lonely, briar-infested beach in southeastern Cuba. That someone also had an historic name. It was Celia.
Before Fidel Castro ever reached the Sierra Maestro war zone, and before Che Guevara ever set foot on the island of Cuba, Celia Sanchez and her dearest friend Haydee Santamaria were do-or-die guerrilla fighters. In the above photo, Celia on the right and Haydee on the left are taking a cautious break after leading a successful attack on a unit of Batista soldiers in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, an attack that netted the rebels two jeeps plus rifles and ammunition.
With their rifles at the ready, the two female warriors are awaiting the counter-attack after Celia made the decision not to retreat higher into the mountains. About five minutes after this photo was taken [as revealed years later by Haydee Santamaria], the point-man outfitted with binoculars scrambled up to inform Celia: "They have now been reinforced by forty more men who have two jeeps with Gatlings on tripods. They are using two-man machete and saw teams to clear the path for the jeeps. They'll be in rifle range of us in 45 minutes. Do we move higher or do we stand and fight?"
Without hesitation, Celia replied, "We stand and fight. I can use two more jeeps and two more Gatlings."
The grainy photo above shows Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro celebrating the decisive victory of the Revolutionary War -- the ten-day Battle of Jigue in July of 1958. It marked the turning point in the war, when they knew Batista would lose and they would win. The losing Batista commander was Major Jose Quevedo. He and his surviving men were captured. Celia and Fidel gave them cigarettes, food, drinks, and had the wounded soldiers cared for. Quevedo thought he and his men would all be shot because Batista's forces quickly killed all their prisoners. Celia and Fidel told Quevedo's forces to "go home" as soon as they were well enough to travel. History records that Quevedo and his men were so taken aback that they stayed and fought the rest of the war with and for Celia and Fidel.
Terrance Cannon's book "Revolutionary Cuba" tells the detailed story of the Battle of Jigue, beginning on Page 92 with these words: "The Battle of Jigue, which lasted for ten days in mid-July (1958), was probably the most important and certainly one of the the most interesting, revealing the complex nature of the war. During it, letters were exchanged, troops on opposite sides shared their food, and a commander changed his allegiance."
Cannon then revealed how the out-manned rebels out-fought and out-smarted the superior Batista army and then, after it surrendered, consoled it with "water, food, and cigarettes." Cannon concluded that chapter with this sentence: "Major Quevedo, who remained at the Rebel Army headquarters, deeply influenced by what he had experienced and by his discussions with Fidel, joined the revolutionary forces and convinced several other military units to surrender or defect to the rebel side."
Terrence Cannon [above] is considered one of the more perceptive authors when it comes to Revolutionary Cuba. He believes the four main reasons the rebels won are: (1) The extreme thievery and brutality of the Batista dictatorship inspired a do-or-die rebellion; (2) the Batistianos wanted to live long enough to spend their loot off the island and recapture the island later, thus they were not the best fighters; (3) Fidel fully utilized the 50% of the island's population, the female portion, that the Batistianos most brutalized and disrespected, and (4) as illustrated by the Battle of Jigue, being less brutal and much nicer, even to enemy soldiers, induced many of Batista's men to defect to the rebel side, shifting the balance of power.
Indeed, the Federation of Cuban Women, beginning in January of 1959, became a powerful force on the island and remains so till this day.
Women today are the leading professionals on the island of Cuba, in stark contrast to how they were treated in Cuba prior to the revolution.
The three women depicted above were more important than any three men in the Cuban Revolution and in Revolutionary Cuba. That's Celia Sanchez in the middle flanked on her right by Vilma Espin and on her left by Haydee Santamaria. They were guerrilla fighters during the war and prime decision-makers after their victory.
And Celia Sanchez rates as the greatest female revolutionary of all-time and edges out Frank Pais and Fidel Castro as the most important figure in the Cuban Revolution. After she led the fight to kick the Batista-Mafia dictatorship off the island, she also provided the grit to keep them off. In April of 1959, and at least three later times, Celia Sanchez proclaimed: "The Batistianos will never regain control of Cuba as long as I live or as long as Fidel lives." No one, with the possible exception of Fidel Castro, believed her then. But they believe her now.
Celia died of cancer on January 11, 1980 at age 59. So, what will happen to Cuba when the now 86-year-old and very unwell Fidel Castro dies? I don't know. I wish I did. I learned to believe Celia Sanchez's proclamation and I admire its audacity and its prescience as the centerpiece of her remarkable and, yes, incomparable career. But in that proclamation, as in the other phases of her being, she never promised anything beyond her life and Fidel's life. But this I do believe...................
After Fidel dies, Celia Sanchez disciples -- like the young woman above guarding the Cuban coastline -- will have to rise to the forefront and remain ever vigil. Since 1492, when Columbus discovered it, Cuba has been coveted by one imperialist power after another as well as international criminal organizations supported by powerful countries. Minus Celia Sanchez and, soon, minus Fidel Castro, the odds clearly favor the outsiders. I believe Celia Sanchez understood that reality.
To this day, Cubans on the island sit around and discuss the life of Celia Sanchez, as the group above is doing in front of her native home in the town of Media Luna. But to this day, Americans are not supposed to know who she was or what she did although who she was and what she did massively affected America's history and still significantly colors America's image. And all that, I believe, is why a very old and frail man in Cuba recently lamented that, in regards to the Cuban Revolution, the losers, not the winners, have primarily registered its history.
The above photo was taken by Rosa C. Baez and sent to her Facebook friends on August 30, 2012. The two Cuban girls are enjoying a sunny day in Havana. It's a typical scene that the two million-plus tourists this year have regularly seen in Cuba. Unlike the Havana of the 1950s, and unlike many cities around the world today, the two girls above need not fear crime either in the sunlight or the moonlight in Havana. Some positive offshoots of the Cuban Revolution are reflected in Rosa's photo and, along with any truthful negatives, the Western media has an obligation, I believe, to also present the positives. The smiles, contentment, and beauty apparent in this photo are typical of Havana. The two carefree teenagers above are positives. And, lest we forget, so were the contributions of..................
Celia Sanchez, the Cuban Revolution's greatest guerrilla fighter and the most important defender of Cuban children in Batista's Cuba and in Revolutionary Cuba.
The photo above is courtesy of Tracey Eaton and was posted today [Aug. 31-2012] on his superb Along the Malecon Blog, which remains easily the best day-to-day chronicler of what is happening in Cuba and about Cuba. This photo depicts a typical daily happening on the island; the girl is jumping off a pier at Puerto Esperanza, which is north of Vinales.