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9318: Haitians in Fort Allen, Puerto Rico-Fidel, the Haitian , connection (fwd)

From: Carl Fombrun <carlfombrun@iopener.net>

CARL'S CORNER ( Published on the online edition 24 Oct - 30 Oct '01, " The Haitian Times", New York, New York .  Radio version also on Radio Carnivale, 1020 AM, Miami    from 8.40 a.m., to 9.00 a.m., Monday through Friday.)

2 books examine Haitian links to Puerto Rico and Fidel Castro


I have been concentrating my readings lately on two publications in the 
tongue of writer Miguel de Cervantes: "Fort Allen: The Haitian Diaspora" 
published in 1996 by our compatriot Raymond Lafontant Gerdes, a resident of 
San Juan, Puerto Rico for more than 25 years; and "Fidel and Religion - 
Conversations with Brazilian theologian Frei Bretto" published in 1985, in Havana, Cuba.

These two fascinating accounts are written in the Castilian language about 
the Caribbean basin specifically relating to Haiti. Lafontant's original 
manuscript was written in French, but has not been published in this 
language. The manuscript was translated in Spanish by Gloria Lopez Colon and 
published in 1996 as "Fuerte Allen, La Diaspora Haitiana." 

It would be great if the French manuscript or Spanish edition could be 
translated into the King's English.                                           
I welcomed the challenge to read it in the passionate, lyrical language of 
the Spaniards, which made the story twice as vibrant and real.

Lafontant's writing is divided into three parts:                              
 The Haitian migration of the boat-people to the United States starting in 
1963, but mainly in 1971 when Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier became 

 The incarceration of hundreds of Haitian refugees in the U.S. military base 
of Fort Allen, Puerto Rico, from August 1981 to October 1982, and the open 
arm policy of the U.S. government toward Cuban nationals fleeing Cuban 
President Fidel Castro, resulting in the arrival of 125,000 Cuban refugees in 
four weeks from Mariel, Cuba, to South Florida.                               
 The racist policy of U.S. immigration against Haitian refugees.

Raymond Lafontant Gerdes was born in Port-au-Prince in 1929 and has spent most 
of his life in the pharmaceutical business in Haiti and Puerto Rico.  Because of his        older brother, Gerard "Capito" Lafontant, a political and a revolutionary activist against Duvalier, who was exiled and died in France,                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Raymond has been living  in Puerto Rico   for the past 25 years. Presently in his seventies, married all those years to a Haitian Beauty Queen of the 1950s, they          have two grown children and he does visit Haiti from time to time.

"Fort Allen: The Haitian Diaspora" is a fascinating and detailed study in the 
intricate politics of how the governments of Haiti, Puerto Rico and the 
United States handle the refugee problem. Many political actors' names of                      those days are openly mentioned.                      
This book is an encyclopedia of the Haitian refugees' removal to the U.S. 
military base in Puerto Rico during the early 1980s, the history and the 
consequences. It is published by Editorial Plaza Mayor and may be found at 
Biblioteca de Autores de Puerto Rico. To my knowlege it is not available in Miami. 


"Fidel and Religion: Conversations with Frei Betto" is based on talk that took                  place at 9 p.m., May 23, 1985, at the Palace of the Revolution in 
Havana. This dialogue with the Cuban president is considered the first time 
that a head of state accepted to give an exclusive interview on the subject 
of religion. Also present was the now-deceased Vilma Espin, a constant 
companion of Castro in those days. 

"Fidel y la Religion: Conversaciones con Frei Betto" is a great account of 
religion from the perspective of Castro, a Marxist-Leninist head of a 
socialist country.

I will not analyse the pros and cons of Castro's interview with Betto, a 
Brazilian liberation theologian. There are, however, some interesting 
insights regarding Haiti, which may not be universally known.

By the age of 5, Castro had not been baptized. In those days, children would 
call him a Jew, although they had no idea what it meant. To avoid the 
ridicule, most families would have their children baptized almost immediately 
after birth.  
In Haiti, the custom was identical, at least that was my personal experience 
growing up. Haitians who were not baptized also were called Jews. Some of my 
contemporaries can attest to this. That was due possibly to the dominance of 
the Catholic Church in Haiti.

Castro went to preparatory school in Santiago, Cuba. The sister of his female 
teacher married the consul of Haiti in Santiago. It was then decided to 
baptize Fidel, almost 6 years old, in the Catholic Church. Louis Hibbert, the 
Haitian consul and his wife were chosen to be Castro's godparents.
Fidel had great respect for his godparents and a special affection for the 
consul's new wife, "who was a noble person, a piano teacher although she had 
no students."                           

He emphasized that his teacher and her sister were "mestizas," a mixture of 
indigenous peoples and Europeans, referred to as "mulatas" in Cuba. (Two of 
Hibbert's daughters have been my neighbors in Miami. Sadly, one of the 
daughters was killed with her husband on February 13, 2001, in a tragic car accident during a visit to Haiti. The other one is still my neighbor and a good friend). 
When Fidel was born, his parents decided that a rich man by the name of Fidel 
Pinos Santos would be his godfather. They also gave him the name of Fidel 
because he was going to be Castro's godfather. 
Six years went by and Fidel still had not been baptized. The wealthy Fidel 
Pinos Santos was not meant to be his godfather, and Castro feels that his 
destiny was that of  "a communist at a tender age."  He also said that his 
chosen godfather, although rich, had a reputation of being extremely frugal. 
This may explain why he did not choose to be Castro's godfather, whose 
responsibilities include moral and material support to the godson.  

According to custom, Castro's first name could have been Luis in honor of his 
Haitian godfather. But Fidel kept his name intact. He has a brother, however, 
by the name of Luis. 

Referring to the name Luis, here is what Fidel had to say:  "I could have 
been called Luis Castro if since birth, the Haitian consul had been chosen as 
my godfather. Well, there have been many prestigious 'Luis' in the history of 

- Carl Fombrun can be contacted at carl@fombrun.com, www.fombrun.com, or by 
fax at 305 270-3799.   

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