Havana, Cuba (Storch Report) — The last and only time I was in Havana Cuba was 1957, two years before Fidel Castro came down from the hills with his band of Communist Banditos and overran the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista to become one of the worst dictators of the 20th century.
The city was filled with 50’s vintage American cars, and little did anyone believe it at the time that those cars would be rebuilt, rebuilt once again and rebuilt one more time for more than 50 years over and they are still running on the streets of Havana today.
Fidel Castro died last night at the age of 90, long after many predicted his death of natural causes and assassination attempts on his life — in particular by the CIA — since he took over the island in his second attempt in 1979 at the age of 32 with his brother Raul alongside.
He was popular among some who thought he brought education and improved healthcare to the island, but his death was celebrated – not his life – by many, a rather unusual juxtaposition, in Little Havana Miami last night and today by the exiles who escaped his dictatorial regime in 1959, thereafter and even today.
After some 50 years of rule he underwent intestinal surgery for a bleed from which he didn’t recover very well, and quietly turned over the reins of power to his brother Raul, but not before bringing the world to the brink of World War III in 1961.
Today Cuba is still a Communist country run by Raul Castro, now in his 80’s.
I boarded Cubana Airlines with a friend and a $20 round trip ticket for a weekend in Havana in 1957. At the time I was a seaman in the United States Navy serving aboard the USS Howard W Gilmore, a sub-tender, stationed in Key West Florida.
It was a quick trip to Havana, after all the island is only 90 miles off the southern most point of Key West. We were greeted by a pimp, who was assigned to us for the weekend and we quickly told him we didn’t need his services. Nevertheless he was a pest for the rest of the weekend.
Lucky Luciano and his Mafia cohorts were basically running the island, the posh hotels and gambling casinos at the time and in those days providing kickbacks to Batista.
There were signs of trouble in the hills of Cuba for Castro returned to island after a failed coup in 1953.
Everyone in Havana were carrying guns, except for my friend and me.
Taxi drivers were driving as fast as they could and when they came to an intersection, the one with the loudest horn got through.
The military guarding installations in the city seemed to be trigger happy. I was shooting some film with an 8 mm Bell & Howell camera and noticed through my view finder a soldier was charging at me with a fixed bayonet.
We visited the Morro Castle, a dungeon-like structure built to protect the entrance to the Harbor since the 1700’s, which held prisoners during the Spanish American war and looked prepared to hold more once again and it did and most likely still does.
Cuba is an island of revolutions, dictatorships and Communists.
It is an island of American cars of the 50’s, a decaying infrastructure and occupied by very nice people who don’t deserve the treatment they receive — $20 a month to live on provided by the government — and living without the basic necessities of life.
And now, in the 21st century the same conditions still exist, just 90 miles off the shores of the United States, but we have one less Communist.