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.



Blogger DLPhillipsReece said...

Ruby was my aunt on the phillips side. She was married to James Doyle Phillips. Their daughter is still living and was a professional dancer for many years. My children and I were just doing some research and came across your, just thought we'd say hello:-)

Debra L. (Phillips) Reece

9:03 PM, November 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dad, Robert Berrellez,will always be thankful to Ms. Phillips' parrot. He was arrested with Ms. Phillips on the day of the invasion. He was carrying reporters' notes, which at that time could have been misinterpreted. He was asked to go to Ms. Phillips office, escorted by Castro's G2 goon squad. He was mortified of the thought of his notes being discovered. Ms. Phillips owned a nasty/biting parrot. My dad extended his finger, and the parrot performed a perfect cut on my dad's finger. Ms. Phillips screamed, and this provided the opportunity for him and her to go to the restroom to wash the wound and flush the notes. RIP to Ms. Phillips and him.

10:48 AM, October 11, 2012  
Blogger olefbcoach said...

I was so richly blessed as a teenager to have had Ms. Phillips and her sister as my neighbors in Merritt Island, FL.

As I was so fortunate to befriend them both, I would come over and assist them with installing Christmas trees in the living room and other odd such handy tasks.

During these times I would hear the stories of Ms. Phillips time in Cuba. I do recall the stories of her parrot, and the descriptions of Battista and Castro. I also recall her daughter being a professional dancer, she was very proud of her daughter in the mentioning. It is only now that I truly realize what an enormous blessing it was to hear such wonderful stories first hand from her.

Thank you Ms. Phillips, you have enriched my heart with endearing memories of my youth.

Ben Clark

1:17 PM, February 03, 2014  
Anonymous Adriana Bosch said...

I am interested in rescuing Mrs. Phillips story in a documentary and would welcome anyone who wanted to share a stories or knew where her memories were kept.

7:21 PM, July 01, 2015  
Blogger D. Germinal said...

I think the blogger was a bit hasty in his conclusions about Ms Phillips' book. For example, I am sure Ms Ph judgements were not made out of fear at all. To ponder this possibility is to take legends about Cuba before 1959 as real history. Cuba before 1959 was a way more civilized country than after that ominous year. An example, public (free) education and heath care always coexisted then with the private one. Castro just eliminated the private sector for political convenience. The rich subtleties of Ms Ph,for sure products of her frame of mind, are to be contrasted with the awkwardness of H. Matthews, assuming his was not fake awkwardness also for political convenience (before meeting Castro he was briefed by elements from the state department who were effective collaborators on Castro's take of power.) The biggest blame to be put on Batista shoulders is also his opening the way to power to Castro.

8:58 PM, December 11, 2016  

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