AP Fails to Note Any Critics of Recently Deceased 'Heroine of the Cuban Revolution'

Nowhere in her 15-paragraph March 11 obituary of Melba Hernandez did Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez find space to cite a critic of the late Cuban Communist revolutionary.

In her story  -- headlined "'Heroine of the Cuban Revolution' was lifelong Castro loyalist" in the Washington Post -- Ms. Rodriguez paid significant attention to the role Hernandez played in aiding Castro's rise to power as well as to the "human rights awards" she received in 1997 from that great humanitarian Col. Moammar Gaddafi, all the while using gauzy language to describe her exploits (emphasis mine):


Melba Hernandez, one of two women who helped Fidel Castro launch his revolution with a failed 1953 attack on a military barracks, and who was later named a “heroine of the Cuban Revolution,” died March 9 at 92.

A message from the Communist Party’s Central Committee published in the party newspaper Granma said Ms. Hernandez died of complications from diabetes. The place of death was not reported.

With her crown of snowy white curls, Ms. Hernandez was occasionally seen at official events in her later years, accompanied by one of the Castro brothers. Fidel stepped down because of ill health in 2006, passing command to his younger brother Raul.

Born on July 28, 1921, Melba Hernandez was five years older than Fidel Castro and remained faithful to him throughout her life.

At the time of the July 26, 1953, assault on the Moncada Barracks in the eastern city of Santiago, Ms. Hernandez — like Castro — was a young lawyer who had grown increasingly fed up with government corruption under Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a 1952 coup.

She signed on to Castro’s assault plans and obtained 100 uniforms for the attackers from an army sergeant who later joined the movement.

She and the only other woman involved in the operation, Haydee Santamaria, sewed military rank insignia onto the uniforms. At a farm in the hours before the operation, the women ironed the uniform trousers and shirts.

The assault failed miserably, with many of the attackers killed by government soldiers and the rest, including Castro, arrested. The women, who were waiting nearby to provide medical assistance to their comrades, also were jailed. Santamaria’s brother Abel was tortured and killed in prison.

Ms. Hernandez and Santamaria were freed months before the men and organized support rallies for those still jailed. They also distributed Castro’s writings, which were smuggled from behind bars — essays that helped rally sympathy for the revolutionaries.

Castro corresponded frequently with Ms. Hernandez when he was in prison, giving instructions on helping run his July 26 Movement. After the remaining rebels were freed, Ms. Hernandez traveled to Mexico with the group, including her new husband and fellow revolutionary Jesus Montane, to help organize a guerrilla army.

She did not, however, join the band that sailed from Mexico to launch an uprising in Cuba’s eastern Sierra Maestra.

Batista fled the country Jan. 1, 1959, and Castro took power soon after. Ms. Hernandez later helped found the Communist Party of Cuba and served as ambassador to Vietnam and Cambodia.

She also was secretary-general of the Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, a group founded in Cuba in 1966 to support independence struggles in developing nations.

In 1997, Ms. Hernandez was among five women from around the world who received human rights awards from Col. Moammar Gaddafi of Libya, long an ally of Cuba.

Montane died in 1999 and Santamaria in 1980.

By contrast, below I've excerpted how Rodriguez's AP colleague Laura Wides-Munoz noted the passing of Huber Matos Benitez, a one-time ally of Castro's who became a fierce critique and anti-Castro activist. You'll notice that, unlike Rodriguez's obit for Hernandez, Ms. Wides-Munoz devoted some attention to the fact that Matos Benitez was viewed with suspicion by some in the Cuban-American immigrant community:

Huber Matos Benitez, who helped lead the Cuban Revolution as one of Fidel Castro’s key lieutenants before his efforts to resign from the burgeoning communist government landed him in prison for 20 years, died Feb. 27 at a hospital in the Miami area. He was 95.

He had a heart attack, his grandson Huber Matos Garsault told the Associated Press.

Mr. Matos was a 34-year-old rice farmer and teacher — and an opponent of Cuban dictator Gen. Fulgencio Batista — when Castro led a failed uprising in 1953. Mr. Matos later joined Castro and served as a commander in the Sierra Maestra mountains.

The two clashed on occasion, but Mr. Matos claimed that at one point Castro named him third in line for leadership after Castro’s brother Raúl and ahead of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Mr. Matos maintained.

In a May 2009 interview with the AP at his home in Miami, Mr. Matos said he joined the revolution hoping to restore democracy to his country, which the island experienced only briefly before Batista led a coup in 1952. Mr. Matos, who had been a professor of education, first traveled to Costa Rica to obtain weapons and ammunition for delivery to Castro’s forces before eventually joining the rebels in the mountains. He was captured in 1957 by Batista forces but was able to escape, according to his family.

The revolution overthrew Batista on New Year’s Day 1959, and Mr. Matos rolled into Havana at Castro’s side. But within months a disillusioned Mr. Matos wanted out of the new government, fearing the Castros and Guevara were steering the country toward communism, and that Fidel Castro had no intention of holding free elections as he had promised.

“There was another agenda,” Mr. Matos told the AP in 2009. “Fidel said one thing for the public, and the steps he took were another story.”

When he first tried to resign, Castro wouldn’t let him. In October 1959, Mr. Matos was arrested and convicted of treason. He was told he would face the firing squad but believes he was sent to prison instead because Castro feared he would become a martyr.

In his book, “How Night Fell,” Mr. Matos described being tortured and kept for years in isolation. He was released in October 1979 and was reunited with his wife and four grown children. He initially lived in Caracas, Venezuela, where he founded the group Independent and Democratic Cuba, and later moved to Miami.

“The revolution didn’t have to become a catastrophe,” Mr. Matos said. “If [Castro] would have brought reforms within the democratic framework, Cuba would have been a great country.”

Mr. Matos lauded his wife for her bravery during the years he spent behind bars, noting that she worked as a seamstress and raised their four children while keeping his case alive in the international human rights community.

In Miami, Mr. Matos led the Independent and Democratic Cuba group, one of many anti-Castro organizations. He was regarded with suspicion by some of the Miami exile community’s most powerful members because of his early opposition to Batista and his support for dissidents inside Cuba. Still, Mr. Matos remained an outspoken critic of Castro. Fearing assassination attempts, he often kept a pistol in a leather holster tucked into his waistband.

In May 2009, at age 90, Mr. Matos traveled to Honduras to protest a proposal to reinstate Cuba as a member of the Organization of American States.

“I’m one of those who’s convinced that there will be a change in Cuba in a time not very far in the future; that’s inevitable,” he said. “The system failed completely. It not only failed completely, but among the young generations there’s an eagerness for change that’s unstoppable.”

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters