My First Battle in Cuba

Elio Delgado Legon

Road in Villa Clara.

HAVANA TIMES —The first battle I waged against Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship involved, not firearms, but the pen: I wrote a journalistic article and, unaware of its implications, sent it to the COCO radio station in Las Villas, which had a rather outspoken program that defended the interests of the working class.

It was 1955 and the dictatorship had approved a law that offered tax benefits for the construction of hotels and facilities for the establishment of casinos in hotels and nightclubs.

The authorization for the setting up of casinos and gambling locales in all of the country’s cities and towns over a three month period may have stemmed from that law.

In the absence of a more appropriate locale, a casino was set up in my town’s cock-fighting ring and (occasionally) in the meeting hall of the Liceo society.

I was only 18, but what happened during those 90 days made a deep impression on me. I heard of mid-income people who were ruined by gambling, of workers who lost what little they had to put food on the table and even of people who committed suicide after losing all of their money.

I also saw how chiefs of police would charge the bankers at the different games a “fee”, for protection.

After those nightmarish three months, we heard a rumor that the government was planning on giving these dens of vice permission to establish permanent locales around the country.

On hearing this news, I set out to fight that decision whichever modest way I could. I was a regular listener of the radio program broadcast by COCO, then hosted by union leader Conrado Rodriguez (who later emigrated to the United States).

I immediately wrote a letter explaining what I had seen and heard people say: all of the risks to which the workers were exposed during that time and the profits it represented for the government and the police. It was a fairly long letter that outlined all of the negative aspects of gambling.

I signed the letter with my full name and wrote down my place of residence. The letter was read on the program. Many friends of mine who were older than me made positive comments about that letter.

The next day, after work, while walking down the street, a police officer approached me and, giving me a very nasty look, said to me: “Tell me something, boy. You a journalist?”

“No, I’m not. Why?” I replied.

“If you’re not a journalist, why are you writing for the radio station?”

“You have to be a journalist to write a radio station now?” I answered.

“You be careful, now.” He said and turned his back on me, leaving with the nasty look on his face.

Less than 24 hours went by before I was detained on the street and taken to the police station, where they locked me up in a cell. They pressed charges against me, saying I was wearing a pair of pants similar to those used by the rural police (it was a light brown, very different from the color of their military uniforms). I had to pay a 100-peso bail and leave the pair of pants behind. I was released late at night, after all the paperwork had been filled up.

As of that day, I was detained on several occasions and sent to a court in Santa Clara, never with any evidence against me.

After some time went by and following the triumph of the revolution, I had the opportunity to study at the University of Havana and complete a major in journalism.

One day, I traveled to my province and got on a bus. The same police officer who had once given me a nasty look and asked whether I was a journalist was the driver.

I don’t know whether he recognized me or not but, as I neared my stop, I walked up to him, showed him my work ID and said: “Now I am a journalist.”

He gave me a surprised look, but didn’t say a word. He got back on the bus and left.

9 thoughts on “My First Battle in Cuba

  • The only war in Cuba is the one the dictatorship has waged against the Cuban people for the past 55 years.

  • Like for example one could send an article with the following information to a radio station in Cuba.

    Cuba GPD per capita (current US$) in 1982 was $2,108
    Chile GPD per capita (current US$) in 1982 was $2,108
    Cuba GPD per capita (current US$) in 2011 was $ 6,051
    Chile GPD per capita (current US$) in 2011 was $14,512

  • Obama is hardly my “boy” or anyone else’s for that matter. Your views are outdated by at least 60 years. He is President of the United States, however. Even so, he is unable to lift the embargo without the approval of Congress. Not likely to happen soon. The Castros alone have the power to allow Cubans to have even their most basic human rights. Again, not likely to happen soon. Finally, extreme and fringe views such as the views you hold are not prohibited in the US. It is simply that no one is interested in hearing them. In Cuba, political views other than the Castros are prohibited. Fidel himself said, “Inside the revolution, everything. outside the revolution, nothing”. Just ask the more than 1000 dissidents arrested last month in Cuba for expressing their political views. Here in the US, wackos largely go unheard because no one cares to read or hear you. That is not prohibition, it’s choice.

  • Cubans on this website write a great many criticisms of the Cuban systems , don’t they.
    Cuba is in the middle of a war , isn’t it ?
    The following is included because of your piss-poor memory of such things.
    FYI, for 54 years now the U.S.G has waged a war mainly economic but also terrorist and biological for the purpose of deeply impoverishing the Cuban population as a whole and ultimately causing a return-to-capitalism counter-revolution…….it is a war in all but name .
    That being the case, tell me, In which country that has found itself at war was freedom of the press and speech not limited ?
    and far more than it is inside Cuba ?
    Have your boy Obama call off his (now his) war on the Cuban people if you’d like freedom of expression in Cuba .
    As an anarchist/communist/socialist, I can tell you that the left, as it is represented by those groupings, is effectively banned from the corporate media /main stream media and that, the corporate media’s political spectrum runs from just left of center ( progressive) to far ( moron) right ( Limbaugh , Hannity et al) and completely bans the left.
    As a result just as in Cuba which you are so vociferously criticizing, the most critical and accurate attacks on their respective establishment systems which are found only at scholarly left websites are not allowed to be aired in the USA.
    Those reading this who doubt what I am saying about how the left is excluded from the U.S. ( corporate) media are invited to read Chomsky and Herman’s: ” Manufacturing Consent” and/or
    Chomsky’s “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In A Democratic Society” to understand how this self-censorship works ( NOT a conspiracy, and strictly about money) .
    For examples of facts and opinions THEY DON”T WANT YOU TO KNOW – (this works on TV- getting people to look at what you’re selling ) , try going to ZNet and reading today’s many articles just on the Israeli-Palestinian situation and not only see how the coverage differs from what you’re getting from the corporate media but do some digging and comparisons and see just who is presenting facts , who commit massive lies of omission, who presents criminal and victim as having equally valid arguments ( then YOU DECIDE without knowing jackshit. ) and so forth.
    No far right person can either do this or can bring themselves to do this .
    In the 15 years or so in which I have engaged right wingers in debates, I can count on one hand the numbers who have either read what I suggested or have been able to effectively refute those writings.
    As it is with religion, the right cannot question those in authority and their beliefs are a matter of faith in comfortable lies and near total avoidance of the uncomfortable and inconvenient facts.
    Ironically, these totalitarian ways espoused by the right , do not seem to be noticed by those screaming about dictatorships and totalitarian systems elsewhere .
    It’s some seriously screwed-up thinking for sure.

  • Stupid saying. Elio is obviously unable to see that if he were to disagree with the Castro government of today, he would not even have the chance he had then, under Batista, to sign the letter and have it read during a radio broadcast. Que victoria?

  • This is the freedom we lost in Cuba, the freedom of a radio station broadcasting
    news and articles that reflects the beliefs and ideas of ordinary people even
    if they are to critize the government. Yesterday it was difficult because of the police
    harassment, today impossible because the totalitarianism imposed by the
    communist party.

    Today for example, there is no point for Elio or any other journalist in Cuba, in
    sending an article to a radio station making the communist party responsible
    for the Cuba economic failure, a legacy that will be passed on to the future
    generations. They know it won’t be broadcasted.

  • And how it is better now?

  • Buen gesto de tu parte. Esa injusticia es la que se quería destruir. Desafortunadamente todavìa persiste en otras formas.

  • hasta la victoria siempre, venceremos.

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