Thursday, April 3, 2008


This month Smithsonian has an article "Comrades in Arms" about the work of Hungarian-born photographer Andrew St. George (not his birth name) which chronicles the beginnings of the revolution. A staunch anti-communist, he fled his native country with the arrival of the Russians.
One of those characters Cuba seems to have attracted, he covered the Cuban Revolution as a free lance journalist because he, like the Cuban people, thought it was a nationalist, not communist revolution. And like many of the Cuban people, he left when he became disillusioned with that same revolution.

He sold his contact sheet of one of the first big rallies in Havana to Yale University where 35 years later, Lillian Guerra found the money to sort, catalogue and digitize them. It is a sad commentary, but I find myself vetting people politically as I read because in the case of Cuba and life in general, it pays to know your sources. I started wondering about Guerra after this quote in the article:

St. George's work "makes the Cuban revolution come alive," Guerra says. "What we get [in the United States] is so top-down—so much about what's wrong with Cuba. And in Cuba, the government encourages Cubans to believe they are in a constant state of war, with invasion from the United States threatened all the time."

After a little legwork, I find that the good professor, the child of Cuban parents, is one of those who believes in building bridges, is in fact one of the signatories to this fine document, not to mention "Historians against the War." All of which means nothing in terms of the images she saved for posterity, but which does tend to caution against her interpretation of events.

"It's during this rally that Fidel for the first time turns to the crowd and says, ‘If you agree with what we're doing, raise your hand,' " says Lillian Guerra, an assistant professor of Caribbean history at Yale University. Later, she says, Castro's calling for shows of hands at such rallies "became officially a substitute for electoral voting."

Fodder for thought.

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