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realclearworld

Dispatch from the End of the World: Havana, 31 December 1958, 11:59 p.m.

Third-graders, La Salle de Miramar, Havana, 1958

Third-graders, La Salle de Miramar, Havana, 1958

The Good, the Bad, and the Doomed:  New Year's Eve, 1958

This bunch of sniveling privileged larvae had no clue.  They couldn't tell what awaited them.  Neither could their parents or grandparents.

Their world perched on a knife's edge, yet deceptively stable, they thought their present comfort would extend into the future, uninterrupted.

They thought those snappy uniforms were some sort of guarantee.

A few weeks after this photo was taken, on New Year's Day, 1959, they would become fiendish outlaws, vermin, scum, simply for being who they were, and so would their families. Bad people.

It didn't have to turn out that way.  But it did.  So it goes.

One of these boys went to a wedding that New Year's Eve, in Old Havana, at a church filled with jittery grown-ups.  Everyone seemed nervous, not just the groom.  Even the baroque Spanish icons seemed more apprehensive than usual.  The streets were deserted.  No bombs could be heard off in the distance.  No shots, either, or human voices, or the barking of dogs.   It was oppressively quiet.   His parents kept talking about the silence and the empty streets all the way home.  Havana had turned into a ghost town. Even the Malecón was deserted.

Everyone knew that the captain of the ship of state was about to jump overboard.  They just didn't know how or when he would abandon ship, exactly.  No one knew what would happen subsequently.  The eerie silence offered some clues.

His father was very disappointed that the waves were not crashing over the sea wall.  He loved to drive his black 1956 Buick Special right into the waves.  No car surfing that night.

His mother did most of the talking, as usual, and most of the worrying.   His brother was probably plotting some new way to capture and torture lizards, as usual.

What is that moment like, the instant before an unexpected bullet comes out of nowhere and rips your head open?  What is it like, that last second before the earth opens up by surprise and swallows you whole, along with your house and your family?   What was it like for the dinosaurs that last microsecond before that huge asteroid hit the earth?

Those who were there in Havana, on New Year's Eve, don't ever have to ask such questions.  They know all too well what that final instant feels like, and how often you think of it afterwards.

3 comments to Dispatch from the End of the World: Havana, 31 December 1958, 11:59 p.m.

  • pototo

    Happy New Year and may we take back this country from those that are destroying it with the same liberal/socialistic ideology that destroyed Cuba, the country of my birth. An ideology that did irreparable damage to the lives of many of my family who died away from us. A system that was assisted by the silence and complacency of millions who could have made a difference.
    That my fellow Americans would love their freedoms more than their very lives. That we all would take a stand while we are able to stand. That as I wish for freedom for my former country in 2014, that my new home of America will once again be one that stands for personal responsibility and rugged individualism. 2014 will either reverse this ugly trend or take us to a point of no return. What will you do in 2014 to restore this country other than just talk about it?

  • […] Carlos Eire remembers Cuba’s anniversary in “The Good, the Bad, and the Doomed:  New Year’s Eve, 1958.” […]

  • asombra

    Batista should never have gotten anywhere near as far as he did. The reasons for his rise, which began in 1933, are rooted in the chronic dysfunction and juvenile improvisational stupidity that plagued Cuban politics, which had much to do with someone as dubious and atrociously unfit as Fidel being taken so seriously. Batista was largely a lucky hack who did tolerably well initially, but he definitely did not improve with age--rather the opposite. He bungled the whole Castro business badly, and when the US abandoned him, he was like a deflated balloon. He was in over his head and simply bailed, just as the ineffectual President Prío had bailed in 1952 when Batista carried out the bloodless coup that put him back in power. Of course, political dysfunction, albeit a major problem, was not the only one. The Cuban people themselves, or what turned out to be too many of them, had serious character "issues," which were like land mines waiting for a detonator. The "revolution" was happy to oblige, and implosion followed.