August 30, 2006

Maximo Gómez Wrote to President Cleveland

On February 9 1897, as Cuba waged her 3rd and final war for separation from Spain, General Maximo Gómez wrote a letter to U.S. President Grover Cleveland asking that he issue a statement against the brutal methods of Spanish General Valeriano Weyler. On the third paragraph Gómez writes: “The wisdom of the American people should alone decide what course of action you should take.”

Today it seems sad that “the wisdom of the American people” has never been invoked in the U.S. government policies towards Cuba. Most Americans do not support the embargo and the fostering of hostilities, or the use of terrorism against their small neighbor.

Gómez would not be happy with the role that the U.S. government continues to play in the history of Cuba, but he would not be surprised. The people of the U.S. have always had a great compassion and support for Cubans over the centuries, recognizing their right to a self-made identity.

So, how is it, then, that the resolve of the “freest people of the world” is so different from the actions of their government?

Further down in the letter Gómez writes: “Is it possible that civilized people will consent to the sacrifice of unarmed and defenseless men?”

And this is how he describes the Spanish empire: “It is logical that such should be the conduct of the nation that expelled the Jews and the Moors; that instituted and built up the terrible Inquisition; that established the tribunals of blood in the Netherlands; that annihilated the Indians and exterminated the first settlers of Cuba; that assassinated thousands of her subjects in the wars of South American independence, and that filled the cup of iniquity in the last war in Cuba.”

Gómez was not only a brilliant war strategist, but a fierce warrior loved and respected by his men. He was also, and this still surprises many, not a Cuban (he was born in Santo Domingo, 1836), and, like Ernesto “Che” Guevara a half-century later, adopted Cuba as the country he would fight for.

The outcome of Cuba’s war for independence was not what Gómez and the Cuban rebels fought for. In his diary of January 8 1899 he writes: “Nothing is more rational and fair than that the owner of the house should be the one to live in it with his family and be the one who furnishes and decorates it as he likes and that he not be forced against his will and inclination to follow norms imposed by his neighbor.”

He adds, “There is so much natural anger and grief throughout the island that the people haven’t really been able to celebrate the triumph of the end of their former rulers’ power.”


August 11, 2006

Remembering Ruby Hart Phillips

Almost lost from our collective memory is New York Times correspondent Ruby Hart Phillips, who wrote Cuba, Island of Paradox, available through your better local public libraries.

Hers is a “personal story” with a peculiar point of view not open to the “ugly reality” of Cuban history. For example, a 100-plus page section on Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista fails to mention American gangster Meyer Lansky, a known Batista collaborator.

If you were to read only one book on Cuban history, this would definitely not be the one I’d recommend. In some areas, the book shows the author’s desire to see what Americans want to see, and she seems to not understand the ambivalence that Cubans feel about their mammoth neighbor.

This is how she describes Batista (on page 260); “One of the finest qualities of Batista is a natural warmth that is quite independent of his political status or his strategy. His friendliness was absolutely sincere, not only to me, but to everyone he spoke with. For exactly this reason few people could resist his charm. Foreigners, especially Americans, always left his presence favorably impressed and convinced that he was doing everything possible for his country. He must have believed this himself.”

On the next page she puts on a reporter’s hat. “He managed Cuba by means of counterpoint, sometimes in the interest of the nation, and sometimes to perpetuate his own regime. He was a master at playing his enemies against each other, keeping them busy quarreling among themselves. During his regime, despite the tremendous opposition that grew up against him, the opposing political parties could never unite into a solid front against him. Only an armed rebellion could have ever overthrown Batista.”

Ruby’s seeming lack of experience was one of the factors that got Matthews sent to Cuba in early 1957 to investigate whether Castro was dead (as the Batista government implied) and there seems to have been some differences of opinion between the two correspondents.

Unlike what many claim to this day, however, I didn’t for once think that she was blatantly rubber-stamping everything the government said and did (a la Fox News), and consider that her criticisms of the Batista regime were just too subtle and subdued to be effective, perhaps out of personal fear, perhaps out of political innocence and lack of investigative experience. She was obviously not a Batista supporter, even if she rubbed elbows with the Batistianos and had doubts about Castro.

Such levels of subtleties are no longer part of the political landscape, as opponents are “evil” and God is “our side.” I’m not making a reference to President Bush’s rhetoric about countries he’d like to invade militarily, but about the way Republicans and Democrats seem to be conducting themselves of late.

Perhaps, like Cuba, the U.S. will one day function under a one-party system, but that’s a political change I do not look forward to.


August 08, 2006

Why Castro Should Retire

We just can’t help it. When Cubans are down, we have to kick them. For their own good. That’s what we did after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early nineties. Not a very heroic or patriotic act on our part, but when the Cubans were the hungriest, we turned up the heat on the embargo. It was for their own good, of course.

The writing’s on the wall. One of these days Fidel Castro will die. The embarrassing part of his death will be the reaction across the lake.

Some will act as if Castro’s natural death is a victory, when, in fact, the opposite is true. The real story will be our actions. Will we activate a plan that allows for a military takeover of the island? We’ve developed enough such plans over the past half century (some of them have been declassified) but the current administration is on record as not going in for all that… “planning stuff. ”

How about if just after Castro dies “Cubans” begin to attack the military base in Guantánamo? We’ll have to take military action then. For their own good.

What if they suddenly begin to produce biological weapons for our enemies to use against us?

Even worse, what if they form an alliance with the Cylons? See where I’m going? No telling what those wild Cubans will do after El Jefe is not there to control them. We’ll have to show them what to do.

That’s why it makes sense that Castro should retire now, or soon, and avoid the stress to the country of his death in office, and the fireworks and aggressive nuttiness that his death would inspire.

Once he retires, Castro can serve as an advisor, write his memoirs, teach, host a talk show on Cuban TV (The Fidel Castro Beisbol Hour), and let Alarcon, Lage, and others take care of things.

This, of course, would give us Norte Americanos the chance to “learn” that there are more than 11 million Cubans on the island aside from the Castro brothers. Many will be very surprised by this.