Imperialism relaxes its stranglehold
Cuba's revolution led people to a healthy free life. 1959 the US imposes embargo. Soviet Union helped until 1991. A visit to Cuba in 1994 reveals the truth of a better social system. US has never ceased to harass Cuba; now proposes lifting boycott.
Imperialism relaxes its stranglehold
Fernando García Izquierdo
In the matter of an unjustified boycott.
A few days ago Mr. Barack Obama of the United States addressed the Cuban nation (partly in Spanish) saying that it was about time the two countries re-established normal relations. I see this formal declaration as a confession of guilt, however you look at it. Peace-loving people, in and outside the United States, had been waiting for this.
Some fifty-four years have passed since the state of normality was broken unilaterally by the United States which imposed a boycott on Cuba, an ‘embargo’, as Obama and others call it. I have said ‘unilaterally’ and I hope nobody will deny that said embargo was imposed upon Cuba by the mentioned super-power, and that there was no motive for such an action but the wish of the Cuban people to struggle for a better system of society. They would have preferred, needless to say, to continue trading peacefully with all the other countries of the world.
But the big neighbour of the north that before 1959 had controlled all the venues of commerce, art, finance and in general all the life of the island, did not like it. As a consequence, suddenly and unexpectedly, they imposed on the smaller nation ‘sanctions’. This brought great disturbance and suffering on entirely innocent people. The oppressors intended to cut the nation off from normal traffic with the world. For good, unless the Cubans sank on their knees. There is now a promise of better relations.
Sycophants of the world unite.
The very moment the United States president uttered the words above mentioned (and indeed, words is what they were) all the banks and all the mountebanks of our western world began to tremble. Activists and warmongers fired their guns at ‘the dirty Cuban revolutionaries’ and all those that might dare negotiate with communism, including Obama himself, who should better be careful. Congress was not with him.
Paid sycophants, of course. All the the power of free finance, all the free media of capitalism would show the World what was to be done. Every one of them began injecting the usual venom into our politicians and all the timorous public of the free world. Sheep all of them, always destined to digest the cud supplied to them.
Howl ye poisonous serpents!
‘What! giving way?’ ‘Now that the Castro Regime has shown signs of weakness? Precisely the time to cut them down, absolutely.’ ‘What about human rights?’, etc. For days they wrote, shouted, moved about, preached and told their people all sorts of lies, as they are wont to do.
‘The Castro brothers are heinous’, ‘Obama should’ve known better’, ‘Dictators! they have oppressed the Cuban people for decades’, ‘The Cuban communist government is oppressive’, ‘This is not the way to free elections’, and thousands of sentences and calls of the same calibre.
To put the hands of the clock of history back fifty years or more is what these persons and their principals seek. And I am not accusing here only the ‘Americans’ (as they call themselves), with whom I have intimately worked for several decades. The English are the same. It is the capitalists of the City who started, centuries ago, oppressing the Poor. They (the Rich) have repeatedly gone to war in all the corners of the world to get a big empire and accumulate capital in their hands, whereas the ‘Americans’ claim to be only ‘defending their backyard’.
Just a bit of History now.
In 1492 Spain claimed possession of Cuba, before all men and before God. A colony right until the very end of the nineteenth century. There was, then, a struggle for independence involving all the people of the island. This war was just about to be won (1898) when the United States formally declared war on Spain and when the struggle, which should have given the country its independence had ended, the intervening big power took possession of the island along with Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, which had been also colonies of Spain.
As a consequence, the Perla de las Antillas, in the strict sense of the word, never gained independence, never ceased to be a colony, first of Spain, then of the United States, until a handful of patriots (men and women) rose up in arms, and all the people following them (Moncada, Sierra Maestra, Santa Clara, etc.), fighting all together with courage and determination the battle against despotism was won. Victory was finally proclaimed on January, 1, 1959.
Subsequent to this victory, the northern neighbours intervened once more. They wanted to take the governance of the island in their hands. The victorious Cubans, perfect revolutionaries, at once sent the imperialists packing. And the United States began to take steps to enslave the Cuban people once more, to destroy the revolutionary movement. What happened thereafter is already world history.
A visit to the Perla de las Antillas in 1994.
We had been flying the whole day and when we arrived in Havana it was raining torrentially. Due partly to this and to the number of flights from Europe now becoming more numerous the plane only landed just before midnight. We were driven to our hotel in a fairly new coach, quite a luxury in the country, as I learned afterwards. Anyhow, the coach took us to our destination, and I need hardly say that we two only thought, upon arrival, of going up to our room to try to go to sleep as quickly as possible.
The following day, after breakfast, we went out into the street, a very long broad thoroughfare filled with lovely sounds which I shall not try to describe. We walked among the multitude, for it was Sunday. And that was the reason, I thought, for having so many people about us. The promenade was long, a stone parapet all along. After a while we stopped short contemplating the scene: a lovely calm sea spread out before us.
Sitting on the parapet we felt relaxed and very happy. The sun was high, still in the east, the air was pure, the sky was a perfect blue without a cloud, the temperature quite pleasant. My Nicky, like practically all women at that time wore a rather short skirt and all the passers by, but paricularly the men looked at her with curiosity, and she thought of running away, had I not retained her. I told her that it was not the whiteness that attracted such attention, but in fact she had the most beautiful legs, especially the knees.
Presently I turned my gaze to the roadway and saw hundreds if not thousands of citizens lazily cycling along, this way and that. They were of all ages, women and men, and they all looked strong and healthy. Where could they all be going, I asked myself. As we were thus sitting on the parapet, chatting and observing life in Havana for the first time in our lives, a woman called Pat, from Liverpool, who heard us exchanging impressions as she passed by with her son, came up to us and said ‘hello!’ My wife invited her to sit next to us, together with her teenage son. Both were with our party, having flown from London on ‘a study tour’, she being the general secretary of some left wing party or trade union. All our fellow-travellers belonged to one or another political group of the left. My wife and I were on our own, in the sense that we were members of no group anywhere; and when the group flew back to England, we stayed in Havana for another three or four days.
I was trying to speak with the boy, Jim, who was not very talkative, and overhead the mother say: ‘Have you noticed, Nicky, how very handsome all Cuban men are?’ She was particularly referring, I think, to the cyclists, for both women had their eyes on the roadway, in front of us four.
And not only the men, I thought to myself. The women were extremely beautiful, specially those who are generally considered to be fifty-fifty mixblooded, African and Spanish blood. Somebody told me years later (a Cuban engineer who had come to France in connection with some turbines from Alstom) that it was a common saying on the island that two wonderful things were due to the Spaniards: ‘Dos cosas formidables hicieron en Cuba los españoles, la mulata y la alpargata’, i.e. the mulatto girl and the jute-sole canvas shoe. I thought so too, in 1994, at least as concerned the women I saw cycling past, so near, that first Sunday on the Malecón.
Ambling on the Malecón, a treat in itself. We left the hotel early in the morning, after breakfast. Once again with the Habaneros on the Malecón. We sat on the parapet for a rest. The Blue Caribbean was of dazzling beauty. We were, however, at the moment facing the roadway, the little pathway afterwards and the houses; and behind, looming above the entire city, a magnificent building of about a dozen storeys, perhaps more.
We were due to leave the following day, with the group of British tourists, for a tour of the west and south of the island. So, Nicky and I started our promenade early on purpose, to see as much as possible of the capital. The beautiful square skyscraper we had in front of us had been one of the places visited by the group the day before, the hotel Habana-Libre. It used to be a big hotel exclusively for the very rich, and I wondered now, contemplating the big structure, how many millionaire tourists it might have had in the heydays of United States domination.
There was now in that part of the capital a wonderful big hospital, with all sorts of specialisations and rooms for patients and halls for treatment and for special studies. All for the people. In the French language there is an expression equivalent to ‘my most sincere congratulations!’ And that is what the whole world ought now to say: ‘Chapeau!’ We take our hats off to rend honour where honour is due. To Cuba and its Revolution.
In a suburb of Havana.
When we had rested for about half an hour on the parapet we renewed our walk along the promenade and, after a couple of miles more, turned left. There was an open-air market, which we passed (and I observed with curiosity) and in the end we found ourselves in a tree-lined avenue. We were sitting on a bench under a leafy tree, watching people passing by either on the lateral pavements or on the ample footpath between the two rows of benches (the scarce traffic circulating, this way and that, on the sides.) Presently, some children passed by at full speed, from one end to the other of the boulevard, and the operation was repeated at least once. Like in a competition, but with no other sign of a formal race being celebrated. The avenue being slightly inclined, in the end the boys, very tired went back to the starting point stepping slowly, breathing loudly. We were seated at the bottom of the avenue, near a public square, where the boys stopped running and started their way back. One of them stopped and observed us with obvious curiosity. He had heard us speaking, and wanting perhaps to show he spoke some English, said a few words in that language to Nicky.
We were soon engaged with him in conversation. I asked him, and he told us that, after school, they run in order to train for a competition. Usually there was one on Sunday mornings. I came to know that religion was not an essential component of the Cuba’s education programme, as it is in other countries. And, of course, children were not obliged to go to mass.
As we were thus talking and exchanging knowledge (for he asked questions, too), a somewhat decrepit-looking utility van appeared in the little square nearby. The driver got out and began shaking a bell. And little Iván (that was his name) shot off to join other children who had gone to the where the van had parked.
When Iván came back, he was carrying in his hands a metallic cup and a little spoon, ‘¿qué es eso?’ I asked. ‘Ice-cream,’ he told us in Spanish. And we learned that the State supplied from time ti time some treats to all children free of charge.
‘Do you what to eat ice-cream?’ he asked us. My wife would not hear of trying, but I couldn’t resist the temptation. The boy went back to the van. ‘Clever boy,’ Nicky said in a low tone. She found him quite advanced for his age, nine (and I have to say that she is an expert in the matter.) Two or three minutes later the boy brought me the ice-cream. I had expected to see him arrive back with the delicious stuff inside a waxed-paper container of some kind. But it is without knowing what a total embargo represented for a poor little country to expect such luxuries. The vanilla ice-cream was absolutely delicious, but I was all the time looking with apprehension at the old tin that contained it. That night, in the hotel, my stomach was rumbling all the time quite alarmingly.
A day in the life of tourist in Havana.’
One afternoon as I was coming out of the hotel after a short nap, I stood watching an immense crowd passing by. The thoroughfare was full of people, from the pavement next to the buildings to the stone parapet near the sea. Fidel Castro was with the crowd and, just at that moment, very near us, the people from the hotel. My wife and Pat from Liverpool, who had come down before me, said that night, back in the hotel, they had nearly touched Fidel.
The Cuban people and their energetic leader were reacting to a ferryboat having been hijacked by reactionary elements.The successive United State governments (since the early sixties) had continually been harassing an independent Cuba, a people’s republic, if you prefer. Financiers and other Wall-Street bandits did not like such independence, they who had always tolerated and often armed all kinds of dictators in Cuba and elsewhere to suck the people’s blood and go on accumulating Capital. Personally I know what Gringo imperialism means (I have been an American attorney) and I was not surprised when I read (before and after 1994) that the Pentagon armed mercenaries to attack the island. To have the Cubans on their knees again is what they sought.
One other thing I learned that day. There had been an American plane, manned by mercenaries from Miami, knocked down in Cuba’s territorial waters: the exiles in Florida cried, ‘Assassins! Communists! Hit them hard! This is against the Law! No Human Rights!’
The reply from the Cuban government this time was both unexpected and marvellous. Since, according to the Gringos and all the other freeworld vassals, the greatest crime committed by the Cuban revolutionary government was to keep all its subjects locked inside a monumental prison: the whole world would soon see what a false accusation that was.
There was more freedom in Cuba than in the United States. To say nothing of all those regimes constituted and armed by the imperialists. Big liars! It was made clear then (when I was on the island, visiting) that anybody wanting to leave Cuba would be free to do so. By his or her own means, or with a Gringo subsidy (as was done in Berlin during the early nineties.)
But the balseros chose ‘freedom’. (Yo escogí la libertad). The wide Havana bay with a perfectly blue sea, under a cloudless sky, appeared one morning filled with an unlikely array of maritime craft, the quality of which corresponded to the wealth of the mariners in them, all about to embark upon the ‘way to freedom’.
There were launches and barges and boats and little somethings of some kind, each craft with one or several prospective escapees.
This monstruosly big man, for instance, inside a diminutive floating object ready to cross, like his richer cousins, the distance between the two countries, hoping to reach in all safety the nearest Gringo key; but, if not, the ever-present United States navy would be there ready to help them reach the coast. America! America!
One of the persons with whom I talked in the crowd told me, as the afternoon turned into evening and we walked back to another thoroughfare, that one of those buildings on the left was the Swiss Embasy. Neutral Switzerland, I was told, had undertaken to represent American interests on the island. Anyhow, as from that day, there were queues of Cuban citizens wanting to get visas to enter the United States.
The Plaza de la Constitución.
Fidel’s speech at the traditional annual Cuban celebrations. We were there. Castro spoke on a hill which was full of people. We two were very far away. Before we reached the plaza we could already see the masses at every corner, coming from every side street, going forwards, many pushing their bicycle towards the demonstration. We talked to some of them. They all were so enthusiastic!
When we arrived Fidel had just started speaking. On a platform on the top of the hill. I did not read the text of the speech in the press the following morning: perhaps it was never printed. Anyhow, I shall not try to repeat what he said. I hardly remember anything. On our left stood a monument to Ché Guevara, his representation on an immensely tall wall. The Argentinian Hero, who gave his life, as some other valiant guerilla leaders, in order to liberate mankind from the scourge of the exploitation of human by human, was adored in Cuba. Not an atom of Cult of the Personality could anybody trace on Fidel Castro or any other leader of the Revolution. There was Ché Guevara.
What could Fidel Castro have spoken about, during that couple of hours? He certainly knew what was essential to bring the Revolution to a complete success. Work, achievement, progress, humanism and society… a community of interests, communism. For the last thirty years the boycott, intended to be punishment, imposed on us by the cruel northern neighbour has intensified, not a day of respite. Always with the intention of strangling us. They have not succeeded. They shall never succeed. ¡Con Fortaleza la Revolución! ¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre! Socialismo o Muerte. ¡Venceremos! Ever since our People triumphed on the first of January, 1959, the United States have been harassing us, not letting us continue on our path towards peaceful socialism, on our way to a more just, more human, more rational system of society, a new world of cooperation and love marching on and on. They never have relaxed, for one minute, their stranglehold. Since the defeat of communism in the former Soviet Union… we are practically alone.
It’s only now, in the seclusion of my office in Le Chesnay, that I have tried to remember. Too late. But I was confronted, in my studies, with the reality of Cuba long ago. ‘Monocultivo’ was the word. Sugar cane. When the Revolution was won, sugar-cane production, sugar and derivates was the only source of international revenue, commerce, trade. The ‘national industry’ we would say today (unless the reader wants to add tourism).
The revolutionary government introduced changes which no other country (except perhaps Vietnam, much later) has ever undertaken. Under the threat of further isolation, a more terrible boycott and extreme pressure from all sides, the country had to introduce some urgent changes in its policies relating to economic growth.
Every Cuban able to cooperate would work in the sugar-cane plantations, and every peasant would redouble his and her efforts to produce essential nourishment for the family and for the nation; electricity at times would be restricted, saved for other necessary urgencies. In every home, some hours a day, the current would be turned off. To be sure, the supply of energy would not decrease in essential community places, such as hospitals, schools, etc.
And the Cubans cheered. They heartly approved these measures, applauded and knew that ‘sólo había un camino’ unanimously accepted. A new situation had arisen, the need for working harder in order to overcome the present difficulties and progress to a bigger triumph in the way to communism.
Fidel Castro and other revolutionaries were again the first to get ready and go to work hard in the fields, cutting the sugar cane, as an example to the people, who enthusiastically followed their lead.
Our last tour of the island.
A few days after this popular demonstration, we (our ‘London’ group) were driven to the south of the island. The day we visited Santa Clara, among other places, we went to the university. Summer holidays had commenced about then. The campus was literally full of students, all carrying haversacks, and some with their bicycle, holding the handle-bars. Soon all were moving with energy and enthusiasm towards the railway station, the same one where in December 1958 the most valiant ‘guerrilleros’ who have ever existed destroyed an important military force, armed by Big Brother Gringo. It was the victory of the People, who with courage and determination crushed the enemy in a few hours and opened the way for the triumphant liberators to reach Havana.
After the south, we visited the west, the immensely rich agricultural area of Viñales. Some of the images of these journeys now have slipped from my mind. Never mind, there is the remembrance of a day when there was a tremendous thunder-storm and we two had to run (with a professor from the University of Aberdeen member of our team) and find refuge in a cabin of an extensive agricultural area. We were received with open arms by a family of trabajadores de la tierra. We ate with them that evening. The white-haired father looked the Mediterranean type, the mother was wholly African. I recalled having talked with a girl of eighteen and her brother of nineteen, both very good looking, strong, healthy and very intelligent. It turned out they were university students and were staying in the family home during the summer holidays, helping now their parents and elder brothers and sisters on the land. All the nation was collaborating in the common effort to overcome the fresh difficulties, first priorities first.
In the new hotel
When we were left on our own, we did not leave Havana at all, but changed to a smaller hotel nearby. We came downstairs every day, had breakfast, went out into the street and walked, sight-seeing. Our hotel was situated half distance, I would say, between the Malecón, where we had been staying with the party of United Kingdom citizens, and the beautiful view of the sea, and what I think was called ‘Habana Vieja’.
As we came out into the street generally we turned right, and again a wonderful view. Looming above the old houses we saw the white dome of the Museo de la Revolution, which we had visited with the British group and our intelligent guide, who spoke English and had accompanied us everywhere. She was the only person of perfect Caribbean race (I think) I saw that summer. I say Caribbean without knowing any thing about ethnology, because although she was black she had the perfect perfile of the original people of the island, the Caribs, including that aquiline nose, that I have often seen in books and museums.
The street in which we now found ourselves going along was narrow, porticoed and very interesting, specially, as I seemed to see again my old Valladolid, in Castile. Ambling lazily on the covered pavement, we chanced to come upon an animated cluster of elegantly dressed people. We stopped short, for just at that moment, a very big white motocar pulled up just where we two had stopped to watch the elegant people I’ve mentioned. And it was in the middle of a wedding just celebrated, it seemed, that we unexpectedly found ourselves. It was a clean, newly painted automobile the important couple descended from. The bride was in white with a long train and many flowers; the bridegroom’s suit was also white. They both smiled. All was beautiful and colourful.
The party crossed through a big black wrought-iron door into a patio full of flowerpots, and we managed to see the whole company mounting a marble staircase, with balustrades of black-painted wrought-iron. We were told by one of the persons who had approached out of curiosity that the house belonged to the city and the stairs led to an assembly hall where weddings could be celebrated.
This part of town had been built, I got to know, many centuries ago by my ancestors with the help of slave labour. And so, it was not unnatural that at times I had the Impression of strolling in my Valladolid, or Salamanca or other towns in Castile. Full of porticoed stone-floored footpaths in narrow streets, nice uniform houses, two or three storeyed, terracotta roofs. And yet, here, there was something added, more beautiful than in sober Castile, like when you see a rough gold jewel and compare it with a jewel in filigree. This was due, no doubt, to touch, art and sensitivity of the African slave.
And yet… and yet, all was falling in decay. The Cubans did not possess even the most elementary material to work and repair that precious jewel threatened with disappearance. No cement or bricks, no paint, lime… nothing was allowed to enter the island. Cruel Gringo stood there, ready to fight to stop the importation of needed products, to stop all trading!
There was some commerce in town, open-air markets, very popular and, again, colourful, and there were shops, less frequented. I think you had to pay all your purchases with North American currency. At least we did. Again that contradiction. We were rich.
It wrung my heart to see the difference. In a communist country! And what could you expect? Now Cuba was practically alone. A billion inhabitants or more on the earth, on the one hand, and eight or ten million, on the other. Cuba! was she alone? Harassed by the big neighbour, and the United Nations Organisation did not rush to correct that injustice?
Our midday meal.
Nicky and I had our lunch that day in a small restaurant in town. We asked for the popular menu, and to our great surprise were served as the first course half-a-lobster each, and the surprised continued. And we paid so little for our meal! The explanation, of course was that we had American dollars. The nation needed those dollars to buy raw materials from wherever they managed to find a vendor.
The restaurant was full of foreigners or nearly so. There was a Cuban family of four sitting not far from our table. I gathered they were Cubans because of the accent. Travellers from the north, with all certainty. Perhaps from Florida. The couple spoke in Spanish; but the children talked among themselves in the American language. Wealthy people. All the same they were nice and there was an expression of great contentment (at being in the fatherland, I presumed) on their faces. But – oh my heart! - they were terribly obese people, including the children.
On the other side, very near our table, there was a French couple, man and woman, maybe forty and thirty-five, respectively. Both rather handsome and elegantly dressed, as the French know how to be. The woman in particular had a nice face, pretty pointed nose and somewhat protruding red lip. Only her profile was visible. They had finished their meal and were now writing postcards. With every one of these, they lifted their heads, looked at one another and exchanged a few words.
Coming out from the restaurant we strolled along a few streets. We were trying to reach an estuary that constitutes the harbour. It was the first thing of that part of the island that attracted the Spaniards at the end of the fifteenth century-beginning of the sixteenth. I was thinkng of the people I’d been seeing that day. I always tried to engage the Cubans in conversation. They were not afraid of saying that they were for communism. I refer to this particular point because of what I’d seen years before in Poland and other ‘communists’ countries of eastern Europes, so full of opportunists, defeatists and traitors to communism: here they knew what communism meant vis-à-vis capitalism-imperialism.
No, I’m not saying that in Cuba there was not discontent. There were many enemies of socialism, both in the so-called white race and among the blacks (which is more surprising). Only to mention those I came in contact with in the first luxurious hotel where we lodged with the party of Britishers, I’ll mention the waiters and the ‘jineteras’ who constituted part of the décor of the establisment.
Now, who can avoid entirely the temptation which the Devil is continually injecting in our human bodies, Dinero? Money? The Free World? Acummulation. All the waiters and other attendants had been poisoned by ‘the capitalist ideal’, I supposed (I am simply guessing: you cannot fully condemn an individual before knowing all the circumstances, and I knew very little of Cuba.) They received tips in dollars, and thus began, I presume, to accumulate, the contrary of communism.
Then, the jineteras. Young, sportive, and so very beautiful they had been. They sold their bodies for money, to the rich or semi-rich. Their very tradename was disgustingly ugly, repulsive. ‘Lovers in the manner of a jockey mounting on you macho-fellow’. I don’t know otherwise how to translate jinetera into English. Again dinero, money.
‘Rascal thieves, here is gold. Gold, Gold! Go for it! Here it is, yellow, glittering, precious gold. With it you can obtain admittance everywhere, you can buy anything.’ Timon of Athens speaking.’
Viewing the estuary.
Resting our elbows on the parapet, we were gazing at the Castillo del Morro right at the entrance of the harbour, the castle the Spaniards built (in one of Columbus’ journeys) to protect the city from pirates, corsairs, filibusters and buccaneers.
A man happened to pass by. ‘You can see for yourselves, the consequences of the boycott,’ he said stopping short. No doubt he knew English and had heard my wife wondering there was so little maritime traffic. ‘Bloody Gringos,’ I said, thinking perhaps to flatter him, or the Cuban nation. He passed on to Spanish, hearing my accent. He surely was a learned man. ‘No comercian con nosotros, don’t trade with us. And they don’t let third countries trade with us either.’
We could sense the fury of his feelings. He introduced himself and we learned he belonged to the Communist Party. ‘Now that the Soviet Union exists no more, we are alone, alone in the world.’ He went on, calming down: ‘Bah! Good riddance. What do we want from them? They want to exploit our people, they tried to impose on us the foul air, the ugliness, the stench: everywhere reigns abuse and exploitation overthere. I know the country.’
We two agreed. ‘A paradise for millionaires. I worked in Manhattan,’ I said. ‘scoundrels who are intent on demolishing the earth over our heads… all to increase their profits.’
‘Nothing but robbery and dirt,’ he went on, ‘pobreza y suciedad’. Under Batista they made of Havana a paradise for their billionaires. Good on Fidel, sent them packing. They wanted to bring vice, their illnesses, drugs, that kind of horror, rackets…’
‘They want to strangle Cuba,’ I commented, petulantly. ‘I see there is no commerce. No traffic, such a large port.’
As if to give the lie to my words, just then, a big black cargo ship made its appearance in the harbour. There were words or symbols painted in red, Chinese hieroglyphics to which I pointed. ‘Señor Mendoza, I see… well, China, istn’t it? What does it bring?’ I asked.
Abel Mendoza smiled. ‘Many things,’ he said. ‘Bicycles. But it’s not the same. No es lo mismo, ay!’
The consequence of the bloody boycott! The unjustified confrontation started the very day of the people’s victory. The United States ambassador (he said) came to visit the victorious revolutionaries and addressed himself to Fidel Castro. Well done my boy! Now you step down. How much money d’you want? and let us undertake the task of organising free elections… and so on.
In our room in the hotel, that night, we stayed until one o’clock, chatting. The Soviet Union helped the Cuban people in their solitude and distress, we concluded. Abel Mendoza was a teacher so he knew. The amount of help Cuba received from Moscow... absolutely unbelievable.
I had in my hands a book he had given to Nicky who, he knew, was also a teacher. It was the generosity of the Soviets that had saved Cuba. ‘¡Proletarios del mundo entero, uniros!’ The Cubans would show the world. ‘¡Trabajando, venceremos! (we recalled Mendoza’s words.) We must work, redouble our efforts, everywhere. Sugar is our first asset. Probably you’ve heard how Fidel and all the other heroes… Los primeros a cortar la caña.’
We had been a long time talking that afternoon with our communist acquaintance. Because he had said that nothing could be expected from Great Britain, we both told him about our British fellow-travellers, just returned home. How all were acting in pro-Cuban movements ‘There was a Scot among them (I said), from Hamilton, near Glasgow, a trade-unionist, in the shipyards. You should have heard how he spoke against the Gringo boycott. And I had told the Cuban communist how my Scottish friend told me that he wept nearly for an hour when Gorbachev handed the power of the powerful Soviet Union to Yeltsin and the United States government.
Before parting company, Abel Mendoza opened his briefcase and showed us some books. They had been printed in Russia, by ‘Progress Publishers Moscow’, and translated into Spanish by the publishers. As a teacher, he said, he offered one to my wife. The book was in Spanish, but all the pictures and representations in it corresponded to Russian scenery, etc. In other circumstances I might have smiled with irony. Not then. As a Spaniard who had lived in his childhood in a very poor country, I knew what was the cost of all these things.
What a magnificent people. So much help from the point of view of culture and education. Proletarians of the Whole World, Unite! Looking now again at the book, I ask myself. How necessary were these things, and how kind of the Russian communists to think of sending books to Cuban children, paper and writing materials, all in great need. How could the people have been able to produce these articles on their own, living for half a century in a state of total embargo!
And yet, Education, Culture, Medicine and so many other things… I felt like shouting, back in Europe. Go, go and see!
A journey by bus
One morning we turned right coming out of our little hotel and crossed a section of the city, which was new to us, or at least I did not remember to have been there before. Presently we came out into a great plaza, full of trees, in the middle of which there was a long narrow sort of pavement, I mean a sort of low platform where people were standing, waiting, bringing along (some of them) a bicycle as I had seen everywhere in Cuba before. It was a bus stop.
They all looked nice and many young, apprentice workers or students. My wife at once started talking to a group of boys and girls. We were determined to exchange impressions with the people for as long as we stayed in the country. I don’t know why I was not at all talkative that morning. While she talk I kept turning round somewhat nervously and at the same time with curiosity. We had not been there before. The blue sky overhead, the green of the gardens and the trees of the plaza. Among the branches of one of these I saw a big wooden poster: ‘Patria o Muerte ¡Venceremos!’
The last word, however, written beneath the other two, made me somewhat sad. I could hardly read it. I had seen it many times before, and every time I had thought that a new coat of paint was greatly overdue. But this time the feeling was intensified. The poster was actually in such a state of decay that I said to myself ‘This is incomprehensible, they want to lead the people, the message is clear and… so much fallen to tatters!’ Indeed you could hardly read the message.
I knew we were near the sea, and the wind and the rain… such a big poster in mid air by itself? ¡Venceremos!, almost gone. It was like an insult. Was that the end of the combat? the result of so much effort, courage, sacrifice? The famous guerillas, men and women all so brave, and many who had given their lives so young (¡Venceremos!) so that the people might enjoy a better life.
¡Victoria. Si, sí, Vencieron! The people won after years of struggle with courage and determination. ¡Enero 1959! Didn’t they have a tin of paint and a brush to give a coat of paint to that word? Venceremos.
They didn’t. With courage and determination they won. The people. What was to be done? Oh, this criminal, criminal boycott imposed by poisonous capitalism-imperialism!
If I had then, summer ’94, been alone, as I happen to be today, 15 January 2015 in my office, I would have cried my eyes out.
The juggernaut takes us to a lovely place.
The bus arrived and we all got into a queue ready to board it: passengers and bicycles. Have I said the bus? It was rather a juggernaut that slowly approached us, stopped and swallowed the lot, humans and bicycles.
So, I’ll now have to make a pause in the narration and proceed to describe the monster, if I can. If my reader lives or has lived in or visited Europe, she or he will have no doubt often seen a kind of monster daily circulating (at least until the recent recession that has changed everything) on the highways of our free world, duly transporting recently fabricated motorcars, by the dozen. Actually, some of these juggernauts carry on their backs some twenty vehicles each. They consist of a looming cabin with a human inside, or driver, and a metallic body (just girders and two platforms and beams) which extend about fifty or sixty feet long, from bumper to bumper; the whole is supported and made mobile by means of eighteen pneumatic wheels, the largest tyres the reader can imagine. In my time, when I used to go every summer to Campania or Andalucia, etc., and later on to Valladolid (where I used to travel by road quite often) you could see those monsters everywhere: in Germany going west, in France going down to Spain and Portugal, sometimes in Latvia, Poland, at all hours of day or night.
Well, that kind of monster stopped (summer ’94) before us at the lengthy bus-stop in the plaza. The juggernaut-monster, transformed into a long ugly bus, now swallowed all of us, men women and bicycles; and off we went out of town.
We left the bus about half an hour later. Many people climbed down there with us while others were waiting there to board it. We started walking. Thank goodness we had our haversacks with us. And headwear to protect us from the torrid sun. Mine was an ordinary hat, Nicky’s a round one, broad-brimmed.
After a while, always seeking the shade, we found ourselves in the middle of a forested area. Presently we reached a clearing where the trees, still tall, were thinner, and we could see at some distance, through the trunks, a perfectly blue sea with the reflections of dazzling sunlight. We sat down on what might have been a felled tree, partly covered with green undergrowth.
Nicky was tired and not at all talkative and I was soon lost in thought. I had begun to wonder whether I had become deaf. The sea was behing us and I did not seem to hear even the smallest murmur of the waves which however must have been battering the rocks along the water’s edge.
And other sounds of nature? No animals, no birds? Something I had heard in Viñales suddenly came to my mind as I was wondering about the birds, so abundant in other parts, perching on the branches of the trees.
Our guide had told us that there existed in Cuba the smallest birds ever seen in all the corners of the planet. The Conquistadores, on arrival, had been greatly surprised on seeing the microscopic things flying silently in the air by the dozen, hundred perhaps, together. They call these little birds, ‘pajaros moscas’. That was then. Birds of the size of flies. Perhaps their twittering too was low-grade.
Absorbed though I was in my thoughts I suddenly heard voices. Or it was the touch of Nicky’s hand that alerted me to people coming.
Along the footpath we had taken twenty or thirty minutes before, two people came riding down rather lazily on two very similar black bicycles. They stopped short, on seeing us, and said ‘Buenos días! Hello!’ My wife was so obviously a foreigner that one of them spoke to her in English. A girl of about eighteen. Nicky replied in the same language and a conversation ensued. The other, a young man, and myself just listened.
They had remained seated on the bicycle-seats, one foot on the ground, while we two remained seated on the tree. The young woman was very pretty, as all young Cubans are. She wore a turquoise sleeveless blouse which only reached half way down, her black skin showing her little round navel, the blue shorts also letting us see the length of her black elegant legs. The boy wore an orange shirt and grey-blue trousers, cut and frayed at the hems about the height of the knees.
I would like to tell now in detail what we four talked about for half an hour or so. We all had passed to Spanish now. My wife, quite tactless, asked the girl if she wanted to escape to Florida, now that that the doors were wide open. She spoke such good English! I shall never forget what the latter said in reply.
She would never forget what she owed to the Revolution. Her ancestors (she said) or at least some of them had been slaves. She was a free woman, had got an education, everything, due to communism. After she finished university she would go wherever the government sent her, to teach others, the children of the working people. She only had one other wish. That her fiancé might be sent to the same region as she, so that they could marry and have a family.
The boy was studying medicine. I mainly addressed myself to him, and as often happens with me, I talked mainly of myself. I asked him, if he had never had itchyy feet, feeling himself… closed inside such a small island. He confessed he felt repeatly that urge to travel, like his Spanish ancestors, the need for adventure, sailing away and seeing distant lands. (‘Like yourself,’ he said.) But, he added quite firmly: ‘Señor, lo que no puede ser, no puede ser. I owe myself to the Revolution.’ And I knew that he’d never be an escapee. His studies, his freedom, the love he felt for his fiancée, were due to his having been born in a New Cuba. ‘Sabe usted, señor,’ he told me holding my hand, as in a confession. ‘There is one thing we Cubans of my generation greatly regret, not having been with the men and women of Sierra Maestra and all the time with the Guerilla who did so much for us and for Cuba! We must be ready to do the same if in the future Cuba needs that. Patria o Muerte, venceremos.’
Among the missives we received last December, in our home near Paris, Christmas cards, New Year greetings, a couple of calendars from my daughters… there was a letter from Aberdeen, our old friend from our Cuban days, Professor Terry Martin. He wrote, among other things of our 1994 tour together. ‘I’ll tell you something, relating to those days,’ he said, ‘I know you’ll like to know.’ And he told me all about a (then) young man we met in a farmer’s cabin in Viñales. ‘He has been, these last few weeks (he said), in West Africa. You sure have heard of the unparalleled efforts made by medical teams from Cuba to help exterminate the Ebola epidemic.
And I thought of my young friend, sitting with his fiancée in the forest, with us two, that torrid day of the end of that summer ’94. Oh, that young man in Viñales, with a beautiful sister, also a student. A doctor. Of course. The same as that nice boy in the forest, with his fiancée. Sure he too would have gone everywhere in Latin America, Africa in medical teams. He who so much wanted to see foreign lands (‘Like yourself,’ he had said.)
Like myself? I felt my eyes filling with tears that morning reading Terry’s letter with my wife.
‘Unparalleled efforts,’ I read again.
A very little, peaceful, unjustly boycotted country, sending its well-trained doctors to help others, wherever advanced medical science was needed. To work and overcome difficulties, always and everywhere in order to help suffering humanity.
Fernando García Izquierdo
9, rue Vernet, Le Chesnay