PLYMOUTH — Retired Plymouth State University professor Dr. Manuel Marquez-Sterling says that Cuba's history would have been very different had his father, Carlos Marquez-Sterling, prevailed in the Nov. 3, 1958, election.
''My father should have won. But there was huge electoral fraud by Fulgencio Batista and the Army and Fidel Castro's forces kept many people from voting at all. In some places Batista's forces just filled the ballot boxes with ballots they had filled out,'' says Marquez-Sterling, who was born in Havana and practiced law in Cuba before coming to the United States in 1960.
He has documented the period in a book, "Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power," which was published in 2009. He says his book destroys many myths about Cuba and shows that it was a prosperous and progressive country, and in the fast lane to become a First World country with a large middle class, a fine educational system open to all classes, and with high standards of living.
''We had the third-best economy in the Americas. Only the United States and Canada were better, off,'' says Marquez-Sterling, who says that under Castro the economy was transformed from one that had been growing rapidly into that of a Third World country.
He is withholding judgment on President Barak Obama's move to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, but is concerned that Obama wasn't able to gain concessions on human rights from the Castro government. ''Will they continue to control the press as closely as they have? They have to make concessions,'' says Marquez-Sterling, who maintains that the Cuban economy is getting even worse, especially now that oil prices have dropped worldwide and that Venezuela will no longer be able to help prop up the Castro government.
''A cautious observer just has to wait and see. My fear is that the U.S. may end up as an ally of the Castro regime.'' he says.
He is the co-author, along with father, of the "History of the Island of Cuba," and also published his father's memoirs. His father was also the founder of the Manuel Marquez Sterling School of Journalism at the University of Havana.
His father, who had served as president of the Cuban House of Representatives, was detained many times during he 1950s for his opposition to the Batista dictatorship and was placed under house arrest after Castro took over power on Jan. 1, 1959. He later fled the country and came to the United States where he taught at Columbia University.
Marquez-Sterling and his wife, Gloria, left Cuba along with their infant son in June 1960.
''We had $350 and a small suitcase. We thought that we would be going back some day. We came here to oppose Castro and his revolution,'' says Gloria.
He looked for a job and landed one cleaning a supermarket in Miami, a major change from being a lawyer and a probate judge. The couple later moved to the Washington, D.C., area where he found a job selling shoes before landing a job as a Spanish teacher at a prep school.
Marquez-Sterling said that during that time they saved up many boxes, with the intention of using them to take their belongings with them whenever they returned to Cuba. But that all changed during the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962.
''We watched President Kennedy's speech about the missile crisis and I told my wife, 'Throw all the boxes away. We're not going back. Now we're part of the Cold War.'''
Marquez-Sterling went on to teach at Ricker College in Maine and landed a job teaching history at what was then Plymouth State Teachers College in 1966. Retired from his faculty position, he now holds the title of professor emeritus.
''I told my wife we'd be here two years. Well it turned out to be a lot longer than that. We fell in love with the area and I was doing what I was trained for.'' he says.
A lifelong baseball fan, who remembers seeing Minnie Minoso play in Cuba before he signed with the Chicago White Sox, Marquez-Sterling was featured in the Ken Burns series ''Baseball'' which was released in 1994. Among the items left behind in Cuba were dozens of baseball pictures signed by major league stars.
He and his wife note that there are 2.5 million Cubans who have left the country during Castro's rule and wonder what will be in store for them in the future.
''We're political refugees. Castro ran the island like a plantation and ruined its economy to the point where they now even have to import sugar. The average pay there is like $20 a month. Cuba is gasping for air. Will the refugees even be allowed to go inside Cuba?'' he asks.
Both say they have no interest in ever returning to Cuba as long as the Castro regime still holds power.
''What has changed? I don't want to see my homeland from a hotel.'' says Marquez-Sterling, who says he admires the sense of humor which has helped the Cuban people sustain themselves under Castro.
''You can be arrested if you have meat in your refrigerator or if you kill a milking cow for meat. So it seems that people are saying that their cows are committing suicide by getting hit by cars or trucks. That way they get to eat the meat without fear of being arrested.''
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