When I first read our November pick, When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton, I was blown away by the beauty of her prose, the intrigue of her plot, and the emotions of her characters, but when I closed the book, what lingered with my most was the Cuban people on the fringes of the story.
When We Left Cuba–and the other Perez family books written by Chanel Cleeton–offer a unique insight into Cuban people of different time periods, and into one of the most tumultuous times on the island–around 1960. But the Cuban people are still struggling today–just as they struggled then–and to get a better grasp on that and help inform your reading of the book, I spoke with Lala Mooney, a woman who left Cuba in the 1960s after spending time in a Cuban prison following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Now, Mrs. Mooney lives in the US, has written a book on her experiences, and speaks nationally about the plight of Cuban people and the horrors of the regime.
She is a true American success story, and I hope you’ll find her insights even more eye-opening than the most beautiful prose written by Cleeton.
For a bit of background, I was first introduced to the story of Lala Mooney through the rising profile of her son–Congressman Alex Mooney of West Virginia–and through her work speaking around the country about the terrible situation in Cuba. The latter stood out to me because as a student at Yale, notoriously liberal, I saw students mourn the death of Fidel Castro and claim that Cuba was a “great place” and “really mourning” despite the facts of the matter being what they were–dire.
Before speaking to Mrs. Mooney, I watched her moving speech given at the Conservative Women’s Network luncheon at Heritage–I was completely blown away by her story, and I knew I wanted you all to hear it too. It’s not all sunshine and beaches and romantic affairs with Senators, trust me. Give the speech a watch when you get the chance.
To lay out the land, Mrs. Mooney’s family was imprisoned after the Bay of Pigs invasion, and when they were released, they left for the U.S, ending up in the DC area. She married a man she met in college, they had a beautiful family, and now she devotes her time to raising awareness of the Cuban plight as well as making mission trips to Cuba.
Mooney talked to me about the situation that day when her family was rounded up and taken to prison—almost a hundred thousand Cubans were rounded up on the same day because, as Mooney pointed out, that’s what communist regimes do.
Pro-lifers will love this part: Mrs. Mooney talked to me about a moment of sweetness in which the firemen/soldiers pointed the powerful hose at a pregnant woman’s stomach–a clear threat–and the other women surrounded her to protect her and her unborn child. It’s moments like that that remind us all that these regimes do not care about human life in any form.
While her family was being held in prison–separate prisons, many of them makeshift–one of her family members got the chance to flee to the U.S. He hesitated though—thinking of his family who was still behind bars, at risk. Mooney’s father could hear executions happening from his own cell. They knew it was a possibility. And yet her family member was told to leave—to stay safe, as safe as he could, and to get out–because he was one less person to worry about in that moment.
Getting to the US was almost the easy part–in retrospect. It’s going back that is heartbreaking. Lala Mooney and her family have gone back on humanitarian/mission visas several times in the past few decades. While the Cuban government and communist worldwide would love for you to think they are thriving, that is simply not the case. Mrs. Mooney not only lived it, she’s seen it first-hand since leaving the island in the 1960s.
Communists say the system is great because everyone is treated equally. The reality in Cuba is that everyone is treated equally poorly, except for those engaged in profiting from corruption. Mooney told me about ration cards–we know of the idea–but in Cuba, they give you food that in theory only lasts a family for 2-4 days. And so, for the rest of the month, people must steal, trade, and barter to feed their families and stay alive.
One of the most moving parts of Mooney’s interview and her usual presentations is when she brings those ration cards to life. She shows the amount of eggs or chicken that a family of two would be allotted for an entire month. Five eggs and two breasts of chicken. For an entire month. It’s heartbreaking not only to think about the hunger this sort of situation would cause, but also to think about what that hunger does to people. It changes you. In the US, we acknowledge that hungry children cannot learn in school, and yet we ask ourselves why the Cuban people have not tried to revolt under Castro. How can they–when communism and the regime is keeping them down, keeping them hungry, keeping them focused on staying alive instead of anything else.
We live in a world where every uber-Leftie we know talks about how communist healthcare would be great. Mooney again told me how that is a myth, not a reality on the island of Cuba.
Mrs. Mooney told me about how, when planning her mission visits, she was told by a friend and relative to bring aspirin to give as gifts. Ten aspirin in a bag, she told me, holding it up on camera. That’s what people want as gifts–because otherwise they cannot get it, and ailments may become worse. If you’re in pain, you can’t think of much else, but maybe that’s what the Cuban people want.
Many of us learned about the Cuban Missile Crisis in US History and never thought about it again, but the United States’ relationship with Cuba is on-going, ever-evolving, and still not where many would like it to be.
In November 2016, Fidel Castro, the long-time dictator of Cuba who had imprisoned Mrs Mooney and her family, finally died. I say finally because his death had been anticipated for years–his health faltering–and frankly, many Cuban exiles were hopeful that he would die sooner rather than later and give the island another chance.
Mrs. Mooney–being a well-known speaker about her experiences and the mother of a well-respected congressman–was given the chance to speak out about her feelings on Castro’s death.
“I always cry when people ask about my reaction to Castro’s death. It’s just a reaction of hope, a reaction of knowing things are moving, and they’re getting close to the end,” Mrs. Mooney told a local outlet in West Virginia. “On the other hand, I know from what I’ve heard that his brother (Raul Castro, current president) had eight years to prepare himself, and Fidel had a very tight grip, not only on him but a group of former military, so he didn’t have the total freedom to change things.”
Castro’s brother, Raul, who has led the country for years, carries on many of his brother’s policies, but he too is elderly. As of the writing of this article, he is 89. No one can live forever, and no one knows what comes next for Cuba.
Mrs. Mooney is not a politician. She shares her experiences so that others may learn from them. While she does not have the answers as to what the US, or another country, should do about Cuba, she hopes that her story helps open hearts and minds to the horrors of communist regimes.
Lala Mooney is the author of Leaving Cuba: Our Family’s Journey to Cuba, which you can purchase through her Legacy Foundation.
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