Cuba-China-USA: Small World

Neighbors Near and Far
{Updated: Tuesday, December 29th, 2015}
           An Air China Boeing 777 took off from Beijing this week, Sunday, and landed in Havana on Monday, December 28th. The flight took 19.5 hours with a stopover in Montreal for refueling. It was an historic flight, the first one between China and Cuba. It's also the first direct flight linking China and the Caribbean. China has the world's second largest economy and is the world's top source for tourists, mostly to Europe and Southeast Asia. But in the past year Chinese tourism has increased 27% to Cuba. The two countries have had political and cultural ties for decades. Now China is hoping that Cuba can serve as a gateway for more Chinese investments in the Caribbean and Latin America. In the jet and digital age, the world is intertwined and faraway China wants to be neighborly with the Caribbean and Latin America.
Photo courtesy: Chicago Tribune.
       Rahn Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago since 2011, was on a ten-day family vacation to Cuba when he got a dreaded phone call Christmas weekend: He was told that yet another police shooting had killed a 19-year-old college student who was brandishing a baseball bat and a 55-year-old mother of five who was a neighbor and happened to be in the home trying to help with a domestic dispute after the father called 911 saying his son was threatening him. Mr. Emanuel, President Obama's former Chief-of-Staff, needed the extended vacation in Cuba. Police shootings in Chicago, coupled with recurring gang violence, already had marred his tenure as the Mayor of Chicago, America's third largest city. His extended vacation in Cuba included his wife, Amy Rule, and their three children. They were accompanied to Cuba by a group of other families that regularly vacation with the Emanuels. When Mayor Emanuel left for Cuba, he was leaving behind demonstrations in Chicago and other cities demanding his resignation because of police shootings of black citizens, and this was compounded by the Chicago-to-Havana phone call that informed him of the latest two deaths. Cuba, as Mayor Emanuel discovered, is not all that far from Chicago.
        This photo, courtesy of Politico, shows Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reacting briskly and angrily earlier this month when he was being interviewed by Politico's Mike Allen. Mr. Emanuel was caught off guard when Allen asked him live on-air about his upcoming trip to Cuba, which the Mayor had confided privately to Allen prior to the interview. But he blasted Allen for revealing the news "to everybody." He wasn't apologetic about visiting Cuba but he merely wanted the vacation "to be private and peaceful."
     The distance from Key West {USAto Cuba is a mere 90 miles with the separation bridged by the Florida Straits. But geography is one thing, politics quite another. Columbus discovered both Cuba and the U. S. in 1492. The largest and most populated island in the Caribbean has never had a democratic government, unless you consider a few Spanish-friendly or American-friendly rulers that sometimes masqueraded as popularly elected Presidents. After the American Revolution loosened imperialist England's iron grip,  the United States became a world-class democracy in 1776. After the Cuban Revolution loosened America's iron grip on the first day of 1959, leading rebels Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro, contemplating democracy, made a 12-day trip to the U. S. in April of 1959 to explore a U.S.-approved democratic possibility {and that was the only reason for such a trip so soon after shedding their guerrilla uniforms}. Their rationale was simple: For the Cuban Revolution to be viable and meaningful, they would need to be on friendly terms with the economic and military colossus just off their northern shore. Fidel, instructed by Celia, intended to tell President Eisenhower that the U. S. could closely monitor Cuba's democratic elections in the fall of 1959, and that neither Fidel nor Che nor proxies for them would be up for election. {Celia would have supported vibrant young rebel commander Camilo Cienfuegos; he accompanied Celia and Fidel on the U. S. trip in April of 1959 but died in a coastal plane crash later that fall}. But that seminal mission on the 12-day visit, to ponder U.S.-brokered democracy on the island, unraveled quickly. The promised Fidel meeting with Eisenhower, a promise that predicated the trip, never happened. Celia negotiated the trip via phone calls to the U. S. State Department and the U. S. Society of Newspaper Editors, with both institutions assuring her that Fidel, then a revolutionary hero in both countries, could have the face-to-face meeting with President Eisenhower, the famed World War II general whom she admired. However, Vice President Richard Nixon's wing of the White House maneuvered the decent but malleable Eisenhower out of town. That's when Celia discovered that more than just 90 miles separated Revolutionary Cuba from America.
        In April of 1959 Vice President Richard Nixon was not yet known to Americans as "Tricky Dick." Yet, his face-to-face meeting with Fidel, so soon after the revolutionary victory over the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship, was the last thing Celia Sanchez wanted. She was aware that three powerful right-wingers in the Eisenhower administration were Revolutionary Cuba's primary enemies. They were: Vice President Nixon, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and CIA Director Allen Dulles. From her vantage point in Cuba, mostly as a guerrilla fighter in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra Mountains on the island's southeastern tip, Celia -- who had revolutionary contacts in Miami, Fort Benning, and Washington -- believed that Nixon and the Dulles brothers had led the Eisenhower administration astray, such as teaming with the Mafia in 1952 to support the Batista Dictatorship in Cuba and in 1953 beginning to overthrow popularly elected Latin American presidents to install U.S.-friendly dictators. So, rest assured, Celia would not have arranged for Fidel to travel to the U. S. in April of 1959 if she had known Nixon, not Eisenhower, would meet with the newly famous revolutionary hero. After the double-cross, Nixon -- instead of listening to what Fidel's thoughts at the time were -- boldly informed Fidel that the Cuban exiles and the U. S. would "be back in control of Cuba within a few weeks, a few months at the latest." The words still resonate today.

     Nixon's threat and warning hurled at Fidel mostly impacted the mindset of Celia Sanchez, whose decision-making exceeded Fidel's, with his approval, from 1957 till her death from cancer at age 59 in 1980. The photo on the right is copyrighted by Yale University and it shows Celia exiting a New York hotel room after a post-Nixon session with Fidel. Marta Rojas, the still-living legendary journalist/author who worked closely with Celia and Fidel during and after the revolution, had intimate discussions with Celia, both as a journalist and as an idol. That's how we know Celia's reaction to Nixon's threat, and hers was the reaction that counted: "Dammit to blazes, Fidel, we tried. Thank you for agreeing, finally, to come. If we discover that a man like Nixon has the power to represent the United States in its dealings with revolutionary Cuba, this trip was my mistake. We'll go home now. And just like in the Sierra Maestra, we have two choices -- surrender or die fighting. And for us, surrender will never be an option. We fought a guerrilla war that is now an upfront war."
    When Celia Sanchez led Fidel Castro back to Cuba after 12 days in the U. S. in April of 1959, she was, with his full blessing, the prime decision-maker in Revolutionary Cuba. Her first choice was to be friends with the United States. Nixon convinced her that was not possible. She knew, at the time, there were two competing world nuclear super-powers -- the U. S. and the Soviet Union. She decided to take advantage of that competition. If the nearby superpower was intent on recapturing Cuba, maybe the other superpower would believe it was in its interest to prevent it. The rest is history -- multiple assassination attempts against Fidel beginning in 1959, the Bay of Pigs attack in 1961; the closing of embassies in Havana and Washington in 1961; the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the embargo from 1962 till this very day, etc. All the while, somehow, Revolutionary Cuba survived.
      If you disagree with this synopsis that sets the stage for today's U.S.-Cuban relations, I believe it's because the Cuban narrative in the U. S. since 1959 has mostly been dictated by two generations of the Cubans and Mafiosi who fled the Cuban Revolution. They, for example, wouldn't want you to know of Celia Sanchez's significance...or Marta Rojas's...because they were female pillars of the revolution. That's Marta in the above photo introducing Fidel in December of 1959 for his very first televised address to the nation. As a top journalist in Batista's dictatorship, Marta worked in the urban underground on behalf of the rebellious Celia and Fidel. After the revolutionary triumph in 1959, Marta remained intimate with both Celia and Fidel. She also emerged as a brilliant, internationally renowned journalist, author, and historian.
     Marta Rojas today knows more about Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro than any living soul. Moreover, her encyclopedic revolutionary knowledge is internationally respected from a journalistic and historic standpoint. Her documented views and experiences collide majestically with the images of the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba as portrayed in the United States by the remnants of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship that fled the victorious revolution in January of 1959. But for the non-propagandized and un-intimidated, Marta Rojas's historic and insightful remembrances have stood the test of time.  
            In case you have trouble reading the exact quotation above by Celia Sanchez, here is precisely how she summed up the struggles of the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba against supposedly overwhelming odds: "We rebels...get far too much credit for winning the revolution. Our enemies deserve most of the credit, for being greedy cowards and idiots." Rather strong words, but she would know.
      In 1973, in the 14th year of Revolutionary Cuba's survival, the famously gregarious Fidel Castro also uttered a pertinent and prescient quote related to the antagonistic David vs. Goliath relations between the U. S. and Cuba. As you can see above, in 1973 Fidel said: "The US will come to talk to us when they have a black president and the world has a Latin American Pope." Wow!! He said that in 1973!!
       Lo 'n behold!! In March of 2015, America's FIRST black President, Barack Obama, met at the Vatican in Rome with the world's FIRST Latin American Pope, Pope Francis from Argentina. And...lo 'n behold!!!!...the Latin American Pope and the black President discussed normalizing relations with Cuba as a top priority for both men.
 Pope Francis in 2015 visited the 89-year-old Fidel in his Havana home.
In April of 2015 President Obama actually shook hands with President Raul Castro.
         After that ground-breaking, earth-shaking handshake in Panama, Presidents Castro and Obama have continued talking, both in person and on the phone. Of the last eleven U. S. presidents, Mr. Obama is the only one to display such guts. And most Cubans, most Americans, and most citizens of the world genuinely appreciate his courage, WHICH WILL BE ENGRAVED FOR ETERNITY ON HIS PRESIDENTIAL LEGACY.
Celia in Revolutionary Cuba and Celia in the Cuban Revolution.
Because of her, the revolution lives on in Cuba.
      Of course, in these closing days of 2015, U.S.-Cuban relations are not nearly as rosy as the cheeks of this little Cuban girl. The embargo remains, as do other nefarious aspects mandated by a Batistiano-dictated U. S. Congress. But, thanks to Obama, little Cuban girls on the island have a brighter future. That would please Celia Sanchez. She detested Richard Nixon. She would like Barack Obama. She fought a revolution to brighten the futures of little Cuban girls on the island...like this one.
       Or this one. Famed Cuban photographer Alberto Korda took this photo of the little Cuban girl lovingly clutching a block of wood, pretending it was a doll. Alberto Korda and millions of other caring people believed this little girl deserved a real doll.
     Penny Pritzker is a caring person. An American billionaire, she is President Obama's Secretary of Commerce. This photo is courtesy of Ramon Espinosa/AP. It shows Secretary Pritzker, in the left-front, in Cuba back in October. She went out of her way to show Cuban children that, as an American, she cared about them.
Celia Sanchez, the child-loving doctor's daughter.
         These Cuban schoolgirls were on hand to celebrate Celia Sanchez's birthday, which was May 9th. Celia's revolutionary fervor was based on a simple belief that Cuban children were more important than dictators, politicians, or greedy business moguls. Of course, there were many who disagreed with her, then and now.
           As the pivotal year of 2015 dwindles down to a few days, Cubans who have lived under the yoke of the U. S. embargo since 1962 have hope thanks to good people like President Barack Obama and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker resisting dictates of a recalcitrant U. S. Congress. This photo, courtesy of Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images, perhaps serves as a metaphor for the upcoming year of 2016. From a balcony that shows side-by-side U. S. and Cuban flags, this Cuban offers a thumbs up to the New Year.
         Yesterday -- Monday-Dec. 28 -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel continued his extended 10-day family vacation to Cuba even as demonstrators back home called for his ouster after even more controversial police murders in his city. It's a reminder that all major cities...Chicago, Havana, etc....have problems.
         Monday, Mayor Emanuel's spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn, said that he will return to Chicago Tuesday, Dec. 29th, and cut short his family vacation in Cuba. She said, "He will continue the ongoing work of restoring accountability and trust in the Chicago Police Department." He had planned a ten-day stay in Cuba.

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