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no regrets
exiled cuban story
by gonzalo fernández
3.22.10
general

The United States withdrew arm shipments to dictator Fulgencio Batista early in 1958. Batista was in an untenable position with increasingly successful guerrillas in Oriente and Las Villas provinces, and with weapon supplies from the United States being cut off. He called for presidential elections, hoping to turn over the government to a new president. The candidates were Andrés Rivero Agüero, supported by parties friendly to Batista, and Carlos Márquez Sterling, nominated by a newly created opposition party.

Orlando Castro, a friend that had participated in the attack to Bayamo on July 26 1953, returned to Cuba. This was after Batista had granted a general presidential pardon, the same that freed Fidel Castro, in 1955. My wife and I visited him and his wife several times. Orlando was adamant in opposing Fidel Castro. He thought that it would be disastrous for Cuba if Castro would gain power. Orlando supported Márquez Sterling. They thought the only hope for Cuba was for them to win the presidential election, Batista leaving the country and those in power developing a national consensus to democratically unite the country.

The Electoral Council nominated all professionals in their respective associations as inspectors to observe the election process. It was meaningless, as everybody knew that Batista was going to use all the means in his dictatorship hands to get his candidate elected. I was a member of the Cuban CPA Association and was designated as an inspector at a polling station in downtown Havana. I went and sat at one end of a table away from where the election books were being kept. The individual electoral card had a photo for identification purposes.

Early in the afternoon, a young tall mulatto threw his ID card on the table. The card slid on the table and came to rest in front of me. The photo showed a white-haired old man. I told him, “You can’t vote, this is not your ID.” The young man left. A few minutes later, I heard people screaming and struggling at the door. The young man had returned with a pistol in his hand and was trying to get back into the voting station. He was restrained and persuaded to leave by people at the door.

He would have killed me. I vividly remember the Parabellum pistol in his hand, sticking over the crowd surrounding him. Our son was ten months old and our twin daughters had not been born. Over the years, many times, when I spend time with them, and most recently with our grandchildren, I recall this incident and I think, it’s nice to be alive!

Time went by.

The night before our departure from Cuba in 1966 we stayed at my mother-in-law’s home. My wife and I spent the night in the guest room on the second floor, with a door opening unto a terrace on the front side of the house. I did not sleep. There were far fewer cars, but the wild driving habits remained. Cars were speeding and would screech to a halt at the stop sign a few yards down the street. It was the same room where we stayed when the Batista police was looking for me in 1956. I thought about that horrible night. My mind flashed back and forth. Vivid images came to my mind; Castro’s mobs (turbas) attacking peaceful demonstrators during Catholic and veiled opposition rallies, with baseball bats and wood sticks, wrapped in newspapers, with the police looking the other way. I could not help but compare these mobs with the Machado’s “porristas” I saw from my home’s window at age six. I reflected on the futility of Cuba’s quest for democracy. It was agonizing; all our expectations vanishing with Castro’s imposed secret police state.

The next morning, my wife and I walked toward the Iberia jet at the Havana airport, with tears running down our cheeks and our hands holding our children’s hands. We arrived to Barajas, Madrid, on August 21, 1966.

There are not words to describe the deep sorrow of walking some 30 yards of an airport tarmac, up the aircraft steel stairs, and into the plane carrying you and your family into exile.

More time went by…

In May of 1974, I was promoted and came to Raleigh, North Carolina, as Vice President and Controller of the telecom and radio business divisions, until taking early retirement in 1987. My wife, Teresa worked for two electronic manufacturing companies as a Manager of Accounting. The children, Gonzalo Jr. and the twins, María and Cristina, took advantage of the educational opportunities available to them. All of them went to North Carolina State University, while living at home. Gonzalo Jr. earned a Bachelor Degree in Nuclear Engineering, graduating first in his class. María received a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering and Cristina received a Bachelor Degree, Cum Laude, in Political Sciences. Gonzalo Jr. went to the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University, graduating first in his class. He did his residency and fellowship in radiology at the Duke Medical Center. Maria earned an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Cristina attained a J.D. from University of Georgia, at Athens. Gonzalo Jr. is a partner in a radiology group. He served a period as Chairman and Medical Director of that twenty member group in Atlanta. Maria, in Atlanta, and Cristina, in Durham, are both Vice Presidents at their respective companies.

As I look back to our departure from Cuba, I can only say, no regrets!

NOTE: Excerpts from my book "Cuba's Primer - Castro's Earring Economy". Additional information can be found at he book's website: www.cubasprimer.com


ABOUT GONZALO FERNÁNDEZ

Gonzalo is a business consultant. He is one of the coauthors of The Handbook of Financing Growth, Wiley, Second Edition, 2009, Marks, Robbins, Fernández, Funkhouser and Williams. In Cuba's Primer, Lulu, 2009, he writes with the conviction and knowledge of a personal witness.

more about gonzalo fernández

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