This writing is dedicated to the memory of Weehawken-born Mario de la Peña, victim of the Castro’s regime in the Brothers to the Rescue 1996 air massacre (see http://www.hermanos.org/).
After Fidel and Raul Castro reached power in Cuba in 1959 under the facade of a pro-liberal “revolution,” Hudson County’s northern municipalities became home to a sizable community of Cuban refugees, second only to Miami. They routinely celebrate May 20, Cuba’s traditional Independence Day, with Bergenline parades and “pilgrimages” to New York’s Central Valley hamlet, where Cuba’s first president, Tomás Estrada Palma, had resided in the 1890s. He was elected president following the Spanish-Cuban-American War and sworn in on May 20, 1902.
However, the Castros (and their un-elected hand-picked heirs) continuously demonize his memory ever since they steered the island-nation to anachronistic totalitarian communism.
Fortunately, Montclair State University emerita professor Margarita García, formerly of Union City and West New York, straightens out Cuba’s first president’s legacy in her recent book, “Before Cuba Libre: The Making of Cuba’s First President” (2017).
Estrada Palma often passed through Jersey City’s railroad station, in today’s Liberty State Park, on his way to/from Washington in his lobbying efforts as leader of the then-Cubans exiles seeking independence from Spain. He sought primarily to establish a civilian-dominated democratic government, distinct from what had already become a sad Ibero-American militaristic prototype, ironically copycatted by the Castros decades later, if salt-and-peppered with Marxist-Leninist rhetoric.
The Castros tyranny and its foreign apologists accuse Estrada Palma of turning Cuba into a “Yankee vassal state.” Paradoxically, it was the Castros who made Cuba subservient to the remote, failed Soviet Bloc, thus transfiguring a progressive Caribbean country (notwithstanding its imperfections) into a retrograde dystopia from which now a third generation of Cubans continuously and desperately flee en masse.
What Cuba needs urgently is a veritable transformation of its closed society into a genuinely elected, civilian-dominated government, as envisioned by Presidente Estrada Palma. Let’s thus commemorate the 116th anniversary of that momentous May 20.
Professor Roland Alum, Jr.