Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cuba: The Old and the New

It's Well Worth A Peek
{Friday, December 27th, 2013}
Cubans got great news Christmas day, 2013!
    This magnificent 1200-passenger ship will now make weekly circles around the gorgeous coasts of the alligator-shaped island. The ship is owned by Cristal Cruise of Canada. The ship will dock in major Cuban ports, including Havana and Mariel, which has undergone a billion-dollar refurbishing 28 miles southwest of Havana. The ship's passengers, in addition to enjoying the Cuban vistas, can watch Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games on giant video screens while they indulge themselves on prime Alberta steaks washed down with Canadian beer. Dugald Wells, the Toronto entrepreneur, owns Cristal Cruise. Wells and his partner, Craig Marshall, say they are very interested in taking advantage of Cuba's burgeoning entrepreneurial class. Marshall specializes in building nice homes and condominiums. 
    On Monday, December 23, 2013 General Mikhail Kalashikov -- the inventor of the famed AK-47 rifle -- died at age 94. For the past 60 years most revolutionaries -- including Cuba's Fidel Castro {above} -- have used the AK-47 as their prime weapon.
      Even democratically elected Presidents have used the AK-47 to fight to the death in attempts to avoid having their legitimate government's overthrown. History's greatest example of that occurred in 1973 when Chile's President Salvador Allende died at his La Moneda Palace in Santiago, Chile, trying to ward off the U.S.-backed coup of the murderous General Augusto Pinochet. President Allende died fighting with the engraved AK-47 that Fidel Castro had given him as an inauguration gift. The photo above shows Fidel with President Allende on the balcony of La Moneda Palace shortly before Allende died. The AK-47, like these two men, will forever be enshrined as a salient part of world history -- as will the AK-47's inventor, General Kalashnikov.
Fidel Castro and President Allende at La Moneda Palace.
This photo was taken when President Allende summoned Fidel Castro to discuss rumors of a CIA coup.
President Allende using his AK-47 to defend his Chilean Presidency.
He died using the AK-47 Fidel Castro had given him.
     The photo above vividly registers the fact that the 1973 CIA-backed coup that killed Chile's democratically elected President Salvador Allende resonates loudly today in Chile and all across Latin America. After Allende was killed, the U. S. - backed Augusto Pinochet was Chile's brutal dictator for the next 17 years. Among the thousands of innocent people murdered by the Pinochet terror was the father of Michelle Bachelet. She is shown above with her dear friend Fidel Castro. Michelle Bachelet was democratically elected President of Chile in 2006 and left office with an approval rating of 84% in Chile, the nation that has the highest per capita income, by far, in Latin America. Chile's constitution does not allow for consecutive terms so Bachelet worked for the UN for three years before recently being re-elected as President of Chile! Like all Latin Americans and Chileans, she remembers the 1973 CIA-directed coup that killed Chile's democratically elected President Salvador Allende to pave the way for the killer-dictator Pinochet. And so does Fidel Castro.
  The photo on the right, taken this week at Cuba's National Assembly session, shows the old and the new in Cuba as the new year of 2014 dawns. That's President Raul Castro listening to his heir apparent/designated successor Miguel Diaz-Canel. The transition-to-come has been mandated by Revolutionary Cuba, not by a foreign superpower. The move reflects the fervent desire of the elderly Castro brothers, 82-year-old Raul and 87-year-old Fidel, to prolong both the island's sovereignty as well as the sacred Cuban Revolution, still their pride and joy.
   Miguel Diaz-Canel is both a true believer in the revolution and an advocate for modernizing the Cuban government. He has ridden his motorcycle to some remote villages and urged the citizens to complain when they feel they are being abused or left out of government affairs. "If you do that," he says, "I promise you that I will listen and abide."
  The new Cuba, of course, was revealed earlier this month when Cuban President Raul Castro and American President Barack Obama actually shook hands and greeted each other warmly at the Nelson Mandela Memorial service in South Africa. Raul said, "Mr. President, I'm Castro." Barack replied, "Good to see you looking well." Raul said, "We need to act civilized, your country and mine." Barack said, "I agree and I'm working on it."  Then, as registered by this photo, President Obama cocked his eyes toward to the lady standing beside President Castro. She, of course, is President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, the Latin American superpower. President Obama is acutely aware that President Rousseff these days is much fonder of Cuba than the U. S. and, we imagine, that too is something he will "work on." Recently she very angrily canceled a scheduled visit to the White House.
  Upon his arrival back in Cuba from South Africa, President Raul Castro was tasked this past week with leading the two-day Cuban General Assembly session. When the photo on the left was taken, Raul stood up and, punctuating his remarks with fist pumping, shouted, "Long live Fidel! Long live Fidel's combative spirit! Long live the revolution!" The man in the white shirt is heir apparent Miguel Diaz-Canel. The two army generals behind them are Alvaro Lopez Miera and Leopoldo Cintras Frias. Raul Castro had chosen this moment to remind the Cuban General Assembly that his older brother, 87-year-old Fidel Castro, will always remain the "Heart and the soul of sovereign Cuba!"
   Latin America's two richest nations -- Chile and Brazil -- now have female Presidents -- Michelle Bachelet and Dilma Rousseff -- that are dear friends of Cuba and sharp critics of America's imperialist past. At one point in their young lives both of these remarkable women were imprisoned and tortured by brutal U.S.-backed military dictatorships in their countries. The redolent and magnificent democratic elections that have replaced those U.S.-backed dictatorships now resound throughout Latin America, as personified by Presidents Bachelet and Rousseff! President Rousseff, Latin America's economic superpower, has lavished economic assistance on Cuba. President Bachelet, whose nation has by far the highest per capita income in Latin America, is sharply critical of the past U. S. domination of Cuba and the "present effort to keep Cubans in the stone-age."
  This is still a common scene in Cuba -- a farmer using oxen to plow his field. Presidents Rousseff and Bachelet -- and most of the rest of the world -- blame the 51-year-old U. S. embargo of Cuba, an embargo largely written, mandated, and maintained by a handful of Cuban-exile extremists that, for two generations, have sought political and economic power in the U. S. while seeking revenge against their ouster by the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Presidents Rousseff and Bachelet are outraged that the U. S. embargo punishes other nations for dealing with Cuba, "with imperialist fines and other abominations" according to President Rousseff. President Bachelet says, "The resilience of the Cuban people, and not just their leaders, to U. S. and exile belligerence is what the rest of the world, outside the United States, is now respecting."
    The resilience of this young Cuban woman is what President Bachelet meant. This young lady in Havana -- Photo courtesy AP/Ramon Espinosa -- has survived on the island long enough to take advantage of Cuba's new entrepreneurial rules. She opened a food stand and it is thriving, as indicated this week by the lines of Cubans and tourists who were anxious to buy her speacialty -- empanados. "The resilience of the Cuban people, not just their leaders," is in stark contrast to a handful of two generations of exiles who who have depended on the power and might of the United States to exact their revenge against what is still the Cuban Revolution's desire for sovereignty.
      This AP/Ramon Espinosa photo taken this week shows a Cuban bride-to-be and her flower girl being driven to her wedding in style -- in an old but exquisitely maintained convertible! Those of us who have been to Cuba have seen scenes like this that attest to the Cuban spirit and resilience. Most Americans are prohibited from visiting one place on this planet -- Cuba. That un-democratic law sates the appetite of a few Cuban exiles but incurs the wrath of democracy lovers around the world who believe Americans should have the freedom to judge the island for themselves as opposed to being told how to judge it. Cuba being the one place in the world most Americans cannot visit is viewed as yet another price Americans pay for America's Cuban policy being set by a few revengeful Cuban exiles who, two generations ago, fled the Cuban Revolution.
  Speaking of cars, Reuters used this photo this week to point out that Cubans and tourists will soon be seeing much newer cars on the island. Cubans can now buy and sell either new or used cars. American dealers, of course, won't benefit but car dealers in other nations will. Sarah Rainsford of the BBC says about 60,000 American cars from the 1950s still operate in Cuba along with Soviet-made Ladas and Moskvich cars but "mint-condition Cadillacs, Chryslers, and Oldsmobile from the 1950s" remain the crown jewels. Now more modern autos, vans, trucks, and motocycles will gradually emerge on the island. China, especially, is primed to take advantage.
    AP photos from Cuba often say a thousand words or more about what is happening on the island. However, for topical and unbiased articles from Cuba one has to depend on major international sources, such as the BBC or Reuters. For example, on Sunday {Dec. 22-2013} Sarah Rainsford and London's BBC used this handshake photo in a major article that revealed the message President Castro conveyed to President Obama: "our two countries should be civilized with each other for everyone's benefit." Unlike much of the U. S. media, Sarah Rainsford and the BBC are not obligated to report only unflattering, Cuban-exile promoted details about Cuba. The "handshake" is an example. Raul, by the way, spoke to President Obama in English although both he and his brother do not like to speak English in public situations because of their nationalistic beliefs. But President Obama does not speak Spanish.
        On Sunday, Dec. 22-2013 Sarah Rainsford and the BBC reported that President Castro, at the Cuban General Assembly session, also explained to both "the assembly and to heir apparent Miguel Diaz-Canel" that "Cuba and the United States must begin to act civilized toward each other for the benefit of the majority, not a select few." According to the BBC, Castro said to the legislators and to Diaz-Canel: "We do not ask the United States to change its political and social system, nor do we agree to negotiate ours. If we really want to make progress in bilateral relations, we have to learn to respect each other's differences and get used to living peacefully with them. Otherwise, no. We are ready for another 55 years like the last." It is obvious that the 82-year-old Raul and the 87-year-old Fidel have chosen Miguel Diaz-Canel to continue, at all costs, Cuba's sovereign path as outlined by the revolution. And, just as interesting, Raul reminded the Cuban legislators and Diaz-Canel that it is Fidel's imprint and Fidel's legacy that will guide Revolutionary Cuba in the future.
  So soon, the 53-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel will be speaking for Cuba. In the meantime, he is usually seen sitting next to President Raul Castro or riding his motorcycle in remote areas around the island reminding Cubans he wants them to be "polemical." In other words, he wants them to voice their objections to their government and then gauge governmental reaction. In that vein, Granma, the state newspaper, has begun publishing anti-government Letters-to-the-Editor. Those letters quickly revealed a hatred of the two-peso monetary system that favored those with access to dollars. Then -- WOW! -- Cuba, quickly reacting to all those letters, announced it will go back to a one-peso system.   
     And, oh yes! Take note of the young man walking directly behind Raul Castro as the Cuban President walked to the podium to conclude the two-day General Assembly session this week. The young man is Guillermo Rodriguez Castro. He is Raul's grandson, personal assistant and, some say, his primary bodyguard. Guillermo, by the way, has no political ambitions and both Castro brothers, Raul and Fidel, do not want a Cuban monarchy. Thus, the next leader of Cuba will certainly not be a Castro. This is in keeping with a promise long espoused by Fidel even as he maintained that his loyal brother Raul would succeed him.
    This photo shows the Castro brothers in 1959 in the very early days of Revolutionary Cuba. Raul was in his 20s, Fidel in his 30s. They were in their primes. They are now deep into their 80s. Time marches on. Soon, it will be their legacies, not them, that will influence whatever lies in Cuba's future. This month when he was visited by the Franco-Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel said: "When Raul and I are gone it will be up to a younger generation of real Cubans, not Cubans propped up by a foreign power, to keep this island sovereign. That will be my everlasting hope."
   In 1959 Celia Sanchez, the most important Cuban revolutionary, was also in her prime. It was that year when she first laid down the most amazing proclamation related to Revolutionary Cuba: "The Batistianos will never regain control of Cuba as long as I live or as long as Fidel lives." No one believed her then because the ousted leaders of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship had quickly regrouped in South Florida and still had the unmatched power of the United States behind their efforts to recapture Cuba. But despite all that, and with the dawn of 2014 just over the horizon, everyone believes her now. Undoubtedly, if she were alive today, Celia would be over-joyed that Fidel has reached age 87 and, of course, that the Batistianos have not, after all these many decades, "regained control of Cuba."
   The child-loving Celia Sanchez's outrage about the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship reached a pivotal crescendo when she learned that young Cuban boys like William Soler were being murdered as warnings for Cubans not to resist the dictators. That revelation inspired Celia to become the most daring and the most effective anti-Batista urban recruiter, as best depicted by respected Cuban historian Pedro Alvarez Tabio. But it was when Celia learned that young Cuban peasant girls like Maria Ochoa were being kidnapped to be used in Mafia-run hotel/casinos to lure rich foreign pedophiles that Celia was transformed into the greatest female guerrilla fighter in history, all 99 pounds of her! Therefore, it would not be incorrect to conclude that the fate of 10-year-old Maria Ochoa was the biggest mistake Batista, the Mafia, and the United States ever made on the island of Cuba.
    Lest it be forgot, it was brave Cuban mothers like these who took to the streets to protest the murders of their children that started the Cuban Revolution, not macho men like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Beyond doubt, the powerful Batista dictatorship backed by the powerful Mafia and the powerful United States could never have been overthrown except for these outraged women. If that historic fact doesn't correlate with your understanding of the Cuban Revolution, then it is because much of the American history concerning those years has been written quite conveniently by rather biased and revengeful Cuban exiles.
The banner above says: "Cease the assassinations of our sons and daughters. Cuban mothers."
  Since the overthrow of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship in Cuba in January of 1959, Cuban exiles have primarily dictated the narrative in the United States regarding anything and everything Cuban. That narrative has convinced many Americans that the Castro rule of Cuba since 1959 has been possible only because the Castro brothers have eliminated, incarcerated or otherwise done away with all opposition. That's not exactly true. In February of 1959 rebel heroine Celia Sanchez mandated a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on each and every block. To this day those committees have been the primary Defense of the Revolution. The REUTERS/Enrique de la Oso photo {above-right} was taken on December 10, 2013. It reflects a common event in Cuba this month and every month since 1959. The pro-Castro marchers above were hastily organized CDR members shouting down an anti-Castro march by the Ladies in White. The lady in the orange blouse holding the Fidel Castro poster is shouting, "No one is paying us a peso! How many dollars are you ladies being paid by the CIA?" Most anti-Castro demonstrations in Cuba to this day are met with counter pro-government demonstrators. Whatever the percentage of anti-Castro Cubans, there are many more who are anti-foreign domination. The Castro brothers are defined as local domination. This is significant on an island in which a long line of its heroes -- such as Antonio Maceo and Jose Marti -- died on battlefields fighting foreign domination. Also, the marchers above acutely remember the aforementioned anti-Batista marchers that ignited the successful anti-foreign-domination Cuban Revolution. To ignore the above two photos is to ignore reality.
   Before macho men like the Castro brothers, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Che Guevara ever set foot on Sierra Maestra battlegrounds, Celia's recruitment of rebels and supplies and even her anti-Batista war was well underway. Fidel Castro's lifelong worship of Celia began during 1953-1955 when he was in a Batista prison and heard about Celia's exploits fighting, recruiting, and organizing the long-shot rebel movement. As a guerrilla fighter, as a rebel and armaments recruiter, and as a strategist, Celia Sanchez was the soul of the Cuban Revolution. Before Fidel had joined her in the Sierra Maestra, Batista had already put a $75,000 bounty on her head.
    Even after the macho men arrived in the Sierra Maestra, Celia Sanchez remained the most important anti-Batista strategist. A prime reason for that, of course, was because her idolater, Fidel Castro, made sure Celia's decisions and opinions remained supreme. If any rebels, including Camilo and Che, objected to that feminine prominence, they were put in their places as important but secondary rebels. From the moment Fidel laid eyes on Celia in the Sierra Maestra in the closing days of 1956, he has worshiped her...and he will till the day he dies. Celia was responsible for the success of the Cuban Revolution and, speaking topically, she is, for sure, responsible for the fact that the Batistianos have not "regained control of Cuba."
 In Revolutionary Cuba, Fidel -- who usually spent his nights at Celia's modest 11th Street apartment in Havana -- could relax to his heart's content because Celia, who never relaxed, was the decision-maker. His job was to support her, which he unfailingly did. His seminal U. S. biographer, Georgie Anne Geyer, correctly stated that Celia "over-ruled Fidel" whenever and wherever she chose. Cuban insider Roberto Salas, in his book, stated: "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones." Pedro Alvarez Tabio, the Cuban historian, cogently wrote: "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."  
    This is one of the last images of Celia before she died of cancer at age 59 on January 11, 1980. Fidel Castro and others who would know say she was the most important figure in Cuba's Revolutionary War and in Revolutionary Cuba. The Cuba exiles who have mostly written the self-serving history of the Cuban Revolution claim the child-loving doctor's daughter from Media Luna was a non-factor. Why? Well, I believe the answer is...Fidel is a lot easier to demonize and vilify than Celia. But she covered and honed the arc and the epicenter of Fidel's life. His trepidations, as both Salas and Tabio point out, were mollified by her. Motivated by the fates of children like Maria Ochoa and William Soler, she was the ravenous rebel that doomed Batista.
   In 1955 Marta Rojas {left} was an enterprising young journalist in Havana. She was trusted by Dictator Fulgencio Batista who thought she was, uh, kinda pretty. But Marta was a lot of things, including an anti-Batista rebel. She had frequent access to the imprisoned Fidel. When she exited his cell she would always have, in her bra, notes Fidel had written to his rebel idol, Celia Sanchez. In a similar manner, Marta transported notes from Celia to Fidel. After the triumph of the revolution, Marta became the island's top journalist and author. One of her very best books -- "Tania: The Unforgettable Guerrilla" -- was first published in America by Random House.
    Now Marta {Photo courtesy: Tracey Eatonwould easily qualify as the world's greatest expert on Celia Sanchez, Fidel Castro, and the Cuban Revolution. She is also an internationally acclaimed journalist, author, and historian. In a 2005 email Marta told me: "Since Celia Sanchez died of cancer in 1980, Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he precisely believes Celia would want him to rule it." Considering Marta's insight as a prime Cuban insider, and the fact that Fidel's brother Raul and the soon-to-be post-Castro leader of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel are both Fidel disciples, it seems that Celia's influence on the island will extend from the 1950s till well into the future, as it should. If you want to know about Celia Sanchez, Fidel Castro or the Cuban Revolution, check with Marta Rojas on the island of Cuba. She is much more informative and a lot less biased than the Cuban exiles and their acolytes.
     To comprehend the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba, one would need to study this photo. It was taken by the incomparable war photographer Dickey Chapelle and is copyrighted in her native state by the Wisconsin Historical Society. It shows the two immeasurably important female guerrilla fighters -- Celia Sanchez, the studious one, and Vilma Espin, the gay one. This was during a lull in the fighting in the Sierra Maestra. By the time this photo was taken, Fidel Castro's lifelong worship of Celia was already deeply embedded; and Raul Castro had already proposed to Vilma. Later, in Revolutionary Cuba, these two women would be the two prime decision-makers in all areas except the direct military defense of the island. If you have been told differently, you have been conveniently misinformed.
   In fact, these three women -- left to right: Vilma Espin, Celia Sanchez, and Haydee Santamaria -- were more vital as a trio to the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba than any three men. That includes the Castro brothers, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Che Guevara. Fidel Castro, to his dying day, will vouch for that statement. These three women were do-or-die guerrilla fighters and later Cuba was theirs to shape and to form. Haydee, after the revolutionary victory, mostly devoted her energy to the literary organization she founded. Celia and Vilma were much more brash as decision-makers and the Castro brothers weren't about to over-rule them.
   This photo shows the rebels regrouping and winding down in camp after a guerrilla attack against a Batista unit. That's Vilma standing in the middle of the photo. She always had a smile on her face. That's Haydee sitting on the stump and Celia sitting on the ground. Batista had a lot more soldiers and much more powerful armaments but his forces never matched the motivation of these women. That feminine motivation began with the aforemention street protests by mothers whose sons and daughters had been killed. These three women merely fanned the flames of those protests.

  This photo shows Vilma Espin and Raul Castro being driven in a stolen jeep to attack a Batista unit in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra. Vilma was always smiling -- before, during, and after battles. At night around campfires she sang and played the guitar. All the rebels fell madly in love with her. Raul married her within days in 1959 after the improbable revolutionary victory. 
    In Revolutionary Cuba Fidel anointed Raul's wife Vilma as "Cuba's First Lady" after the exceptionally modest and private Celia declined the offer. At sessions like the one depicted in this photo Fidel would say a few words and then introduce "our First Lady." Vilma dutifully fulfilled that role from 1959 till she died of cancer in 2007, the mother of Raul Castro's four children.
   But in Revolutionary Cuba Vilma Espin was much more than just Cuba's First Lady and the wife of Raul Castro. In reaction to what she termed the Batista dictatorship's "damnable" treatment of the island's women and children, Vilma founded the Federation of Cuba Women. From 1959 till she died in 2007, anyone who mistreated women or children on the island answered to her. And while she lived, no women took to the streets to protest the "asesinatos de nuestros hijos" {"the murders of our boys and girls."}. And because of Vilma's Federation of Cuban Women, which was strongly endorsed by Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria, beginning in 1959 all women and children on the island were guaranteed food, shelter, free health care for life, and free educations through college. As she was dying of cancer, on a last visit to her beloved Santiago de Cuba, Vilma said, "The U. S. embargo, the exile attempts to recapture the island...these things have hurt us. Yet, we have done so much too. I am very proud of us. I am proud of Vilma Espin Castro."
Vilma Espin: Cuba's First Lady.
Vilma Espin
April 7, 1930 - June 18, 2007
Celia Sanchez: guerrilla fighter, decision-maker.
Celia Sanchez
May 9, 1920 - January 11, 1980
   Lastly, the photo on the left captured an important ongoing event in Cuba this past week. It shows the three FARC leaders holding a news conference. Cuba is receiving plaudits, from the UN and even from the U. S., for trying to broker a peace in Colombia where for decades thousands have died in warfare between FARC guerrillas and the U.S.-backed Colombian army. The two men in the photo are top FARC commanders. So, who is the lady? Her name is Laura Villa. She has been such a renowned guerrilla fighter that now she is the head of all the guerrilla operations.
        This photo shows President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela visiting Fidel Castro Saturday, December 21, 2013. Maduro said he and his wife Cilia Flores -- the second most powerful person in Venezuela -- made an unscheduled visit to Havana to discuss "international and regional issues" with "the Commander."

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