On this day in 1961, Cuba’s Fidel Castro proclaimed himself a ‘Marxist Leninist’

For much of the first two years of the so called “revolution,” Fidel Castro denied that he was a communist.  In fact, he did so 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 in 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 indeed “un communista.”  They stayed in prison along with thousands of others.  

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

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Grenada 1983: Reagan beats Castro

Back on this day in 1983, President Reagan invaded Grenada.  It turned out to be a major victory against Cuba’s Fidel Castro and prevented the USSR from having another strategic piece of real estate over here.  

Grenada was a small island where some U.S. citizens were attending medical school. Most people had never heard of Grenada or the Cuban efforts to turn the island into a communist beachhead, an important runway for Soviet MIGs.  However, the Reagan administration had their eye on Grenada for some time. They knew the strategic importance of Grenada and its proximity to the Panama Canal.  

In Grenada, we saw President Reagan as the competent leader of the free world, or a man unwilling to let the USSR gain a strategic foothold over here.    It was quite a week for leadership, President Reagan and the U.S.   

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

1962: President Kennedy addressed the nation about missiles in Cuba

My guess is that the Babalú readers are a good mix of people who left Cuba in the 1960’s or who were born in the US. No matter what, you either remember this month or heard stories from your parents or “abuelos.”

It was October 1962 but still a big part of my past.  In other words, it was the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis that consolidated the Castro regime and led to our departure of Cuba.  The “crisis” also delayed our departure from the island because the Miami-Havana flights were cancelled.  

It all started when the USSR challenged the US by placing missiles in Cuba, or in this part of the world. It was a big challenge but apparently the USSR felt that it could push President Kennedy around.

For days, the world waited for a resolution. We were down in Cuba at the time and my parents recall just how tense every minute was.      

The crisis was resolved in a couple of weeks.  Nevertheless, the world came very close to a nuclear war in October 1962.

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

It was September of 1960 and Cuban dictator Fidel was in town

By mid-September 1960 the Nixon-Kennedy presidential campaign was underway, but everyone was talking about a certain visitor to the UN. Fidel Castro turned the visit to the UN into a first-rate show. 

First, he stayed at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem and met with Nation of Islam’s Malcolm X and poet Langston Hughes. Then he spoke for almost four hours, delivering an attack on US “aggression” and “imperialism.”

Cuba also became a hot topic in the Kennedy-Nixon debates. Senator Kennedy took a very tough posture toward Castro and criticized Eisenhower’s policy.  VP Nixon, on the other hand, could not reveal existing plans. I recall that my parents, and many Cubans, followed these debates with keen interest. Cuba had never seen such an important issue in a U.S. presidential election.  

Unfortunately, President Kennedy did not support the men of Brigade 2506 at the Bay of Pigs, turning it into a huge victory for the Castro regime. The invasion was followed by severe repression against anti-Castro Cubans on the island (my father’s cousin was arrested at that time). The Missile Crisis followed 18 months later and you know the rest of the story.

My guess is that no one years ago thought the bearded Cuban would become such a headache for the winner of the election.  

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Babe Ruth was very popular in Cuba

By the summer of 1948, most baseball fans down in Cuba knew that Babe Ruth was very sick.  My father told me that the sports pages in the island updated fans on his declining health.  He was very popular because of his home runs but also the Yankees were hugely popular. The photo above appeared in many Cuban sports sheets reporting the day that Yankee Stadium fans said goodbye to the ailing superstar.

Babe Ruth died on this day in 1948.    “The Great Bambino”, one of his many nicknames, retired from baseball in 1935 but not with the Yankees.   He actually hit # 714, or his last home run, with the Boston Braves.

Like other major leaguers, Ruth visited Cuba.   

It was quite a story, as we see in this post.   He was paid $2,000 per game and played 10 exhibition games:

On October 30, New York defeated Havana 4-3. Ruth hit a double and a triple in 3 at-bats.

October 31: New York won 3-0 against Almendares. Ruth had a triple.

November 3 : New York won 7-1 at Havana and Ruth struck out three times against Jose Acosta.

November 4 : New York defeated 10-0 to Almendares. Ruth had a hit and a double.

November 6 : The Cuban team trounced New York, 11-4. Ruth failed  to get a hit but pitched in relief.  The hero of the game was Cuban outfielder and future Hall of Famer Cristóbal Torriente, who hit a double and three homers!

Ruth came back in 1921 and loved visiting Cuba.

 PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Did Karen Bass just discover Cuba’s Fidel Castro was a dictator?

We remember how praising Fidel Castro doomed the Bernie Sanders candidacy. I’m sure you remember all of those videos of Sanders talking about Cuba and the socialist paradise. It was enough to make many Democrats between the coasts worry about getting wiped out in November.

We may be watching how praising Fidel Castro is now destroying any chance of Karen Bass becoming Biden’s VP choice. In 2016, Bass praised Fidel Castro following his death, calling him “Comandante en Jefe.”  Like Sanders, Bass is now discovering that Castro was a dictator.  She praised him before, but now she’s doing “the Miami 2-step.”  

This is from her appearance with Chris Wallace:   

Bass told Fox host Chris Wallace that her perspective “developed over time” and that she now understood that the Castro government “was a brutal regime.” Bass said she spoke with colleagues from Florida who raised concerns about her comments and that she “would not do that again, for sure.”

“I absolutely would have not put that statement out,” she said.

How convenient!  What a timely conversion.

My guess is that Biden will skip Representative Bass because of Florida and her leftist past.  At the same time, he committed himself to a “woman of color” and most of them have a leftist past.

P.S.  You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Getting the news in Cuba and listening to Duke Ellington’s ‘Take the A train’

We remember Duke Ellington who was born in 1899 in Washington, D.C.  He became one of the legendary jazz figures of music history. Ellington died in 1974.

In the early 1960s, my family was in Cuba and struggling to get honest information about everything. We would often hear the news from the Spanish and English editions of The Voice of America.  

For example, my parents listened to President Kennedy’s Missile Crisis speech and later his funeral over the shortwave radio in our living room.

My father loved a VOA special jazz show hosted by Willis Conover. The show’s theme music was Duke Ellington’s  “Take the A-train” and it quickly became a hymn of freedom for millions around the world.

Every night, the opening notes of that wonderful song went over the short wave signals heard in Moscow, Prague, and down in Cuba.  

P.S.  You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Mariel 40 years later

On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announced that all Cubans wishing to leave were free to board boats at the port of Mariel. Shortly after, the first wave of 125,000 Cuban refugees reached Florida the next day. 

Mariel brought thousands to the US and most of them turned out to be very good additions to Florida. Unfortunately, there were some criminal elements but they were a very small number. 

Years later, most of the “Marielitos” have contributed much to Miami and the US. One of them is my friend Marcos Nelson Suarez, who came to Dallas and started a very successful newspaper, “El Hispano.”

For me, Mariel was a turning point in rediscovering my Cuban roots. It reconnected me with the Cuban cause, specially as I saw boats and people leaving the same island that I left as a kid in 1964.

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

God bless the men of Brigade 2506

On this day in 1961, my parents and lots of other Cubans woke up to “la invasion,” or the military operation that most of us expected and were ready for.  There were groups in Cuba who had been fighting Castro, from sabotage to confronting the regime block by block.   By the spring of 1961, a lot of the Castro magic had faded because promises about elections and reforms never happened.

The veterans of the brigade have a museum in Miami, a reminder to the young about the men who were willing to fight and remove communism from the island.

The politically correct explanation is that the invasion failed because Cubans did not rise up against Castro.  Actually, it failed because the total plan was never carried out, and the men were left stranded, as Michael Sullivan wrote:   

The invasion force, with four supply ships, landed at dawn, with a strength of 1,400 men. Initially things looked promising, American planes struck at Cuban air force bases and destroyed Cuban planes on the ground. 
However, the tide quickly turned on the insurgents.

President Kennedy, anxious to cover up America’s role, inexplicably called off all American air support, leaving the rebels stranded on the beach. 
Cuban army and militia units, organized by Castro himself, swarmed the invasion site to block the rebels from gaining the interior of the island. 
The Cuban Air Force rallied to strafe the landing site and the supply ships moored in the bay.

One ship sank and the remaining three barely made it out to sea.

Without resupply or air support, the men of 2506 Assault Brigade managed to hold out for two days, until nearly all were either killed or captured by pro-Castro forces. When the smoke cleared, 114 died and 1,189 languished in Cuban prisons.

There they remained for 22 months, until the Kennedy administration paid more than $50 million in food, medicine and cash for their release.

The accusations flew around Washington, as well as Havana, in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs and an administration struggled to retain its credibility.

It was a bad day, and many Cubans were thrown in jail after that.

Over the years, I have personally spoken to many of the veterans of Brigade 2506. Like my parents, they started their new lives in the U.S., and many served in the U.S. military.  Every one of them tells me the mission would have succeeded if the plan had been carried out.

The lesson of The Bay of Pigs is simple.  Presidential weakness, and confusion, has consequences way beyond the event in question.

God bless the men of Brigade 2506.  They are heroes in my book.

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.   

1959: The week that the VP met Fidel

Back in April 1959, Fidel Castro visited the U.S. a few months after taking power

Castro’s visit was rather controversial because he faced skepticism from many in the U.S.  He was asked about the promised elections that were delayed and delayed.  

Castro was also beginning to hear a lot of criticism from fellow Cubans who kept asking about the surplus of communists and shortage of reforms. 

Finally, while President Dwight D. Eisenhower did not meet with him, Vice President Richard Nixon did.   

After the meeting, VP Nixon said that his bearded visitor was  “…either incredibly naive about communism or under communist discipline — my guess is the former.”

Castro also appeared on “Meet the Press” and denied that he was a communist.  He even joked about it saying that some people thought that Adam and Eve were communists. 

Furthermore, Castro benefited from a lot of people in the U.S. who were caught up in the cult of personality and did not know the truth of pre-Castro Cuba.  As my late father used to say when he got questions about casinos:  “We had a lot more home grown prosperity than casinos!”

Down on the island, Castro continued to deny that he was a communist and put people in jail for accusing him of that. 

In December 1961, eight months after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, he declared his allegiance to Marxism-Leninism and our worst fears were realized.   

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.