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Santiago November 12, 1992 - A Tour Of Castro's Museum In The Dark

By Bob Van Leer

  Interview(SANTIAGO, CUBA, November 12, 1992) - We landed in Santiago just after 9 a.m. at Antonio Macheo Airport after our short flight from Havana.

  Santiago is Cuba's second largest city with a population of about a half million. It is on the southeast coast west of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

  This is site of the most of Fidel Castro's revolutionary campaign centered in the nearby Sierra Maestra, a mountain range just outside of town.

We Make News

  Our party makes news here. We were met by a TV camera crew and some of our members were interviewed including Betty.

  Betty speaks some Spanish and her interview made the Santiago evening news. Our first stop was a tour of the former Bacardi rum factory. Cuban sugar cane is turned into saleable product.

Greeted With Song

  Then we were taken to our home in Santiago, the Hotel Las Americas, essentially a large motel. Of interest to our local motel proprietors - the hotel staff turned out in a body and sang a welcome song to us. Made us feel very welcome.

  After lunch our Cuban hosts took us to see some of the sites of Fidel Castro's abortive effort to take the Santiago Moncada army post by direct assault July 26, 1953.

  During the 1953 Carnival season in Havana, Castro and 134 other revolutionaries, including two women, gathered at Siboney farm east of Santiago.

  The group was far too few for the job. The Moncada Barracks was the second largest garrison in Cuba. As an example of its size, much of it is now a museum and the rest is a school for 2000 students.

  Castro split his force into three groups with himself attacking the barracks, his brother, Raoul, storming the Palace of Justice and a third group was to take a nearby hospital.

  The attack was a disaster. Eight were lost in the attack but the heaviest casualties were in the retreat to the farm.

  Here and there along the road is a monument where someone else was killed. The final total was 48 killed and 29 wounded, more than 50% casualties.

  Castro and 19 men escaped capture and hid out in the Sierra Maestra. Castro was finally taken prisoner Oct. 1.

  He served 22 months in prison and was released during a general amnesty and went to Mexico. He returned with another band of guerillas and overthrew General Fulgencio Batista Jan. 1, 1959.

  We were taken to the Moncada museum. Ironically, at the time they were to show us the glories of the Revolucion, the power was out because of one of the rolling blackouts. So what we could see was limited.

San Juan Hill

  Sightseeing continued and we were taken to the famed San Juan Hill made famous by Teddy Roosevelt's charge up the hill leading a group of U.S. volunteers nicknamed Rough Riders.

  This was the final battle of Cuba's war of independence. At the entrance is a huge ceiba tree under which Spanish troops surrendered to U.S. troops on July 16, 1898.

  The park and monuments on the hill are sandwiched between the 26th of July Amusement Park and the Leningrado Motel. The statue of the Rough Rider has missing panels on the sides of the base, presumably where information about U.S. participation was located.

  There were other missing plaques. One of our handlers, Pablo Diaz, of the Exterior Ministry, was embarrassed by this and said he will look into it.

  Diaz is a party member. But he said less than 1% of Cubans are members of the Communist Party. It's not an organization where you can be a "pin" member.

  Betty and I strolled down to a local shopping street to look around. We were promptly approached by a hustler and bought a few pesos from him for souvenirs even though his rate was poor.

  We stopped in a mall park and talked to a couple of university students, a boy and girl. They reaffirmed what we had noticed by observation.

  Nobody is starving, but many things, including clothing, are difficult to get and expensive.

  Some of their clothing was from the "tourist stores" where locals need U.S. dollars to shop, if they can get in at all. A couple of people we talked to showed us worn out shoes.

Another Tropicana

  After dinner we went to another Tropicana show. This one was also an extravaganza, but different from the one in Havana.

  It was more contemporary and had an African beat. We were told that precise figures are not available, but a little over half of Cubans are black.

  Friday's schedule called for more sightseeing and one more meeting with local government officers.

 

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