José Azel

* 1948  

  • “It could be said that the house was derelict. I don´t remember how much my brothers had to pay as rent as I was the youngest so they were taking care of those things, but it had had to be maybe a hundred dollars so it was quite cheap. The house was made of wood, it was very old and had neither doors nor windows. But no one could steal anything as nothing was there. That´s how we lived. We learned from each other. I recall an interesting story. We would get some aid every month as refugees. We would get cheese, a can of beans and so. And there was also a can of peanut butter. It was an excess peanut butter made in the United States, being quite thick. And we didn´t know what peanut butter was as it wasn´t sold in Cuba. So we didn´t know how to eat it. We thought we could get a big pot, put the butter in it and add water. Then we would stir it with a cooking spoon and make a cocktail of sorts. When my arm began to ache, I would pass the spoon to the other one as we didn´t have a blender or something like that. There was nothing in the house. So that´s how we made a peanut butter cocktail and that was the life we were living. I also remember that the house had a small yard in the back and my brother who has never been doing anything like that began to repair cars there. He would buy old cars and he would fix them. In the end we were just trying to survive.”

  • “We have to face serious challenges at an early age. We were all between ten and sixteen years old, the eldest were seventeen years old. We were thrown into life. Some of us, me in fact, have had the luck to end up in south Florida, but many went to all kind of places in the States with very cold weather and snow, the conditions we have never experienced. Kids lived in families they didn´t know until they could be handed over to their parents. Unfortunately, I never met my father again. Such was the story of our exodus. And it is interesting – and I am saying it with pride – that according to studies conducted it has transpired that this group of 14.000 children became economically the most successful group of political refugees ever studied. Many of us made successful careers. Senator Mel Marínez, for example, and many others. But on the other hand many had severe personal issues, their marriages were being broken and such, as we grew up lonely, often without family to turn to.”

  • “One of the reasons we ceased our actions against the Fidel Castro government was that we just needed to start to live a normal live, go to work, to survive, to begin from nothing. After all the blunders like what happened in the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Crisis and so one, we felt exhausted and disappointed, as far as the fight was being fought. One still identified himself with the struggle but was less and less active. I started a family, raised three kids. And ten or twelve years later I went back to the university at Miami and joined the new generation of activists. Not as a young man striving for a quick change but as a professor who could advise on many matters. A 13 years old boy who joined the resistance and participated in acts of sabotage turned into an older man who tries to benefit the new generations by his texts, publications and intellectual activity.”

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    Miami, USA, 09.04.2019

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    Miami, USA, 09.04.2019

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“I have never thought of pretending that part of my story just didn´t happen.”

José Azel in 2019
José Azel in 2019
photo: Post Bellum

José Azel was born in 1948 in Havana. His mother died when he was 10 years old. His father was a lawyer. He had two older brothers with whom he lived in the United States after leaving Cuba at a very young age. José was strongly influenced by the teachers at the Catholic school he attended. As a result, at the age of 12, he joined the resistance against the recently established government of Fidel Castro. He participated in several minor acts of sabotage and was distributed anti-Castro propaganda. After the failed attempt to land at the Bay of Pigs, he was sought out at home by the Secret Police. Immediately his father began to arrange his departure for the United States at the age of 13 years through Operation Peter Pan. In the U.S., his 17-year-old brother was awaiting him. The brothers met their needs by doing odd jobs as vegetable pickers, newsboys, or restaurant assistants. At the same time, they underwent training so they could fight the Fidel Castro government. After the United States ceased to support such activities, he wanted to start a new life, so he began to study at the University of Miami. After graduating, he became a successful businessman. After retiring, he joined the university staff as an expert in Cuban studies. Today he educates young Cuban dissidents and publishes his thoughts on Cuba, both in books and in the press. He advocates classical liberalism and considers himself a political emigre. He refuses to go to Cuba until there is a change of conditions.