Friday, December 28, 2012

Quotations That Define The Unique History of Cuba

Some Highlights From 1492 Till 2013
      Teofilo Stevensen, Cuba's legendary 3-time Olympic Heavyweight Boxing Champion, explained why he turned down a $1 million cash offer to defect from Cuba and fight Muhammad Ali: "What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me." Stevensen died on June 11, 2012. The Dec. 31-2012 edition of America's top sports magazine, Sports Illustrated, featured a big spread on scores of famed athletes and coaches who died in 2012 and the very first on that long list was the death of Teofilo Stevensen at age 60. The Sports Illustrated recognition of the great Cuban icon included the notable quotation above as well as this one from the BBC: "Teofilo Stevensen is Cuba's most famous figure after Fidel Castro."
      Muhammad Ali became good friends with Teofilo Stevensen and Ali once said: "People wrote that I was scared of George Foreman and Sonny Liston before I knocked them out. But I was scared of one man, the Cuban Teofilo Stevensen. But I still told my promoters to offer him a million in cash to fight me. And I'm man enough to say, if he had accepted the offer he would have beaten me. He was that good."
        Most boxing experts agree that Teofilo Stevensen would have beaten Muhammad Ali if the two legends had fought in their primes. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Teofilo was as big and as fast as Ali and he was a more powerful puncher. In the playful "skirmish" above, Ali asked Teofilo to "show these people how you would have beaten me back in 1972." Teofilo demonstrated how and commented: "I would have needed just two punches -- a left jab to your big mouth, like this, and then a right hook to your broken jaw. Just two punches!" They then hugged and laughed profusely as the crowd roared its approval.
    The Italian explorer Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba on October 28, 1492, and proclaimed the island: "The most beautiful land I have ever seen." He claimed the island for Spain and named it "Juana." He is also credited with discovering America but never set foot on what became United States soil. He did, however, set foot on Cuban soil and he indeed kept meticulous journals. For example, on July 15, 1492 -- before reaching Cuba -- he wrote: "As I prepare for my expedition to the Indies...My name is Cristoforo Colombo but most people know me as Christopher Columbus. I was born in Genoa, Italy in 1451, the oldest of five children. I was an obedient son." He died on May 20, 1506, never having reached the Indies.
      If Columbus in 1492 was ecstatic over his discovery of Cuba, to this day other explorers can identify with him. In the last week of Dec.-2012 and, in an article written by Becky Oskin, were verily ecstatic over the above picture taken by Angel Vale, a researcher from the University of Vigo in Spain. The world's newly discovered orchid, above, is now officially named Tetramicra riparia. Vale discovered it recently on the banks of "rushing streams in Cuba's remote eastern mountains" around Baracoa, "one of the rainiest and least explored areas in Cuba." Vale says Cuba is a "hotbed" of orchids, "the largest and most diverse plant family in the world." Cuba has always been a hotbed for a lot of things, particularly orchids and..........brave, determined, and indefatigable independence fighters. 
       Jose Marti is one Cuban that both Cubans and Americans agree was a great man. He died at age 42 on May 19-1895 on the field of battle opposing Spanish domination of the island. He fiercely hated imperialist nations and longed for his beloved Cuba to be a democratic republic and, although by the late 1800s his poetry had made him a rich and famous man, he left his safe havens abroad, including the U. S., to return to Cuba to fight Spanish domination. That return home, as he had predicted, cost him his life.
       Jose Marti is so universally loved that there are statues and monuments honoring him in Cuba, the United States, and all around the world. The one above is in New Jersey. Books and websites are awash in poems and quotations by Marti, such as: "Men of action, above all those whose actions are guided by love, live forever." Thus, he will live forever. On the above statue his quote "La Patria Es Ara No Pedestal" means in English "The Motherland Is An Altar, Not A Platform." But Marti's whole quotation was: "La Patria Necesita Sacrificios. La Patria Es Ara No Pedestal," which in English means: "The Motherland Needs Sacrifices. The Motherland Is An Altar, Not A Pedestal." He asked others to sacrifice for Cuba, like he did.
      Celia Sanchez {Feb.-1959authored the most pertinent Cuban quotation: "The Batistianos will never regain control of Cuba as long as I live or as long as Fidel lives." {No one believed her then; everyone believes her now. That's why it rates as the most pertinent Cuban quotation. Also, unlike Jose Marti's war against the Spanish, Celia's war against American imperialism was successful.}
        The no-nonsense Celia Sanchez, even as she and Fidel Castro {above} arrived in the middle of tumultuous celebrations to take over Cuba in the first week of January, 1959, eschewed fame and notoriety, explaining, "We have massive work to do and little time for celebrating."
       From the time Fidel Castro hooked up with Celia Sanchez in the Sierra Maestra Mountains of Eastern Cuba at the start of 1957 till the day she died of cancer at age 59 on Jan. 11-1980, she, not Fidel, was the prime decision-maker on the island of Cuba. The above graphic over a rare video of Celia as a guerrilla fighter in the Sierra Maestra says: "Celia Sanchez was the daughter of a country doctor."
      Above is the first photo of Celia with Fidel -- Feb.-1957. He began idolizing her during the years -- 1953 till 1955 -- he was in prison and was informed of the dangerous urban-underground work she was doing to keep the anti-Batista revolution alive. Upon seeing her, he said, "You don't know how many times I have dreamed of seeing you and touching you." She replied: "I've waited for you just as long." {Note: Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro were/are notoriously private individuals. But with her absolutely closest acquaintances, including a sister, Celia, with delicate and tender but also immense and glowing pride, revealed her immutable, everlasting, and immeasurable bond and union to Fidel} 
       For the rest of their lives together, the brilliant and always studious Celia Sanchez was Cuba's prime decision-maker. Even if he disagreed with her, Fidel Castro always supported her decisions 100%. In the photo above, appropriately, Celia is studying while Fidel relaxes in his rocking chair with his slippers off. Because the losers in the Cuban Revolution have primarily written its history from their monstrously safe havens in the superpower United States, accentuating the power and "meanness" of the macho/machismo Fidel and down-playing or ignoring the power and goodness of the very feminine Celia has largely ruled the roost since the 1950s. In most other historic events, the winners usually wrote the history. That has not been the case when it comes to the Cuban Revolution although Celia Sanchez herself claims the most definitive quote related to it: "The Batistianos will never regain control of Cuba as long as I live or as long as Fidel lives." Considering that she first made that startling but prescient pronouncement in 1959, and it has defied astronomical odds for all these decades, perhaps even the Batistianos will one day give her some credit, as Fidel Castro himself as well as the most knowledgeable Cuban insiders have done:
       Pedro Alvarez Tabio, the great Cuban historian: "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." Yes, if Batista...had kill Celia...the world...would!
       Roberto Salas, the world-class photographer and long-time intimate of both Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro: "Celia 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." {An exact quote from his excellent book}
       Marta Rojas, the legendary Cuban revolutionary/historian/journalist/author, told me in a 2005 email as I was researching my biography of Celia Sanchez: "Since Celia died of cancer in 1980, Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he precisely believes Celia would want him to rule it."
       Georgie Anne Geyer, Fidel Castro's seminal biographer: "Celia Sanchez was the only person who could over-rule Fidel." {Geyer is the best chronicler of Fidel's reaction to Celia's death]
        It is well known that Fidel Castro has a long-standing rule: He will discuss Celia Sanchez only with intimates such as Marta Rojas, Roberto Salas, Pedro Alvarez Tabio, etc. In famous interviews on U. S. network television both Barbara Walters and Dan Rather tested that resolve, asking him if he would say anything at all about Celia Sanchez. He would not even say, "No." He just showed them his palms and shook them from side to side. He speaks of Celia often but only with those he knows loves her.
      But once in his life, at the conclusion of the above news conference, a Spanish journalist showed Fidel a newspaper article and asked him to comment on the author's list of the "five most important Cuban revolutionaries." Fidel lit a cigar as the journalist showed him that paragraph in the newspaper. Celia Sanchez's name wasn't mentioned in that list of five. The realization angered Fidel, surprising his aides, and his right hand slashed a hole in the paper as, for once in public, he bellowed her name: "Any so-called list that doesn't have Celia Sanchez either all alone or #1 is pure bull-crap! DID YOU WRITE IT?" The horrified perpetrator "turned blue," according to Castro aide Ricardo Alarcon, "but he managed to spit out 'no, no...,' which some have said probably saved his life even though we consider Fidel quite mellow, except when it comes to Celia Sanchez, his mother Lina or one or two of his enemies."
   Ricardo Alarcon {wearing the holstered pistol above} has been a top Fidel aide since the 1950s.
    As the post-Castro era looms on the Cuban horizon, Ricardo Alarcon in the month of December-2012 finally stepped down as President of the Cuban National Assembly. For years he was Cuba's UN representative and is one of the Cubans best known to Americans. "I'll hate retirement," he said.
   Fidel Castro has written and spoken millions of famous words but the above note that he scribbled to Celia Sanchez on June 5, 1958, constitutes the all-time most famous Fidel Castro quotation. It was during the last year of their revolutionary war against the powerful U. S.-and-Mafia-backed Batista forces. Fidel had just seen the home of a peasant friend named Mario after Mario's home and family had been destroyed by a bomb dropped from one of Batista's U. S. - provided warplanes. Fidel believed Mario, who was not a participant in the war, was unfairly targeted. Incensed, Fidel vented his rage in the note to Celia. He predicted that, after beating Batista, his "bigger" war would be against the United States. Since 1958 a plethora of anti-Castro historians-journalists-pundits have used that note in their far-flung and inexhaustible attempts to prove that Fidel Castro from the very beginning intended to wage war against the United States, thus making the above note Fidel's most quoted words. Less biased Castro historians-journalists point out that Fidel, or more importantly Celia Sanchez, sought friendship with the U. S. at least up until the Bay of Pigs attack in April of 1961, by which time they had already ignored several blatant assassination attempts against his life. Since 1959 in the Western world it has been politically and socially correct to distort Cuban facts. The above Castro quotation has been distorted by stressing Fidel's reference that his "destiny" was to fight the U. S. in a "bigger" war without explaining the context in which he wrote it. In any case, here is the exact translation of Fidel Castro's all-time most famous quotation: "Sierra Maestra; June 5-58; Celia: At seeing the rockets fired at the house of Mario, I have sworn to myself that the Americans are going to pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war ends, for me will begin a much longer and bigger war, the war that I am going to wage against them. I realize that that will be my true destiny. Fidel." Seldom is the full quotation included and seldom is the reason for the outraged note to Celia ever mentioned by anti-Castro journalists or pundits.
       On her deathbed in January of 1980 the last coherent words that Celia Sanchez spoke to Fidel Castro were: "It's been a long ride, my love. But fun. And worthwhile. Now live long, marry Dalia, and fight the fight." In 1980, shortly after Celia's death, Fidel married Dalia and he remains married to her till this day. Fidel's last words to a conscious Celia were: "Oh, my love! For always it will be you. To live beyond you will be the hardest thing I'll ever have to do." {In her superb though mostly anti-Castro biography, the conservative Georgie Anne Geyer goes into detail about Fidel's suicidal thoughts and actions that consumed him for days after Celia's death}
     Dalia Soto del Valle, Celia's close friend from the south-central colonial city of Trinidad, indeed married Fidel a few weeks after Celia died in 1980. She is the mother of five loyal sons by Fidel and she remains his devoted wife and his prime care-taker in the twilight of his long life.
      To understand the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba, one needs to understand Celia Sanchez. In doing so, you would need to comprehend a famous Celia Sanchez quotation that is found in many good history books, including Georgie Anne Geyer's Castro biography "Guerrilla Prince." After the triumph of the revolution Celia sat beside Fidel on the Isle of Pines as a group of journalists were asking questions. Fidel was asked about the fierce, bloody fighting in the Sierra Maestra during the revolutionary war that the rebels were not supposed to win. Fidel then spoke about the fierce, bloody fighting. Then an emotional Celia surprised them all when she said: "Oh, but those were the best days, weren't they? We were all so happy then! We will never be so happy again, will we? Not ever!" That was the essence of Celia Sanchez, the guerrilla fighter, and it is reminiscent of historian Pedro Alvarez Tabio's quotation: "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." Cancer killed her years later but history registers the fact that Batista never did. Celia told Marta Rojas: "The journey, like a war before the victory, is more fun than the destination." Marta told me: "Celia had a good journey. I hope her destination is even better." 
      Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the Miami Marlins baseball team, has the distinction of making the most famous quotation related to Cuba in the year of 2012: "I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro; you know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother****** is still here." Ozzie is from Venezuela but he has become a multi-millionaire after decades as a player, coach, and manager in the Major Leagues. He is also smart and has a home in South Florida. He should have known that since 1959 the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is not quite as free or quite as brave as it was prior to the Cuban Revolution. His recorded comment shook the rafters in Miami!
      The outrage in Miami literally scared Ozzie Guillen, who heretofore was known as a very brave and aggressive player, manager, and coach. He apparently had heard that Freedom of Speech was one of the pillars of the U. S. democracy {and it was prior to 1959}.
       Thus, a chastened, teary-eyed Ozzie Guillen hastened to a news conference to beg forgiveness in an effort to save his job, his sanity, and, literally, his life. For all his sassy smartness and starry-eyed success on U. S. soil, Ozzie had succumbed to the weird, wild, wacky, wondrous world that was spawned by the brilliant, bad, brazen, and bold Cuban Revolution, which has left among its ashes a chaotic, catastrophic, cataclysmic, and classic array of misfortunes and misadventures for all. Ozzie, welcome to the club!
 In the 1950s Batista's Cuba was indeed the "Holiday Isle of the Tropics."
      But the majority of peasant girls and women on the island, basically all of the females not being prostituted in the Mafia-run hotel-casinos, were in abject poverty and, if they dissented, they were regularly brutalized...until, as indicated above, they mounted a unified resistance. It became the first time in history that females spawned and then became prime combatants in a true, transformational revolution!
      Carlos Franqui, the famed revolutionary/journalist/author, wrote: "If Batista, the Mafia, or the United States had been smart enough to even throw some crumbs to the Cuban women and their children, they would still, two generations later, be reaping the windfall from their Cuban piggy-bank. When those starving women and children were instead beaten or murdered, we got a revolution. That's how I see it." Franqui died at age 88 in exile in Puerto Rico in 2010. In the revolutionary war, Franqui worked and fought beside Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro, but later opposed Revolutionary Cuba's alignment with the Soviet Union, which Celia Sanchez orchestrated in the early 1960s only after she realized the world's other superpower, the U. S., had launched one attack, at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, and was gearing up for a bigger attack. Franqui disagreed with the Soviet input but later wrote: "It was, of course, Celia Sanchez's decision and I opposed it. At the same time, I understand why Fidel let her make it." Carlos Franqui was a brilliant man who saw the Cuban Revolution from the inside and from the outside. He wrote one of the first and best bios of Fidel Castro and he accompanied Celia and Fidel on their 12-day trip to the U. S. in April of 1959 when all three of them hoped the U. S. would accept a sovereign Cuba as a friend. It was not to be.
 As in all civilized nations, Cuban children are extremely important to Cubans.
Fidel Castro was either decent enough or smart enough, or both, to protect and educate Cuban children.
As Carlos Franqui cogently pointed out, the Batistianos riled Cuban mothers when their children were assassinated.
Street marches by brave Cuban mothers spawned the Cuban Revolution.
Incomparable guerrilla fighters like Haydee Santamaria and Celia Sanchez led more deadly marches.
      When he became a guerrilla fighter, Fidel particularly tried to defend peasant girls, knowing that Celia Sanchez's revolutionary fire was ignited by what she considered the legal rape-murder of 10-year-old Maria Ochoa in Batista's Cuba. Historians, including insiders like Carlos Franqui, have always debated whether Fidel's fierce alignment with the female gender was an outgrowth of his being smarter or more decent than the Batistianos. In the New Year of 2013 the U. S. democracy should be strong enough to admit this fact.
Whatever the case, Cuban peasant girls, and their mothers, congratulated the victorious rebels.
        U. S. Vice President Richard M. Nixon blatantly told a disbelieving Fidel Castro -- in April of 1959 barely three months after the triumph of the revolution -- that: "We don't have to deal with you because we'll be back in control of Cuba within three months." Carlos Franqui, as a part of the Cuban delegation, heard those remarks. At the time, neither the Cubans nor the American voters realized that Nixon, a future President, was an outright right-wing crook and thug. Franqui would later write: "Right-wing criminals high up in the U. S. government have been major components of Cuba's history since the 1950s."
     The above Yale University photo shows Celia Sanchez in the lobby of a New York City hotel in April of 1959, less than four months after she had shed her guerrilla uniform. The expression on her face belies it, but she already knew Richard Nixon's words to Fidel. That very night she told Carlos Franqui: "Damn it! We tried. When we go home we will do what we did all those months in the Sierra Maestra. We won because there was no other option. Now we will defend our island or die trying." Carlos Franqui said: "So, Celia, you think Nixon speaks for America?" She replied: "Yes, I do. I arranged this trip so soon hoping for the best. What Nixon showed us was the worst."
     Back in Cuba, Celia and Fidel -- shown exiting their plane above -- were in a defensive mood as they visited major cities and coastal areas to judge the most pressing military needs of each region. Celia later told Marta Rojas: "When we returned from the United States, we knew we had to spend more time and money than we thought on the military instead of other things, like education and health, that we wanted to stress." Also, as soon as Celia and Fidel returned from the U. S. at the end of April, 1959, an avalanche of Mafia/CIA/Cuban-exile assassination attempts against Cuban leaders became a constant occurrence. And they soon learned that the U. S. was using military bases in Florida as well as in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic to prepare for a military attack on Cuba. {Brutal anti-Castro U.S.-friendly dictators Trujillo and Samosa ruled Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic}
      If you still think the Cuban Revolution is not unique in World History, then check the Guinness Book of World Records that now notes such items as: "Fidel Castro has survived the most assassination attempts in history -- 638!" 638? No *else is even close to triple digits and no one else has been repeatedly targeted by two of history's best assassination outfits -- the Mafia and the CIA! Some record, huh? Also: "On Sept. 29-1960 Fidel Castro spoke continuously for four hours and 29 seconds at the United Nations, a world record for the UN." If the Guinness Book of World Records kept tabs on history's most prophetic quotation, Celia Sanchez's proclamation, first laid down in Feb.-1959, should qualify as the record-setter: 
"The Batistianos will never regain control of Cuba as long as I live or as long as Fidel lives." 
In other words......
The Cuban Revolution was one hell of a revolution! 
Hey, my keyboard is smoking and my fingers are tired so "Hasta Manana!" {"Till Tomorrow!"} 
But before I go, I wanted you to see this little guy. He's officially known as a Kingfisher.

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