Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cuba: A Past & A Present

The Great Compensation Debate
Essay posted: Monday, March 30th, 2015
    This photo was provided to the AP by Carolyn Chester of Omaha, Nebraska. It shows a rich American, her father Edmund Chester, on the left, during a friendly exchange in 1939 with his dear friend, Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. An American journalist, Chester had become associated with Batista during the first Batista dictatorship, which began in 1933. After a lucrative decade as Cuba's dictator, Batista was content to live the life of a very rich man, mostly in South Florida. But Batista's friend there, Mafia kingpin Meyer Lansky, wanted "the Mob to own its own country." Batista obliged and in 1952 returned as Cuba's dictator with Lansky the co-dictator. Batista's old friends, such as Edmund Chester, took notice. Chester soon owned radio stations all over the island and other luxurious toys such as an 80-acre farm. Chester also invested $250,000 {1950s money} in A T & T stock in Cuba. Batista, Lansky, and Americans like Mr. Chester were seemingly too busy buying up Cuba and building such things as plush new hotel-casinos that they didn't fully appreciate the rebel revolt on the eastern end of the island even as it began to fight its way westward by the beginning of 1958. Batista's first reaction to the rebel affront was sheer brutality against the peasants, including the children. He thought such brutality would discourage any resistance. The brutality, especially against children, embarrassed Batista's main supporter, the U. S. government. That finally induced Washington to stop arming Batista's army. In the last week of 1958 the rebels captured the railroad hub of Santa Clara, the signal for Batista, Lansky, and other leaders of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship to head to their getaway boats, ships, and airplanes. The triumphant rebels turned out to be serious about ending the one-sided hedonism on the island. By daylight on January 1, 1959, the lush casinos were being destroyed. Shortly, the maligned peasants were being housed in the luxurious mansions left behind by the Batistianos, Mafiosi, and Americans. And soon, much property, which the rebels considered ill-gotten, was nationalized. The rich Batistianos and Mafiosi, having shipped huge sums of money off the island, fared well as they regrouped in places like the Mafia havens of South Florida and Union City, New Jersey. Rich American businessmen booted out of Cuba, like Edmund Chester, fared less well and to this day they, or their heirs, are still trying to be compensated for their Cuban losses.
       For example, this AP/Nati Harnik photo shows Edmund Chester's daughter Carolyn this year in her Omaha home. She is holding up "Cuban Telephone Company" stock certificates that were a part of her father's huge investment in Batista-era A T & T stock. Carolyn, like many other heirs in America, believes she should recoup her father's investment. In fact, since 1959 and especially since the 1980s, Cuban-Americans have had iron grips on both America's Cuban policy and on Cuban-related laws mandated by the U. S. Congress. In that milieu, in 1996 the U. S. Congress used the Helms-Burton Law to mandate that Cuba must compensate people like Carolyn before the U. S. government can end or ease the embargo against Cuba. As the month of April dawns in the year 2015, President Barack Obama is trying to use Executive Privilege to compete with Helms-Burton but in all likelihood the current Batistiano-controlled U. S. Congress will prevail because the Congress is much more malleable {much more easily purchased}.
         From 1952 till 1959 the majority Cuban peasants lived in abject poverty while the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship helped the Batistianos, the Mafiosi, and U. S. businessmen use the island as a piggy-bank.
         The poverty of the majority peasants in Cuba during the Batista dictatorship will not likely factor into any U. S. discussions of dual compensation because, as far as Americans have been told, photos like this were not commonplace in Batista's Cuba. But yes, in Batista's Cuba this was an ignored but typical scene.
     Of course, poverty for the many amid extreme wealth for a few was only a secondary cause for the Cuban Revolution. The primary cause were brave marches like these by Cuban mothers protesting the murders of their children in Batista's Cuba. This photo explains why and how the female-fueled Cuban Revolution ousted Batista. As discussions about compensating Americans and Cuban-Americans heats up in 2015, should compensation, or at least an apology, for mothers like these at least be a consideration?
       Throughout Cuba and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America to this day, relatives and friends of the victims of Cubana Flight 455 vividly remember and deeply mourn the loss of all 73 innocent souls on that civilian airplane bombed out of the sky by a terrorist bomb, one of many unpunished terrorist acts against innocent Cubans. With former CIA operative Posada Carriles to this day a heralded citizen of Miami, many Caribbeans and Latin Americans believe it is ironic that the U. S., to appease the anti-Castro extremists, is the only nation in the world that believes Cuba should be on the U. S. Sponsor of Terrorism list. And those same people wonder if all the talk about compensation for Americans will also include some talk of compensation for the families of the victims depicted above? {Two dozen aboard Cubana Flight 455 were young Cuban athletes returning to the island after winning gold medals in the Central American Championships in Caracas. Most of the doomed young Cubans aboard Cubana Flight 455 were fencers.}
         This Cuban girl had been waiting with her mother at Jose Marti Airport in Havana for the return of her teenage brother on Cubana Flight 455. Is it too late for this girl, now a woman, to be compensated?
A Cuban remembering Cubana Flight 455.
        While the fate of Cubana Flight 455 remains an integral part of Cuba's and America's past, this Torsten Maiwald photo is more recent. This is a Cubana airliner preparing to land at Toronto's Pearson Airport.
         The U. S. embargo against Cuba has been in effect since 1962, severely harming the lives of everyday Cubans decade after decade. As indicated yearly by a vote in the United Nations, the rest of the countries around the world believe the embargo is unjustified and merely sates the insatiable revenge motive of a handful of Cuban-Americans. And if that is not so, how can the U. S. account for the yearly UN vote?  
By the way............. 
........this is the yellow hacienda in Biran, Cuba, where Fidel Castro was born  in 1926.
Today Biran is a bucolic little Cuban town 500 miles east of Havana.
       This is Fidel Castro on his last visit to his childhood home in Biran, Cuba. He was surprised to notice that a photo of him as a youth still hung on a wall. There are no monuments or statues in Cuba honoring Fidel Castro and he has never allowed his childhood home to become a shrine. His father, Angel, was a multi-millionaire farmer. But the Castro property was nationalized by Fidel, much to the chagrin of his mother Lina. When Fidel sent his older brother Ramon to tell Lina that she would have to leave because her home-place was going to be flooded to help peasant farmers, Lina fetched her .22-caliber rifle and chased Ramon off the property. Then Lina summoned Celia Sanchez, knowing Celia could over-rule Fidel, which she did as Lina requested. Greed has never been one of Fidel Castro's faults. At age 88 today, he is living out his life in a modest home in Havana; most of his severest critics, through two generations, have lived in mansions. Till his revolutionary soul-mate Celia Sanchez died in 1980, Fidel's primary home was her small apartment at Calle 11 {11th Street} in the Vedado section of Havana. Celia and Fidel also maintained an office-suite in the Habana Libre Hotel but, after repeated assassination attempts, his security detail always preferred to have him at the more secure compound located at 166 Street in the Siboney area. 
Lina Castro, Fidel's mother.
Lina Castro, shown here with her rifle and pistol, was a tough cookie.
Angel Castro, Fidel's rich father.
       This photo was taken on January 8th, 1959. Fidel Castro was making his first speech in Havana after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution when a white dove landed on his left shoulder. The dove was one of several released to highlight the speech. Camilo Cienfuegos had requested the doves. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution was sealed on January 1st, 1959 when the leaders of the Batista dictatorship fled a rebel army, led by Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara, that was charging toward Havana after capturing the railroad hub of Santa Clara. Fidel and his soul-mate Celia Sanchez had taken almost a week on a dilatory trek from Santiago de Cuba on the island's eastern tip to reach the capital city of Havana in western Cuba, setting the stage for the January 8th, 1959 speech by Fidel in Havana that spotlighted the white dove. 
       This photo was taken on January 8th, 1989. It shows Fidel Castro making a speech on the 30th anniversary of his first Havana speech in 1959. In honor of the white dove that landed on Fidel's left shoulder in 1959, the white dove in this photo thirty years later was admittedly placed on Fidel's right shoulder.  It's not known how long it stayed there but it obviously was long enough for the photo to be taken. The omen of the original white dove has been debated since 1959 by pro-and-con Castro zealots. Earlier, till reminded by a reader, I had gotten the dove on his right shoulder in 1989 confused with the dove on his left shoulder in 1959. A sharp reader cleared up my lugubrious confusion. {see comments}
       This is Fidel Castro in January of 1959 when Edward R. Murrow introduced him to America as the new leader of Cuba. A 3 minute and 55 second excerpt {aboveof that interview is available on YouTube.
         In 1959 when he interviewed Fidel Castro on his "Person to Person" program, Edward R. Murrow was America's top journalist. He asked Fidel, "Will you now cut your beard off? Fidel replied with these exact words: "When we fulfill our promise of good government, I will cut my beard." Mr. Murrow was taken aback by that answer. More than 56 years later, cynics will note that, to this day, Fidel still has not cut his beard.
The bearded Fidel Castro, at age 88 in 2015 -- moody and contemplative.
An historic fact from 1962.

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