Political outlook is a complex of many factors, most of them unconscious and involuntary. Temperament, background, social and economic position, education--all these combine to shape a man's opinions on public issues and public personalities. Rarely do most men devote a great deal of time to either reflection or action in such matters.
Activists are different by nature: to become involved, to the extent sometimes of risking life, in political struggles on the national, state, or even local level, requires courage and strength--but always it requires conscious conviction. A man cannot be a revolutionary in his spare time.
Manuel Ray, leader of the Cuban Revolutionary Movement of the People (MRP) and one of the five top men on the Cuban Revolutionary Council, is aware of this fact. Ray, a short, paunchy civil engineer-turned saboteur, speaks English, but he speaks Spanish English. He gropes carefully for words, as much from lack of confidence in his English as from concern to see that he is understood. The underground movement which he heads has been responsible for nation-wide destruction in Cuba in the last eleven months, but from his quiet and pacific demeanor little of this could be inferred.
Ray was born in 1924 in Havana, and educated in that city's public schools. In 1946 he completed a five-year civil engineering program at Havana University, in the course of which he achieved what he considers his proudest moment: the gold cup for national sports championship. He played football and ran cross country for three years. "I was not," he explains, "at all active in politics, although I took what you might call a 'general interest' in it."
From the outset Manuel Ray was an idealist. He was instrumental in setting up the University's first honor system for exams, and in requiring physical examinations for all students. "You can say I was active in student activities."
After graduation Senor Ray went to work for the Ministry of Public Works, as a draftsman "working on ditches." Then he got a scholarship for graduate work at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. "I was working toward my Master's; it is the only thing in my life I have never finish." He returned to Havana to teach Structural Science at the University. At the same time he became chief of the Structural Department in the National Development Commission.
Somehow in the following years he found time for marriage and five children, who are all in Miami now with their mother. "During the fight against Batista we split the family up, some in one house, some in another. We weren't afraid. Also I have one brother, and I lost one brother, and then I have a sister, who is in Cuba."
In 1950 engineer Ray built his first bridge, then he built the first vehicular tunnel in Cuba. After that he was Project Manager for the Havana Hilton Hotel. "The first job cost a million dollars; the tunnel was $6 1/2 million job; the Hilton project was $20 million. I say this so you see the progress."
It was at about this time that two important things happened to Ray: he was elected president of the Civil Engineers Association of Havana, and he became involved in anti-Batista activities. "There was no single reason. I had never been active before. I had just had enough of what was going on." "What was going on" included at that time a particularly violent purge of Batista's political enemies, including the mayor of Havana. Ray resigned in protest from the Development Commission, but he continued to teach at the University.
"I met Castro," he relates slowly, "in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. I had become the head of the Havana resistance and I went up and down three times to his headquarters to see him." Did he have any idea at that time that some of the 26th of July leaders were Communists? "In the last month only we begin to be suspicious." Was Castro then a Communist? "Yes. I think he was always a Communist; I think he has always in mind Cuba in the Russian bloc. He waited a year. In the first year after the Revolution were many reforms we wish to keep. But I think always he has plans."
Immediately after the Revolution, in December of 1958, Senor Ray was named Minister of Public Works--"by consensus," he explains. He remained in that post until November 26, 1959, when he resigned: "It was two years the day after Batista's police went to my home." He remained in Havana, still at the University, under surveillance by the Government. "But they couldn't do anything; they had too many problems of their own."
In late April and early May, 1960, his active resistance to the Castro regime began. He was the co-founder of MRP, and, as he had been in the resistance to Batista, he was the sabotage expert. "All the MRP were members, with Fidel, in the 26th of July movement. We left him because of the Communists." In August, Manuel Ray resigned from Havana University in protest against the repression of academic freedom. Three months later he left Havana and came to Miami with his family to direct MRP sabotage work from there.
"We must bury the failure of the invasion," Ray asserts. "I was not in favor of it and I was not consulted. There should have been many months of planning and of sabotage before they invade. The people cannnot just rise, you see? They must rise to an objective. There must be organization. But now it is over; now we need unity."
Of Castro, Ray says: "He has done harm to my country; harm to the entire free world; he has done harm to everyplace." And of Castro's fate, after he is deposed: "It must be decided in a fair trial whether he is a traitor or not. I am personally opposed to all executions. There will be no murders afterward, except those that fall in battle; we are all agreed on that. Fidel must be tried, and the judges must decide."
He denies that the opposition to Castro is "counter-revolutionary." "Fidel has betrayed the Revolution; we seek to restore it." This will happen, he says firmly, "within one year."
Now, at 37, Senor Ray is the same idealist who instituted the honor system at Havana University fifteen years ago. Between the strength of his convictions ("I believe in freedom,' he says) and his perception of conditions now in Cuba ("The Communists are everywhere") he finds the determination to fight, and, without any doubt, to risk his life. Whether he continues in politics after Castro is deposed, like all questions concerning the future in Cuba, "will depend on conditions we meet there. I have no plans, but I will serve if I am needed."