The Transformation of a dream into destiny:
Open Letter to Young Cuban-Americans
By Elias Seife
July 4, 2000
No one knows what happens in men’s minds when they wake up one day and hear a voice inside that calls them in such a way, that when the day is over it becomes clear that nothing else in their life seems more important.
That’s what happened to me 5 years ago. I was 32 years of age. It’s hard to explain. Listening to the news. Listening to the stories of heroism, and self-sacrifice of people I have personally known, not founding fathers 200 years ago, listening to relatively recent history. Listening to stories of broken dreams, and broken families. Pictures of tragedy, freedom, and dignity at every turn. It is the compelling story of the Cuban nation. But what really shook me, was when I realized that I, Elias, born in Yonkers, New York, the most American of cities, was an inheritor of all this story that is STILL, to this day, in process. How dare I, first descendant of a Cuban political refugee, sit idly by, while others are deciding the fate of the Cuban nation. I realized that I have the legitimate right and responsibility to affect the future of Cuba, my country, my heritage, my people. The fact that I have never lived in Cuba is irrelevant. A nation does not have boundaries (just ask the Hebrew nation). The mission was clear. Before I could form opinions, before I could act on behalf of my newfound nation, I had to possess the intellectual weapons to defend my points of view. I had to come to my own conclusions about why we are here today. I was going learn my history from books, historians, and protagonist survivors. The history that I had only heard… It hit me like a bolt of lightning!
A Brief History
After seeing for myself, reading about Cuban history before Castro’s communist revolution, I learned that there was once true democracy and sovereignty in Cuba. Let’s step back into history, to the beginning of the Cuban republic, but before we do may I say that what am I about to describe is not intended to offend anyone and it is not by any means our entire history, it is simply what I consider to be the key events. From these events and others everyone is encouraged to come to their own conclusions. "To know one’s history is to know thyself". I don’t remember who said that, but it has certainly been true for me.
After the Cubans won their independence in 1898 from Spain, the United States took over the island’s sovereignty for 4 years until 1902 due to the fact that the United States’ military participation was instrumental in the final defeat of the Spaniards in the eastern province of Oriente. The powerful US Navy pulverized the aging Spanish Armada. This said, it was a great injustice to exclude the victorious Cubans, who had practically won the war, finishing with the lives of over 100,000 Spanish soldiers and bankrupted their enemy in the process of a hard three-year war, from negotiating the peace accords with Spain. After 4 years of US occupation, Cuba was declared a sovereign state with one exception. The exception was that US troop removal from Cuba was conditional on the inclusion of the U.S. Platt amendment in their newly created 1901 Constitution, which stipulated that the United States held for itself the right to intervene militarily at any time that it deemed necessary. The stipulation was passed and Cuba became a pseudo-sovereign state.
Cuba went through a great period of industrialization and economic prosperity in the early 20th century, although the spoils of war went to the Americans and the Spaniards. There was no national currency. The fortunate were paid with U.S. and Spanish gold and silver coins, while others were paid with purchase coupons that were only valid at the General Store of their boss. Imagine working for Publix and payday comes around and your boss pays you with Publix food coupons. Jobs for the locals, the Cubans, were scarce.
It was 1929 when President Gerardo Machado and the oligarchic corrupt political parties prolonged their terms in office and blocked out any other political parties from participating in the electoral process. There was general disgust among the country’s population, and any opposition was essentially shut out of public life by the government’s actions. The government was forced to become violent against the protesters and the inevitable came, the killing of civilians by Machado’s police forces. The United States had to become involved in the civil unrest. The process of the "Mediation" started in July of 1933 with the entrance of U.S. Ambassador Benjamin Sumner Welles. The United States with large financial interests on the island were obviously interested in finding a peaceful solution that would preserve the status quo. And so it happened. President Gerardo Machado was forced to resign and newly selected president Carlos Manuel de Cespedes was installed without the benefit of a general election on August 12, 1933. It was a month later, on September 4, when a group of students convinced a segment of the Cuban armed forces to rebel against the "mediation" and the status quo. The Authentic Revolution ensued.
With 29 U.S. warships surrounding the island, on Sept 10, 1933, revolutionary president Dr. Ramon Grau San Martin refused to pledge allegiance to the 1901 constitution and unilaterally rescinded the Platt Amendment claiming for Cuba full sovereignty, in what could have been considered a very unwise act of open hostility towards the United States. He pledged allegiance to Cuban people instead and promised to someday raise his hand for a new constitution.
Social legislation came about briskly. Among the many decrees was the "8-hour work day" instead of 12 to 14 hours, "women’s right to vote", nationalization of the electric company and the telephone company, the requirement that large employers have at least 50% of their workforce be Cuban citizens, the temporary suspension of payments to Chase National Bank, the creation of a Ministry of Labor, "free breakfast for school children", and the prohibition of payment coupons for employees. Cubans were to be paid with real currency from now on.
The US government never officially recognized Grau San Martin’s 1933 government, but nevertheless Grau managed to stay in power for 100 days, long enough to secure his reforms. Seven years would come and go but his social legislation would live on and become the founding blocks of the new and democratic 1940 constitution. In 1934 Grau founded the Partido Revolucionario Cubano Autentico, "Partido Autentico" (Authentic Party) for short.
As mentioned before much of the legislation found in the celebrated 1940 Cuban Constitution was inspired in the Revolutionary reforms of 1933. Later on the "Partido Autentico" won 2 democratic national elections serving the Cuban people from 1944 through 1952. Unfortunately, on March 10, 1952, dictatorship fell upon our country. That unparalleled democratic process in our history started only 12 years earlier came to a grinding halt by way of a treasonous military takeover, ironically by the hand of Fulgencio Batista, the same man who had been one of the military leaders in the 1933 revolution and the first president to serve democratically under the new 1940 constitution.
"What is Past is Prologue" … Philosopher Confucious
Although it is probably more convenient to forget about the past, and is encouraged by some people, institutions, organizations and governments that have betrayed us, We must never forget!
Many men fought against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, perhaps you personally know some of these men. Batista was the de-facto president/head of the army from 1934 to 1939. He was elected president from 1940 to 1944, and became an outright dictator from 1952 to 1958 after overthrowing the democratically elected president Carlos Prio Socarras. He let you live as long as you would not challenge his political power and corruption. You could have your own business, and live a mostly normal life otherwise. Let’s point out that many Latin American countries at the time were the victims of dictatorships and were diplomatically recognized by the United States. It is also important to mention that the United States became a strong ally of Batista’s government and no other single act proved the point more than when exiled president Carlos Prio Socarras was arrested in the U.S. in 1953 during president Eisenhower’s republican administration. Prio was arrested in Miami for his violation of the US Neutrality Act. He was charged with committing acts of insurgency against the Cuban dictatorship while being a guest of the United States. To many the thousands, as estimated by the Catholic Church, that Batista’s regime eliminated is pale in comparison to the death and devastation that Castro’s communism imposed on island starting in 1959. Most definitely true, although to me a dictator is a dictator, an individual who is willing to kill if his power is challenged. Ironically for Batista, many consider that his exit from power and fate was sealed in 1958 when the United States, his ally of many years, failed to deliver the much-needed weapons that were purchased and prepaid in the amount of 100 million dollars to fight the insurgents. The "Haitian embassy massacre" and the "Attack on the presidential palace" on March 13, 1957 were probably the bloodiest encounters during Batista’s dictatorship. You can read about it on the Internet at http://www.autentico.org/index02.html.
Maybe you know one of those men, possibly even a family member, that put his life on the line for freedom? They were full of youth and ambition. Do you know what they did for you on April 17, 1961? Fifteen Hundred men landed in the middle of the night in the most treacherous part of Cuba, the swamps of "La Cienaga de Zapata", the Bay of Pigs, with rifle in hand. It was an amphibious landing. They had to swim with full gear to arrive at the battle zone. Some perished getting there. Despite all the initial obstacles they managed to be spectacularly successful in defeating the communist enemy. But those courageous men and the Cuban people were betrayed soon after. US President John Kennedy, also known as "Camelot", and Robert Kennedy, a.k.a. "Camelot #2", refused to provide the promised air cover and logistics support to carry on with the successful operation. Men of honor were left to die. Our heroes were taken to prison. Some saw their friends die in combat and others executed by gangsters. These gangsters stole your parents’ dreams. Castro was consolidated in power, and if that was the plan, it certainly worked. After surviving battle and betrayal, and over a year in prison our freedom fighters’ release was negotiated between the Communists and the US Government. Later "Camelot" promised Russia’s Khruschev and Castro to never again allow an invasion of Cuba through what today is called the Kennedy-Khruschev Pact.
Do you know any those men or women, the one’s that were imprisoned or executed for opposing Castro’s communist revolution? Thousands of Cubans have served sentences of 20 and 30 years in sub-human jails literally filled with rats and human excrement for acting against the interests of the revolution. Political prisoners have been systematically subjected to this day to psychological and physical torture, solitary confinement, and malnutrition by the Communist Cuban State security apparatus. Nothing will ever be able to compensate the suffering of the Cuban political prisoners.
Maybe you know one of those men, a family member perhaps, that fought for your freedom for 11 years in the Escambray mountains since the communists seized power in 1959. It is called the "forgotten war", although thousands died in battle and by execution. Unfortunately in 1970, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger convened with Raul Castro in Mexico and promised to eliminate any logistical support the Cuban internal resistance was procuring. This agreement put an end to the possibility for Cubans to fight for their freedom from both inside and outside their borders. From this time forward the two most powerful countries on earth were Castro’s allies. You and I in the meantime were going to grade school, having no clue that our families’ lives would never be the same. Your nation was sold out. All the bearded thieves had a party that night in Havana. They got away with it. We lost. And the only thing left to do was to work like hell. In the factories, in the cafeterias, hotels, and 7-elevens. We had to start the painful process of saving what was left of our families and invest in our children’s future.
Some, like my aunt, never accepted being a political refugee, she has never adjusted and she will never accept to become a citizen of the United States out of her own free will. She lives for the day she can return to her country, a free and just society. Her mind and her heart have never left her hometown of more than 40 years ago.
But maybe I should tell you about the most typical Cuban political refugee story, a story that can be told thousands of times. My dear mother was born in a little town in the province of Matanzas. My mother was an elementary school teacher in Cuba. Before leaving Cuba at age 22 for good, she married my father in a local church wedding. The whole town came, in an act of open defiance to the communist revolution, as we know all good communists are atheists. People were standing outside to congratulate the daughter of the Spanish immigrant that worked his whole life to achieve his dream, being a farmer with his own ranch, a general store, and providing the best education for his children.
My mother never worked as a teacher again. She stayed home taking care of her 3 children until she felt that they were grown. In 1977 she started working in a fast food restaurant because she wanted to feel useful economically. She continued working for 20 years until her sickness made it impossible for her to continue. She died of cancer last year, and her dying wish was to return to her homeland. As the old Cuban phrase would say "Sin pena ni gloria", literally in English, "Without Sorrow or Glory". The typical story, of the typical Cuban political refugee. No "American Dream" there. My mother gave her life for my family and me. I can not forget that, I can not escape that. It’s personal. I live every day trying to make her proud.
Its impossible to pretend, maybe four generations or roughly 80 years from now you can hide your heritage, if that’s what you want to do. But today, my friend, like it or not, you are at a crossroads in your life. Whenever you go to a business meeting and give a knowledgeable person your business card, you’ll recognize the look. You can read their minds when they give you the funky smile; "it’s the Cuban kid that thinks he’s an American". Thirty years from now you’ll be sitting on your easy chair and your grandson will sit on your lap and ask you, "Hey pops what did you do for the Cuban people when you were younger?" What will you tell your grandchild? …. Assuming you will not stay silent, I know you’d prefer to be proud of your response.
Cuban history is being made today. World history is being made today. As part of a Socialist World takeover attempt, the United States is in the process of legitimizing all Communist governments by lifting any and all trade barriers. Therefore, the Cuban trade embargo is about to be lifted, the Cuban Adjustment Act is trying to be repealed and the United States has sold all of its nuclear secrets to its former enemies. The US Missile defense system is being offered to the Russians for free by the President of the United States. Our society as we know it may cease to exist.
The President of the United States is caught having sex with an employee in the oval office. Chinese businessmen are allowed to sleep in the White House in exchange for political contributions. At the US State Department, where top men are suspected to have been spies for foreign governments for at least 20 years, Laptops with nuclear secrets and "code word" information have been lost. At the Energy Department, two computer hard drives with all of our nuclear secrets, after having been reported missing for over a month, mysteriously show up behind a copy machine! Children are being deported to communist countries. The US Government invades the homes of law-abiding citizens and our constitutional right to bear arms is being eroded. People are expecting politicians to be liars and crooks and as long as the economy is fine, nothing else matters. Fewer and fewer citizens are exercising their right to vote. The United States, the most moral country on earth, the one that has the words "IN GOD WE TRUST" on every dollar bill, has outlawed GOD in our schools and school events. Are you getting the picture? Our society is breaking down because individuals with values, and integrity are not getting involved in civic life. This country is being sold-out and few people seem to care.
For me the "melting pot" stopped melting, I found the treasure within me. My forefathers were calling for the individual to step forward. Doing what is right regardless of the consequences. It all made sense.
Like the character Howard Roark from the Ayn Rand novel "The Fountainhead", self-confident, and self-worthy. Roark was in a world that wanted to impose the "collective good" and destroy what they called "individual selfishness". He lived in a world that wanted to destroy him because of his commitment to excellence, individual achievement and the integrity of his individual spirit. Society believed that his work and intelligence was not his own and should be used to serve others.
That ageless struggle for individual freedom is deep-rooted in my gut. The power of one man or woman changing the course of history for the better, against all odds, captivates my imagination. To do the unthinkable, and feel the indescribable euphoria, that my mother and grandparents could not feel in life. My destiny, Our destiny, I envision every morning. To finally achieve peace for the Cuban nation. To Return to a Cuba of freedom, justice and sovereignty.
Cuban exiles today are being characterized as politically archaic. This country’s power structures are unhappy with our intransigent stance. According to them, we must adjust and compromise, forget about the past and live for today. You know, be thankful and live the "American Dream" like all other immigrants and refugees. Accept that Communism in Cuba is there to stay, and that the US will lift any and all barriers to economic trade between the two countries.
Cuban exiles and their cause, anti-communism, and their undying desire for freedom and justice for their homeland are like "Howard Roark". They have been attacked for their individual spirit and for not being "in the best interest" ("collective good") of the powerful US government, the Media, and leftist "scholars". We are apparently in the way of "Globalization" and some of the most powerful US corporations’ efforts to profit from communist dictatorships who can ideologically justify the use of slave labor. Like Roark we have been subjected to ridicule by our government and other collective consensus builders who have used the "power of the press" and "public opinion" to destroy us. But in the final analysis "Public Opinion" is not going to save this country and Cuba from oppression. The past has shown us that the history of nations is made by the individual not by the "masses". The moral and the GOD fearing need to step forward.
Cubans on and off the island believe they should be the ones to decide the fate of the Cuban nation, not Spaniards, Canadians, Americans or anyone else. We don’t expect the United States to help us in our search for freedom, even though may it be noted that the wealthy women in Havana of the late 1700’s collectively raised 1,200,000 Dutch silver units for George Washington’s Continental Army in his fight for independence from England. All we expect is non-interference. We expect that the US Neutrality Act not be used against us. We, as any other nation, have the right to seek our freedom and independence from dictatorship in any way possible. US Lawyer Horatio Rubens said it best when speaking to US President William McKinley during the Spanish-Cuban war of 1895, "We are not asking that you go to war, all we want is your neutrality and your acknowledgement that Cubans have the right to seek their freedom in any way possible."
Every freedom loving person is at risk of losing it all in this country. Americans who don’t care and find it convenient to support Communism in other countries, lose all moral credibility. Slavery, or derivations of it, will eventually come to America because it will be economically convenient to the powerful ruling elite.
What will prevail, Freedom and the Individual or Communism’s "collective good" and "public opinion"?
I will follow my road and fight to the END. Will you?