December 31, 2005

Maceo in Havana, January 1 1896

They thought they had turned him back at Coliseo. On December 23 1895, Antonio Maceo’s troops suffered serious losses in their struggle for Cuban independence. The Cubans suffered many casualties, and Maceo’s horse was killed as he rode in battle. But the Mambises would not give up their goal to bring the war to Havana.

The Spanish Army thought they had turned him back, and they celebrated with glee and nervous fear. What the Spaniards actually did was inspire Maceo into one of his most famous maneuvers, usually referred to as the “false retreat.” As the name implies, the rebels seemed to be retreating, but instead they made a half-circle through Las Villas and continued into Havana, destroying sugar plantations, railroad stations and anything else that stood in their way.

On January 1 1896 the newspapers in Havana ran headlines announcing that the rebels had ran from Spanish troops. Some predicted that the Mambises were halfway to Camagüey by now. They were wrong, and this led to the resignation of Captain General Martínez Campos. A great victory for the Cubans and a year to remember, although both Antonio and José Maceo died later that year.

A century and a decade earlier, the year that ends can be remembered for the passing of an American heroin; Ms. Rosa Parks. On December 1 1955, while the new Cuban rebels were in Mexico preparing an armed effort against friendly dictator Fulgencio Batista, she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. (Way to go Ms. Parks!) It’s no surprise that President Bush did not attend her funeral, as his response to Hurricane Katrina shows his administration’s distinct hostility towards those with darker skin, and their policy of Cuban isolationism clearly indicates a yearning for the simplicity of that decade, in which white people ruled and everyone else knew their place. Everyone except Ms. Parks and the Cuban rebels.

Today I can’t help thinking that the Maceo brothers would have been proud of Ms. Parks’ courage, and that she would be proud of what the Maceo brothers now symbolize.

Peace and Happy New Year to all.

December 26, 2005

The Ten-Year Itch

As approaches its tenth year, I can’t help thinking about how much has changed and how much hasn’t.

Ten years ago the Internet didn’t exist as a popular term. It was simply the Information Superhighway, and Netscape was smart-choice browser. Today, the Internet is the media of choice and has grown to 1 billion users.

Ten years ago I didn’t think for a second that the embargo could or would last another decade.

In ten years I purchased 5 different versions of Microsoft Word for Windows! I did well in one presidential election and not so well in the other two. I witnessed Peter Jackson overthrow George Lucas from the throne, as my hair lost a couple of points in the Ansel Adams Zone System.

Of course, I had interests other than Cuban history books and Ridley Scott movies, and I noticed, as do most, that the older you are, the faster a decade goes by.

Here’s wishing for open, honest, peaceful relations between Cuba and the U.S. in the next ten years, something that has never existed in the 500-plus year history of one and the 230-year history of the other.

It’s never too late to start a new trend.


December 14, 2005

Race War and Ridley Scott

All the riddles of modern life are addressed, if not answered, in the history of Cuba.

Preparing a new section on “Race in Cuba” for the website has been a fascinating experience, and I was glad to revisit and learn more about men like Martín Morúa Delgado, José Miguel Gómez, Evaristo Estenoz, Julían Valdés Sierra and many others.

If the first 20 years of the Cuban republic (1902 – 1922) were a film, it be a great, dramatic event worthy of a Ridley Scott. The so-called “race war” of 1912 (not so much a war as an excuse for a white government to hunt down and kill a bunch of black people) would be among the most dramatic and disturbing footage ever shot by Mr. Scott, who’s known for his visual eloquence.

(Dear Mr. Ridley Scott: Let’s you and I sit down and talk about this soon. I’m you biggest fan.)

This story features not just drama, but action, political corruption, personal betrayal, bloodshed, state-condoned racist murders, great sugar crops and beautiful beaches, wealthy tourists, foreign industrialists, bankers, investors, and the ever-present Cuban penchant for focusing exclusively on our disagreements in order to make things worse. What a movie!

Unofficially, my list of favorite Ridley Scott movies in some sort of late-night order: Gladiator, Blade Runner, Alien, Black Hawk Down, Thelma and Louise, Matchstick Men, Hannibal, The Duelists. Of course, the absolute worst Ridley Scott movie ever is still better than most people’s best, and I’m still not sure where Kingdom of Heaven stands in my unofficial list, but it is there. I’ll have to see it one more time to decide.