Masonry in Cuba
Bro John Bower
(copied from the “Sunday Masonic Papers #900, Nov 18/18”)
While travelling in Havana in early 2017 my wife pointed out a prominent building in the city. What had caught her eye was the square and compasses of Masonry. The building itself is very large and impressive and houses the Grand Lodge of Cuba offices, Lodge room(s) as well as several government departments. Information about the inside of the building is scarce and I was told that despite being a Mason I would not be allowed inside.
Being a bit of a history buff, it struck me as odd that Cuba, a Marxist/Communist country, had seemingly allowed the Masonic Lodges to continue to operate after the successful Revolution in 1959. Other countries who have adopted similar government systems have quickly outlawed Masonry, driven it underground and arresting/imprisoning members, which simply destroyed any vestige of Masonry. In simple terms most totalitarian governments view Masonry as a threat to be dealt with swiftly. Why then have the democratic Masonic Lodges been allowed to exist and flourish in Cuba? Lodges are likely the only democratic institution in the country. Consider that each Lodge elects its officers like all Lodges, in a secret ballot and they see an orderly change in leadership on a yearly basis.
So my question was, and still is, how did Masonry survive in Cuba?
Wearing a Masonic ring is often a way that Masons identify themselves to each other in public. Mine is a simple skull and crossed femurs with a small square and compasses on the top face. The ‘all seeing eye’ is on one side with a larger S&C on the other. I was surprised when so many Masons and Mason’s ladies in the country noticed it. Many non-Masons also noticed it.
The first contact was at a resort. I had given a gentleman a couple of dollars to thank him for showing my wife his falcon and allowing her to have it rest on her arm and head – for photos of course. He stopped at our table a few minutes later and said, “Thank you Brother” while showing me his ring. He told us a bit about Lodge in Cuba and indicated that there were many Masons in the area. At one point, I asked him why Masonry was allowed to exist in Cuba, his answer was that Fidel, and Raul Castro as well as Che Guevara took refuge from Batista’s soldiers in a Masonic Lodge building in the Sierra Maestra mountain area of the country. He said that legend has it that Fidel laid the foundations of his 26th of July movement while hiding in the Temple. The belief is that Masons protected the revolutionary leaders so they were protected after the Revolution.
Another Cuban Mason indicated that the Cuban flag was based on a Masonic design and that a Mason designed it. At this point, I was a bit skeptical but a good story is a good story! One important detail that I did learn while in Cuba is that Jose Marti was a National Hero and a well-known Mason – more on his role later.
I have now spent a bit of time over the last year and a bit doing some research on Cuban Masonry and the results have prompted this short paper.
British soldiers introduced masonry to Cuba in the 1760 – a common theme for many parts of the world! French citizens of Haiti also opened Lodges in Cuba when they fled the Haitian Revolution in 1804. Like many countries, doctors, lawyers, politicians and other community leaders joined the Fraternity and were able to exchange ideas of equality, justice and fair government. As with the American Revolution, many leaders of the first three Cuban revolutions in 1868 – 1895 were Masons including Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Antonia Maceo, and Jose Marti mentioned above. Such was the contribution of Masons that the government declared that; “Masonry has been at all times, since its foundation, the institution that has provided most elements for independence, liberty, the culture and the progress of Cuba, as much ideological as the sample of sacrifice, heroism and perseverance offered by its affiliates in order to give Cuba a life of human decorum, of equal and social fraternity and a regime of sane democracy.” (1)
Jose Marti died in that final conflict, 1895 – 98. He is immortalized in Cuba on coins and paper money and one cannot travel Cuba without seeing statues to him across the island. Cubans who support the current government as well as those who wish to see true democracy (i.e. those who have fled to the United States and other countries) celebrate Marti as a founding father of modern Cuba and a revolutionary hero. Both sides (communist and democracy supporters) find evidence of his support for their points of view in his writings though the majority opinion seems to be that it is a bit of a stretch to say that he supported communism.
It would have been exceedingly difficult, though not impossible, for the communist regime to separate the memory of Cuba’s national heroes from the ideas that they had openly celebrated. Perhaps there is some truth to the Castro hiding in a Lodge story, which would make it logical that the new regime would decide that it would better to watch/control Freemasonry, than to fight it. It was expected that there would be government spies in each Lodge so self-preservation would stifle any outright discussion of dumping communism for a democracy in the country.
In addition, consider that, in his autobiography My Life, Leon Trotsky writes, “I discontinued my work on freemasonry to take up the study of Marxian economics. The work on freemasonry acted as a sort of a test for these hypotheses. I think this influenced the whole course of my intellectual development.” While Masons have been involved in democratic movements in many countries it cannot be denied that Masonry, by teaching equality, fraternity, relief etc. is promoting not just ethical principles but the beliefs behind TRUE communism, though not the twisted versions we have seen in the world to date. I am not saying that Communism as we have seen in the last hundred years, is a Masonic ideal but rather the true communist ideals of equality, sharing, from each according to ability to each according to need (think Jesus in other words).
Now to the flag: “The most eloquent testimony of freemasonry’s historical significance for Cuba is to be found in our loftiest symbol, the Cuban flag, where the (M)asonic ideal is concretely expressed in the red, (M)asonic triangle placed over the three blue and two white bands, a symbol that sealed the intimate connection between Cuban independence and freemasonry for eternity.” (2)
Masons designed the flag so perhaps there is truth to the imagery of the triangle with the bands representing the mosaic pavement. In addition, there is more Masonic symbolism in the flag. There are three blue bands (three rule a Lodge), two white bands for a total of five (five hold a Lodge) and when we add the star and red triangle, we have seven symbols (seven or more make it perfect). Coincidence or design?
Another explanation is that the Cuban expatriates who came up with the design in the United States (1849) were hoping to have Cuba become a state in the union so patterned the flag on the stars and stripes and the single star could be a nod to Texas which had become a state in 1845. It may be fancy on my part but if the Cuban press claims Masonic influence on the flag design and we can find Masonic symbolism as well then who am I to argue?
Cuba is a country in transition at this point. Frankly, my wife and I were surprised at how progressive Cuba is. Yes, you still see old American cars on the road but there is a wide selection of European, Japanese and Chinese vehicles as well. Cell phones and internet cafes are popular and American and Canadian dollars are widely accepted though it must be said that the US dollar is not quite as happily accepted. Historical Havana is being rebuilt and the city is being modernized. Construction seems to be going on across the island and private businesses are being encouraged by the government. Large attractive apartment buildings (not the usual Soviet monstrosities) are being built in many communities. There is a minimum wage, basic food stuffs, including cigars and rum, are provided to all and health care is provided free of charge. Education is provided and any student who wishes to receive higher training will receive it – in return for working part time for the government. The government economy and roadside stalls run on Cuban pesos but the rest of life seems to function on Cuban Convertible pesos (designed to be a tourist currency). Cubans look after each other, family is important and they share what they have – an employee in a hotel making good money plus (untaxed) tips will spread the wealth to other family members so everyone’s boat rises.
Yes, I asked about attending Lodge and arrangements were made but a series of issues led to a missed opportunity but a note to self to get back to Cuba again and attend Lodge. If you are ever travelling to Cuba I would encourage you to wear your ring and to take pins or other Masonic items as the Cubans very much appreciate the gift.
(1) A History of Freemasonry in Cuba – a paper delivered in 1968 http://www.