Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Captain Dynamite Johnny Celebrated in Havana

On June 20, 2017 there were special events in Havana linked to the centenary of the death of Dynamite Johnny O'Brien.

At 9:30 a.m. a wreath was laid at the plaque honoring O'Brien on the Avenida del Puerto near the entrance of the Plaza de Armas.  Four of his direct descendants from the US took part.  After that we went to the provincial library on the Plaza de Armas where First Lady Michelle Obama had donated a bench and two thriving plants.  

As part of its community outreach with students, the library inaugurated an exhibit about O'Brien.  Staff and students described the local history program.  Irish traditional music was played by two accomplished Cubans.  Excerpts were shown from "A Captain Unafraid", a new film made by a young Irishman from Killarney, Charles O'Brien (no relation).  The film premiered at the European Film Festival in Havana on June 3d sponsored by the Embassy of Ireland.

A picture of the plaque can be seen here  http://tinyurl.com/cubairishlink

O'Brien was a first generation Irish American who grew up on New York's lower east side.  He was a pilot in New York harbor before becoming a "filibuster", a smuggler of arms.  He became a mainstay of the effort led by Jose Marti's successors to overcome Spain's colonial rule, making over a dozen deliveries of weapons and personnel in every quadrant of Cuba's coast.  (99% of the funding came from Cubans living in the US, but Tamany Hall donated $20,000, equivalent to $582,000 currently.)

O'Brien evaded efforts by Spain, the US and Pinkerton detectives to arrest, capture or kill him.  He successfully commanded what Granma has described as the sole engagement of the Mambisi navy near Cienfuegos.  
http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2016-12-19/aniversario-120-del-unico-combate-naval-mambi-19-12-2016-22-12-11O'Brien's heroism was so appreciated that he became Havana's first port captain after Cuba achieved its independence through a special act of the legislature.  He was also forgiven his transgressions by the US government and took part in the resinking of the Maine outside of Cuban. waters.

O'Brien is a symbol of a less fraught relationship between Americans and Cubans, when our sympathies for their independence were not complicated by economic and strategic ambitions.  (A more peaceful icon is Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, whose bust is prominently exhibited in Santiago.)

An essay by the film maker about O'Brien's life is here https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2017/06/dynamite-johnny-obrien-through-lens-of.html 

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