Cuba: The Last Hurrah

February 01, 2017

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PROS AND CONS

Even now, weeks after his death, there seems to be a lot of ambivalence about 90-year-old Fidel Castro. Some feel he was a great man who rescued his island country from the despotic Fulgencio Batista and offered its citizens a better existence, specifically: a lifetime of free health and education benefits.

Man and his horse drawn cart in downtown Havana, Cuba in 2015

Others feel he was simply a dictator who did very little for the average citizen and left the country in shambles. Is he a hero or a villain? I have ambivalent thoughts like everyone else. But mine are based on two people I knew and met from Cuba who seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.

A FEARFUL TRAVELER

One was a Cuban, named Jorge, who was one of the workers in the building where we lived. Once a year, he visited his sister in Cuba. And, he would always turn into a nervous wreck two weeks before he left. I would hear tales about security checks and how scared he was the minute the plane hit the tarmac in Cuba.

Then one day, I asked him if he had ever met Castro. I was absolutely floored when he said, “Yes, I went to school with him.” How in the world could someone be so frightened of a person he had known that far back I wondered? I never got an answer.

AN INTREPID TRAVELER

Then, about 15 years ago, my husband and I were flying from Key West to Miami on a puddle jumper with eight passengers. We started talking to a fellow traveler in his fifties who was with his two sons: one was 20 and the other was 12.

When the father told us they were from Cuba I quizzed him about travel restrictions. (Jorge had told me it was very difficult for Cubans to travel.) Imagine my surprise when he said that his family had traveled all over the world while living and working in Cuba. Then he casually mentioned, “I own two factories.” Did his wealth make the difference? I never found the answer to that one either.

THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY

In October 2016, I received a copy of the Smithsonian magazine that featured a terrific article titled “Viva La Revolución” by Tony Perrottet. The piece was subtitled, “The 60th Anniversary of Fidel Castro’s Secret Landing on Cuba’s Southern Shore.” Here are a few highlights:

Fidel Castro (seated left) and his comrades at the Sierra Maestra Mountains command post in 1958

Photo: Courtesy of Smithsonian magazine

  • December 2, 2016 marked a great milestone: the 60th anniversary of the secret landing of Granma, the ramshackle boat that brought Fidel, Che, Raúl and 79 other barely trained guerrillas to start the revolution in 1956. It began a campaign that would, in a little over two years, bring down the Cuban government and reshape world politics.
  • Fidel Castro Ruiz was a young law graduate who was born into a wealthy landowning family some 60 miles north of Santiago. From his teens onward the 6’ 3” Castro was known for his rebellious nature, hypnotic charisma and staggering self-confidence.
  • Fidel spent two years incarcerated on the Isle of Pines, which was Cuba’s answer to Devil’s Island, where he read Karl Marx and became ever more radical. Nothing short of a true revolution would change Cuba, he concluded.

Castro’s cabin at the rebel headquarters included a bed, fridge and a secret trapdoor in case of attack

Photo: Courtesy of Smithsonian magazine

  • On New Year’s Day, 1959 at 4:30 am news filtered through Havana that Batista had left Cuba. What happened next is familiar – in broad brushstrokes – to those who have seen The Godfather Part II. Many believed this upheaval would end quickly. Instead, Castro outlasted 11 U.S. presidents.

ADEA’S BLOGS ABOUT CUBA To say that ADEA has covered Cuba is the understatement of the century. This list is in reverse order. It starts with May 2016 and goes back to February 2016.

CLICK ON ANY OF THE LINKS BELOW:

FASHION, ROCK & ROLL AND CUBA 

ADVENTURES IN CUBA - PART 3

ADVENTURES IN CUBA – PART 2

ADVENTURES IN CUBA – PART 1

THE TRAVEL BUG 

BACK FROM CUBA 

THE WEEKEND GETAWAY: PACKING FOR CUBA

THE WINTER GETAWAY: CUBA 

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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