Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "Cuba"

Fidel Castro and fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos with their amateur baseball team, Los Barbudos (“The Bearded Ones”), prior to an exhibition game against a team of military policemen at Gran Stadium (now known as Estadio Latinoamericano) in Havana on July 24, 1959.

The exhibition was part of a doubleheader also featuring a game between the Havana Sugar Kings, a minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, and the Rochester Red Wings, a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate at the time. Castro, a pitcher in college for the University of Havana’s baseball team, pitched two innings for Los Barbudos and struck out two batters.

"¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!"

"¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!"

Since overthrowing the brutal and corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 with his ragtag band of guerrilla warriors from Cuba’s Sierra Maestra, Fidel Castro has been a thorn in the side of U.S. Presidents and an inspiration to others throughout Latin America.  Despite giving up power in 2006 due to failing health, Castro’s impact on the world is unquestionable and long-lasting, but whether he should be celebrated or despised will always be debated and determined by whoever it is that you might ask.  For half a century, however, he has stood up against the superpower 90 miles from the shores of his little island and survived the Administrations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and, so far, Barack Obama.  Most of those Presidents have sought to end Castro’s Revolution; all of them have sanctioned his country; some of them actively sought to kill him.

But Fidel Castro’s first interaction with an American President (albeit one-sided) was much different than his later experiences — it was innocent and childlike.  Perhaps that was due to the fact that it took place when he was 14 years old.

Thanks to the work of our National Archives and the Franklin D. Roosevelt President Library in preserving the papers of our Presidents, we have a remarkable letter.  On November 6, 1940, the 14-year-old (claiming to be only 12) who would lead the Cuban Revolution less than 20 years later sat in his room at the Colegio De Dolores, a prep school run by the Jesuits in Santiago, Cuba, and penned a letter (in broken English, but fine handwriting) to President Roosevelt, who had won re-election to an unprecedented third term just a day earlier.  

image 

This is what Fidel Castro wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt.  (Spelling mistakes are Fidel’s.)

Santiago de Cuba.
Nov 6 1940.
Mr. Franklin Roosvelt,
President of the United States. 

My good Roosvelt
I don’t know very English, but I know as much as write to you.
I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy, because I heard in it, that you will be President a new (periodo)
I am twelve years old.
I am a boy but I think very much, but I do not think that I am writting to the President of the United States.

If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.
My address is:
Sr. Fidel Castro
Colegio de Dolores
Santiago de Cuba
Oriente.  Cuba.
I don’t know very English but I know very much Spanish and I suppose you don’t know very Spanish but you know very English because you are American but I am not American.

(Thank you very much)
Good by.  Your friend,
Fidel Castro

If you want iron to make your sheaps ships I will show to you the bigest (minar) of iron of the land.  They are in Mayarí.  Oriente Cuba.

Fidel didn’t get his “ten dollars bill green american”.  Perhaps that’s why he nationalized so many American-owned industries in Cuba in August 1960.  FDR likely never saw the letter (a time stamp notes that it was received by the State Department on November 27, 1940), and Roosevelt died long before Castro became somebody that an American President would know anything about.  The same could not be said for Roosevelt’s successors in the White House.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
So you are against trying to destabilize the Castro regime?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

YES!

It’s been 56 years. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama have all tried in their various ways to bring down Fidel and Raul and the Cuban Revolution. They’ve all failed. They will always fail. Someday, Fidel and Raul will die (I think), but this little vendetta has done nothing but embarrass eleven Presidents and hurt generations of regular Cuban people.

We can be friendly and deal with Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Putin’s Russia, and dozens of other countries and regimes where human rights concerns are far worse than that little island 90 miles off of the Florida coast that we raped for 75 years and have stalked for 200 years. It’s ridiculous. End the blockade — it’s not an embargo, it’s an economic blockade — normalize relations, remove our foot from the throat of the Cuban people, and cut the petty bullshit. It’s time. We tried the “Good Neighbor Policy” before; how about we just go with the “Stop Being Assholes Policy”.

And if we’re really concerned about human rights, how about we not have our President go hang out at King Abdullah’s lavish desert retreat in Saudi Arabia where women are treated little better than property? Oh, good thing we closed Guantanamo, too. Hey, look what we did, we arrested people from all over the world, tortured many of them, charged almost none of them, allow them few rights, have held them without trial for years…and we stuck them where?

In Cuba.

(This is where Frank Underwood would break the fourth wall and look at the camera.)

So, USAID covertly funded and created a “Cuban Twitter” called ZunZuneo in an effort to “destabilize” the Cuban government. Obviously worked out really well…oh wait…USAID ran out of money and it sputtered.

By the way, covert actions by federal agencies require Presidential authorization. Apparently, President Obama has learned nothing about the resiliency of the Cuban Revolution from his TEN IMMEDIATE PREDECESSORS.

William Rufus DeVane King of Alabama was one of the few people in American History who openly sought the Vice Presidency of the United States and when Franklin Pierce was elected President in November 1852, King finally had the opportunity to become the presiding officer of the United States Senate.

Within days of the 1852 election, King found a nagging illness to be worsening.  As the date of his inauguration as Vice President came closer, King developed a vicious cough and lost so much weight that he was almost unrecognizable to friends and colleagues.  The Vice Presidency was finally near his grasp, so King left the cold of a Washington, D.C. winter to attempt to recover his health in the tropical climate of Cuba.

In Cuba, King’s health did not improve.  Though he was supposed to be sworn in on March 4, 1853 in Washington, King found that he didn’t have the strength to even leave the island.  As a tribute to King’s long service, Congress decided to give special authorization for the most unlikely inauguration for any government official in American History.  Twenty days after Franklin Pierce became President, a representative of the United States government met an emaciated William Rufus DeVane King in the small seaside village of Matanzas, Cuba.  King couldn’t stand under his own power, so he as he was helped to his feet and steadied, he took the oath of office as the 13th Vice President of the United States.  King is the only President or Vice President to be inaugurated in a foreign country.

Vice President King never made it back to Washington, D.C.  Determined to return to his country, he made a arduous journey back to his plantation in Cahaba, Alabama.  By the time he arrived in Alabama, King was completely weakened by tuberculosis and near death.  On April 18, 1853, William Rufus DeVane King died at his home at the age of 67.  King served only 45 days as Vice President, a shorter term than all but two Vice Presidents — John Tyler and Andrew Johnson — who served brief terms before succeeding to the Presidency upon the deaths of William Henry Harrison and Abraham Lincoln respectively.

Today, if King is remembered at all, it is not for his brief term as Vice President or the fact that he was inaugurated in Cuba.  What King is most well-known for is probably the long-standing rumor that he and James Buchanan, the 15th President, may have been involved in a homosexual relationship.  Nothing is certain and the rumors can never be proven true, but I’ve written about the allegations before.  What is a fact is that Buchanan and King were incredibly close, lived together for 15 years, were widely considered to be lovers by their contemporaries, wrote long and loving letters to one another (most of which were later destroyed by Buchanan prior to his death, and were the only President and Vice President respectively to remain lifelong bachelors.

Straight from Cuba’s official state newspaper, Granma, my calendar for this year.

Thanks to my buddy Sarah down in Havana!

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If you could transport yourself to one moment of history what would it be?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’ve probably answered this question ten times, and each time I’ve probably given a different answer. It usually depends on the breezes (and, sometimes, hurricanes) that blow through my mind.

At this point, I’d choose the night in Mexico when Raul Castro introduced Fidel to Che and they stayed up until morning discussing their plans for the world.

Since overthrowing the brutal and corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 with his ragtag band of guerrilla warriors from Cuba’s Sierra Maestra, Fidel Castro has been a thorn in the side of U.S. Presidents and an inspiration to others throughout Latin America.  Despite giving up power in 2006 due to failing health, Castro’s impact on the world is unquestionable and long-lasting, but whether he should be celebrated or despised will always be debated and determined by whoever it is that you might ask.  For half a century, however, he has stood up against the superpower 90 miles from the shores of his little island and survived the Administrations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and, so far, Barack Obama.  Most of those Presidents have sought to end Castro’s Revolution; all of them have sanctioned his country; some of them actively sought to kill him.

But Fidel Castro’s first interaction with an American President (albeit one-sided) was much different than his later experiences — it was innocent and childlike.  Perhaps that was due to the fact that it took place when he was 14 years old.

Thanks to the work of our National Archives and the Franklin D. Roosevelt President Library in preserving the papers of our Presidents, we have a remarkable letter.  On November 6, 1940, the 14-year-old (claiming to be only 12) who would lead the Cuban Revolution less than 20 years later sat in his room at the Colegio De Dolores, a prep school run by the Jesuits in Santiago, Cuba, and penned a letter (in broken English, but fine handwriting) to President Roosevelt, who had won re-election to an unprecedented third term just a day earlier.  

image 

This is what Fidel Castro wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt.  (Spelling mistakes are Fidel’s.)

Santiago de Cuba.
Nov 6 1940.
Mr. Franklin Roosvelt,
President of the United States. 

My good Roosvelt
I don’t know very English, but I know as much as write to you.
I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy, because I heard in it, that you will be President a new (periodo)
I am twelve years old.
I am a boy but I think very much, but I do not think that I am writting to the President of the United States.

If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.
My address is:
Sr. Fidel Castro
Colegio de Dolores
Santiago de Cuba
Oriente.  Cuba.
I don’t know very English but I know very much Spanish and I suppose you don’t know very Spanish but you know very English because you are American but I am not American.

(Thank you very much)
Good by.  Your friend,
Fidel Castro

If you want iron to make your sheaps ships I will show to you the bigest (minar) of iron of the land.  They are in Mayarí.  Oriente Cuba.

Fidel didn’t get his “ten dollars bill green american”.  Perhaps that’s why he nationalized so many American-owned industries in Cuba in August 1960.  FDR likely never saw the letter (a time stamp notes that it was received by the State Department on November 27, 1940), and Roosevelt died long before Castro became somebody that an American President would know anything about.  The same could not be said for Roosevelt’s successors in the White House.

"Men are products, expressions, reflections; they live to the extent that they coincide with their epoch, or to the extent that they differ markedly from it." — José Martí, Cuban Revolutionary/Poet/Patriot, 1887

Men die — even Revolutionaries like Ché Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chávez (well, maybe not Fidel, he’s still fighting).  The true measure of their impact, however, is not simply what they did, but what remains once they are gone.  In my latest article for AND Magazine, “¿Viva La Revolucíon?”, I look at a connection between Ché and Chávez, and wonder whether their Revolutions died with the Revolutionaries.  I also question those Americans who celebrated Chávez’s death much like they celebrated Osama bin Laden’s despite the fact that bin Laden planned terror attacks which killed thousands of Americans while Chávez was basically just an obnoxious presence.  Is it as much of a capital crime to antagonize America with annoying rhetoric as it is to target innocent Americans for murder through terror?  While I don’t make apologies for Hugo Chávez, in the wake of his death, I try to see his impact through the eyes of his neighbors in Latin America whose interactions with the late Venezuelan leader were largely affectionate.  Go check out my article in AND Magazine, “¿Viva La Revolucíon?”, and please click the Facebook “like” or “recommend” button underneath the article’s title!

The weekend is almost here, and with it comes two, brand-new, feature-length articles from me in AND Magazine

Both articles will spend time on AND Magazine's cover page this weekend, but my loyal followers here on Dead Presidents don’t have to wait.  You can check them out now, in their entirety.

¿Viva La Revolucíon? looks at the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, its impact on his country, and Chávez’s influence on Latin America and the regional leaders who came to power during (and often because of) the Chávez era.  ¿Viva La Revolucíon? also examines the life and legacy of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution and Hugo Chávez’s relation to that movement as well as his connection to one of the Revolution’s enduring symbols, Ché Guevara.

In my other new article, Sede Vacante: Historic Happenings at the Vatican, I focus on the Papacy in transition following the surprising and extraordinarily rare resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and write about what we might be able to expect, from a historian’s point-of-view, as the College of Cardinals meets in a Conclave to elect a new Pope under almost unprecedented circumstances — a perfect storm of uncertainty in which a Papal vacancy, scandals in the Church, a shift in worldwide Catholic demographics, and a Conclave held in the wake of a voluntary resignation rather than under the solemnity and sadness of a Pope’s death may result in a far more political process (at least openly) than usual.

Check my articles out now, before they even hit the cover page at AND Magazine!  And, if you do read ¿Viva La Revolucíon? or Sede Vacante, please take a moment to click the Facebook “like” button near the top of each page.  In fact, even if you don’t read the articles, just go to the page and click that “like” button because it helps me a whole lot. Seriously, you don’t even have to read the articles right now, just go to those links and click the Facebook “like” button and I’ll be your friend in real-life, be the godfather to your children, hide your murder weapon like Robert Kardashian (allegedly) if you pull an O.J. Simpson (allegedly)…whatever you need, I’m there if the Faceboook “likes” on each article gets over 100, okay?  Cool.  

I have long been drawn to Cuba, as I believe I have shared before.  I don’t quite understand why.  I’m not Cuban.  The part of me that is Hispanic is Mexican — old, indigenous Mexican rather than Spanish — so there is no ethnic or familial connection to Cuba.  Yet, I’ve always been drawn to that little island that is about the same distance from Florida as Sacramento is from San Francisco.  There’s just a mystique to it — not only because of Fidel and Ché and Camilo Cienfuegos and Celia Sánchez — but dating back to the words of José Martí.  There is something resilient about the Cuban people that fascinates me.  

Last year, I shared the story of my friend Sarah, who I met during the first Obama campaign and who has been studying medicine for the past few years in Havana courtesy of the Cuban government.  I wanted to experience Cuba even before I met Sarah and I’m working hard to try to visit Havana sometime this year.  What I really want to experience is Cuba while Fidel Castro is still alive.  While Fidel is no longer in power, I just feel like being on the island while he is still living will be a completely different experience than when he is gone, even if his brother Raul remains in power and the country continues to be Communist.  If I went to Cuba today, I think I’d still feel like I was in Fidel Castro’s Cuba and that’s the unique experience I want to have, even for just a week.

I’m beginning to think my odds of making it there before Fidel dies aren’t so great, however.  Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández visited Havana last week and paid a courtesy call on the former Cuban leader, who will turn 87 in August, and it certainly looks like I need to step up my efforts to visit Sarah in Cuba if I want to experience Cuba while Fidel Castro is still alive:

So, Comandante, for purely selfish reasons, can you just hold on for a little while longer while I try to get everything in order for my visit?  I’m really trying to do it this year — maybe even late Spring.  Cool?  Comandante?  Fidel?  No, I’m over here where your brother and Cristina are looking.  I’ll bring you some of that adidas gear you seem to dig so much.

•This is an Historically Accurate Transcription starring Vice President Richard Nixon and Cuban Leader Fidel Castro at the U.S. Capitol•

NIXON: Well, this is awkward.
FIDEL: Indeed it is.
NIXON: So, I’m Richard Nixon, Vice President of the United States.
FIDEL: Pleased to meet you, Mr. Vice President.  I’m Fidel Castro, half-Revolutionary, half-statesman, and 100% absofuckinglutely awesome.  Want a cigar?
NIXON: No thank you, nothing against your fine people and their tobacco products, but it’s probably laced with AIDS and poverty. 
FIDEL: ¿Que?
NIXON: You know, personally, I LOVE the idea of Communism.  I just want to throw that out there.  It’s Eisenhower who is making a big to-do about you and your kick-ass Revolution.
FIDEL: Ah, this must be why they call you “Tricky Dick”!  You tell me what I want to hear and I’m supposed to be charmed, right?  I’m told that you’re the biggest opponent of Communism in the United States.
NIXON: That’s what my enemies want you to think.  It’s the damn Kennedy family!  They are always trying to bring Dick Nixon down.
FIDEL: Wouldn’t fighting Communism make you look good to Americans, Dick?  I can call you “Dick”, right?
NIXON: Yes, you may.  Can I call you “Fred”?
FIDEL: Of cour…wait, no…why would you call me “Fred”?
NIXON: No reason.  Anyway, it would seem that fighting Communism would make me look good, but those damn Kennedys are up to something.  You know, I’ll probably be running for President against Jack Kennedy next year.
FIDEL: Yes.  It should be interesting. 
NIXON: No, it should be my turn to be President!  That is what it should be, Fred.  But the damn Kennedys are conspiring against me.  They are going to buy that election, just watch.  Also, the Jews.
FIDEL: What about the Jews?
NIXON: You know…money…Jews…dishonesty…corruption.
FIDEL: You’re just saying random words and hoping that I’ll fall into your stereotyping.
NIXON: See, they’ve gotten to you, too.  Those goddamn Kennedy Jews.
FIDEL: It’s been nice talking to you, Mr. Vice President, I really must be going…
NIXON: Listen, Fred, they are going to invade Cuba.
FIDEL: Wait…what?  Who is?
NIXON: The Kennedys — all of the brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews — the whole fucking clan.  There are like 6000 of those sumbitches.  They are going to use their big-ass Kennedy teeth for weapons and land a yacht on the Cuban coast to try to bring you down.
FIDEL: So, you are telling me that the Kennedy family is personally going to try to invade Cuba.  Sounds unlikely.
NIXON: That’s what I hear.  I’m just trying to help you, Fred. 
FIDEL: It’s “Fidel”…my name is “Fidel”. 
NIXON: Yes, but in English that is translated to “Fred”.
FIDEL: No, it totally isn’t translated to “Fred” in English.  Back to this “invasion”.  Where do you get this information?
NIXON: The Jews.  Also, they are going to try to assassinate you.  With poison ink pens and exploding cigars.  They have some Bugs Bunny-type shit that they’re going to use. 
FIDEL: Alright, again, nice meeting you, Mr. Vice President.
NIXON: Three words - “Bay of Pigs”.  BAHIA DE COCHINOS, FRED!
FIDEL: (Walking away) Goodbye and good luck in 1960, sir.
NIXON: (Turning away) Buy a Gillette, you fucking Commie.