My name is Alfonso and my parents witnessed the destruction, crime, injustice, and horrors of the communist regime, that took over Cuba in 1959. We were extremely fortunate to have been allowed to leave Cuba in 1970, when I was 5 years old, participating in the Freedom Flights.*
What was it like living under communism?
It was miserable. My parents were always scared of being caught saying anything negative about the way the government was handling things for fear of being put in jail. There was across-the-board rationing of basic consumer goods, including foods, clothes, and toiletry items. There was always a neighborhood person that worked for the government to watch your daily activity and to ensure that you were not doing anything against the government. My father, who was an accountant for a large department store, was forced to work in the sugar cane fields because he refused to take part in government communist activities. Everyone was heavily taxed to pay for all the government programs. Everyone that owned land, businesses and facilities in Cuba was forced to give it to the government with no compensation. Only government-sponsored television programs, newspapers and magazines were sold. The schools only taught communist history and ideology apart from the core basics. It was very depressing. It was as if the joys in people’s hearts just seem to have vanished.
My parents became political refugees
My parents refused to be enslaved by the new communist rule along with millions of other Cuban citizens. They asked to leave the country, but were not allowed for many years. They asked the U.S. to intervene and assist us in the fight for liberty and justice under a democratic rule. We were then considered political refugees in search of a new home that could provide us with the opportunity to live without oppression from the government. Ten years after my parents had petitioned to leave Cuba; the U.S. was gracious enough to grant us political asylum and gave us the opportunity to become permanent residents.
We came to the United States via the Freedom Flights. *The Freedom Flights took place between 1965 and 1973, transporting Cubans to Miami twice a day, five days a week. The program, which took place at the coordination between the US Government and Cuba cost an estimated $12 million and transported about 300,000 refugees.
Seven years later we had the opportunity to become U.S. Citizens. I enjoy my Cuban heritage, but I am proud to be called an American!
What were the main differences between the U.S.A and Cuba?
The language and the music were the main differences. Before communism, the U.S.A had a great influence over Cuba. In the 1950s Cuba was the most modern Latin American country thanks to the very close and influential ties it had with the U.S.A. At one point in the mid-1950s, Havana had more luxury vehicles than any other city in the world. Cuba was the gateway to the Caribbean. It was at the time considered the world’s best “Las Vegas” location. It was the No. 1 American tourist destination. Even the most popular sports event in Cuba was Baseball (an American passion). Once Cuba became communist, the differences became very significant. The governments became complete enemies to each other.
What happened after you moved to the United States?
We lived in Miami, Florida for a few years and then my dad drove our family North to Ohio looking for better employment and a peaceful, safe place to raise the family. I joined the U.S. Army Reserve while attending the University of Toledo. I joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). I graduated and was also commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant. I reported to Active Duty a few months after graduation and served on Active Army service for 22 years before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
I was involved in combat during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War. I’ve deployed to multiple countries and lived in Brazil, Germany and Chile on military duty assignments. My wife and I have four children.
Do you still have family in Cuba?
Yes, over 90 percent of my family was not allowed to leave Cuba during the early days of Cuban communism. My mother comes from a family of 13 brothers and sisters. Only 2 sisters made it out of Cuba. My mother was one of those fortunate ones. My dad only had one sister, but she also was not able to leave. Maybe one day when communism dies in Cuba and democracy again takes over, I will be able to meet with many of my cousins. I pray that there would be a change very soon in the future.
Cuba is a former Spanish colony which formally gained its formal independence from Spain in 1902, following the Spanish-American War, becoming the Republic of Cuba. Throughout its time as a democratic country influenced heavily by the U.S., Cuba became a strong economic and favorable country within all Latin America and the Caribbean. The U.S. invested greatly in Cuba and enjoyed the beauty of its natural white sand tropical beaches and its very friendly tourist accommodations. A lot of business and money was poured into Cuba.
Unfortunately, a large portion of that money was used to attract all sorts of people to include those who enjoyed gambling and criminal activity. The Cuban government began to experience corruption and a lack of trust from its citizens. This led to a revolt against the government and ultimately to the fall of democracy and the rise of communism. Unfortunately, this new political system was far worse than what Cuba had ever experienced. It was a complete loss of freedom for the citizens. This change in government came in 1959 when Fidel Castro came to power and installed a communist regime, which continues to be in power to this day.
© All rights reserved. Al left Cuba on a Freedom Flight when he was 5 years old.
AL and his sister along wtih their parents who all escaped Cuba. © All rights reserved.
Al served in Active Army service for 22 years before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. © All rights reserved.
Because it's so difficult to import new cars in Cuba's economy, people are still driving antiquated cars. © All rights reserved.
According to USA Today, 3,856 partial or total building collapses were reported in Havana from 2000 to 2013. © All rights reserved.