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Pain of communist Cuba still vivid for Tampa woman

Pain of communist Cuba still vivid for Tampa woman
Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA – Isela Perez sleeps in on most days, when her only tasks are to
clean the house, watch Fox News and keep up with her telenovelas.

But on Saturday, the 85-year-old wakes up early.

Her little house is quiet as she makes a cup of instant coffee; the
strong Cuban stuff no longer agrees with her.

In the kitchen, she keeps plantains. In a bedroom, newsletters about the
homeland she left half a century ago, by a local activist group that
publishes scathing political cartoons. One, referencing Barack
Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, shows the president
propping up “tyranny,” embodied by a teetering . “Got your
back,” the president says.

Cubans on the island don’t feel the same rage, she says. Neither do
American-born children of exiles, who never had to worry about firing
squads. Her Obama-loving grandson hardly speaks Spanish.

And then there are those who lived through the revolution, who narrowly
escaped, who are angry and have been angry for a long time. They’re a
dying breed.

They get together on Saturday mornings. Isela looks forward to this
meeting all week.

– – –

Her life in Havana, she said, was perfect.

She met her husband in a resort in Pinar Del Rio. She was swimming when
he entered the water and raced her across the length of the pool.

During a party, he asked her to dance. He was tall, gallant, educated.
Isela was smitten. Afterward, the man asked her father if he could visit
her. He was 42. She was 20. They were married in four months.

She became a schoolteacher. He was a Firestone factory accountant. They
had a daughter and son and lived in a house with Italian mosaic floors,
a glass front door and a white iron fence. On Fridays, her husband
bought her roses.

On weekends, they visited her parents, had picnics, watched movies at
the theater, went to the beaches of Varadero, where the sand is as thin
as salt.

“It was a family life. Tranquil, full of peace and love,” she said.

Then, Fidel Castro’s revolution grasped the island.

– – –

Isela was in the after giving birth to her son in 1961 when the
Bay of Pigs erupted. From her room, she could hear the screams, the
gunfire, the military tanks trudging outside as people yelled, “Viva Fidel!”

At home, the revolution took hold of everyday life. With shortages,
every family received monthly rations, including one bar of soap. After
every bath, Isela plucked the soap from the shower so it wouldn’t
dissolve before the end of the month.

The roses ran out. Her husband now had to buy carnations.

Rumors circled that children would be removed from their parents. Then,
her husband came home with a revolutionary uniform. Isela had had enough.

For about 20 days, she stood in line with her father so she could apply
to leave for the United States. He would stay in line during the day,
and Isela would take his place at night. Neighbors brought them coffee.
With no restrooms, the stench of urine surrounded the building.

Once they declared they wanted to leave, she and her husband were forced
out of their jobs. A neighborhood spy accused her of wanting to become a
prostitute in America.

It was 1965 when the day finally came. She packed as much as she could,
not forgetting the family albums. But a government official showed up,
and told her it all had to stay behind. He’d let her take one change of

She would never return.

– – –

Fifty-one years is a long time.

Long enough for Isela’s parents to die in Cuba and her husband to die in

Long enough for Castro to grow ill and cede power to his brother Raul.

The bearded revolutionary has traded his military uniform for Adidas
tracksuits, his ponderous public speeches for sporadic cameos in which
he holds up a newspaper to prove he is still alive. His country is
undergoing a new revolution, in which the American dollar and normalized
relations are expected to transform its people.

Saturday was his 90th birthday. In years past, this was cause for
national celebration. But this year, the party was subdued.

Still, Isela insists she will not return to the island until he is dead.
She knows this means she may never get to see her aging brothers. She
knows there is a good chance the old outlives her, and she
never sees her homeland again.

– – –

Isela parks her Ford Focus in front of a two-bedroom home in West Tampa,
the clubhouse of a group that calls itself Casa Cuba.

Outside, a banner across a barred window reads: “It is better to live in
the exile dying every day than in the motherland licking the boots of
the .”

She opens the front door. “Buenos dias,” she says to a small group of
early arrivals.

This group used to have hundreds of members. Many of them have died, and
the roughly 100 that remain cannot regularly attend meetings. One fell
and was recovering at the hospital; others stopped driving and have no
one to bring them.

They play dominoes together and attend funerals together and, on this
morning, they pray, asking God to give them and others the strength to
keep fighting for in Cuba.

Isela, the club’s vice secretary, jots details of their discussions in

Around them are books about Cuban history and mementos from the island,
and a ceramic plate that reads:


We will return.


Source: Pain of communist Cuba still vivid for Tampa woman | In Cuba
Today –

4 Responses to Pain of communist Cuba still vivid for Tampa woman

  • A tragic life story of a sad and embittered woman. As the story says, her life in 1950s Havana was “perfect”, which places her in the top 5% of the country. No mention of the routine police torture of those fighting to restore democracy, the mafia-run entertainment empire etc. Decades have passed, and like many in the exile community, she refuses to visit her homeland until Fidel Castro is no more. Many other peoples and nations round the world have suffered exile etc, but for most, they eventually reconcile themselves to their new situation. The number of these exiles, in Europe alone, is many times the total of Cuban exiles… but it is only the Cubans who flatly refuse to move forward. The multi-millions of Germans, Poles, Romanians, Czechs etc who were forced to move after 1945 into new communities and new countries have done so…but almost all the Cuban exiles chose exile, rather then live in post 1959 Cuba. They clung to the hope that the status of Cuba as a de facto US puppet, which they liked, would one day return…….but Cuba chose independence and freedom over subservience and US domination.

    • Actually life was “perfect” for many more Cubans. Your “5%” is a lie. Cuba had a large middle class and even skilled workers made a decent wage. Rural poverty, especially for casual labor was higher, but landed farmers (even smallholders) had a decent life.
      Cuba wasn’t the “hellhole” the Castro propaganda would like you to believe (and you fell for it).
      Even Castro admitted that.

      Some quotes from top communists:

      “Armando Hart, a member of Castro’s innermost ruling group, made the extremely significant observation that:
      . . . it is certain that capitalism had attained high levels of organization, efficiency and production that declined after the
      Revolution. . . (Juventud Rebelde, November 2, 1969; quoted by Rene Dumont, Is Cuba Socialist?)

      Paul A. Baran, an ardent pro-Castroite in the equally ardent Monthly Review pamphlet, Reflections on the Cuban Revolution (1961) substantiates what every economist, as well as amateurs like Castro, has been saying:
      …the Cuban Revolution was born with a silver spoon in its mouth. .

      .the world renowned French agronomist, Rene Dumont, has estimated that if properly cultivated as intensively as South China, Cuba could feed fifty million people. . . the Cuban Revolution is spared the painful, but ineluctable compulsion that has beset preceding socialist revolutions: the necessity to force tightening of people’s belts in order to lay the foundations for a better tomorrow. . .(p. 23)

      Theodore Draper quotes Anial Escalante, (before he was purged by Castro) one of the leading communists, who admitted that:
      …in reality, Cuba was not one of the countries with the lowest standard of living of the masses in America, but on the contrary, one of the highest standards of living, and it was here where the first great . . . democratic social revolution of the continent burst forth. . . If the historical development had been dictated by the false axiom [revolutions come first in poorest countries] the revolution should have been first produced in Haiti, Colombia or even Chile, countries of greater poverty for the masses than the Cuba of 1958. . . (quoted in Draper’s Castro’s Revolution: Myths and Realities; New York, 1962, p. 22)

      Cuba, the “Pearl of the Antilles,” though by no means a paradise, was not, as many believe, an economically backward country. Castro himself admitted that while there was poverty, there was no economic crisis
      and no hunger in Cuba before the Revolution. (See Maurice Halperin: The Rise and Fall of Fidel Castro, University of California, 1972, pgs. 24, 25, 37)

      • Yes, I have seen almost all the quotes re agriculture and the economy that you quote, and I have no reason to doubt their accuracy. But the Batista regime was a “textbook” example of a ruthless dictatorship that did not tolerate anyone struggling for democracy… and hence was overthrown after a period of insurrection and civil war that had the overwhelming support of the Cuban people, who wanted change.

        • Based on “death count”, data from Genocide Watch, Human Rights groups, …. the Castro regime is a far worse dictatorship than Batista ever was. Don’t get me wrong: I reject both as vile.
          But, and this is a fact, notwithstanding that idiot of Batista Cuba was the third developed nation of the Americas while he ruled. Food was plentiful as Fidel himself confirmed. Yes there was repression, corruption and hundreds were killed (extrajudicial). But under Castro Cuba became a third world country, thousands died (extrajudicial and biassed courts) and corruption is rife. So whatever you claim: life is comparatively worse then under Batista (confirmed even by left wing economists). Fidel Castro does not “tolerate anyone struggling” for democracy. Your attitude is extremely hypocrite and any claim that the Stalinist Castro regime is “democratic” is as ludicrous as saying Honecker was a democratically elected leader.
          And indeed: Barista was overthrown. The “overwhelming support” was mainly from middle classes as the communist party supported him until July 1958 and he was well liked by the poor black and mulatto population because he was mixed race. It were the urban middle classes, part of the elite and the landed farmers that overthrew Batista. They did so with the aim of restoring the 1940 multi-party constitution. NOT, as Fidel and Che have admitted, to create a communist dictatorship.
          Note that lots of the anti-Bastista revolutionaries started the “Escambray” rebellion against Fidel. He betrayed the revolution and the Cuban people.

          Read up:

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