CubaBrief: On the death of Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh y Dueñas, Cuban patriot, writer, scholar. Rosa Leonor on the Cuban Republic, and how the dictatorship came to power.

Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh y Dueñas May 9, 1930 – October 18, 2023

Cuban woman of letters Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh y Dueñas passed away on October 18, 2023.

Born in Havana, Cuba on May 9, 1930 she earned a Doctorate in Philosophy and Letters and dedicated her life as a pedagogue in Cuba, Mexico and the United States at all levels of education.

She was a lecturer, essayist, and scholar of history.

Taught at Vassar College, University of Anahuac, Tarbut Hebrew School in Mexico, Miami Dade College, Miami Dade Public School System as well as in private academic institutions.

Founding member of the Centre for Human Rights of the Christian Democratic Movement of the Mexican delegation in Exile. Organizer of the Christian Democratic Training Seminars (1960-1970) that included the Social Christian Doctrine.

She was also the great-granddaughter of Cuban independence general Calixto Garcia Iñiguez. Calixto Garcia beginning at age 18, fought in the 10 Years’ War (1868-1878), the Little War (1878) and the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898). He fought in all the insurrections against Spanish colonial rule in Cuba over thirty years becoming a general, before succumbing to pneumonia while on a diplomatic mission to Washington DC on December 11, 1898. Like her great grandfather Rosa Leonor was steadfast in her opposition to the Castro regime, but hers was a non-violent struggle in the realm of culture, history, and education.

On the eve of the centennial of the Cuban Republic, Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh, then a professor at Miami-Dade Community College, who was part of the committee organizing events for the anniversary on May 20, 2002, observed, “The weekend will be bittersweet” … ”The history of Cuba is also the history of families,” … “It’s something you can’t let die.”

On December 10, 2022 Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh y Dueñas took part in a conversation with Carolina Barrero, and Yoel Suárez on “Recovering Cuba’s human rights legacy“. She gave an important message for this and future generations. Below is an excerpt from her presentation.

“It was an honor to have known her, and learned from this woman of letters. The passing of Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh y Dueñas is a great loss for Cubans on the island and around the world who benefited from her tireless efforts to defend human rights, and preserve the memory of the Cuban Republic,” observed John Suarez, executive director, Center for a Free Cuba.

Yesterday, funeral services were held for Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh beginning with a mass at 10:30 am at St. Michael Church presided over by Father Elvis González and Fatherr. José Luis Menéndez. She then laid in state until 1:30 pm at the Ferdinand Funeral Home,  and at 2 pm at Graceland Cemetery she was laid to rest surrounded by friends and family members. This was a celebration of her life, but it was also bittersweet because she was not able to see the restoration of a free Cuba on the island, but she was a part of that free Cuba her entire life, and will serve as an exemplar for future generations.

Fittingly she told her life story in Spanish in 2021, and it is available online. In the interview she describes the Castro regime as a parenthesis that should never have happened, but came to power through deception and terror.

“As the country evolves, it must seek to take its head above water and see another sky, which is the same one that gave birth to our Mambises and the Republic. A very beautiful history that we have in Cuba until this sad parenthesis that in truth should not have happened, but deception goes a long way, and terror goes a long way. The Cuban people are a people that is submissive due to terror, we must also understand it although it may irritate us, we feel upset, but everything evolves. It is a process, right? That’s what we’re going to, continuing the process.”

Requiescat in pace Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh y Dueñas

From the archives

Miami Herald,  May 17, 2002

‘Love of country’: Cuba’s centennial

By Tere Figueras

South Florida’s Cuban community will celebrate Cuba’s centennial in the heart of el exilio.

”This is for love of country, not politics,” said Rafael Peñalver, one of the organizers of a centennial celebration that will begin at the San Carlos Institute in Key West and end at the shrine to Cuba’s patron saint in Miami — one of several events in the coming days that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Cuban Republic on May 20th.

Florida International University will host a Cuban music concert featuring pianist Sergio A. González and violinist Andrés Trujillo. The University of Miami, which has already presented classes, concerts, art exhibits and a film festival honoring the centennial, will dedicate the Casa Bacardi cultural center with an invitation-only cocktail reception.

And the annual CubaNostalgia, which begins today in Coconut Grove, will recognize the centennial with its blend of mojitos, merchandise and memorabilia.

”We’re in exile, but can’t forget that a dream for a free Cuba began more than a century ago,” said Peñalver. “When Fidel Castro is just an asterisk in the story of Cuban history, there will always be a Cuban people.”

Saturday’s daylong series of seminars, films and discussions at the San Carlos Institute will culminate with the lighting of the Centennial Torch on the balcony of the history building — the same place patriot and poet Jose Martí rallied exiled Cubans against Spain more than 100 years ago.

On Monday, the flame will arrive at the Torch of Friendship on Biscayne Boulevard at 10 a.m. Carried on horseback, it will wind its way through the city before arriving at La Ermita De Caridad — Our Lady of Charity — on Biscayne Bay at 8 p.m.

The gathering at the church will include a concert featuring Cuban performers and Afro-Cuban music, a speech by Bishop Agustín Román, and a candle lighting ceremony that will span both sides of the Florida Straits. Dissidents on the island will listen and talk to the crowd during an amplified conference call.

”They’ll be lighting candles in their homes, too,” said Peñalver.

The weekend will be bittersweet, said Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh, a professor at Miami-Dade Community College.

She is the great-granddaughter of Calixto Garcia Iñiguez, a Cuban lawyer and general who led the insurrection against the Spanish forces in the war for independence.

”The history of Cuba is also the history of families,” said Whitmarsh, whose family joined Martí as part of Key West’s expatriate community. “It’s something you can’t let die.”

During the day, the torch will pass the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard — the Ellis Island for many arriving Cubans in the early days of the Castro regime — through downtown Miami and the government center.

The procession will take the torch to the Woodlawn Cemetery on Southwest Eight Street — where three Cuban presidents are buried — and to a dedication ceremony of the Freedom Plaza in Coral Gables.

The plaza is a small grassy plot of land at the intersections of Galiano Street, Santillane Avenue and East Ponce de Leon Boulevard. On Monday, it will be the home of another symbol of Cuban independence: a monument to Martí.

”The arrival of the torch is going to link us to that dream that began in Key West with Martí,” said sculptor Marc Andries Smit, who created the image of Martí that will be unveiled Monday.

The bronze bust will sit atop a nine-foot marble and granite pyramid that contains soil from Cuba.

Sculpting the face of Cuba’s poet hero called for some soul-searching, Smit said.

”I tried to think of what he would say looking around him now,” said Smit, who came to the U.S. from Cuba as a child. “He has a gentle intensity. But you also see this underlying sense of sadness.”