Would They Have Been Like Us? / Roberto Jesus Quinones

GUANTÁNAMO, Cuba, October, www.cubanet.org — Today there were commemorations marking the 145th anniversary of the beginning of our first war of independence. At a celebration on October 10, 1968, the centenary of this historic event, Fidel Castro gave a speech in which he suggested that — faced with the same conditions experienced by those who took up arms against Spanish rule — contemporary Cuban revolutionaries would have behaved in the same way as those distinguished patriots and vice versa. The expression he used was, “Today, they would be like us: back then, we would have been like them.”

In 1968 Fidel was not the feeble, crumpled-over, almost unintelligible old man shown on television on February 3 during elections for delegates to the National Assembly. He was a vigorous, forty-two-year-old dreamer of a man, who took a mocking stance towards the embargo. Without the slightest sense of propriety he imposed his vision of what he thought government ought to be, first obtaining power through force of arms and then creating a cult of personality. He turned Cuba into his own encampment. The above-mentioned expression, repeated over and over, came to be accepted as fact after the news media, educators and government officials actively promoted the claim.

Any reasonably informed person knew, however, that this expression was simply one more speculative tidbit from the comandante’s extensive oratorical collection. A review of the names of those executed during the first few years after the revolution would be enough to indicate that there were many revolutionaries fighting with Fidel against Batista’s dictatorship who were never sympathizers of communist ideology. It was lauded by the astute members of the Popular Socialist Party, who almost effortlessly infiltrated every branch of the nascent revolutionary government. They also managed to convince the young revolutionaries to abandon the Moncada Program, the Mexico Convention and the Sierra Convention, and to begin imbibing the “sweet nectar of power.” (1)

Frank País, José A. Echevarría and Camilo Cienfuegos were no communists. Had the first two not been killed by Batista’s police and had the latter not died under mysterious circumstances shortly after the Revolution, it is well worth asking if they might have ended up facing a firing squad or serving long prison sentences much like Huberto Matos and hundreds of other officials and soldiers from the rebel army. And if it is worth asking in the case of these three young men, the question is even more pertinent when discussing the lives of patriots like José Martí, Ignacio Agramonte and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, especially in light of the comandante’s above-mentioned expression. One of the preferred arguments used by Castro’s ideologists to justify his claim is that these men — of whom I have presented only the three most notable examples — did not live long enough to experience Marxism and, therefore, were not able to express opposition to it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The opinions expressed by Agramonte and Martí as they relate to the ideas of Karl Marx leave no room for doubt. In the case of Martí, one need only read what the “Father of the Country” wrote in the historical document “Acta de El Rosario, Acuerdo del Levantamiento” to be aware of his very deep commitment to democracy, support for liberal ideas and complete rejection of all forms of authoritarianism.

In this document the patriots who take up arms against Spain declared, “To the God of our consciences and to the verdict of civilized nations we appeal. We aspire to popular sovereignty and universal suffrage. We want to enjoy freedom, for whose use God created Man. We sincerely profess the dogma of brotherhood, tolerance and justice, and consider all men to be equal. We exclude their benefits from no one, not even from Spaniards, provided they are willing to live in peace with us. We want the people to be involved in the formation of laws, and in the distribution and investment of their contributions. We want to abolish indemnified slavery for those who have been harmed. We want freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of conscience. And we are asking for sacred respect for the inalienable rights of Man, which is the foundation of independence and the grandeur of its people. We want to shake off forever the yoke of Spanish oppression and to move forward as a free and independent nation.” (2)

Ignacio Agramonte made eloquent statements in opposition to totalitarianism, among them this one I read recently in the fifth issue of “Vocablo,” a publication of Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa: “A government which destroys the potential for full development of individual action and restrains society from progressive advancement is not one founded on justice and reason but merely on force. A state built on such a principle could at any moment in time declare itself to be stable and unshakable to all the world. But sooner or later, when men realize their rights have been violated and set about to regain them, they will proclaim with canon fire that the state’s lethal domination has ended.”

Biographies of this noted author, however, cannot be found in any bookstore and it is extremely difficult to find them in libraries as well. And what of the writings of our apostle Martí? To add insult to injury, his Complete Works are now sold with the volumes containing his thoughts and critiques on Marxism and socialism removed.

There is no evidence whatsoever to back up the claim that men like Camilo Cienfuegos, many of the guerrillas who fought in Oriente province or members of the Second Escambray Front held communist beliefs either when they were fighting against Batista’s dictatorship or on January 1, 1959. Given the overwhelming body of evidence, we can state the following without the slightest shadow of a doubt: No, Cuba’s 19th century Mambisa warriors would not have been as portrayed by Fidel Castro in 1968!


(1) An expression used by Fidel Castro in reference to his removing from office the Vice-President of the Council of State, Carlos Lage Dávila, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque.

(2) This document, known as “Acta de El Rosario, Acuerdo del Levantamiento” appears on page 103 in the book Carlos Manuel de Céspedes by Fernando Portuondo and Hortensia Pichardo and published by Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Havana, 1982.

Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces

From Cubanet, 10 October 2013