Remembering Celia Hart Santamaria

By Dmitri Prieto

 Left to right: Dmitri Prieto, Pável Alemán, Celia Hart, Tato Quiñones, Hiram Hernández, Carlos Simón. Backs: León Ferrera and Andrés Mir.  (UNEAC, March 12, 2005, at the symposium “The Other Legacies of October.”)
Left to right: Dmitri Prieto, Pável Alemán, Celia Hart, Tato Quiñones, Hiram Hernández, Carlos Simón. Backs: León Ferrera and Andrés Mir. (UNEAC, March 12, 2005, at the symposium “The Other Legacies of October.”)

The first year since the death of Celia Hart Santamaría is now being commemorated.  She died in one of those absurd automobile accidents that astonish us.

Celia was the daughter two legendary figures of the Cuban revolutionary struggle: Haydée Santamaría and Armando Hart.

Moreover, she was given her first name in homage to another revolutionary woman: Celia Sánchez.  The family Hart-Santamaría was itself a product of the revolution.  Haydée’s first boyfriend (anarcho-syndicalist Boris Luis Santa Coloma) was murdered after the attack on the Barracks Moncada, as was her brother Abel Santamaría, the second in command of the action (after Fidel Castro).

The Santamaría family has been marked forever by the deeds of July 26, 1953.  This was something you felt when you spoke with Celia, whose mother committed suicide on that same date in 1980.

She spoke to me as someone who shared the same principals by virtue of a blood duty with a tradition of fighting.  She liked to emphasize the libertarian-socialist militancy of her mother’s earlier boyfriend, as well as the similarity of the colors of the July 26th Movement’s flag with those of the anarchists.

Celia said she was a “Trotskera,” coming from “rockera”, meaning a female who is a rock-music fan, not a Trotskyist.  In fact, I met her at the Havana Book Fair in one of those stalls of Trotskyist publishers that I wrote about in a previous Havana Times article.  It was then that first began our bond of affection and friendship, reinforced by my role as coordinator of a cultural initiative that takes the name of Celia’s mother: The Haydée Santamaría Autonomous Collective.

Celia was never a member of the group, but we invited her to participate in an event that we organized at the conference room of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).  It was the first event organized in Cuba dedicated specifically to an analysis of the crisis and fall of “real socialism.”  It was titled “The Other Legacies of [the Russian Revolution of] October.” At this symposium, Celia presented the Trotskyist perspective on this subject.

Celia considered herself “Trotskera,” and not a Trotskyist, because Trotskyism as a unique movement no longer exists.  To be politically active in it one has to join one of the countless international organizations that are usually at odds with each other, and Celia was organically opposed to that.

Also, along with Trotsky, it was inevitable that Celia would refer to José Martí, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and other revolutionaries.  But Celia used to always speak about how her father had made her read the biography of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher after her return from studying in the German Democratic Republic, where Celia had lost confidence in Euro-Soviet model of socialism.

Thanks to Deutscher and Trotsky, Celia discovered the possibility that alternative models of socialism exist.  The biography that she had – according to Celia – was kept locked away, because in those times in Cuba you could not mention the name of Trotsky in public.  Today it is indeed possible – in certain venues in Cuba – to speak of various paths of socialism.

Celia had a contentious personality, but – incredibly – we did not get into heated arguments about issues, even when it was clear I didn’t share many of her ideas, opinions and assessments.

For me, the problems of Cuba have deeper roots than those Celia pointed out.  But it was pleasant to note that even beyond our ideological discrepancies we were able to maintain a healthy dialogue.  Likewise, we both perceived the black holes of the threadbare hypocritical and opportunist discourse that is clearly doing so much damage to Cuba.  In that Celia and I agreed.

She used to say, jokingly, that she was the “Princess of the Cuban Revolution,” and I sometimes referred to her as “Your highness, comrade Celia Hart y Santa-María.”  There was something of truth in that; the meetings at Celia’s house, the French wine and her readings out loud of e-mail messages from Cuban Five prisoner Antonio Guerrero are occasions things that will never again be repeated.

One of her writings that she shared with me in one of our last encounters was titled, “The Last Flight of the Santamarias.”  I asked her why such an apocalyptic tone concerning her family.  She responded with something related to the July 26th Movement and her mother’s suicide.  I didn’t quite get the point.  Those points are probably not for understanding.

When I returned from London, with no more delay I devoted myself to completing my Master’s thesis about how a revolution can become a new dominant system (the case study was on Haiti).  It was then – that fateful September of last year – that one night I received a call from my friend and Havana Times writer Armando Chaguaceda, who told me that Celia Hart Santamaría was no longer with us.

Celia believed herself to belong to the World Revolution.  She lived in a difficult period for Cuba and for revolutionaries.  Her last names protected her; but she was able to work beyond her last names, or better said, to make them authentic for a new generation. Now she is free.

4 thoughts on “Remembering Celia Hart Santamaria

  • Thank you Dmitri for your affectionate and solidarity piece on Celia. I, too, knew her but just a bit. We shared views in agreement and disagreement. Her voice was important, namely, because did was not a label but rather blended useful views on revolution and socialism from many revolutionary thinkers and leaders. Her view that Trotsky’s thesis of permanent revolution applies to Cuba is something that would be pertinent for the educational system to teach. One need not “be” a “Trotskyist” to appreciate and use some or many of his views and strategies. He was, afterall, the commander of the Red Army, which defeated the imperialist-backed counter-revolution, an important fact of history that “Stalinists” love to deny or forget.
    Celia was open-minded, using critical thinking, which is a must for any revolution to grow and survive.

  • Dima

    No he podido terminar de escribir mi carta-artículo a Celia en este fatídico primer aniversario, pero tu lo has hecho mejor. El tema me bloquea entre la rabia y la tristeza. A Celia hay que recordarla como una militante honesta, pese a las burlas del aristrocrático profesorado habanero que descalificaba su endeblez teórica y a los fans que la convertían en una Trostki con vagina, A despecho de la contra que nunca le perdono su sincero amor a Fidel y los estalinistas que la sacaron elegantemente (con un “vas a ser más libre, Celita”) de su PCC. Aún la recuerdo el 5 de mayo de 2008, en Palacio de Convenciones, atenazada por dos sentimientos: el dolor por la salida partidista y la decisión de seguir luchando.
    Abrazos siempre, Celia

  • Dmitre: Thank you for this heartbreking but enlightening memorial to your friend. One line that impresses me is that “Celia discovered the possibility that alternative models of socialism exist.” This embodies an idea that we all should keep in mind, that: alternative models of socialism exist. Our nascent movement in the U.S. of course proposes a form of what we call “modern cooperative socialism.” We hope it will be considered by the Cubans with regard to the ongoing “reform” or “perfection” of Cuban socialism–whichever term is preferred. The advocacy of bringing back the institutions of private property and the trading market and using them cooperatively for the reform or perfection of Cuban socialism is a tought sell, so far. Your tribure makes it doubly poignant that Celia’s voice will not be heard during the discussions. Thanks again for the article.

  • Very nice, affectionate tribute to Celia, whom I also knew somewhat while she was alive. I particularly appreciate your observation that Celia wasn’t part of any of the organized Trotskyist groupings, though she was friendly to everyone in that corner of the political world. Some of them tried to used her for their own narrow organizational and political purposes, but she never joined any of them.

    One project I worked on was to bring out her writings into English, and many of them can now be found at this webpage:

    A modest anthology of her writings, IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO LOVE OR REBEL is available in print in English.
    Details about that:

    Again, thanks for this affectionate tribute.

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