How a young Winston Churchill fell in love with Cuban cigars

We remember Winston Churchill, who passed away on this week in 1965 at 90. Churchill was one of the great leaders of the 20th century and UK Prime Minister 1940-1945 and 1951-55.   Churchill was also a great author and won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his six-volume history of World War II and for political speeches.

He also loved Cuban cigars.  We know now that he met his first Cuban cigar during a visit to the island circa 1895.  My late father once told me that the Cuban embassy in London would often deliver Mr. Churchill a complimentary box of cigars.  Those long cigars came to be known as the “Churchill.”

We remind you that Cuba was still a Spanish colony at the time, three years before the Spanish American War that paved the way to Cuban independence in 1902. According to H.P. Klepak, author of “Churchill Comes of Age, Cuba 1895“, the young Churchill spent 18 days in Cuba.  

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A word about Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973)

We remember that Fulgencio Batista was born on January 16, 1901, or one year before Cuba became an independent nation in 1902.  His name is all over 20th century Cuban history. It’s also difficult to mention his name without getting a strong reaction. He died in exile in 1973.

I was born in the last decade of Batista’s Cuba. What was his legacy? Yes, he overthrew a president and corruption was a problem. No excuses. What about the rest of the story? Cuba was a young and vibrant country with hope and a future.  In other words, the island of Cuba attracted people rather than drive its citizens away looking for a future.

It is really sad to watch Cuba today. The young escape and look for a better life, preferably in the US. The old get stuck behind. There were no Cubans packed in a raft arriving in Florida during Batista’s regime. One way or another, Cuba had room for all Cubans. There were disagreements and lots of shouting, but Cubans stayed on the island. Instinctively, everyone knew that there was a future in Cuba, no matter how passionate the disagreements were.

It is even more painful when you realize that pre-Castro Cuba attracted thousands of immigrants from all over the world.

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Did your parents grow up cheering for Almendares or La Habana?

It was a lot of fun hearing my late parents tell stories of Cuban baseball. My mother, born in Ciego de Avila, followed La Habana. My father, born in Sagua La Grande, followed Almendares. They spent many nights in their hometowns writing each other letters and listening to the games on radio. I guess that I inherited their passion for “beisbol.”

We remember an important anniversary in Cuban baseball: 

“On December 29, 1878, the first game is played between two teams of the first professional baseball league in Cuba, later known as the Cuban League. Representing the city of Havana, the Habana club faced off against their greatest rivals, a club from the neighboring suburb of Almendares. Habana, coached by Esteban Bellán, the first Cuban to play professional baseball in the United States, won that inaugural game 21-20.” 

The first game eventually turned into the very successful Almendares-Habana rivalry, the Cuban version of the Yankees-Red Sox feud. Eventually, they added teams in Marianao and Cienfuegos.  

It all started today in 1878!

P.S.  Check out my blog for posts, podcasts and videos.

December 2, 1961: Fidel Castro confirmed what we suspected

For much of the first two years of the so-called “revolution,” Fidel Castro denied that he was a communist. In fact, he did it on “Meet the Press” when he visited the U.S. in 1959. Nevertheless, there were many people who had serious doubts, from Vice President Richard Nixon to many Cubans on the island.

On this day in 1961 Fidel Castro made it official:

“I am a Marxist-Leninist and shall be one until the end of my life.” He went on to state that, “Marxism or scientific socialism has become the revolutionary movement of the working class.” He also noted that communism would be the dominant force in Cuban politics: “There cannot be three or four movements.”

And that was it! It happened about seven months after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and ended any hopes of a multiparty election or restoration of the freedoms that the regime had eliminated by executive decree.

Last, but not least, Cubans were thrown in jail or executed in 1959-61 for calling Castro “un comunista.” None of those people were ever released after Castro confirmed that he was “un communista.” They stayed in prison, along with thousands of others.

As my late father used to say, communists lie and then lie so more!

P.S. Check out my blog for posts, podcasts and videos.

Che met justice

By 1965, Che Guevara had faded from public life. His disappearance created all kinds of speculation about Che’s relationship with Fidel and Raúl Castro. After all, some close to Castro in 1959 had been killed in accidents, like Camilo Cienfuegos, or stuck in political prisons, like Huber Matos. Cienfuegos’s plane was never found, and Matos was eventually released in some prisoner exchange.  Matos spent the rest of his life in exile.

Che reappeared in 1966 in Bolivia, where he hoped to bring about a revolution.  How did he get there?  Who paid his bills? Why did he suddenly leave Cuba?  Many believe that Fidel and Raúl wanted him out, and starting a revolution in Bolivia was the exit.  I think it’s fair to say that Che had worn out his welcome with the Castro brothers, specially after they saw how popular he was with the international left.  As we learned, there is only one “popular” person in Cuba, and that’s Fidel.

Fifty-five years ago this week, Che was captured and executed by Bolivian troops operating with the CIA.  It happened very fast.  As we learned in his diary, Che and his men lacked food and medicine and were barely surviving in the jungle.  It’s possible that Che would have died of bad health and no medical care.  He was battling asthma attacks constantly.  Also, they were not getting a lot of help from Cuba, either by design or because the supplies could not reach them.  My guess is that Che was happy to get captured and hoped for some prison time and then a return to Cuba.  He did not get his wish.

Che subsequently became “the image” on all those t-shirts.  He became the ultimate anti-U.S. symbol, the image that every left-wing group goes to when its members have a gripe against the U.S.

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October 1960: Kennedy and Nixon debate Cuba

My late father would often speak about the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960.  Many Cubans listened to that debate very carefully on the radio.  It was broadcast to Cuba on short-wave radio, perhaps Voice of America or some other frequency.

By the summer of 1960, Cuba was in rebellion against the Castro regime.  Cubans were asking these questions:  What happened to the elections?  Why are all of those Soviets landing at the airport?  Why are Cuban-owned businesses “nationalized”?  Why is every regime critic called a CIA operative?  Why so many political arrests?  Why were newspapers shut down?  

Finally, the candidates debated foreign policy and Cuba was a huge topic:

“In the second of four televised debates, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon turn their attention to foreign policy issues.

Three Cold War episodes, in particular, engendered spirited confrontations between Kennedy and Nixon. 

The first involved Cuba, which had recently come under the control of Fidel Castro.

Nixon argued that the island was not “lost” to the United States, and that the course of action followed by the Eisenhower administration had been the best one to allow the Cuban people to “realize their aspirations of progress through freedom.”

Kennedy fired back that it was clear that Castro was a communist, and that the Republican administration failed to use U.S. resources effectively to prevent his rise to power. 

He concluded that, “Today Cuba is lost for freedom.”

On April 1961, President Kennedy dropped the ball at the Bay of Pigs.  On December 2nd, Castro announced that he had always been a “Marxist Lennist”!   In a year, Cuba went from a topic at the presidential debate to a major headache for the US..

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) .

We remember Tommy ‘Almendares’ Lasorda (1927 – 2021)

Thomas Charles Lasorda was born in Norristown, PA, on this day in 1927 and died in January 2021.

Lasorda broke with the Dodgers in 1954 and played a couple of seasons. His overall pitching record was 0-4. He also played in the old Cuban Winter League with Almendares. My late father brought this to my attention when he saw Lasorda doing an interview.

We remember him as the manager of the Dodgers: 1,599 wins, World Series champs in 1981 & 1988, NL champs in 1977 & 1978 plus NL West divisional champs in 1983 & 1985. He joined The Hall of Fame in 1997.

Lasorda was one of the game’s greatest ambassadors and one of many major leagues who played in Cuba,

P.S.  Check out my blog for posts, podcasts and videos.

Cheers for Nebraska teaching kids about communism

As someone very familiar with the evil of communism, let me say thumbs up for the good people of Nebraska.  This is from Fox:   

“The Chinese Communist Party is recognizing their 100th anniversary, and they are going to talk about all the things the Chinese Communist Party has done in a very positive light. But it’s also important to remember that whenever communism has been implemented across this world, what he have seen is a lot of human suffering,” Ricketts said, noting that communist governments have been responsible for the deaths of nearly 100 million people.

“And China really is no different,” he continued, “the Chinese Communist Party we can see till this day continues to oppress people like the Uighurs.” Ricketts also recalled Chinese treatment of Tibetans, people in Hong Kong and religious groups like Falun Gong.

Ricketts, a Republican, also pointed to Chinese practices such as intellectual property theft in addition to alleged human rights abuses.

It’s time to look at the whole picture.

First, teach students about the crimes and political executions.   From Lenin to Castro to North Korea to China, there are millions dead and;

Second, the tactics of the left have to be understood.  We saw this in Cuba.  They preach social justice, then they turn schools into centers of indoctrination, then they erase history to justify their excesses and finally they accuse you of some “…ism” if you are not on board with the party line.

I recall my parents talking about this.  The state took over everything.  Baseball games were now completely politicized, from slogans all over the stadium to saying that the “sacrifice,” a baseball play to advance a runner, was now part of what citizens had to do to promote the revolution.

In schools, they threw away the old books and replaced them with a new version of history.   People were actually erased from photos, especially people who stood up to communism.    

Yes, let’s talk about the executions but let’s not forget the execution of their plan.  

P.S.  You can listen to my show (Canto Talk).  

May 20, 1902: Happy Cuba Independence Day

(My new AT post.  See the post for links and references)

It was 119 years ago today that the Cuban flag went up in the island after the four-year U.S. occupation and 400 years of Spanish rule.   By the way, both of my paternal grandparents were born in 1892, and their birth certificates showed that they were citizens of the Spanish Crown, or whatever was left of it by that time.  Let’s just say that the late 19th century was not the highlight of Spain’s history.  They lost most of Latin America to independence and hung on to Cuba by a bit.

This is also a good day to remember what my late parents told me about Cuba. They recalled the elegance of Havana and how nice the country was. They never said that it was perfect, but certainly not “the underdeveloped country” narrative that Castro & the left have been preaching for years.  

That was pre-Castro Cuba, as Mark Milke wrote:   

Of the many myths that some offer up about Fidel Castro’s Cuba, one tale is that despite Mr. Castro’s repression, he improved a few social programs.

Thus, in his statement on Mr. Castro’s death, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asserted “significant improvements” in Cuban health care and education under the totalitarian tutelage of Fidel Castro.

An inconvenient fact: Pre-Castro, Cuba was already better off than most Latin American countries on such indicators. 

Also, Mr. Castro’s rule knocked Cubans to the near-economic bottom of all Latin American countries, with subsequent negative effects on Cuba’s much-vaunted social model.

In other words, pre-Castro Cuba was a much better place to live than post-1959.

On behalf of the many who have died in political prisons or were executed by the Castro regime, let me say that we are looking forward to another independence day.   

P.S.  You can listen to my show (Canto Talk).