MNN. Jan. 23, 2015. In December 1959 a group of McGill University students were sitting in the university cafeteria. We were admiring Life Magazine cover of Fidel Castro. One of the students, a reporter for the McGill Daily, said, “I’d like to go to Cuba and interview him!”. We all said, “We’ll go with you”.
Soon we were driving to Florida. One guy had a relative in Miami. We asked to stay over. When he found out where we were going, he threw us out of the house! We slept in the car on the beach. The next day we caught a cheap flight to Havana.
We stayed at the formerly luxurious Havana Hilton Hotel & Casino which was turned into a student’s residence. It was packed with young people from Central and South America. Just us from Canada. None from the US that we saw.
Every evening Fidel Castro and some of his men would come into the lobby and talk to us. He regaled us with stories of the revolution. Fidel kept his promise to his people that he would educate them and give them the best medical care in the world. He had a profound affect on us. Cubans showed that people can stand up and gain their freedom. They kicked out the corporate mob that ran Cuba and had made everybody into slaves.
Bearded cigar smoking, camo-dressed revolutionaries drove us around in limos. Our friend interviewed and became friends with Fidel.
A few days later began the celebration of the year since the revolutionaries had rolled into Havana, kicking out the crooks and arresting those who wouldn’t obey the anti-banker rules. Many traitors were jailed or dispersed. Some were floating on rafts across the channel to Miami. Huge mansions and luxuries were left behind. They could only take what they wore. We saw a lot of jewelry clad autocrats bumming rides to Miami.
Locals were streaming in from the country-side. Poverty of the people was incredible. We had to wait in long lineups for food like everybody else. Fidel was going to speak soon. The prisoners were let out to sit on top of the walls to listen to him. He spoke for eight hours non-stop.
After a week, another person and I decided to return to the mainland. We took a taxi and waited for hours on the road to the airport. It was hopeless. The single PanAm flight from Venezuela made one stop in Havana, picked up passengers and went on to Miami. After waiting for hours, we finally returned to the hotel to get some help. We were told, “You could end up in Cuba for some time, unless you have connections!”
Our backup plan was to catch a ride with the boat people.
The McGill Daily reporter said he might be able to help us. Two days later a camo dressed military man picked us up in a huge fancy limousine. He drove us directly through a back road to the airport. The airport was jammed with people trying to get out, ready to pay anything to get a seat on the plane. We were escorted and got on the flight.
Now that relations between the US and Cuba have been normalized, the Cubans in Miami could return and start working in the sugarcane fields or resorts like everybody else. They won’t get back their ill gotten gains they left behind. Everything’s been nationalized and belongs to everybody. We knew in 1959 that the days were numbered for these carpetbaggers who sell out their people.
As Richie Valens reminds us “Para bailar la bamba. Para bailar la bamba. Se necesita una poca de gracia. ba ba bomba!”