Cuba, Latin America and Africa: Revolutionaries and deserters (3)
More recently, international media attention has turned to Chinese Cuban involvement in Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution of 1958-59. Following years of repression under Fulgencia Batista’s corrupt military dictatorship, Castro’s dreams of a socialist system appealed to many Cubans of Chinese and African descent, who joined Castro’s rebel army en masse. Perhaps most memorable are three young rebels of Chinese descent who threw themselves into the fight, eventually becoming generals and high-powered decision makers in government. Their names were Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong.
Spreading the revolution at home…
Born in the mid-1930s, all three men were sons of Chinese shopkeepers who had travelled from China in search of better prospects. As teenagers, the three took up arms, lead protests in the cities, and later joined the Rebel Army units fighting in eastern and central Cuba. After successfully overthrowing the Batista regime, they were instrumental in coordinating a Cuban Chinese militia unit that eliminated drugs, prostitution and gambling in Havana’s Chinatown, and ousting the nationalist Kuomintang supporters that had long dominated its leading associations.
… and abroad
At various times between 1975 and 1988, Choy, Chui and Sío were all sent to Angola to defend the country from a US-backed invasion by South Africa and Zaire, and help consolidate the socialist regime. They would also participate in several other international aid missions. Chui served in Nicaragua, Mozambique, and Ethiopia. Choy was appointed ambassador to Cape Verde. Sío Wong, ex-president of the Cuba-China Friendship association, served in Venezuela to advise on a “city-farming” project. In recognition for their roles and dedication to the revolutionary cause, Chui, Choy and Sío Wong were appointed to key posts in Interior Ministry and Ministry of Defence. To this day, many Cubans of Chinese descent hold high level posts within the Central Committee and the Cuban Communist Party’s Political Bureau.
A Community Divided?
While these three generals have been championed as heroes by the current Cuban government, let’s not forget that a large part of the Chinese community refused to support the revolution. Back in 1957, wealthy Chinese business owners joined a demonstration in support of Batista and in celebration of him surviving an assassination attempt by several revolutionaries. After Castro’s victory in 1959, these same Cuban Chinese business owners packed up their things and sought refuge in neighbouring Caribbean countries, the US, and Canada. Those that remained saw their land and shops confiscated by the new socialist state. According to official Cuban census figures, there were nearly 12,000 Chinese in Cuba in 1953 – a number halved by 1970.
For more information, read: Our History Is Still Being Written. The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution, by Armando Choy, Moisés Sío Wong, and Gustavo Chui, edited by Mary-Alice Walters (2005).
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