Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Very Special Cuban

She's Quite A Woman!!
{Updated for Monday, December 7th, 2015}
        Today -- December 7th -- is a reminder of the Day of Infamy for America back in 1941. A surprise Japanese attack ushered America into World War II. The graphic above depicts the U. S. ships sunk, damaged or destroyed. That day, 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were severely wounded. My Uncle Ritchie, a proud member of the U. S. Navy and the man I was named for, was at Pearl Harbor that day. 
Photo courtesy: Cita con Angeles
       This lady, in my opinion, is the most interesting person in Cuba today. See if you agree. Maria Antonia Puyol Bravo was born 88 years ago in Biran, Cuba. She spent most of her youth fishing, riding horses, and mingling with three lifelong friends -- Ramon, Fidel, and Raul Castro. She never married and has no children. Today Maria owns and works the El Alcazar ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra Mountains in southeastern Cuba. It's not just any ranch. In a book-length article about Florida billionaire John Parke Wright IV trying to revitalize the cattle industry in Cuba, Newsweek Magazine described Maria's pristine, 1500-acre ranch "One of the best cattle ranches in the Western Hemisphere." Not just Cuba, mind you, but THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE! El Alcazar means "the castle" or "the fortress" and it is both of those things thanks to Maria and, perhaps, thanks to her bond with the three Castro brothers -- 91-year-old Ramon, 89-year-old Fidel, and 84-year-old Raul. Maria told Newsweek she is not surprised the Castro brothers became the leaders of Cuba. She said, "Today they run all of Cuba the way they used to run Biran." At age 88, Maria still runs one of the BEST RANCHES IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE on 1500 pristine acres of gorgeous Cuban land. 

One of Maria's prized bulls at El Alcazar.
Some of Maria's prized cattle at El Alcazar.

One of Maria's prized horses at El Alcazar.
        This photo shows the Castro brothers in 1941 when Maria was growing up with them in Biran, Cuba. Fidel and Raul, of course, need no introduction but their reclusive older brother Ramon Castro is not nearly as well known.
         Ramon Castro, on the left above, is shown here with friend John Parke Wright IV, the billionaire from Naples, Florida. It was Mr. Wright who reminded Newsweek Magazine of Maria Puyol's exquisite El Alcazar ranch. Because of Ramon's age, his son Angel now often accompanies Mr. Wright in Cuba.
        Ramon turned 91 on October 14th; Fidel turned 89 on August 13th; and Raul turns 85 on June 3rd, 2016. Ramon is shown here again with his billionaire friend John Parke Wright IV of Tampa, Florida. 
      John Parke Wright IV is a billionaire legend in South Florida like friend Maria Antonia Puyol is a very wealthy legend in southeastern Cuba. Mr. Wright's imperial, intriguing relationship with Cuba, especially Ramon Castro, has made him a few enemies -- especially in Miami and the U. S. Congress. Newsweek asked him if he's worried about Congress's reaction to his current efforts to improve the cattle industry in Cuba. He replied brusquely, "If Congress...wants to throw me in jail, let them try." 
       John Parke Wright IV is a very interesting figure in the U.S.-Cuban equation. He is a 5th generation member of Tampa's Lykes family that owned thousands of acres in pre-revolutionary Cuba and still owns countless thousands of acres in the U. S. today. Mr. Wright says when he was a youth in Tampa his uncle told him, "If you behave we'll send you to Cuba to run the Lykes cattle ranch. If you are bad, we will send you to work at our steamship line in China." In 1959 the victorious Cuban Revolution nationalized the Lykeses' 15,000-acre Cuban ranch. Yet, Wright became Cuba's, Ramon's, and Maria's dear friend, apparently because he believed...and apparently still does...that the sheer brutality and thievery of the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s made a revolution...uh...necessary.
Fidel and Raul {kneelingas underdog rebels.
Fidel Castro when he was no longer the underdog.
        Fidel Castro, now 89, is unwell but still has an inquisitive mind and loves to read biographies. Is this one about President Barack Obama? Uh, yes!
Taylor J. Wofford, Newsweek
           The excellent and balanced Newsweek article on Dec. 2-2015 written by Taylor J. Wofford was entitled: "Cows, Capitalism and the Future of Cuba." It focused on Florida billionaire John Parke Wright IV and his continuing efforts to improve the cattle industry in Cuba. It also introduced Americans to a Cuban legend, 88-year-old cattle rancher Maria Antonia Puyol. But Mr. Wofford also expertly updated Cuba's ongoing struggle to feed its people, correctly pointing out that a combination of the U. S. embargo and flaws in its Socialist system have left 11.2 million Cubans struggling today. Wofford referenced the "thaw" in U.S.-Cuban relations being engineered by President Obama. He wrote: "Most Cubans welcome this development but few want things to go back how they were before the revolution, when Cuba was a de facto colony of Washington and Havana a decadent playpen for wealthy gringos." That sentence showed guts and insight about Cuba that the mainstream U. S. media doesn't have the courage to mention. The "decadent playpen for wealthy gringos" in pre-revolutionary Cuba was run by the top echelon of the Mafia -- Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Santo Trafficante, etc. A democracy teaming with the Mafia seemed unseemly.
          From 1952 till the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictators were overthrown on January 1, 1959, Americans flocked to Cuba because, indeed, it was as Taylor J. Wofford described it -- "a decadent playpen for wealthy gringos." This photo shows A-list American movie stars Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck at a bar in Batista's Cuba when Havana superseded Las Vegas as the Mafia's top prize.
Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner honeymooned in Cuba.
     The interesting, nostalgic image above is courtesy of the Tampa Tribune. It shows a huge ship, the S.S. Florida, returning to Miami after one of its regular visits to Havana during the Batista dictatorship. In the 1950s the legal and indomitable sea and air traffic to Cuba massively fueled what Newsweek's Taylor Wofford this week called "the decadent playpen for wealthy gringos."  
      The photo on the right was used by the BBC to illustrate an article about Maria Antonia Puyol Bravo, the 88-year-old lifetime friend of the three Castro brothers. That's Maria showing the BBC one of her prized bulls on her El Alcazar ranch, which Newsweek the first week of Dec.-2015 called, "One of the best cattle ranches in the Western Hemisphere." How Maria Antonia Puyol and El Alcazar both survived and thrived in Batista's Cuba and Castro's Cuba makes for very, very interesting reading!!
     This is Olga Tanon, the superstar singer/entertainer from Puerto Rico. As a United States citizen from that efficacious United States Territory, Olga is shown here inviting Americans to visit and "understand" the Cuba that she knows...and loves. Olga understands that, despite the efforts of President Obama to deal with a U. S. Congress dictated to by America's lush Castro Industry, everyday Americans still cannot visit one place on this earth -- Cuba. Saturday -- December. 5th -- Olga gave a free concert in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second largest city and former capital on the southeastern tip of the island. On December 12th she'll be back to give a free concert in the capital city of Havana. Olga seems intent on making up to the Cubans for what the Castro Industry in the United States has done to them since 1959.
An emotional Cuban listening to Olga sing.

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