Friday, February 12, 2016

TOP STORY >> Man who stood up to Castro

Leader executive editor

Eduardo Diaz was assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base in 1966 and has lived in Cabot most of the time since he left the Air Force in 1970.

Diaz, who was born in New York to Cuban-American parents in 1947, is a frequent letter writer to The Leader. He dropped by the newspaper last week and talked about growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and getting drafted in 1965 as the Vietnam War was escalating.

He flew to Memphis after basic training and got on another plane and, after several stops in between, landed in Little Rock. Most of the time, he stayed stateside and didn’t go to Vietnam.

Diaz remembers Israelis landing at the base in the spring of 1967 during the Six-Day War.

“El Al landed here to pick up cases of ammunition from Pine Bluff Arsenal,” Diaz recalled.

As a born-again Christian and a supporter of Israel, he’s proud he was among the airmen who loaded the ammo and he had a small part in helping the Jewish state survive. (See his blog,

Diaz also talked about the relatives who stayed behind in Cuba and lost everything after Castro took power. His family visited Cuba every summer until 1960, when the U.S. and Cuba broke off diplomatic relations after Castro announced he was a communist.

“I remember explicit de tails after the revolution with armed soldiers in the streets,” Diaz said of one of his last visits to Havana.

Miguel Ángel Quevedo, a relative of the Diaz family, was editor and publisher of some of the leading magazines in Cuba and South America, including Bohemia magazine, which was started in 1908 by his father.

He was a lot like Henry Luce, who founded Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated in this country.

“Bohemia was the most popular newsweekly of its day in Cuba and Latin America, known for its political journalism and editorial writing. He was also one of the pioneers of Cuban Scouting,” Diaz said.

Bohemia’s format was much like Time magazine. Bohemia was the flagship of three magazines, the other ones being Cartelles and Vanidades, which were primarily about women’s fashion and celebrity-type news.

Miguel’s father started the publishing house in 1908. “They made their money legitimately and were very rich but down to earth,” Diaz said.

“I remember that for Christmas,” Diaz said, “Miguel’s idea of fun was that he had a ranch near the airport outside Havana and the town had about 1,000-1,500 people in the area.

“Well, for Christmas, he would go to New York City with his staff and literally buy at least one unique toy for every kid in town. I remember that, though we lived in New York, when we went to Cuba to visit my grandparents and family in the summers, Miguel always had very top-of-the-line toys for my brother Ray and me. I am not talking about cheap toys either, but the latest toys. Talk about being indulged.

“He would also let us come over to his beach house that he had and for an entire summer we lived in a 12-room house with servants, a 75-foot yacht, a speedboat and a private beach. It was awesome. He was very, very generous but didn’t see that Castro was an SOB till it was too late.”

Quevedo came to the U.S. after he won a prestigious magazine award. “The award was a big thing, and I remember going to the party as a kid in New York,” Diaz said.

According to Diaz, Bohemia became the principal voice of opposition to the administration of Carlos Prio Socarras and supported the revolution against the regime of Fulgencio Batista.

“When Miguel first started writing op-ed pieces against the Batista regime, one day Batista sent one of his thugs to Miguel’s office and literally forced gasoline down his throat, and it not only came close to killing him and ruined his stomach, but it came with a warning that continued publications of similar articles would cost him his life,” Diaz said.

On July 26, 1958, the magazine published the Sierra Maestra Manifesto, a document that unified the opposition groups fighting Batista and supporting Fidel Castro.

On Jan. 11, 1959, one million copies of a special edition of the magazine were printed, and sold out in just a few hours.

But Castro soon cracked down on a free press, and Quevedo fled Cuba to the U.S. The CIA helped him restart the magazine, but it didn’t last long.

“I remember when he called mom in New York,” Diaz said. “They were very close. She then told us after the call she was worried and I guess at the time mom must have thought it was Miguel’s goodbye call.

“A few days later, in August 1969, having lost everything and despondent, he took a shotgun and put it in his mouth and blew his head off.”