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Cuban Stories of Winston Churchill.

July 1, 2009 in Personalities in Cuba |

By: Liborio País

Winston Churchill in CubaWhen looking at one of the many available pictures of Winston Churchill one doesn’t need to be very accurate to  notice the link between the  famous British statesman and Cuba. His well known image invariably appears smoking one of the distinguished Cuban Cigars “Romeo y Julieta”, that’s why the cigar company decided to give the name Churchill to one of their best sold “vitolas”. But you’d be mistaken to think  this is the only existing bond, without going deeper into the trajectory of the person that would guide England in the hard times of the second world war.
 

Just a little after the conservatives lost the elections and Churchill had to step down from the prime minister chair, he arrived in Cuba  exactly on the 1st of February of 1946. Churchill was accompanied by his wife Clementine and his daughter Sarah and stayed at Cuba National Hotel monopolizing the interest of all the Cuban society of the time.

 

 He was already 71 years old but the vitality that allowed him to successfully face so many battles in his rich existence were evidently intact. This was quickly noticed by the hotel workers who, after the departure of the distinguished guest and as a response to the curiosity of the press on knowing the details of Churchill’s stay, commented that the man began to cause trouble at early morning times. Churchill would wake up at 5 in the morning and from that moment on he would raise hell in  the whole hotel staff. His whims were overwhelming for those who had the mission to serve him well as if he still were  the English primer.

One rainy day, upset because the weather did not allow him to take his usual swim in the pool, he suddenly ordered to pack his suitcases to leave and later on counter-ordered to unpack them as soon as the sun came out. Another day , as if by magic, Churchill disappeared for several hours. Not even Clementine could respond to where he could have gone. The man resisted the passing of time and  giving up certain pleasures of life. Much later, it would be known that Sir Churchill had escaped to  enjoy the beauty of the women of Havana in an exclusive and secluded house of ill – repute. He spent his free time playing cards with whoever would care to accompany him and the press of the time wrote: “He eats, drinks and smokes without restrictions of any class. And a lot.”

It was also said  that, on one occasion Churchill asked to be taken for a drive around the city in a convertible and, since the Cuban protocol did not have any such  vehicle, the proprietor of the Partagás cigar factory, maybe in an attempt to  snatch the famed client from “Romeo y Julieta, offered his own car and served as a driver in exchange for a visit to the Partagás Factory. Almost at the end of his stay, as it was expected to occur, he was invited for lunch by the president of the republic Ramón Grau San Martín. Lunch offered yet another anecdote. Churchill left to the Presidential Palace, with all the etiquette the occasion demanded and gave reliable proof of his English origin as the delegation drove around the palace for 10 minutes in order for the ex-premier and the statesman to meet at the scheduled time. Yes Sir, punctuality first. When lunch ended, the Cuban president made Churchill go out to one of the terraces of the presidential house to observe the people of Havana who had gathered to greet him. He spoke to the crowd, in perfect Spanish; he said: “ I take this opportunity to say “Long Live the Pearl of the Antilles!”

At the end of his stay in the Island he made an enthusiast declaration: “If I did not have to meet with President Truman, I would stay here for a month”.

He left to the United States ending his final contact with the Island. This was the last, but not the first. Many years earlier, as many as 50, the initial encounter between Churchill and the Caribbean Pearl took place. It was in Cuba he had had his fire baptism in his twenty first anniversary.

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On November 30, 1895, the young official Winston Churchill did not have time to celebrate his birthday as, forming part of the Spanish troops that tried to hunt down the Mambises led by General Máximo Gómez in the region of Sancti Spiritus, he found himself in the middle of a skirmish where, a bullet failed to injure him by only one feet from his head, killing the horse that followed his. Of the incident he would then write in his memoirs: “At least this way, I had been under fire; from this moment I commenced to adopt a more analytic position of our enterprise in Cuba from the one  I had before”.

What was Winston Churchill doing in Cuba? Well, “adventure for the sake of adventure”, as we would later write himself in his recollections.

One year after he joined the military academy of Sandhurst, and since England had not been  involved in a martial action for a while, he dedicated his vacation to coming to Cuba to observe the already long conflict between the Spanish metropolis and the Cuban “ mambises” to experience war and to report for the London journal The Daily Graphic. This time, his visit to the island lasted a month. The reasons for his departure are not clear: He could have been forced to leave due to  the scandal that provoked  in London the presence of a British military in a foreign conflict; but maybe it was that incident of the bullet  letting him live on the day of his birthday that forced him to come back  and look for more  pressing ideals.

In Cuba, Churchill received the first of his numerous laurels; the Red Cross, which was granted to the Spanish Officers. Of his fellow combatants he wrote: “I have not given much thought to their bravery, although they are very well versed in the art of retreat”.

He also dedicated, in his ample biography, long passages to the Cuban patriots of the

“ Manigua”: “The insurgents gain popular support constantly. There is no doubt they benefited from the sympathy of the majority of the Cuban population.”…”they were armed with a terrible knife called the machete”.

Of his presence in Cuba with the Spaniards a myth was created which haunted him for many years although he tried to get rid of it in several occasions. Anyway, in 1930, absorbed in enrolling the United States into World War II, an American congress man accused him of being an enemy of the United States in the war of 1898 against Spain. Truth be told, by this time Churchill was in India or in the south of Africa, yet drawn by his passion for rum and cigars from his “Pearl of the Antilles”.


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