A rose for fam­ily of U.S. plan­ta­tion owner ex­e­cuted by Cas­tro

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY TA­MARA LUSH

MI­AMI | One of Mi­ami’s old­est ceme­ter­ies is so close to the Fidel Cas­tro death cel­e­bra­tions at Café Ver­sailles in Lit­tle Havana that its mar­ble an­gels echo with conga-line cheers from Calle Ocho.

Most of the peo­ple in­terred at Ca­ballero Wood­lawn Ceme­tery-North on South­west Eighth Street — the many Cubans buried there, for sure — hoped to live long enough to hear the cel­e­bra­tions.

There’s Jorge Mas Canosa, a Bay of Pigs vet­eran and founder of the Cuban Amer­i­can Na­tional Foun­da­tion, rest­ing in his tomb un­der Cuban and U.S. flags.

A few rows over is Car­los Prio So­car­ras, Cuba’s pres­i­dent from 1948 un­til 1952 and an out­spo­ken Cas­tro critic. His grave is adorned with a Cuban flag mo­saic.

And then there’s the grave of the fam­ily of Robert Fuller, a bur­nished bronze marker set in the lush grass. It’s not as flashy as the oth­ers, and Fuller’s body isn’t even there. But he’s im­por­tant to stu­dents of Cuban his­tory as one of a small group of Cuban-Amer­i­cans who tried to over­throw Cas­tro six months be­fore the Bay of Pigs in­va­sion.

“Grandma, I wish you were here to see this,” Robert Fuller’s niece, Kather­ine, said, bend­ing with a del­i­cate pink rose in her hand over the grave of Jen­nie Fuller — Robert’s mother — and other rel­a­tives.

Af­ter Cas­tro’s forces seized power in Havana in 1959, the new regime “re­peat­edly ha­rassed and threat­ened” mem­bers of the Fuller fam­ily and sought to seize the 10,000-acre agri­cul­tural busi­ness they had op­er­ated since 1903, ac­cord­ing to the fam­ily’s law­suit against Cuba.

Robert Fuller, who had dual Cuban and U.S. cit­i­zen­ship, was born on the Hol­guin plan­ta­tion in 1934 and felt Cuba, Kather­ine Fuller said, even af­ter serv­ing as a U.S. Marine in Korea. In 1960, at 25, he joined an ill-fated mis­sion to lead a boat­load of poorly trained Cubans from Mi­ami in hopes of mus­ter­ing up a counter-rev­o­lu­tion on the is­land.

In­stead, the men were quickly cap­tured, and Fuller con­fessed un­der tor­ture to coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press dis­patch from Havana on his trial, he told the court that he joined the in­vaders be­cause the Cas­tro gov­ern­ment had taken over his fa­ther’s ranch, “earned by the sweat of his brow and very hon­or­ably.”

His mother, Jen­nie, sobbed in the court­room where, in front of jeer­ing crowds, Fuller was sen­tenced to death by fir­ing squad. The fam­ily asked to bring his body back with them to Amer­ica. Cas­tro’s peo­ple said no.

Jen­nie Fuller left Cuba, never to re­turn, and her son re­mains buried some­where on the is­land in an un­marked mass grave, court records say.

In 2006, a Mi­ami-Dade County judge awarded the fam­ily $400 mil­lion in dam­ages af­ter Cuba ig­nored their law­suit. A decade later, they haven’t seen a dime.

Kather­ine Fuller was born in Mi­ami two years af­ter her un­cle was ex­e­cuted, and was raised in the Cuban and Amer­i­can tra­di­tions of her fam­ily. Now 55, she still lives in the city where her un­cle is re­mem­bered as a hero. There’s even a street in Lit­tle Havana named af­ter him.

Cas­tro’s death was a joy­ful mo­ment, she said, but also bit­ter­sweet. None of the ex­iled mem­bers of the fam­ily has ever re­turned to Cuba.

Kather­ine al­ways was too afraid when Cas­tro was alive, given her sur­name’s no­to­ri­ety on the is­land. More than any­thing, she won­ders why Cas­tro ru­ined “such a rich trea­sure of an is­land.”

But she also knows that her own his­tory and fam­ily legacy are in­ter­twined with Cas­tro’s. Her grand­mother and other rel­a­tives have car­ried the pain of Robert Fuller’s ex­e­cu­tion all their lives.

Jen­nie Fuller grew her hair long, and it flowed to her waist in a thick braid.

“We’d say to her, ‘Grandma, when are you go­ing to cut your hair?’” Kather­ine Fuller re­called. “And she’d al­ways say, ‘I’ll cut my hair when Cas­tro falls.’”

Jen­nie Fuller died in 2001, her long hair in­tact. But the rose bushes she planted at the fam­ily’s Mi­ami prop­erty in 1959 live on.

Last Tues­day, Kather­ine Fuller slipped the lit­tle pink rose from those bushes along­side a bou­quet of lilies on the fam­ily’s Thanks­giv­ing ta­ble, and ex­pressed cau­tious op­ti­mism about Cuba’s fu­ture.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Frances R. Fuller (left), and her niece Kather­ine Fuller, sis­ter and niece re­spec­tively, of Robert Fuller, show pho­tos of Fuller. In 1960, Robert Fuller was part of an ill-fated mis­sion to lead Cubans from Mi­ami to muster up a counter-rev­o­lu­tion in Cuba.

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