"They Called Him ‘Roose’: Pauulu Kamarakafego and the Making of a Bermudian Revolutionary" is an extremely well-written and visually arresting book that chronicles the myriad forces that buffeted Bermuda and helped to inspire revolutionary movements on the Island and across the globe over the past eight decades.
Below is the first of three excerpts from the book, written by local author Junior Burchall, who currently resides in Canada. "They Called Him ‘Roose’: Pauulu Kamarakafego and the Making of a Bermudian Revolutionary" will be released next month.
It would hardly be an exaggeration to state that, by the mid-1950s, the White House and various corporate interests based in the United States were firmly in control of the Cuban government and economy. This relationship between the two nations, which had been carefully cultivated by successive U.S. administrations since they intervened in the Second War of Independence between Cuba and a much-weakened Spain in 1898, had generated enormous wealth.
However, this wealth was heavily concentrated in U.S. hands: domestically, the profits made it no further than the swollen pockets of the corrupt Cuban oligarchy. These local businessmen and political leaders shamelessly leapt to curry favour with the Americans who descended upon Havana in search of ever-greater streams of revenue.
The vast majority of Cubans, on the other hand, many of whom were of African descent, lived in grinding poverty and struggled to eke out a subsistence existence. For them, fleeing from the latest wave of state-sponsored violence initiated by Washington’s most favoured Cuban son, the bloodthirsty dictator Fulgencio Batista, had become an all-too familiar occurrence.
And yet, the people refused to be silent, choosing instead to raise their voices in defiance of the tyranny that threatened them. In spite of the very real possibility of a too-soon death, they took their protests to the streets and carried placards emblazoned with anti-Batista slogans.
Through song and chanting, they condemned the dictator’s record of corruption, his collusion with U.S.-based corporations and his practice of torturing and murdering innocent Cubans.
It was into this maelstrom that an unwitting Roosevelt ventured in search of his friend. He quickly assessed the nature of the demonstration that he happened upon and felt immediate kinship with the heroic struggle against oppression that these ordinary men, women and children were waging.
Noting the obvious parallels between the injustices visited upon the Cuban majority and what Black Bermudians were forced to endure under the heel of the Front Street robber barons, he knew instinctively where he would throw his support.
He, Roosevelt Browne, would stand with the downtrodden...come what may.
The response of Batista’s forces to this audacious display of resistance was immediate, bloody and brutal. Bullets screamed past Roose as he and the other protestors scattered and ran for cover. The air was suddenly filled with the stuttering roar of gunfire. He could see sparks as the death-dealing projectiles ricocheted off the sidewalk.
And then, he was hit.
The bullet tore through his thigh, leaving an entry and exit wound in its wake. Thankfully, it missed his femur. Terrified and hobbled by his injured leg, Roosevelt frantically searched for a place to hide. He had no doubt that, if he were found by Batista’s men, he would be executed on the spot. But he could spy no safe haven.
Was this how his life would end? Was he destined to die in one of Havana’s back alleys?
As Providence would have it, an elderly Cuban woman opened her door, quickly ushered him inside and told him to hide under her bed. When the soldiers knocked on her door and demanded to search her home, she refused, instead asking them if they intended to shoot an old lady.
Sufficiently chastised, the killers retreated into the street and continued their hunt for the innocent.
Returning to the young stranger whose life she saved, the old woman dressed his wounds, gave him some herbal tea and told him to get some rest. Roosevelt duly obliged and fell into a deep sleep. Upon waking, he thanked his elderly savior and left.
He went back to Gus’ house where he recuperated and, after a few days, resumed his flying lessons under his friend’s keen eye.
The Bermudian teen had taken a stand against injustice, stared certain death in the face and lived to tell the tale.
Forever transformed by the experience, he returned to Bermuda in August 1952 and eagerly prepared for his freshman year at NYU.