WOW, Cuba Is Still Standing!

As Post-Castro, Post-Obama Looms
         As revolutionary legend Fidel Castro quietly heads toward his 90th birthday on August 13th, the world monitors and analyzes his heath with each updated photo taken by his son Alex Castro and distributed internationally. The informative photos, also confirming to the world he's still alive, become available when world-renown celebrities visit the Castro home in Havana. This is the last such photo. It was taken Saturday, February 13th, 2016, on the occasion of Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill's 4-day visit to Cuba. In 2001 Fidel had authorized the building of a Russian Orthodox Church in Old Havana.
Patriarch Karill gifting Fidel Castro February 13th, 2016, in Havana.
         Pope Francis flew from Rome to Havana to make a truly historic meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the first time in a thousand years a pope had met with a Russian Orthodox Church leader. Yes, a thousand years!
         On Friday -- February 12th, 2016 -- in Havana, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill signed a truly important agreement {above}. The agreement called on world leaders to prevent Christians in the Middle East from "being completely exterminated" and to help the millions of war-ravaged refugees in those regions.
       Last summer Pope Francis, a native of Argentina and the first Latin American pope, fulfilled "a long-time goal" by visiting Fidel in his Havana home. Pope Francis by then had played a gargantuan behind-the-scenes role in persuading U. S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to begin the process of normalizing relations between the two countries. Both Presidents responded positively.
      President Obama, now in the 8th and final year of his two-term Presidency, hopes also to personally meet the soon-to-be 90-year-old Fidel Castro. If it doesn't happen as President, Mr. Obama will target 2017.
        Presidents Castro and Obama have carried through on this handshake in Panama that sealed their agreement to try to normalize relations. But the operative word remains try because the vast, lucrative and powerful Castro Cottage Industry in the U. S. will most likely blunt the realization of all magnanimous Cuban overtures. Yet, the Pope, Castro and Obama have already accomplished much despite the iron-grip the dysfunctional, Batistiano-loving U. S. Congress has on U.S.-Cuban relations, including its embargo that has existed in defiance of world opinion since 1962. For example, for the first time since 1961 the U. S. and Cuba have opened embassies in Washington and Havana, despite sharp opposition in Congress.
And guess what?
        Tomorrow -- Tuesday, February 16th, 2016 -- the U. S. and Cuba will sign an amazing agreement to expedite Obama-orchestrated travel and trade expansions between the two nations. It will replace just charter flights and permit a drastic number of daily commercial flights from the U. S. TO TEN CUBAN AIRPORTS. Matt Miller, head of American Airlines, said, "We're well positioned and look forward to the opportunity to begin scheduled service to Cuba." And so do numerous other American airline executives.
This AFP graphic denotes some of Obama's brave Cuban overtures.
          This AP photo shows U. S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade Rodrigo Malmierca in Havana in 2015. This meeting was such a ground-breaking success that this week -- February 17th & 18th, 2016 -- Mr. Malmierca will make his first trip to Washington to sign significant trade agreements between the two nations. Ms. Pritzker, a billionaire who showed abiding affection for the Cuban people when she visited the island, said, prior to her hosting Mr. Malmierca this week, "A prime desire of the Obama administration is to help and support the Cuban people." Ms. Pritzker is a true jewel.
    In the twilight of Fidel Castro's nine tumultuous decades on this earth, it is worth noting, I believe, that he has lived long enough to earn what the Guinness Book of World Records now officially recognizes as the person who has survived by far history's most assassination attempts...and long enough to view the ongoing attempts by his brother Raul and President Obama to normalize relations between the U. S. and Cuba. In addition to all that, he has a few other notable achievements, such as the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, as well as some notable failures. But through it all, he has steadfastly remained a sovereignty-loving Cuban in Cuba, not just a dissident hiding behind the skirts of the superpower United States. Perhaps that's why just in recent months, despite his age and his long recuperation from a drastic illness, a bevy of world leaders have visited him while others have been denied the privilege by his fawning wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, and their five sons. And now, in 2016 as President or in 2017 as former President, Barack Obama will likely ask Dalia for permission to visit Fidel in their Havana home, a proposed visit that the omnipotent Castro Cottage Industry in the U. S. is already weirdly exasperating about. 
But you know...
           ......Fidel Castro's long life has included amazing snapshots like this one. In 1996 he got a surprise visit from John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr., the handsome and beloved son of the President that had tried to assassinate Fidel in 1960 after inheriting from the Eisenhower administration the plans to recapture Cuba. This photo shows JFK Jr. introducing his friend and co-worker Inigo Thomas to Fidel. JFK Jr. made the trip to Havana to apologize for his father's "misguided and mis-informed Cuban ventures."
       In 1996 Fidel hosted JFK Jr. at dinner. This photo shows Fidel on the left sitting directly across from JFK Jr. as they talk. Fidel and millions of others were devastated in July of 1999 when JFK Jr., along with his wife and her sister, died in a plane crash.
        Because of what they inherited from the Eisenhower-Nixon administration in 1960, till 1963 the Kennedy brothers -- Attorney General Robert and President John -- tried mightily to kill Fidel Castro and, at the 1961 Bay of Pigs, they tried desperately to recapture Cuba. But the many failed assassination attempts and Fidel's gritty defense at the Bay of Pigs only served to add to his legend. But then...lo n' behold...by 1963 both Kennedy brothers were telling intimates -- JFK's Press Secretary Pierre Salinger and Robert's wife Ethel -- that their "biggest" regrets concerned their follow-up on the CIA's plans to kill Fidel and regain control of Cuba. JFK famously exploded one day with these words: "If I could, I would blow the CIA to smithereens!" Of course, he couldn't do that. But the Bay of Pigs debacle and other Cuban-related ventures made powerful enemies for both brothers, particularly from within the CIA and Cuban-exile communities as all historians know. Many of JFK's 1000 days in the White House were consumed by Cuban relations. He was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22-1963, preventing his reelection to a second presidential term. In 1968, as he was campaigning for President, Robert was also assassinated. As the above graphic indicates, the Kennedy legends are tightly intertwined with the Castro legend.
          The quotation above is the most famous one Fidel Castro ever made and, remember, in his prime he was famous for making 6-or-7-hour speeches without notes. This quotation was made on October 16, 1953. He was surrounded by Batista soldiers in a Batista courtroom. In a famed, brilliant and long soliloquy against Batista, Fidel concluded with the words, "Condemn me, it does not matter; history will absolve me." Then he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for leading the ill-fated attack against Batista's Moncada Army Barracks. The plan, of course, was to kill Fidel in prison just as many of the Moncada rebels had already been tortured and then murdered. But Fidel's high profile as the hope of the Cuban peasants, and his close monitoring by important people such as Herbert L. Matthews of the New York Times, kept Fidel alive until May of 1955 when he was released at the behest of the U. S., which was embarrassed by the publications of Batista's atrocities against Cuban women and children, resulting in well-publicized street marches. The freed Fidel well knew death squads would be on his trail. He moved from one safe house to another at the direction of the rebel leader he had never met, Celia Sanchez, and his lover Naty Revuelta. He left the island to recruit in Miami, New York City, and Mexico City before miraculously surviving a leaky old yacht, the Granma, and a shoreline ambush by Batista's tipped-off soldiers, but he managed to hook-up with Celia Sanchez's rebel unit in December-1957, and the world now knows what happened on Jan. 1-1959.
        And so, in his nine decades of life, Fidel Castro has seen a lot and he has done a lot. All of his closest associates, as well as his seminal American biographer Georgie Anne Geyer, are well aware that the saddest day of his long life was January 11, 1980. That was the day Celia Sanchez died of cancer at age 59. Through all his trials and tribulations, will history absolve him? Maybe, maybe not. But he knows Celia Sanchez absolved him. And, to Fidel Castro, that will always be what means the most to him.
      From January 1 till January 7, 1959, Fidel and Celia embarked on a dilatory trek from Cuba's eastern tip to take over the capital of Havana on the western tip. This photo was taken on January 4th, 1959, when they were in Cienfuegos, half-way there. Both were tired and drained as this photo clearly indicates. Fidel reacted to the crowd as the more anxious Celia tried to get back in their car. 
        In Revolutionary Cuba from 1959 till her death in 1980, and in the Cuban Revolution from 1953 till 1959, Celia Sanchez was the most important player. At least, insiders like Fidel Castro think so and other key insiders, like Marta Rojas, agree. However, in the U. S. since 1959 the vast Castro Cottage Industry has insisted that Fidel Castro was and is the most important player in the Cuban Revolution and in Revolutionary Cuba. Now, HOW in the world are those two appraisals so different? Or better yet, WHY are they so differentCould this possibly be the answer: The vilification of Fidel has been easy but vilifying Celia, the doctor's daughter, would be impossible.
Photo montage courtesy of: Sylvia Wylie Lindley via Richard Susskind.
Birds are beautiful.

This is a Trogon, Cuba's national bird.
The photo is courtesy of Laura Gooch.
This is a tiny Tody, found only in Cuba.
Photo is courtesy of Maureen Breakiron Evans.
      A pair of Cuban parrots. The photo is courtesy of Rich Wagner. As birders well know, Cuba is an absolute paradise for bird-watchers. The 2,800 square miles of the Zapata Peninsula, which includes the historic Bay of Pigs area near Trinidad, is a must visit for the world's most serious bird-watchers. And, yes, I have been there.

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