This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
D: I am interviewing Mario Ariet at his home in Gainesville on March 12, 1994. Tell me
your name, and when and where you were born.
A: My name is Mario Ariet (accent on last syllable), which I seldom pronounce in
Spanish; I always call myself Mario Ariet (accent on first syllable). I was born in
Havana on July 9, 1939. Very shortly after I was born, maybe a couple of months, I
moved to a town about 400 kilometers away from Havana. It was a major town, but
it was still a country town; a center of a rich part of the country, a lot of sugar cane, a
lot of cattle. My father was a fertilizer salesman. He sold fertilizer in that region--
chemical fertilizer--and that is why [we] lived there. I am the oldest in my family. At
that time there was just myself, my mother, and my father.
D: You say it was 400 kilometers and I really am not familiar with what kind of mileage
you are looking at.
A: It is about 250 miles. Cuba is longer than most people realize.
D: I did not realize that you all lived outside of Havana.
A: Oh, yes. I lived there until I was about eight years old. I went to kindergarten
through third grade in that town, which had excellent religious schools. There was a
school [run by] nuns, a school for girls that I attended just for kindergarten. They
had boys and girls in kindergarten. Then when I went to first grade I went to
Christian Brothers, which are very good educators.
D: [Was this] a Jesuit-type school?
A: No, they are not Jesuits, they are brothers. I think there is a Marist College
[Poughkeepsie, New York] in the United States? I think it is that order. I think they
are called Christian Brothers. They were excellent, excellent educators. I went to
that school until the third grade. Then my father and my family moved back to
Havana; by then, my two sisters had been born. I lived in Havana from the time I
was in third grade until I graduated from high school. When I graduated from high
school, I came to the University of Florida. Right out of high school, I came here as
D: Was it typical for people to come to the States to go to school?
A: No, it was not typical. It was a significant minority. A very small group of people
could do that. You would have to call them upper-middle class people, people
whose parents could somehow afford that. Although, not everybody who could
afford it, came. I would say, even among those who could afford it, only a small
group came. In other words, if you were going to study medicine, for instance,
people felt that you could become an outstanding physician in Cuba; you did not
have to come to the United States for that field of study.
On the other hand in engineering, which is what I was interested in, everybody felt
that you could get a better education in the United States. Specifically, chemical
engineering, which is what I was interested in, was not taught in Cuba at that time.
The main university, the University of Havana, taught civil engineering and electrical
engineering. A couple of my classmates also wanted to go into chemical
engineering and there was the University of Villanova, closely related to Villanova
University in the United States [Villanova, Pennsylvania]. They opened a new
university there and started a chemical engineering program.
D: Was that a Catholic university?
A: Yes, that was a Catholic university.
D: Was that Belen?
A: No, Belen was the Jesuit high school I graduated from. There were about seventy-
five graduates. I would guess maybe eight or ten came to the United States. I
came to the University of Florida because my father had come to the University of
Florida for a summer course. As a matter of fact, I came that summer, when I was
about eight or nine years old. I remember vaguely when I was here for a couple of
weeks. That is probably the main reason [I came to the University of Florida]. I
considered going to Rensselaer [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York]
and MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts].
Probably price and distance were the main factors in why I decided to go to the
University of Florida.
D: Weather? [Laughter]
A: I was not conscious of the weather at that time. I had never seen snow, so I did not
know what I was getting into. I came here right out of high school; my English was
better than I was aware of. I had studied some English, and when I got here I could
not understand anybody for the first month. Then I started understanding the math
teacher, because I could follow the scribbling on the board. The amazing thing is
that I came here in the beginning of September and I realized that I was learning on
a daily basis. [There] was noticeable improvement. By the time I went home for
Christmas, I already knew English. You have to consider that I had a good
background that I was not aware of, but I was very young and I just picked it up.
Yes, at the end of three months, I had no problem.
D: Still, that is incredible.
A: Yes, but that is because I had been exposed to it. [I had been] hearing it my whole
D: You make me feel bad, because I have been exposed to Spanish my whole life.
A: Well, yes, but it is not the same as being immersed [as] I was here.
D: [It was] sink or swim, I guess.
A: And yet I had two close Cuban friends, people I met when I came here. We became
close friends and actually we went through our whole academic period at Florida
together. I always hung around with Cuban guys, but we still managed to learn
English pretty quickly.
D: They did as well as you, do you think? They learned English quickly?
A: They knew more English than I did, because they had gone to an American school
in Cuba. So their English was better than mine. [During my] first year there were
three Cubans, myself and two other guys. The following year, [there were] about
thirty, and the following year about one hundred. Because that is when Castro went
into the mountains and things began to get ... as a matter of fact, I came in
September of 1956, and in November of 1956 Castro landed in Oriente province and
started the Sierra Maestra uprising at that time. Things began to get very tricky in
Cuba, and a lot of parents decided that their young boys would be better off in the
United States than plotting a revolution with the chance of getting killed, which did
happen. As you know, the revolution against Batista [Fulgencio Batista Y Zaldivar,
1901-1973, Cuban political leader, dictator, came to power, 1952, overthrown by
Fidel Castro 1959] involved a lot of young people.
D: Do you think that is what really caused a number of Cubans to come to school here?
A: Yes. We are talking pre-Castro now. When I came, the three who came did not
come for those reasons. But in the next two years I would say [that for] 75 percent
of them, politics played a role in their decision [to come here].
D: That was mainly to get away from the possibility of getting involved?
A: Yes, I think so. We are talking about very young people. Maybe they did not realize
that, but I bet you their parents did.
D: You do not think it was that they wanted to come here because something would
happen, it was more just to get them away from that scene? They all expected to
A: Yes, definitely.
D: I guess most people had no idea what could possibly happen.
A: Absolutely not, right. You know, we had a history of coup d'etats, uprisings, and
things, but never, in the mind of anybody, did people think they would have to be
away from the country for a significant amount of time.
D: The trouble is that the numbers would change that drastically, from three to one
hundred in two, two and one-half years. Was there any unrest that you were aware
of when you were in high school?
A: No, zero, essentially zero.
D: Nothing [occurred] that was a real threat?
A: No. Remember, Batista came into power in 1952, and the Moncada [the attack on
the Moncada barracks by the revolutionary movement of Castro], the first Castro
attempt, was in 1953 or 1954. I graduated in 1956, so, yes, we were aware that
there was political unrest. But I would not say that it touched the lives of people in a
D: [Was it] an attack on the fort, the Moncada?
A: The Moncada?
D: Do you remember that? Or was it really not a big event?
A: Yes, I remember it. My father was very interested in politics, and at that time I must
have been about thirteen, fourteen years of age, and yes, I was aware [of it]. I was
aware that Castro was taken to prison and that people were killed. But the whole
country was not rocking, or anything like that.
D: It seems like you would have thought it was almost a joke that a small group like that
A: No, it was not a joke, it was not a joke.
D: But it was not a real threat.
A: It was not a real threat, but there were a lot of people who were not happy with
Batista. There were a lot of people who felt that democracy was a very worthwhile
thing and Batista had cut that development toward democracy, and a lot of people
did not want him, which is kind of paradoxical, because on the other hand, the
economy was doing real well. I do not know exactly why, maybe [due to] sugarcane
prices, maybe gangsters and casinos and all that, which of course has been
D: You think so?
A: Oh, absolutely. Castro has distorted that completely. But there was a tremendous
amount of development in the country as a whole, at all levels: agriculture, cattle,
small industry, major industry, tourism; the whole thing was just moving very, very
quickly in spite of Batista, totally in spite of Batista. Batista was not a significant
leader in any way. There was a lot of activity.
D: So there could have been anybody there [leading the government]?
A: Oh, absolutely. Anybody would have done better than Batista. Television was very
important; television came along at that time, and there was a lot of cultural activity,
and a lot of industrial activity, and the country was moving really fast.
D: Were the ties with the United States very strong? Did you ever visit here besides
coming to Gainesville?
A: No, no, I did not. But a few of my friends went to Miami as a graduation present,
just to have a good time. But I did not.
D: Back then, was that [a place] they could fly to, or [take] a boat?
A: Yes, either way.
D: For a vacation?
A: Yes, for vacation, right. But like I told you, during the first four years, from 1956 to
1960, while there were still relations with Cuba, I would go back to Cuba three times
a year. I would go back for Christmas, and for something we used to call "between
semesters," at the end of January, and then for the summer. I spent all the
summers in Cuba.
D: When you would go back there, did you realize the turmoil that what was going on?
Was it obvious to you?
A: No, it was not. It was not a major consideration, until the last year, until 1959.
Castro came to power January 1, 1959. Sure, in the last few months [of that year]
with Castro things began [to change]. I told you before, the guerilla thing has been
greatly exaggerated and rewritten. They have rewritten the history books and all
that. They were basically hiding in the mountains for two years.
D: Doing nothing?
A: Doing nothing. And then, there was a lot of underground activity in the cities, a lot of
bombings. You would not go to the movies, because somebody might put a bomb
in the movie house.
D: What kind of groups were doing that? Were [they] really affiliated with Castro?
A: There were three or four major underground movements, one of which was Castro's.
But the other three were just as influential and just as powerful.
D: And urban?
A: And urban, exactly. Actually, there were two other guerilla groups independent of
Castro, also, each in its own separate mountain range, playing the same game.
Again, I think it was the brilliance of Castro in handling things at the time Batista
collapsed that made him the winner. I have said before, probably in exaggeration,
that if he had been the head of any of the other two groups, he still would have won.
D: In January of 1959, were you through with school here?
A: No. I went to Cuba on my normal Christmas break in 1958, just enjoying myself,
taking a break from Gainesville. At that time I could either fly from Tampa directly
[for] forty-five dollars round trip, or fly from Key West for ten dollars one way. Now
we are talking about the last month of Batista's regime, and even then there were
political arguments on television of people pro-Batista and against Batista--not
Castro's people. Castro's people were not allowed to be on TV with regular
politicians. Official politicians would be.
Batista tried a couple of... let us call them diplomatic maneuvers. He tried [for]
another [term as] president. There was a lot of talking going [on]. A couple of
priests went to the Sierra Maestra and talked to Castro and tried to work out a deal.
But Castro was very smart; he knew he was better off not dealing. So he did not
accept any deals. As a matter of fact, Castro boycotted the pseudo-elections that
Batista wanted to create, so that he could leave gracefully.
D: This was when Castro was already in the mountains?
A: Yes, when he was already in the mountains, right. I remember, on one of my visits
to Cuba, some of my friends invited me to a political rally against Batista. I
remember the situation very clearly, but not the date. [It was a] small room, maybe
300 people. Three politicians would speak to the crowd against--very much
against--Batista. But the people of Castro were opposing the whole system. And
what made me feel bad was that three young guys, Castro sympathizers, got inside
the room and tried to disrupt [the rally] completely.
There were fist fights, and people tried to hold them down. The thing that upset me
was that these opposition politicians handed the Castro guys to the Batista police for
disturbing the [rally]. I was just a tourist there, back from Gainesville, but that made
me feel bad. It was all right to hit them there in the room, but it was not all right to
hand them to Batista. But they did.
D: Your friends, the ones you went to this rally with, were they very active?
A: They were young guys; we were nineteen years old. Yes, they were active. They
knew they were against Batista, and they were trying to do the best they could. And
yes, they were caught in this excitement and challenge of this political turmoil.
D: When you went to this rally you could feel the tension?
A: Oh yes, yes. You could [have said] shots could happen here, or bombs could
explode here. Yes, you felt this was serious stuff.
D: Even before the Castro supporters spoke up, was it already [tense]?
A: Yes, yes. This was big-time tension.
D: People wanted Batista out?
A: Yes, oh yes.
D: The majority of the people, you think?
A: I think very definitely. As it always happens, the day Batista left, there was nobody
for Batista, so it is hard to tell how many were against him before he collapsed. But
I have the feeling that many people were against him.
D: I read somewhere that he had stolen $400 million.
A: Oh, yes, yes, very easily he could have done that.
D: So you said you were there around your Christmas break?
A: Right, you are bringing me back to that now, exactly. So I was there for my
Christmas break. I wasjust relaxing. My friends, who were there all the time, would
then tell me that things really were moving fast now. This is when Che [Ernesto]
Guevara (1928-1967, Argentine revolutionary, joined Castro's Cuban Revolution]
and the other Castro people already had come down from the mountains and had
started moving from the eastern part of the country toward the western part of the
country. Actually, there was a significant battle, in one of the major cities, and that
was maybe a week before the end of the year. So you could tell that things really
were getting out of hand.
D: Could you believe that it was possible for this to happen?
A: Yes. Oh, yes. I was not surprised. Remember Herbert Matthews, the famous New
York Times correspondent? I do not know how spontaneous or how well organized
or orchestrated the image of Castro was in the United States. But Castro at that
time had an extremely positive image in the United States. He was Robin Hood, the
wonderful guerilla, charming guy, and all that. And that had an impact. You could
see that the American government was retreating from its support of Batista. That
was probably as important as anything else.
D: Do you think our government actually reacted to the press? Can you imagine that?
A: Yes, I think so. Yes, very much so.
D: A lot of people say that the image that Matthews projected was something of a
turning point and was to Castro's benefit.
A: Oh, absolutely. No question about it. That could have been the most important
single event of the Sierra Maestra, [the reports coming from] Herbert Matthews. The
beginning of Castro's immense ability to charm and control things [was because]
Herbert Matthews, a very good correspondent, was charmed and manipulated
completely by a young guy in the middle of the mountains. Nobody would have
expected that, but nobody expected that Castro was the kind of person he turned
out to be. That was very important. I remember I went to my girlfriend's house.
D: Your future wife?
A: My future wife. [I went] on December 31, and I remember we did not go to a New
Year's party. We always did, and that year we did not. That gives you an indication
that things were tense. We did not want to party, and we did not want to risk going
to a party where something would happen. I think I was home before midnight. I
drove home, went to bed, and early in the morning somebody called my father. [It
was] maybe 6:00 the morning, something like that, and [the person] simply told [my
father] that Batista had left the country. We were shocked. We knew that things
were collapsing, but we did not know it would be that sudden and that dramatic.
I remember that my father and I got in the car and drove, about 7:30 or so, to the
most important military installation in Havana, a large, large [place]. We drove right
in front of the gate, and there was nobody at the gate. The gate was totally open.
We drove by the whole [installation], and there were no visible soldiers anywhere.
D: Was that why you were going, to see if there was anybody there? Why did you
drive over there?
A: Just to see what was happening. So that was the first image, the first flash of my
recollections there. As we were driving back now, maybe [about] 9:00, we drove by
the Malegong, the waterfront avenue in front of Havana. Batista recently had
installed parking meters, and people hated parking meters because they were seen
as the government taking your money away.
Also, a very important character in Havana would be the parqueador, a little kid who
would park your car for you. He really would not park it; he would just protect it. He
would take care of it. This would be a little kid, twelve years old or so; he would
have a rag so he would wipe off your car and be kind to you and say, "Mister, I will
look over car, you have nothing to worry about." And you gave him a quarter or
something when you came back.
D: So he would not bust your headlights out. [Laughter]
A: Kids were not that bad then. What I remember, very vividly, [is] people hitting the
parking meters, destroying the parking meters, which I did not like. I had a feeling
these people were destroying things, and I did not like that. [There was] a little bit of
a wilder-type environment there.
I went home. A couple of my friends were involved in underground groups. We are
talking about a total collapse of the government now, no authority, no policemen on
the street, no soldiers. So now the responsible people felt they had to have some
sort of order in the city. The group my friends belonged to was assigned different
important buildings and [places] like that to guard against rioters until something
happened to fill that void.
Castro started speaking immediately by radio from the Sierra Maestra. Again that
was his brilliance. He could have flown to Havana, but he chose to enter Havana on
a tour of the nation. He essentially walked from Oriente Province to Havana--which
is six hundred miles. It took him a week, but by the time he got there he had ten
times more soldiers than he had before. You understand all that, he was a master
at manipulating all that. But some of his people, obviously, came to Havana and
they went to that important military installation and they took it over. So he already
had his people controlling the key positions.
D: Some of your friends, some of the people you knew, who were in some of the
underground movements--were these violent groups who wanted to get rid of
A: Yes, they were.
D: Were they in legitimate opposition groups [which were] recognized or were they in
A: They belonged to groups that were recognized. I could tell you more about that, but
that is probably [going into] too much detail at this point. But I will tell you if you
At that time, there were a few members of the organization to which my friends
belonged, who had been sent to the Sierra Maestra to help Castro in his effort.
Basically, Castro was up there in the mountains, and he said to some people, "I do
not have enough knowledgeable people up here. I have peasants, and whenever I
take over, I need competent people to put in positions of responsibility. I need some
people." Some people who were related to my friends were sent up there. Probably
that first day (if not the first then on the second day) I was called by my friends to
help guard one of these buildings. So here I am, behind bags of sand, in the corner,
with my rifle. I got my rifle with real bullets in it, and I had never, ever fired a rifle.
Ed Morales was also on guard; he may have told you about his experiences there.
D: Were these the people who owned these buildings, or were these the responsible
A: This building, for instance, was the offices of the electric company. And I do not
know if somebody, at some higher level, coordinated these activities. I was just a
peon there who was called to show up. But it was like a party, you know.
D: Hoping nothing would happen?
A: Of course. And nothing did happen. Very sporadically, some Batista people were
shooting it out with other people; [they] probably had personal problems. They were
looking for somebody, and those guys were it. It was not horrendous in any way. It
was very calm, very little destruction and a relatively orderly transition. Relatively--it
was still chaotic. I left about a week later. And I remember trying to get somebody
to give me a visa; I had my passport and I had to go to the State Department, to the
Embassy, to somewhere that did not exist. So there was a hotel, sort of a tourist
hotel. Somebody in some room somewhere had a mini-Department of Interior. It
D: Somebody would rubber stamp your visa.
A: Exactly. Then, the other interesting detail I remember from that occasion was that I
left Cuba. I had flown, originally, at the beginning of my vacation, from Key West to
this military installation, which happened to have a pseudo-private airport. That was
where my little company plane landed. After Castro, that company, which was only
pseudo-private and really was more military than private, ceased to exist. So I had
no plane to fly back. I had to fly from another airport in Havana to Miami instead of
Key West. But we had left the car in Key West.
So four or five of us, who had made this trip together, were now in Miami, and our
car was in Key West. So we flipped to see who would go get the car. I either won
or lost, but I went to get the car. Together we paid for my ticket, I flew to Key West,
picked up the car, and drove it to Miami to pick up my friends. This is significant
because throughout the whole drive from Key West to Miami, I was listening to the
first important address of Castro arriving in Havana. In other words, on the day
Castro arrived in Havana, nobody really had heard him speak at any length ever
before. And he spoke for six hours, which was totally irrational. So I remembered
listening to his speech, which was one of his most important speeches, historically,
while I was driving from Key West to Miami.
D: How did it strike you? Do you remember how you felt about it at the time?
A: I was very impressed. Now remember, we are talking [about the] honeymoon period
now, obviously there was certainly a year, and for some people an eighteen-month
honeymoon period. I thought the guy was brilliant. [He had] a very different
speaking style. Again, think, the guy was thirty-three years old, an extremely young
man relative to the typical politician. The typical Cuban politician would speak with
sort of beginning-of-the-century rhetoric. And this guy spoke much more plainly, but
extremely well. Sure, I was very impressed. And he said all the right things, of
D: When you got to Miami, did you tell your friends about it?
A: Yes, yes, I think we continued to hear it. We are talking about a very long speech
here, not to Gainesville, but close! He probably spoke for five hours. Seriously!
D: You said [there] was a period of a year, year and one-half, that you still went back?
A: Oh, yes. I continued to go back. Actually, again, remember, we are talking about
the end of 1959. I graduated, I finished my bachelor of science degree in June or
July of 1960. In March of 1960 the Dupont Company paid for a trip for me, so that I
would visit their plant in Cuba. The Dupont Company was willing to pay me money,
[and] offer me a job in Cuba in their plant. It is incredible how quickly things
D: Was it some kind of a chemical plant?
A: [It was] a paint plant. And at that point, in the previous three years, many American
plants had been built. There was a glass factory, a couple of rubber factories, tires.
Big industry, big employers, major stuff.
D: So did you take that trip?
A: Obviously, I took the trip that paid my way home; of course I took that trip! [Laughter]
D: You did not care for the job as much as for the trip. [Laughter]
A: I mean, an all-expenses-paid trip to Havana? Are you crazy?
D: Did you take Nini, your future wife, out?
A: Sure I did, of course, with Dupont's money. Yes, I had a pleasant trip. Interestingly,
I am color-blind, and I miserably failed their color tests for a paint company, but that
was not important to me at the time. Then it was June of 1960, and I graduated.
What should I do? Should I go back to Cuba and get a job in one of many industries
down there? What should I do? My parents were very much pro-Castro. My
friends now were beginning to see very disturbing things. I will tell you a little side
The Milicia is an idea from Castro--every citizen is going to be a soldier defending
the Revolution. [There would be] neighborhood committees, people patrolling the
streets, and stuff like that. One of the very first organizations that arose immediately
after Castro took power was something called the Rural Commandos. The Rural
Commandos were essentially city kids, young men or maybe women, who would go
into the country and alphabetize, teach people how to read and write, help them,
educate them, bring culture and civilization to the far corners of the country. My
friends went to the Sierra Maestra, where Castro had been during his guerilla time,
to interact and work with the peasants there.
D: Trying to get them on his side, I guess.
A: You are sharper than you look--yes, exactly. At that point, my friends had a Catholic
agenda. They wanted to teach them, but they also wanted to convert them to
religion. But they very quickly found out that there was a communist agenda at the
same time, which was not public at all. You did not see that on the surface. But if
you went at the grass-roots level, then you began to see these communist activities.
D: Actually, that is what really happened?
A: Oh, yes. And then my friends, for instance, who were trying to teach soldiers how to
read and write, and possibly some religion, found out that the soldiers were being
indoctrinated with communist propaganda, very strongly, at that time. So they were
very concerned. Che Guevara was openly communist from day one. Castro would
D: Would he deny it about Che, or deny it for himself?
A: Definitely for himself. [He would] explicitly deny it for himself, and say, "Do not
worry, I can control those people. There always have been communists here, but
that has never been a problem. And that is not where we (Cubans) are going," etc.
My friends told me it was a bad idea to come back here now and start a regular life,
get married, get into a routine, and all that. [They told me] to give myself some more
time. So basically what I did was go to graduate school, just to pass the time, to see
what would happen down there.
[This] was now the summer of 1960. I went back to Cuba in September of 1960, on
a regular vacation again at the end of summer school. I was planning to get married
in December. My bride to be had to leave Cuba in November, because rumors were
flying that the U.S. was going to break diplomatic relations with Castro. As a matter
of fact, my sister came in January, one week before diplomatic relations were
broken. And two months later, you had the Bay of Pigs. So that was incredible; I
mean, the speed at which things happened just was unbelievable.
D: So Castro really started taking over a lot of industries that summer, or almost
A: It was not obvious. He started to do a lot of things, again, not on the surface, but
underground, under the surface. [He was] putting pressure on all the industries
[and] scaring people. They were scared that children would be taken away from
their parents and sent to special schools. People went crazy. And then,
immediately after the Bay of Pigs, Castro said, "I have always been a communist
and I will always be a communist," and that was it.
D: So you were in your first year of graduate school at the time, and you got married
A: I got married here. I married here in December, and the Bay of Pigs was three
months later. I remember clearly my friends going to the Bay of Pigs training camps
and my personal friends recruiting people. A very close friend of mine, who actually
was the only witness at my wedding in Miami, came to recruit people in Gainesville.
He said, "Come on you guys, you know I am not a crazy person, and I am not so
brave or anything. Do you think that I would be here recruiting you if I did not expect
one marine on each side of me as we march into Havana? This is going to be very
easy." So many of my friends went to the training camps.
D: Have you considered at all going yourself?
A: No, I do not think I considered it. Why did I not consider it? I just had gotten
married, and it could be that I was not 100 percent against Castro at that point. The
situation was tricky.
D: Your parents at that point were still pro-Castro?
A: [They were] very definitely pro-Castro. A lot of the visible members of the Bay of
Pigs Brigade were "rich people" who were trying to recover what Castro had taken
away from them.
D: You did not want to fight for that.
A: Yes, yes, there was an element of that.
D: Was it also that maybe if there was to be some change, did you ever think that
maybe it could be handled politically, or did you think it had to be something violent
A: At that point, I think we all thought Castro would last only as long as the American
government wanted him to last. At that point, we thought that the U.S. president
would push a button and things would be over--maybe even without shooting.
D: So what was the point of going and training?
A: Exactly, why do I have to be a pawn in this game, when the thing really should be
resolved at the U.S. government level? That was an important element of how I felt
about things also.
D: You had decided to stay here in school, or did you already start to consider working
in the States?
A: No, I was still marking time. I am still marking time! [Laughter] The Bay of Pigs
came and went; Castro became publicly communist; I think I became, clearly,
against it. Then I just stayed in graduate school four more years. I got a master of
science degree and then a doctorate from the University of Florida.
D: At that time did you go ahead and get a job here in the States?
A: Yes. It is interesting. I graduated in 1965, and I still totally thought I would live in
Cuba. I felt that in engineering, it is very important to have industrial experience.
You go to school for however long, but until you are out there in the trenches you
really do not know what you are doing. Again, I could have gone to work for a
research lab, but I wanted to work in real industry. So I worked in a petroleum
refinery. I went to work in Texas, with Humble Oil, which basically was Exxon and
Standard Oil. I went to work there in a little town near Houston, Texas, and lived
there for two years, learning tremendously about engineering. But we did not like
Changing the subject completely (which you may or may not be interested in), one
of the comments I made to you before, which I will repeat for the tape, is that I have
never been discriminated against in this country. I have never felt personal
discrimination. If anything, I have been given preferential treatment my whole life
since I have been here. On the other hand, we lived in this little company town a
few miles east of Houston, and that town had a Mexican neighborhood which was as
bad as the black neighborhoods in the South. The Mexicans were discriminated
against horribly in Texas, just as bad as the blacks in the South.
By the way, a comment that I will make also, is that I came here before integration.
And I worked a lot as a busboy and dishwasher while I went to school. This made
me interact a lot with blacks, in the kitchen and with young kids who were in high
school. I remember my interactions with them very clearly. They were very
surprised at how I treated them, because white people in the South did not treat
them like that.
D: Did you treat them any different than any other person?
A: No, no, but to them that was [like] being treated as a person, which was not the way
they were treated here.
D: Was there a large black population in Havana, or in Cuba, with which you dealt?
Did you have much contact with them there?
A: Yes, I will come back to that; that is a very good point. I was very surprised at the
toughness and aggressiveness of the segregation, and the way blacks were treated,
when I came to the United States. That does not mean there was no discrimination
in Cuba. There was discrimination in Cuba. But the level and the degree of cruelty
or toughness was completely different. Blacks were not accepted in private clubs
and in some schools in Cuba, but they were accepted in others, and there were
blacks at different levels of society. Not in the blue-blood clubs, but there were
blacks who were upper-middle class and maybe even rich. It is hard to describe,
but I was shocked by the difference.
D: I never thought of that. I always had pictured Cuba being ...
A: No, not at all. That is an incorrect picture.
D: I guess just because I always thought about ...
A: Plantations, displays, and all that?
A: No, but I tell you--believe me--it was very different between the two. The two flavors
of discrimination were very different. And this one in the U.S. was much tougher.
D: So what happened to you in that little town? Did you start to feel discriminated
A: No, no, interestingly. That was just a side comment. I was never discriminated
against in Texas. I was never confused for a Mexican. Never.
D: But they were discriminated against?
A: Oh, terribly. Terribly. [It was] strange and tricky, because I had my accent. The
Mexicans there were not white, they were Indians, and maybe that I did not look
Indian was a factor. My wife looks a little bit Indian, if you stretch it, but I do not
think she ever had a problem either. Maybe the way we dressed, whatever. But
that was not why I did not like it.
I just did not like it because it was a little company town, and we did not have the
social life that we wanted. Interestingly, we had friends in Houston, which was about
an hour away, but in our mentality we would never have considered commuting
forty-five minutes to work everyday, so we never considered living in Houston. If we
had lived in Houston, maybe we would still be in Houston. And I would have had a
completely different life. After two years there, I decided that I had gotten my
doctoral experience, and that I did not like corporate life. I felt that the company
really controlled your life.
D: And with the company town, too, you felt it.
A: Right. But it was not the little company town, it was the monster company, the
whole thing: they bought you, you sold your soul to them, and they moved you
wherever they wanted you anywhere in the world. There was something about that
that I did not like.
D: Was that something that came to you while you were there? That existed in Cuba,
too, did it not?
A: For a big company? Sure, most companies were not as well organized as American
companies, they were not as good at doing that as American companies. It scared
me a little bit, to belong to this company body and soul. And I was homesick. Now
home was Gainesville. Home was not Cuba any more. My relatives all lived in
Florida, and I felt kind of lonely out there. Those were the major reasons why I
started looking for a job.
D: Were you looking for anything specifically, for something in Gainesville?
A: I started looking. And then I had three or four job offers, all kind of interesting.
D: Were they here?
A: Yes, I had a job offer near Lake City with Occidental, a large, large chemical plant
there. A paper company in Palatka offered me a job. Esso International offered me
a position in Miami, which would have been very interesting.
D: Was that the same company you already worked for?
A: The same company. When I told them I was leaving, they said, "We will put you in
Miami. Where do you want to be?" So they offered me a position in Miami. I was
interested in coming back to teach chemical engineering in Florida. They did not
offer me a position. And then this position came to be, the one I am still in, which
was basically starting a computer operation in the College of Medicine to do
computer work beginning to be used for medicine.
D: Did you have any experience in that?
A: Yes. That was not my direct training, but I had been using computers in graduate
school, and throughout the time I was in the refinery, I was working with computers
to control refinery units. So I was relatively easy to train, and that same computer
model was the one that was being recommended by IBM to the Health Center to
start this operation. So that is how I came back.
D: But your doctorate is in chemical engineering?
A: [Yes], chemical engineering. But my dissertation involved computers applied to
chemical engineering problems, but it was all computers. And all my work, while I
was in the refinery, involved computer control.
D: So you have been here now for how long?
A: I have been here since 1968, twenty-six years essentially in the same position. I
have seen the computer revolution come and go and come again, etc.
D: Did you ever teach any courses in computers?
A: Yes, yes, good question. I was hired by the Computing Center and then assigned to
the Health Center. So I was the associate director of the Computing Center, running
the Health Center branch of the Computing Center. And I did not like that. I wanted
a faculty position. I wanted [to be] a professor or associate professor. I had the title
associate professor. I was hired with the title of associate professor and associate
director of the Computing Center. But I did not have tenure. I did not like that. I
wanted to be a regular faculty member. So I had to teach. I said, "Well, where can I
I started to teach in industrial engineering. I had some friends there, and I started to
teach courses there in industrial engineering and enjoyed them. I taught for about
four or five years. In that time, my situation at the Health Center settled down, and I
started to get funding on projects. And then I was given tenure. Once I was given
tenure, my motivation for teaching sort of decreased rapidly. I had to go to the
engineering building, go back and forth, and after teaching a course two or three
times it got a little bit less challenging, so I just concentrated on research.
D: Is Shands different from the J. Hillis Miller Health Center?
A: Yes, it is different. There are three different organizations there. Shands Hospital,
the College of Medicine, and the Health Center. I worked for the College of
Medicine. I am a professor of medicine. But, of course, I work very closely with
Shands and a lot of my money, the funding our group gets, comes from Shands.
We do a lot of work for Shands.
D: And [where is] Shands [with respect to] its affiliation with the University of Florida?
A: Shands is a hospital, a non-profit organization, which is affiliated with the University
of Florida, but is not part of the University of Florida.
D: But they teach medicine?
A: The training of medical students occurs at Shands. But it used to be called Shands
Teaching Hospital, and they dropped the "Teaching."
D: Not a word to use with "Hospital?" [Laughter]
A: Exactly, not with the aims of patient care, funding, and all those games.
D: Since then, since you have been here, especially in light of the fact that the Soviet
Union has broken up, there has been a lot of talk from the Cuban community as to
what is going to happen. And I think you are associated with the Foundation?
A: No, I am not.
D: You are not. I am sorry.
A: That is all right. I am not offended. [Laughter]
D: I want to get some of your views about what you think might happen. I know I am
A: Actually my views have changed in the last couple of years. I think I got optimistic. I
thought the collapse of Castro would occur in a short period of time. Now I have
changed my mind. I think he has hit bottom and is probably recovering slowly. He
has played his cards brilliantly again.
D: He has a knack for surviving.
A: Oh yes. And he is challenged by these problems and probably performs at his best
when his back is against the wall. And [he] has done it again.
D: I would assume that he has a lot of support there still?
A: It is hard for me to deny that, but I do not think he does. I think what he has is a
very clever, very cruel repressive system that has been in place for thirty-five years.
That means everybody there who is younger than fifty years of age has lived their
whole life under this system, which is a very well defined system where the line is
drawn, and you know how far you can go. You do not dare go beyond that line.
And when you do dare go beyond that line, your thoughts are of leaving, not of
rebelling. So it is a very well-conditioned population, as a result of a very cruel, very
strong, very well run, repressive operation. That is ingrained in the people.
D: I understand and I agree with you. Do you think that is also maybe true of any
society, let us say even in the United States, where we are conditioned to capitalism
our whole life?
A: That is an interesting analogy. But, no, I do not think you can say that. I think down
there people are put in jail and people are shot for expressing discontent, or for
expressing a willingness to overthrow the government. You could say the same
thing here. You could say the same thing if you are a Black Panther [militant
American black liberation group, founded in 1966 in Oakland, California by Huey P.
Newton and Bobby G. Seale] or [a member of] some of the real fringe [groups]. You
could develop that persecution complex where you see the military and the police
here as the dogs or the pigs, your enemy, all of that. But I do not think it is the
same. I think you could draw the intellectual parallel, but in practice it is not the
same, it is not an applicable parallel.
I think the most significant development in Cuba, in the last ten years, is the Ochoa
trial. [Castro] again handled that situation brilliantly; he accused them of being drug
dealers. He bought himself five or ten more years by shooting that whole group, by
cleaning up the whole possibility of [rebellion by] young military officers. Now even
within the army, people do not dare rebel against him.
D: It made him look good to his own people and to the outside world, to some degree.
A: Absolutely, it was just a brilliant operation, totally ruthless. I am sure he lied to those
people--no scruples of any kind, but he just played his cards and won again. Now,
he again is manipulating this situation extremely well. Now there is a tremendous
offensive, a diplomatic offensive, to get the U.S. to liftthe embargo. You hear that at
all levels and they are doing that really well.
The game they are playing now is the dialogue game. Now we have established a
dialogue with the Cubans. And of course for that dialogue to be meaningful, it has
to include the opposition. So the question is, what level and character of opposition
[will they] allow? The game has already started. There is going to be a meeting in
Havana in April. And 200 exiled Cubans have been invited.
D: Really? I did not know that.
A: Yes. What are the rules of the game? We are not going to talk politics.
D: [They] just want to get together, just a start?
A: No, we are going to talk about immigration issues, family and reunion issues. They
are saying, "We want the families to be reunited." What is the translation of that?
We want the exiled Cubans to go to Cuba and spend their dollars.
D: That is exactly what I was going to say.
A: We also want the Cubans from Cuba to come to the United States and bring dollars
when they come back.
D: [Laughter] That is going to be a dialogue that is going to go on for ten years.
A: And we are going to put pressure on the United States to lift the embargo. Because
every time one of those Cubans goes down there, he violates the embargo. Every
time a Cuban goes down there, each one violates the embargo.
D: Each one takes money for his family?
A: Exactly. So it is all a game. But it is a risky game. Out of those 200 there are
maybe three people who would say interesting things down there against Castro.
We will try to open the dialogue to meaningful issues. The question is, are these
dialogues going to occur in an open forum, or are they going to be behind closed
doors, where the Cuban government takes the happening and only shows to the
world manipulated information?
That will happen, a little bit of what I am telling you will happen. There is going to be
an incident, where one of these guys is interviewed by ABC in Havana [and] will say
something [that will create] a big commotion and all that. Then the dialogue will not
be good enough. Six months later, we will do another session of this continuing
dialogue, when we are going to open it up a little bit more. And the U.S. is going to
relax things a little bit more. And we are going to play this game for the next ten
D: It buys time for Castro.
A: Sure. So I think that is what is happening. The Foundation, of course, does not
want to participate in any way in this dialogue. The other interesting happening,
which is very important, is that now Castro is attracting industry and investments
from Europe and Japan.
D: Even despite the fact that the United States is really trying to keep anyone else from
trading with Cuba?
A: Absolutely. All of those countries are exercising their independence and their lack of
scruples by going over there and buying the country. Castro is selling the country to
foreign investors. Absolutely.
D: I also heard that Colombia is supplying him with oil.
A: Oh yes. It is even neater. It is very interesting what is happening in Colombia.
Castro, you see, has refining capacity in Cuba. He has the Russian refinery there;
he has no oil. So the Colombians give him the oil, he refines the oil, sends back
refined petroleum to Colombia, and the payment for refining he keeps in oil. So he
does not have to pay out any cash. It is a perfect deal for him. The Colombians, if
they want to help him, have a capitalistic justification for it, by saying, "This is good
business for us." The thing is that now they are investing in Cuba, buying the best
factories, the best land, the best everything. Now the American companies are
saying to the U.S. government, "Hey, we are going to be late to this party. By the
time we get there, the rest of the world will have bought the country."
D: All the pretty girls are already dancing.
A: Exactly. Actually what American companies are doing, of course, is going into joint
ventures with all these other foreign companies. But they also are putting pressure
on the U.S. Government to lift the embargo so they can participate. The other
interesting thing about that is the following. Suppose you are the Fundacion, the
Foundation. Now you say to the Spaniards, the Italians, the Japanese, "Do not
invest in Cuba, because when we overthrow Castro, we are going to take your
properties away because you are doing this illegally." False. Even if the Foundation
did overthrow Castro, it could not afford to expropriate things from the Spaniards
and the Japanese, because it would be called another Castro. It would lose the
credibility in the world.
D: And it wants to be recognized as legitimate.
A: And you and I understand that; the Japanese, the Italians, and the Spaniards
understand that, so they do it anyway. They know it is helping Castro. They do not
care, they are ruthless capitalists. So that is why I think Castro will last another ten
years, at least, unfortunately.
D: When the embargo was first enforced, were you for it?
A: I think I always have been for it. I think I am still for it. I do not think it is particularly
effective. The reason I am for it now is that I would not lift it unilaterally. I would use
it as a bargaining chip. Sure, you talk to Castro and you say, "Until you make
meaningful changes in your human rights policies and in your democratic openings,
I am not going to lift it."
D: It seems hard at this point not to support it when it is not really working, and when it
seems that the people there are the ones who are suffering.
A: That is a fallacy. I do not think it is making people suffer in any significant way, no.
No, that is not the case for two reasons. One, it was always in place. And it did not
make people suffer until Castro ran out of money. If Castro had the money, he
could buy anything he wanted. He had companies in Panama set up to funnel
anything and everything he wanted.
D: Oh yes?
A: Absolutely. [It was] totally organized. And you know well enough that in this day
and age, you can buy anything you want in the world if you have money. So the
embargo itself is really symbolic, totally symbolic. But I do not think you can argue,
like many people here are saying, it is making Cuban children starve, and poor
women and poor children. That is garbage.
D: Do you think if the embargo stays and some of these industries move in there,
things may turn around in the country, regardless of the embargo?
A: Yes. I think things may turn around because of foreign investment, Japanese,
European, and tourist attractions. It is immoral, it is horrendous, the apartheid that
is going on now where you go there with dollars and you eat and drink and go to the
beaches and enjoy the best of Cuba while the people do not have access to any of
that. It is totally degrading, insulting, and depressing. You have Cuban women
called jineteras, who are basically prostitutes. They are now trying to attract the
tourist dollar. The most rapidly growing industry in Cuba right now is prostitution.
Seriously. And the government is selling that aspect also.
D: Do you think the government is involved in that?
A: Well, the government is not involved in the direct prostitution interaction, but it is
selling the voluptuous Cuban woman as part of the theory.
D: I see. The government is not stopping it.
A: Not at all, no.
D: But as far as the embargo is concerned--I understand that it may be largely
symbolic--but is it not hard to argue that it should be lifted, when you look at our
relations with China and Vietnam?
D: It does not make a lot of sense to a lot of people.
A: No, no, [as] I said, I grant you it is not working. My only argument would be that I
would not lift it unilaterally. I would be willing to express a willingness to say, "Let us
have a conversation, let us talk about lifting the embargo, but let us talk about some
progress in the way we want things to move."
D: Do you think that at least the Clinton administration should be willing to float a
balloon, "Let us show some kind of sign that we would be willing to talk?"
A: Oh, I think they are talking at very high levels right now. Oh, yes, very definitely. I
think there are conversations going on right now. I think Castro's understanding of
how the U.S. policy works is absolutely amazing. He uses it extremely well. You
know, another factor that is very interesting and very important? The barcelos--the
people coming in the rafts, the rafters. The number of people coming to the United
States every day is incredible, incredible! Nobody knows this. I do not want to lie to
you with numbers, but this year, [there were] one thousand people. People are
D: Why do you think that is so significant?
A: It is naive to think that those people are leaving Cuba without the Cuban
Government letting them leave. [There are] just too many, too many rafts, too many
D: It is a flotilla.
A: Sure. What is Castro doing? He is putting pressure on the United States using
immigration issues. What are we going to talk about in this first conference with the
Cubans? Immigration issues. It is going to be another Mariel, but a more clever
Mariel. The other day, ninety people came in one boat. Where do you hide a boat
to bring ninety people? How do you bring ninety people to a boat? Come on! It is
all coordinated. And that puts a lot of pressure on the U.S. government, and the
U.S. government will have to negotiate with Castro. And it will have to lift the
embargo. You see, the lifting of the embargo is not really the lifting of the embargo.
The lifting of the embargo is the beginning of the cruise-ship invasion to Cuba.
D: Which one now? I know of two different cruise-ship invasions, which one are you
A: I am talking about all the cruise ships that sail out of Miami and stop in three or four
ports in Cuba.
D: Right now, I think, if you stop there, you can not come back to the U.S. for six
months or one year, I believe? You are talking about regular traffic?
A: I am talking about regular traffic, casinos, and the impact of the American tourist
D: Huge dollar amounts.
A: Exactly. And that is what is going to happen. It is not lifting the embargo so that
Castro can buy medicine or rice or television sets. It is to bring those people to
Cuba with tourism. And that would be an enormous influx of money. That is what
the embargo means, it is the tourist trade.
D: You do see the embargo being lifted in the near future?
A: Yes. I think Castro will again manipulate the American administration and will
promise to the American administration that he will make changes. The changes will
be totally cosmetic. He will continue this apartheid, but there will be so many dollars
coming in that people will live a little bit better. Everybody is going to have some
dollars; people will begin to see some material incentives or material things, and
things will get better. And that is why he is going to be there another ten years.
D: He certainly knows what he is doing.
D: He still wields a pretty good amount of influence, do you not think? So even though
there are going to be Cubans in the U.S. who continue to oppose that, you still think
it will happen?
A: Yes, I do. They do not have as much power as they used to with the Republican
administration. Yes, I think the U.S. industry is going to be in favor of lifting the
D: And no one stands a chance against them?
A: Right. These are the people who are really the influential people in this country.