An 8-year-old boy loses his father to an execution squad. Imagine the shock, questions and hurt at losing his father at such a young age. Why did his father have to die? Could his death been avoided? Why did he have to lose his father?
Fidel Castro wrested the reins of power over Cuba from military dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959. Luis Haza was eight. At the time, his father, Col. Bonifacio Haza, commanded the National Police in Santiago.
Batista had ruled with military might, leading a reign of terror that saw people taken from their homes, never to return.
For years, numerous factions had been working to overthrow Batista. In December of 1956, Castro and his allies -- who had been organizing in Mexico -- landed on the eastern shore of Cuba in an attempt to overthrow Batista's government. In the fighting that followed, most of Castro's troops were killed, and those who survived lost much of their munitions and supplies.
Undeterred, Castro continued his efforts. By the time he rode victoriously into Santiago a little more than two years later, the prevailing belief (including among the island's business leaders) was that Castro's overthrow of Batista would lead to democracy and free elections. Col. Haza believed democracy was Cuba's destiny and stood with Castro on a stage soon after Castro first entered Santiago in victory.
But it soon became apparent that Castro neither believed in nor would support democracy; Col. Haza withdrew his support.
Later that month, Col. Haza was force into a dark cow pasture, where he and 70 other prisoners were executed under the direction of Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother and now the country's president.
"My father thought the revolution was for democracy," Luis Haza said. "Castro betrayed my father and the entire revolution."
By 1963, Luis Haza had become an accomplished violinist and was appointed an associate concertmaster of a professional orchestra in Cuba. According to Haza, "the power structure wanted to see if I could be 'integrated' into the system. If they integrate the son of an executed man, it would be a model for all the young people."
But Luis Haza had a different dream: "To come to the United States for freedom. We knew that in Cuba, eventually we would die, just like we had seen neighbors die, and so-and-so disappeared. It was a daily thing, a daily subject: American freedom, to go to the United States."
After Haza refused to play for the elder Castro, a military squad charged into a rehearsal, pointing machine guns at the pianist. "Boy! Play something!" they shouted.
He did. "I played the American national anthem, 'The Star Spangled Banner.'" The entire thing! You could hear a pin drop. I finished playing, and nobody knew what to do."
Soon after, Haza fled with his family to Spain, where they waited to immigrate to the United States. They arrived in the United States on Election Day -- November 3, 1964.
Haza was recounting his story on Memorial Day this week, and mentioned having recently attended a ceremony in which a family friend was inducted into the U.S. Army. As he watched the young man swear to protect and defend the United States, Haza understood why his father had given his life for Cuba.
"Now, I understand," Haza said, "why my father died." In his death, Col. Bonifacio Haza served his country, and in serving his country he served his family, including his 8-year-old son, who now lives in freedom in the United States.
While many Americans take their freedoms for granted, Luis Haza, whose father defied Castro and was killed for doing so, understands that the freedoms we have are extraordinary and that freedoms are never free.
Col. Haza did his duty for his country and gave his life.
A father, full of love, for freedom and his family.
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