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Bethsaida Nieves

was born on 24 October 1790 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Lucas Andino, a cigar maker and teacher, and Rita Molina, teacher. On his baptismal record, his full name is listed as Rafael Cordero y Molina, and in later life he was known as “El Maestro.” Rafael Cordero’s mother was the daughter of Bibiana Molina, a freewoman of African descent. His father was related to José Campeche, a Puerto Rican artist of African descent, and the son of Juan Eugenio Valentín, a slave of African descent and cigar maker, and Ana Cordero, a freewoman of African descent. It is believed that Rafael’s parents, Lucas Andino and Rita Molina, reclaimed the name “Cordero” as a symbol of Ana Cordero’s freedom. It is not known how Bibiana Molina, Ana Cordero, or Juan Eugenio Valentín obtained their freedom. From 1508 to 1873 slavery was legal and commonly practiced in Puerto Rico ...

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Steve Cushion

was born in Havana on 29 May 1911. His family struggled financially, forcing him to begin working at the age of 12. Although apprenticed as a cigar roller, he worked sporadically because the depressed nature of the tobacco industry left him frequently unemployed. He was involved in trade union politics from an early age, and in 1929 he joined the Communist Party, where he was elected to the Central Committee in 1934. During the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado (1925–1933), he spent seventy days in prison for his role in a tobacco workers’ strike in 1932. Peña quickly rose to prominence, and he gave the closing address at the clandestine Second National Sugar Workers’ Congress in Camagüey in June 1933.

Peña was a union activist across the trades, and following the fall of the Machado regime in 1933 he was elected general secretary of ...