We’re not worthy

The two monarchs in Havana, 1999:


Juan Carlos I arriving in Havana this Tuesday:


Even Justin “Je t’aime, Fidel” Trudeau is passing on the funeral of “El Comandante,” but guess who isn’t? The former king of Spain, heading the Spanish delegation. Surprise! Isn’t that special? We’re obviously not worthy, but really, he shouldn’t have. Meaning, of course, that we’re not worthy of even the most elemental tact, decency or consideration, let alone respect, not even from our Mommy Dearest–but it is not I who says that. “His Holiness” Don Francisco has more than said it–he has shown it with actual deeds, not mere words. So who are we to disagree?

An article on the matter in the Spanish press states, regarding Juan Carlos I and Castro I:

No es ningún secreto que siempre hubo una gran sintonía entre ambos mandatarios (it’s no secret that the two leaders were always very much in sync). The rationalization for the former king’s trip to Havana (despite the fact he can scarcely walk) is that España debería jugar un papel importante en el proceso de transición de Cuba (Spain should play an important role in the transition process in Cuba). Spain. Check (what do Cubans matter?). Important. Check (as if it were still the XVI century). Transition…to the same dog with a different collar, if that. The “revolution” is officially untouchable, remember? But never mind. Spain knows geopolitics–it’s too bad it can’t deal with its own internal political and separatist messes (among others) to save its life.

The current king, Felipe VI, in his condolence note to Castro II, said that Fidel Castro es una figura de indiscutible significado histórico. Por ello, en estos momentos, quiero recordar muy especialmente sus lazos familiares y vínculos con España (Fidel Castro is a figure of indisputable historical significance. Therefore, at this juncture, I especially wish to recognize his family ties and connections with Spain). I, whose blood is more Spanish than that of Felipe VI or his father, am beyond ashamed of both Spain and its royals, but this is a very old story (much older than the “revolution”).

I suppose that Spain, as my mother would say, no puede con su condición–it can’t help itself (even if that is a far more charitable assessment than it deserves). Besides, if Juan Carlos wishes, quite gratuitously, to befoul himself further with Castro dung, he’s in very exalted company–which includes the titular Vicar of Christ.

Lord, the disgust.

Fidel Castro (1926-2016), totalitarian dictator


Not a Requiem, but a Reckoning

The tyrant has died, at last. Not like those he talked into certain death in the 1953 Moncada attack so he could become a national figure, though he kept well out of harm’s way and didn’t even fire a shot. Not like Havana University student leader José Antonio Echevarría, killed as part of a failed attack on Batista’s presidential palace–a risk Fidel would never have taken himself. Not like anti-Batista urban underground leader Frank País, fatally betrayed to Batista’s police for being a potential threat to Fidel’s supremacy. Not like the many he or his underlings, notably the Argentine interloper “Che” Guevara, had killed by firing squad in the prime of life after sham trials. Not like heroic political prisoner Pedro Luis Boitel, who died after a 53-day hunger strike without receiving medical assistance. Not like the men, women and children on the tugboat 13 de Marzo, who were deliberately drowned for trying to leave Cuba. Not like the four unarmed Brothers to the Rescue pilots, shot down over international waters. Not like the three young black men who tried to flee Massah Castro’s slave plantation and were summarily executed for it in 2003. Not like the various opposition figures on the island, male and female, black and white, conveniently “removed” from the scene in recent years under exceedingly suspect circumstances. Not like the untold number of Cubans drowned or eaten by sharks in the Florida Straits while trying to reach freedom. Not even like so many exiles who never stopped wanting to return to Cuba but died waiting on alien soil.

He died at a ripe old age of natural causes, with every aid and comfort medical science could provide, surrounded by servile minions, always his favorite people. He was a catastrophic failure as far as Cuba and Cubans are concerned, but he got what he wanted–which was always about him, never about anyone or anything else. Absolute power, first and foremost, to satisfy his megalomania. International notoriety and guaranteed domestic stardom, to satisfy the histrionic craving for attention. Adulation and “validation” from all manner of useful fools or willing tools, both at home and abroad, including many whose pretensions were quite at odds with such perversity.

It would appear that only his victims decried or even noted Fidel Castro’s overriding vulgarity; the manic vehemence; the bullying truculence; the self-indulgent verborrhea; the ridiculous posturing in military costume and the beard, another theatrical prop; the brazen dissembling proper of a snake-oil salesman or cheap demagogue; the delusional conviction of his own greatness; the utter absence of genuine charm (which is not that of a con artist); the pathological obsession with complete control; the lack of concern for or interest in anyone except as a tool to be used or a threat to be removed; the complete willingness to sacrifice or destroy anything to suit his purposes, and the total disconnect from the true Cuban ethos and essence as embodied by Cuba’s best men and women throughout its history.

Alas, there is often little or no justice in this world. Stalin and Mao never came anywhere near paying for crimes of such magnitude that they cannot really be fathomed except as statistics. But then, even if those monsters had been called to account, how could they possibly have paid? What punishment, what suffering, no matter how horrible, could they have been put through that would have made up for the suffering and destruction of millions? Castro’s victims are numerically less, since he had far fewer subjects in his domain, but proportionately their amount is as great or greater. And yet, to the appalled and bitter astonishment of the Cuban people, most of the world blithely condoned and effectively enabled Castro’s deeds, not just at the romantic and delirious beginning but all along, down to the present day.

Sadly, nay, tragically, far too many Cubans have been fools twice over. First, by falling for Fidel Castro’s lies and, to their disgrace, playing into his tyranny–his grandiloquent, hollow promises should have been seen for what they were in the face of galloping totalitarianism. Secondly, by counting too much and too long on the kindness of strangers. The indifference, hypocrisy and opportunism of the world (the ostensibly freedom-loving world, at that) should never be underestimated, especially by those who are politically unfashionable. Now, if Castro had been a Pinochet, a Somoza or a Botha, not to mention a Batista…well, the math could hardly be easier.

So Fidel is dead, but only because of a biological imperative–there is no victory in it. He lasted plenty and caused incalculable harm, much more than will ever be fully known or documented, let alone duly acknowledged (especially by those directly or indirectly complicit in it). He got his way, after all. Many of his victims or their descendants may feast and toast over his demise, which no one is entitled to begrudge them, but I do not feel like celebrating. It is much too little, far too late. The awful damage is done, and much of it cannot be undone. However, while the tyrant cheated human justice, he cannot escape God’s. May Cuba manage, in time, to exorcise the evil personified, fostered and propagated by this abominable man, surely the worst and most destructive one in Cuba’s history.

A Curious Story

King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia
King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia

Alfonso de Borbón y Battenberg, born in 1907, was the eldest son and heir of King Alfonso XIII of Spain. His mother, Queen Victoria Eugenia, a granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, transmitted to him the hemophilia gene that also afflicted the Russian Tsarevitch Alexei (whose mother Alexandra was also a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, from whom the gene descended). In 1931, when Spain became a republic and the monarchy ended, the royal family went into exile, although Alfonso XIII retained his claim to the throne and his eldest son was still heir to the crown as Prince of Asturias.

While being treated in Lausanne, Switzerland for his hemophilia, Alfonso met a young Cuban woman who was visiting Europe, Edelmira Sampedro, and they fell in love. She belonged to a rich Cuban sugar family of northern Spanish descent. Despite strong opposition from the exiled king, whose relationship with his eldest son had always been difficult, they were married in 1933, shortly after Alfonso renounced his right to succession. The couple were then officially styled Count and Countess of Covadonga.

Prince Alfonso and his Cuban bride, Edelmira Sampedro
Prince Alfonso and his Cuban bride, Edelmira Sampedro

The marriage was rocky, apparently related to infidelity issues, and finally ended in divorce in 1937; there were no children. Alfonso quickly married and very soon divorced his former lover, also Cuban, a fashion model named Marta Esther Rocafort. He died from internal bleeding due to an auto accident in Coral Gables, Florida in the fall of 1938, and was buried in Woodlawn North Cemetery there till 1985, when his remains were taken to Spain at the behest of King Juan Carlos I, the son of his younger brother Juan.

Edelmira, who never remarried, retained the title of Countess of Covadonga after the divorce and was officially recognized as a royal widow. When Alfonso’s mother died, she reportedly left Edelmira some jewelry. She lived discreetly and always shunned the press, as befitting a Cuban lady of the old school. After the Castro takeover, she went into exile and lived in Coral Gables, FL (until her death in 1994). When her husband’s remains were returned to Spain for burial in the Royal Pantheon at El Escorial, the royal family invited her to attend his re-entombment ceremony.

The story obviously recalls that of England’s Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as well as that of the current Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, the Cuban María Teresa Mestre, who also met her future husband in Switzerland. While Edelmira would never have become queen of Spain due to the prevailing circumstances in her day, that would not be the case now, when a divorced commoner has become Queen Letizia.

Vox Clamantis in Deserto


In the Middle Ages, when the great Gothic cathedrals were built, they were extensively and elaborately decorated with all manner of fantastical architectural details, even in places too high or remote to be appreciated or even seen by the people of the time. The effort, time and care lavished on such embellishments might seem pointless, but the reason was simple: it did not matter if people could see it or not, appreciate it or not, because God would see it–and that was the point.

At times, and not infrequently, it feels as if all we say, write or do on behalf of Cuba’s freedom, recovery and redemption is like all that intricate Gothic stonework–very nice in and of itself, admirable in theory, sometimes even beautiful and moving, but is it worth it? How many people actually notice it, let alone care? What has it gotten us? What difference does it make?

My answer varies, but I always wind up concluding we should still do whatever we can, if only to honor truth, justice and righteousness–and Lord knows that if Cubans don’t do right by Cuba, nobody else will–as pretty much nobody else has. One cannot always know a priori what the results may or will be, and refusing to act or even try without a guaranteed payoff is too rigid and too limiting, not to mention too transactional (even if for some people Cuba is a business).

I think at least we have to tell it like it is and like it was, and document that; call out and counteract the pervasive and pernicious lies, distortions and misconceptions; uphold our dignity, stand our ground–and yes, fight Cuba’s enemies, however we can, especially the covert ones: the wolves in sheep’s clothing, snakes in the grass, malicious hypocrites and opportunists. Even words can be weapons, and if they can so serve, they should be so used. We are up against ubiquitous perversity which has not let up in over half a century, and by no means just from official Castro operatives–who depend very heavily on their unofficial enablers and sympathizers all over the world.

If nothing else, we can and should be the vox clamantis in deserto, the voice crying out in the wilderness–the wilderness of our displacement and our otherness. That wilderness, so full of hostile creatures, would swallow us up, nullify and silence us, if we let it. Even if all we accomplish is to assert our God-given dignity and leave a testimony of the truth, it is worth doing. I think about how all those lovingly carved Gothic figures have been there every day for centuries, doing their duty. We, who are not made of stone but living flesh, also have our duty, and surely we should do no less.

Another day, another diss


Later this month, Miami’s Arsht Performing Arts Center is hosting a concert by a singer from Cuba who has long been supportive of and supported by the totalitarian Castro regime, meaning she qualifies as an official figure of the Castro entertainment world. One should note such affiliation is absolutely de rigueur to be any kind of star in Cuba, regardless of talent. There is no such thing as an apolitical (let alone oppositional) VIP on that island in any field; the system simply does not allow it. In order to play in the big leagues, such as they are, one must “compromise” one’s self with the so-called revolution. However, there can be some variation in the degree of compromise.

In 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the summary executions of three young Cuban men of color for hijacking a ferry boat (without harming anyone) to escape from Massah Castro’s plantation, the dictatorship was taken aback by the unexpectedly negative response from the international community, particularly from sources normally sympathetic to it. In an attempt at damage control, a public letter quickly went out supporting the actions of the Castro government, which was portrayed as having been forced to take drastic measures to forestall supposed US military aggression (as if). The document was signed by 27 prominent official figures of the arts and letters, including the dominatrix of Cuban ballet, Alicia Alonso; the “historian” (without a degree) Eusebio Leal, the singer (without a voice) Silvio Rodríguez, the jazz musician Chucho Valdés (whose father Bebo, a great jazz man, got the Celia Cruz treatment for going into exile in 1960), and the woman scheduled to sing at the Arsht Center in a couple of weeks.

As a side note, there were also some white Cubans involved in the same escape attempt treated as a capital crime, but they got jail sentences, not the death penalty. Massah Castro hates all rogue slaves, but especially black ones–black Cubans are expected to kiss the ground Massah walks on, since the “revolution” supposedly made human beings out of them, because they were presumably mere animals before 1959 (even though the mulatto Batista had far more power as early as the 1930s than any person of color has ever had under Castro, Inc.). Both Chucho Valdés and the singer slated for the Arsht Center are of color, and, as it happens, both have played Obama’s White House. However, another “official” Cuban singer of color, Pablo Milanés, did not sign that infamous public letter.

I will not enter into a discussion here concerning the musical merit of the singer in question, which is beside the point. Nobody denies, for example, that Alicia Alonso was a great ballerina, but that is quite separate from what she is as a person and as a Cuban. The point here is that the Arsht Center, which I understand receives public funding from Miami-Dade County, has chosen to engage and promote a performer who (barring blithering idiocy) the Arsht people must know is deeply offensive to many members of the local Cuban-American community, whose tax dollars are supporting the Arsht Center. Thus, it appears the Arsht Center gets their money and they get essentially spit upon. One assumes county mayor Carlos Giménez could have had a say in the matter, but apparently that was not a factor (which is not exactly a shocker).

Alas, this is all an old story and part of a much wider phenomenon. Would the Arsht Center ever have booked an entertainer identified with and an apologist for South Africa’s apartheid regime, for instance, especially one who could be said to have blood on his hands? Heaven forbid (though to paraphrase Mae West, Heaven has nothing to do with it, I expect). I suppose it might be easier and more convenient for “those people” to know their place and learn to accept insults and disrespect as par for the course. Certainly, they’ve had exhaustive practice by now, and there’s always more where that came from. Still, some of them will refuse to set foot on the Arsht Center again or support it in any way, if only for the sake of dignity. Well, you know how they are.

The Sorolla Connection: Stolen art in Castro’s Cuba


Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923) was an important Spanish Impressionist painter best known for sun-drenched outdoor scenes as well as more intimate portraits, who became internationally famous in the early 20th century. His work found favor among wealthy Cuban art collectors, so a relatively large number of his paintings wound up in Cuba. Like a great deal of valuable private art on the island, most if not all of them were appropriated (read stolen) by the Castro regime and kept in a museum setting (in some cases, Cuban museums themselves are also appropriated private property). Everything, however, did not stay on the island.

It has long been rumored, not to mention suspected, that people in position to do so have sold pieces of the presumed national patrimony to foreign buyers for personal gain. Obviously, that must be done covertly and is very hard to document or pin down. However, since the 1960s, stolen art works from Cuba have surfaced abroad in countries like Italy, Spain and England, but legal attempts at recovering them have largely failed. Apparently, the chief obstacle is that establishing ownership of art seized through an act of state is extremely difficult to do in court, even for those who can afford high legal costs.

About 30 Sorolla paintings are in official hands in Cuba, constituting one of the most important collections of his work outside of Spain. The great majority of them are held illegitimately, meaning they were appropriated by the Castro dictatorship, and their rightful owners or their heirs still exist outside Cuba. The largest group of these “displaced” Sorollas belong to the rich Fanjul sugar family, which naturally wants them back (a Sorolla can fetch as much as five million dollars or more at auction). The Fanjuls have generally avoided going through the courts, but they were involved in an international chase for one of their Sorollas.

The matter is treated in great detail here, so I’ll summarize. Around 1998, a relatively minor Sorolla known as Málaga Port turned up at the Sotheby’s auction house in London; the Fanjuls recognized it as theirs and jumped on the case, and it was apparently withdrawn from auction and returned to its consignor, whom Sotheby’s refused to identify. After a fruitless tug of war, digging around and hiring a private investigator, the Fanjuls found the painting in the hands of an art dealer in Italy, who had apparently tried to sell it through Sotheby’s. He said he’d gotten it from a Cuban museum over a decade earlier, but at least technically or legally he was now the owner, and all the Fanjuls could do (other than presumably buying their own painting back) was to monitor its location and status (they had already entered it into the Art Loss Register, a major database that tracks lost and stolen art).

Even though the Málaga Port story came out in 2004, it is simply one instance of a much bigger problem which still persists. I previously posted about another such case involving a painting by the 18th century Italian master Francesco Guardi. I focus on Sorolla now because there is an important exhibition of his works currently on display in France, which reportedly includes four paintings borrowed from Cuba. An article in Spanish about this show is here. The Cuban Sorollas are well known internationally because many of them have been loaned out to multiple foreign exhibitions in various countries, including Spain. Even though the relevant art world people abroad surely know about the ownership issues, this has effectively been ignored, and of course the Castro people would never let the paintings out of Cuba if there were any perceived risk of seizure.

As with so many other things, we wind up at the same entrenched and perfectly “normal” hypocrisy routinely applied to Cuba. Needless to say, even though we are essentially talking about stolen goods, they are definitely not treated like art works stolen by Nazi Germany, since Nazi loot is officially bad and Castro crime syndicate loot is somehow OK, not to say legitimate–despite the fact that the Castro regime, unlike even the Nazis, was never legitimately elected to rule. Alas, when hypocrisy is allowed to become sufficiently blatant, it apparently disarms criticism, via the kind of rationalization involved in the concept of something being “too big to fail.” And the band plays on–as it has for over half a century, and counting.

Questions about Pope Francis crying out for answers

Pope looks quite unhappy to be with Argentina’s president Macri who was tasked with cleaning up the corruption left behind by the leftist Kirchners.

I hereby ask people of any nationality who care about truth, righteousness and justice, and who are in a position to know, some important questions about the current pope. I am only interested in what is documented in the news media and can be referred to for inspection and verification.

  1. Has Bergoglio ever publicly addressed the case of his countryman “Che” Guevara, and if so, how? More specifically, has he ever condemned Guevara’s crimes?
  1. Has Bergoglio ever publicly condemned his countrywoman Hebe de Bonafini for her expressed approval of the 9/11 massacre in New York City? Has Bonafini ever publicly recanted and apologized for that?
  1. Has Bergoglio ever publicly taken a Kirchner (husband or wife) to task for corruption or any sort of serious misgovernment in his native Argentina?
  1. Has Bergoglio ever publicly condemned any leftist government in Central or South America, especially authoritarian and/or dictatorial leftist regimes, for abuse of power, corruption and/or violation of human rights? I did not include the dictatorship in Cuba because here we know only too well how he has treated Castro, Inc.
  1. Has Bergoglio ever unequivocally condemned communism publicly, in the tradition of his predecessor Pius XI, who declared communism to be intrinsically perverse?
  1. Has Bergoglio ever publicly condemned, or at least questioned, the clearly selective morality of people like Nelson Mandela or Gabriel García Márquez?

No doubt there are other relevant questions, but those will do for a start. My problem is that I am under the impression that the answer to all of the above questions is essentially NO.

Pope looking more comfortable among the corrupt, leftist elites.
Pope Francis yucks it up with Satan himself.

Favorite Son

Fidel Castro and Manuel Fraga

This is not a first offense, but a repetition and confirmation of an old one.

angel castro
Angel Castro

In 1992, the small backwater town of Láncara in Galicia (in northwestern Spain), where Fidel Castro’s brutish father Angel was born in 1875, officially named Fidel “Hijo Predilecto” (favorite son) and invited him to visit. The town’s mayor at the time was a socialist, which obviously fits, but the main Spanish and Galician figure in the business was Manuel Fraga, a major right-wing politician both under and after Franco, who had a soft spot for Fidel (not unlike Franco himself, who was also from Galicia). Fidel came over to pick up his honorary title in his customary costume, publicly praised his friend Fraga, and everybody had a great old time.

Now, the town’s current mayor, also a socialist, with the backing of the top political figure in Galicia (who belongs to the ostensibly right-wing Partido Popular), has officially named Raúl Castro “Hijo Adoptivo” (adopted son). The measure was put to a vote in Láncara and was approved unanimously. The mayor is trying to get Raúl (or at least another family member like his daughter Mariela) to come and visit like Fidel did previously. He also wants to turn the house (more like a shack) where Angel Castro was born into a museum (the property still belongs to the Castro family). The old homestead, by the way, bears a plaque placed on it in 1992 that reads ““Aquí nació en 1875 Ángel Castro Argiz, gallego que emigró a Cuba en donde plantó árboles que aún florecen” (Here in 1875 was born Angel Castro Argiz, a Galician who emigrated to Cuba, where he planted trees that are still flowering).

Angel Castro family home

The only glimmer of respectability or decency in all of this is that the mayor openly admits it is a ploy calculated to drum up tourism to Láncara, which is facing hard times economically. He also claims not to share the ideology of the Castro regime. In other words, presumably this is nothing political, just business.

I suppose this distinctly distasteful, not to say contemptible, incident is ultimately inconsequential, certainly in and of itself. However, it is quite representative of a much bigger and far more serious problem, not to say scandal: the longstanding collaboration of Spain, Cuba’s “mother,” with the totalitarian Castro tyranny and its enabling thereof. The fact that such collusion actually has a “sentimental” component along with the obvious profit motive makes it even more repugnant.

There’s absolutely nothing new or unusual here, not just for Spain but for the world in general, which makes such amoral and tawdry opportunism even more depressing. Needless to say, the mayor in question knows he can get away with this easily enough, whereas it is highly unlikely that he would have gone for something truly risky PC-wise. Alas, that’s always been a major part of the Cuba problem: it’s too safe to dance with the devil.

Postscript: In 2005, while still the No. 2 figure in Cuba, Raúl Castro visited Láncara with his son Alejandro and the goonish grandson that serves as his bodyguard. When the recently proposed honorary title of “Adopted Son” for Raúl was brought to a vote before the municipal council of Láncara (population less than 3000) by its socialist mayor, even the supposed opposition members (belonging to the Partido Popular) approved it. There was some lip service on the side to the effect that this did not constitute approval of the Castro regime, but at best these people have things very conveniently compartmentalized: this is first and foremost about promoting revenues from tourism, and the nature of the honoree is a separate and effectively irrelevant matter. It’s not moral relativism; it’s simply amoral opportunism.

Noblesse Oblige


While working on a post about La Marquesa of Havana, I came across a document I had never heard of which seemed worth sharing. It is a public letter to Fidel Castro from the early days of the “revolution,” written by or attributed to María Luisa Gómez-Mena y Villa, Countess de Revilla de Camargo, from her exile in Spain. The lady in question (born around 1880, died 1963) was a Cuban aristocrat and philanthropist whose Havana mansion was confiscated by the regime (it is now a museum of decorative arts). The letter was apparently initially published in Miami in a Cuban exile periodical, and I found it here with additional information here.

Unfortunately, any translation of the letter will obscure certain nuances and dilute its full flavor, so those who can read Spanish should certainly go with the original in the above link. My translation follows with some explanatory footnotes at the end:

Doctor1 Fidel Castro:

Notice that I address you as “doctor” instead of “señor.” And don’t be surprised. I am prepared to call you “Premier,” “Comandante,” “President” and all things at which, somehow, “one arrives.” But I would never call you “señor,” because one does not “arrive” at that, one is born to it. And you were not born a señor, doctor. That last comma explains everything; from your congenital inferiority to your destruction of our country. Because commas, doctor, have a great deal of importance in our language; that same language you mangle and destroy with the same cruelty with which you destroy and mangle everything else. But note that a misplaced comma can transform not only grammar but history, so that if instead of saying “and you were not born señor, doctor” I said “and not you, you were born señor, doctor,” I would be offending señores, Cuba and God, Our Lord (Nuestro Señor).

And now, with the commas and periods in their place, let us move on to a topic that infuriates you and entertains and even amuses me: the society pages.

The other evening you tore into those who write them and into society. Especially society. It is understandable: that is the only “estate” that has been destroyed that would not involve your family.

Oh, that hatred of yours against society! It is irreconcilable. How can one go through life carrying so much hate? It is incomprehensible. And even more so in someone—like you—who has had to climb, because you have gotten everything by climbing. Wasn’t carrying that hate too heavy for you? Didn’t it get in the way? Foolish question. It did not get in your way. If it had, you would have suppressed it. As you have suppressed everything that was in your way. From Camilo Cienfuegos2 to parental rights, which, in fact, are already suppressed, or transferred to the state as a “social function.”

You, doctor, hate everything. But it makes sense: you hate what you never had, and you never had anything. If I did not find you so repugnant you would inspire in me profound pity and even compassion. If you could see yourself! You are so abominable! You are so repulsive that you have managed to make humanity feel for you what you have always felt for humanity: disgust, revulsion and contempt.

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Guest Post: La Marquesa de La Habana

A guest post by Asombra:

La Marquesa de La Habana


Marquesa (marquise) is a title of nobility which ranks between a countess and a duchess. There were actually nobles in Cuba, whose titles came from the Spanish crown, some of which were rather poetic (like el Conde de Pozos Dulces). The popular street character known as La Marquesa de La Habana, however, was something else. I’d heard of her before as the female counterpart of the contemporary and much more famous Havana “character” the Caballero de París (Gentleman of Paris), but I knew little else. Recently, I happened to come across more detailed information, which led me to online sources here and here.

Her real name was Isabel Veitia (or Veitía). Reportedly, she once worked as a cook for the very aristocratic María Luisa Gómez-Mena y Villa, Condesa de Revilla de Camargo (a countess whose Havana mansion wound up, of course, confiscated by the “revolution”). That could have given her the idea to adopt the persona of “la marquesa” later on. Apparently, she had a disabled husband and a daughter with special needs, meaning she had to bring home the bacon, and evidently becoming “la marquesa” did the trick.

She was short and slight, ever smiling, with dainty mannerisms like constantly fanning herself, and gotten up in a distinctive ensemble: a small purple hat with a little tulle veil, an old mantilla (shawl) over a ladylike dress, a shiny black purse, and eye-catching gold shoes. She had a regular route, including dropping by an insurance firm which paid her to go get café con leche and buttered bread for the staff, strategic stops at select movie theaters and popular gathering places, and strolling through Havana’s Central Park, where tourists with cameras were likely to go for a photo-op. La marquesa was happy to oblige, for a fee, but she wouldn’t take coins: “Billetes, sólo billetes! Yo soy una marquesa! Mi condición no me permite aceptar monedas” (Bills, only bills! I am a marquise! My status doesn’t allow me to accept coins). Her disarming delivery worked like a charm.

Her heyday, like that of the Caballero de París, was during Cuba’s Golden Age, the 1950s, although both of them lived well into the Castro era (she is said to have died in the late 1970s). It is not clear if she was mildly demented, harmlessly delusional or, more likely, a creative and clever panhandler. Unlike the courtly Caballero, who was a Spanish immigrant, la marquesa was quite black. The significance of that, to me, is the contrast she provides to the current gaggle of coarse and cartoonish photo-op magnets in Havana, the garishly grotesque Mammy brigade. The marquesa at least posed as an upper-class lady, not some heavy-handed and demeaning throwback to colonial slavery days.

Alas, in a way, this is a fitting metaphor for a formerly grand lady indeed, Havana, now a mostly pestilent and crumbling ruin reduced to serving as a perversely picturesque backdrop for amoral, hypocritical tourists and cretinous foreign celebrities. I’m pretty sure that la marquesa was happier in the “bad old days” than she would be now in Cuba, where being a fine lady is definitely not the order of the day, degeneracy rules, and the ruling class has no class at all.