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.)
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.