(Originally published by the Daily News on April 17, 1958. This story was written by Joseph Martin and Phil Santora.)
There are more than 2,000 Cuban exiles in Miami, which has been called the Siberia for Latin-America, and the reason most of them are battling the Batista regime is simple — they want to go home.
They want to go back, however, with the guarantee they won’t be dragged out of their beds during the night by the dreaded SIM (Security Police) and forced to submit to torture and worse.
There’s the pianist who says:
“Even here, I can feel the hand of Batista. His species are everywhere in this city — even in New York and other places where Cubans have gone for refuge. I listen to the shortwave broadcasts from Fidel Castro’s headquarters in the Sierra Maestra two or three times a week and they give me hope — even though I am not 100% for Castro, either.”
You hear that often — Cubans who hate Batista are not necessarily in love with Castro. There is mistaken idea that if you talk or write about the regime’s terrorism you have to be for Castro. A large share of the exiles in Miami are for Cuba only. The insurgents, be they Castro’s or Faure Chomon’s or followers of other rebel leaders, are merely the weapons by which the anti-Red middle class hopes to free its homeland.
Thinks Best Hope is a Third Party
There’s the exiled newspaperman who says: “Batista is a murderer, but Castro is an ambitious man, and who knows if things will be any better when and if he takes over? Our best hope is a third party — preferably the army — under a non-political man like Gen. Jorge Garcia Tunon, also exiled by Batista.”
Revolutionaries are common in Miami. They seem to collect in the same places night after night.
“I have a family in Havana,” said one, “and my sole aim is to go there to live with them again. I saw them eight months ago, but it’s too risky for me to make frequent trips. I can only fight against those who keep me from my mother and two brothers.”
Portly Dr. Roberto Agramonte, a former sociology professor; his wife, daughter and son — who fought with Castro in the Sierra — are exiles living in a cramped “efficiency apartment.” Suitcases are scattered about the place and there is little furniture — the mark of the transient who hopes this is only a temporary stop.
Couldn’t be Bought, He’s Shot to Death
Agramonte, Dr. Manuel Bisbe and others in the “26th of July Movement” spoke March 16 at a commemorative meeting at the Flagler Theater in Miami. It was a Sunday morning, but there were about 300 present to pay tribute to the memory of Dr. Pelayo Cuervo, slain as a suspect in the March 13, 1957, attack on the Presidential Palace. Cuervo had been a marked man because he couldn’t be bought. He was taken from the home of a friend, pushed into a car and shot to death in a Havana suburb.
The people at the Flagler were middle class. Some of them arrived late, making excuses to friends that they had to attend church first. Batista likes to call them Communists, but Reds aren’t in the habit of putting church services before revolutionary meetings.
Inside, there was emotion-drenched oratory. Batista, say these sober, well-educated people, “has drunk the blood of the Cuban people.” The current theme — “Liberty or death.”
Cuba’s martyrs are remembered in Miami — and there are many martyrs, with new ones created by each abortive uprising.
“But it’s like a chain letter,” said a Cuban attorney, “Each person who dies for Cuba inspires a dozen others to take his place in the movement against Batista. Some day — be it this month or this year — we will return to our homes in Cuba.”
Those that Have Help the Have Nots
The revolutionaries and exiles don’t always find jobs. But they seem to get along — mostly from the bounty of those who have plenty of money and are willing to share it.
Castro has his followers. So does ex-President Carlos Prio Socarras. So do others. Curiously, Batista and Castro profess the same aims for Cuba. They don’t want to run the country personally, they say, they merely want a strong, honest group to take over — with free elections, civil rights and all the other benefits the Cubans don’t have.
Batista turns on his ever-ready charm and tells the world he would like nothing better than to turn over the reins to some deserving characters. In the next breath, he indicates he would like to retain control of the army in case anything goes wrong.
Castro has said he doesn’t want to be president of Cuba, not even a high officer of the government. He wants to sit on a park bench in the background and make like an elder statesman.
“I would act only as the conscience of the administration,” he said.
The consensus among the more highly-educated exiles is that Cuba would be better off if neither Castro nor Batista ruled the island.
“There are many misconceptions,” said an exile. “There is, for instance, a popular belief in the U.S. that if Batista relents in his reign of terror, takes it easy on his enemies, there will be peace. This is not so. There can be no peace while he directs any phase of the government.
“But on the other hand, I do not believe that Fidel Castro is statesman enough to rule Cuba as it should be governed.”
Batista has ruled Cuba for 17 of the last 25 years. The past six years have been the goriest in Cuba’s history.
How did he get started? Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar was born of humble parents and was a laborer in a sugar mill, a farm worker, a tailor and eventually a stenographer.
He joined the army at the age of 20 and attained the rank of staff sergeant because of his knowledge of shorthand.
He came into power through a coup in Sept. 4, 1933, ending the reign of tyrannical President Gerardo Machado. But, though he was now Cuba’s strong man, Batista didn’t become president until 1940 when a coalition — including the Communist Party he now denounces — elected him.
Backs Loser, Goes to Fla. to Retrench
When he was barred by the Cuban constitution from running for a second term in 1944, he put up his own candidate — who was defeated. Batista retired to Daytona Beach to lick his wounds and plan a comeback.
When he regained control in 1952 through a coup d’etat, he was hailed as the savior of the people. But the people were soon to find out, that this was a different Batista than the one they had known. This one was out to make a fortune and a place in history. He has done both.
Castro is now 32. He is a brilliant lawyer, has three university degrees and comes from a wealthy family in the sugarcane business. However, he has a reputation as a young man who likes to run off in the direction of a revolution.
In 1946, he was a member of an expedition against President Rafael Trujillo, of the Dominican Republic. The invasion fell through and Castro escaped by leaping into the sea from a ship. He also took part in a revolt in Colombia.
Is he Communist? One of his severest critics says: “Castro may have used Reds to gain the ends he seeks, but he’s not a Red. He may have associated with them but I’m sure that he was not aware of the political inferences. He has suffered from nothing more serious than adolescent political growing-pains.”
The Castro “26th of July Movement” originates from his attack on the army barracks in Oriente Province. From that day on, even though Castro’s losses were heavy and he had to flee for his life, his name became synonymous with Superman, and Robin Hood.
There are those who don’t believe that Castro will ever come out of his beloved mountains — that when he does venture out too far he’ll be cut to ribbons.
Solid Citizens Key to Real Picture
You have to try to divorce the distortions from the realities in any analysis of the Cuban situation. You have to discount the enthusiasms of Castro’s followers as well as the propaganda dished out by the Batista regime.
The best way is to talk to the solid, substantial men who have never before entered into a revolutionary movement, who refused to go into politics.
These men comprise the great middle class of Cuba. They speak with wisdom and authority. They had made great sacrifices — leaving their beautiful homes in Havana in live in airless little rooms in Miami, New York and Chicago.
Dr. Manuelo Urrutia, who will head the provisional government if Castro wins out, is in New York. He was an honored magistrate for 31 years before he was exiled for daring to indict a police official for murder.
Men who have known violence only through hearsay form the nucleus of the underground that goes from New York to Miami and Cuba.
It is work to which they have become accustomed. They don’t complain — they merely keep the guns going over to the Sierra Maestra and the Sierra del Escambray.
One of them said: “Castro is almost a prisoner in his mountain. Batista is virtually a prisoner in the barracks at Columbia Military City. But the Cuban people are the real prisoners.”