26 De Julio

In the week leading up to 26 de Julio, the annual celebration of the Cuban Revolution, officials in Spain expressed hope that Cuba’s announcement that the “government’s wish is to free all the people”—at least all those not convicted of murder—might lead to better relations with the nations of Europe, and perhaps even the cessation, at last, of the US blockade of the island.

Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told the Spanish parliament that such a release would yield “political consequences” for relations with the EU and the US, in particular a possible “lifting of the embargo” that the US has stubbornly maintained since 1962.

In a Spain-brokered deal between the Vatican and Cuba, the latter agreed this month to free 52 of 75 prisoners sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of up to 28 years. Twenty have already emigrated to Spain with their families. Moratinos said there was nothing “coincidental” about these releases—they are the fruit of a six-year dialogue between the Spanish and Cuban governments.

Moratinos said the freeing of these prisoners should enable the EU to soften its joint position on Cuba, enacting a “cooperation accord”—despite reluctance from such US-friendly EU nations as France and Germany.

Cuban dissidents claim that, besides the 52 prisoners due for release, Cuba continues to imprison 115 political prisoners. Though that number, as the Miami Herald pointed out today, seems somewhat inflated.

The US embargo is deeply dumb, and should have been tossed in the dustbin of history, long ago. Whether Barack Obama—who, as is well known, is a Marxist, just like Fidel Castro—will elect to set off the ceaseless screaming that would commence, from both GOoPers and the more retrogade elements of the Cuban exile community, in lifting the embargo, no one at present knows.

Though Cuba has been the subject of ceaseless bloviations, in numberless American political campaigns, over the past 40-some years, not much is really known about the country and its history, up here in its historically meddlesome neighbor, but 90 miles to the north.

Two years ago Alexa wrote for Never In Our Names several superb, illuminating pieces centering around 26 de Julio. Long excerpts from two of them, “Subpoena Power, Sugarcane and Sundries on Sunday” and “History Will Absolve Me, v.1.0.” are featured beyond the “furthur.”

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This week marks the 49th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s revolution. A day that enshrouds mi Papi with big time desolación and a supersized side of bitter. And since all Cuban girls are raised to think of Papi only slightly secondary to God, this ain’t my favorite week of the year. You think you don’t like it? Try listening to it for the 27th year of your life. (I remember Radio Marti from the crib.)

I’ve tried to introduce some levity into the situation (Raul Castro provides me with an endless supply of malicious glee). I’ve even speculated that the Cuba Papi remembers simply doesn’t exist anymore. Did my attempts change anyone’s mind?

Do you think a single exile in Miami-Dade County isn’t living for the day when that hijo de la gran puta Castro finally dies and they can reclaim their Once and Future Cuba?

The tendency to remember only the good of a place you miss is fierce. Your beloved homeland never looked so good as after you left it—or lost it. Hate to interject facts in the midst of a perfectly good week-long wake, but it must be asked: How much fun could it’ve been to live in the iron fist of Fulgencio Batista, a malcriado of the United States’ Good Neighbor Policy?

Take a drive along the Tamiami Trail and you’ll see a series of billboards with slogans, created by some of the most fiercely nationalistic morenitos on God’s earth.

Lo nuestra es lo nuestra

What’s Ours Is Ours

Although it is true that Batista had a solid gold telephone, it’s equally true that the entire island lived like campesinos in the most extreme conditions of poverty. If you were a tourist or a companero or culito, pay no mind, party on ’til the break of dawn. If you were everyone else, well . . you were like Batista in his early years, working for United Fruit Company in what can only be described as a low-level position (basurero).

Batista was a garbageman, but I submit to you: So what? It was an honest living, and Batista had no education or influence or social position before Roosevelt decided the viejo would be his Man in Havana. When was that? Around the time Batista set fire to the canefields with white phosphorus.

If you want to sing the praises of Castro, Batista or even the most famous non-Cuban of all, Che Guevara, feel free. You don’t need my squeaky soprano in that choir. I detest all three. You can look forward (haha) to some discussion of the Cuban Revolution this week, beginning of course, with Castro’s History Will Absolve Me. Misery loves company. How many in the Bush maladministration think that history will absolve them, too?

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Say you want a revolución?

It’s hard not to find Fidel Castro somewhat simpatico, even for me, because you can’t help but be in awe of Cuba’s stubborn sense of rebellion. The socialist revolution was Latin America’s great “fuck you” to Yankee domination and for all that hemming and hawing about gringo this and gringo that and John Huston’s Mexican bandits in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the public humiliation of Richard Nixon during a 1970s visit to Venezuela, to the outcries of leftists in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile and Argentina, who were squashed by the subterranean forces trained by the CIA, only Cuba was able to extend its middle finger with some efficacy.

Cuba threw a decades-long wrench into the project of American hemispheric continuity—and not without good reason.

This was an incredible situation, Honorable Judges: Here was a regime literally afraid to bring an accused man to Court; a regime of blood and terror that shrank in fear of the moral conviction of a defenseless man—unarmed, slandered and isolated.

And so, after depriving me of everything else, they finally deprived me even of the trial in which I was the main accused. Remember that this was during a period in which individual rights were suspended and the Public Order Act as well as censorship of radio and press were in full force. What unbelievable crimes this regime must have committed to so fear the voice of one accused man!

58 years after Fidel Castro spoke in his own defense at his trial for the attacks on Fort Moncada barracks, the above could easily have come from any Guantanamo detainee.

The 26th of July is the most sacred day of Cuba’s communist revolution, commemorating 51 years since that fateful day that began the insurrection against Fulgencio Batista.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter Four of Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.’s book, Cuba in Revolution—Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002).

To speak of sacredness, why did Fidel Castro choose the 26th of July for the commencement of his Revolution? Sources tell us Fidel chose July 26 because the patron saint of the city of Santiago de Cuba was the Apostle James the Elder. In medieval Spanish tradition he was resurrected as Santiago the Moorslayer, the avenging angel of the Spanish knights during the Reconquista, as well as the charging fury that led the indomitable conquistadores of Hernán Cortes when battling the Aztecs of Mexico.

The saint was honored every July 25, which also coincided with the end of the sugar harvest, hence the day of the most joyous celebration in Santiago de Cuba. Fidel Castro, “the new Moorslayer, would destroy Batista.” Indeed, Fidel had told his Ortodoxo friend, José Pardo Llada, after Batistas bloodless March 10, 1952 coup d’état in which Batista had seized the government, “We have got to kill that Negro.”

It is of interest that Fidel has admitted in moments of candor that the Moncada attack was carried out for sensationalism to stir up the public and to begin his Revolution with a splash. The fact is that despite the infamous Batista coup of March 10, 1952, Cuba was and remained prosperous and at peace. There was no popular protests or public outcry, except for the measured protests by the intellectuals chiefly in Havana. Fidel, then, had to do something spectacular to get the people’s attention and rally them against Batista. In Fidel’s view, the Moncada Barracks attack was “a gesture which would set an example for the people of Cuba.”

And who could play to a crowd, or play to their emotions better than Fidel Castro? As Ed Morales discussed in Living In Spanglish, one of Castro’s earliest appearances after the revolution is most remembered by the coincidence of a white dove landing and nestling on his shoulder.

People of the Antilles, you can guess the rest. Cuba was “protected” because the white dove represented the most revered god of the Santeria pantheon. Only through the lens of history can we appreciate the symbolic meaning of the white dove. You know our superstitious caribeno ancestors loved it. Morales writes:

If there has ever been a part of me that wondered how the Cuban revolution survived the death of communism, I have to explain it with the belief of the Yoruba (Santeria) religion. Not only has the power of the Soviet Union to shelter and provide for its socialist republics been completely smashed, but even the power of socialist ideology has been brought to its knees. Even Castro gave in and made the US dollar currency in Cuba, putting the island on the same currency as Puerto Rico, if not its mortal enemy, the Yankee nation. What most people can’t see is that Cuba is protected.

On July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro, along with his brother Raúl, led an attack on a remote outpost, the Moncada Barracks, in Oriente province, the easternmost province of Cuba. As discussed above, the fortuitous day was chosen after a major celebration in Santiago de Cuba. He expected Batista’s soldiers to be drunk and stuporous when his band of revolutionaries would surprise them at the crack of dawn. He had 160 men, which included as mentioned, his brother Raúl, Abel and Haydée Santamaría, and several others like Juan Almeida, who would become better known as the Revolution unfolded. Fidel Castro and the principal group of assailants were to attack the main post in the barracks.

In the meantime, the doctor in the group with Abel Santamaría and the two women, Haydée Santamaría and Melba Hernández, were to secure the infirmary. But everything went wrong. In the lead vehicle, Ramiro Valdés encountered one of the guards and smashed his face in with the butt of his rifle. The vanguard of the group surprised the sentries, who, nevertheless, were able to warn the garrison. They suffered eight deaths in the ensuing gunfight. Fidel Castro did not even enter the compound. In the infirmary, the small group viciously killed the sleeping soldiers, accounting for the majority of the 22 enemy casualties.

I warn you, I am just beginning! If there is in your hearts a vestige of love for your country, love for humanity, love for justice, listen carefully. I know that I will be silenced for many years; I know that the regime will try to suppress the truth by all possible means; I know that there will be a conspiracy to bury me in oblivion. But my voice will not be stifled—it will rise from my breast even when I feel most alone, and my heart will give it all the fire that callous cowards deny it.

And on this, at least, Fidel Castro said exactly what he meant and meant exactly what he said.

You know the Jefe can talk. I remember listening to Radio Marti with my father on Sundays as a child from morning until my bedtime—and still the viejo wasn’t nearly ready to give up the microphone.

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When I Worked

July 2010

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