A Cuban national treasure

When I was a young man, my beloved grandfather would occasionally ask me to proofread a note or postcard he was sending in response to an article or editorial he had read in Diario Las Americas. Always, the note was a congratulatory missive that would compliment the author, a man named Carlos Marquez-Sterling. He explained that Marquez-Sterling had been a great politician and statesman in Cuba; my grandfather admired him, even though they were not of the same political parties. As I grew older and read more about Cuba and Cuban history, it dawned on me that my grandfather was sending these notes to a former Cuban Presidential candidate! Needless to say, abuelo impressed me…

Last Wednesday night, Carlos Marquez-Sterling and the history of the events from Batista’s coup in 1952, to the takeover of Cuba on January 1, 1959, was the subject of a program I attended at the University of Miami’s Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies and co-sponsored by Herencia/Cuban Cultural Heritage. I had the privilege to listen to a scholar and historian who can only be described as a Cuban national treasure — and who also happens to be the son of Carlos Marquez-Sterling. Manuel Marquez-Sterling, author of the new book, Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro’s Rise to Power (and purveyor of an excellent blog of the same name), was the guest of honor; the other panelists, Marcos Antonio Ramos, Alberto Luzárraga, and Sylvia G. Iriondo, rounded out a magnificent evening of talk and history.

(I’m on page 75 of the book so I cannot comment yet, other than to say it’s excellent so far.)

Manuel Marquez-Sterling
Manuel Marquez-Sterling

Sylvia G. Iriondo started the program by recounting her lost generation of 1945 Cubans, the Cubans who were in their adolescence when castro took power and turned Cuba into a slave island. She pointed out that the book’s theme for 7 year period was that the political upheaval was the reality versus the Cuban (and American) media lies of sociological and economic problems. The saying, “cualquier cosa es mejor que Batista,” became a rallying cry. She mentioned that the author’s father was a “third way” candidate in the elections of 1958, founded in the rule of law and the 1940 Constitution. Alas, it did not succeed. Dr. Luzarraga commented on the importance of book and what he sees as one of ten important points brought to light by Marquez-Sterling: the lack of political maturity on the island that led inexorably to fidel.

But it was Marquez-Sterling who brought home the point of why we are exiles, why we are here, why we lost Cuba. Nestor Carbonell-Cortina, in an excellent introduction, outlined the five myths of pre-castro Cuba that are the focus of the book:

(1) Cuba was a poor, backward nation;
(2) Cuba was oppressed by Batista, a brutal tyrant;
(3) [c]astro was not Communist before 1959;
(4) The only choices were Batista and [c]astro; and
(5) [c]astro militarily defeated the US-backed dictator Batista.

Marquez-Sterling went briefly through each of these, detailing not only his historical research, but his participation as a “fly on the wall” of his father’s actions, especially in 1957 and 1958. He stated that statistics show the lie to Cuba as a third-world nation, ripe for revolution. He discussed how the book describes Batista as a “dictator with a democracy complex”: the open and free press that constantly criticized Batista, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not, as well as Batista’s unfortunate (in our case) humanitarian streak that led to the release of fidel, are examples of this. As for fidel being a red, most of us who came in the first few exile waves know full well that our families knew about fidel’s leftist leanings. It was not a secret. The American press — and some in the Cuban press — did their level best to whitewash fidel’s communist associations, to our ultimate detriment.

Finally, he discussed his father’s attempts to hold fair and verifiable elections in 1958 that would trump fidel’s inexorable march into power. His father offered himself as a transition candidate that would cede power in two years for new candidates in 1960 that would fully restore the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Carlos Marquez-Sterling was the president of the committee that drafted it.) He added that after his arrest in 1959, during an “interrogation,” che guevara complimented his dad by saying that his “politicking,” i.e., the potential impact of the elections of 1958, had almost derailed the glorious revolution.

Marquez-Sterling’s history is a must-read, a response to the almost six decades of misinformation and mendacity that has clouded the true history of rise to power of fidel and his henchmen, aided and abetted by elements of Soviet intelligence — and American indifference and ignorance.

I’d be remiss in recounting one last thing Marquez-Sterling said that struck a nerve with me, something I’ve been saying for years: that a country that can produce musical geniuses like Saumell, Cervantes, Fuentes, Caturla and Roldan, that a country that had a world-class philharmonic orchestra, is not a third world country on the brink of a revolution. As he reminded the audience, Cuba was on the cusp of the first world when it was all taken away from us.

Marquez-Sterling taking questions
Marquez-Sterling taking questions

11 thoughts on “A Cuban national treasure”

  1. My father went to law school with Fidel, and later practiced law with him for a short while. Certainly, our family can attest to Fidel being a communist since his law school days. My father and he went their seperate ways after Fidel persisted in having commie evening meetings at their law practice.
    Dad also was in politics during the mid to late 50’s in Cuba and was later briefly arrested when his anti-Castro contra cell was infiltrated. He has many interesting stories as he also knew many of the players. I plan to buy this book and garner his thoughts. Sounds like a good read.

  2. “He has many interesting stories as he also knew many of the players.”

    raddoc,

    You need to record these stories, the world needs to know the truth about Fidel Castro, how he got to power in Cuba and what was going on in the island in those days.

    The truth needs to reach the people, Fidel Castro’s myth must be debunked.

  3. From the bits and pieces I have learned and read of his writings, I agree that Mr. Marquez-St. is a national treasure and I can’t wait to get into the book; there’s nothing like a real historian armed with real facts to preclude revisionism and the indoctrination of future generations.

  4. The book’s great. Makes absolute hash of the media/academia/Democratic/Castroite piffle on Castro’s rise. Man I wish I coulda been at this gig. I sent Marquez-Sterling my regrets in advance for missing it….kind of a long drive for me. But still…..

  5. George, major props to you for this post. You have touched upon something I regard as very important; namely, the need for historical accuracy when telling the story of Castro and Cuba. My personal educational background was in the study of History and I have been wanting to put up a blog entry addressing this topic for some time, and I decided that a “link post” to what you have here would be the perfect means to accomplish my objective.

    I just posted a blog entry at StJacques Online which links back here:

    The Need for Dispassionate Synthesis When Studying Cuban History

    I think anyone who reads it should be able to see that I take this very seriously.

    StJacques

  6. George, forgive me for misspelling your name in the post. I have edited it and published the correction.

    I hate it when people misspell my own. I know how you must feel. Sorry.

  7. Raddoc,
    If what you say is true, you really need to have those stories written down ASAP. They’re priceless. If you have difficulty writing them down, I suggest that you tape them and have somebody transcribe them. But, for God’s sake, do it quickly.

  8. Dammit, Spygirl, I’m a doctor, not a historian!

    Just kidding…my father is in his mid 80’s so I should do this and soon. That whole generation of memories-and the Cuba that was-is coming to an end, and we should do what we can to preserve our memories, and dispel the calumnies perpetrated by the libs.

  9. If I may draw upon some of my own background in History at this moment, I would like to post two links for those of you considering compiling what is essentially Oral History, a specific methodological sub-discipline with the study of History itself.

    Here is a link to what is essentially a Bibliography of Sources on How to Do Oral History, most of which are published and not online, but at least some of which should be available at a good university library:

    DoingOralHistory.org

    And here is a very nice .pdf version of a handbook published by the Texas Historical Commission as a tutorial for local historical and genealogical societies that gets to the point of “how to” in a big hurry, which may be more useful:

    Fundamentals of Oral History

    And I would definitely encourage all of you who either have your own story to tell–get someone else to interview you if you want an oral record–or who want to preserve the stories of your own families and known associates to get it done. It is priceless, as I think some of you seem to understand from the comments I just read.

    StJacques

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