Dr. Armando Fleites passed away in Miami in April of 2017. He was an officer of the Second Front of Escambray, an organization that fought valiantly to topple the Batista regime and restore the 1940 constitution, and, subsequently, opened guerrilla activities in the Escambray mountains against the totalitarian regime of Fidel Castro.
A Cuban-American friend reacted to Dr. Fleites’ obituary by saying that here was a Cuban-American who did more for the restoration of freedom to Communist Cuba by taking up arms instead of by talking a good game and failing to deliver.
Another Cuban-American friend from the film industry opined that it is a waste of time to write articles and editorials that call for a democratic transition after over sixty years of dictatorship by the Castro brothers.
They both subscribe to the philosophy that power is never given, rather it is taken.
I do agree that the most effecitve and quickest avenue to bring democratic change to Cuba is through a popular uprising. When there are massive demonstrations and a general strike that paralyzes the Cuban economy, the Castro-led bureaucracy will crumble. When enough Cubans chant that they are unwilling to go along, to get along (their idea of “resolver), a brand new day of liberty and hope for a better tomorrow will rise up in the horizon. When Cubans wake up from the inertia of their long nightmare and invoke the dream extolled by President Lincoln of having a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the Mambises (Cuban independence soldiers who fought against Spain) in heaven will gather up to sing the Cuban national anthem.
But make no mistake about it, Cubans must end their lethargic demeanor and be their own change agents. They cannot expect a foreign government like the United States to engage in regime change for them.
As President Donald J. Trump recently said, he was elected to be president of the United States; not president of the world. While President Trump understands well that the United States cannot afford to take an isolationist foreign policy — given its role as the bastion of the free world — he embraces a fiscally conservative posture of prioritizing the trouble spots that he is willing to focus on. This is not to say that if the Cubans took the initiative, they would not find support in the many elected officials in the Federal Government. For one, the Cuban-American congressmen/(women) would support the cause of freedom in their own homeland.
Not taking charge of the situation will bring about the continuation of the dynastic transfer of power. We saw this up close when Fidel turned over the reins of power temporarily in 2006 and permanently in 2008 to his brother Raul. In 2013, Raul, after announcing his intentions to step down from the presidency in 2018, designated former engineering professor Miguel Díaz-Canel – who bears a striking resemblance to former Major League Baseball player José Canseco — as his potential successor. And recent remarks in 2017 by Mariela Castro Espín, Raul’s daughter, suggest that there is more than one candidate to replace her father – possibly with Col. Alejandro Castro Espín (brother of Mariela and head of the National Defense and Security Commission) after playing a key role in the negotiations with President Obama’s team to restore diplomatic relations. As you can plainly see, there is no mention of having free elections monitored by international organizations to ensure the will of the Cuban people is safeguarded.
Nevertheless, I do strongly disagree with my friends’ assertion that the only way to help topple the Communist dictatorship in Cuba is by taking up arms. There are men and women who are best suited for this undertaking – both genetically and by training.
Others can be just as useful in their contributions to the freedom cause by writing articles and letters to the editor that expose the civil rights violations taking place in the Caribbean Gulag. Still others can lobby their elected leaders to impose sanctions on the Communist regime. Others, like film director Leon Ichaso, can produce films like “Bitter Sugar” that explains the helplessness of daily living by average Cubans through the saga of two lovers. Others like musician Willy Chirino can keep the hope of a Cuba Libre alive by composing songs like “Our Day is Just Around the Corner.” Still others like saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer Paquito D’Rivera continues to pen letters to the editor denouncing the atrocities that are a common occurrence in Cuba. And, let’s not forget the example set by the late Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz of never losing hope that better days were yet to come for her Cuba.
Even Cuban national hero José Martí was criticized for being a man of letters and not of action. His detractors portrayed him as a cowardly opportunist sending others off to die for his own personal aims, as one who “did not discharge his duty as a Cuban when Cuban appealed for the efforts of her children,” and who chose to “live on the savings of Tampa’s cigar workers.” His harshest critics lamented that they could not “shake [Martí’s] hand in the field” because he would “continue giving lessons on patriotism from abroad, in the shadow of the U.S. flag1″
And, yet, there was no other Cuban who did more to free Cuba from Spanish domination – by his extensive writings, speeches, organizational skills, lobbying efforts, and mediation skills – than Martí. A testament to Martí’s efforts is the fact that he is considered the Apostle of the Cuban Revolution to this day by Cubans of all political affiliations.
He sacrificed his health, his career, his marriage, his family for the wellbeing of his homeland. When his detractors questioned his manhood, he joined the rank of the rebels in the Cuban battlefield and died soon after – a terrible tragedy that never should have happened.
Many Cubans have opined that the history of Cuba after it gained its independence in 1902 would have turned out differently, for the better, if Martí had not died in the battlefield. It’s hard to speculate on this hypothetical — as governing has a way of changing people’s disposition.
But I am willing to go out on a limb and agree with the assertion that Cuban history would have seen better days if Martí had been the first president of the Cuban Republic.
As the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy said “the problem of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Martí was such a beacon of light for the Cuban cause of freedom and liberty. His dream was cut short by the skeptics who thought that a man of action, a military man, was better suited for the role of governing.
How sad! My hope is that we have learned the lesson that the contributions of every man and woman who dreams of a better tomorrow for Cuba are welcomed!
Footnote 1: Citation taken Professor Alfred J. López’ book: José Martí, A Revolutionary, Life, 2014, p. 259.