On the “Physical Disappearance” of Cuba’s Historical Figures

Dmitri Prieto

Photo: Paola Nuñez Solorio

HAVANA TIMES — Ernesto “Che” Guevara was taken prisoner and assassinated on October 9, 1967 under orders from the CIA.

We know this thanks to testimonies offered by the person who executed him.

Every 8th of October, however, Cuba continues to commemorate Che Guevara’s “fall in combat” and even his “physical disappearance.”

Those phrases were also used in the course of this year.

Why falsify the historical record?

Today October 28th marks 55 years since the disappearance – here the term is apt – of Camilo Cienfuegos.

Less renowned than Che outside of Cuba, Camilo Cienfuegos – the “broad-smiling comandante”, as he was known back in his time – embodied people’s feelings towards youth, work and charisma.

Many urban legends about his disappearance have existed. The official version of events is that the Cessna plane he was travelling on fell into the ocean, never to be found.

A friend told me that, even at the close of the 60s, there were those who maintained Camilo was living incognito in Havana.

Today, 55 years since his disappearance, it would be worthwhile to pay closer attention to Camilo Cienfuegos’ political ideas. We don’t much see him on television, and I don’t recall ever having been shown any of his speeches, and he did deliver a number of these.

The year 1959 continues to embody a number of mysteries for those of us who live in Cuba.

What really pisses me off is that phrase, “physical disappearance.”

Used as a euphemism for the word “death”, it is a cold and false expression.

It is not even adequate as a euphemism: death is biological, not physical, even if we agree that life continues in some form of patriotically spiritual dimension.

It would be good to replace “disappearance” with a more accurate expression.

I hope our memory of recent history becomes less cold and increasingly more exact.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.


15 thoughts on “On the “Physical Disappearance” of Cuba’s Historical Figures

  • March 17, 2019 at 12:51 am
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    Worse than ironic. Macabre.

  • March 17, 2019 at 12:49 am
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    Do you have a reference to the story? How can I find it? Xana del LLano

  • March 13, 2019 at 8:04 pm
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    My long comment is directed to the questions that Dmitri poses at the beginning; I am sorry its bilingual but that defines me.

  • March 13, 2019 at 8:01 pm
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    Sadly, I lost my long comment, but in an effort at reconstruction let me say that you should look at the 10 second video of Camilo delivering a “message to Cubans” that Alina de los Angeles put up on a silly TV show, asserting that Camilo was alive, in CIA custody, and that he had asked for her to be brought to him so he could deliver his message to Cubans (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeP4t5qq8pg; also posted elsewhere search for “Camilo vivo”. Before she taped him, she reports he said that Cubans had to ask their comandantes to leave Cuba (Que le dijeran a sus comandantes que se vayan) He added: que quiere llevar su mensaje a los Cubanos; que quisera ver “ese pedazo de tierra [ie. Cuba] libre donde los cubanos sean felices con todos los derechos que les pertenecen” . Al inciarse la lucha armada todos los barbudos estaban a favor de 1) que se quitara de la silla Presidencial a Batista; 2) que se restaurara la Constitucion de 1851que Batista habia descartado; y que se les regresara a los campesinos su tierra. Camilo le critico a Fidel p.q. andaba llenando los puestos del gobierno con comunistas (los predilectos de Raul); tambien p.q. Fidel queria fusilar a todos los miles de soldados del ejercito Batistiano; y p.q. iba a traicionar a los campesionos, que fueron sus tropas, descartando sus deseos legitimos ; ellos no querian cooperativas agrarias estilo sovietico si no el regreso de sus tierras..
    La imagen de Camilo en 2019 le correponde o no al jdel Camilo de 1959? Yo compare friamente los 10 segundos de video de Camilo hoy con consus fotos de el 1959. Yo tengo el “ojo de artista”: mi percepcion de lo visual es mas aguda, mas rica,mas precisa q la de los normales.. Vi que las manos distinctivas de Camilo las tenia el Camilo del video igual que el de las fotos de 1959; tambien tenia su esqueleto facial, tomando en cuenta la diferencia de edad.. Al acabar de hablar sus 10 segundos de video Camilo hizo el gesto caracteristico que el Camilo de 1959 hacia despues de sus discursos: levantaba el brazo con la palma abierta y su dedo grande extendido y algo torcido. Ese dedo se parece mas a los dedos de la gente hypermobil (condicion genetica) que a los de os normales; examina las fotos. El Camilo de 2019 dijo que el pueblo lo reconociaria pero la mayor parte de los comentarios niegan que es Camilo y expresan una hostilidad fuerte a la videografa y a el programa de television. Pero esta gente no han pensado el asunto friamente sino solo emocionalmente y se expresaron en un discurso negativo, lleno de insultos y malas palabras. Para terminar te cuento de mi reaccion emocional: yo tenia la edad de 3 cuando el se murio; me deprimio por mucho tiempo porque yo lo adoraba como la mayoria de loscubanos. Yo si lo reconoci sin pensarlo y fue unos de esos momentos que te cambian la vida: senti un delirio de felicidad y por poco me desmaye. Yo como artista, igual que Camilo, tengo un sentido mas amplio de lo posible q la gente normal. La hipotesis mia, necesita datos para comprobarla: pienso q Camilo tenia un desacuerdo fundamental con los Castro y vio que a su amigo y correligionista, Huber Matos, lo iban a matar o arrestar p.q. se atrevio de dimitir de su cargo; sufrio condena de 20 yrs. en la carcel. Puedes verlo en video en YouTube. La otra explicacion alternativa es la de Carlos Franqui, campesino y muy amigo de Camilo; le acaban de publicar ediciones cars de sus libros pero la digital cueta menos de $7.00. Si tienes algo que responder a mi repuesta a tus inquietudes, con todo gusto lo leere.

  • October 31, 2014 at 12:53 pm
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    I was in Cuba when the news broke that Repsol, the Spanish oil company, was planning to drill offshore in Cuban waters in search of oil. The joke in the streets at that time was the question, “How was Castro going to find oil under the sea 30 miles out when they couldn’t find Camilio’s airplane on the sea floor only 3 miles offshore?” Ya’ gotta love the Cuban sense of humor.

  • October 31, 2014 at 12:47 pm
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    Are you trying to justify or defend the malevolence in Cuba by pointing out that Mexico has “disappearances” as well. Really? Is that the best you got?

  • October 30, 2014 at 5:26 am
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    I will have a look.

  • October 29, 2014 at 11:58 am
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    Thanks for the book tip.

    Norberto Fuentes, in his book, “The Autobiography of Fidel Castro” provides an interesting account of the “accident” which killed Camilo, and Fidel’s reaction to it.

  • October 29, 2014 at 11:36 am
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    In Cuba, the word ” disappearance” is subject of a semantics debate about occurrences half a century ago. In Mexico, “disappearance” refers real-time to what happens to political dissidents and activist students at the hands of a corrupt, Capitalist government.

  • October 29, 2014 at 11:21 am
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    Years later, Che’s killer, Teran, travels to Venezuela to avail himself of the benefits Socialist solidarity to cure his blindness. Que sinverguenza.Dan

  • October 29, 2014 at 11:08 am
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    Oh the interesting things one can find on the internet!

    From a review of Serge Raffy’s biography of the Cuban revolutionary, (Castro el infield) I found this fascinating bit of trivia:

    “The arrangements for the arrival of the young Fidel Castro into the political landscape of the island, were those prevailing at the time: violence and political gangsterism. An exceptional event that will determine the political future of Fidel Castro, according to Serge Raffy, is the encounter with Fabio Grobart. According to the biographer, the collaboration of Fidel Castro with Soviet agents dates from that time. The year is 1948. Fabio Grobart, a Polish Jew, whose real name is Abraham Semjovitch, as head of the “Caribbean network” for Comintern, has been ordered by Moscow to recruit “our men” imperialist agitators, whose peculiarity is not militate communist parties; on the contrary, must appear as viscerally anti-Communist. To be precise, the KGB men of action, not militants.”

    http://www.cartadecuba.org/castro_el_infiel.htm

    You can read all about Fabio Grobart / Abraham Semjovitch / Albert Blanco here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabio_Grobart

    Fabio Grobart was one of the founders of the Communist Party in Cuba in 1925, “and for decades served as a party ideologue and the man who introduced Castro at party meetings” (Goering, 2001). Grobart was both a member of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee and a member of Parliament. In 1952, under the name Albert Blanco he was co-delegate with Carlos Palacio a Spaniard for Latin America in the very leftist labor union World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). After 1959 Ernesto Che Guevara and Raúl Castro met “Alberto Blanco” in Prague and brought him back to Cuba. In 2005 Raúl Castro’s words led Cuban communist authorities in honors and praise to ”maestro” Grobart, giving his status as such as well as the official imprimatur of “marxist sainthood” . He died Cuba on October 22, 1994.

  • October 29, 2014 at 10:37 am
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    I would like to recommend Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s “View of dawn in the topics” and the story on “commandente number 2”
    There he tells the story of how Fidel claimed he would go look for Camilo while in reality he and his pals went to a “finca” bto drink.

  • October 29, 2014 at 12:44 am
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    Mystery? Hardly. Megalomaniac Fidel Castro understood very well that dead or imprisoned martyrs strengthen revolutions but don’t compete for power with the sitting dictator. I appreciate your being coy but lets not pussyfoot about this. If there is any justice in the afterlife, in the inimitable words of that famous Cuban philosopher, Ricky Ricardo, Fidel has got some ‘splainin’ to do.

  • October 28, 2014 at 9:25 am
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    According to Che’s biographer Lee Anderson, the CIA did not order Che’s execution.

    On October 7, 1967, an informant told the Bolivian Special Forces of the location of Guevara’s guerrilla encampment in the Yuro ravine. On the morning of October 8, they encircled the area with 1,800 soldiers and advanced into the ravine triggering a battle where Guevara was wounded and taken prisoner. Che biographer Jon Lee Anderson reports Bolivian Sergeant Bernardino Huanca’s account: that as the Bolivian Rangers approached, a twice-wounded Guevara, his gun rendered useless, threw up his arms in surrender and shouted to the soldiers: “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and I am worth more to you alive than dead.”

    On October 9, Bolivian President René Barrientos ordered that Guevara be killed. The order was relayed to the unit holding Guevara by Félix Rodríguez despite the United States government’s desire that Guevara be taken to Panama for further interrogation. The executioner who volunteered to kill Guevara was Mario Terán, a sergeant in the Bolivian army who had personally requested to shoot Guevara because three of his friends from B Company had been killed in an earlier firefight with Guevara’s band of guerrillas.

    Who was the informant and how did the CIA know Che Guevara was in Bolivia? He had entered the country in disguise and with false identity papers.

    Camilo Cienfuegos family were Spanish anarchists. In his book, “Family Portrait With Fidel” Cuban author and historian Carlos Franqui (one of Cienfuegos’s closest friends during the Cuban revolution), asserts that Cienfuegos “sympathized with socialism” and that he followed the Marxist Che Guevara politically. Other sources tend to agree with Franqui.

    His death remains shrouded in mystery. Several days before his death, Cienfuegos arrested his former revolutionary comrade Huber Matos on Castro’s orders. Comandante Matos had complained to Fidel Castro that the 26th of July Movement was being rapidly infiltrated by communists, who were assuming positions of power. During their meeting, Matos warned Cienfuegos that there were pople who harm in an attempt to foment strife between their supporters.

    On October 28, 1959, Cienfuegos’s Cessna 310 (‘FAR-53’) disappeared over the ocean during a night flight from Camagüey to Havana. This is odd, because the shortest route from Camagüey to Havana does not take a plane out over the ocean. Why was his plane over the sea?

    Che, Matos & Cienfuegos. Three senior and very popular rebel leaders, each with proven talent as fighters, were eliminated. Two dead, and one tossed into prison for 20 years.

    Scratch your chin and ponder that mystery.

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