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Hello, and welcome to a special edition of Witness, coming from


Cuba. I am Will Grant, and I will be taking you on a journey to meet some


of the people who have helped make history here in Cuba. We will hear


from the Buena Vista Social Club about the album that changed Cuba


forever. The minister who broke the mould in the island, and playing


baseball against the old enemy before relations with the United


States began to thaw. And the woman who put Cuban ballet on the map,


94-year-old Alicia Alonso. We began in 1959 as bearded revolutionaries


led by Fidel Castro marched triumphant through the streets of


Havana. It marked the success of the Cuban revolution. Our witness


remembers where he was on the day that he saw history being made. On


January eight, 1959, I was standing at this corner as hundreds of Cubans


were welcoming Fidel Castro. And I was very excited, very optimistic. I


thought these guys really were going to change Cuba in a positive way.


But he dominated Cuban politics from 1933 to more or less 1958. He was


considered the guy who really enforce the law for the benefit of


American companies. He and his Cabinet received $2000 each month


from the mafia to let them do whatever he wanted to do in Cuba,


about casinos, prostitution. My father was a well-known politician


who had opposed Batista from the beginning and I was a young high


school student, influenced by my father's ideas. At that time, the


Batista police could easily kill you for something as simple as


participating in a strike. In 1958, I remember following the advanced of


the revolutionaries forces on shortwave radio.


At the end of 1958, the revolutionaries movement called for


some sort of strike. So it was a very bad Christmas in Cuba. Because


there were no celebrations. Nobody was going out, there were no


parties. So on December 31, we went to bed early. We didn't even wait


for the new year. And sometime around 3am or 4am in the morning, I


heard the phone ringing. My father worked up, and he said... He spoke,


obviously, and then he turned to all of us who had woken up, and said


Batista has left. With Batista in flight to the Dominican Republic,


the celebrating soon turns to mob action and looting. Gambling


machines get the axe. Rebel fighters, fresh from the battlefield


in central Cuba, pour into the capital to impose martial law and


quell the rioting. Most of the military installations, facilities,


in Havana were taken over without a shot. The guys surrendered. Fidel


Castro took eight days to arrive in Havana. He arrived in Havana on


January eight. Some of my friends started to criticise the


revolution, that it was too radical. They started to criticise


the presence of the communists. Between 1959 and 1961, all my


friends at school, all my cousins, all my uncles and aunts, left. You


know, my sense in those years, when the revolution took over, initially


I expected things to go well. I didn't expect the United States to


take such a hard line on Cuba. I knew there was going to be a


negative reaction. What -- but I didn't expect things to turn around


so badly. Although much of his family did leave Cuba, Carlos


stayed. Today he lives here in Havana where he is a writer and


academic. Next we are taking you back to 1996 when a group of veteran


Cuban musicians recorded an album that became an overnight sensation.


The musicians and their traditional Cuban songs have been virtually


forgotten but the album made them unlikely global superstars. Our next


witness is one of the original members of Buena Vista Social Club.


And now, please welcome, from Havana, it is the Buena Vista Social




Our third witness this month is Juan Carlo Montez. Juan Carlo Montez is


something of a pioneer. In 1993 he defied the Communist authorities to


open one of the first-ever privately owned restaurants in Cuba. The time


massive Soviet aid to the island had dried up and Cubans were forced to


find new ways to make a living. Juan Carlos Montes, speaking to us


from his home in Havana, where he now rents rooms to tourists.


Remember, you can watch our round-up of history every month on the BBC


News Channel or scroll through outback catalogue of radio


programmes at our online archive. Just go to the website. These days,


relations have thawed between the old atmospherics, Cuba and the


United States. And the sight of Americans on the streets of Havana


doesn't attract much attention. But back in the late 1990s, a baseball


game between the Cuban national side and the US major league team was a


huge event. Our next witness, Enrique Diaz, played in that match.


Another example of the power of soft diplomacy through sport. Bringing


together old foes. And finally to the elegant world of ballet. In


recent years some the most exciting dancers have come from Cuba, and


that is largely down to the work of the remarkable work of Alysia


Alonso. She said at the company over 60 years ago and spoke to us from


her beautiful office in her 60 years ago and spoke to us from


her beautiful office in -- Havana. Immediately following the revolution


in 1959, Alicia Alonso and her first husband, were given the money and


support to fund a national ballet company of Cuba.


That magnificent prima ballerina still very much a dancer at heart.


That is if this special edition of witness coming from Cuba. Remember


to watch Tanya Beckett next month and she will be back in the British


library in London bringing you fight for witnesses and more history


through the eyes of the people who were there. From me, will grant in


her -- Havana, goodbye.


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