ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
A Bio of Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary
Books on Cuba
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Premier of Cuba
A Marxist whose style conforms neither to what was the Soviet nor the Chinese model of communism, Fidel Castro personifies the revolution that overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in January 1959 and brought about the establishment of the first Communist-bloc nation in the Western hemisphere. A lawyer who started out with liberal and democratic political convictions Fidel won the loyalty of his countrymen during the long struggle that led to his rise to power. The Caribbean nation under Fidel has weathered grave international crises, notably the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt of 1961 and the missile crisis of 1962, and more recently the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Since the late 1960s, Fidel has concentrated his energies on building up his nations economy.
Fidel was born August 13, 1926 on the family sugar plantation near Birán, on the northern coast of Cubas Oriente province. His father, Angel Castro y Argiz, who had come as an immigrant laborer from Galicia, Spain, eventually acquired an estate of more than 23,000 acres. After the death of his first wife who had born him two children (Lidia and Pedro Emilio), Angel married Lina Ruz Gonzalez, the family cook in the castro household, who was also of Galician background. Their children are Angela; Agustina; Ramón (an official in the Cuban agrarian reform program); Fidel, Rául (who is Deputy Premier and Minister of the Armed Forces in the Cuban government); Ernma; and Juana (who defected to the United States in 1964, in opposition to her brothers policies).
As a boy Fidel worked in the sugar cane fields on his fathers estate. His scantily educated parents had no intention of sending him to school, but Fidel was so determined to obtain an education that at six or seven he talked them into doing so. In Santiago de Cuba he attended the Colegio Lasalle and the Colegio Delores both Jesuit institutions. After graduating from the latter in 1942 he entered the Colegio Belén, a Jesuit preparatory school in Havana, where he excelled in Spanish, history, and agriculture and was voted the schools best athlete for 1944.
In 1945 Fidel enrolled in the Faculty of law at the University of Havana, where he studied civil law, diplomacy, public administration, and the social sciences and became president of the militant University Students Federation. In September 1947 he took time out from his studies to take part in an unsuccessful expedition to overthrow the dictatorship of the Dominican Republic under Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo. In April 1948, as one of the organizers of a student congress at Bogotá, Columbia, he took part in the violent uprising known as the Bogotazo. Because of his then liberal political orientation, he occasionally clashed with Communists in the student movement. Castro recalled in a speech in December 1961 that his ideological development as a Marxist did not fully take form until after he had come into power.
After obtaining his law doctorate from the university in 1950 Fidel established a law practice in Havana with two partners. As a lawyer, he championed the poor and disadvantaged. A member of the Partido del Pueblo Cubanoalso known as Partido Ortodoxowhich has been founded by the liberal reformer Eduardo Chibás, Fidel became a candidate for a parliamentary seat representing a Havana constituency in the national election scheduled for June 1952. The elections were, however, cancelled when on March 10, 1952 General Filgencio Batista overthrew the government of president Carlos Prío Socarrás in a coup detat and established a military dictatorship.
Following the coup, Fidel submitted a petition to the court of constitutional Guarantees in which he charged that the dictator had violated the Constitution of 1940 through the seizure of power. The court rejected the petition, ruling that revolution is the fount of law. Having failed to move against the dictatorship by legal means, Fidel helped to organize a rebel force of young idealists, dedicated to democracy and social justice and to the 1940 Constitution.
On July 26, 1953 a force of some 165 men led by Fidel conducted an attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba with the hope of fomenting a popular revolt in Oriente province. Both that attack and an accompanying raid against the Bayano garrison were fiascos. About half of the rebels were killed and most of the rest, including Fidel and his brother Rául, were imprisoned. After consucting his own defense with an impassioned speech ending with the words la historia me absolverá. (History will absolve me), Fidel was sent to the isle of Pines inder a fifteen-year sentence. Commenting on the Moncada attack, Herbert Matthews wrote in his book Fidel castro (Simon & Schuster, 1969) that it had a similar significance for the Cuban Revolution as the fall of the Bastille eventually had for the French Revolution.
Released under a general amnesty on may 15, 1955, Fidel tried for a time to conduct his campaign against the batista regime on a non-violent level, but the government blocked his access to the mass media. In July he went to mexico City, where amid harassment by Mexican authorities he organized Cuban exiles into what became became known as the 26th of July movement. In mexico city he met Ernesto Che Guevaro, a key figure in the Cuban revolutionary movement. On the yacht Granma, acquired with money contributed by former president prio Socarrás, Fidel landed on the north coast of Oriente province with a force of eighty-two men on December 2, 1956.
The invaders were again disastrously defeatedwith only twelve men, including the Castros and Guevara, remaining of the original force. Nevertheless, that handful of survivors gained a foothold in the sierra Maestra mountains where they waged continuous guevrilla warfare against the batista government with a growing force of volunteers. An interview with Fidel by Herbert L. Matthews in the NYTimes (2/24/57), destroyed the governments claims that rebel forces had been wiped out.
Matthews described Fidel at the time as a man of “overpowering” personality, “an educated, dedicated fanatic, a man of ideals, of courage and of remarkable qualities of leadership.” Of Castros 26th of July movement, Matthews wrote: “It is a revolutionary movement that calls itself socialistic. It is also nationalistic, which generally in Latin America means anti-Yankee.” Matthews has pointed out that the Cuban Communists not only played no role in the 26th of July movement but were, in fact, opposed to it.
Fidel proclaimed “total war” against the Batista regime, beginning with April 1, 1958. his guerilla forces scored victory after victory against the government in the months that followed and inspired a massive civic resistance movement in the cities. By late December, Batista realized his defeat, and on New Years Day, 1959, he went into exile in the Dominican Republic. On the following day, Fidels forces marched triumphantly into Havana, while the city of Santiago fell to the rebels at the same time. A guerilla force of perhaps 800 men at the end of the struggle ha defeated a professional army of some 30,000 soldiers. It was an accomplishment that Matthews has called a true epic, without parallel in the Western hemisphere.
In the new provisional government Castro became commander in chief of the armed forces, while Dr. Manuel Urrutia Lleo, a liberal judge who had defected from the Batista regime, became president. Heading the new Cabinet, composed largely of middle class liberals, was Premier José Miró Cardona, a law professor. On January 6, 1959 the two houses of the legislature were dissolved and all provincial and local officials were removed from office. The United States recognized the Cuban provisional government on January 7, 1959.
The early days of the revolutionary government were marked by wholesale arrests, trials, and executions by firing squads of Batista supporters. Replying to criticisms of the executions from the United states and elsewhere, Fidel reminded his critics of the atrocities committed by the Batista regime and declared that the revolutionary courts would remain until “all criminals” were tried. The Cuban Communist party, outlawed under Batista, was again permitted to operate legally. On February 16, 1959, following the resignation of Miro Cardona, castro was sworn in as Premier of Cuba, while the post of armed forces commander went to his brother Raul. Visiting the US that April, Fidel assured Americans that Cuba would adhere to the agreement under which the US leased the naval base at Guatanamo; that foreign property would not be confiscated; and that his government was aligned with the Western democracies.
An agrarian law adopted in May 1959 established a National institute of Agrarian Reform, of which Castro became chairman. The law provided for the distribution of land to landless families and for the abolition of tenant farming, while greatly limiting foreign landownership. Consolidating his won power Fidel forced President Urrutia to resign on July 17, 1959 after accusing him of sabotaging the revolution. The presidency was filled by Osvaldo Dorticos, a lawyer, who had been minister of Laws of the Revolution. By late 1959 the real power in Cuba had come to reside in Fidel Castro and his immediate associates.
Meanwhile, relations between Cuba and the US were deteriorating, largely as a result of the Castro governments expropriations of American-owned properties for what was considered inadequate compensation. Increasing counterrevolutionary activity in Cuba was attributed by Castro to US influence. An agreement between Cuba and the Soviet Union, providing for the purchase of Russian oil by Cuba and of Cuban sugar by the USSR, was signed between the two nations in February 1960. A few months later the US sharply reduced the quote for sugar imports from Cuba. On his visit to New York in September 1960 for the fifteenth session of the United States General assembly Castro had a friendly meeting with soviet premier Nikita S. Krushchev, and in his address to the General Assembly he attacked US policies toward Cuba. After the Castro government had seized virtually all united States-owned properties and had reached additional agreements with communist nations, the US government on January 3, 1961, broke diplomatic relations with Cuba.
On April 17, 1961, a force of some 1,300 Cuban exiles under the unofficial auspicies of the United States Central Intelligence Agency launched an invasion attempt at the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on Cubas southern coast. After the invaders were defeated and most of them taken prisoner, Fidel declared triumphantly that the revolution had destroyed . . . the army organized during many months by the imperialist Government of the united states. Castros victory over what he has called the foreign mercenary invasion forces enhanced his stature in his own country and at the same time drew him closer to the Communist world. In his may Day 1961 speech he called Cuba a socialist country and declared that the government would no longer hold elections but would thenceforth depend on the direct support of the people at mass rallies. The revolution does not contemplate giving the oppressive classes any chances to return to power, he added.
On December 2, 1961 he proclaimed “a Marxist-Leninist program adapted to the precise objective conditions existing in our country.” A Marxist political party, the Organizaciones Revolucion Integradas (ORI), with Castro as First Secretary, was established on March 23, 1962. It was replaced in 1963 by the Partido Unido de la Revolucion Socialista (PURS), which in October 1965 became the Partido Communista de Cuba.
In October 1962 Castros Cuba became the focal point of a world crisis after President John F. Kennedy revealed that according to intelligence reports the Soviet Union was building bases for long-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. Those weapons, according to Kennedy, constituted an explicit threat to the peace and security of the all the Americas and threatened to upset the nuclear balance between East and West. On October 23, 1962 Kennedy proclaimed a quarantine on all military equipment going to Cuba and established a blockade that was backed by the Organization of American States (OAS). Castro replied to the blockade by insisting that the weapons were defensive and accused the United States of violating the sovereign rights of our country and all the peoples.
The crisis subsided a few weeks later, when Khrushchev agreed to the removal of the missiles and Kennedy called for an end to the blockade. Meanwhile, after negotiations between the Castro government and attorney James B. Donovan, representing the Cuban families Committee, an agreement was reached under which the 1,113 prisoners captured in the bay of Pigs invasion were to be exchanged for food and medicines valued at $53 million. Castro said of the agreement in January 1963 that for the first time in history imperialism has paid war indemnification.
After the missile crisis relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union cooled somewhat. Castro, who was not a party to the negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev, criticized the latter for not obtaining greater concessions for Cuba. He declared in January 1963 that the Soviet-American agreement was not binding upon Cuba, and he indicated that he might turn to Communist China for support. Cuba continued, however, to receive substantial Soviet economic and military aid, and on several occasions the Castro regime sided openly with the Soviet Union against the Chinese.
On the other hand, Castro took the Soviet Union and other European Communist countries to task in 1967 for establishing ties with oligarchic Latin American regimes and for failing to support revolutionary guerilla forces in the Western Hemisphere. In February 1968 several pro-Soviet Cubans, including Aníbal Escalante, were imprisoned by the Castro regime as traitors to the revolution. Castro gave only a lukewarm endorsement to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, declaring that although there was no legal basis for the Soviet action it was necessary to prevent the Czechs from marching toward a counterrevolutionary situation . . . and into the embrace of imperialism.
Although Cuban-American relations have remained mutually hostile, Castro has expressed the desire for a normalization of relations with the United States. He has indicated that Cuba would halt its subversive activities in Latin America if the United States and the Organization of American States were to do the same. In 1965 an informal agreement between Cuba and the United States was arranged through Swiss channels under which Cubans were to be permitted to emigrate to the United states. After Ché Guevara, who had been leading guerilla forces, was killed in Bolivia in October 1967, Cuban support of Latin American revolutionary movements tended to subside. More recently Castro has indicated that the Latin American revolution might come about by means other than violent guerilla action, citing as an example the leftist-nationalist military government that came into power in Peru in October 1968.
In 1968 Castro launched a new revolutionary offensive to step up productivity and extirpate the last vestiges of private enterprise. On January 2, 1969the tenth anniversary of the Cuban RevolutionCastro called for a year of decisive effort to rescue the countrys lagging economy. He announced a long-range agricultural development program while postponing indefinitely the countrys previously announced industrial drive. On July 14, 1969 Castro officially launched the 1970 sugar harvest which, he declared, would continue until the record goal of 10,000,00 tons was reached.
After eleven years in power, Fidel Castro remains the jefe máximo (biggest boss) of the Cuban people, and his Fidelesmoa unique blend of Marxism-Leninism and Latin American individualismhas transformed the nation. Workers and peasants seem to be benefiting from improved working conditions, health care, and education, and the black and mulatto populationconstituting about 27 percent of Cubas 8,100,00 peoplehas largely been integrated into the mainstream of life. On the other hand, Castro himself has admitted that crime, delinquency, illiteracy, and industrial inefficiency continue to plague his country. Vigilante groups known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution keep a close watch on the citizens lives, and thousands of dissenters remain in prison. No opposition press or political party is permitted, and there is little prospect for a return to constitutional government.
On April 30, 1961 Soviet authorities awarded a Lenin prize to Castro; in may 1963 he received the order of Lenin and the Gold star medal, and he was designated a hero of the Soviet Union. English translations of his published speeches include History Will Absolve Me; The Moncada Trial defense Speech (J. cape, 1968); and major Speeches (London, Stage 1, 1968). Castro retains the rank of major in the Cuban army.
Fidel Castro was married on December 12, 1948 to Mirta Díaz-Balart, a fellow student, whose father and brother were officials in the Batista regime. The marriage ended in divorce in 1955. Their son, Fidel, known as Fidelito, attended school in the united states and later studied at the University of Havana. According to Cuban exile sources, Castro was married again, in 1962, to Isabel Coto of Santiago.
Once described in a profile in the New York Times (January 2, 1959) as a big, burly, low-voiced man who has a way of looking scholarly when he wears his glasses and who likes rifles and cigars, Castro is about six feet tall and has brown eyes and brown hair. He lives a Spartan life and usually wears a fatigue uniform. Affairs of state keep him traveling almost constantly. Once considered a devout Roman Catholic, he was excommunicated in January 1962 after coming into conflict with church authorities. He likes classical music, and his favorite sports include baseball, volleyball, swimming, and skin-diving.
Source: Current Biography 1970
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Cuba An African Odyssey is the previously untold story of Cuba’s support for African revolutions.
Cuba: An African Odyssey is the story of the Cold War told through the prism of its least known arena: Africa. It is the untold story of Cubas support for African revolutions. It is the story of men like Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Agosthino Neto and of course Che Guevara who have become icons, mythical figures whose names are now synonymous with the word revolution. This is the story of how these men, caught between capitalism and communism, strove to create a third bloc that would assert the simple principle of national independence. It is the story of a whole dimension of world politics during the last half of the 20th century, which has been hidden behind the facade of a simplistic understanding of superpower conflict.
Cuba: An African Odyssey will tell the inside story of only three of these Cuban escapades. We will start with the Congo where Che Guevara personally spent seven months fighting with the Pro-Lumumbist rebellion in the jungle of Eastern Congo. Then to Guinea Bissau where Amilcar Cabral used the technical support of Cuban advisors to bleed the Portuguese colonial war machine thus toppling the regime in Europe. Finally, Angola where in total 380,000 Cuban soldiers fought during the 27 years of civil war. The Cuban withdrawal from Angola was finally bartered against Namibias independence. With Namibias independence came the fall of Apartheid the last vestige of colonialism on the African continent.
Cuba: An African Odyssey unravels episodes of the Cold War long believed to be nothing but proxy wars. From the tragicomic epic of Che Guevara in Congo to the triumph at the battle of Cuito Carnavale in Angola, this film attempts to understand the world today through the saga of these internationalists who won every battle but finally lost the war.
Credits: Written, directed and narrated by Jihan El-Tahri / Edited by Gilles Bovon / Photography by Frank-Peter Lehmann
Sound Recordists: James Baker, Graciela Barrault / Produced by Tancrède Ramonet, Benoît Juster, Jihan El-Tahri
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Jim Rasenberger
My telling of the Bay of Pigs thing will certainly not be the first. On the contrary, thousands of pages of official reports, journalism, memoir, and scholarship have been devoted to the invasion, including at least two exceptional books: Haynes Johnsons emotionally charged account published in 1964 and Peter Wydens deeply reported account from 1979. This book owes a debt to both of those, and to many others, as well as to thousands of pages of once-classified documents that have become available over the past fifteen years, thanks in part to the efforts of the National Security Archives, an organization affiliated with George Washington University that seeks to declassify and publish government files. These newer sources, including a CIA inspector generals report, written shortly after the invasion and hidden away in a vault for decades, and a once-secret CIA history compiled in the 1970s, add depth and clarity to our understanding of the event and of the men who planned it and took part in it. . . .
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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By Michael Casey
Illustrated. 388 pages. Vintage Books. $15.95
Casey, Buenos Aires bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires, tap dances across history and the globe to examine intellectual property and iconography through the lens of the famous image of Che Guevara captured by fashion photographer Alberto Korda. Some say that only the famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe, her skirt rising as she stands over a subway grate, has been more reproduced, writes Casey. The author does not neglect the relevant biographical details or history, but his focus is Che as a brand. He wants to understand why the Korda image remains so compelling to such a wide variety of people and how it continues to represent so many different (and differing) causes; he suggests that the power of Che, the brand, is in its ability to be anything to anyone. The book can feel like a disorderly amalgam of travelogue, visual criticism, biography and reportagefragments befitting a study of globalized culture. Readers interested in the impact of visual culture or in better understanding the elusiveness of intellectual property rights, particularly in a global marketplace, will find much food for thought. Publishers Weekly Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 8 November 2008