Had the members of the US Congressional Black Caucus truly wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people of Cuba, they would have raised some serious questions about the nature of the Cuban government.
They could have challenged the Caucasian autocratic gerontocracy as not representative of the population: 35% black or mixed, 70% sixty-five years or younger, with quite possibly close to 70% of the people never knowing anything other than Castro’s rule.
They could have demanded to speak to Oscar Elias Biscet or any one of the dozens of Cuban prisoners of conscience listed by Amnesty International. Or they could have simply looked out the window of the luxury suites at Cuba’s Hotél Nacionál, or out the windows of their cars as they traveled to Varadero Beach, and asked to meet with The Ladies in White.
The significance of that meeting would have escaped most, if not all of the members of the prestigious group of visitors.
The Havana Ladies
It’s one of those things buried in dusty records, seldom seen by anyone today, and to be fair, the exact details are argued over, and perhaps romanticized, but the facts are indisputable. In 1781, Cubans rescued the American Revolution.
When John Adams and Benjamin Franklin failed to garner funds from the Netherlands and France to keep the fight for Independence going, Gilbert du Montier, the Marquis de Lafayette, commandeered the frigate L’Aigrrette, and ordered it to sail to Cadiz, Spain, in search of funds to pay the French mercenaries fighting alongside Washington’s troops, as well as helping with the feeding and equipping the Army in general.
There was no money for the Americans in Cadiz, so the ship sailed on to Saint Domingue (Haiti) were they also found no money.
Frustrated, the frigate set sail for Havana seeking water and supplies for their voyage back to Virginia, where they would deliver the news of their failure, and there, in Havana, in a matter of hours, the equivalent of $28 million (in today’s dollars) was raised to send to General Washington, and the American troops.
Legend has it that it wasn’t money that was sent, but over 1,200,000 “silver pounds” (the amount varies from 800,000 to 1.2 million silver pounds according to which records you read) in gold, silver and diamonds raised primarily by Cuban women from Matanzas, Havana, and Pinar Del Rio…The Havana Ladies they are called. But whether it was gold, silver, and diamonds from Cuban women, or silver Spanish coins that were sent is the only disputed fact. The indisputable fact is that the donation from the people of Cuba saved the American revolution.
American historian and former US Ambassador Stephen Bosal, in his “When the French Were Here. A Narrative of the Yorktown Campaign” wrote: “That sum collected [by the Havana’s Ladies] must be considered as the ground whereon was erected the American independence.”
French Gen. Comte de Rochambeau, an American ally, wrote in his memoirs, “The joy was enormous when it was received, the money from Havana: The contribution of 800,000 silver pounds, which helped stop the financial bankruptcy (of the Revolutionary Army) and raised up the moral spirit of the Army that had begun to dissolve.”
This story will never be taught in a classroom, but the facts are there, available for all who wish to find them buried in old dusty tomes: the French archives at The Library of Congress, Spain’s “El Archivo General de las Indias” (archive General of the Indies), and the “Fondo Saavedra”, a private archive run by the Jesuits in Granada.
British military writings of the time also make mention of this.
According to eyewitnesses the usually stoic George Washington threw his hat in the air when word reached him of Cuba’s contribution to the cause of American freedom.
Legend has it that the Havana Ladies sent an inscription along with their jewels…it read:
“So the American mothers’ sons are not born as slaves.”
Here we are, two-hundred and twenty-eight years later, and the people of Cuba need that debt paid back. They need the descendants of those whose final victory in Yorktown was secured by the sacrifice of the people of Cuba, to help Cubans gain freedom, not to shore up the despotic government presently in charge, with trade concessions and tourist dollars
The people of Cuba need assistance from the people of the United States, so that their sons and daughter do not continue to be born slaves of the Castro regime.
So while the Black Congressional Caucus traveled to Varadero in a luxurious manner not available to the people of Cuba, surely the voices of the Havana Ladies called out to them along the way.
“The debt needs to be paid!”