‘Cuba, si, Yanqui, no!’
LAST WEEK, for the first time in more than 50 years, the American flag was raised in Havana, Cuba. Presided over by US State Secretary John Kerry, who flew in for the occasion, the simple ceremony outside the old embassy compound signified the restoration of diplomatic ties between two adversaries that continued to fight a cold war long after the fall of communism in Europe.
A day before Kerry’s arrival in Havana, Fidel Castro, one of the longest-serving communist leaders in the world, marked his 89th birthday by calling on the United States to pay millions of dollars as compensation for damages to Cuba’s economy. Presumably, this was brought about by the trade embargo slapped on Cuba after it nationalized US-owned businesses, oil refineries and factories. The restoration of diplomatic relations did not automatically lift this trade embargo.
In an essay published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, in which he called for compensation by the United States, Castro also wrote: “Writing is a way to be useful, if you keep in mind that we poor humans must be more and better educated in the face of the incredible ignorance that surrounds us all. . .”
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It was in January 1959 that a young Cuban nationalist, Fidel Castro, born out of wedlock from a wealthy sugar cane farmer and his domestic servant, would rally fellow revolutionaries in a popular uprising to oust a military dictator, Fulgencio Batista, in the Caribbean island of Cuba. He would establish the first communist state in the western hemisphere. Since 1965, the island has been ruled by the Communist Party of Cuba.
Many Cubans welcomed Fidel Castro. For many years, Batista, supported by the United States, led a corrupt and repressive regime. But he was an ally of many American corporations that were involved in sugar, mining and utilities, even casinos. He was also anticommunist.
Castro believed that it was time for Cubans to reassert themselves and one of his rallying cries was “Cuba, si, Yanqui, no!” As soon as he took over, he began to reduce American influence in the economy, taking over American-dominated industries.
During my early military career, two events took place in Cuba that have remained firmly in my mind.
Intent on overthrowing Castro, as early as 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to recruit some 1,400 Cuban exiles living in Miami. These exiles were funded and trained by the CIA in preparation for an invasion scheduled for April 1961.
The site chosen for the landing was an isolated spot on the southern part of the island, known as the Bay of Pigs. The invasion turned out to be a complete disaster. Apparently, Cuban intelligence was well-informed of what was to take place. The invaders were pinned down on the beach and with no air support, Castro’s forces easily defeated the exile group. Of the invasion force, 114 were killed and more than 1,000 were taken prisoner. Those captured would later be released upon payment of ransom.
It was reported that Filipino experts in guerilla warfare, among them the charismatic Col. Napoleon Valeriano, took part in the planning and staging of the invasion. Valeriano, a member of Philippine Constabulary Academy, Class 1937, had built up quite a reputation in the fight against communist insurgents in the Philippines. As head of the famed 7th Battalion Combat Team of the Philippine Army, which operated in the Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon provinces, he carved out an outstanding reputation as a field commander. Among his classmates from the academy were Gen. Ernesto Mata, Philippine Army; Gen. Pedro Q. Molina, Philippine Air Force; and Commodore Juan Magluyan, Philippine Navy. Valeriano later served in South Vietnam where he became romantically involved with a prominent Manila socialite, an affair that ended his career in the Philippine military.
The other event, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, took place more than a year after the Bay of Pigs debacle.
In October 1962, an American U-2 spy plane, flying over Cuba, took photos of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles being assembled for installation. The nuclear threat just 90 miles from the US mainland would change the complexion of the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The crisis would last for 13 days, and for awhile it appeared that the world was on the brink of nuclear warfare.
Adapting a measured approach, President John F. Kennedy decided on a naval blockade of the island, followed by an ultimatum demanding that the existing missiles be removed.
In a dramatic television address to the American people, he revealed the presence of the missiles in Cuba and his decision to institute quarantine proceedings on the island to prevent the arrival of more missiles and equipment.
In the face of enormous tensions, a compromise was reached after days of delicate and secret negotiations. Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a promise by the United States not to invade Cuba. The United States also privately agreed to remove intermediate nuclear missiles located in Turkey, close to the Soviet Union.
During the crisis, I was stationed at Clark Air Base performing duties at their Air Defense Command Center, along with other Philippine Air Force officers detailed with the 13th Air Force. The Americans at Clark were on full, heightened alert during the 13-day standoff. One could sense the tension in the air as they prepared for what could have been the beginning of a nuclear holocaust, signaling the start of a third world war.
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How has Cuba fared under Castro?
Health and education have greatly improved under generous State entitlements. According to a Wikipedia report, Cuba has universal healthcare and no shortage of medical personnel. It has the highest doctor-to-population ratio in the world, and sends thousands of doctors to more than 40 countries all over the world. Its literacy is the 10th highest globally due to the provision of free education at every level.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main benefactor, greatly affected the island’s economy. This, coupled with the continuing US trade embargo, has imposed spartan living conditions on the people. Among its most famous exports are some of the best baseball players in the United States.
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