Monday, October 31, 2011

In Memoriam, Laura Pollán, a Leader of the Ladies in White

In 2003, the Castro government imprisoned 75 dissidents for political activity it deemed to be counterrevolutionary. Some of the prisoners were sentenced for terms as long as 28 years. There was an international condemnation of the Cuban government’s action. A group of women, the wives, mothers and sisters of the prisoners, began to demonstrate against their loved ones’ captivity, dressed in white. They became known as the Ladies in White. One of the leaders of the protest group, Laura Pollán, died on October 14th under mysterious circumstances. There is a website that discusses her contribution to political discourse in Cuba. See,

That in turn has links to two YouTube videos showing the history of the movement. The bravery of these Ladies in White is an example for all who love freedom. The protests resulted in some of the prisoners being released. In 2010, the Catholic Church was instrumental in obtaining the release of the final 50. Even after all of the prisoners were let go, Laura Pollán and many of the other ladies in white continued to protest for political freedom. She died at age 63, according to the government of dengue fever and complications of her diabetes. So much for modern Cuban medicine.

There is reason to be suspicious of the cause of death, however. According to Mary O’Grady, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, whose reporting appears in Fausta’s Blog,, the onset of her illness began on September 24 when Pollán was attacked leaving church by a mob. Her right arm was badly scratched, twisted and bitten. For the past year, the other members of the Ladies in White had complained being attacked and stuck with needles, causing them to feel nauseous, feverish and dizzy. Pollan complained of similar symptoms. She was treated at a hospital and released. Several days later, she complained of shortness of breath. She had chills and was vomiting. She was readmitted on October 7 and the next day was put in intensive care and put on a respirator. When her family went to visit, they were denied access until October 10th. Then, only her daughter was permitted to see her and she found that her mother’s bed was surrounded by state security operatives who appeared to monitor the activities of medical personnel. She died on October 14th. When her family went to view her body, it was again surrounded by state security personnel. A one hour wake at midnight was permitted, but that, too, was done in the presence of state security agents. I wonder what warranted the presence of state security during this final illness. Did the government fear she would recover, or did they want to make sure she didn’t?

The Ladies in White were awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, but were prohibited from traveling to Strasbourg, France to accept the award. For a general discussion of the Ladies in White movement, see the Wikipedia entry at

The middle class of Cuba who supported Fidel when Batista was in power were promised a return to Constitutional government and democratic freedoms. The Death of the White Rose is the story of that support and the eventual realization that the promises were empty and manipulative. After more than 52 years, those promises have yet to be kept.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Hope That They Don't Make Senators Like This Any More

I just received a book I had sent for that was written by Jules Dubois, the Chicago Tribune journalist who arranged for the Ed Sullivan interview with Fidel Castro. I wrote about it in an earlier blog posting. If you haven’t read it, see the August 30th entry. You can find the archives on the left side of the blog main page. The title of the Dubois book is Fidel Castro. I had hoped it would have provided some more background on the Ed Sullivan interview.     

Unfortunately, that episode is not mentioned anywhere in the text. However, I did come across another American who was interviewed in Havana on December 13, 1958, sixteen days before Batista fled, and Che Guevara marched into Havana.
Senator Alan J. Ellender, Democrat of Louisiana, came to Havana for a fact finding tour.

The American government had suspended arms shipments to Batista, hoping that would result in his voluntarily giving up power. The senator took exception to the policy of President Eisenhower. He said it was strange that Belgium, France, Italy and the UK continued to supply the Cuban army. He said, “Of course I don’t know much about it, but if a nation requires weapons to maintain internal security, I personally cannot understand why they cannot be shipped. But if there were a raging civil war going on, my answer to this question would be an emphatic no.” He explained that the army needed the weapons to stop “bandits burning the sugar plantations.” He said it would be terrible for Cuba to become embroiled in a civil war, since “Cuba is too prosperous and too wonderful a little island for such a thing to happen. I am hopeful that nothing will occur.”

I wonder what the senator was thinking had been happening for the past six years. He couldn’t possibly have thought the Cuban Revolution, which had been going on for years, was merely some bandits burning fields. And I wonder what his constituents were thinking when they elected him each term from 1937 to 1972 when he died prior to the election. Even after his death, ten percent of the electorate still voted for him! It makes me wonder about the sanity of voters of Louisiana. At least the state has the best cooking in the US. Ellender Gumbo is still on the menu of the U.S. Senate dining room.

I would have enjoyed some tonight, except that it would have exceeded my 400 calorie allotment that I limited to these days. Need to keep up energy to finish the third draft of the novel. I have finished about half the draft and hope to finish it sometime this coming week.

I learned this week that in November to December 1958 the rebels received substantial shipments of war surplus guns by air drop. Convairs and DC-3s flew from Puerto Rico and other nearby places with weapon shipments. In The Death of the White Rose, Pedro, the hero, runs guns in a sailboat. Because of the air drops, I had to write a rationale for the voyage. It all worked out, but took some time to clean up the details and make it all make sense. 
The population of registered blog readers has increased to fifty-one with seventy-three following on Twitter.  Thank you all for being there. There are others who have stopped by to read as there are over 4600 page views so far. Hopefully, the universe of blog readers will continue to expand. Be sure to click on the upper left of the main page to hear some wonderful Cuban music while you read the blog. Let me know if there is anything about this project that you would like to hear about.

I hope everyone has a very happy Halloween. Send pictures of your costumes!

Monday, October 24, 2011


Although The Death of the White Rose takes place during the Cuban revolution, it is inevitable in researching the events of 1952-1959 that I should have run into stories about developments that are taking place in Cuba today. One such story is that of Alan Gross. Mr. Gross is an American who was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Havana and convicted in 2011 in Cuba for actions relating to electronic equipment that he had smuggled into Cuba. The equipment is alleged to have been brought there to permit the minute Jewish community  to communicate with Jews outside of Cuba. His predicament is the subject of a recent Washington Post editorial demanding his release.

His trip to Cuba and the equipment that he brought with him was funded by a $6 million contract between USAID and an American contractor, Development Alternatives, Inc. The purpose of the contract was to promote democracy in Cuba, according to one of the comments to the Post editorial. He failed to report to Cuban customs that he was bringing in satellite telephones and computers to allow for Internet access. In looking at the comments to the news coverage in the Washington Post, it is unclear to me exactly what Mr. Gross brought in. The recent Post editorial refers to satellite phones. A comment describes them as B-Gans transmitters, capable of sending encrypted files. I looked at Development Alternatives, Inc.’s website and discovered that it provides many humanitarian services all over the world. Here is a link to their webpage that describes their work in Latin America: . It is interesting to note that while USAID is listed as a client, there is no mention of contracts to develop democratic institutions in Cuba.
Evidently, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been trying to broker a deal to exchange Gross for four Cubans who are in a U.S. prison and another who has been released on parole. The four are serving  long terms for placing anti-Castro activists in Florida under surveillance and for conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit espionage, using false identification and twenty other charges. The American government has offered one of the Cubans who has completed his prison term, but who is currently on probation for three years. Cuba turned down the offer.

The Cuban trial was not open to the public (no great surprise). As a result it is difficult to understand exactly what Gross was doing in Cuba. The explanation that he was providing Cuban Jews with Internet service sounds pretty silly to me. I doubt that USAID, assuming that it was their money that funded Mr. Gross, ever imagined that taxpayer funds would be used for such a purpose. Does anyone know of any American Congressional hearings examining the details of this contract? If so, it would be enlightening to hear about them. If the contract was used to fund only Gross’s activities it is particularly strange. The current Jewish population is estimated to be 1500. That would mean USAID was spending $4,000 per Jewish Cuban to improve their connectivity. It is a bit odd.

Speaking of odd things, here is a brief progress report about my novel. I am on the third draft now and am working on chapter 6 (there are 18 in total).  I made some reasonable progress over the past weekend, but once again, the day job is interfering with its completion. I am very happy with the ending—it is suspenseful and a page turner. Making each page like that is a continuing challenge. I hope when you have an opportunity to read the whole story, you will feel the same about each chapter.

Monday, October 10, 2011


The rains have started in Northern California and their arrival is a pleasant change from the unrelenting sunshine we have enjoyed since June. The nice thing about rain is that it makes me perfectly content to be inside at my desk. When the sun is shining and the temperature is in the 80s, it's hard not to be outside enjoying the pool, walking the dogs or just driving around with the convertible top down on the Chrysler. Today was definitely not convertible weather, as can be seen by the dogs’ attire:

I have been reading Havana Nocturnes, a non-fiction account of the development of gambling in Cuba by the American mob, under the guidance of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. I had no idea that the plan to develop casinos was formed in the early 30s in the fertile imagination of Lansky. Unfortunately, the Depression and the war stopped his implementation of those plans until after 1945. It was back in the 30s that he had first bribed Batista, then a sergeant in the army, but someone who Lansky had decided would eventually be someone whose influence would be key to the plan. The bribery continued right up until Batista’s departure at the end of 1958.

What really surprised me was to learn that during the war Luciano was serving a long prison sentence in upstate New York with no hope of parole. US Navy intelligence discovered that the Germans had infiltrated the New York dockworkers and shipping information was being leaked to Germany, resulting in a huge number of U-boat attacks on freighters coming out of New York. The navy approached Lansky, who was a known mobster and asked if he would help combat the Nazis. Lansky being Jewish had every desire to help defeat them. He told the navy that the person who could really help was Luciano.

Lansky met with navy intelligence and Luciano in a prison in Albany to which the navy had caused Luciano to be brought. Luciano agreed to help with no preconditions. As a result, the dockworkers informed on the foreign agents and they were arrested. The number of freighter sinkings declined. After the war, the navy told Governor Dewey of Luciano’s assistance with the war effort. He granted executive clemency to Luciano, upon the condition that he be deported back to Sicily. Luciano felt betrayed, but he had no choice and boarded The Italy and sailed back to the old country. From there he traveled to Mexico and then landed in Cuba. There he met Lansky to plan the development of the Cuban casino industry.

The first draft of The Death of the White Rose is complete and I am 70 pages into the rewrite. With luck, I should get through it by the end of this month.