The elder Cuban man raises his eyebrows nostalgically remembering past times. His tan-colored smiling face contrasts with his gray hair, while the brightness of his gold-rimmed clear lenses give a special sparkle to his stare. He touched the issue of Colombia and its peace process, and expressed his views with open candor. Then, he expressed his thoughts on the current events in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.
“The enemies of these progressive governments insist on trampling their work, to throw them onto the street and into oblivion, as if they were dirty elements” He is puzzled on why they’re not facing them the way they deserve. Then, he compares them with Fidel, with his decision to stand up against imperialism and all reactionaries of the continent. In his opinion, that’s what these current leaders lack.
His words are hard and sharp. So I intervene: “of course Fidel is an exceptional character, but it is also necessary to consider the conditions and context under which each political process moves on. In Cuba there was a successful revolution, the ruling class fled the country immediately. In the current Latin American processes, the left accessed the government through elections, having to live with the economic and political powers who hate change. In Cuba, imperialist and oligarchic property was confiscated while in Venezuela and Brazil, despite the social approach of governments, they have also had to govern for that class and at least keep it in conformity with the new policies…
Furthermore, the extraordinary historical role that the Soviet Union played in favor of the Cuban revolution is undeniable. Whatever people might say; for the first and only time in the long pilgrimage of the peoples towards justice, there was a political power capable of standing up against the empire and imposing conditions. A clear example was with the missile crisis, yes, the USSR withdrew its nuclear arms and troops to prevent a war, but still, the Washington government knew that they could not avoid war if they dared to invade Cuba, the USSR would not allow it…
To count on a backrest like that, entitles one to talk tough, like a child who stands strong towards a big guy that tries to attack him, knowing that he has an older brother that can come and defend him. None of the governments or leaders of today have that advantage. They have to appeal to talent, careful tactics, and that may seem weak or even fail”
The old man smiles at me with a gesture of malice, he tells me that the revolution succeeded without the support of the Soviet Union, and that the radical measures taken in its early days were risky but courageous.
He reminds me that I should not forget that the Soviet Union came down precipitously, and that from the time of Gorbachev and the Perestroika, the former communist solidarity of Moscow had begun to recede in surprising ways, “Cuba was alone and Fidel realized that. It was then that he showed his true greatness, when he stressed that Cuba and its revolution would never surrender. We all prepared to follow him, to die for our country if imperialism set foot on our island, to make all the necessary sacrifices for our sovereignty. The United States knew that if they invaded us, it would be the last action of that kind that they would make”. I then realize the way his blood vibrates in his the veins, palpitating pride and faith. I choose to remain silent.
“Nobody knows what the Cuban people have gone through -he continues- to have lived in times in which nothing could be obtained, in which there was no transport or electricity, in which there weren’t enough potatoes for all of us to eat. That is why it hurts that in Venezuela, the same people to whom Chávez and the revolution gave so much, let themselves be manipulated, just because of some scarce items. Cubans didn’t let such manipulation against the revolution reign, because Fidel taught us that the revolution and the homeland are above life itself…
Besides -he adds- no one really knows all the things that Cuba has done for other people, the sacrifices we have made for the sake of solidarity”. He tells me that he worked eighteen years in the merchant navy after leaving the Army, he recalls missions such as navigating to North Korea to pick up a shipment of arms for the FRELIMO in Mozambique, having to reach the port at night and leaving in the same night, taking all kinds of risks.
One night, when they were nearing into Guinea Bissau with a load of arms, they received an alert call: The revolutionary government had just been overthrown. They should get away as quickly as possible from the coast. This West African country had been a rich source of slaves from the fifteenth century and was now one of the poorest in the world. The idea was to provision the ship and head back to Cuba once successfully delivered the load, but with the sudden overthrowing of the revolutionary government before arrival, this was impossible. They spent thirteen days at sea with only a few peas to eat.
He told me stories of many travels of such nature, but it was when remembering one to Chile, that his face darkened. It was in the times of the terrible lockouts against the government of Salvador Allende. Cuba, in solidarity, sent thirteen thousand tons of sugar to help resolve the crisis. Fidel, the eternal Fidel, had asked for every Cuban to donate two pounds of sugar out of their own ration for six months in order to support their Chilean brothers. And all Cubans had responded with an enthusiastic yes.
Once in Chile, they witnessed a baffling and reprehensible action. The staff at the Valparaiso port assumed the task of unloading the ship`s cargo with the respective machinery. But they did so with astonishing negligence. When the load was lifted into the air towards the dock, suddenly, they would let loose for it to fall into the sea, one after another, imperceptibly. And if by chance some portion came ashore, the hooks that should lift it towards the waiting trucks, pushed into the bags so that the sugar would spill all over the ground.
“That was shocking, in Cuba, the solidarity campaign with Chile and its government had been complied with extraordinary fervor. Girls and boys, young men and women, had worked voluntarily at the port in Cuba, without charging a penny, until we got the entire sugar load on the ship. And then, in Chile, we saw how the staff at the port was spilling the sugar in the sea and on the ground without the slightest remorse. We could not do anything to avoid such a spectacle. Just painfully see it happening”.
Just by remembering that, tears came on to the old man's eyes. “What a sinister power, the one behind that type of inhumane action!” His voice broke for a few seconds. I force myself to not mourn. Sniffling furtively, the old man comments that just a few days later, they learned of the military coup of Pinochet in Chile days before their arrival. “The things that the Cuban people have gone through”, he says while benignly smiling at me. I answered assertively, and told him that I would write about our conversation, so that others would know.
Havana, May 22, 2016.