Present at the Creation: my years in Cuba

The generation that witnessed the birth of Communist dictatorship passes on the torch

Brigade 2506
December 1962 President Kennedy is presented the flag of the 2506 Brigade. Miami, Florida, Orange Bowl Stadium. L-R: Eneido Oliva, Miami Mayor Robert King High, Jose Perez San Roman, Manuel Artime, President Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy, former Cuban President Jose Miro Cardona, and Reverend Ismael Lugo. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Dedicated to the heroes of the Brigade 2506 and the underground resistance

“Had I been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.” This nostalgic expression of Alfonso X King of Castile (1252-1284) inspired the title of Dean Acheson’s memoirs “Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department.”  Acheson (1893-1971) was not just present at the creation of the postwar world; he was one of its architects until he left office as Secretary of State in 1953.

Similarly, my generation was present at the creation of Cuba’s totalitarian state beginning in 1959 and has witnessed the socioeconomic devastation of a nation.  In the introduction to my book “Reflections on Freedom,” I recount the story of how I was ten years old in January 1959 when the Cuban revolution came to town. Like most Cuban children I was captivated by the circus-like and storybook qualities of that surreal experience.

I did not then apprehend the antecedents and the consequences, and it did not take long for the storybook heroes to turn into villains. Within a year I had joined the underground urban resistance fighting against the Castro regime.  

Following the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, my father concluded that for our safety, my brothers and I should leave Cuba. Thus, in June 1961, I left Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, the largest exodus of unaccompanied children in the history of the Western Hemisphere. I began life in the United States as a thirteen-year-old political exile with an indelible, if juvenile idea of our individual freedoms and how they must be protected. I was never able to see my father again, and I have never returned to my place of birth as I vowed never to return until Cuba was once again free.

I beg the reader’s indulgence for this melancholic walk on memory lane. But, as the cohort of those present at the creation dwindles, it is important to convey the angst for freedom of a generation of Cuban-Americans that has fought valiantly defending freedom for both their adopted homeland and their place of birth.  My generation is that of the aging heroes of the Cuban urban resistance of the 1960’s, of the Bay of Pigs invasion, of the uprising in the Escambray mountains, of the Pedro Pan exodus, of the Vietnam War.

Our generation, present at the creation of a totalitarian regime in our homeland, has not succeeded in bringing freedom to Cuba. And perhaps, like Alfonso X, we could have done more for the better ordering of the universe. But we have succeeded admirably in transmitting a love of country – for both the United States and Cuba- and democratic values to our children and grandchildren.

Those inheriting our struggle understand freedom as a state of being and a state of consciousness. Our children and grandchildren apprehend the free flow of information, economic freedom, human rights, political liberty, transparency, freedom of speech, and empowerment of the individual as a way of life. Their freedom-fighting tactics may differ from ours, but these are values they will not repudiate by embracing tyrannical collectivism.

We are passing the torch to a generation that understands instinctively that economic well-being is a consequence of freedom, and that to value freedom is an insightful philosophical and moral achievement. It is a generation that grew up listening to our stories of a lost country and has learned the lessons of Pericles as he sought to inspire the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War: “Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.”

The youngest of my generation are now in their 70s, and we are necessarily passing the responsibility and the honor of defending freedom to a new generation that was not present at the creation of Cuba’s totalitarian state. But, like a mirror at the end of the road, this generation will honor us by being present at the creation of a democratic nation.


Dr. Azel‘s latest book is “Reflections on Freedom.”


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