RIP, Mr. Rafael Diaz de la Rocha

I didn’t know the man, and I haven’t heard of him as one of the legendary brave who stood up to Castro at great personal risk. Nevertheless, I hope Mr. Rafael Diaz de la Rocha, who was 72 when he passed away last month, rests in peace. And my condolences to his family.

Why am I so touched by this gentleman I never met? Because he indeed was brave, in his own way:

The night the Cuban government was supposed to execute him for speaking out against communism, Rafael Diaz de la Rocha donned a woman’s wig and a dress, and fled the island on a small wooden boat.

He had spent less than a year in prison for his protests when in 1962 he was sent to his Santa Clara home for a last meal and last shower with his family. He had other plans.

With help from friends and family, he disguised himself and snuck off the island.


After seven days at sea and three days holding on to a wooden plank, he washed up on the U.S. shore at Savannah, Ga., naked with third-degree burns. That’s how the Coast Guard found him.

Let me add that his life story seems fairly close to my own late grandfather’s, whom I loved and admired:

”He only had a second-grade education and was able to own his own business and support his whole family,” Iglesias said. “My mom never worked. He was very proud and old school.”


He worked seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. until he retired in 1992.

”If we wanted to spend time with him we would have to go to the gas station,” Iglesias said. “He had all of his kids working there.”

Diaz de la Rocha was no stranger to hard work in Cuba, either. As a young boy he sold kites on the street. He made them out of newspaper to help support himself and his brothers and sisters.

”He never knew his father, and his mother was a single mother who passed away when he was 13 years old,” Iglesias said. “He taught us all through example to work and persevere and stick to it.”

With the little time he had to spare, Diaz de la Rocha worked on his farm in Hialeah. On an acre of land, he grew different types of banana trees, fruit trees, sugar cane and herbs.

My grandfather was also a self-made man in Cuba, who grew up poor but went on to own his own business. Needless to say, he was a hard worker as well.

I’m sure if my grandfather and Mr. Diaz de la Rocha had met in this lifetime, they’d have become good friends. I hope they meet in heaven.

Rest in peace, Mr. Diaz de la Rocha. God bless you, your family and Cuba.