My friend Rafael “Ralph” De Cardenas first published his personal story “Cuba, Before and After…” in 1991 after encouragement to do so. Reading this three-part story of Ralph’s experiences in Cuba, will help you see the parallel totalitarianism and parallel threats between Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Barack Obama’s America. Examples of totalitarianism and threats are in the areas of classism (haves and have-nots,) Agrarian Reform (redistribution of wealth/land,) weapons confiscation, The Money Law (nationalizing of banks and confiscation of money,) Urban Renewal Law (redistribution of wealth/houses) and violations of religious freedom (control of the Church by removing and selecting clergy.)
When Cuba was free, over 99% of its people were practicing Catholics. Now, after the implementation of communism (which is atheistic and totalitarian) by Fidel Castro it is estimated that only 2.5% of Cubans are practicing Catholics.
Please pray for the improvement of Mr. De Cardenas’s health, the continued freedom of the United States and the future freedom of Cuba.
“Cuba, Before and After…” Part One of Three
By Rafael De Cardenas
Rafael (Ralph) H. De Cardenas II comes from a long line of prominent families in Cuba. His paternal great-grandfather was a Major General of the War of Independence against Spain and Justice of the Supreme Court. Dr. Humberto De Cardenas, his paternal grandfather served as Attorney General of Havana. Ralph came to the United States through “Operation Peter Pan” where thousands of Cuban parents saved their children from communism.
Since my arrival in Oklahoma in 1963, I have made over two hundred speeches at schools, churches, civic functions and other meetings. I have never, until now, been asked to tell my story in print. Please bear with me, as I am a novice writer.
I was born in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The island of Cuba has miles of tropical beach, an ideal climate and breath-taking scenery.
As a matter of history, Cuba was discovered by Christopher Columbus 27 October 1492 on his maiden voyage. The island was first colonized by the Spaniards, then the English, later by the French and once again by the Spanish. The Spanish-American War was fought on its soil. The United States intervened causing Cuba to become a republic on May 20. 1902.
Cuba is in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico only 90 miles south of Key West, Florida. It was a rich and prosperous country. The island was the birth place of Bacardi Rum and its many tobacco plantations supplied the ingredients of the famous Cuban cigar. Because of the amount of sugar cane grown, Cuba was known as the Sugar Bowl of the World. She ranked third in Latin American beef production behind Argentina and Venezuela. Other large industries were textiles and mining. Cuba was rich in Copper and one of the few producers of Chromate in the world.
Tourism was an important part of the economy because it was close to the United States. Rich and poor alike could enjoy the island paradise.
In 1958, U. S. statistics showed the per capita income to be $325.00 per month. The Cuban peso was worth $1.20 (American). Not bad for a country of less than six million people.
Shortly after the Spanish-American War and following the term of Cuba’s first president, subsequent presidents filled their pockets at the expense the Cuban people. By the 1950’s, Fulgencio Batista was in power. This dictator, ascended from the rank of Sergeant to General overnight. He accomplished this by revolting against the officers and killing them. One of the officers was my great-uncle, Evelio Pina. He was murdered after he surrendered. This was my father’s favorite uncle, so you can see Batista’s name was not popular in my house.
As you might surmise, despite the great economic success that Cuba was enjoying, the nation’s people were not happy with the government. They sought change. In 1956, a lawyer named Fidel Castro arrived in Cuba. With a handful of henchmen, he made his headquarters in The Sierra Maestra Mountains. The group began radio transmissions opposing Batista. I must confess that I along with almost all of the Cuban population, helped in the destruction of my own country. The rich and middle classes helped Castro the most. The man had most everyone fooled as to his intentions. His message of change resounded to all of us who were tired of corrupt governments.
Castro was arrested in Bogotá, Colombia in 1948 during a communist revolt for allegedly being one of the ring leaders. U.S. State Department files of 1964 disclose the facts. Earl E. T. Smith, the last U. S. Ambassador to Cuba, relates in book THE FOURTH FLOOR, that he took documents to the U.S. Congress in 1958 proving Castro was a communist. The documentation was the result of a lengthy investigation conducted by his embassy staff. The information was brushed aside and discounted because it was thought to bear no threat.
January 1, 1959 was the day my family and I awoke to sounds of horns blasting and the people’s shouts of joy. Cuba was finally free. Castro was coming down from the mountains to take over and reinstate democracy. He was going to again restore decency to the Cuban government. It seemed to be the beginning of a very happy new year for the majority of Cubans. I well remember my uncles rushed to help with any duties they could serve in the new government.
Castro took three days to march triumphantly from the Sierra Maestra mountains on the east coast to Havana in the west. He stopped in every city along the way to the cheers of jubilant crowds. He made his first speech in Havana’s Columbia City, which is considered the Cuban equivalent of the U.S. Pentagon. He revealed his plans for Cuba—“We are going to take from the haves and give to the have-nots.” The communist definition of a “have” is anyone that owned anything. Private enterprise became government-owned.
The ideology of “The Revolutionary Law will prevail” led to the formation of The Peoples Tribunal. Embodied in every neighborhood was a group that acted as judges. If a person had a grudge against another individual, it was a simple matter to accuse that person of being a collaborator with the previous regime and take the case to the tribunal. After hearsay testimony by a “witness”, the accused would be sentenced with penalties ranging from 20 years prison to death by firing squad. This process ran rampant through all Cuban cities.
While in a busy park I heard the cry of an individual yell, “There he is!” Then three militia men emptied their machine guns into the man …no questions asked.
Then came “Agrarian Reform.” Part one included farms in excess of 20,000 acres. The government would appropriate the excess and distribute it among its people. A few months later part two was implemented for those owning 10,000 acres with the same action. Later, people with 150 acres were affected. The result was the whole of the land being controlled by the government.
Our family owned approximately 20,000 acres in the production of cattle and sugar cane. My great-grandfather said “I can buy as much land as I can afford, but I only need one house to live in.” Upon his death it was decided by his widow and 8 sons and daughters to keep the land together by forming a family corporation. A general manager was hired to take charge of the entire operation rather than dividing it. Each year, when the family assembled, the profits were divided. It was a lucrative and equitable arrangement.
I recall the day when the Agrarian Reform came to call. My father and uncles were with me. We were suddenly surrounded by 25 to 30 armed men. My father and uncles were told to choose 150 acres for themselves. Naturally they chose the land with the improvements; the house, barns, etc. They were then informed that their new manager needed a place to live. They were told to make another selection. They were also told they would be responsible for the care and feeding of all the cattle on the land, not limited only to those found on their 150 acres. The rest of the cattle and land now belonged to the government.
The next thing my family was instructed to do was not to make any business transactions without clearing them with the area manager, then the provincial manager and finally the national manager’s office. Any and all private land was appropriated by the revolutionary government through the Agrarian Reform.
The people were told there would be no need for weapons. Everyone was ordered to register weapons which were ultimately confiscated, virtually disarming the population. I will never forget my father’s words as we watched Castro on television. “Son, we have made a great mistake. We have put a communist in power”.
Within a few months, Castro enforced the Money Law. All the banks were nationalized by the government. The Money Law stated no individual could have over $5,000.00 in the bank. Any amount in excess of that figure became government property. Bank accounts were managed by the government and doled out only with their approval. New bills were printed and new coins minted depicting the heroism of Fidel Castro. The old monies were declared obsolete and only $100.00 per family could be exchanged for new.
Nationalizing the housing industry, by which if you had paid more to the mortgage company than the Government estimated, you now owned that house automatically. Also, a law was passed declaring if a person owned a house but rented it out, the tenant had to send the payments to the Urban Renewal Management who was supposed to reimburse the landlord. Nothing was ever passed on to the landlord. The authority would also estimate the value of the property and figure how many payments the tenant had made. If the payments exceeded their estimate, they would declare the tenant had bought the house by virtue of his past payments and no other payment was necessary.
The Urban Renewal law further stated that if a home had more rooms than the government thought you needed, people could be moved in to fill the rooms. In the form of a “foster family to live with you. My aunt Bertha invited her long time maid and her family to move in permanently, her thought was I better have someone I trust and know living with me.
Everything was rationed. A family was limited to one pint of milk per week if they had a child under five years old. Otherwise, a doctor’s prescription was required to obtain it. Sometimes, food could be bought on the black market. My grandfather once bought a chicken for $30.00 and an egg cost $1.25.
Working conditions were impossible. Only members of the militia were allowed to work. To obtain membership, you had to attend indoctrination classes three times a week and spend weekends volunteering to cut sugar cane from the fields. An additional requirement was to attend, with your presence recorded, all of Fidel Castro’s speeches. Failure to attend meant the loss of your job.
Schools were converted into military training complexes. Parents could not see their children except on weekends after they passed the third grade. High School graduates could not be seen but once a month. All of the young people’s time was spent under the care and tutelage of the Cuban government.
Organized religion was virtually eliminated. Fidel Castro created the National Church of Cuba and installed Father Sardinia as its head. Sardinia was a renegade, ex-communicated priest. Castro’s militia rounded up all priests and ministers and shipped them, under cover of darkness, to Mexico. Religion was then relegated to Bible study in the home and worship with friends and family. The religious schools were taken over by the government and the religious orders were asked to leave the country.
End of Part One