Enrique Encinosa’s select body of work pursues one calling and one moral mission: Encinosa seeks justice, freedom and recognition for The Cuban Resistance Movement. He wants the world to know the brutal atrocities they are subjected to under Castro’s authoritarian regime, while asking America not to forget the aspirations, spirit and suffering of the Cuban resistance. He warns that the flames of rebellion are ebbing and they no longer know where to turn. Among other things, Unvanquished is an analytical and introspective in its review of why the “Bay of Pigs” and other military efforts in Cuba have failed.
Encinosa was born in Havana in 1949. A graduate of Purdue University and a leading authority on the Republic of Cuba, he came to the United States after Castro assumed political control. Unvanquished, like Encinosa’s three previous books, The Unfinished Revolution (1989), Escambray (1989) and Cuba At War (1994) address the Cuban people’s ongoing battle against their government. “For over half a century Castro’s Regime has enjoyed a vogue far out of proportion to its merit,” Encinosa writes. In Encinosa’s view it is the media exposure that turned a “guerrilla into a commercial trademark.”
Encinosa tells Cuba’s story using the formidable yet innocent words of those agonizing under a ruthless dictatorship. He has citizens like Agapito Rivera speak directly to the reader: “I was poor, extremely poor. I had nothing except the hope of some day having something.” Encinosa achieves a poignant immediacy by threading personal emotional lines throughout his historical account. Unvanquished is informative, radiant and heart rendering.
By infusing history with passion and immersing the reader in the events, Encinosa stimulates the reader to re-think the USA/CUBAN relationship both past and present. As a result the reader acts almost as a participant in the action. Encinosa’s vocabulary is straight-forward and readable, and the story is compassionately told. His chapters are short and hold one in a state of expectation, and as a result the author draws the reader directly into events as eyewitnesses. For instance, Encinosa sites Lambert, a rebel:
“I ate roots, any kind that didn’t taste bitter, and I chewed on pieces of sugar cane. The inside of my mouth and my gums were cut and bleeding. Sugar cane is very tough. I had climbed a tree. The militia were sweeping the area looking for me, and they passed below me firing their weapons into the sugar cane field, chopping down the canes, thinking I was in there. When they came back, one man saw me. The militia pointed their rifles up the tree. I had no possible escape.”
According to the author the Cuban Revolution was not for Castro specifically, but rather against the corruption of Batista. The decrees in the “Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra” held no allusion to Marxism. Rafael Diaz Balart, Castro’s brother-in-law is quoted as saying, “Fidel is not a Communist, Fidel is simply himself.” Encinosa describes Castro as a man lacking any moral character, and as one who praises Hilter and Mussolini as heroes. Encinosa’s words ring true and with alarming clarity as he shows how easy it was for Castro’s manipulative and criminal mind to gain control over all within Cuba’s borders.
Encinosa expresses both anger and sympathy in his rhetoric. His sympathy is for a failed resistance against Castro, and his anger is toward America and its lack of a sustainable commitment to the rebellion. He says that America never understood the type of guerrilla warfare being fought. America’s bold large-scale strategies did not match the subtle, illusive supply chain needs of the Cuban ground forces. Encinosa asserts unequivocally that America had no idea of how a clandestine movement against Castro should or could work.
Anibal Escalante a lawyer with strong links to the KGB saw Castro’s potential for fostering Communism in this hemisphere. The moderate government initially set up by Castro was a shadow government; the real government was intended to move Cuba towards Marxism. The PSP or Popular Socialist Party members were given managerial positions, replacing employees with PSP supporters, and instilling a new ideology in the country. This Coup was not without incident. People suspected of harboring support for Batista were put to death. As Encinosa writes, “Blood ran in the streets.” Television was used to strike fear into people by showing firing squads shooting dissenters. Castro never missed an opportunity to remind people of Batista’s torture chambers.
As Encinosa makes abundantly clear, democracy never really existed in Cuba; there was only Castro. Those who dissented were never heard from again—their deaths were attributed to suicide when they were murder. He sites Tony Salgado’s capture and truck transport in which nine men died:
“It was dark inside the truck. As we began moving, prisoners were falling, bumping into each other. It was hot, very hot, until it became an oven. Sweat poured from us. With every mile it became harder to breathe… some vomited.”
Encinosa also describes how, once in power, Castro attempted to seek favor for his regime. Castro would raise the salaries of his cronies, lower rents, reduce electrical and phone rates, but the Cuban people were never fooled by these Trojan Horses. The real changes on Castro’s part represented a fraudulent lust for power without concern for the consequences.
Anti-Castro resistance existed across the island as an underground network. Encinosa tells the reader that it was not a CIA creation. However, its flaw was a general lack of ability to unite and coordinate: there was always a new leader to follow. In some ways the resistance sought to emulate French armed resistance against the Nazis. They bombed government offices and burnt sugar cane fields to destroy the economy. Castro’s response was to increase his National Militia to over 200,000 men. The 2000 in the resistance were defeated by the sheer scale of the government forces.
The guerillas came together in the Escambray Mountains, but from the beginning nothing went right. The air drops from the USA failed and most fighters were captured and executed. Encinosa shows unique insight into Castro’s black heart when he relates how Castro would have the men first shot with blanks before actually killing them. Finally Encinosa admits that the resistance was doomed to fail, for the resistance was not really one group of fighters as the outside world believed. Rather, it consisted of many small groups. Some that had even, at one time, fought each other. Many were reluctant to fight as comrades for one cause.
In terms of the U.S. response, Eisenhower had initially wanted to use air strikes but Kennedy later would choose the Bay of Pigs. The reader cannot help but agonize with the Cuban people as they sit listening to the CIA radio station supply false reports of victory. Encinosa’s descriptions of war are explicit, and the reader can feel the crushing blow of failed promises. After the failed insurrection only a small number of rebels remained to pass the torch. They suffered later of depression and alcoholism, and yet Encinosa details how the ember of their freedom lives on.
Aside from providing a fascinating historical study, Unvanquished can also serve as a reminder of how easily freedom is lost and how hard it is to regain. It is a story of broken trust and lack of leadership. It is a story of cruelty and fear. It is a story that is not over.
I recommend all Americans read Unvanquished. As we speak Castro and others of his ilk are plotting the expansion of their own policy and economic interest in Latin and South America and Mexico. They support the propaganda of Iran and North Korea. They intrude on the elections of their neighbors; they buy allies with economic strategies and subvert the foundational structure of democratic governments to their own ends. Castro is refashioning authoritarianism for a democratic age. Despite its warm climate, Cuba is but the tip of an iceberg. Let us heed Encinosa’s warning.
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