Report on Cuba: Who Is Right Time May Tell \(Jim Pierce, staff representative of the international electrical workers’ union, made a name for himself in Texas standing up for equal rights for Negro union members in Tyler. At the San Antonio state labor convention just concluded he again led a campaign against segregated union locals in Texas. Presently he is assigned in Clearwater, Florida. Curious about the Cuban Revolution, he went down to Cuba. Although he does not allude to the experience in the accompanying story, he was invited to a meeting of counter-revolutionaries and sat in on their planning and conferences as an observer, as well as visiting with many Cubans who are pro-Castro. “On speculation,” as we in journalism say, he sent this article on Cuba, and we are convinced that its freshness and clarity remark not only upon his own honesty and acuteness, but also upon the quality of reporting from Cuba in the daily and magazine media. Though far afield from Texas, the Cuban experience is interesting to Texas people closely allied by geography and history to Latin-America.MIAMI, FLA. Nearly hidden in the shadows of the ultra-modern Havana Hilton Hotel stood a small boy, his clothing tattered but clean, his feet bare. He clutched his hand tightly to his father’s as he looked, for the first time, at New Havana, a spotless expanse of magnificent hotels, casinos, and department stores. A short distance away was the older section of the city, Old Havana, where he would probably spend the next few years living and going to school. This small boy, and many more like him, may now have the opportunity to go to school. This is one of the crash programs of the new Cuban government of Dr. Fidel Castro. “Education” seems to be on the tongues of all Cubans, young and old alike. Only nine months after the successful conclusion of the Revolution the Castro government is making tremendous strides in bringing education to the people of Cuba. Already a large army camp has been converted into a college and 10,000 schoolhouses are being built. Most of these are to be built in the village and at the crossroads, many by voluntary workers so they can be completed faster. Huge slum clearance programs have been instituted. Old houses, many of them more than a hundred years old, are being torn down and replaced with new, modern apartment buildings. Most of these are being built by the people who will live in them. The people are being paid just enough to live on, with the rest of their salary going into the cost of the material. They will pay from $10 to $30 a month toward the cost of the building. Once the buildings are paid for they will belong to the tenants. These too are being built at an amazing speed. In fact, everything is being done fast in Cuba. It appears that the government reads in the mood of the people the desire for a complete change away from the memories of the past. One can sense an unrealistic haste throughout Cuba, indicating that the transition must be accomplished hurriedly if it is to be done at all. This may well be true, because powerful counter revolutionary forces, based in Tampa, Miami, and the Dominican Republic, are gathering forces for the overthrow of the Castro regime. In Miami, the counter-revolutionaries ask only for three months in which to prepare their forces. They appear to be well financed and ably led. These people arc wealthy supporters of previous rulers of Cuba. Some were supporters of Castro until they found out he “wasn’t just another dictator.” They own beautiful homes, and airplanes, and large boats. The conventional planes are based on the scores of small landing fields in southern Florida. Seaplanes are based in the nearly inaccessible expanses of the Everglades and among the Florida Keys. The motorboats are high-speed models, perfect for running guns, ammunition, and personnel between Florida and Cuba. United States enforcement agencies find it virtually impossible to police these many airfields and small ports, if indeed they try very hard. The counterrevolutionaries claim that they have no trouble buying arms and transporting them into Cuba. They claim silent backing from the U. S. State Department. They wait only for hunger, and the unrest that accompanies it, to make their effort to retake Cuba. Hunger will come fast, they say, once the United States lowers or cancels the Cuban sugar quota, lifeblood for over four million Cuban people. They are angry because the United States has waited so long to cancel this quota, yet they feel certain that it will be done in the near future. Until then they plan to foment enough unrest to deter tourists, the next largest Cuban source of income, from frequenting the island. The next few months could well be the most important months of this century in Cuba and the Western Hemisphere. Who ,Is Right? Central figure in this most important power struggle is Dr. Fidel Castro, beloved, mild-appearing, bearded leader of the “25th of July” Revolution, sup. ported by an army of 38,000 veteran fighters, one-half of whom are scheduled to leave the Army in the near future and join the ranks of public workers. Supporting him also are a great majority of the Cuban people. He is so well love d, so respected, that he eclipses all other leaders of the Revolution, including his brother, Raul. If something should happen to him, chaos would reign and Cuba would be the prize of whoever got there first. The enemies of Castro will tell you that he is a Communist, that Raul is a Communist, and that all who follow him are Communists. They claim that there is a complete suppression of freedom in Cuba and that the people live in constant fear for their lives. To support these statements they show you numerous publications, such as Mensaje Quincenal and Cuba Libre, Spanish-language papers published in Miami and Carib, written in English and published in the Dominican Republic. Able to walk in the streets after dark without fear of Batista’s police, the supporters of Castro look upon him as a second Jose Marti, first liberator of Cuba more than fifty years ago. In speaking of him to Americans they compare him to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They praise him as the champion of the camterms they describe him as the rich man who fought to lift the poor, as an intellectual who led the uneducated, and as a member of the landed aristocracy who gave his land to the people. Who is right? Perhaps time will tell. Arriving Immediately upon arrival in Cuba one sees the feverish activity brought on by the Revolution. Jose Marti airport is in the throes of a tremendous building program. The streets from the airport into Havana are being repaired, and on both sides of the street huge public works projects are being constructed. College students were painting the gutters white. Children were picking up paper and clearing vacant lots. On the way to the hotel I was amazed by the cleanliness of the city and the people. I searched for a sign of the bearded, khaki-clad revolutionary I had been told to fear. I saw only one, .minus his carbine, standing on a corner talking to an attractive young lady. As I checked into the hotel only three blocks from the National Capitol I was graciously received by the manager, who personally escorted me to my room. I glanced at a newspaper I had bought and was surprised to find an editorial extremely critical of Castro. I decided to check the newsstands to see how bad the censorship was and what was banned. Many Cuban people are very angry at the New York Times and Life because of the articles criticizing Castro. They were available at every newsstand. So was the Reader’s Digest, Popular Mechanics, Sport, Ring, Ebony, Photography Annual, Figure, Gene Autry, and Donald Duck. A majority of the books apd magazines were from the United States. Playboy, banned in many parts of the United States, was very much in. evidence. Finally, partially hidden in the back of one newsstand I found a copy of Union Sovietica and remembered that the counter-revolutionaries in Miami had told me that Cuba was ‘a hotbed of Communist intrigue. I backtracked trying to find additional copies of Soviet publications. Finding none, I started asking for them. I was told that while available, there was very little demand for them. Most of the stands didn’t stock them. Pleased, I bought a number of Cuban publications, including a Spanish-language copy of Walt Disney Comics to send to my 11year-old daughter, who is studying Spanish in school. I went back to the hotel satisfied that there was no censorship in Cuba. Argument There is a great amount of unemployment within the city of Havana, brought on by the influx of thousands of farmers and peasants who followed Castro in his triumphant march into Havana. These are the people who supported him with food and arms during the trying times when he was building his organization. These are the ones who gave and now expect to receive. Castro has promised that they will be given an opportunity to have a home, a job, and an education for their children. They are awaiting fulfillment of those promises. In the meantime they eat and sleep in the public places provided for them by the government. In the Prado, the small park adjacent to the National Capitol, I spoke to a rather large group of people about the trials following the revolution. I was very critical of the mass executions. Opposed to capital punishment, I maintained that it was inhuman, that a democracy, if they were to have one, should be based upon understanding and forgiveness, not upon mass executions and inhumanity. It was not easy to convince them that I was right. It was especially hard to convince the -widow ‘ whose husband was taken. from his home by Batista’s police never to return, the sister who had seen her brother shot to death in the street, and the man, standing near me, who still bore the scars from a brutal beating administered by the police. The people of Cuba will tell you that if Castro had not brought these people to trial and punished them, the people, themselves, would have killed them. That would have resulted in riots and many more deaths. They maintain that they had done in Cuba what America had done in Nuremburg. I changed the subject after a young Cuban nurse said, “We are not perfect, we make mistakes. We have only had , freedom for a few months, but we are making . progress. In Cuba there is no racial discrimination, there are no lynchings, no separate schools, no race riots. No one makes speeches about mongrelization or about keeping the Negro in his place. There is no Ku Klux Klan or White Citizens Councils. When you go back to America explain to your people that we are trying hard to live up to the principles of democracy your country taught us. Ask them to help us. We love America but we are hurt when your newspapers call us Cornmunists and help us less than you helped the butcher, Batista.” Some of the Programs The revolutionary government is staking its political future on the controversial Reforma Agraria, the agrarian reform program. Widely publicized as a land reform program, it is much more than that. It includes increased industrialization, diversification of agriculture through small family farms, public works to relieve unemployment, public housing, slum clearance, health centers, schools, and cultural programs. Over the strenuous objections of the apartment owners, rent has been cut by fifty percent. Idle land, much of it owned by American companies, has been bought by the government and sold, on longterm loans, to tenant farmers. The land was paid for by lowinterest government bonds. Livestock and tools were sold to the farmers on credit. Taxes have been increased to pay for the other programs. Some, such as the tax on liquor and beer, were more than doubled. Wages were raised. Political graft was made a capital crime. Public kitchens and dormitories were set up for the unemployed. In establishing these programs many mistakes were made. The opposition was quick to criticize. Castro appears unable, or unwilling, to delegate authority, a fault that might prove extremely costly in the future. He tries to supervise everything personally. Insisting that Cuba has a free press, he takes to television \(his favorite and most effective mecriticize him or his programs. At t h e slightest provocation he rushes to the workers and farmers for visible signs of support. The support is always there. It is from the American newspapers that he receives his most vocal opposition and it is at the United States that he directs his most outspoken condemnations. He directs his outbursts always against the American politician and businessman, not the American people. There is good reason for this since the American people are well liked in Cuba. Many of the Cuban people have relatives in the United States. It is from them that Castro first received money and arms when he needed them. I was told that America should recall their political representa tives and send worker delegates who have tasted hunger and who can understand the Cuban people’s desire for reform. The Future There is widespread fear in the United States that Cuba will de* velop close ties with the Corn munist countries. While -this may not pose an immediate threat, it could easily develop into one. Cuba desperately needs help, especially financial help. They will do their best to get this help from the Western nations but, failing there, they will probably take help from any available source. Undoubtedly they can get help from Russia. when and if they are willing to take it. Cuba is particularly vulnerable from the air. They feel they must have an adequate defensive air arm. The planes they now have arc obsolete British fighters left by Batista. When they asked Great Britain to replace these with newer fighters, the United States State Department blocked the sale. Cuba probably will accept planes from other nations if they cannot get them ftom Great Britain. “Other nations” could be the Soviet Union. Fidel Castro is a dedicated man and a determined one. He Ms promised the Cuban people a better life, and he is determined to give it to them. He can be a forceful friend of the United
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