Thursday, March 4, 2010

El Gran Stadium, my uncle once part of a plot to assassinate Batista

This is a baseball story only in its setting: Opening night of the Havana Sugar Kings' inaugural 1954 season.

My uncle and future godfather, René Brioso, sat with conspirators toward right field in the last row of El Gran Stadium of Havana.

But they weren't watching the International League game. Instead they looked out beyond the outfield fences toward the rooftop of a building -- the national police's motorized division -- waiting for a signal that never came.

René -- who after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 would be imprisoned for more than a month at la Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, falsely accused of being a Batista sympathizer and collaborator -- sat in that stadium waiting to take part in an attempted assassination of dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Two years earlier, Batista had staged a coup, ousting outgoing president Carlos Prio Socarrás three months before the elections.

As a bus driver and member of El Sindicato de Empleados de Omnibus Aliados union, Rene had helped stage several labor strikes and work stoppages throughout Havana in protest of Batista's coup. When those strikes failed to erode Batista's power, René and his associates escalated their efforts to more dangerous activities.

Among them was their involvement with the Triple A Movement, started by Prio and his onetime minister of state and education, Aureliano Sánchez Arango. The ousted Prio had a cache of arms stored in an apartment beyond center field, and the group had accomplices within the police.

"Batista was supposed to go to a party, a baptism or something," my Padrino once told me. "And the plan was when he left the baptism we would make the attempt on his life. ...

"One of the people involved was the dispatcher. The plan was when he received word that the attempt had been made, he was supposed to go to the roof and with a flash light signal us in the stadium that the president was dead. Then we would storm the station, take weapons, police cars and begin the revolutionary movement. ... We waited and waited and got no signal. Later we found out that Batista didn’t go to the party they couldn’t make the attempt on his life."

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