Pre-1960 Book Pocket and Book Card, Havana Military Academy, Biblioteca Rafael Maria Mendive
The Havana Military Academy, Havana, Cuba
The Havana Military Academy, founded by Raúl Chibás in 1947 before the Cuban Revolution, was an elite military-style boarding school on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba.
The 1947 Montreal Royals
Before opening to students in late 1947, the Academy famously hosted the Brooklyn Dodgers and their AAA farm team, the Montreal Royals, for their 1947 spring training season. After having experienced racial harassment from white crowds in Daytona Beach during the 1946 Spring training season due to the Royals’ integrated roster that included the first black minor league player, Jackie Robinson, management decided to change the training location to Cuba after learning that baseball teams in Cuba had been integrated since the early 1900s. However, Jim Crow laws followed Robinson and the Royals to Havana. While the Dodgers stayed at the swank Hotel Nacional and the Royals at the brand-new Havana Military Academy, Jackie Robinson and other African American teammates were given accommodations at a third-rate boarding house in downtown Havana. This unfair treatment didn’t deter Jackie Robinson from making baseball history. In the 1947 regular season, Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American major league baseball player in American baseball history, as well as the Rookie of the year. With Robinson’s help, the Dodgers went all the way to the 1947 World Series.
The Cuban Revolution of 1953
Before the Cuban Revolution, Cuban politics were rife with corruption, dictatorships, and episodic American intervention and interference. The Cuban economy, at times robust due to the growing exports of sugar to the United States, continually fluctuated and ultimately stagnated because of restrictive trade policies introduced by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930.
In 1933, the Sergeants’ Revolt, a coup led by Fulgencio Batista, resulted in the deposition of President Carlos Manuel de Cespedes and the introduction of a United States-backed military dictatorship. While the economy prospered under Batista, so did social ills and inequalities. Cuba became known for its decadence, a destination for prostitution and gambling at mafia-infested casinos. Moreover, while the economy under Batista was burgeoning for many, the underclass was experiencing extreme poverty and unemployment. In 1952, a young attorney named Fidel Castro petitioned the courts to overthrow the presidency of Batista due to his corruption, but Castro’s arguments were not persuasive. It was then that Castro concluded that more aggressive steps were needed to rid Cuba of an administration he saw as tyrannical. With the help of his brother Raul, Castro organized a paramilitary organization called “The Movement,” and by the end of 1952, had recruited over 1,200 followers. In 1953, a failed attempt at stealing weapons from a military garrison landed Castro in prison for 15 years, but he was released early due to international pressures. Upon his release, Castro traveled to Mexico to receive paramilitary training and, while there, met a young militant revolutionary named Che Guevara. Guevara joined forces with Castro, and both returned to Cuba to begin the revolution in earnest. On November 25, 1956, Castro, Guevara, and other supporters crash-landed a small yacht onto the shores of Playa Las Coloradas. After a brief but lethal attack by Batista’s army, they fled into the mountains, where they continued plans for a coup. In response to the growing revolutionary movement, Batista solicited the help of the United States to combat the rebels, but the United States played both hands and supplied support to the rebels, as well, sensing the need to establish a relationship should Castro’s revolution be successful. From 1957 through 1958, there was a dramatic shift in public support for the revolution. Batista’s public approval was dwindling, and an arms embargo by the United States further weakened Batista’s military powers. On January 1, 1959, Batista fled Cuba, and Fidel Castro’s first appointed President, Manuel Urrutia Lleo, took office on January 3, 1959. In a speech by Fidel Castro on November 28, 1960, Castro spoke of the Havana Military Academy that had been abandoned by Raúl Chibás upon his defection to the United States. “A gentleman left, leaving a school behind called the Havana Military Academy. Now we are adding to it, and it will be the first rebel army polytechnic school for the revolution … and it has the manpower to do all the tasks and achieve all the goals it proposes.”
Rafael Maria de Mendive
Rafael Maria de Mendive (1821-1886) was a Cuban poet, and mentor to José Marti (1853-1895).
Havana Military Academy Educators and Students
Raúl Chibás (1917-1998), founder of the Havana Military Academy and a long-time critic of the Batista administration, joined Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement in 1957. Politics was no stranger to the Chibás family. His brother, Eddy Chibás, was the founder of the Partido Ortodoxo in Cuba, a former Senator, and a controversial radio talk show host who committed suicide on air in an act of political contrition. Raul, believing that Castro was the answer to the overthrow of President Batista and the advent of democracy in Cuba, joined Castro in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, where he co-authored the Sierra Maestra Manifesto, laying out the democratic intentions of the revolution. But Castro, needing the support of those with less radical leanings like Chibás, concealed his communist intentions. After the revolution, Chibás became disillusioned with Castro’s authoritarianism and defected to America in August 1960.
Félix Rodríguez (b. 1941), also known as Félix “El Gato” Ramos Medina, was a Havana Military Academy graduate recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency shortly after his defection to the United States in 1960. In 1961, Rodríguez slipped back into Cuba to prepare for the covert Bay of Pigs operation, but due to the mission’s failure, he sought refuge at the Venezuelan embassy before he was allowed to leave Cuba. Rodríguez was involved in many CIA-backed operations, but he is most well-known for his participation in the assassination of Che Guevera on October 9, 1967, and arms trafficking for the CIA and the Nicaraguan Contras.
Manuel Artime (1932 –1977), a professor at the Havana Military Academy, was a former member of Castro’s rebel army. In 1959, after becoming disillusioned by Castro’s increasingly communist leanings, he formed a counter-revolutionary group called the Movimiento de Recuperación Revolucionaria (MRR). However, fearing assassination by Castro’s army, Artime defected to the United States with the help of the American embassy and the CIA. After defecting, Artime was recruited by the CIA and became the leader of the Bay of Pigs resistance fighters and other anti-Castro campaigns, including a failed assassination attempt against Fidel Castro in 1965. In the 1970s, Artime organized the Miami Watergate Defense Relief Fund, collecting money for the convicted Watergate burglars, several of whom were American or Cuban veterans of the Bay of Pigs operation. Artime died suddenly on November 18, 1977, before his scheduled appearance before the House Select Committee on Assassinations to give testimony on the John F. Kennedy assassination.
5 thoughts on “Havana Military Academy, Biblioteca Rafael Maria Mendive, Havana, Cuba”
I went there from about 1955 to 1959, when I was around 7 to 10. It was a school like no other. I failed first grade because I couldn’t pass my English class. The last year it was open, the campus moved to somewhere on the coast in Jaimitas. I remember in May 1 of 1958 a class revolt was started in the cafeteria by the senior cadets during lunch when tables were overturned and the leaders ran out of the dinning room toward the flag pole yelling !huelga, huelga! Then they raised the 26 of July flag and said a short discourse and later dispersed. Then the school closed for the day and we heard later some of the cadets were arrested. I’ll never forget that place.
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Hello! Thank you so much for your insight. I found the history of the school to be a facinating topic. I do hope I did justice to its interesting place in history.
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I went to HMA 1958 and 1959. Fidel Castro Jr. was my classmate briefly. I believe Riverside Military Academy north of Miami was our sister school. Of course I have mixed memories of being there.
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You may know my brother Joe; he was also a classmate of Fidelito. The school closed after 1959 and move to another place, where I continued to go.
Thank you for mentioning the HMA. I was cadet 167 from 1955-to-1958. Saludos