Enrique Oltuski: Viva the revolution
walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 3 06:05:51 MST 2002
The Toronto Globe and Mail
Viva the revolution
Enrique Otulski was a model of respectability
in middle-class Cuba when he wasn't planting bombs and
conducting other guerrilla work, MICHAEL POSNER writes
By MICHAEL POSNER
Tuesday, December 3, 2002 - Print Edition, Page R4
It's a story that a Hollywood script reader would probably
dismiss as too incredible to be true. In the early 1950s, a
young Cuban, Jewish, goes off to study architectural
engineering at the University of Miami. He graduates,
returns home and appears to resume his comfortable place in
middle-class Cuban society. He marries, fathers children,
takes a job with Shell Oil and joins Kiwanis.
To all appearances, he is the very model of respectability
and convention. But the whole outward identity is a mask.
In fact, young Enrique Otulski is a revolutionary, not just
a secret member of Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement but
the leader of its urban wing, dedicated to the violent
overthrow of the country's corrupt, American-controlled
strongman, Fulgencio Batista.
For the next four years, Otulski conducts his double life,
upstanding businessman by day, guerrilla by night -- the
urban counterpart to Castro's mountain-based insurgents.
Only his wife knows his real agenda. Code-named Sierra, he
takes part in the "wet" work of assassination squads, plants
bombs, puts out an underground newspaper and raises money
for arms purchases. And when Castro seizes power in 1959,
Otulski claims his reward -- a senior post in the new
government as Che Guevara's deputy ministry of industry.
Today, 72 years old -- white-haired but ramrod straight with
a powerful handshake born of 100 pushups a day, Otulski is
as committed and unapologetic a revolutionary as he was five
decades ago. And he's still working -- as Cuba's deputy
minister of fisheries and the merchant marine.
"By the time my bar mitzvah came, I didn't feel Judaism was
really my religion, said Otulski, in Toronto recently to
promote his memoir of the 1950s, Vida Clandestina: My Life
in the Cuban Revolution (Wiley). "I was beginning to become
a free thinker. My heroes were the heroes of the Cuban fight
for liberty, and though my father became wealthy, misery was
all around me. Cuba was entirely controlled by American
corporations. It was a society where a few had the wealth
and most went hungry every day, and corruption in government
and business was rampant. I could not be happy in a society
with so many unhappy people."
>From a promotional standpoint, Otulski's trip to Toronto was
probably a fall-back option, adopted after the U.S. State
Department abruptly denied him a visa for an American
sojourn. The official excuse was that Otulski's visa request
was received too late to be processed before his scheduled
The revolutionary cadres that joined Castro's movement were
convinced that genuine systemic reform could not be achieved
through traditional political levers, but only through armed
struggle. "I did have work in Miami," Otulski recalled with
a laugh. "After I graduated, I designed a couple hotels in
Miami Beach. I was making good money. But my conscience
would not let me enjoy that. I had to go home."
I suggested to Otulski that by the late 1950s, it should
have been clear to him and his fellow Communists -- as it
was certainly clear to fellow travellers in North America --
that the model on which their utopian visions was based, the
Soviet Union, was rather critically flawed. His answer is
not reassuring -- that the purges carried out by Stalin's
henchen were defensive measures needed to protect the regime
from foreign subversion.
But, he insists, he did not really understand what was going
on Russia until his eldest son, Frank, returning home from
university in the Ukraine, told him of rising discontent,
especially among the young.
Still, his faith in Cuba's Communist experiment is unshaken.
"People ask me what will happen when Fidel goes." he says.
"But Fidel has dedicated most of his time to preparing for
his succession. When that time comes, the revolution will
not go down. He will turn over command to the young people.
How it will be, nobody knows. But we want it to be a just
Otulski acknowledges that Cuba harbours political
dissidents, "a very small percentage" of which routinely
attempt escape to Florida. "The Cuban revolution still lives
through times that are not normal," he explains.
"We have a very important enemy only 90 miles away -- not
the American people whom we love, but the American
government" which, he says, continues its subversive
campaign to liquidate the revolution.
"For 40 years, we have been under a severe economic
blockade. Companies that do business with us are not allowed
to do business with Americans. They talk about human rights,
but what human rights do they practise? And now they call us
one of the seven terrorist states! That's a big, big lie."
In fact, Otulski claims, some of the world's leading
terrorists reside in Miami, protected by the U.S.
"Maybe one day," he suggests, "when we are not persecuted by
the American government, we can open some more doors," and
make the Cuban political system more democratic. "Now, we
can only open windows."
Of his past exploits, ambushes and assassinations, he
maintains they were carried out only against "known killers.
We were very careful, but a war was going on. We lost almost
20,000 men during those seven years, most of them in the
cities. It was extremely dangerous. That's why I kept my
During the Cuban missile crisis, Otulski was deputy minister
of economics, responsible for trade with the Soviet Union.
When the crisis ended, he was a member of the first
delegation to travel to Moscow. "They were very friendly,"
he recalls, "but inside our hearts, we were disappointed.
The guided missiles were withdrawn, but the moral missiles
Not yet ready to retire, Otulski is nonetheless
contemplating his next book, one that would deal more
substantively with his work for Che -- perhaps, because of
his early death in Bolivia, among the most romantic figures
spawned by the Cuban revolution. As for the current
political climate, he says the world is facing a dark period
ahead. "We have to get together, not just to save humanity,
but to save the planet."
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