[LFC Comments: Thanks to Concord Bob for this 2016 article. It tells a true story about what to four American students in Cuba when Fidel Castro rose to power in 1958. We are publishing it with the hope that Americans will start to understand what happens when totalitarian dictators take over after deceiving the masses of a better life for everyone under socialism / communism.
The last names of the students have been redacted to protect their identity.]
The Last Flight From Cuba
Published with permission from the author JLeeB
Edited and formatted by LFC
As part of his decision to normalize relations with Cuba, President Obama has unlocked many doors for U.S. Citizens who want to visit that island nation. But one very large door will remain closed until later this year when regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights are resumed. Charter flights have been permitted for some time, but simply contacting an airline and buying a seat has not been possible since New Year’s Eve 1958 when the airlines “suspended” their service.
That was because the rebel military forces of Fidel Castro were taking over control of the country from Fulgencio Batista, a dictator who was a longtime ally of the U.S. The last flight out was on a small plane owned and operated by an airline named Aerovias Q. It made regular round-trips every day between Key West, Fl. and Havana. Tickets cost just $10 each way and four American college boys were on the last flight out.
The first scheduled flights in 56 years are expected to sell out as soon as tickets are available, with some of the passengers being Cuban who have not been home in more than a half-century. Those passengers are sure to attract attention, with reporters, photographers, and cameramen asking them why they’re going to Cuba and what they plan to do there.
But what about the American citizens who managed to escape Cuba just before Castro took over? What did they see and experience as that island’s civil war came to a close, with the U.S. having supported the losing side? The story of four young Americans who were on the last flight out of Cuba is being told for the first time. What they saw and experienced before and during their frightening trip out is truly remarkable.
Joe [name redacted], a Florida native and Bob [name redacted], who originally hailed from New Hampshire, agreed to talk about their experiences for this story. Bill [name redacted] died last autumn and Joseph [name redacted] of Chappaqua, NY chose not to be involved. The four were members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Miami at Coral Cables and had accepted an invitation from a Cuban fraternity brother to visit during winter break. But the four told their parents they had to return to campus for a “special project”.
But it was a “project” the parents might not have endorsed – a visit to Havana! They would be guests of Carlos Menendez, a member of one of the wealthiest families in Cuba. The four American vacationers met in Miami right after Christmas, 1958, and piled into Bill’s Ford station wagon with artificial wood side paneling. With the radio blaring rock and roll music from Miami radio station AM W?? they drove to the Key West Airport and paid $10 each for one-way tickets to Havana. They knew that Fidel Castro’s rebel army had been waging war against the government for several years, but their frat brother had assured them that Havana was safe and things would be fine.
He was to meet them at Jose Marti airport when they arrived, but he was late, and the Cuban immigration authorities, loyal to Batista, feared the quartet of young Americans might be planning to help Fidel Castro and his ’26th of July’ movement. (That name came from a failed attack by the Castro forces on a Cuban army facility on that date in 1953.) The airport security men emptied their suitcases on the dirty floor and began rifling through the contents. But then their host arrived, accompanied by a colonel from Batista’s army. They all got a laugh as the security men quickly folded their clothes and put them back in their bags.
A friend of Carlos Menendez was behind the wheel as they drove through the Havana streets that had few traffic signals, but seemed to have soldiers on every corner. Carlos, somewhat apologetically, said they would not be staying at his family’s large home in Havana as they had planned. That was because the house was crowded with relatives from the country who had come there to escape Castro’s troops in the country. So they went straight to the Saratoga hotel, a first-class luxury facility, just across the street from the Cuban Capital building which had been built in the 1920’s to resemble the U.S. Capital in Washington. (that hotel would be judged by the Castro regime as an obsolete symbol of the old power structure and was permitted to fall into disrepair, but it was spruced up before President Obama’s visit to Havana in March.)
Carlos assured his frat brothers they would have a great time as his guests and he would handle all their expenses, starting with a fancy suite, complete with room service and a European style bidet, something none of them had ever seen. “We joked that it was a funny-looking drinking fountain,” Joe and Bob said. The young Americans became a bit nervous only when they looked out a window and saw some of Batista’s soldiers in a machine-gun nest on a nearby rooftop with their weapons pointed at the Capital to fend off anyone who might try to take it over.
But other than that discovery, the next few days were pleasant as they dined, danced and drank with Carlos Menendez, and his lovely sister Maria, whom they also knew from “The U”, which was then and still is a nickname for the University of Miami. Occasionally they could hear gunfire, but it was always far off in the distance.
On New Year’s Eve December 31, 1958, their host drove the four young Americans back to the airport. He may have been concerned about the news that the ’26th of July’ forces were on the outskirts of the city, but he put up a brave front.
The airport was almost deserted. They could hear small arms fire in the distance.
“We were frightened,” Bob and Joe admitted. “We knew the Castro forces would want to take over the airport as soon as possible. We were anxious to get out.”
Meanwhile, the ’26th of July’ soldiers were arriving in Havana, and Batista fled Cuba to seek asylum in another country. The ’26th of July’ men were in a celebratory mood as they arrived in cars and trucks, laughing, singing, and shooting their Soviet Union weapons into the air. Many Cubans joined in their celebrations. Most of the police, all of whom owed their jobs to the Batista regime, abandoned their duties. A few stores were looted and homes of some known allies of Batista were vandalized and looted and robbed but for the most part Havana itself was calm.
In the nearly-empty airport, a small group of Americans gathered around a young pilot in an Aerovias Q uniform. He said he was anxious to get back to the U.S. and anyone who wanted out could go with him. Neither Bob nor Joe recalls spending another $10 for a return ticket; they believe that the agent had fled. The gunfire sounded closer and closer. The four Miami students said goodbye to their frat brother, not knowing if they would ever see him again. They and a few others quickly boarded the small twin-engine aircraft. The pilot taxied to the far end of the airport, revved up the engines and took off as quickly as possible.
At the end of the concrete runway, the passengers looked down and saw a dozen or more bodies on the ground. To this day, they don’t know if they were on the Castro side or the Batista side.
Back in Key West, they headed back to “The U” and listened to the news on the Ford station wagon’s AM radio. That’s when they learned they had been on the last flight out of Cuba to the U.S. The next day they learned that Batista had fled the country and that the ’26th of July’ was running the country.
As for Carlos, their Cuban fraternity brother? The four Americans never heard another word from him. The University of Miami had a person assigned to help students from Cuba at that troubled time. From that source, they eventually learned that Carlos, Maria, their parents and several dozen members of their extended family were sent to prison on Cuba’s isle of Pines where they were executed without trials. The new government also seized their thousands of acres of farmland as well as their homes and other buildings.
There are now 10-15 charter flights from the U.S. each day, but as many as 110 U.S.-to – Cuba flights per day are in the near future. Most flights will be to Havana, but nine other cities will also be served to and from the U.S.
[LFC Comments: This article prompted us to do some research on Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. It is interesting to us that this revolutionary “man of the people” ended up to be worth about $900 million at the time of his death.
From the following BBC article, we found an interesting timeline of events in Cuban history:
1944 – Batista retires and is succeeded by the civilian Ramon Grau San Martin.
1952 – Batista seizes power again and presides over an oppressive and corrupt regime.
1953 – Fidel Castro leads an unsuccessful revolt against the Batista regime.
1956 – Castro lands in eastern Cuba from Mexico and takes to the Sierra Maestra mountains where, aided by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, he wages a guerrilla war.
1958 – The US withdraws military aid to Batista.
Triumph of the revolution
1959 – Castro leads a 9,000-strong guerrilla army into Havana, forcing Batista to flee. Castro becomes prime minister, his brother, Raul, becomes his deputy and Guevara becomes third in command.
1960 – All US businesses in Cuba are nationalized without compensation.
1961 – Washington breaks off all diplomatic relations with Havana.
The US sponsors an abortive invasion by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs; Castro proclaims Cuba a communist state and begins to ally it with the USSR. [LFC Comment: This is after Fidel Castro continually denied being a communist.]
1962 – Cuban missile crisis ignites when, fearing a US invasion, Castro agrees to allow the USSR to deploy nuclear missiles on the island. The crisis was subsequently resolved when the USSR agreed to remove the missiles in return for the withdrawal of US nuclear missiles from Turkey.
Organization of American States (OAS) suspends Cuba over its “incompatible” adherence to Marxism-Leninism.
1965 – Cuba’s sole political party is renamed the Cuban Communist Party.
The following video does a good job (for the first 15 minutes) explaining the Cuban revolution.
At the 4:50 mark of the video the narrator explains that the “new” Batista aligns Cuba with American mobsters. It reminded us of the Godfather movie (part 2), and here is a scene where Michael Corleone speaks to Hyman Roth about the good life in Cuba, and the profits to be made.
So what have we learned from this research? Basically, that the sinful nature of man corrupts everything it touches. For all the “good intentions” of leaders trying to create a Utopian society where everyone prospers, the greed of money and power invariably creates dictators that crush all opposition. The end result is the top 1% live like kings and queens, and the balance of society is living a “hell on earth”.
Is this what you want for the United States? If you vote for the current Democrat Party in November, you are voting for the destruction of the United States, as you have known it. Once you lose your freedoms, it is very difficult to regain them. Just ask the Cuban-Americans.