The following is one of the many eye witness accounts of Fidel Castro’s rise to power and the death and destruction that ensued soon after. This account was written by Clotilde Saiz, an 85-year-old Cuban exile who wants to provide her children and others a firsthand account of how Cuba lost its freedom so no one will forget.
I Witnessed Fidel’s Triumphant entry into Havana
I wrote this as my kids had asked me to write my personal memories of Cuba. I lived this.
On January 1, 1959 people in Havana woke up in the morning to long awaited news. The cry: “Batista se fue! Batista se fue!” rapidly spread all over the island – but especially in Havana.
Cubans were ecstatic. They were finally free from a dictatorship they not only disdained, but actively hated. This cry resonated in most Cuban’s hearts. Finally, the hope of a future of freedom and self-determination appeared to be a reality.
The next day, a louder cry was heard, “Fidel viene! Fidel viene!” The happiness Cubans felt was unsurpassed and overwhelming – it had the power and noise of a thousand thunder storms. Batista was forgotten under the shadow of a powerful and compassionate hero; a veritable messiah. Many thought he would finally bring freedom, justice, forgiveness, equality, and fraternity for us all. He was the second Martí – nay, he was Martí reincarnated! He would place the ideals Martí had espoused, but were never brought to fruition due to the succession of inept or corrupt politicians of every stripe who plagued the nation following the War of Independence (Teddy Roosevelt’s Spanish-American War).
Fidel’s arrival to Havana was greeted with high expectations and infinite love. It was a sensation of well-being and a positive, confident belief brighter than any display of color humans have created. Never have I seen such a multitude of people from every walk of life, color, ethnicity, and creed show such spontaneous and sincere feelings as those shown to our new “Maximum Leader of the Revolution.” Old people became young through their unlimited enthusiasm; and young people felt awed as they recognized that they were a part of something momentous; greatness they would never experience again.
The masses eagerly awaited the great Hero’s first words. As he prepared to talk, a white dove flew around him, and finally chose Fidel’s shoulders as the best place to listen to him speak. The crowd loved this and cried: “La paloma de la Paz! La paloma de la Paz”. The peace dove! The peace dove! This brought tears and laughter to many who were there – many saw this as a sign that even God saw him as Martí’s heir, to finish Martí’s work and follow the path Martí had set, but had been denied by venal events.
Soon the great Leader began to talk. The words flew out of his mouth. And with them flew my hope. I saw his words envelope my fellow countrymen and my heart squeeze with panic. As the minutes passed, my sadness and disappointment increased. My pulse raced. Could I possibly be hearing correctly? Was he really saying, “Paredon”, or death, for the counter-revolutionary? I continued paying very close attention to what he was saying. Yes, he was saying “death for counter-revolutionaries,” with increasing intensity. His phrases were wrapped in rage and hatred towards those who did not believe as he did.
These words were the preface of the fundamental misfortune coming to Cuba. These words would transfer a peaceful and friendly multitude, anxious for real cooperation and freedom, into a fanatic horde of vengeful soldiers catering to Fidel’s every wish and belief. For me the spirit of unification and nurturing of liberty that I originally saw was coming to a quick end.
As I heard his words, I repeated to myself many times, “I am not listening well. The electricity in the air is making me confuse the words. Fidel is joking. These people repeating his words are not from this land. It must be a Hollywood movie; it can’t be real”. The speech lasted 12 hours! Towards the end I awoke from my fugue state and realized that what was happening was true. A single man after 12 hours of spouting hatred and vengeance could turn brother against brother. He brought out the beast in the souls of millions of Cubans. A country which previously had never shot people wantonly now became one anxious to exterminate not only criminals or abusers of power, but anyone who did not praise the revolution or mindlessly subordinate to its rulings. However, I still can’t believe that the majority of the Cubans understood the future consequences of his words.
When I say brother acted against brother, it is not as a figure of speech, but sadly a reality. More frequently neighbor or friend acted against neighbor or friend. Thousands of Cubans were jailed, and many were set to a firing squad without trial or hearing. Fidel’s first act was to remove firearms from ordinary Cuban citizens so any chance of resistance was nipped in the bud.
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