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PostHavana Life in Batista Times (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA, 03/14/21 4:00 am)
Since I am not very familiar with life under the older Trujillo, except that he was not well spoken or liked by many in my teen years, this very short post focuses on just a few of my Batista-era recollections.
Havana was a super active city in which to live and grow up. Lots of noise from all kinds of vehicles, street sellers, people, bodegas blaring music, etc. I grew up in the city of Havana itself so learned to live with it. Freedom of expression seemed to be open but with a smell of self-censorship when it came to Batista himself. I avidly read many newspapers and magazines and was regularly impressed by the amount of crimes reported. One notable recollection is of "El Colorado," a renowned common criminal who ran circles around the police until he was finally shot and killed.
My middle/working class barrio was mostly two- or three-story cement or concrete buildings and I do not recall seen many trees on our streets. Politics were discussed openly at home, and on radio and television but most were mostly very careful in not criticizing "el hombre"(Batista) in public. Yet there were critics like Pardo Llada. The most influential anti-Batista people were the Auténticos and many considered them to be a democratic opposition to his PAU (Partido de Acción Unitaria). The Auténticos had a charismatic but unstable leader Eddy Chivas who threw politics into disarray when he committed suicide in the middle of his radio program! His funeral was a national event and was televised. I recall being impressed by the mass of people on the streets walking behind the hearse.
In particular, after Castro's 26th of July attack on the military barracks in Oriente province, it became palpable that mouths had to more carefully managed. Some TV programs were cancelled or modified. In retrospect my overall quick summary is that if you got involved in the political arena during Batista's time you had to be careful but if you did not then you could live a fairly normal life.
Unlike the Batista years, however, under the Castros from the very first days politics intruded into everyone's lives. You couldn't avoid the constant activism, parades, marches, propaganda, indoctrination, etc. It is was inescapable. You could not stay away from the total intrusion into your daily life. If you were apolitical and refused to participate you were soon stigmatized as a counterrevolutionary. This became institutionalized with the darned Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) which were in my particular community composed of poorly educated, loud, aggressive people turned rabid revolutionaries. Many I knew had been rabid Batista supporters until he fled the island!
JE comments: Fascinating vignettes, Francisco! I'd never be one for Batista nostalgia (or for that matter, Castro nostalgia), but we tend to assume the absolute backwardness of Cuba in the 1950s. In fact (see the State Dept charts below), Cuba in 1959 was at or near the top in some metrics, such as infant mortality (lowest in Latin America), literacy (second in Latin America), and the one that always strikes me, TV ownership (highest in LA and fifth in the world). Not sure if that a sign of progress.
About the Batista supporters-turned-CDRistas, this is a constant in every society: those who surrender their "values" to jump on the winning horse. Are they opportunists or pragmatists? You decide.
How Has the Cuban Regime Managed to Survive?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
03/15/21 2:59 AM)
Interesting recollections from Francisco Wong-Díaz (March 14th). I guess the Cuban people had a choice, either remain as a playground for tourists and organized crime, or become a totalitarian dictatorship. The questions about Cuba that I have never been able to answer to my satisfaction are many:
1. How could the US government have been caught so flat-footed by a revolution in a small island so close to our nation? I heard stories about preliminary discussions between Castro and the US government, but ...
2. What forces precluded another invasion of Cuba after the Bay of Pigs fiasco?
3. Despite the US strangulation of this relatively small and poor nation, how have they managed to survive and project such a strong image in medicine?
I cannot help but feel some admiration for the Cuban people's ability to survive for so long living next door to a powerful enemy. It would make me proud to be a Cubano.
JE comments: Tor, your second question reaches deep into the WAIS DNA. As we know, Ronald Hilton in his Hispanic American Report (our predecessor publication) "broke" the story of the imminent invasion at Playa Girón. It was later picked up by the New York Times. Even JFK got involved.
As I understand it, the quick answer to your question is that the US agreed not to sponsor further invasions in exchange for the Soviets removing their missiles from the island. Possibly this is an overly simplistic explanation.
As for the Cubans' pride for standing up to Goliath, during my visits I have perceived this sentiment. There is also the more urgent matter of the daily search for sustenance and minimal consumer goods. Do these dual realities make the Cuban people embrace their regime, or curse it? Paradoxically, both at the same time, and often in the same breath.
I'm confident that Francisco Wong-Díaz will have more emphatic answers to your questions.
How Has the Cuban Regime Survived? The "Ley Mordaza"
(José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela
03/20/21 3:52 AM)
Tor Guimaraes (March 15th) asked how Cuba has managed to survive for so many years, despite the embargo and sanctions by the United States. Since so far it seems that the question has not been answered, I dare to offer my thoughts.
Like any dictatorial regime that for example I have experienced in Venezuela, or from what my son who visited North Korea has told me, the answer is relatively simple: systematic repression, the lack of freedom of the press and expression, a monopoly on education and its brainwashing effect, and finally the country's cultural and informational isolation.
Precisely just two days ago it has been 18 years since March 18, 2003, which saw one of the most representative repressive episodes of the Cuban regime, La Primavera Negra Cubana, the Black Spring. That day Fidel Castro arrested a large number of dissidents, who were themselves called prisoners of conscience. They were subjected to summary trials and sentenced to long prison sentences, under the so-called justice of the Law for the Protection of National Independence. This law is better known as la Ley Mordaza, the Gag Law. It is a repressive instrument still in force that represents a "legal" threat to any Cuban dissident of the regime.
JE comments: Read further on the 2003 "Black Spring," in which 75 pro-democracy activists were arrested and sentenced:
How do authoritarian regimes stay in power? More specifically, why do some disappear and others endure? On this first day of (Northern Hemisphere) spring, how is it that we're seeing no "springs" along the lines of a decade ago? Look, for starters, at Belarus, Syria, and even Venezuela, all of which are rife with unrest. Yet the regimes continue to be as entrenched as they ever were.
Foreign Tourists Who Visit Cuba are Helping to Support the Regime
(Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA
03/21/21 6:43 AM)
Many WAISers hold mostly favorable views of the Castro family dictatorship, so I do not waste my valuable time. All I can add to José Ignacio Soler's comments are the 60+ years of murderous criminality, human rights abuses, repression and destruction of lives and morals.
American tourists who go to Cuba seeking the sun, rum, and fun they could get elsewhere in the USA (Miami/Puerto Rico) and should know better are in fact aiding and abetting the normalization of Castroite crimes and trample over the souls of those victims of Marxist Socialism. Now the same type of despicables want to bring it here to the USA, too.
See what has happened to the once beautiful and successful Venezuela and what the good people of that country are suffering through due to the dastardly Castros and their supporters. Shame on all those bastards!
JE comments: Francisco, message received loud and clear. Is visiting a nation with an unsavory regime the same thing as endorsing that regime? During our travels to Cuba, we have taken (literally) suitcases full of clothes and toothpaste for the people. As animal lovers, we even pack cat and dog food. A question for the WAISitudes: is this the misplaced idealism of dupes or the legendary "useful idiots"? In my defense, I feel strongly that human need is human need, regardless of ideology. And even more pointedly: sixty-plus years of embargo haven't brought a lick of change to the island. Einstein had a strong opinion about doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
For Cuba, 62 Years of Sanctions Have Not Worked
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
03/22/21 3:19 AM)
Very interesting and understandable post from Francisco Wong-Díaz, 21 March.
All WAISers know my enmity (to phrase it mildly) to the policies of Marxism-Socialism, Stalinism, and useful idiots, but not necessarily towards the persons embracing such ideologies, with whom I may even have a good personal friendship.
The US policy of sanctions against Cuba has not been the solution. After 62 years we may say that it has been a great failure with a lot of pain and death as collateral damage. The sanctions are an act of war against the Cuban people as a whole, but the Castro circle is not suffering because of them.
Most probably if a wise policy had been implemented by the US from the very beginning, there is the theoretical possibility that Fidel would not have sided with the USSR, but this is another old story.
On the contrary, by abandoning sanctions and opening a policy of fair commerce and exchange of visitors, the political situation could improve considerably. The policy of the good American carried out by some enlightened persons is the correct, extremely commendable attitude.
Furthermore, if I were a Cuban living in Cuba, first I would fight against the foreign imperialism that places sanctions, and then against the internal dictator (granted, this is not easy). I assume that Cubans may have the same feelings; therefore it confirms that the sanctions are always wrong.
Furthermore, never ask for foreign bayonets to solve your internal political problems, as with their arrival the problems are not solved but in the long run, become worse.
JE comments: The age-old question of diplomacy: Do sanctions hurt the people they are supposed to? Or on the other hand, is engagement the most effective instrument of change? Francisco Wong-Díaz, next, is a strong advocate of the first approach.
A counterexample to Cuba sanctions has been the world's policy towards China. No amount of "opening up," even allowing that nation to make the world's stuff, has brought democracy or lessened the regime's iron grip on its citizens.
- For Cuba, Individual Acts of Charity Help the Regime (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 03/22/21 3:39 AM)
The shortest answer to John E's question is that such acts of charity are feel-good actions and help the regime to stay in power.
Cubans in exile send remittances to their families and have kept them alive for decades while the Castros and their criminal gangs continued to enrich themselves and live the good life. That is their way.
Marxist regimes cannot be defeated without a fight.
JE comments: Indeed, charity may benefit the giver more than the recipient. Herein lies the paradox of charity: by lessening suffering on an individual level, it works against the systemic change that could eliminate the suffering to begin with.
Francisco, what kind of "fight" would be successful against the Cuban regime? I note that with very few exceptions (possibly Chile in 1973), the world's former Marxist regimes were defeated peacefully (Eastern Europe in particular). Afghanistan provides another case study of the military "solution," but the result was worse.
- If You Condemn One Dictator, You Should Condemn Them All (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/22/21 6:36 AM)
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and I have no doubt that the dictators who took over countries like Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc. ad nauseam must have been ruthless, violent, and willing to do nasty things to their opponents.
However, if someone like Francisco Wong-Díaz who hates dictators like I do, expects to sound credible, (s)he must criticize all dictatorships of US foes and puppets alike. With his recent postings on Cuba, Francisco is revealing a one-track mind in a freeway with multiple lanes.
Having so much hate for someone or some ideology is very bad for your digestion. True, it is hard to comprehend how someone as despised in the West as the North Korean dictator might deserve any respect, let alone praise. But when you talk about Fidel Castro, he was from a wealthy family. Why did he not do what most of us would have done, go back and forth to Miami with his wealth, live the high life, instead of going to risk death in the wilderness for an impossible dream: getting rid of another dictator puppet of the mighty USA?
Once Fidel Castro became dictator, what would have happened if the US government instead of trying to destroy his government now representing Cuba, would have thought: you are a little island deciding to misguidedly adopt some form of Marxism/Leninism right next door to me. I can crush you with my little finger. It is not going to work out for Castro because next to Cuba lives a giant nation of free people with a great standard of living, forever improving under democracy and Capitalism. In comparison the Cuban people will look terrible in a few years, just like the Chinese people have looked so terrible for a long time before looking so much better now.
No, the US government went the Francisco way: kill all the bastards, suffocate the Cuban people to destroy the dictatorial government. How many times did we try to assassinate Castro? How many tourists from all over the world or innocent Cubans got killed in Cuba by terrorists paid by external sources? Now we will never know if Cuba has suffered all these years because of these external efforts or because the Cuban government implemented a bad transition of power from the prior dictatorship. Of course, after reading some of his WAIS posts, Francisco might think that Batista was a great Presidente, not a bastard like the Castros.
JE comments: Ah, the classic Our Bastard phenomenon...
Francisco Wong-Díaz recently wrote about Havana in the Batista years. From this post, it's clear that Francisco was no admirer of El Hombre, although I'm sure he preferred Batista to what came after.
- Comparing Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Cuba (Massoud Malek, USA 03/24/21 4:18 AM)
In response to Francisco Wong-Díaz (March 21st), I have been to Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.
Haiti, a non-Marxist country with a population of a little over 9 million, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where eighty percent of residents live in poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook. The latest official poverty estimate (2012) suggested that over 6 million Haitians lived below the poverty line of US $2.41 per day, and more than 2.5 million fell below the extreme poverty line of US $1.12 per day.
Puerto Rico, a United States territory, is not a Marxist country, but according to a study by the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, roughly 40 percent of Puerto Ricans aged 65 and older, who make up around 16 percent of the Caribbean island's population, live in extreme poverty. According to the Kids Count Puerto Rico Profile of 2019, 58.3 percent or almost 6 out of every 10 children in Puerto Rico live in poverty (Youth Development Institute, 2019). If you walk around the non-touristy areas of San Juan, you immediately witness abject poverty.
The citizens of Puerto Rico do not have any voting representation in Washington. On March 1, 2021, the US Supreme Court announced that it will consider the constitutionality of excluding those living in Puerto Rico from a federal retirement benefit known as Supplemental Social Security Income.
Cuba, a Marxist nation, has no problem with student loans or homelessness. Thanks to Fidel Castro, higher education is free to all citizens and if a Cuban has a headache, he or she can see a doctor without paying a peso. I met a university professor in Holguín, who told me that he was offered a position at an American university, but he decided to stay in Cuba, because of his wife who had cancer and was treated for four months in a hospital in Havana. He didn't pay even a peso for her treatment.
On March 22nd, Cuba started the vaccination of 150,000 frontline workers as part of the final phase of a clinical trial of the country's leading COVID-19 vaccine, called Soberana 2. The only other country in the American continent that produces covid-19 vaccine is the United States.
During Hurricane Irma in September 2017, which left one million people in Puerto Rico without power, I was in Cuba. After three days the electricity on the island was restored.
During Christmas 2019, for two weeks in Santiago de Cuba, every night in various parks, they performed ballet, modern dance, opera, jazz, fashion shows and other types of entertainments. How many Americans in Miami have watched Boléro of Ravel or Swan Lake of Tchaikovsky in a park without paying a penny?
Instead of fighting the Marxist regime of Castro, we should help the residents of Puerto Rico in obtaining a voice in their destiny and eradicating poverty.
JE comments: In Cuba, everyone (except a handful of the regime's elites) lives in poverty. Massoud, lately I've been reading the gritty vignettes of the "Cuban Bukowski," Pedro Juan Gutiérrez. I think you'd find them intriguing. Gutiérrez describes a world of vile communal toilets, bathtub rum, and scraping by on rice and beans. The women are often forced to choose between extreme deprivation or life as a "jinetera" (prostitution).
Yet in fairness, Cuba has achieved much in education, culture, and even medicine, despite the scarcity of almost everything.
What do we know about the Soberana 02 Covid vaccine? I found this piece (below) that says the results are promising, despite the lack of peer review. What I do know is that in the US, with the world's wealthiest health system by far, this frontline worker (me) remains unvaccinated. Just two days ago I was made eligible, though, so I hope to get the jab in a week or so.
- For Cuba, Individual Acts of Charity Help the Regime (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 03/22/21 3:39 AM)
- For Cuba, 62 Years of Sanctions Have Not Worked (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/22/21 3:19 AM)
- Foreign Tourists Who Visit Cuba are Helping to Support the Regime (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 03/21/21 6:43 AM)
- How Has the Cuban Regime Survived? The "Ley Mordaza" (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 03/20/21 3:52 AM)