Happy New Year, Cuban Style
In Havana, Christmas of 1958 had not been celebrated with the usual festivity. The week between Christmas and New Year’s was filled with uncertainty and the usual joyous season was suspended by many. Visitations among family and friends were few; as people held their breath waiting to see what would happen. It was obvious that the rebel forces were moving ever closer to Havana and on December 31, 1958, when Santa Clara came under the control of “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, the people knew that Havana would be next. What they didn’t know was that their President was preparing to leave, taking with him a large part of the national treasury. Aside from the tourists celebrating at the casinos and some private parties held by the naïve elite, very few celebrated New Year’s Eve.
A select few left Cuba with Batista, but the majority didn’t find out that they were without a President until the morning of the following day…. January 1, 1959, became a day of hasty departure for many of Batista’s supporters that had been left behind. Those with boats or airplanes left the island nation for Florida or the Dominican Republic, and the rest sought refuge in foreign embassies. The high=flying era of Batista and his chosen few came to a sudden end. Gone were the police that had made such an overwhelming presence while Batista was in power, and in their place were young people wearing black and red “26th of July” armbands. Not wanting a repeat of when Machado fled Cuba, they went around securing government buildings and the homes of the wealthy. Many of these same buildings had been looted and burned after the revolt of 1933.
It was expected that Fidel Castro’s rise to power would be organized and orderly. Although the casinos were raided and gambling tables overturned and sometimes burned in the streets, there was no widespread looting with the exception of the hated parking meters that became symbolic of the corruption in Batista’s government. Castro called for a general “walk-out” and when the country ground to a halt, it gave them a movement time to establish a new government. The entire transition took about a week, while his tanks and army trucks rolled into Havana. The revolutionaries sought out Batista’s henchmen and government ministers and arrested them until their status could be established. A few of Batista’s loyalists attempted to shoot it out and were killed for their efforts. Others were tried and executed, but many were simply jailed, awaiting trial at a later time.
Photo: Sexy dancers entertained patrons at Sans Souci Night Club, during the year of the Castro Revolution. It was one of several casinos having legalized gambling in Havana. Cuba’s lucrative gambling industry reportedly was divided between Batista’s Regime and U.S. gangsters, who were dealing themselves huge profits. (AP Photo)
Captain Hank Bracker is the author of the award winning book “The Exciting Story of Cuba.” The Exciting Story of Cuba is available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, BooksAMillion.com, as well as independent book sellers. Read, Like and share his daily blogs and weekly commentaries found on his Website, Facebook, Goodreads & Twitter accounts. Comments can best be sent to PO Box 607, Elfers, FL 34680.