Fidel's Last Journey

Evokes memories of Celia Sanchez!!
Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins.
      At this very moment, Cuba's revolutionary icon Fidel Castro is taking his very last journey after 90 years on this earth, and most of those days he was making daily headlines that reached to the United States and even around the world. These first three photos are courtesy of Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France Press/Getty Images. They show a caravan of motor vehicles currently making the long, laborious 600-mile trek from Havana on the western tip of Cuba to Santiago de Cuba on the eastern tip of the alligator-shaped island. The vehicle above is pulling a trailer that contains a urn that has the cremated ashes of Fidel Castro, taking them back to the region where he was born. It is also the region where the revolution that will always be synonymous with his name was launched and mostly fought to rid the island of the vile U.S.-backed and Mafia-backed Batista dictatorship. When I saw NBC-TV video of the above caravan, it brought tears to my eyes. I say that unapologetically and totally unafraid although I know enough about the Cuban Revolution to know that both first and second generation Batistiano exiles on U. S. soil are still very dangerous, and murderously so. Having said that, I should add that the tears were for Celia Sanchez, the heroine of the Cuban Revolution and, in fact, its most important player, just ahead of her soulmate -- Fidel Castro. I consider myself a history buff and the historic figure I most love and admire is Celia Sanchez. And that's why the NBC video brought unashamed and unafraid tears to my eyes. The caravan now making the trek from Havana to Santiago is eerily reminiscent of the caravan that carried Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro from Santiago to Havana during the first week of January, 1959, to take charge as the new leaders of Cuba after the amazing triumph of perhaps history's most implausible revolution -- the one that chased the Batistianos, the Mafiosi and rich U. S. businessmen back to the locales from whence they came -- which was the United States of America, mostly the Mafia havens of southern Florida and New Jersey.
 Cubans watching the Havana-to-Santiago caravan.
 More cubans watching the Havana-to-Santiago caravan.
        This photo was taken on January 4th, 1959 when Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro were in a much different caravan going in the exact opposite direction -- Santiago to Havana -- from the one taking place right now. It was also a slow, laborious journey from January 1 till January 7 of 1959 because of the boisterously happy throngs all along the way. Notice how tired the still-celebratory Fidel was and how tired the more-businesslike Celia was; she, more than Fidel, just wanted to get to Havana and begin the revolutionary rule of her island. If Celia appears more unhappy than tired in this photo, she was. She had just been told on the stopover in Cienfuegos, via a transmitter-phone hook-up with Che Guevara in Havana, that "all" the Batistiano and Mafiosi leaders had fled Havana in their pre-arranged getaway ships and planes, which were loaded with "tons of cash and gold bullion" the murderous thieves hadn't already shipped to Swiss banks or to Mafia-friendly or owned banks in Newark and Miami. Till January 1, 1959...as the guerrilla leaders...Celia and Fidel had stayed behind to secure Santiago, Cuba's second largest city and former capital, while sending the rebel army led by Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara to capture the vital city of Santa Clara and then the grand prize of Havana. Santa Clara was captured in the closing hours of 1958 but by dawn on the first day of 1959 Che and Camilo had broken Celia's heart when they told her the Batista-Mafia leaders "had escaped." Celia's distraught reaction, later revealed by Camilo, was: "GOTDAMMIT!! Now till me 'n Fidel get there, check with the people on the streets and round up any and all of the Batistianos still there that they know harmed them." That order was carried out. Later, public inquisitions and trials were carried out. First Fidel, the lawyer, was the prosecutor but Celia, the prime decision-maker with Fidel's total support, fired Fidel because she thought he was too lenient on the Batistiano-Mafiso prisoners. She replaced Fidel with Che Guevara, the doctor. That markedly increased the work of firing squads, but still -- truth be known -- not as much work as the long-maligned Cuban peasants wanted. There are black-and-white videos and photos, as well as reports by renowned journalists such as Herbert L. Matthews of the NY Times and Carlos Franqui, that prove everyday Cubans, including women and children, pointed accusatory fingers at prisoners and then at Che Guevara for fear that he, like Fidel, was going "too easy" on the left-over criminals. If that aspect of the Celia-Fidel-Camilo-Che-Raul-Vilma-Haydee take-over of Havana does not compute with what you have been told, then it's because...for the most part...you have been lied to about the demise of the Batista-Mafia rule in Cuba and its aftermath since 1959. In any case, Celia's sadness on Jan. 4-1959 {depicted above} when she should have been euphorically happy, derived from the fact that she had just been told the Batista-Mafia leaders had "escaped" Havana. Celia was hoping they would stand and fight with something akin to the guts and determination that she -- as well as other women and men -- had displayed throughout the conflict.
       This map shows the current 14 provinces of Cuba and the three aforementioned cities -- Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Cienfuegos was the city in which Celia got the telephone message form Camilo and Che that "all" the Batista-Mafia leaders had fled, quite massively disappointing her.
       This perceptive photo shows Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro in the early days of Revolutionary Cuba. Yes, that's Fidel one morning relaxing in the rocking chair with his slippers in front of him as though he didn't have a care in the world. Celia is over on the porch-couch busily engaged in work, as always. It's an appropriate photo because Celia was the decision-maker and Fidel's primary role, believe it or not, was to massively support those decisions, whether or not he fully agreed with them. Of course, that too is something Americans have been propagandized not to believe but all the Cuban insiders and all the best historians -- including Fidel's best American biographer Georgia Anne Geyer -- have documented those facts. SO, instead of listening to convenient and self-serving lies, study the photo above and comprehend it -- Fidel relaxing because he could and Celia working tirelessly because she had to.
        The London-based media giant The BBC, which still has the freedom to tell truths about Cuba, says this was the very first photo that shows Fidel Castro and Celia Sanchez together. It was taken Dec. 2-1957 after he had finally joined her revolution in the foothills of Cuba's imposing Sierra Maestra Mountains. Fidel had served two years in a Batista prison after his ill-fated attack on Batista's Moncada Army Garrison on July 26-1953. Then in safe-houses orchestrated by guerrilla leader Celia and other heroic Cuban women such as his lover Naty Revuelta, Fidel managed to avoid Batista's murder squads and barely vacated the island to continue his anti-Batista activities in Miami, New York and Mexico. Then he and 81 other rebels left Mexico on a leaky and over-loaded old yacht...the famous Granma...to hook-up with Celia's guerrilla unit on a pre-arranged Cuban beach. But 15 miles shy of that beach, the Granma began sinking and the rebels tried to swim and wade to shore, some unarmed. A call from Mexico had alerted Batista to their departure and a Batista helicopter patrol spotted the Granma's approach as it tried to rendezvous with Celia. A Batista army on shore ambushed the rebels, killing all but 17 of them either on the beach or capturing and executing them as they tried to escape into the thickets and brambles. Celia and her guerrillas could have beaten that Batista army and she did so after racing to the beach where the Granma was forced to ditch the rebels. Celia still managed to save the lives of 17 rebels -- including Fidel and Raul Castro, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. The great Carlos Franqui's book "The Twelve" gave the first details of that Granma episode; he thought just 12 of the 82 rebels had survived but later it was determined that the figure was 17. Later Georgia Anne Geyer in her superb Castro biography provided excellently researched details about the historic event. Both Franqui and Geyer used this famous Celia Sanchez quote about saving the lives of Fidel and 11 other soon-to-be-famous rebels who would live to join her war against Batista. That quote is: "If they had gotten to the beach where we waited, all of them would have been saved. They would have found trucks, medical supplies, food, drinks. It would have been a walkaway." Her last word..."walkaway"...has always intrigued me but the more I studied her, including on a trip to Cuba, it was typical Celia -- business-like and succinct with no frills. Batista's biggest bounty, for good reason, was on her head. Cuba's best historian, Pedro Alvarez Tabio, also for good reason, 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." The 99-pound doctor's daughter was the revolution's greatest guerrilla fighter, its greatest recruiter of rebels and money and weapons, and its greatest decision-maker. Yes, the photo above is the first ever taken of Celia and Fidel together and it was taken Dec. 2-1957. But his worship of her began in 1953, his first year in a Batista prison when he learned that her revolution was still alive. Though Celia died of cancer at age 59 on Jan. 11-1980, Fidel's worship of her and the ground she walked on extended until 10:29 P. M. on Nov. 25-2016, the moment he died.
       Like with the definitive photo of Celia and Fidel on the porch in the early days of Revolutionary Cuba, this photo taken during the Revolutionary War is just as perceptive. It shows Celia, at their base-camp high up in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, holding a candle so Fidel could devour a book and so she could study a rebel report on the location and strength of a Batista army down below. That's so she would know precisely when and how to attack it. Later, Fidel confirmed on such nights -- even as they were careful about the visibility of campfires, candles and even lit cigarettes or cigars -- that he "devoured" books such as his later-friend Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which was Fidel's "favorite war-time novel." They were both fighters by day but night-owls under the Caribbean moons and mountainous foliage. During the war and later in Revolutionary Cuba, Fidel never failed to support Celia's decisions even, according to his biographer Georgie Anne Geyer, when Celia chose to "over-rule" his suggestions. Of course, two famous still-living intimates of both Celia and Fidel -- Marta Rojas and Roberto Salas -- confirm that historic relationship between the two prime players in the still very viable Cuban Revolution.
       This famous photo also defines Celia Sanchez. It was taken during a lull in the Revolutionary War. Note that Celia, as always, is all-business -- which at the time was winning the war. The second all-time most powerful revolutionary female guerrilla fighter and decision-maker -- Celia's dear friend Vilma Espin -- is gaily enjoying the break in action. In 1959, right after the revolutionary victory, Vilma married Raul Castro and became the beloved mother of his four children and till the day she died of cancer in 2007 Vilma was one of the most powerful people on the island. This photo, by the way, was taken by the all-time greatest female war photographer -- Dickey Chapelle -- who was killed on a Vietnam battlefield in 1965. 
Celia and Fidel -- 1960.
Celia and Fidel -- 1964.
 Celia, Fidel & peasants who loved them.
     Back in 1953 in Batista's Cuba a beautiful young woman named Marta Rojas was a young journalist trusted by Batista. Marta was, unknown to the Batista goons, also a member of the Celia Sanchez-led Urban Underground that was the biggest threat to Batista. Marta was so trusted by Batista that he gave her special permission to visit and interview Fidel Castro in his prison cell on the Isle of Pines, so Batista could prove that the hero to all the peasants, Fidel, was still alive and not tortured to death as other captured Moncada prisoners were -- including Haydee Santamaria's brother and her fiancee. Washington, mindful of the Herbert L. Matthews' articles in the NY Times, also didn't want the peasants' hero murdered because reports already were circulating about Batista's goons murdering children as a warning to peasants not to resist. Each time she visited the imprisoned Fidel, Marta took a note he had written to Celia Sanchez out of the prison in her bra and the Urban Underground's job was to get it to the rebel leader Celia. On her visits back to Fidel's cell, Marta took notes from Celia to Fidel in her bra. That communication linked Celia and Fidel indelibly long before they ever met.
       After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Marta Rojas remained dearest friends of both Fidel Castro and Celia Sanchez, often letting Celia pre-read her latest articles. In the above photo, that is Marta Rojas introducing Fidel in December of 1959 for his very first television address to the Cuban people.
      This first week of Dec.-2016, as that caravan is taking Fidel Castro's remains back to Marta's hometown of Santiago de Cuba, Marta Rojas is still very much alive and a renowned legend in her own right as a significant player in both the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba. For decades she carved out a brilliant career as a journalist and as the author of five famed novels. In fact, she is being nominated for a Nobel Prize for her life's work. Marta, a sweet and dear lady who answered my Celia Sanchez questions, knows more about Fidel and Celia than any living soul. In 2005, after my visit to Cuba to research my bio of Celia Sanchez, Marta in a precious email from Cuba to Wyoming told me, "Although Celia died of cancer in 1980, she is still the prime decision-maker in Cuba. That's because to this day Fidel rules Cuba only as he precisely believes Celia would want him to rule it." In another email, Marta sent me a copy of the January-1980 Celia Sanchez obituary that appeared in the national newspaper, the Granma. Marta herself wrote that obituary.
        For decades, the self-serving Batistiano dictation of America's Cuban narrative and America's Cuban policy...the one opposed by that 191-to-0 vote in the United Nations...has conveniently for them dictated that everyday Americans are the only people in the world without the freedom to visit Cuba, lest they might get wise to the litany of self-serving Batistiano lies. But the famed actor, Danny Glover, is a special American and thus he has had the freedom to visit Cuba and make some decisions about the island of Cuba on his own. Mr. Glover is shown above with the legendary Marta Rojas. Like Mr. Glover, if you ever get to Cuba and want to know the truth about Fidel Castro, Celia Sanchez, the Cuban Revolution or Revolutionary Cuba, the best place to start...if you're lucky...is Marta Rojas. Otherwise, you're probably stuck with an avalanche of Batistiano lies rammed down your throat.
        Without a doubt, Celia Sanchez had more intelligence, more guts and more decency than any Batistiano or Mafiosi she chased off her island of Cuba, mostly to their Florida and New Jersey strongholds. Till the day she died on Jan. 11-1980, she regretted they fled to safer havens by Jan. 1-1959 instead of hanging around Havana to fight. She was a fighter, not a runner. And her cause -- to end the murders and deprivations of Cuban children -- was just.
       This Carlos Barria/REUTERS photo shows a hazy dawn rising in a remote area of Cuba known as El Maja. These Cubans are lining up or sitting beside the road that they expect the caravan carrying the remains of Fidel Castro will pass. The caravan started in Havana on the northwestern tip of Cuba and is traveling the 600-miles to Santiago in the southeastern tip of the island. It is eerily reversing the Santiago-to-Havana journey that Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro took in the first seven days of January-1959 to take over as the post-Batista leaders of Cuba. Yes, it's nostalgic for me because of the nexus it has to Celia Sanchez. And I don't give a damn how many Batistianos know that.


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