CONTRIBUTION BY HORACIO TOLEDO
It must be to him like catching fish with an artificial fly. He practices deceit as a sport. This is a true story and not a novel as it would seem to those who have not had to deal in person with a warped, weird mind.
I will not go into to the many speeches where he deceived the masses. I will describe only very minor incidents, personal encounters that some of my good friends and I had with Castro during the first 12 months of his being in power. It is a “collage”, snapshots of various dramatic incidents that may give you an insight as to how evil minds function.
Eight of Castro’s rebels from the Sierra arrived in Havana on or about January 5, l959. Their Commander was a distinguished young attorney and a close friend of our next-door neighbors who asked me if I could give shelter in my home to these eight men. I had met him a couple of times but in civilian clothes when he was practicing law before the revolution. His men had not had one decent meal for days and had no place to sleep they looked tired. Batista had already fled Cuba but his army was still occupying their barracks so I invited the group to stay with us. The men were most grateful. All were young, one of them only 18 years old.
I had long conversations with them and learned that they had been in the Sierra Maestra Mountains of Oriente Province for two years, patriotic young farmers who did not like Batista’s practice of allowing corruption. They wanted a true democratic process and had great faith that Fidel would celebrate free elections as he had numerous times promised them.
Much to my astonishment one late afternoon I arrived at my home to find the youngest rebel crying like a baby. He was sitting on a couch with his two hands covering his face sobbing. “My God, oh my God, Fidel is a traitor!” he said. “We were instructed to report at Camp Freedom (Campamento Libertad in Spanish) for special military training and all I and my group were given was a communist manifesto to read and a lot of communist gibberish. When I stood up and shouted that I had fought for democracy not for communism I was thrown out of the room. ‘Horacio, call our Commander, he’s staying in his mother’s apartment and tell him what has happened. I am going back to my parent’s home in Oriente.”
That same evening Comandante (Commander) Frau Marsal showed up dressed in a white suit and tie and told me he had made an appointment with Fidel Castro late that evening. He wanted to confront Fidel with what his men and other rebels had reported to him. He also asked me to help him move the rifles grenades and ammunition he had stored in our neighbor’s library, “they will not all fit in my Jeep so I’d like your permission to put them in the trunk of your car,” he said. Then he dropped the bombshell: “It seems right now that Castro has deceived many of us, I am hiding everything in another place in case we start a counter revolution. I will call you tomorrow and let you know the results of my meeting with him tonight.”
He called early in the morning and his first words were: “Horacio, I and my men are going underground, we risked our lives for nothing, Fidel is a traitor and we must start a counter revolution before the communists gain control.” The last time I heard of him was that he had committed suicide in Caracas, Venezuela. Comandante Frau Marsal had on two occasions saved Fidel and a group of his rebels from being captured by Batista’s forces who had managed to encircle them. If effect, he had saved Fidel’s life on two very dangerous skirmishes. Fidel had run circles around this brilliant attorney, a true patriot who was so frustrated and depressed that he ended his life at age 40.
How Fidel managed to deceive these men for two years, a brilliant attorney and several of his men all of whom had risked prison or death in the Sierra Maestra Mountains is a remarkable feat that only a Fidel Castro can be capable of.
Another attorney Tulio Diaz Rivera, a most able and decent man and President of the Cigarette Manufacturers Association of Cuba was on a private plane. He landed at the small municipal airport of the city of Trinidad, a historic colonial city in the Southern part of Cuba. Diego Trinidad owner of a very large cigarette manufacturing firm and a close friend of ours was interested in buying some of the older cigarette making machines that “Eva” (a small competitor) had just substituted for newer ones. Attorney Tulio’s job was to negotiate a fair price and write a contract for this machinery. As the one engine plane was touching the runway Tulio saw a weird and confusing scene. Soldiers running up and down yelling “Abajo Fidel” (Down with Fidel). As soon as Tulio and his pilot got off the plane both were placed under arrest and taken to a small office building. They kept hearing rifle shots and more shouts of “Abajo Fide!” and “Viva Trujillo.” Chaos, confusion, Tulio could not make heads or tails from what he was witnessing. “Down with Fidel, Viva Trujillo?”
While under arrest he and the pilot were sitting on a wooden bench with a view to an open window when Tulio jumped from the bench. Fidel Castro was walking towards them! They knew each other very well so as soon as Fidel walked in the office and saw Tulio he walked up to him to shake hands. The explanation of what was going on soon became clear. Castro had set up a trap for dictator Trujillo’s invasion of Cuba being organized from the Dominican Republic. There was radio communication received by Trujillo’s Intelligence Service that an uprising was taking place in the Trinidad area so it was ripe for Trujillo’s paratroopers to invade. The whole invasion plan was discarded apparently when the ruse was discovered. This was one more victory won by the Master of Deceit.
Tulio heard Fidel Castro clearly ordering an officer to let him go free. His exact words were “ponganlo en libertad” meaning in English to set him free. My friend felt great relief but was sent instead to a military camp newly re-named “Libertad” which translated to English meant Camp Liberty. It was a farce. Tulio was thrown behind bars at Camp Liberty not allowed to call a lawyer not even to call his wife or anyone. He was kept in prison for days and finally released without any document or explanation as to why nor what he had been accused of.
But this was only one of Tulio’s nightmares. Castro was trying to convince the foreign press and many Cuban business people that he was far from being a communist (in an effort to gain as much time as possible to consolidate his power) so he chose to become the main speaker at a reunion of the Association of Cuban Industrialists. It was a packed meeting that Tulio had decided to attend the day after he was set free in an effort to learn why and for what reasons he had been thrown in jail. Tulio recounted his experience and said to me: “Fidel was at that meeting surrounded by the most prominent industrialists when he saw me walking toward him. He elbowed his way from the group and said out loud: ‘Tulio, how I admire you for having the guts to come here tonight. A horrible mistake was made and I must apologize. He then hugged me in front of all the industrialists.”
That very same night Tulio received threatening phone calls suggesting it was best for him to leave the country or else. It was a sleepless night for him and his wife. They caught a late flight the next day to Miami. Castro, the Master of Deceit, enjoyed having one more victory. He had gotten rid of another brilliant man. Castro’s intimidation tactics made this possible with many of the distinguished Cubans.
Then comes the story of a prominent Cuban whom I knew very well. He was a most influential banker, Chief Executive Officer of none other than The Trust Company of Cuba. Eduardo Benet is his name and he invited me to a cocktail party organized by him at an elegant casino in honor of John March, one very high executive of the Bank of America from San Francisco who had flown to Havana to have a “face to face” meeting at the party with none other than Fidel Castro! Fidel sat at our table dressed in a dark suit and an elegant tie, wearing a friendly smile and holding a Daiquiri in his right hand. Bear in mind that this was a banker’s cocktail party that Fidel was attending! John March in perfect Spanish went straight to the point: “Why are you allowing so many known communists to be part of your new government?” Wow was my first reaction!
Fidel’s answer: “Your President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, won one of his elections by I believe a margin of 60%. Today I enjoy a backing of at least 80% of the Cuban population. Why would I profit from sharing such a huge margin of popularity with discredited members of the Cuban communist party such as (and he named Lazaro Peña, Juan Marinello and several others very discredited communists of the labor movement). Would that make sense to you, Mr. March? When I was at the Sierra Maestra in the midst of a difficult struggle against Batista’s dictatorship I welcomed all who were willing to join me, I did not care if they were black, Chinese or whatever. We were there to fight against government corruption and for a new decent Democratic government. In front of all these gentlemen and bankers, Mr. March, I promise all to hold fair elections within six months.”
John March of the Bank of America must have been very happy to hear Fidel’s deceptive but convincing explanation. Fidel Castro, by the way, was at his most charismatic behavior that memorable evening.
Eduardo Benet who had backed Fidel with plenty of cash was also betrayed. At dinner one night at our home in Manhasset, Long Island, a few days after he and Cristina his wife left Cuba he told me: “I had mistakenly placed all my faith in him, was willing to back him with millions of dollars and now all I can say is that Fidel is a master manipulator. Castro has betrayed us all.”
I cannot go to bed tonight without writing about another personal experience as told to me by a close friend and competitor, “Dieguito” Trinidad the owner of the No. 1 cigarette manufacturer in Cuba. “Dieguito” was known to be 100% against Batista’s government and he personally told me he had contributed $100,000.00 (a fortune in 1958) to Fidel. Many prominent industrialists were known to share his dislike of Batista, including the multi-millionaire Julio Lobo better known as the “Sugar King” of Cuba.
Dieguito had not only contributed a substantial amount of money to the Castro revolution but had known Fidel personally and trusted him as a person who could be depended on to bring democracy to Cuba. But, he admitted to me some time during 1959, he was very concerned with the turn of events and so he managed to have a private meeting with Fidel Castro. He too was confused as to what the hell was going on. That night Fidel gave him a big hug, told him how much Cuba and his new government needed young entrepreneurs like Dieguito to improve Cuba’s economy, how grateful Castro was for his contributions, etc. The very next day after the meeting his cigarette factory had been intervened (nationalized) by the “revolutionary” government. Dieguito left Cuba almost penniless. My question is: why would Fidel even bother to meet with Dieguito on a Friday evening very late at night?
At a meeting of all the tobacco sectors better known as the “Tobacco Forum” held in Havana and attended by the tobacco growers, the labor unions, the cigar and cigarette manufacturers and the leaf tobacco exporters of Cuba I had the extraordinary opportunity of meeting for the first time both Fidel and “Che” Guevara. Fidel congratulated me for my speech that morning, was most jovial, even asked for my business card and then said to me: “the revolution needs young entrepreneurs like you, Horacio, we’ll stay in touch with you, it’s been a pleasure to meet you!” Twice during that year Fidel mentioned the exact same words to me.
A few months later “Che” Guevara was denouncing me as a traitor and without a trial, on a Friday evening TV program, he announced I had been condemned to death by a firing squad. Fortunately my family and I were already in New York when I heard the news.
This act took place one full year after Castro’s victory. By then he had full control of all the armed forces, the news media and was firmly in power. He had managed this through deceit and treachery, of course, but what amazes me is how consistent and effective he had been in twelve months.
Any one of us who dealt personally with Castro could have been either completely ignored or thrown in jail and yet Fidel took the trouble of meeting with us, saying encouraging words and making false promises. All of course after taking extreme precautions for his personal safety. I assume he derived great pleasure from these unnecessary meetings doing it as a sport, a modern Machiavelli. The two may soon be complimenting each other in hell.
Horacio Toledo, Casselberry, Fl.
Thanks for sharing this collage of your personal encounters with Fidel Castro and some of the people who early on realized that he was a traitor. As horrific as all this was, those of us who lived through the experience of being duped by this demagogue benefit when we are reminded of how the Cuban Revolution morphed into the Devolution that has destroyed our country.