And my mother said: “Mataron a Kennedy”

November 22 means the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It always takes me back to that day in Cuba when we got the news.

We were “gusano waiting for el telegrama” to leave Cuba. We eventually left in July ’64.

It was a time of terrible tension and fear that “el comite” would find some excuse to delay our exit or make life miserable for our parents.

It was the daily grind of a repressive communist society. You couldn’t trust anybody beyond family and a very select number of friends.

Such is life in a communist country. Yes, that was the “gusano way” in Cuba!

My father was working at a friend’s “pasteleria” after the banks were “nationalized”, i.e. stolen from their rightful owners.

My mom was constantly arguing with the local CDR president about food shortages. She would always scream at them: “Esta revolucion no tiene pan o leche”!

On the afternoon of November 22nd, my brother and I were playing that game of “beisbolito” that we loved so much. (“Beisbolito” was a board game that Cuban boys used to play. I miss those “beisbolito” games against my brother. We had teams, batting averages and play by play broadcasts!)

The phone rang and my mom answered. She said the usual “oigo” and yelled: “Mataron a Kennedy”.

My father got home a bit later and tuned in the Voice of America for more news. We got more details, such as that it happened in a place called Dallas, in the state of Texas, and that someone had been picked up by the police.

Dallas, Texas? That’s where I live now!

Later that night, or maybe the next day, I sat down with my father and watched Castro talk about the assassination. I don’t recall what he said but my father found it interesting. I learned years later that there were all kinds of conspiracy theories about the assassination.

The funeral came a few days later. We heard it on VOA. I recall everybody talking about the little boy saluting the flag. (I saw that picture of little John later when we came to the US).

From the communist takeover, to the tragedy at The Bay of Pigs, to the tense Missile Crisis to the assassination of President Kennedy, it seems like I was in the middle of some of the most dramatic moments of the 20th century.

The missiles in Cuba: “Se fueron los cohetes pero se quedo Castro”!

We sat around my father’s Phillips radio, or the one with a short wave band.   By the way, this radio was a lifeline to international news.

My father purchased it because it was one of the first FM models to be available in Cuba.  However, it was the short wave band that became the radio’s primary feature.

Our place was very close to “El Malecon”, the legendary Havana ocean drive avenue.  We had a feeling that something was going on because it was full of “milicianos” with anti-aircraft weapons.

We heard Persident Kennedy (translated to Spanish) say that there were missiles in Cuba:

“In a dramatic televised address to the American public, President John F. Kennedyannounces that the Soviet Union has placed nuclear weapons in Cuba and, in response, the United States will establish a blockade around the island to prevent any other offensive weapons from entering Castro’s state. Kennedy also warned the Soviets that any nuclear attack from Cuba would be construed as an act of war, and that the United States would retaliate in kind.”

Looking back, I have a couple of questions.

First, why didn’t President Kennedy tell the Soviets to take Castro out with the missiles?  My guess is that the Soviets would have asked:  Do we take him out dead or alive?  The Soviets were overextended in October 1962.  We held all of the cards and should have demanded Castro’s exit.

Second, why don’t we ever talk about the impact on the people Cuba?  The Missile Crisis was followed by more and more repression, brutality against the guerillas in Escambray and the consolidation ofthe Castro dictatorship.

As someone said:  “Se fueron los cohetes pero se quedo Castro”!

P.S. We discussed the speech and that night with Bill Katz of Urgent Agenda who was working with the CIA at that time..

Click here to listen!