Grandfather Alberto was elected to the Cuban House of Representatives in 1936, just three years after he had fled for his life in the wake of the 1933 Revolution. We shall discuss elsewhere his career as a legislator, which culminated in his heroic defense of President Miguel Mariano Gómez, who was impeached on Colonel Batista’s orders that year for exercising his constitutional authority to veto a law. Here, however, I want to recount the most remarkable speech that grandfather ever heard in Congress. No official version exists of it because it was expunged from the Congressional Record, for obvious reasons. Decency and decorum also prevented its publication in contemporary newspapers. Only grandfather’s recollection of it, as reconstructed by me, survives. The name of the senator who delivered the speech to a joint session of Congress escapes me. All that I remember is that grandfather said he was a habitual drunkard, and that when drunk he was the most lucid man that he had ever heard in his life. On this particular day he was very drunk.

Both houses of Congress were convened on that day, declared one of National Mourning, to pay homage to the seven Cuban military aviators and mechanics who were killed on December 12, 1937 while on a good-will mission to Latin America to promote the construction of the Faro Colón (Columbus Lighthouse), in the Dominican Republic. Many eulogies were delivered extolling their heroism and the Pan-American ideal of hemispheric solidarity and unity for which they had supposedly died. Then the drunken senator was recognized, and, amid horrified screams and uproarious laughter, he delivered these remarks:

“Gentlemen, we are gathered here today in solemn session to commemorate stupidity, and what greater example can there be of stupidity in this or any other age than crashing three airplanes into a mountain! Other obstacles might have been unavoidable, but, really, how can anyone be so stupid as to overlook a mountain? Ineptitude does not quite cover it; inexperience is also an inadequate explanation; only stupidity, of the rankest and uncommonest kind, can account for such catastrophe. Let us not blame the mountain, gentlemen, it only did what mountains are supposed to do, which is not to yield the right of way to men in flying machines. To the Colombian people, the owners of the mountain, I extend my apologies for the actions of our hapless fellow citizens. Let us honor them with our silence, for stupidity like theirs has no excuse and deserves no commendation. And to the world, we say: ‘Cubans are not generally a nation of stupid men, though today, in Congress assembled, I’m afraid we have given yet more proof to the contrary.'”

These words were spoken while the flag-draped coffins of the seven airmen lay in state a few feet away in the Capital Rotunda. The senator was wrong in one particular: the three aviators did not exactly crash their planes into a mountain, but, rather, tried to fly through a narrow gap between two mountains and had their wings clipped, one after the other. The fourth pilot (a Dominican) flew over the mountain range and was safe. The names of the three lost planes were: “La Niña,” “La Pinta” and “La Santa María.” It was not a happy omen for the future of Pan-Americanism.

As for the Faro Colón, whose mighty beams can be seen throughout the Caribbean and beyond,  it was completed just in time for the Quincentenary of Columbus’ discovery of America, in 1992. Even 50 years before its light was turned on for the first time, it was an anachronism in the age of radar. And what of the quixotic dream of Hispanic solidarity and union? It was never anything but a chimera. Cubans learned that lesson the hard way after 1959 when our Latin “brothers” showed their solidarity with Fidel Castro, not the Cuban people. That seven Cuban lives were sacrificed in 1937 to promote such rubbish as Pan-Americanism was the real stupidity.

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