Obituary for Huber Matos

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Steve Marquardt

May 13, 2015, 3:32:29 PM5/13/15
to cuba451letters, Barbara Silverman, Brigid Cahalan, Jorge Sanguinetty, Mark Wetmore, Michael Nellis, Radames Suarez, Robert Kent, Stephen Fesenmaier, Steve Denney, Steve Marquardt, Walter Skold, Werner Lind, Wojciech Siemaszkiewicz
And also a link to an article about the Mariel boatlift, at   I found these items while cleaning out files and thought they'd still be of interest to Freadomistas and others.

On my shelf is the autobiography of Huber Matos -- Como llego la not (How night fell) -- that I hope to read some day.  Trouble is . . . it's in Spanish.

Steve Marquardt, Ph.D.
South Dakota State University Dean of Libraries Emeritus
Amnesty International member since 1982
9383 123rd Avenue SE
Lake Lillian, Minnesota 56253-4700
(320) 664-4231

Huber Matos Benítez, Cuban revolutionary-turned-political prisoner, died on February 27th, aged 95

Mar 15th 2014 | From the print edition of the Economist

Inline image 1


EVERY picture tells a story. The one above tells more than most. It shows Fidel Castro and Huber Matos entering Havana in an open truck, having toppled Fulgencio Batista, on January 8th 1959. Revolution had swept the dictator away; the people were on the streets in one huge, wild, tumultuous demonstration of joy. But Fidel was terrified. Sweat soaked his uniform. He thought he might be shot at any moment. So while he gladhanded the crowd, Mr Matos watched it for assassins, his pale blue eyes alert to anything that moved.

Looking out for Fidel had become a full-time job. Not so often for his life, as for his ideas, and which way they were tending. Mr Matos, a farmer’s son and teacher from poor Oriente, had joined the revolutionary movement to make Cuba free. He remembered vividly how the church bells had rung out across the fields when the dictator Machado fell in 1933. He had longed for democracy that never took root. Twenty-five years later, for liberty or death, he had organised shipments of weapons from Costa Rica to Fidel’s rebels in the Sierra Maestra and then fought there himself. At the age of 40 he had happily endured the night marches, the rain, the hunger, the sand-filled boots and flesh-burrowing parasites, to defend the rights of the Cuban people. But what did Fidel want?

It was hard to tell. At times he was all back-slapping hugs and euphoria, seizing the rifles Mr Matos brought him like a child at Christmas. “Now we’ll win the war!” he shouted, and fired the precious bullets into the air. In his delight, he made Mr Matos comandante of the ninth column and, in January 1959, appointed him military governor of rich Camagüey province. At other times, though, el jefe was foul-mouthed, cold and insulting. He would talk about social democracy, but act like a tyrant. His brother Raúl, more secretive, was worse.

The enemy within

Mr Matos had a habit of speaking his mind. His life had been tough. At the age of eight, he was digging irrigation ditches and hauling up water from the well every morning. Muscles bulged on his arms. There were constant fights with village boys, with fists and stones; his father taught him not to flinch. His strange name, Huber, was borrowed from a Swiss apiarist who had written a definitive study of bees in defiance of encroaching blindness. True to that name, he did not blink or retreat.

So when Fidel upbraided him in letters—for sloppiness in his brigade, or the loss of a machinegun, or some petty thing—he would instantly write back defending himself. Comrade to comrade, he demanded respect. And if he detected Marxism in words or deeds, he would go to the top to protest. Though he thought of himself as a man of the left, nurtured politically, like Fidel, in the progressive-nationalist Orthodox Party, he considered communism poison. He had even insisted, over Fidel’s perplexed objections, on naming his ninth column after a famous anti-communist, Antonio Guiteras.

It was wasted effort. Everyone else in the inner circle—smiling, bohemian Camilo Cienfuegos, charming, asthmatic Che, Fidel himself—waved his worries aside. Communists were not in key positions, said Fidel. You couldn’t call me a real Marxist, said Che. But Mr Matos saw the revolution fast swerving to the left. Marxism was not Fidel’s heartfelt ideology, he agreed. It was a way to hold on to power. That made it no less dangerous. “Don’t bury the revolution,” he warned his leader.

His protests proved costly. In the autumn of 1959 he resigned his posts, telling Fidel that he did not want to obstruct the revolution. He hoped to be allowed to go back to teaching. Instead he was arrested and put on trial before a tribunal picked by Fidel, with a ranting Fidel as chief prosecution witness, and sentenced to 20 years in prison for treason and sedition.

Had he been a traitor? Fidel connected him to the Americans and the CIA, but on no solid evidence. He was accused of selling out to the capitalist, landed interests of the cattle-ranchers of Camagüey, where he had made anti-communist speeches. But he said he knew nothing of subversion. In his letters of dissent and resignation he had still pledged his loyalty to Fidel. He accepted, despite his doubts, that the people of Cuba had placed their trust in this man—who, in 1961, declared that the revolution was communist after all.

Imprisonment, most of it on the Isle of Pines, was often in solitary confinement. He fell ill. Clouds of mosquitoes tormented him. He was tortured and beaten. At the end of the 20 years he was flown out to Costa Rica, to meet the four children whose childhoods he had missed. Some time afterwards he settled in Florida, where he set up foundations to promote democracy in Cuba and independent teaching in the schools. It was a way of carrying on the struggle to which he had committed himself, alone in the forest, on his first night in olive-green uniform in the Sierra Maestra. Half a century later, the real revolution had yet to arrive.

Many hard-right exiles in Miami still distrusted and disliked him. For them, he kept his bad-revolutionary spots as a man who had fought for Fidel. On that triumphant entry into Havana, he had toted an M-3 submachinegun to protect him. In Miami, he routinely packed a pistol into his waistband to look out for himself.

Barbara Joe

May 13, 2015, 3:44:08 PM5/13/15
to, cuba451letters, Barbara Silverman, Brigid Cahalan, Jorge Sanguinetty, Mark Wetmore, Michael Nellis, Radames Suarez, Robert Kent, Stephen Fesenmaier, Steve Denney, Steve Marquardt, Walter Skold, Werner Lind, Wojciech Siemaszkiewicz
Yes, of course, the Mariel boatlift is how my late foster son Alex came to me, one of those jail prisoners forced onto the boats. And, in March 2014, I was in Miami during Huber Matos' funeral, which is how I happened to have the photo taken with 3 long-term prisoners depicted in my Cuba book at a reading at Books & Books in Coral Gables--they were there for the funeral.    

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May 18, 2015, 1:03:28 PM5/18/15
Thanks for sending this Steve. I tried to reply to your email immediately but due to an inexplicable glitch my email never went out.
I was saying in my response that I was there, when they entered Havana in January 1959. Soon after my arrival in New York in 1967 I met Huber's family, and himself about 20 years later. In the early nineties he invited me to broadcast SW radio programs to Cuba on how to prepare for democracy, news about the transition in the ex socialist block, and how to install a market economy in the island. From those programs, that lasted about three years, I developed material that I put in book form in Spanish for distribution in Cuba.
Your obituary is very accurate and very timely now that they are talking about "normalization" of US-Cuba relations as if economics is all that matters and without taking the Cuban people into account. The normalization so far seems to be between the US and the Castro family, not with Cuba. Fidel used Marxism as a vehicle to build a private kingdom disguised as socialism, and most people, even his own enemies, have failed to see this. Huber Matos saw it coming at an early stage and paid a high price for denouncing it.
Perhaps all socialist revolutions are or end up the same as anomalous private and monopolistic enterprises. The trends to a dynastic succession in Cuba provides support to this thesis. That is why my personal manifesto is Workers of the World Beware!
Best regards to all,
Jorge A. Sanguinetty
Chairman & Senior Advisor
DevTech Systems, Inc.
9200 South Dadeland Blvd.
Miami, FL 33156

Barbara Joe

May 18, 2015, 3:29:13 PM5/18/15
Yes, I happened to be in Miami when Huber Matos' funeral was being held--the passing of a great man and of an era. It does seem that now, if Cubans are lucky, they will get a Chinese/Vietnamese style government, with some sort of economic opening, but with one-party political control. Obama appears to have been more interested in having the US government being seen favorably in Latin America--because much of the leadership favors the Castro brothers--than in Cuban civil and political rights. Or maybe he thought better to have some sort of economic opening rather than nothing at all.
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