Salvaged papers shed light on former Cuban dictator
Tabloid videographer digs items from trash
BY ANA ACLE
Out of a trash bin, at the edge of an office and storage complex
in northern Palm
Beach County, pieces of intriguing Cuban exile history have emerged -- checks,
letters, photographs, even a shoe, that once belonged to former Cuban dictator
The items, which also include newspaper clippings, a land deal
vaccinations, are in the hands of paparazzo Robert ``Bob'' Calvert, he of William
Kennedy Smith fame, and the Batista family is claiming the papers were stolen
out of a private, rented trash bin.
The documents' value is questionable, mostly the minutiae of daily
canceled checks, faded photographs, sentimental letters. The stuff is garbage,
say the relatives of the former dictator, who say they have the historically
significant documents locked away to be donated at a later date.
Still, the dozens of boxes filled with items -- enough to fill
a large trash bin --
provide a glimpse into Batista's luxurious life in exile.
Consider a Waldorf Astoria hotel receipt, $250 a night for two
weeks in 1964;
proof of vaccinations for two poodles traveling to Switzerland; a 1956 memo
outlining a $20.16 million land deal with the East Havana Bay Land Co.
Anonymous Society; a Jan. 5, 1972, Pan American Bank of Miami statement
listing $28,000 in deposits and a Portugal address; and a list of cash-gift
recipients on Christmas Eve 1968 that included customs agents, journalists,
bodyguards and servants in Spain.
``I can visualize this like a movie,'' said Uva de Aragon, assistant
director of the
Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. ``Who would be the
guy doing this for Batista, who would put the money in envelopes, Batista giving it
to his children on Christmas Eve.''
Some Miami Cuban exiles believe Batista -- as many of his predecessors
the island with a sizable loot, possibly millions of dollars, from the government.
Batista's escape gave way to Fidel Castro's takeover in 1959. If Batista indeed
took any money, he took the secret to his grave in 1973.
``Immediately, my image is what was the situation in Cuba when
dictator was paying whatever money to take his poodles to Switzerland,'' de
Aragon said. ``I find it interesting. It's a sense of history and all the things related
to historical figures are interesting, especially if they involve money.''
The revelation of the documents is stirring a controversy among
members, who claim Calvert invaded their privacy. Calvert said he merely sifted
through garbage -- nothing illegal.
``The family is not throwing away my father's [important] papers,''
oldest son, Fulgencio Rubén Batista, 66, of Coral Gables. ``Those will one day go
to an institution and they are well guarded and well protected.
``Apparently, the family sent someone to clean the warehouse and
they threw out documents and photos with old newspapers, stuff that's not
important and valueless,'' Rubén Batista said. Still, he's not happy they fell into
the hands of a stranger.
Shown several copies of the documents, the son said he recognized
signature on a check, and the bank statement bears his father's name. A few
letters are addressed to his father and widow Martha Batista, who now lives in a
7,700-square-foot home in Palm Beach. Records show the Palm Beach County
warehouse, bought in 1979, belongs to Martha Batista, and trustee Rafael
Calvert, 51, of Indiantown, is a freelance videographer for television
says he also works part time for Pretext Investigations doing surveillance
photography and investigative work on celebrities in Palm Beach County.
Some would call Calvert a paparazzo. Patricia Bowman, who accused
Kennedy Smith of raping her at the Kennedy Mansion in Palm Beach, said
Calvert stalked her after the 1993 trial and she obtained a court order to keep him
Calvert's picture-snapping has placed him at odds with the law
before. He has
been arrested in Florida for trespassing (like at the Kennedy Mansion), unlawful
eavesdropping, possession of stolen property, impersonating a police officer and
burglary. Most charges were dropped.
Calvert recognized photos of Batista and salvaged them, believing
they would be
valuable. The private investigations office where he works is next to the Batistas'
storage unit. He saw the trash being thrown away in May, dove in the Dumpster
and recovered stuff that included an X-ray of Batista's foot, a shoe and some rugs.
``I knew the Batistas had a unit next door, but I hardly ever
saw them,'' Calvert
said. ``Then on the week of May 12, they brought a gondola and started throwing
Calvert says he was smoking a cigarette when an office-complex
out a photo of Batista and asked: ``Hey, you know this guy?''
``Yeah, that's Batista,'' Calvert replied.
``Who is that guy?'' the worker asked.
``You never heard of Fulgencio Batista?'' Calvert said.
Col. Batista took power in Cuba in 1935 when he lead a revolt
President Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. In 1940, he was elected president for four
years. In 1952, he staged a coup d'etat against President Carlos Prío and ruled
the island with a heavy hand for the next seven years.
With support dwindling, he fled Cuba on New Year's Eve 1959 and
leader, Castro, seized control.
Batista's memorabilia provide a look back at those times.
Among the documents Calvert recovered was a two-inch thick notebook
political cartoons of Castro, dating as far back as 1962, and copies of Miami's
Réplica Spanish newspaper, with the motto ``The paper of the Cuban truth.'' A
Sept. 24, 1964, headline reads: Franco supports Castro.
One letter mentioned the names of Batista allies who Castro allegedly
Another was an endearing 1961 love letter from Batista to his
wife, Martha --
showing the softer side of the man whose tenure was marked by the bloody
repression of opponents. In it, he writes to Martha, ``Don't forget that I live only for
you and [the children],'' he wrote, mentioning her ``adorable hands'' and ``once
Calvert said he may sell some of the things he found, donate others
some of the newspapers as souvenirs. ``I'm a newsman at heart,'' he said.
Herald researcher Elisabeth Donovan contributed to this report.