Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Carlos Prio Socarras: Cuba's last democratically elected president ( October 10,1948 - March 10, 1952)

There once was a free republic in Cuba.

Cuba's last democratic president, Carlos Prio Socarras, was elected by Cubans in free and fair elections on July 1, 1948 and assumed office 70 years ago today on October 10, 1948. He was not perfect, but he was a democrat who respected civil liberties and presided over years of prosperity and freedom for Cubans. 

President Prio belonged to the Autentico Party and was succeeding Ramon Grau San Martin, another member of the same political party in the Cuban presidency. Both men respected human rights, and this was reflected by the actions taken by their diplomats at the founding of the United Nations.

Cuban diplomats invited Winston Churchill to lunch at the Cuban Embassy in London in December of 1945 and proposed the creation of a human rights commission for the United Nations. Beginning in 1945 Cuba took part in the drafting of the declaration and submitted nine proposals of which five made it into the final document.

The late Bishop Agustín Román on December 16, 2006 spoke of this chapter in Cuban history and "the important role the delegation of the Republic of Cuba to the United Nations in 1948 in the drafting and promulgation of the Universal Charter, particularly by Drs. Dihigo Ernesto, Guillermo Belt, and Guy Pérez-Cisneros is a historical fact."

The final draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was recognized by these Cuban diplomats as one that would have been “accepted by that generous spirit who was the apostle of our independence: Jose Marti, the hero who -- as he turned his homeland into a nation -- gave us forever this generous rule: ‘With everyone and for the good of everyone.’”

On December 9, 2017 Pablo Pérez-Cisneros Barreto, the son of Guy Pérez-Cisneros y Bonnel, wrote of his father and the national legacy that is bound up in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    My late father believed that the declaration is the fruit of the great efforts of our civilization and human progress, a unique moment in which humanity came of age in its civic education; that it is also a source of inspiration for the formation of today’s citizens, and not cause for divisions among them. [...] Cuba had the distinction of being the country that proposed the finished declaration be put up for its final UN vote on Dec. 10, 1948. Hard to believe now but Cuba was once a leader when it came to human rights. And it is important to note that nine initiatives proposed in 1945’s Cuba became part of the final declaration, and that Cuba was the country that entrusted the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in San Francisco to prepare the declaration as early as 1946. The third preamble of the declaration is a copy of one of the articles of the famed 1940 Cuban Constitution, and Cuba had the initiative to include in the declaration the right to honor one’s human rights and reputation, as well as protect citizens against arbitrary government interference in their private lives.  Cuba presented the first amendment to the draft declaration which was accepted, adding the right of citizens of any member country to follow the vocation they choose. Cuba presented a second amendment which was also accepted — the right of every worker to receive an equitable and satisfactory payment for their work.
The Castro regime claims to be a nationalist regime proud of Cuba's accomplishments, but when it comes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the role played by a democratic Cuba in 1948 in its drafting, it is silent and the document itself is banned in Cuba.

Both Carlos Prio Socarras and Ramon Grau San Martin were democrats who rejected hatred and offered a pluralistic path to governance. They were the anti-thesis of what came later.  President Prio Socarras warned Cubans not to be consumed by hatred, but his warnings were not heeded and as we approach more than six decades of dictatorship his words were all to prophetic.
Do not be overly alarmed, however, by my words. For there is no reign of evil in Cuba, nor is your nation governed by the violence unleashed. What I fear is that it may be one day, because you knew how to decipher the secret of the times when you warned that "whips will pick up who sows whips" and that "the one who unleashes winds harvests storms", and for that day of the harvest of storms and whips, you see me from now worried. Rise up and tell the few Cubans that tend to the garden of your island, that they uproot the poisonous flower of hatred and throw the plant into the abysses of oblivion!*
Cuban democracy ended on March 10, 1952 with Fulgencio Batista's coup and 68 years later it has still not returned. Sadly as the years pass and those who lived those glory years of democracy leave us they begin to be viewed as myth. Add to that the current dictatorship's rewriting of history to diminish this democratic age in order to justify its own tyrannical rule and one can understand how the world would forget Cuba's own democratic chapter. 

Carlos Prio, Ramon Grau, Carlos Hevia: Three Cuban presidents
 Yet there is one witness who spoke out on behalf of the Republic on October 16, 1953 that the tyranny cannot ignore: Fidel Castro. During his trial for the July 26, 1953 armed assault on the Moncada Barracks he addresed the court and described Ramon Grau's and Carlos Prío's presidencies:
Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom. The people were not satisfied with the government officials at that time, but they had the power to elect new officials and only a few days remained before they would do so. Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, radio and television debates and forums and public meetings. The whole nation pulsated with enthusiasm. This people had suffered greatly and although it was unhappy, it longed to be happy and had a right to be happy. It had been deceived many times and it looked upon the past with real horror. This country innocently believed that such a past could not return; the people were proud of their love of freedom and they carried their heads high in the conviction that liberty would be respected as a sacred right. They felt confident that no one would dare commit the crime of violating their democratic institutions. They wanted a change for the better, aspired to progress; and they saw all this at hand. All their hope was in the future.
President Carlos Prío Socarras and his wife Mary Tarrero de Prío went into exile in Miami, but his struggle for a democratic Cuba did not end there. He would be arrested on more than one occasion accused of smuggling arms to rebels in Cuba seeking to overthrow Fulgencio Batista.

According to Ramón L. Bonachea and Marta San Martin in their book The Cuban insurrection, 1952-1959 in August of 1956, Fidel Castro and Carlos Prío met at a small hotel in McAllen, Texas where for over an hour they discussed the future of the insurrection against Batista. Castro asked Prío for money and the former president agreed to finance Castro’s expedition to Cuba. Prío would send the Cuban guerrillas almost one quarter of a million dollars in arms and money. Prío got other associates to contribute thousands of dollars more in cash to the guerrillas.

President Harry Truman shakes hands with President Carlos Prio
The last constitutional president of Cuba had publicly announced his plan to return to the island as early as 1955 and did so during a brief "amnesty" in 1956 only to be expelled at gun point a short time later and would return again in January 1959 with Fulgencio Batista's departure into exile. Only to depart for exile again in December 1960 as they saw the new government turning into a military dictatorship.

On June 11, 1961 Carlos Prío Socarras addressed 1,200 Cubans in exile and pledged to aid the Cuban underground. He would go on to aide and plan efforts to combat Castro's military dictatorship as he had done earlier against Batista.

As the 1960s drew to a close and the armed struggle against Castro's dictatorship drew to a close Carlos Prío in 1973 sought to preempt efforts at a negotiated solution in which democratic Cubans were not participants boldly proposing that Cuban exiles seek to insert themselves in the dialogue taking place between Nixon and Breshnev and negotiate the island's future. The proposal was met with wariness and opposition going no where.

Carlos Prío Socarras died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound on April 5, 1977 in his garage in Miami. Carlos Prío from his youth battling the Machado dictatorship as a University student in the 1930s to his later struggles against Batista in the 1950s and Castro in the 1960s and 70s he spent a life struggling against dictatorships of all ideological tendencies. Seeing the destruction of Cuba and the suffering of the Cuban people led him to despair.

First Lady of Cuba: Maria Dolores Tarrero de Prío
The last First Lady of a free Cuba, Maria Dolores "Mary" Tarrero de Prío died in Miami on September 23, 2010 and was laid to rest on September 25, 2010. She was the widow of Carlos Prío Socarras, the last democratically elected president of Cuba. She was buried alongside her husband.

Seventy years after he became Cuba's last democratic president, part of Carlos Prio's legacy lives on in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and his own example of civility and the defense of freedom of expression during his presidency. These are values that deserve to be honored and a legacy to be both respected and defended.

*"No te alarmen en exceso, sin embargo, mis palabras. Pues no hay reino de la maldad en Cuba ni tu pueblo está regido por la violencia desatada. Lo que temo es que pueda estarlo un día, porque tu supiste descifrar el secreto de los tiempos cuando advertiste que «fustas recogerá quien siembra fustas» y que «el que desata vientos cosecha tempestades», y por ese día de la cosecha de tempestades y de fustas, me ves desde ahora preocupado. Levántate y diles a los pocos cubanos que cuidan en el jardín de tu isla la venenosa flor del odio, que la arranquen de raíz y arrojen la planta a los abismos del olvido!"

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