May 24, 2001

Cuba News

Miami Herald

Published Wednesday, May 23, 2001 in the Miami Herald

UM obtains Cuban writer's letters

By Fabiola Santiago.

To Eloísa Lezama Lima, the beloved little sister of Cuban literary icon José Lezama Lima, the emotional letters her brother wrote to her during their 15-year-separation were a treasured companion.

"I always kept them near my bedside where I could see them,'' says the 80-year-old grandmother.

Now Eloísa wants to ensure the famous author's correspondence remains a treasure accessible to future generations of literature lovers.

At an invitation-only ceremony tonight at the University of Miami, she will donate Lezama Lima's letters, written from 1961 to 1976, and a first-edition copy of his classic novel Paradiso with handmade corrections in the margins.

Her donation to the university's Cuban Heritage Collection is another valuable acquisition of historical materials. UM's Otto G. Richter Library houses collections of original manuscripts, letters and artwork from several other major 20th Century Cuban writers like Enrique Labrador Ruíz, Lydia Cabrera and Gastón Baquero.

"It wasn't easy for her to let go of those letters. She loved her brother very, very much,'' says Esperanza de Varona, director of the Cuban Heritage Collection.

"The letters are a significant donation. They are filled with personal perspective and valuable information.''

After Eloísa left the island in 1961, her brother wrote her letters every week, sometimes every day, telling her how much he missed her and chastising her for choosing exile instead of staying with him and their mother on the island. At the time, Lezama Lima was trying to get Paradiso published, and he spoke of this struggle as well.

In some letters, Lezama Lima accused Eloísa of provoking the family exodus that left him and his mother, Rosa, alone in a Cuba embroiled in a communist takeover. In others, especially after their mother died in 1964, Lezama Lima appears more understanding, reminiscing about family life and the literary get-togethers at the family home in a colonial Havana neighborhood.

"He trusted me, confided in me, and he chastised me,'' Eloísa says. "He was very dramatic.''

Lezama Lima died from pneumonia in 1976 at age 65.

Princeton University, which houses the collection of celebrated Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas, also was interested in the Lezama Lima material and had offered to purchase the letters, Eloísa says.

She chose UM because she felt that if the material could not be housed in a free Cuba, then Miami was its second-best home.

"They are more accessible to Cubans here, and to foreigners as well because Miami is a point of convergence,'' she said.

Still, she has mixed feelings.

"It's very difficult to let go because even with the fall of Fidel, they are not retrievable,'' Eloísa says of her donations. "But I think I'm doing the right thing. Even after Fidel, who knows what the future of Cuba will be?''

For her, this is a bittersweet moment.

Without her brother's letters, she says, "I feel disarmed, like I'm missing a piece of my soul.''

Coast Guard searches for Cuban migrant who jumped ship

Posted at 4:12 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 23, 2001

MIAMI -- (AP) -- The U.S. Coast Guard was searching near Dry Tortugas Wednesday for a Cuban migrant who apparently jumped from a cutter a day earlier as the agency was preparing to bring him and 23 others back to Cuba.

A head count of the migrants when the cutter Key Largo arrived at Cabanas, Cuba showed one person was missing. The Coast Guard was told by other migrants that Fernando Diaz-Morales jumped overboard the day before about two miles from Fort Jefferson National Park on the Dry Tortugas.

The fort is located about 70 miles west of Key West

"Once he's reached Dry Tortugas, he's on American soil,'' said Coast Guard Petty Officer Danielle DeMarino. "His main goal may not have been to make it to the mainland, but just to reach the Dry Tortugas.''

Park rangers had not seen a sign of Diaz-Morales, 30, on the small island as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Coast Guard originally picked up Diaz-Morales and seven others on a makeshift raft about 20 miles off the coast of Pompano Beach on May 18, DeMarino said.

The Coast Guard believes Diaz-Morales jumped from the cutter as its crew was transferring other migrants onto the ship.

"Our crew members could have been distracted. That may be when he saw an opportunity and went for it,'' DeMarino said.

The crew did not discover he was missing during hourly headcounts en route to Cuba, she said.

"We're not sure when he jumped off and we're not sure what went wrong in the headcount process,'' DeMarino said. "It appeared something went wrong and we're not sure when, where or how right now.''

The Coast guard notified Cuban authorities that Diaz-Morales could have jumped ship closer to Cuba.

Former Cuban officer Esteban Ventura Novo dies

By Nancy San Martin.

Esteban Ventura Novo, a well-known figure in the police force of former President Fulgencio Batista, was buried in Miami on Wednesday following a fatal heart attack Monday at Mercy Hospital.

The 87-year-old Ventura joined the Cuban police force in the late 1930s and gained a measure of notoriety when he became chief of police at the Fifth Precinct in Havana during the final phase of the Batista regime. He was promoted to colonel in 1958, at the height of a revolution led by Fidel Castro.

``Ventura was one of the most feared, hated and horrifying figures'' of the Batista era, said Uva de Aragón, assistant director at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. ``That's how he was perceived.''

Among other acts of repression, Ventura's unit was blamed for the murders in April 1958 of lawyer Jorge Cabrera Graupera, whose body was found brutally battered, and Marcelo Salado, a member of the revolutionary July 26 Movement, who was machine-gunned on the street.

Ventura also led the raid on Nov. 8, 1958, against a group of revolutionaries barricaded in a house in the Havana district of La Víbora. The siege is considered by many to be a turning point in the urban war against Batista.

Octavio Costa, a former journalist and author of several books on Cuba, said Ventura was an effective enforcer against civil uprisings.

``Good or bad, you have to judge him under the specter of the violence that was occurring during that time,'' said Costa, 86. ``He did his job, and he did it in a way that responded to the circumstances of that era.''

Another act attributed to Ventura, according to the book, Cuba, or The Pursuit of Freedom by Hugh Thomas, was a raid at a Havana apartment on Humboldt Street where four student leaders were slain on April 20, 1957.

The murders followed the leaders' participation in an attack at Batista's palace as part of a failed assassination attempt.

Ventura was indicted for the Humboldt Street murders in 1958. The indictment was later quashed by a minister of justice appointed by Batista.

Ventura fled Cuba within days after Castro assumed power in 1959. He resettled in Miami, where he founded a security firm.

Ventura is survived by his wife, Niurka, and his 10 children, Enna, Steven, Marcie, Esteban, Nancy, Javier, Ada, Rosario, Serfina and Eddy.

Copyright 2001 Miami Herald


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