Dr Miguel Sague Sr 97 years of age, shares his life experiences in Spanish. Mostly dealing with his school career, early adulthood, professional development and personal participation in some important events during some of the most volatile eras in Cuban history. Although hampered at times by dimming memory as a result of his advanced age his recollections of important personal and national historical events tend to be vivid and often humorously entertaining.
He was born in the small village of Palma Soriano but grew up in a near-by town of La Maya. The family was poor and of peasant origin. His father Bernardo Sague was able to improve their bad financial situation by joining the Cuban army at a time when political-military despots often won the support of soldiers by paying them better wages than their civilian counterparts.
He begins with an explanation of poor schooling in the local elementary school in La Maya, teachers who simply gave the students written "busywork" and then sat or stood around chatting with each other.
He had no seventh or eighth grade experience which hindered him severely when he managed to enter the Havana-based Escuela Tecnica Industrial boarding highschool on a scholarship (too poor to pay for any other type of schooling). He found himself at a disadvantage because most of the other boys had passed both seventh and eighth grade but he had not, so he was always playing catchup in difficult subjects such as advanced highschool math and chemistry.
This was all happening during the dictatorial regime of President Gerardo Machado.
Machado's oppressive regime caused many students to participate in political demonstrations and the government closed their schools as a form of reprisal. At first the students of Miguel's school did not rebel because it was a military school, but ultimately those students also rebelled and although his school was not shut down the rebelling students, who were the majority, were sent home. He was originally going to be allowed to stay because he was the son of a military man. Miguel did not want that and so he argued with the school administration that he should also be sent home beause his political beliefs were independent from his father's. This turned out to be good because when Machado's regime finally collapsed in the early 1930's all the students who had remained loyal to the dictatorship were expelled and he was allowed to return to school under the new revolutionary administration.
Eventually the new government was also highjacked by a new dictator, an army sargeant by the name of Fulgencio Batista. After taking control, Batista had himself promoted to colonel.
After some time back in school the rebellious students began to participate in demonstrations again against the new regime just as they had against Machado. Ultimately the school closed again. The fourth year students such as Miguel were arbitrarily given graduation diplomas without having finished all of their courses of study, a fact that proved again challenging when he eventually decided to enroll in the University of Havana.
But before that happened he returnd to La Maya. Without a job now, at age 20, he landed a position as a waterboy in the Ponupo Manganese Mines. A little bit later the Batista government estalished the educational program of the maestros rurales civico-militares. It was militarily administered.
His father suggestd to him that he apply for one of the teacher jobs. At first he balked at the idea of working in a job offered to him by the government he hated and the idea of actually having to wear a military uniform. However eventually he relented. He used his talents at memorizing to compete for and ultimately land a job as a teacher in one of these civico-rurales schools in the remote peasant community of Nuevo Mundo.
During his stint as a para-military school teacher Miguel strived to improve the educational environmnt of his students and ended up earning the love and admiration of the guajiros in the region. At the same time, he succeded in enrolling in the University of Havana as an education major and took all his courses by correspondence. After much studying he completed his doctorate right around the time when he was transferred to a rural school much closer to the city of Santiago.
political demonstration 1930's in the streets of Santiago
The central park of Santiago PARQUE DE CESPEDES with the cathedral in the background.
Eventually after controlling Cuban politics from behind the scenes or overtly for decades the vissicitudes of Cuban history placed Batista outside of the political arena. He moved to The USA and spent years there. But after some time he was allowed to return and again became involved in Cuban politics.
Eventually Miguel finally completed his stint with the civico-militar program and landed a job as a middle school teacher in the city of Santiago. After that he moved on to other teaching jobs and eventually was hired as a principal. He worked as principal in several schools during the early 1940's until an ingenious idea of his for tracking student attendance and behavior caught the attention of private school owner Se~ora Barrio, owner of INSTITUTO BARRIO, a prestigious elementry school in Santiago. Barrios hired him to institute in her school the tracking system he had created, a job that more than doubled his salary and put him in a very firm financial situation. Sometime during all this his mother and father both moved from La Maya to Santiago and lived not far from his own home.
During all this time Miguel had made friends with fellow teacher Anibal Machiran, who belonged to an upper middle class Santiago family headed by a self-made real-estate and construction entrepenour, Norberto Machiran. The Machiran family owned and operated another prestigious private elementary school called Instituto Comercial America. The oldest Machiran son, Norberto Jr. was a doctor and the head of the local hospital, Saturnino Lora, which was located accross the street from the main military barracks of Santiago, CUARTEL MONCADA. Another Machiran brother Manuel Machiran was a highly placed chemical engineer at the Bacardi Rum Company which had its main headquarters in the city of Santiago after having been founded there by Don Facundo Bacardi in the previous century.
This link leads to a copy of an August 13 1952 article by the reporter Frederick C. Othman of the St Petersburg Times newspaper regarding the job of rum tasters in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. In the interview the news man interviews my uncle Dr. Manuel Machiran, who was currently involved in the founding of the Bacardi Rum works on that island as a subsidiary of the main Cuban firm. Dr. Machiran was the local Bacardi Rum distillers manager in Puerto Rico.
The Barrio family ultimatelly sold Instituto Barrio to Miguel for about $2000. As the owner of the private school he brought his father there to work as his secretary, the old man having already been honorably discharged from the Cuban army.
This is a typical public elementary school class portrait of the 1950's
Miguel's friendship with the Machiran family brought him in contact with one of the pretty young Machiran girls, Consuelo, a teacher at Instituto Comercial America. Her beauty, intelligence and professional fervor swept him off his feet and the two fell in love. He declared his intention to marry Consuelo to his friend Anibal and received the brother's blessing. Armed with her brother's support he had no trouble getting the approval from Don Norberto and the wedding was scheduled for 1949. The plans had to be changed when his beloved father Don Bernardo died after a long illness.
Here is the official cemetery record file for Bernardo's burial
Eventually He and Consuelo married in 1950.
This is a photo of Miguel's mother during her later years.
After dabbling in politics for a little while since returning to Cuba, Batista ran for president in the 1952 elections, but when it became evident that he was going to lose he conspired with the military elements in control of the main barracks of Havana (the Columbia Barracks) to carry out a coup de'tat, and highjacked the elections. He pronounced himself president of the republic and launched yet another brutal regime which would last from 1952 til 1959. Poverty and suffering of the common people increased and so did the resistance against the government.
In this video the former Rebel Commander Huber Matos, fellow teacher and close friend of Miguel, narrates the details surrounding the coup d'etat via which Batista took control of the country.
Miguel comments on the close relationship established between the then US ambassador Sumner Welles and the Cuban Dictator Batista.
Many Cubans lived in miserable poverty.
A political protestor being brutally arrested by the Batista police.
Political opposition to the Batista regime increased as the popular demonstrations widened in the streets. Some polititians including failed candidate Fidel Castro arrived at the conclusion that only armed resistance could put an end to the Batista regime.
Fidel with friends near Santiago.
Santiago city was famous for its spectacular carnival season which was celebrated every year in July in honor of the city's Catholic patron saint James the Apostle.
Taking advantage of the distractions from the festivities during the Santiago carnival season, Fidel Castro led an attack on the Moncada military barracks of Santiago De Cuba on July 26 1953.
My mother's brother Dr. Norberto, the administator of the Saturnino Lora hospital accross the street from the barracks, found himself in the position of having to protect and treat some of the wounded rebels as they fell back in the face of fierce counter-attack at the military compound.
Eventually Batista's soldiers invaded the hospital and either murdered some of the unarmed wounded rebels in cold blood right there in front of the doctors and nurses, or dragged them out to be tortured elsewhere. Not long after that Dr. Norberto was approached at his home by a man carrying a child in his arms. As my uncle chatted with the man out his window the man suddenly pulled out a gun and shot at him wounding him in the face. The assasination attempt was always deemed a reprisal from pro-Batista people who felt the doctor had protected the rebels too much during the Moncada attack. This is ironic because the whole Machiran family was generally in favor of Batista and remained opposed to the Castro revolution to the end.
A number of government soldiers died during the Moncada attack. Among the dead was Lieutenant Danilo Feraud. This man was the brother of Dolores Feraud, daughter of a Santiago tailor. Dolores was a school teacher and the closest childhood friend of Consuelo Machiran, my mother, who was also a school teacher. At the time of his death Danilo had just recently stood as godfather to Dolores' one-year-old daughter Lenia. That little girl would some day grow up and end up being my wife.
These are images of Moncada Barracks first as they looked right after the attack and how they look now after they were converted into a school.
Batista was livid with anger after the Moncada Barracks attack. The reprisals lasted for some time. Eventually the bishop of Santiago, Archbishop Enrique Prez Serante arbitrated the surrender of Fidel and the few other rebels who had escaped after the failed attack and were hiding under miserable conditions in the rural environs not far from the city of Santiago.
Fidel and a number of his co-conspirators stood trial right at the hospital where many of them had sought refuge after the failed attack. A lawyer himself, Fidel acted in his own defense delivering a famous speech during the trial entitled "History Will Absolve Me", which was a scathing indictment of the Batista regime. His overwhelming popularity and prestige, as well as the fact that he was the scion of a wealthy Santiago family saved him from the firing squad and he was sentenced to prison in the Isle of Pines off the southwest coast of Cuba.
Fidel wrote more inspiring manifestos behind bars but he did not stay imprisoned long. Soon he was pardoned and he immediately went back to work fomenting revolution. Eventually he was expelled from the country and he emmigrated to the United States, and then later to Mexico where he met and joined forces with Che Guevara.
In 1957 Fidel organized an armed return to Cuba aboard a yacht called "Granma". The small contingent landed on the southern coast of Oriente province and soon had entrenched itself in the wild Sierra Maestra mountains from where they began waging an increasingly successful uprising.
In the Sierra with Raul Castro and Vilma Espin.
Sometimes the fighting reached the streets of Santigo which lies in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains. I remember the sound of assault rifles being fired in the streets during my childhood. Miguel supported the revolution as did many other intellectals and professionals. His close friend, a fellow teacher, Huber Matos became a high-ranking officer in the rebel army.
The revolution continued unabated and eventually the Batista forces began slowly to retreat before the ongoing victories of Castro's forces. During all this time Miguel's support of the revolution grew. At one point he even accepted the dangerous responsibility of hiding weapons for the rebels inside the Instituto Barrio premises.
Eventually on December 31st (New Years Eve) 1959 Fulgencio Batista resigned his title as president of Cuba and boarded a private plane in Havana along with his wife and some of his political cronies. As people all over Cuba celebrated New Years Day and the rebel forces approached Havana, the government of Batista ended and Fidel Castro took over within the next week.
Miguel watched proudly out the door of his home along with his family as green-fatigue uniformed rebels marched down the streets of the citiy of Santiago as the radio blared revolutionary hymns and the red and black flag of the 26th Of July rebel movement fluttered everywhere in the city.
Soon after the triumph Miguel began to notice signs that there was a leftist leaning to the Revolution. Most Cubans at that time were against Communism and the rebel leaders were not very open about the core nature of the new government. Right after the victory of the revolution Miguel's frugal lifestyle and wise saving habits allowed him to actually retire early at age fortyfour. He sold the Instituto Barrio. Soon after that he was given the opportunity to take a job as principal at a school that served the children of the Cuban laborers and staff at the Nickel and Cobalt mines operated by the U.S. owned Moa Bay Mining Company in the north of the province.
He took that job and moved the whole family out to the remote mining location where the company gave him a new American built house. The Cuban students attended one school in Spanish and the children of the American administrators and miners attended a separate school directed by an American principal called Mr Fenwick. The Fenwick family became a regular fixture at the Sague home and we children became acquainted for the first time with a little American girl called Gretchen Fenwick.
Soon after Miguel accepted the job at the school on the mine property the Castro government nationalized all foreign-owned companies and Moa Bay ceased to be as it had been.This turned out to be a life-changing moment for the Sague family because Miguel lost his job. The nationalization of the Moa Bay Mining Co by the Castro government triggered a legal claim by the United States owned corporation against the new Cuban regime.
Miguel moved back to Santiago almost a year after he had moved out. By late 1960 relations between the US government and the Castro regime had reached its lowest point and soon the C.I.A. orchestrated the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt to topple the Cuban government. The attempt failed and Castro now buoyed by his victory over the Americans pronounced the new regime Marxist-Leninist. Realizing that the Castro government was Communist Miguel lost all faith in it and began planning his exit from Cuba.
Since the revolution had been planned and executed largely by Santiagoans, many of the highest-ranked officials in the new government were from Santiago and also were acquaintances of Miguel or even childhood friends. The majority of the old Havana bureaucrats were mostly replaced with Santiago revolutionaries and intellectuals. Among these was an fellow Santiago educator called Max Figueroa who contacted him from Havana and informed him that there was a high-placed position waiting for him in the national department of education of the new revolutionary government. Miguel travelled to Havana to see his old friend and went through the motions of listening as Max excitedly explained the wonders of the position he was offering him there. But inside he had already decided that he was soon going to leave the country. Foremost in his mind was his disappointment when another old friend and fellow teacher, the rebel army commander Huber Matos was named military governor of a whole province but later gave up his position in the revolutionary system and criticized the extreme "sovietization" of the revolution. Matos was arrested and summarily judged. He was slammed with a twenty-year sentence for treason.
Not long after that trip to Havana Miguel procured a visa and bought a two-way ticket to Miami, Florida. It was difficult for his wife Consuelo to face the local department of education authorities in Santiago that month when Miguel's teacher retirement pension check arrived. By that time everyone in Santiago knew that Miguel had emigrated to the land of the "Imperialists". Consuelo was forced to walk down to the department offices and confront the department head there who happened to be Max Figueroa's wife. Mrs. Figueroa glared coldly at my mother across her desk when my mother placed the uncashed check before her. Referring to the fact that my mother's family had always been anti-Revolution, Mrs. Figueroa hissed "So you Machirans finally turned Sague against the Revolution".
Not long after that Consuelo also acquired visas for herself and the three children and joined Miguel In Miami.
Life In Miami was no picnic. The first job Miguel managed to get was as dish-washer at the Hotel Cadillac in Miami Beach.
The Sague Family only spent about a year in Miami. Miguel paid a company to find him employment in the field of education. Not long after he was offered a position to replace the Spanish teacher of Gannon College in Erie,Pennsylvania, who had died unexpectedly.
The Sague family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania in 1962. In Erie Miguel soon made a very comfortable position for himself in the faculty of the college. Not only did he teach Spanish but he also helped forge a Latin American studies program that included Summer week-long full-immersion intensives designed to allow Spanish language teachers from other schools to stay in dormitories and share hours in the company of native speakers interacting exclusively in the language.
He recruited several young Sague-Machiran family members to spend part of their summer in Erie to be the Spanish language native speakers.
Later Miguel took a professional sabbatical and travelled around Central America, Guatemala, Belize, Yucatan, studying and researching pre-Columbian Indigenous cultures. When he returned he immersed himself in research. After this period of preparation he initiated a course in ancient Indigenous cultures of Central America with an emphasis on the Maya civilization. During this period I became fascinated with the topic that he was researching and shared in his enthusiasm of the Maya Calendar.
At the same time That he was doing all this he was teaching Spanish part-time at a private elementary school called Erie Day School. His wife Consuelo eventually began to teach Spanish at McDowel High School.
Miguel soon achieved full tenure in the college faculty. He moved the family first from a small second-floor apartment near downtown Erie to a rented house and then finally purchased a brand new one-family home in the suburbs of the city.
His son Miguel Sague Jr attended Columbus College of Art And Design and then transferred to Gannon College from which he graduated with a bachelors in Art Education. Miguel attended his son's wedding to Lenia Rodriguez on June 5 1976
He spent over twenty years teaching at Gannon College and retired in the late 1980's. At first he stayed in Erie and waited til his wife also retired noticing on her last year on the job that she was showing the first signs of Alzheimer's disease.
They both moved to Pittsburgh with plans to spend the rest of their lives close to their oldest son. Unfortunately Consuelo's illness forced him to re-think his plans. He decided to move back to Miami in the early 1990's. In Miami he settled into a life of retirement with his wife among several members of his family.
He spent the rest of his life there.
Miguel established a tradition of celebrating every Christmas holiday at his home in Miami surrounded by his family and so we, his three adult children journeyed annually from all parts of the United States and Canada with our own families to spend the holidays with my father and my mother in Florida.
Miguel's wife Consuelo, passed away in Miami in September of 2013 after a long and increasingly debilitating battle with Alazheimers during which he stayed firmly by her side, caring for her personally to the very end.
Finally just eight days short of his own 100th birthday Miguel also passed away in May of 2016.