Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

We are pleased to bring you the interactive version of the Cuba 1952-1959 Timeline by Manuel Márquez-Sterling. This includes the key events from the 10 March 1952 coup that established the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista through the establishment of the Castros' replacement dictatorship, including the activities of Castro's M-26-7, other revolutionary movements (e.g. the DR and FEU) and of the Constitutionalist-Electoralist opposition to Batista. Click on the following link to open the timeline in a new window:
Cuba 1952-1959 Timeline

The timeline includes primarily events in Cuba, but also includes foreign events bearing directly on Cuba during that time, such as those concerning international press coverage of the Castro Revolution, US-Cuba policy, Cuban revolutionaries in exile, and Castro and his followers in Mexico.

We hope this Cuba History timeline will be useful to readers in building a contextual map of the individual historical events discussed at length in this blog, and as a quick reference tool to get a brief description for events of interest. The timeline provides information about individual events along with the big picture they piece together. By clicking on events on the timeline you will open a window with more information about that event, including links to further information.

Use the timeline viewer Zoom control to drill down and examine events in more detail, and getting a closer look at events of smaller importance which are not visible in high level views. The use of the Zoom control and the other timeline viewer features is explained in our Timeline Quick Start Guide. This will help in getting started if you’re not already familiar with this timeline viewer software. The Quick Start Guide post includes a link to our starter timeline which is simpler to start with than the richer and more detailed Cuba 1952-1959 Timeline.

We are giving consideration to also making available this timeline data in text form. We are especially interested to hear from readers about the form they find most useful and engaging for timeline data.

The software used to create the timeline is TimeGlider formerly Mnemograph. Though still in beta, we have found it a very useful data visualization tool.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Revolutionary Boot

Cuba Photo Reflections

Cuban rebel Camilo Cienfuegos talking on the phone
in the Presidential Palace, Havana, Cuba Jan. 1959
photo by Joseph Scherschel, LIFE

Contrary to myth and the official “triumphalism” of the Castro regime and its apologists, not all Cubans were out on the streets celebrating Fidel Castro’s victory in January 1959. There were also hundreds of thousands who decided to stay home. Many of these Cubans—like my family—had opposed Batista all along, but had also adamantly rejected Castro and his thugs as a solution to the political crisis provoked by Batista’s coup seven years before. And these Cubans were painfully aware that an endless night of horror was now descending over our country.

I remember very well the warning my father repeated in so many of his campaign speeches and public appearances, that “Castro’s victory would signify tyranny and totalitarianism for Cuba and Cubans.” But still, human nature being what it is, during those first days of 1959, overlooking hundreds of executions, people herded like cattle, kangaroo courts, arbitrary incarcerations and property confiscations, I still hoped against all hope that somehow my father’s predictions would be wrong. In search for a flicker of reassurance that the revolutionary turmoil would abate, and peace and fraternity would return to Cubans, I listened to hundreds of fiery revolutionary speeches on radio, and for hours watched the chaotic events unfolding on TV. My search was in vain. My father’s prophecies were materializing on an hourly basis as brutal truth.

Although these events were horrible and bloody enough to extinguish any remaining hopes, I vividly remember when the last faint hopes were finally dashed and my worst fears finally confirmed: seeing the photo at the top of this post. In a blinding flash, seeing it illuminated both my heart and intellect.

The image captured what the photographer and father of photojournalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson, called “the decisive moment”. The photo was taken at the Presidential Palace (Cuba’s official presidential residence) by a LIFE magazine photographer, probably on January 8, 1959— the day of Castro’s Roman Consular style arrival in Havana.

There’s truth in the faux Chinese proverb that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. I would add that, like beauty, such revelation depends on the eye of the beholder: to extract the treasure the observer must know how and what to look for in the picture.

This photograph encompasses a whole history lesson. The barbudo is Camilo Cienfuegos, not the worst specimen of the barbudo gang, wearing combat boots stained with the blood of those executed by “Revolutionary Justice” in the Sierra Maestra. Camilo is on the phone, unmindful that he’s stepping on a portrait of Marta Fernández de Batista ripped out from its frame, or that his boot is serving as the stand-in for the Revolution’s jackboot crushing all that came before and does not fit its design for change.

Had it been Batista’s portrait under the bloody boot, one could understand it. But unleashing destructiveness on innocent wives and families who are not responsible for the actions and deeds of their husbands or fathers sent me a powerful message. The message was “we are here, and beware- the revolution makes no distinctions between innocent and guilty, they all belong to a damned past. And we intend to stamp out that past and its patrimony.”

That portrait, even though of Batista’s wife at the time, already belonged to the Cuban people’s cultural and historic patrimony. It should have been taken down and sent to the National Historical Museum, or at least put aside in a corner of the building. But there it was, vandalized and discarded, a subliminal message of what Cuba had to expect from these revolutionary thugs, who for 50 years have sold the cultural patrimony of Cuba to the highest bidder. There it was, the history of the future, emerging from under the jackboot. Looking at that picture I finally realized that the old Republic that had served its people well, if for a brief and shining moment, was not long for this world. The old Republic was the true victim that day and would be sacrificed along with everything and everyone in it.

This incident is linked in my memory to another story about a revolutionary mob and a painting. In the chaos of the revolution that overthrew dictator Gerardo Machado in 1933 (and the coup that first made Batista a public and political figure), a mob vandalized and burnt the offices El Heraldo de Cuba, a newspaper that had become the official voice of Machado’s dictatorship. Years before, El Heraldo had belonged to my grandfather, Don Manuel Márquez-Sterling, who had been its Director and Editor in Chief. When he sold the paper, the new owners honored him by commissioning the distinguished artist Esteban Valderrama to paint a portrait of him to be hung in their conference room. When the mob ransacked the El Heraldo building they threw all its furniture and contents into the street and burned them.

Years later, when my father was Cuba’s Speaker of the House, a mysterious man who would not give his name showed up at my father’s office. He told my father that he had been part of the mob that sacked El Heraldo, and that ever since he had been ashamed of what the mob and he had done, particularly the destruction of so many objects that belonged to the national patrimony. He added that seeing Don Manuel’s portrait just before all the contents of the building were set ablaze, he took it and left. The mysterious man carried a tube under his arm which he gave to my father. It contained the rescued portrait. Without asking for anything in return, the remorseful mystery man left never to be heard from again.

Camilo and the Mystery Man provide us a striking contrast: The barbudo with his boot on Marta Fernandez de Batista revealing that the revolution had come to indiscriminately destroy all vestiges of the past; and the Mystery Man who had come to restore, ashamed of what a mob had done to destroy the patrimony of someone who had nothing to do with Machado’s dictatorship, and who in fact represented so many noble achievements of our republic’s history. Small wonder the generation whose revolution overthrew Machado restored the old republic and revitalized it with reforms and new laws that made the new Cuban republic one of the most advanced and prosperous in the Western Hemisphere. By the same token, small wonder that the companions of the barbudo standing in the halls that formerly represented the executive majesty of the nation, with his boot on a ripped out painting canvas, have brought Cuba to a dead end of misery, despair, and hatred, and her “twenty fifth hour.”

There are some photographs of the mob sacking El Heraldo. They do not capture that even in that dark moment a glimmer of light and decency was to be found. And even less evident was that the same darkness carried the seeds of another revolution that 26 years later would not be content with destroying a Valderrama painting of Don Manuel but would seek to eradicate all traces of his legacy. But amidst the horrors of that latter day mob’s 50 year reign of terror there are glimmers of light. It would greatly please my grandfather that despite Castro’s effort to erase Cuba’s past and his closure of the Manuel Márquez-Sterling National School of Journalism, enough of Don Manuel’s legacy endures that in 2001 a band of brave journalists named their professional society and school after him (Sociedad de Periodistas Manuel Márquez Sterling). Don Manuel would be very pleased to see his name associated with, and used to rally the work of these champions of liberty and truth who’ve paid so dearly and sacrificed so much to fight for freedom of the press in Castro’s Cuba.

Much as King Canute learned that the power of rulers could not hold back the tide, Castro and his followers will discover, with less piety, that the tidal wave of history will overtake them and historical truth will eventually wash over the island of Cuba.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cuba Timeline Quick Start Guide

We are excited to announce the publication later this month of a Cuba 1952-1959 timeline by Manuel Márquez-Sterling. This will include the key events from the coup that established the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista through the rise of the revolutionary movements leading to its replacement by the Castro dictatorship.

Among the challenges in presenting a rich body of knowledge (like the one we are assembling on the history of Cuba 1952-1959) is how to present detailed information in ways that help avoid getting lost in detail and losing sight of the big picture. One of the ways we've exploring to address that challenge is software for visualizing event data as a graphical timeline.

We hope the Cuba 1952-1959 timeline will be useful to those interested in key events of that critical period in Cuban history, the big picture of those events, and a map to navigate to events and themes of greatest interest.

As a preview to give you a sense of what the Cuba 1952-1959 graphical timeline will look like, and to let you test drive the timeline viewer, we offer you the following sample timeline populated with events relevant to Cuban history of the last fifty years:
Cuba 1959-2009

To help get you started below is a brief guide to the timeline viewer software. The link to the 50 year sample Cuba 1959-2009 timeline will open in a new window, so this Quick Start Guide will still be open so you can easily refer to it when looking at the timeline.

Timeline Viewer Quick Start Guide
Below is a picture of timeline viewer interface, with notes summarizing its major features (numbered in red in the picture).

1 Calendar time bar is at bottom of window, its scale can be changed with Zoom control (3).

2 Events: each positioned so its icon lines up horizontally with its date on the calendar time bar. The span of events that take place over more than a day is shown by a shaded bar. Mouse over any event to see its date(s), click on any event to see more information about it.

3 Zoom control: click and drag slider, moving it up and down to set the time bar scale desired. Moving the slider upwards zooms in, for more detailed view, shrinking time scale view (less time visible). Moving the slider down zooms out giving a more general view with less detail and expanding the time scale so more calendar time is visible on screen. When zooming out, some detail is lost, not all events are visible when zooming out to very large time scale. If you reload the page you will restart at the original zoom level.

4 Time Navigation arrows: click on these to move forward (right) or backward (left) in time.

5 Clicking on Go To opens up a window where you can enter a date to center on the timeline bar. This is especially helpful if you have Zoom control set to scale where all the events on the timeline are not visible in the window, or if you want to navigate to distant date.

6 Clicking on the small triangle under the title pops up a set of buttons, one is list

7 Clicking on list opens up a window with list of events in the timeline. This is especially helpful if you have the Zoom control set to a scale where not all event titles are visible in the window. Like other popup windows, this can be closed by clicking on the X in the upper right corner of the window.

The software used to create the timeline is Mnemograph. Though still in beta, those of you are who are teachers or work with large sets of time-coded data may find it worthwhile to consider it as a data visualization tool.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life in Cuba of the 50s photos


Reader response to the Cuba 50s LIFE photos post and photo collection links in the sidebar persuades us to expand 1950s Life in Cuba photos and links.

We invite readers to send us links to photos taken in Cuba 1952-1959, with primary interest in historical figures and events, but also other photographs showing what life in Cuba of the 1950s was really like. We hope that a selection from these photographs will bear witness to the reality of pre-Castro Cuba, helping to unmask the fictions so successfully foisted by the Castro revisionists and propagandists.

In addition to sending links to Cuba 50s photos already on the web, consider uploading your own pictures and sending links to those (with short description). The many free services to publish and tag your own pictures on the web include Picasa and Flickr. You will find more information about these, including instructions for uploading, at these links:
Although Flickr is the more popular of the two, Picasa offers a number of strong advantages including more photo albums, more storage, better desktop integration, and avoiding Flickr terms provision of deleting accounts inactive for 90 consecutive days.

Please send links to Cuba 50s photos you want to contribute via comment to this post or email.