The above photo shows a 14-year-old Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1940. He was already a star athlete (baseball, basketball, and track) and an academic whiz who displayed a photographic memory. At fourteen, Fidel's lifelong obsession with girls/women was already in vogue. This was also the period when Fidel wrote the famous letter to President Roosevelt asking for a "green" ten dollar bill; he received a return generic note and signature from Roosevelt but no ten dollar bill, which he only wanted as a curiosity because his father, Angel, was a wealthy Cuban who owned 36,000 acres, a sugar mill, a cattle ranch, etc.
In 1948 at age twenty-two Fidel married Mirta Diaz-Balart. They honeymooned in Miami and New York but Fidel, who never (contrary to his critics) cared for money or luxuries, had to borrow money in order to return to Cuba. Fidel and Mirta quickly had a bubbly little boy, Fidelito. They divorced after Fidel, while imprisoned in 1953-55 after his failed July 26-1953 attack on Dictator Batista's Moncada garrison, learned that both Mirta and her lawyer brother Rafael were on Batista's payroll, and by then Mirta also had knowledge of torrid love letters Fidel wrote in prison to his fellow revolutionary Natalia (Naty) Revuelta. Fidelito is one of eight (yes) Fidel sons and all eight remain very loyal to him as, amazingly, does Mirta. She is a frequent and welcomed visitor to the island. Fidilito is now a semi-retired nuclear scientist who once led the top scientific institute in Cuba till he was famously fired by Fidel, who succinctly declared, "He was fired for incompetence. This is not a monarchy."
The above photo shows Fidel and Mirta on their honeymoon. She represents an enigma (one of the many) in the fascinating and unending Cuban-U. S. conundrum. Mirta to this day loves Fidel; her brother Rafael and his sons Lincoln and Mario (her nephews) were/are among the richest, strongest, and most visceral anti-Castro zealots in Miami-Washington from January of 1953 till the present day.
Mirta's brother Rafael Diaz-Balart, shown above armed with a pistol at a 1958 political rally, was a top Minister in the Batista dictatorship. The infamous Masferrer brothers, known to history and to Batista dissidents as extremely cruel enforcers, are on each side of Rafael. They all fled the victorious Cuban Revolution to set up shop in South Florida. Rafael Diaz-Balart created the first anti-Castro paramilitary unit in Florida and called it The White Rose after Jose Marti's most famous poem. The Masferrer brothers, who led a fierce 3,000-man army of enforcers in Batista's Cuba, joined the long list of Cuban exiles with their own anti-Castro paramilitary unit operating out of South Florida. Rolando Masferrer, the most infamous of the brothers, died in a car-bombing in Miami in 1975; Rafael died of old age with two of his sons (Lincoln and Mario) in the U. S. Congress from Miami and with one of his most famous obituaries listing him as a "self-made billionaire" (with a B) but, like the Cuban exile billionaire (with a B) Jorge Mas Canosa and the unfortunate Rolando Masferrer, he never realized his dream of returning to Cuba as its leader.
The above photo shows Naty Revuelta with her daughter Alina, Fidel's daughter. In 1950s Cuba Naty was considered Havana's most beautiful socialite, married to a very wealthy doctor. But she hated the plight of the massively maligned majority peasants in Batista's Cuba. So, she clandestinely aided and financed the young rebel Fidel Castro, including her support of the ill-fated, Fidel-led attack on Batista's Moncada garrison on July 26, 1953. Fidel's subsequent imprisonment would surely have led to his execution except for the fact that the media, including the New York Times' famed reporter Herbert L. Mathews, closely monitored the treatment of Fidel, who by then was the hope and the hero of the majority peasants. When Fidel was released from prison in 1955, everyone knew death squads (out of the view of the media) would dog his every trail, which they did. But Naty and other urban underground women bravely provided Fidel safe houses till he could escape the island, and one of the safe houses owned by Naty was where Fidel impregnated her, resulting in their daughter Alina.
As far as anyone knows, Fidel has never said an unkind word about Alina privately or publicly. But, shortly after the above photo was taken, she defected. From her base in Miami, Alina is now a very, very rich woman. Her wealth is based on her anti-Castro books, her anti-Castro talk show on Miami radio, and her ubiquitous and unending anti-Castro speeches on university campuses from coast to coast (her minimum fee is $7,000 plus expenses). Her theme, never challenged at any of her forums, casts her as a freedom-loving Cuban and, of course, American patriot. Soon a Hollywood movie of her life, financed by anti-Castro zealots, will expand on that theme. However, a visitor to Cuba who asks about Alina will, in unanimity as far as I could tell, get this randomly solicited perspective: "Alina doesn't have a political or patriotic bone in her body, because she only knows one thing -- greed. Does she hate her father because of his politics? No. She hates him because he would never shower her or her friends with luxuries, the same principle he applied to his other nine children, all of whom are loyal to him." The least known of Fidel's eight sons, Redondo, chooses to live far out of the spotlight in rural Cuba. Fidel's two daughters are the well-known Alina and the little known Francisca, better known by her nickname Panchita. Panchita lives quietly in Miami with her husband and with Fidel's blessing. Alina in the overly compliant and often not-too-accurate media is sometimes billed as "Fidel's only daughter." Panchita is also his daughter. Alina, perhaps, could more accurately be billed as "the only one of Fidel's ten children to turn against her father, some say because of her abiding interest in freedom and others say because of her abiding interest in money." In any case, Alina joined a lucrative and huge cottage industry in the U. S. Since 1959, being "anti-Castro" in the U. S. has created at least two billionaires and innumerable millionaires, and the beat goes on. Even the now 85-year-old Fidel wonders "how much money will they make AFTER I really die?"
Christina Kirchner, the President of Argentina, visited Fidel Castro to personally check on his recovery from his near-fatal (and still very serious) illness. When she returned to Buenos Aires, President Kirchner told several news conferences that he was "far better" physically and mentally than she anticipated. "As usual," she said, "he spent most of our time joking with me about topical items that interested him and me also. He held up a Miami paper that had indicated he was dead and a Washington paper that discussed the thousands of people in the U. S. who had become obscenely rich just from telling the U. S. government they were anti-Castro. Well, after we had pored over those newspapers he straightened up, laughed, and said, 'How much money will they make after I really die?' That typical gesture from him told me he is not quite ready to die, maybe because he loves to read those American newspapers so much."
The above photo shows the green-eyed Naty Revuelta in the 1950s when she was considered the most beautiful socialite in Havana, a time when she was married to a very wealthy doctor but also madly in love with and massively supportive of the budding young anti-Batista rebel Fidel Castro. "I loved him as a man but mostly I loved his love for the poor Cuban peasants," she later told the notable U. S. journalist Linda Robinson. The recipient of the torrid Fidel love letters from prison, Naty later gave birth to Fidel's daughter Alina, a pregnancy that ended her marriage to Dr. Fernandez. Alina, after her defection from Cuba, began her anti-Castro path to riches by selling those love letters to a Spanish newspaper/magazine chain, much to Naty's sorrow. Thus, exact copies of those letters appear in books about Cuba, including my biography of Celia Sanchez (The Legend of Cuba's Revolutionary Heart) and the astute Julia Sweig's seminal book Inside the Cuban Revolution.
Today Naty Revuelta still loves Fidel Castro passionately. The above photo shows Naty in Havana contemplating her answer to a question from Linda Robinson for a major article in US News & World Report. Linda's question: "After all these decades is there anything critical or bad you want to say about Fidel?" Naty's answer: "Not even with the petal of a rose." (Naty's reference to "the petal of a rose" phrase was borrowed from a famous Jose Marti poem). Fidel had many out-of-wedlock affairs -- one, briefly, with the famous Ava Gardner and others with not-so-famous beauties such as Marita Lorenz. But the most fascinating, by far, was the one with Naty Revuelta because it is that prism that provides the deepest insight into the historic figure known as Fidel Castro. Naty's longevity and Fidel's longevity add layers of dimensions to the Castro legend. To this day -- through many decades of hell, hurricanes, wars, lies, truths, etc. -- Naty still loves the Cuban peasants dearly and she still loves Fidel dearly. And to this day, her daughter with Fidel, Alina, hates him with a passion. Is that passion based on Alina's love for American-like freedom or her love for American-like money? You choose the answer because it will also be a part of history, albeit a small part. Wendy Gimbel's 1998 book Havana Dreams, published by Alfred A. Knopf, was essentially a biography of the publicity-shy Naty. After thinking about Naty, Latin American writer Alma Guillermoprieto called Cuba an "Enchanted Island" and "an anachronism adrift in the Caribbean." Incomparably beautiful, anachronistic, enchanted, revolutionary...the 1950s Natalia Revuelta personified Cuba then and now. She told Linda Robinson in the U. S. News & World Report article that she uncompromisingly loved and loves Fidel but she let go of him during her Alina pregnancy because she was convinced he would "be killed." After all these decades, does Naty still believe in the revolution as much as she did when she largely funded his attack on Batista's Moncada garrison back in July of 1953. "Yes...yes."
As a young man Fidel Castro had the misfortune to be imprisoned twice -- once in his native Cuba in Dictator Batista's aforementioned Isle of Pines prison and later in a foreign prison. The above photo shows a bored but not defeated Fidel reclining in a Mexican prison after he was arrested in that country for amassing weapons he intended to take back to Cuba to battle the Batista dictatorship. But after twenty-two days the Mexicans relented and Fidel resumed his tasks -- which including amassing more weapons, talking the newly graduated Argentine doctor Che Guevara into joining him on his return to Cuba, and purchasing an old yacht named Granma (after someone"s grandmother) that he hoped would take him and 81 other rebels on the perilous journey from Mexico to Cuba. As it turned out, the perils exceeded Fidel's fears. The old yacht began to leak as it neared Cuba and a Batista surveillance helicopter spotted the over-loaded, sinking Granma and radioed a Batista army in time for it to set up an ambush on the shoreline. All but seventeen of the 82 rebels were killed on or near the shoreline but among the survivors were Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos. The female guerrilla fighter primarily responsible for saving the lives of those seventeen rebels was a petite doctor's daughter named Celia Sanchez. On that beach, Playa de los Colorado near the town of Las Coloradas, Fidel Castro experienced the epiphany of his life -- the beginning of his lifelong worship of one person, Celia Sanchez.
The red line above illustrates the journey that confronted the creaky, leaky, over-loaded Granma yacht, which in its prime was intended to hold twelve people. Fidel had 82 men on it, plus oil cans (3,200 gallons of fuel were needed), weapons, food, water, etc. Fidel's goal was to reach a beach that fronted the town of Niguero in Oriente province. In History of Cuba here is how Jerry A. Sierra described what happened: "Waiting for them on December 2 (1956) was Celia Sanchez, one of the founders of the July 26th Movement, with an assortment of trucks, jeeps, food, weapons, and about 50 rebels. Leaking and running days behind schedule, the Granma was spotted by a helicopter, and the rebels were forced to beach the ship...about fifteen miles south of the designated spot. The new landing was more of a swamp than a beach, and the rebels were unable to unload most of their weapons due to the muddy waters, the thick undergrowth plant life and small crabs. The rebels were attacked at Alegria de Pio...most were killed in battle or as they attempted to surrender."
Thus, long before Fidel Castro ever set foot in the Sierra Maestra as a fighter, and long before Che Guevara ever set foot on the island of Cuba, Celia Sanchez had a daunting guerrilla fighting unit against anything the Batista dictatorship was sending after her. Despite the Granma being forced to beach fifteen miles south of the planned rendezvous with Celia, she miraculously raced at the head of her fifty rebels to the swampy Playa de los Colorados area and managed to save seventeen rebels including the twelve that were healthy enough to join her guerrilla unit. Those twelve were: Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Juan Almeida, Efigenio Amejeiras, Ciro Redondo, Julio Diaz, Luis Crespo, Calixto Garcia, Universo Sanchez, and Jose Ponce. Thus, before the Castro brothers and Che Guevara emerged as three of the best known names in the annals of history, Celia Sanchez had to save their lives in a Cuban swamp known as Playa de los Colorados.
Just as Celia Sanchez was the definitive figure in Cuba's Revolutionary War and later in Revolutionary Cuba, Celia Sanchez rendered the definitive quotation related to the historic landing of the Granma, a quotation you'll find in countless books including Carlos Franqui's The Twelve, Jerry A. Sierra's History of Cuba, Georgie Anne Geyer's seminal Guerrilla Prince biography of Fidel Castro, Rich Haney's Celia Sanchez biography The Legend of Cuba's Revolutionary Heart, etc. Here now is that historic Celia Sanchez quotation: "Just consider where the landing took place. If they had debarked right on the beach instead of at the swamp, they would have found trucks, jeeps, gasoline. It would have been a walkaway."
Many entities -- the Batistianos, the U. S. government, some historians, some journalists, etc. -- have chosen, either self-servingly or ignorantly, to minimize Celia Sanchez's leading role in both Cuba's Revolutionary War and Revolutionary Cuba. But the man most identified with both of those historic events, Fidel Castro, has never failed to shine the largest revolutionary spotlight where it belongs -- over the petite figure of the doctor's daughter, Celia Sanchez. He considers her the greatest female guerrilla fighter and the most outstanding revolutionary leader, male or female, of all time. There are many who agree, including myself. And including Linda Pressly, probably the world's best news and documentary producer.
Linda Pressly is the senior news/documentary producer for England's BBC. I consider her and Mariana van Zeller, who works for the Current network on Vanguard documentaries, the two best documentary producers...and my passion is watching documentaries on the Military, History, Discovery, Current, and BBC networks. Lo 'n behold, I got an e-mail two weeks ago from my Celia Sanchez publisher, Algora of NYC, and they forwarded to me an e-mail they had received from Linda Pressly, who asked them how she could get in touch with me because she was preparing a BBC documentary on Celia Sanchez. Wow! I immediately recognized Linda Pressly's name because, to my mind, she's produced the world's best documentaries. In the last couple weeks I've exchanged many Celia Sanchez-related e-mails with Ms. Pressly and she calls me (London to Virginia) for long Celia Sanchez-related phone calls.
It's not surprising that the brilliant Linda Pressly, as she ponders the imminent transition to a post-Castro Cuba, is currently preparing a major documentary on Celia Sanchez. Nor is it surprising that most Americans would be surprised, even though Celia Sanchez was the most important figure in the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba, both of which say so much more about the United States than they say about Cuba. After all, the United States is the strongest and richest nation in history. And, after all, Cuba is only a small island. So, why is it politically incorrect and even unhealthy (especially if you are allergic to car bombs) to give Celia Sanchez her proper due in the United States. (In 1976 in Miami the top Cuban exile newscaster, Emilio Millan, was typically car-bombed after he spoke kind words about "notable child-loving Cuban heroines Celia Sanchez and Vilma Espin still on the island" and then lamented Cuban exile terrorist acts such as the bombing of the child-filled Cuban civilian airplane; the car-bomb message was loud and clear and since then the media has been careful, very careful, about what it says about any Cuban exile in Miami or Union City). The Batista/Mafia dictatorship deposed by the Cuban Revolution has simply been, since 1959, reconstituted on U. S. soil, mostly clustered in the historic Mafia havens of Miami and Union City (NJ). Those quite unique, reconstituted dictatorships, via sheer political and financial power, have mostly dictated what Americans know about the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba. Also, Latin (especially Cuban) machismo prefers to project the notion that macho men like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos kicked them off the island, certainly not a petite doctor's daughter. Also, the doctor's daughter had an angelic reputation (except when it came to the Batistianos) as a fervent protector of peasant children. It would be much, much easier to vilify those macho rebel men than it would be to cast dispersions on the petite doctor's daughter. (And casting aspersions in the other direction is the prime motive of the Batistianos). Thus, in a changed and altered democracy (changed and altered by the Cuban Revolution), Americans are not supposed to know about what a now silent Emilio Millan tried to tell them. That's why Americans should look forward to the upcoming BBC documentary on Celia Sanchez. Americans don't necessarily need to devour Cuban history (anymore than, say, Haitian history) but they do need to know what created and sustained the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba, both of which have so mightily affected the United States for all these decades. And to know those things, as Linda Pressly so markedly comprehends, Americans and citizens of the world need to know Celia Sanchez. Why, for example, do everyday Cubans (as depicted in the photo below), with no particular prodding from the government, still sit around outside Celia Sanchez's childhood home and discuss why she still means so much to them? As post-Castro Cuba looms on the horizon, Americans need to know what everyday Cubans on the island are thinking and not just rely on what visceral, self-serving Cuban exiles tell them. There are two sides to the Cuban story and the side actually on the island should be viewed by Americans, and that's probably why, for going on six decades now, the one place on the planet Americans have not been able to freely visit is...nearby Cuba! The Cuban exiles who dictate America's perception of Cuba say, "Uh, Celia Sanchez, who's that?" Cubans on the island know her; international experts like Linda Pressly know her. Americans also have a right to know her, regardless of what the visceral minority Cuban exiles self-servingly dictate. (To be continued...I hope, just as Emilio Millan hoped).
Cubans in front of the Celia Sanchez childhood home discussing what she meant/means to them; one thing she means to them, I think, is that the Miami/Union City Batistianos will not dictate post-Castro Cuba to them. The doctor's daughter who died of cancer at age 59 on January 11, 1980, remains a force on the island and an obstacle to those off the island who have unsavory designs on her mi Cubita bella ("my beautiful little Cuba").
Mrs. Fidel Castro (Dalia Soto del Valle)
As per Celia Sanchez's final request to Fidel, he married Dalia in 1980 shortly after Celia died of cancer. (Cuban insiders such as Marta Rojas and Cuban experts such as Ann Louise Bardach all agree with that assessment and the date of the marriage). Dalia was a beautiful, red-headed teacher in the south-central colonial city of Trinidad when Celia became her dear friend, after which Fidel noticed her stunning beauty. Celia would be very proud of Dalia, who has been Fidel's fiercely loyal wife for over two decades. She is the doting mother of five sons by Fidel and all their names start with "A" -- Angel, Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis, and Alexander. Dalia and all five of her sons, especially Alexander, have been exceedingly protective of Fidel since his near-fatal illness in July, 2006.
Into the year 2016 Dalia still takes good care of the 88-year-old Fidel.
Attorney General Eric Holder
On Tuesday, Sept. 20-2011, U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in London trying to assure America's best international friend that the Obama administration is doing everything it can to close the U. S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before the 2012 presidential election. Holder's exact words to the English Parliament were: "The Obama administration is focused on closing the facility as quickly as possible, recognizing that we will face substantial pressure." It is that "substantial pressure" that so direly embarrasses England and the rest of America's friends around the world. Why? Because that pressure comes from a tiny cabal of extremely rich and politically powerful Cuban exiles and their sycophants, making a continuing mockery of the world's greatest democracy.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, shown above with George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, epitomizes what Attorney General Holder referenced as the "substantial pressure" holding back the shut down of Gitmo or anything else that might hint of decency and intelligence within the parameters of U. S. relations with Cuba. The Havana-born Ros-Lehtinen has been in the U. S. House of Representatives from Miami since 1989, when Jeb Bush was her Campaign Manager. Her longevity in the U. S. Congress now has her the Chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee, adding to her potency in targeting Cuba. This is the same Ros-Lehtinen that the very brave Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede scathingly denounced for her unbridled and unending support and protection of the most infamous Cuban-exile terrorists, including Luis Posada Carriles. Like Guantanamo, Mr. Posada's safe haven in Miami still represents a majestic embarrassment for England and the rest of America's international friends.
During the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney administration, Amnesty International called the U. S. prison at Guantanamo Bay "the Gulag of our time." Photos such as the one above mightily embarrassed all of America's friends around the world and, indeed, even conservative Republicans like myself. When news of the Gulag-type conditions at Gitmo went viral, the Bush-Cheney reaction was "rendition," which meant -- at further great expense to the U. S. taxpayers and embarrassment to America's friends -- prisoners at Gitmo were flown to U. S. - friendly dictatorships, such as the recently deposed one in Egypt, for "debriefings." But to this day, having the "Gulag of our time" on foreign soil in Cuba seems more pleasant and more palatable than having such nasty things on U. S. soil.
Guantanamo Bay is on the very southeastern tip of the alligator-shaped island of Cuba. It is a luscious and beautiful port that any nation in the world would love to own, including Cuba. Imperialist powers such as Spain loved it dearly for centuries. Imperialist-minded U. S. leaders coveted Guantanamo Bay for many decades, and often tried to capture it or buy it or lease it. By the end of the 19th Century Spain was so weak and so over-stretched that the U. S. realized that Cuba was ripe for the taking, if only the U. S. could come up with a pretext to declare war. We can't just up and declare war on Spain, can we? The American people, God bless 'em, would need a pretext!
The USS Maine, a huge American warship with 355 sailors and marines on board, headed for Cuba. The photo above shows the USS Maine entering Havana Harbor as it nears the famous Morro Castle fortress.
The USS Maine exploded while it was moored in Havana Harbor on the night of Feb. 15-1898. As depicted in the above photo taken just before it sank completely, the mighty ship was blown to bits. Of the crew of 355, 261 were killed and out of the 94 survivors all but 16 were severely injured. The terrible tragedy, however, was pleasing to some because Spain could be blamed for the explosion and that would provide a pretext for the United States to declare war on a very weak and over-stretched nation, an easy and quick war that would give the United States sole control of Cuba. History, including U. S. - ordered reviews, has concluded that Spain wouldn't have dreamed of sabotaging an American ship. But armed with the battle cry "Remember the Maine" the U. S. made quick work of Spain in 1898's Spanish-American War. When Spain begged for peace, no Cuban was allowed at the signing ceremony. Thus, from 1898 till 1959 the dominant foreign power in Cuba was the United States of America. One of the first things the U. S. did was to steal "in perpetuity" Guantanamo Bay, forcing the island's puppet leaders to give up the lush port in exchange for about $2000 annually, a fee the U. S. subsequently increased to about $4,000. Although booted off the island by the Cuban Revolution on Jan. 1-1959, the U. S. has continued to send the yearly U. S. treasury checks to Cuba. However, since 1959 the checks have not been cashed and, to this day, they just keep piling up in the lower-right-hand drawer of Fidel Castro's desk.
The U. S. Guantanamo Naval Base consists of 45 square miles (120 km) of very valuable land and water. It remains the oldest (since 1903) U. S. Navy Base and the only one located in a country with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations. In addition to the prison, the base features luxurious buildings and quarters as well as McDonald's, Subway, KFC, A & W, etc., restaurants. The U. S. Navy owns all the franchises on the base, much like the Cuban military owns most of the Cuban businesses (although recently Cuba -- uh, not the U. S. Navy -- has provided loans and material to encourage private ownership of farms and businesses, including barber shops and paladars (expansions of already existing home restaurants).
Josefina Vidal, Cuba's Minister of North American Affairs, says: "All sovereign countries in the world, I believe, consider the United States' control of Guantanamo Bay to be illegal under all existing international laws. Instead of pretending they have a legitimate lease by offering us pennies per year, money which a now sovereign Cuba does not accept, why won't the U. S. let international courts, or majority opinion in the U. S. or worldwide, have a say in the theft. For such a precious port, how much would a fair international court determine that the U. S. owes Cuba since 1903 for the theft of its land and waterway? And how long would it take a fair international court to demand that the U. S. return Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owner? Or, if such a port were to be leased, how much would a fair international court say the rent should be...a few pennies or dollars a year? The U. S. may be the world's greatest democracy but its Cuban policy reveals it to be a democracy that is largely controlled by the minute minority of Cuban exiles known as the Miami Mafia. If that is not so try to convince any of the Caribbean or Latin American nations that it is not so. In fact, try to convince any sovereign nation anywhere in the world. In my region, the Caribbean, every nation considers the U. S. a fraud and a big bully for its conduct against Cuba, such as the theft of Guantanamo Bay. And if that is not so, maybe some of the international journalists here today will endeavor to take a survey. If you are the strongest nation in the world by far, you can be a big bully. But as the world's greatest democracy, is that the image the United States should be sending around the world -- a big, corrupt bully?"
The U. S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
The above photo was taken in March of 1964, five years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution that ousted the U. S.-backed Batista dictatorship. It shows Celia Sanchez hard at work on the couch and Fidel Castro relaxing barefooted in his rocking chair. Cuban insiders consider this a very appropriate photograph because Celia was the primary decision-maker in Cuba from January of 1959 till her death from cancer on January 11, 1980, at age fifty-nine. Fidel, as the recognized upfront leader of Cuba, always fully supported whatever decisions Celia rendered, even if he initially disagreed with her. Irate over terrorist acts from Florida that continually targeted her beloved peasants, Celia, without consulting Fidel, sent a cable to Moscow requesting nuclear missiles on Cuban soil. The cable was sent to Deputy Premier Mikoyan who had earlier visited Cuba on a trade mission and was smitten with Celia, whom he nicknamed Spanish Eyes. The entire cable, which she signed "Spanish Eyes," is included in my upcoming second biography of Celia. Initially Fidel was furious when she told him of the cable that Mikoyan and presumably Premier Khrushchev had already read, but within twenty-four hours, as always, he supported her decision.
Celia, shown above using binoculars to observe a Batista army advancing on her guerrilla position in the Sierra Maestra, was also the prime decision-maker in the revolutionary struggle against Batista both before and after the Castro brothers, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos joined her forces in the closing days of 1956 following their perilous journey from Mexico on the yacht Granma. In the Sierra as in Revolutionary Cuba, the awestruck Fidel was her biggest supporter.
The above photo, from left to right, shows guerrilla fighters Vilma Espin, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Celia Sanchez. Fidel Castro in 2004, presumably after decades of consideration, still rated these the Big Four in both the revolution and in Revolutionary Cuba...and he rated their "importance and significance" in this order: Celia, Fidel (himself), Vilma, and Raul. His second four, in this order, were: Che Guevara, Haydee Santamaria, Frank Pais, and Camilo Cienfuegos. (In 2004, when I was in Cuba researching my first biography of Celia Sanchez, I spent -- according to Armando Brinis' wristwatch -- 7 1/2 minutes with Fidel. It came about not because I was "someone important" but because Brinis, the well-known head of the Cuban Media Center, had shown Fidel seventeen letters in my possession that Celia had written, from 1953 to 1979, to her dear American friend Nora Peters. It appears Fidel was interested in those letters, which spawned Brinis and a female soldier picking me up at the Victoria Hotel and driving me across town. At his desk I also showed him a paragraph written decades earlier by a famed journalist/author (Carlos Franqui) in which Fidel named his revolutionary Big Four. The above photo, it is believed, resulted from Franqui's article about the Big Four. I asked Fidel if, after all these decades, he had changed his mind about the Big Four, particularly the order of their "importance and significance." He re-read the paragraph, then pondered as he rubbed his chin (left hand), and said, in English, "It remains the same." Countless pundits, historians, journalists, and self-anointed Cuban "experts" disagree -- either via ignorance or self-serving convenience -- with the dominance of Celia Sanchez in the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba. However, Cuban insiders, and not just Fidel, knew differently. Pedro Alvarez Tabio, the great Cuban historian, wrote: "If Batista had managed to kill Celia Sanchez any time between 1953 and 1957, there would have been no Cuban Revolution, and no revolution for Fidel and Che to join." Roberto Salas, in his book "A Pictorial History of the Cuban Revolution," wrote: "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones." Marta Rojas, the great Cuban journalist/author, told me in an e-mail in 2005: "Since Celia died of cancer in 1980, Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he precisely believes Celia would want him to rule it." Tabio, Salas, and Rojas are all Cuban insiders as well as being superb journalists/authors. The dear, sweet Marta Rojas is my friend. The photo directly below shows Marta at the tender age of three using an umbrella to shade herself from the sun in Santiago de Cuba. The photo directly below the childhood one shows the 30-year-old Marta Rojas introducing Fidel Castro for his very first televised speech to the Cuban people in December of 1959.
Marta Rojas, age 83, in 2012
The above photo reflects the prime reason that created and fueled the Cuban Revolution that ousted the U. S. - backed Batista dictatorship in Cuba on January 1, 1959. Repeatedly in 1952 and 1953 Cuban women took to the streets of Cuba's two biggest cities -- Havana and Santiago de Cuba -- to protest the gruesome murders of their children -- murders designed as warnings to potential dissidents, murders resulting from the kidnapping of young girls that were routinely used to lure pedophiles to the Mafia-run casino-hotels, and the torture-murders of prisoners. The brave women who took to the streets to protest Batista provided the inspiration that spawned the Cuban Revolution, creating famed female warriors -- Celia Sanchez, Haydee Santamaria, Vilma Espin, Melba Hernandez, Marta Rojas, etc. -- who paved the way and laid the foundation for male warriors such as Frank Pais, Fidel Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, Che Guevara, Raul Castro, etc. to join them and eventually overthrow the U. S. - backed Batista. Unfortunately, the ousted Batista/Mafia dictatorship in Cuba quickly reconstituted itself on U. S. soil in the Mafia havens of South Florida and Union City, NJ. Of all the most famed revolutionary heroes and heroines, only two -- Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria -- were there at both the start of the essential Urban Underground foundations and at the climatic triumph marking the demise of the Batista dictatorship on the island of Cuba.
Before Fidel, Che, and Camilo ever fired a shot in anger in the Sierra Maestra, Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria (shown above with Haydee in front) were leading deadly guerrilla attacks against Batista soldiers.
In the above photo, Haydee (on the left) and Celia, both with rifles at the ready, await a counterattack after successfully ambushing a Batista brigade that ventured into the Sierra Maestra intent on annihilating them. In the pantheon of history, these two female warriors stand alone for their bravery and for their imprint on reshaping their region and the world. Decades after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria were the prime inspirations for female rebels-turned-politicians -- Michelle Bachelet, Cristina Kirchner, and Dilma Rousseff -- to become the democratically elected Presidents of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, replacing foreign-backed dictatorships such as the one that spawned the ire of Celia and Haydee on the island of Cuba.
Dilma Rousseff, for example, is now the democratically elected President of Latin American superpower Brazil. As a young guerrilla fighter against a military dictatorship back in the 1970s, she was captured and tortured for three years in a military prison. "The Cuban Revolution proved something we had considered impossible," she says. "Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria provided my inspiration as a rebel and as a politician. I owe them a lot and so do all the democracies in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Cuban Revolution changed the region more than anything before or since. It made the statement that little nations did not have to be controlled by foreign powers."
The above photo shows Fidel Castro in Revolutionary Cuba flanked by Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria. Cuban insiders to this day acknowledge not only Fidel's awe but his worship of the two female warriors. In Revolutionary Cuba, Celia chose to remain both polemical and political and thus she, with Fidel's total blessing and support, was the prime decision-maker on the island till her death from cancer on January 11, 1980. Haydee, on the other hand, devoted her energy to Latin American literary endeavors. Grieving over Celia's death, Haydee in 1980 committed suicide. Later Haydee's daughter Celia Hart (named for Celia Sanchez) became a prolific Latin American writer/author and confirmed that her mother's suicide was directly caused by Celia Sanchez's death. Celia Hart, in a 2007 essay, wrote: "They fought so bravely together, so mother thought they should die together. She had gifted me with the greatest honor of my life, which was to be named after Celia Sanchez."
The above photo shows two great female guerrillas -- Celia Sanchez and Vilma Espin -- during a break in the fighting in the Sierra Maestra. As in the photo on the porch with Fidel, Celia is the studious one here while Vilma, also typically, is the frivolous one with the flower in her hair. After the triumph of the revolution, Celia continued as Cuba's prime decision-maker because she remained the one and only person Fidel Castro has worshipped. But Vilma, till her death from cancer in 2007, was also ultra-powerful as the head of the Federation of Cuban Women and the wife of Raul Castro.
The above photo shows the very flamboyant Fidel and the very, very modest Celia arriving in Cienfuegos, Cuba, at 1:00 A. M. on January 4th, 1959, as the new leaders of Cuba. After the triumph of the revolution on January 1, 1959, rebels led by Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara had control of Havana while Fidel and Celia captured and secured Santiago de Cuba, the former capital and second largest city on the eastern end of the island near the Sierra Maestra. Celia and Fidel took seven days on the dilatory trek to claim their prize -- the entire island. She never liked acclaim, adulation, and publicity. Fidel respected that and to this day he never discusses Celia with anyone other than close friends such as Marta Rojas. For example, in famous TV interviews with Dan Rather and Barbara Walters, they each asked Fidel if he would say anything at all about Celia Sanchez. Each time he said nary a word but instead just showed his palms and shook them at Rather and Walters.
Celia Sanchez was one of the first in the celebrity world to openly hate paparazzi. In the photo above she and Fidel were being driven to dinner and she's getting irked by both the crowd and the photographers. But she was known to be tolerant of the paparazzi and other pests because (remember?) she was the petite, angelic doctor's daughter -- except when it came to the Batistianos, the Mafia, and U. S. capitalists. The latter three entities transformed her into history's greatest female guerrilla fighter and revolutionary leader, an historic fact that neither she nor Fidel Castro ever apologized for and which, in the twilight of his life, he still embraces as his most indelible memory.
The above photo depicts the childhood home of Celia Sanchez in Media Luna, Cuba. It is now a shrine open to tourists and features 247 items from her past, including her favorite pistol and rifle from her guerrilla days. She was born on May 9, 1920. Each year on her birthday, as shown above, Cubans gather in front of her childhood home and discuss what she still means to them.
The Celia Sanchez Hospital, shown above, is one of the many memorials in Cuba named for Celia Sanchez. There are no such memorials to Fidel Castro anywhere on the island.
There are many beautiful statues of Celia Sanchez in Cuba. As revered as she is on the island, and as significant as she is to both Cuban and U. S. history, it might seem strange that the revolutionary heroine is scarcely known in the United States. But, since 1959, Cuban exiles who don't like Celia have controlled U. S. policy when it comes to Cuba. Thus, Latin machismo prefers that macho men like Fidel and Che be blamed for the Cuban Revolution -- certainly not petite, angelic doctor's daughters outraged by the legal murder of a little girl in Batista's Cuba. In most wars the victor writes the definitive history, but the Cuban Revolution is unique in many regards including that one. The definitive history of the Cuban Revolution, for the most part, has and is being written by the remnants of the dictatorship booted out of Cuba all the way, as it turned out, to the soil of the nearby neighbor that happens to be the world's superpower. That's not fair to history but where Celia Sanchez is concerned that would be fine because she disdained fame, fortune, power, and publicity -- four things dearly prized by her enemies. "My God," she once told Marta Rojas in the wee hours of a Sunday morning in 1976 in the office of the Granma newspaper, "By the time those Cuban and Mafia traitors and thieves got to Miami and Union City, they had already sent enough money to buy up those parts of Florida and New Jersey and much of the U. S. government. So why are we surprised they have enough power and criminality to get away with bragging about bombing a civilian airplane loaded with children?" (The Cuban airplane was bombed out of the sky on October 6, 1976, killing all 73 on board; on January 7, 1980 -- four days before she died of cancer -- in her last full conversation with Marta Rojas, Celia said: "You know, Marta, I guess it's true -- those with the most money and the most power have the final say. That article from the Miami Herald you read to me yesterday...it seems the bad fellas are the 7-year-old girl and all those teen sports players who died on that plane, and the good guys are the ones who killed them. Tired old rebels like me, I reckon, are still out-gunned and out-numbered. We can make history but we still don't get to write it." Note: In a famous two-part essay written by renowned Cuban historian Pedro Alvarez Tabio entitled "CELIA SANCHEZ: GREATEST MAKER OF CUBAN HISTORY" there was a similar quotation from Celia Sanchez to the one she made on her deathbed to Marta Rojas: "You (Tabio) register all the battles and the war we won but you seem hesitant to acknowledge that we are still little Cuba and those we beat fled to control a dangerous nearby haven in the world's strongest country. Still backed by that country, their main target is and will always be little Cuba, the desired jewel for foreign powers and Mafia criminals." The Cuban Revolution, as Celia often referenced, drastically changed Cuba but, perhaps, even more drastically changed the United States. Her reasoning was this: Batista's Cuba was the first U. S. - backed dictatorship to be overthrown and, more significantly, it became the first deposed foreign dictatorship to reconstitute itself on U. S. soil -- namely South Florida and Union City, NJ, which had long been Mafia havens for Batista partners such as Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante Jr. Such rationale is readily but incorrectly, conveniently, and cowardly refuted in the United States today. But the fact is little Cuba still holds those two gigantic distinctions in American history.
The above photo, whose rights are owned and controlled by Yale University, shows Celia Sanchez in the lobby of a New York hotel in April of 1959 -- less than four months after she had shed her famed guerrilla uniform in Cuba's Sierra Maestra revolutionary war. It is surely one of the most iconic and most important snapshots of the entire U. S. - Cuban cauldron. Beyond question, Celia considered Miami, Florida, and Union City, NJ, to be reconstitution's of Cuba's ousted Batista dictatorship. She was abundantly aware that "mi Cubita bella" ("my beautiful little Cuba") was tiny compared to her gargantuan and hostile neighbor, the United States, and she was unforgiving that the U. S. had teamed with the Mafia to rape and rob the island with kickbacks to its chosen and brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista. But yet, Celia was nothing if not pragmatic. She wanted the U. S. to be Cuba's "best friend and chief trading partner" as she told journalist Carlos Franqui. Therefore, in the immediate weeks after the euphoric triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Celia persuaded a very reluctant Fidel Castro -- the newly famed upfront leader of Cuba -- to visit the U. S. and make a powerful series of promises to President Dwight Eisenhower, including a "sincere promise" of a totally honest democratic election within three months that could be "massively monitored" by U. S. observers to assure its absolute honesty. The trip was made and lasted twelve days in April of 1959 and the 33-year-old Fidel was a superstar hit at appearances at Yankee Stadium, the Washington Monument, etc.; the magazine Celia is gripping in the above photo is the Newsweek edition that had Fidel on its cover above the caption "Hero." But Celia's priority was the promised Eisenhower meeting with Fidel. Sadly, it was not to be. The honest, elderly, and very malleable U. S. president was abruptly shunted off on a golfing trip far from D. C. so the crooked wing of the White House, led by Vice President Richard Nixon, could host the world's newly heralded revolutionary hero.
Fidel Castro's historic meeting with VP Richard Nixon in April of 1959 foreshadowed much of the shame, suffering, and criminality that has shaped U. S. Cuban policy to this very day. Nixon, in perfect Joseph McCarthy-style, used the session to burnish his anti-Communist reputation, flagrantly and falsely accusing Fidel of being a Communist and installing an "unacceptable" regime on the nearby island of Cuba. Even that week's edition of Newsweek poignantly revealed that the criminal U. S. - backed Batista, not Revolutionary Cuba, was "riddled" with Communists such as the infamous Rolando Masferrer and such as Batista himself. (Batista in 1940 had openly run as a Communist in what was supposed to be a democratic election before he became dictator). At the time Celia and Fidel were not Communists although some important lesser rebels -- including Che, Vilma, and Raul -- certainly had communistic views. Celia was devastated by Nixon using Fidel to grease his right-wing path to the presidency. Even before the flight back to Havana, she told Carlos Franqui, "I never misjudged the criminals high up in the U. S. government prior to this trip. I fully realized their crimes in weaker countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America were committed so rich Americans could steal the resources of countries like Cuba. But, my God, I really thought the American democracy would shelter the U. S. from outright and official government crime at home. Most of everything, I wanted good relations because what little nation wants to continually be fighting the strongest nation in the world? But I know now that won't happen unless we sell out to them. That won't happen. They can destroy us but selling out won't happen. We are not Batista." Franqui then asked her, "So, what do you do now?" She replied, "We go back to our island, batten down the hatches, and do what Cuba has done forever -- prepare for hurricanes and fight foreign powers that want to devour us by buying off native Cubans to join in the ongoing war they will wage against us." Note: Carlos Franqui was a legendary Cuban journalist/author who initially supported the Cuban Revolution as a journalist, author, and broadcaster but later turned against it and lived for decades in Puerto Rico). His much-quoted books about Fidel and the revolution include The Twelve, which was about the Fidel-led and Celia-saved survivors of the ill-fated journey from Mexico to Cuba on the old yacht Granma. Franqui believed just twelve of the 82 on the Granma survived the Batista shoreline ambush but later it was learned there were seventeen survivors -- including Fidel, Raul, Che, and Camilo. None of them had ever laid eyes on her but Fidel, during his two years in prison, had not only heard about her but had communicated with her via underground couriers. Marta Rojas gained her first fame covering Fidel's Moncada trial as a journalist trusted by Batista. This gave her access to the imprisoned Fidel. She would exit the prison with notes from Fidel to Celia hidden in her bra; then she would enter the prison with notes from Celia to Fidel also hidden in her bra. Marta, Fidel, Celia and everyone else knew that Fidel would have quickly been tortured to death, as were lower profile Moncada prisoners including Haydee Santamaria's brother Abel who was a key planner for the Moncada attack, except for the fact that journalists including Herbert Mathews closely monitored the well-being of the imprisoned Fidel, already the hero for the majority peasants (as well as journalists like the influential Mathews). The famous photo of Celia Sanchez in the New York hotel lobby in April of 1959 captured a radiant and optimistic Celia Sanchez prior to Fidel's session with the diabolical, double-crossing Richard Nixon. The meeting, although it caught the astute Celia off guard, reaffirmed a trend that has existed from the 1950s to today: The U. S. policy regarding Cuba has been firmly controlled by right-wing criminals high up in the U. S. government colluding with rich and powerful Cuban-exile political and economic interests. Even the most honest and decent presidents from Eisenhower to Obama have been powerless to rein in the economic and political power of the leading Cuban-exile radicals such as Jorge Mas Canosa, ex-Batista minister Rafael Diaz-Balart and then his U. S. congressmen sons Lincoln and Mario, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (entrenched in the U. S. Congress from Miami since Jeb Bush was her Campaign Manager in 1989), etc. This phenomenon reflects a dire and perhaps fatal weakness in the U. S. democracy, especially when it can be noted that the most extreme and most powerful Cuban-exile radicals dating back to the 1970s are all tightly connected to the ongoing Bush political dynasty that has included, among other things, a CIA director, a Vice President, two Presidents, and a two-term governor of Florida who has definite plans to be President at least in 2016 with Marco Rubio, his protege and new Cuban-American Senator from Miami, as his Vice President. Observing the criminal Richard Nixon up close in April of 1959 spawned this comment by Celia Sanchez in the October-1973 edition of Bohemia Magazine: "My God, I worshipped the American democracy from 1939, when I saw Wizard of Oz in Santiago de Cuba while still a teenager, until I saw how Batista got his guns and his power from America so he could brutalize us. But my encounter with Nixon in 1959 was the epiphany that turned me against domestic America because it was on that trip that I learned the powerful Dulles brothers and their kind owned companies like the United Fruit Company that were robbing little nations blind, even if the U. S. government had to use its military to make it happen. A democracy run by the likes of Nixon, the Dulles brothers...people who profited from the rapes and murders and wholesale robberies in little countries like Cuba, the same people who sent their military and their CIA and Mafia goons to kill us or to enslave us so we could be exploited or killed by our own goons? Uh, no thanks. I prefer to die fighting such fiends, not running scared. And I know now, I will die fighting those fiends and the Cubans aligned with them, especially the cowards who attack us from Florida." Carlos Franqui, even after he had turned his high-profile journalistic endeavors from pro-Castro to anti-Castro, used that latter quotation from Celia Sanchez to explain why she never championed a democratic election in Cuba even though her preferred candidate, Fidel Castro, was "easily the most popular and best liked person on the island with a legacy that will rival or exceed Jose Marti." Perhaps, as the one-time insider Franqui surmised decades later after he had defected to Puerto Rico, Celia Sanchez shunned a democratic Cuba although Fidel probably would have easily won any honest election, just as declassified U. S. documents from 1962 (now posted on Peter Kornbluh's U. S. Archives website) clearly concluded. That website also features chilling declassified U. S. data depicting the embargo, first imposed on Cuba in 1962 and continuing to this day, as designed "to starve" the Cubans on the island to force them to overthrow Castro. "Batista, the Mafia, and the CIA made profound impressions on Celia," Franqui wrote, "but Nixon and the Dulles brothers made the most indelible impressions on her regarding democratic America. After Wizard of Oz, she thought democracy reached all the way to heaven...till her beloved little Cuban girls began going missing and ending up in Mafia casino-hotels to entice pedophiles to gamble. A little Cuban girl she knew proved to be one too many for her and, as it turned out, for Batista and his supporters. But after seeing Nixon and learning about such decision-makers as the Dulles brothers, her democratic balloon, or ideals, were punctured forever even as far as domestic America or domestic Cuba were concerned. But it still wasn't till after the Bay of Pigs attack that Fidel announced he was a Marxist, upon her suggestion. After the rebels took Cuba and would have done most anything to appease the U. S., Nixon and his ilk wanted nothing less than to recapture Cuba and do it in short order. Realizing that, Fidel still wanted to appease, to compromise, at least till the Johnson administration rudely rejected his Celia-approved 12-page plea for friendly relations with the U. S., making so many concessions that he added, 'but please don't conclude that my resolve regarding sovereignty is weak.' Before and after 1959, Celia was the tough nut to crack, not Fidel. But he's never let anyone, including Che and Raul, criticize her...and that includes me when I was his valued friend." NOTE: Nixon's infamy is well known to Americans but 1950s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles, the CIA director, had positive reputations with me -- till I read Celia Sanchez's seventeen letters to her American friend Nora Peters. Subsequently, daily and nightly research on Celia (including Cuban and U. S. archives) since the 1980s confirmed her opinions regarding Nixon, the Dulles brothers, etc., and her opinions of others -- including President John Kennedy and VP and President George H. W. Bush, who happened to be CIA director on October 6-1976 when the Cuban civilian airplane was bombed out of the sky, markedly inflaming Celia's already volatile mind when it came to Batistiano and CIA terrorists. Shortly, she and later history blamed Cuban exiles Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch for the bombing and she (and history) tied both operatives closely to both Bush and the CIA. Later I will post more on Celia's thoughts regarding JFK and GHWB, such as an exchange of extremely positive cables between Celia and JFK the week before JFK was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22-1963. To not understand Celia Sanchez is to not understand the U. S. - Cuban conundrum from the 1950s to the present day. Indeed, it was long, long ago when she declared: "The Batistianos will never regain control of Cuba as long as I live or as long as Fidel lives." Practically no one believed that proclamation when she first uttered it many decades ago, but they believe it now. So, what did she predict after (the now 85-year-old) Fidel dies? She had some thoughts on that epic proposition, too, back when she was a sickly 59 and he was still a robust 54 and about to permanently give up his famed Cuban cigars. I'll discuss her thoughts on that dicey topic in a later and braver posting...braver because by 1980 Celia had also formed some dire perceptions of George H. W. Bush, who entered her life robustly in 1976 as America's CIA director, the year the civilian Cuban airplane was bombed out of the sky, the monumental event most Americans know little about but the event that prompted Celia Sanchez to deeply regret the removal of the nuclear missiles from Cuban soil. By the way, one reason it has been politically, socially, and healthfully incorrect for Americans to know much about the 1976 terrorist bombing of the Cuban airplane is the simple fact that Emilio Milan, a popular Cuban-exile newscaster in Miami, was car-bombed after he stated in a newscast that Cuban exiles should cease terrorist acts against innocent people and also stop using the media to brag about such things. That and similar incidents sent messages that are heeded to this day, reminding one of Celia Sanchez's lament about the losers in the Cuban Revolution being the ones mostly writing its history and, amazingly, reaping the financial and political windfalls by reconstituting the Batista dictatorship in Cuba to U. S. soil where a fading democracy, still the hallmark of the richest and strongest nation in the world, seems utterly incapable of protecting itself from within its own borders.
Celia Sanchez. Without her, there would have been no viable Cuban Revolution. Without her, there would never have been a Revolutionary Cuba. Without her, the Batistianos and the Mafia would still be in charge of Havana, not Miami. And without her, the United States could still be saying, "No U. S.-backed dictatorship has ever been overthrown by a popular revolution" and "No overthrown U. S.-backed dictatorship ever reconstituted itself on U. S. soil." So, yes! The 99-pound doctor's daughter from the little Cuban town of Media Luna was and is a gigantic historic figure, albeit one that the powers-that-be in Miami and Washington prefer that you know nothing about.
Top: Josefina Vidal; Bottom: Celia Sanchez
Does Josefina remind Fidel of Celia?
Not Long before his illness in 2006 Fidel Castro was already thinking about a post-Castro Cuba. He realized that old revolutionaries, including himself and his brother Raul, just wouldn't live forever. But he wanted Revolutionary Cuba, meaning the stamp he placed on the island in 1959 with his triumph over the Batista dictatorship, to extend well beyond his and Raul's lifetimes. As far back as 1970 Fidel had promised his prime (only) confidant, Celia Sanchez, that if Raul out- lived him that Raul would succeed him as Cuba's leader. He ran that past Celia Sanchez because hers was the only concurrence he ever sought or needed (till the revolutionary heroine died of cancer on Jan. 11-1980). She concurred with his decision regarding Raul and thus he lived up to it after his illness. But beyond himself and Raul, by the first decade of the 21st century Fidel had decided two trusted, much younger aides -- Felipe Perez Roque and Carlos Lage -- would be co-leaders in post-Castro Cuba. But his own intelligence service supplied him with an audio tape in which Lage said, "In the future Cuba must align itself more and more with the United States." Roque replied, "Without question, like an ant recognizing the footsteps of an elephant." Fidel took three days to confirm the authenticity of the voices, then fired Roque and Lage. In 2007, still recovering from his almost-fatal illness and with Raul in the leadership role, Fidel had Josefina Vidal over at his house for dinner. At the dinner table, where they were joined only by his wife Dalia and their son Alexander, Fidel surprised Josefina. He asked her if she would allow him "to support her" as the leader of Cuba following him and, of course, Raul. The usually very strong and stoic Josefina paused a rather long time, bowing her head. When she looked back across the table at him, tears streamed unabashedly down her cheeks. She knew his "support" would have made it happen, regardless of what Raul or anyone else thought. But she began to shake her head slowly, side to side. "No," she said. "Please understand. I will devote all of my life to defending Cuba, and I consider Cuba to be you and the revolution. I cherish that role and I don't want distractions. Please understand." Fidel nodded his understanding and nothing further was mentioned on that topic...for four more years. In March of 2011, at Varadero when Fidel had remarkably recovered much of his strength but knew that later in the year Raul would turn 80 (in June) and he would turn 85 (in August), he again asked Josefina Vidal the same question he had asked her at dinner in 2007. Alexander (Dalia wanted Alexander with Fidel at all times, if possible) nervously and sympathetically watched the emotion well up in Josefina's face again because again she felt compelled to say "no" to the last person in the world she ever wanted to disappoint.
Josefina Vidal has the title of Minister of North American Affairs in the Cuban government. The United States, which includes the anti-Castro bastions of Miami and Union City (NJ), is a part of North America. Josefina Vidal, for years now (since she headed the Cuban Interests Section in Washington), has been the Cuban most in charge of monitoring and then deciding what to do about threats to Revolutionary Cuba. She considers the dissidents on the island to be very few in number (so, by the way, does the U. S. State Department) and she says, "Dissidents don't concern me at all, unless I have strong evidence they are being paid or supported by a foreign power. Then I am concerned...very much." Asked (by a reporter from the Jamaica Observer) what is her other greatest concern, she said, without hesitating, "The people in Miami are very good at devising what I call peripherals. By that I mean they devise schemes trying to provoke us to do something that they can damn us for, then rush to the media and to the politicians to demand more money or more attacks on this island, and such. I try to monitor such schemes 24/7."
Josefina Vidal is entering her 50s now. Fidel Castro considers her the most important person in Cuba. He told Alexander, "They can't out-smart her and they won't out-fight her. She reminds me of..." He didn't finish that thought, but Alexander knew the word he couldn't finish the sentence with was "...Celia." To the insiders who have known Fidel Castro the best, all agree that the one person he has worshipped during his long lifetime is Celia Sanchez, the guerrilla fighter and incomparable recruiter that Fidel, Che, Raul, Camilo, etc., joined in the Sierra Maestra after their harrowing journey from Mexico to begin the war that defeated Batista. The best Cuban historian, Pedro Alvarez Tabio, wrote: "If Batista had killed Celia Sanchez anytime between 1953 and 1957, there would have been no viable Cuban revolution, and no revolution for Fidel and Che to join." Roberto Salas, an intimate of both Fidel and Celia, wrote in his U. S. - published book "A Pictorial History of the Cuban Revolution": "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones. When she died of cancer in 1980 we all knew no one could ever replace her." The best America biography of Fidel Castro is by Georgie Anne Geyer and in it Geyer clearly states that Celia Sanchez "over-ruled" Fidel whereever and whenever she chose to do so. (Celia, for example, devised a cable to Moscow requesting nuclear missiles and sent it off without telling Fidel; when she told him over coffee at her 11th Street apartment -- where they usually spent their nights -- he was furious but, as always, ended up supporting her even when he strongly disagreed with her). Read Geyer's pages 356-357 regarding her depiction of Fidel's reaction to Celia's death and you'll comprehend what she, and she alone, meant to him. When I was in Cuba in 2004 researching my biography of Celia Sanchez I had the privilege of seeing a copy of that cable and was allowed to both photograph it and translate it to English. Upon my return to the U. S. Marta Rojas, the now 82-year-old famed author/revolutionary, told me in 2005 in an e-mail: "Since Celia died of cancer in 1980 Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he precisely believes Celia would want him to rule it." I believe Marta Rojas, with the possible exception of Fidel Castro, knows more about the Cuban Revolution than any person alive.
So now, in the twilight of his life, it seems Fidel Castro has indeed discovered someone who reminds him of Celia Sanchez. Her name is Josefina Vidal, Cuba's Minister of North American Affairs. That's significant to current events and important to history, I believe, because even the legacy that the mortal Fidel leaves behind will dominate Cuba for the foreseeable future. On June 7, 2011 one of Fidel's biggest fans, China's Vice President Xi Jinping, personally asked to see Fidel so he could pointedly tell him, "You are the greatest defender of national sovereignty." That gesture was important, too, because Xi Jinping will soon be China's new president. On his three-day trip to Cuba (the first week of June, 2011), Xi Jinping, to honor Fidel, signed ten strong economic pacts with Fidel's brother Raul. Xi Jinping, as China's future president, may well be Cuba's best friend and Xi Jinping already has said that now second-place China will soon replace first-place Venezuela as Cuba's leading "trade partner." But be that as it may, Cubans on the island, not foreigners, will predicate the power of Fidel's legacy and the majority of Cubans on the island agree with Xi Jinping regarding Fidel Castro and "national sovereignty." That, and a little bad luck for the CIA, is why he and his revolution have lasted so incredibly long. But to me (I'n no big admirer of Fidel but I could easily say the same thing about Batista), the most fascinating thing about his undeniably fascinating life is his relationship with Celia Sanchez. And that's why, having learned his remarkable feelings about Josefina Vidal, I am wondering if, each day since January 11, 1980, he has tried to find another Celia Sanchez...and perhaps succeeded.
Dalia Soto del Valle
Since 1980 Fidel Castro has been married to Dalia Soto del Valle. As with all other major aspects of his life since 1953, that, too, was orchestrated by Celia Sanchez, the one person he has idolized over the course of his long life, starting when he joined her anti-Batista revolution in the hills, valleys, and swamps of the Sierra Maestra mountains in the closing days of 1956. After the triumph of the revolution in January of 1959 Celia, with the total concurrence and full support of Fidel, was the prime decision-maker in Revolutionary Cuba. Dalia, a beautiful redhead, was a school-teacher in the south-central colonial city of Trinidad when Celia, her best friend, also asked her to take a position with the Sugar Workers' Union. In that capacity Celia introduced Dalia to Fidel, who was instantly and eternally smitten with her beauty and personality (and her red hair; he loved redheads). But from 1957, when they shared the famed La Plata cabin during the height of the guerrilla warfare in the Sierra, till she died of cancer on January 11, 1980, Fidel not only shared leadership of Cuba with Celia but he also was constantly with her day and night, often at her 11th Street Apartment in Havana even with its questionable security. On January 5th, 1980 -- six days before she died -- Celia exacted a promise from Fidel for him to marry her dear friend Dalia. Fidel, of course, quickly kept that promise. Dalia bore him five very loyal sons -- Angel, Antonio, Alex, Alejandro, and Alexis (Angel was the name of Fidel's father and Alejandro was Fidel's primary code name during the Sierra fighting). Perhaps fittingly, of all his eight sons (yes, eight), Alejandro evolved as Fidel's favorite. Dalia for all these years has been a very loving and devoted wife to Fidel and a cherished mother to their five sons. Extremely modest and unpretentious (like Celia), Dalia shops in regular stores, attends baseball games, cuts the grass in her yard, etc., and very few Cubans know who she is other than being a regular Cuban. But there is no doubt that Celia Sanchez, her best friend from long ago, would be very proud of Dalia's relationship with Fidel these past thirty-one years.
A lot of myths and rumors about Fidel Castro are merely self-serving lies and distortions but one myth/rumor that is neither a lie or a distortion is the fact he indeed loved redheads. In the early years of Revolutionary Cuba the top redheads in Hollywood seemed to crave getting bedded by him and at least three of the most famous succeeded, including Maureen O'Hara (shown above). We know that to be true after deep and delicate research related to Celia Sanchez. Georgie Ann Geyer, Fidel's best American biographer, noted that Celia "over-ruled" Fidel whenever she chose, which was often, and that they were almost always together, day and night, but sometimes (according to Geyer) Celia had to "shoo" Hollywood redheads out of Fidel's beds. Also, the CIA admitted to "18" assassination attempts against Fidel; one of the 18, according to declassified CIA data, called for a highly paid young redhead to seduce and poison Fidel in Havana on a night Celia was on the other end of the island, in Santiago de Cuba, on Cuban business (opening a library). But, alas! The young redhead reported back to the CIA that she just couldn't bring herself to administer the poison and she said, "Anyway, even though he got what he wanted he unnerved me by never taking his boots off!" (Cuban insiders insist, although I've been unable to confirm it, that Fidel, after he learned the young redhead's mission, wrote the CIA a note that thanked them "for sending me a young redhead that was very kind throughout the night, especially for not poisoning me." Even Peter Kornbluh, at the U. S. Archives, has attempted to get a declassified copy of that note from CIA files, which have released countless other Fidel notes (many to Celia) and even a famous one he wrote as a boy to President Roosevelt). Maureen, Rita, Rhonda...it is a known fact that in the first decade of Revolutionary Cuba Fidel had the best redheads Hollywood could offer, even including his pal Errol Flynn's teenage girlfriend Beverly Aadland who had just starred in the movie South Pacific, one of Celia's favorites. (Once she learned of that tryst, Celia admitted she "trashed" her personal "copy roll" of the South Pacific film). So it's a bit ironic that Celia, as she was dying of cancer, insisted that Fidel, after she died, marry her dear friend, the reheaded Dalia. But, you know what? From 1980 till the present day, according to a key insider, "There has never been a single rocky moment between Fidel and Dalia...and the union produced five loving sons." As Cuban insider Roberto Salas said in his book, "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones." Pairing Fidel with Dalia just before she died was Celia's last "big" one. "Little" ones back in the day included trashing her copy of South Pacific.
Errol Flynn and Beverly Aadland in "Cuban Rebel Girls"
You are probably wondering what the above photo has to do with Celia Sanchez or the Cuban Revolution, the prime topics of this forum. Well, the answer is...a lot. It shows the 50-year-old Errol Flynn, then past his days as the top money-maker in Hollywood, starring in a 1960 movie he produced and shot in Cuba entitled Cuban Rebel Girls. It reflected Flynn's, and Hollywood's, fascination with the Cuban Revolution, specifically in this case Flynn's fetish for young women, including the young female guerrilla fighters that played such significant roles in the revolutionary war against the Batista dictatorship. So, in Cuban Rebel Girls Flynn himself played the Fidel Castro-type hero and, guess what?, his teenage girlfriend Beverly Aadland, shown above tending to the leg injury of the Fidel-like character, played the Celia Sanchez-type rebel heroine. No kidding. And, yes, we're talking about the same Beverly Aadland that Flynn generously made available to Fidel, as historians such as Georgie Anne Geyer have amply mentioned and as Celia Sanchez confirmed as the reason she "trashed" her copy of the movie South Pacific after she learned Beverly Aadland was one of the stars. Beverly Aadland's billing in the rebel movie was actually "Beverly Fisher" for some reason, perhaps to appease Celia whose permission was needed to shoot the film in Revolutionary Cuba.
Errol Flynn fancied himself as Fidel Castro and Beverly Aadland as Celia Sanchez.
The above historic photo resonated strongly with historians such as Georgia Ann Geyer and with the Hollywood superstar Errol Flynn, who wrote the script for Cuban Rebel Girls. In her seminal biography of Fidel, Geyer pointed out that Celia Sanchez, beginning in 1957 when Fidel first joined her in the Sierra Maestra after his almost two years in a Batista prison and then his almost two years in the U. S. and Mexico before returning to fight Batista, she meticulously cared for Fidel right up until her fatal bout with cancer in 1980. The above photo was taken in 1957 at a Sierra Maestra campsite right after their guerrilla unit was recovering from a hit-and-run attack on a much larger Batista unit, a raid that netted the rebels some needed supplies that included three nice jeeps. Fidel was slightly injured in the right thigh. That's Celia moving toward him on her knees to administer water, aspirin, and a bandage -- just as Geyer depicted in her bio and perhaps the inspiration for Errol Flynn to write the scene in which the rebel girl, Beverly, cared for the injured Fidel-like character in Cuban Rebel Girls. Terrance Cannon, one of the best authors on the Cuban Revolution, asked Celia, "Is it true what I hear that you began pampering Fidel the first day you met him in the Sierra Maestra?" Her reply, perhaps displaying both irritation with the question and her penchant for the truth, was: "No, not exactly. I didn't start pampering him -- changing his diapers and such -- until a few days later after I'd gotten to know him and after I'd decided he was the man I wanted to be the next leader of Cuba." Cannon, who confessed he was taken aback by the reply and by Celia "as a whole," then asked her, "Can I quote you on that?" She laughed and said, "Sure, as long as you misspell my name and describe me as a heavy-set blond!" (Celia at the time had coal-black hair and weighed 99 pounds).
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