Monday, September 8, 2008

Celia Hart Santamaría (1962 – 2008)

Celia Hart, and her brother Abel, were killed in a car wreck in Havana on Sunday, September 7. Funeral arrangements were hurriedly made, racing against the approach of devastating hurricane Ike–which roughly followed the route taken by the victorious guerilla forces of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara marching to Havana a half-century ago.

Celia and Abel’s mother, Haydee Santamaria, had been part of those revolutionary forces, going back to her participation with Fidel in his earliest battle against Batista–the 1953 assault on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago. Her life ended in 1980.

Their father, Armando Hart, was one of the main organizers of the revolutionary movement in the cities. He was selected to be the revolutionary government’s first Minister of Education and later, from 1976-97 served as Minister of Culture. He continues to actively follow political events at the age of 78.

Celia did not initially choose to follow the highly political path of her prominent parents. Instead, she pursued a study of physics. She did her graduate work at the University of Dresden, becoming the first non-German female graduate from their prestigious physics school.

But the differences she saw between her native Cuba and the Stalinist dictatorship in East Germany deeply troubled her. She later wrote,

“In 1985 I returned to Cuba on holidays and confessed to my father my feelings of utter desperation. In response, my father opened a cupboard and got out four books: the three-volume Life of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher and Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed. I devoured these books, but until a few months ago had no opportunity of reading the rest of Trotsky’s works.”

Celia, while remaining loyal to the Cuban revolution and regime, began writing and speaking extensively, independent of Communist Party venues. She was particularly interested in the working class upsurge in Latin America, especially Venezuela. She established relations with Trotsky’s grand-son, Esteban Volkov in Mexico and took part in introducing Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed at a book fair in Havana several years ago.

Some thought Celia was “asking for trouble” in advancing such views. My good friend Jeff Mackler, who is helping to edit and introduce a soon to be published collection of Celia’s articles and speeches, writes,

“Celia was proud to tell us that her defense of Trotskyist ideas had not gone unnoticed by the Fidel Castro she loved, admired and knew since her childhood. A letter from Fidel to Celia not long ago conveyed his appreciation of Celia's writings and concluded with the assertion that Celia was not to be discouraged from expressing her views. ‘No one will hurt a single hair on your beautiful head,’ said Fidel, a delighted Celia told us.”

More recently, she began to collaborate with socialists in North America. She, of course, was banned from visiting the USA and travel by Americans to Cuba is made extremely difficult by the U.S. government. I was fortunate to meet and spend some time with her at a conference in Toronto a few months ago.

I was already impressed by her fresh analytic application of classic socialist views in her writings. I was pleased to experience first hand her dynamic energy, sense of humor–and our shared passion for baseball. One could not long remain gloomy or lethargic in her presence.

Her tragic demise is a set back, for sure, for the working people of this hemisphere as well as a deeply felt personal loss for those who knew her. Our sympathy goes out to her father.

But Celia certainly would not want her friends and comrades to mope. She would expect us to carry on her efforts to liberate working people from exploitation and ignorance.

Bill Onasch