On June 10, 1957, New York Times special correspondent Herbert L Mathews reported that “virtually every man, woman, and child in Santiago de Cuba, except police and army authorities, are struggling at all costs to themselves to overthrow the military dictatorship in Havana.” “If Havana had anything like the civic resistance movement of Santiago de Cuba, ” Mathews stated, “the Batista regime might have ended a long time ago.” Mathews went on to describe a reign of terror by recently arrived Lieut. Col. Jose Maria Salas Canizares, selected by Batista to serve as chief of police. Beatings, torture, stabbings, shootings, murder – intimidation and repression, reprisals for talking to outside reporters – Mathews heard accounts of violence and counter-terrorism from all fronts. Those coming forward to talk with him at great personal risk included business and professional groups, workers, union leaders, clergy, peasants, students, Rotarians, mothers, and people on the street. Many Santiagueros were grateful to the Times for reporting the plight of the citizens of Cuba and their determination to resist the Batista regime.
On September 30, 1957, violence struck close to home for Cuba’s embattled President Fulgencio Batista as the New York Times reported that Luis Manuel Martinez, a leader in President Fulgencio Batista’s Progressive party youth movement, was the target of a shooting incident in downtown Havana. Unidentified assailants opened fire on a crowded street, killing a merchant named Sixto Careiro and wounding Martinez and two unnamed victims – a woman and a youth. The youth was arrested when a revolver was found in his possession.
Martinez worked as an assistant editor of the newspaper Tiempo, owned by Batista supporter Senator Rolando Masferrer. According to the Times, he was one of the most active propagandists of the current regime.
Batista, in an NBC interview with Martin Agronsky broadcast on the day of the shooting, reaffirmed for the American viewing audience that he would honor the provisions of Cuba’s constitution by stepping down the following summer, when free elections would be held.
On September 14, 1957, the New York Times reported that Cuban President Fulgencio Batista had recently suppressed a revolt in the town of Cienfuegos in which officers and personnel of his own Navy had taken sides with Fidel Castro against his regime. The previous day, Batista had announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection the following June (he was constitutionally forbidden to succeed himself) but that the suspension of civil liberties would be renewed for another 45 days.
The Cienfuegos revolt, crushed by Army tanks and aircraft, had been instigated by no more than 100 men, Batista claimed, including “a few dissident, illicit men in the Navy”. According to the Times article there were three sources of opposition to Batista: Fidel Castro’s M-26-7 movement; adherents of former President Carlos Prio Socarras, who was deposed by Batista in 1952; and a group of Opposition parties.
On this day, the Times reported that the island “was an armed camp”. Citizens were fearful of a breakdown of authority resulting in a state of chaos; merchants were losing business, tourism was down, businesses wanted to close but were not being permitted to do so by the government. Soldiers patrolled the streets, rounding up opposition figures, and the jails were full of people accused of revolutionary activities. Citizens had little faith in Batista’s government, but also little confidence that change could be achieved through peaceful means at the ballot box. The Times concluded that “despite the bloody revolt, the terrorism and other efforts of the Opposition to force President Batista out of office, he will undoubtedly continue to control the island as long as his Army, the most powerful branch of the armed forces, remains loyal to him.”
Embed from Getty ImagesGloria Estefan, with her husband Emilio, at the 2014 Tony Awards
On September 1, 1957, a baby girl entered the politically charged world of Havana, Cuba. Her father, Jose Fajardo, was a Cuban soldier and bodyguard to embattled President Fulgencio Batista. Her mother, also named Gloria, was the granddaughter of emigres from Asturias and Logrono, Spain. Baby Gloria was still very young when her family was forced to flee Cuba during Castro’s revolution, landing first in Lafayette, Indiana, then settling in Miami, Florida. Jose joined the United States military, served in Viet Nam, and eventually revisited Cuba as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Gloria attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Miami, and graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in psychology, minoring in French. During her college years, Gloria worked at the Miami International Airport in the customs department as an English/Spanish/French translator. She was approached by the CIA during this time as a possible employee, due to her language skills.
In 1976, Gloria met Emilio Estefan of the Miami Sound Machine and they married in 1978. Gloria joined Emilio’s band and during the mid-1980s the Sound Machine produced several Top-10 hits and released an album that went multi-platinum. In 1988, the band’s name was changed to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine; in 1989, the band’s name was dropped and Gloria was credited as a solo artist with the Sound Machine as her backup.
In 1990, Gloria suffered a fractured spine when a semi-truck struck her tour bus. Two titanium rods were implanted near her spinal column and she recovered completely after a year of intensive physical therapy. She later formed the Gloria Estefan Foundation to help others with spinal cord injuries.
Over the years, Gloria Estefan has continued to record chart-topping hits, performed at the 1995 and 1999 Super Bowls and 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, toured the United States and the world, appeared in movies and on television, written children’s books, and become a restaurant and hotel owner. Her awards include seven Grammys, the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the Hispanic Heritage Award, the 1993 National Music Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
A musical based on Gloria and Emilio’s life story is in the works. On Your Feet! will share the story “of two people who – through an unwavering dedication to one another and their pursuit of the American dream – showcased their talent, their music, and their heritage to the world.” On Your Feet! will arrive on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre in October of 2015.
On August 22, 1957, two American men were put on trial in Cuba for carrying unlicensed arms, resisting arrest, and attempting to join the resistance movement of Fidel Castro. The proceedings were held in the Urgency Court in Santiago, created in the 1930s to try terrorists. Russell F. Masker and Thomas M. Miller of Miami, Florida had been arrested on August 9th in the town of San Luis, about thirty miles from Santiago in Cuba’s southeastern Oriente Province, the locus of Castro’s M-26-7 activities. Masker and Miller denied the charges, asserting they had come to Cuba as tourists, had carried no weapons and had not resisted arrest. The New York Times reported that the Urgency Court could sentence the Americans to as much as five years in prison, with no guaranteed right of appeal.
Little is known about Russell Masker and Thomas Miller, either before or after their arrest and trial. Russell Masker makes an intriguing appearance in a Cuban Secret Service (G-2 MINFAR) document dated January 12, 1961. In a report to the secret service department chief, Commander Ramiro Valdes Menedez, about “yanki” (United States) mercenary camps in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Florida, the following statement appears on page 25:
“Last November 22, the ‘Diario de las Americas’ reported the death of North American Russell F. Masker, victim of a stray shot from Cuban Rolando Martinez Capaneria during military instruction in a camp located in ‘Cayo Sin Nombre’, thirty miles from Cayo Hueso [Key West].”
The American-led Bay of Pigs Invasion against the Castro regime took place in April of 1961. Whose side was Masker on?