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Before Fidel

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    Before Fidel
    Book Description:

    Before Fidel Castro seized power, Cuba was an ebullient and chaotic society in a permanent state of turmoil, combining a raucous tropical nature with the evils of arbitrary and corrupt government. Yet this fascinating period in Cuban history has been largely forgotten or misrepresented, even though it set the stage for Castro's dramatic takeover in 1959. To reclaim the Cuba that he knew-and add color and detail to the historical record-distinguished political scientist Francisco José Moreno here offers his recollections of the Cuba in which he came of age personally and politically.

    Moreno takes us into the little-known world of privileged, upper-middle-class, white Cubans of the 1930s through the 1950s. His vivid depictions of life in the family and on the streets capture the distinctive rhythms of Cuban society and the dynamics between parents and children, men and women, and people of different races and classes. The heart of the book describes Moreno's political awakening, which culminated during his student years at the University of Havana. Moreno gives a detailed, insider's account of the anti-Batista movement, including the Ortodoxos and the Triple A. He recaptures the idealism and naiveté of the movement, as well as its ultimate ineffectiveness as it fell before the juggernaut of the Castro Revolution. His own disillusionment and wrenching decision to leave Cuba rather than accept a commission in Castro's army poignantly closes the book.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79540-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    The plane was about to take off—a Super-Constellation on its daily run from Havana to New York. The four propellers whirling at half throttle, the doors closed, the stewardesses making sure the passengers were not walking up and down the aisle on takeoff, as Cubans were prone to do if left unattended, and shepherding them towards their assigned seats. It was early September 1959 on a sunny morning in the middle of the rainy season, like most mornings at that time of the year unless a storm was making its way from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of...


      (pp. 3-15)

      I was born twice. Same country—two worlds. The first time I was delivered into a feudal family in a time that no longer was; the second, I was hurled into a revolution in a time that was never to be. I was brought into the first world in 1934 by a white doctor, into the second in 1952 by a black soldier. Eighteen years separated the two births, but in the tropics time moves on its own accord, unrestrained by the unimaginative inflexibility of numerical sequence, so the chronological progression is meaningless, if even discernible, and those years remain...

      (pp. 16-31)

      Calling me thin as a rail would have been an understatement. I looked more like a toothpick with an olive on top, and being underweight was my most salient trait as a child, at least in my family’s eyes. I liked food, some of it anyhow, but I didn’t eat much, to the consternation of a group of people for whom eating well, and by “well” they meant both quantity and quality, was not merely a matter of ingesting nutrients but an activity with metaphysical implications—and one of the very few points of agreement between the two sides of...

      (pp. 32-49)

      By 1940 Cuba was a democracy—sort of. The Platt Amendment was long gone, a new constitution had been adopted and Batista was elected president by popular suffrage—but with the army counting the votes. For most of the next four years the contours of Cuban political life were molded by the reality and impact of World War II. Glenn Miller and the Dorseys joined the island’s musical repertoire, while Batista’s alliance with the Communists held and the radical nationalists mutated from irreconcilable enemies to loyal opposition. The violence and arbitrariness of the dictator’s early years became milder forms of...

      (pp. 50-64)

      The presidency of Carlos Prío Socarrás suffered all the ills of the previous Auténtico administration without retaining the few safeguards that had prevented the country from plunging into total chaos between 1944 and 1948. Now as the 1940s were approaching their end, Cuba seemed more like a large raft adrift at sea than a securely anchored piece of land, and there was no sense of political measure or proportion that anyone could discern. Street shootings increased in frequency and intensity, and official corruption reached heights never experienced before; the more outlandish and bizarre the act, the more likely it was...

      (pp. 65-88)

      On Sunday evenings Eduardo Chibás, the firebrand politician who had founded the Partido Ortodoxo (Orthodox Party) and had run as a protest presidential candidate in the 1948 elections, spoke on the radio, although it was actually shrieking and ranting and raving, condemning political corruption and government inefficiency and pointing out the many ills afflicting the country and ascribing them all to the negligence, malfeasance, cupidity and stupidity of Auténtico politicians and, specifically, to the Prío administration. I loved listening to his tirades because he would say in public what many said in private but no one else would broadcast or...


      (pp. 91-104)

      The second birth is very different from the first.

      The first time you are born you are not conscious that you are being born, and awareness arrives gradually, in stages, giving your senses time to adjust and time for things to fall into place. The second time your awareness is instantaneous and overwhelming, and all your senses and nerves and systems of perception and manners of discerning burst out at full gallop. You are fascinated and surprised, and you try to grasp what’s going on around you and come to terms with the marvel of the occasion. You realize that...

      (pp. 105-114)

      Aureliano! The most wanted man in Cuba, his picture on the front page of the newspapers and his powerful-sounding name, with almost as many syllables as letters, flying the flag of revolution and symbolizing the promise of retribution—the talk of the town. Where was he? What was he up to? When would he march on the government? He seemed to be the only one challenging Batista, and his name was beginning to take on mythical dimension. Everyone seemed to have known him—when he was a leftist student leader, when he was in jail, when he was a professor...

      (pp. 115-123)

      My fellow employees at the bank were rapidly becoming a nuisance. They expected me to solve their petty individual problems: change vacation time, secure a transfer to a more convenient location, argue for a raise or promotion—all problems I had no interest in, and which I would delegate to my second in command, Feliciano. Feliciano, “the happy one,” was one of those rare beings whose names are literal descriptions of their dispositions. He was permanently in good humor, always smiling and willing to listen, forever prepared to forgo office work for a “union” coffee break, and more than happy...

      (pp. 124-144)

      As months went by, Batista’s grip tightened, and the dark and tired political landscape gave way to new vibrant colors, fueled by youthful enthusiasm, idealism and candor. At the University a new set of student leaders was beginning to push aside the corrupt clique that had previously controlled the student federation. Union politics took a new direction, as challenges to the ruling officials were no longer based on specific grievances or demands but on rejection of their connivance with Batista and his government. The Triple A offered a way to rid the country of the dictator and to bring democracy...

      (pp. 145-160)

      “He almost died! My God, he almost died! We thought he was leaving us!” Kiko’s mother kept repeating hysterically over the telephone.

      I had run into Kiko, completely by chance, the previous Saturday afternoon on my way to the University to pay the tuition for the year, forty-five dollars. He asked me what I was doing and when I told him he suggested I put the money to better use—to a good meal. There would always be time for paying the tuition and, in the overall scheme of things, he argued, having a good meal ranked far above paying—...

      (pp. 161-182)

      Their guns were drawn, pointing at us, and there were four or five or maybe six of them, it was hard to tell, and as their guns came out, they yelled at us to get up and keep our hands where they could be seen, and to stand against the wall. Everyone else in the restaurant sat frozen in their seats, their faces betraying the same confusion and fear I felt, and they stared at us with a commiseration that was more disturbing than the policemen’s guns.

      Earlier in the evening I had run into Juanito and Ramón Papiol, acquaintances...

      (pp. 183-196)

      There was no way I could defeat Juan Nuiry for the presidency of the Social Sciences student body, since he had the election sewn up. Not that it was going to be rigged, just that he held all the cards. He had been around for a while as a full-time student and as a candidate whereas I was a newcomer in both respects; he was already vice president, I had no official position in student government; he had the support of the outgoing president and of all those active in the school’s electoral politics, I had the support only of...

    (pp. 197-198)

    The Cuban political situation continued to deteriorate. Cities became battlegrounds between the government’s repressive forces and urban guerrillas that surged in all forms and shapes. By December 1956 Fidel Castro was back in Cuba, in the Sierra Maestra. In March of the following year, in a move to counterbalance Fidel’s increasing political prominence, a number of Havana University students, in cooperation with other opposition groups, almost succeeded in killing Batista in an assault on the presidential palace. In the reprisals that followed the best-known student leaders were murdered. Whatever competition Fidel might have had for the top opposition spot was...