Havana (PL) All Cubans, anywhere on Earth where they may be, should be proud that their small island is recognized in the five continents, be it for their Olympic champions, their music, their scientific achievements, their solidarity or simply for its defense of the poor, Independence and sovereignty.
All this is possible because a man, Fidel Castro, finished the work started by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo -in the independence wars- and also for the thousands of patriots that fell fighting for those ideals.
The first time I heard speaking about Fidel was when I studied in the United States, I was about 13 years old and read about the interview made to the guerrilla leader by famous New York Times journalist, Herbert Matthews, in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
Already in Cuba, on September, 1960, being about 16, I worked as secretary of the Superior Government Board of Havana University, when they were feverishly working on the University Reform which had been the dream of Julio Antonio Mella and made me stay late, when Fidel most frequently visited the University. The then Prime Minister arrived at the Hill to put a thermometer to grassroot reality, demanding opinions from students, professors and workers of the center of high studies where he himself had been part of student rebelliousness.
It was the turbulent autumn of 1962, when I worked as secretary of the University Student Federation (FEU) president, Jose Rebellon.
In that difficult period, when the threat of nuclear war hovered over Cuba and the whole world, the small space of the FEU office and the Hall of Martyrs where meetings of the organization were held, practically became commanding post of the Comandante.
He talked and shared opinions with all who gathered there on the difficult situation created by the United States over the display in Cuba of Soviet missiles, aid accepted by the island after being invaded in April, 1961 by Cuban mercenaries armed and trained by Washington, besides suffering attacks and sabotages.
Maybe for the first time, in our conversations, we first heard about the five points of a plan submitted by Cuba to the United Nations in order to achieve the desired peace. From this office, Fidel left for talks with Soviet Foreign Minister, Anastas Mikoyan, who had arrived in Havana to meet with the leader of the Revolution.
Fortunately for the students and workers who shared these intimate conversations that made us participants of historic moments not only for Cuba, but the whole world, photographers accompanying Fidel included us in their snapshots.
TRIAL OF A TRAITOR
The first time I crossed words with the Comandante was after the trial of Marcos Armando Rodriguez (known as Marquitos) proven informer of the Batista dictatorship responsible for giving away the hiding place of Fructuoso Rodríguez, Juan Pedro Carbó Serviá, José Machado y Joe Westbrook, martyrs of Humboldt 7, building where they were massacred. These students had participated in the failed attempt on the life of dictator Fulgencio Batista, at the Presidential Palace.
‘Marquitos’ was a member of the youth section of the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP) reason why the trial might threaten the political stability of the country. The PSP was part, together with the Movement 26th of July and the Revolutionary Directorate 13 of March, of the Organizaciones Revolucionarias Integradas (ORI).
For the first hearing of the trial, on March 13, 1964, the journalist of radio station Radio Reloj, Graciela Hernandez, asked me to take shorthand notes of the statements, as precisión was required due to the repercussion of the trial in the political circles of the nation.
Ten days later, Marcos Rodriguez was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death, ruling that was carried out on April 19, 1964 seven years after the Humboldt 7 crime.
After the trial, Fidel visited the University and when he saw my journalist friend Graciela, he asked her opinion of what was said at the trial and the court’s ruling. The moment was perpetuated in a picture that was memorable for me regardless I was not seen in it.
The surprise was that Fidel looked around him and posed his eyes on me saying, ‘but you were also there’, I nodded and Graciela explained to him I had helped her take notes in shorthand of the statements.
Besides his enviable speech, Fidel also enjoyed a flash memory. Once he opened a file in his brain, he would never forget a face or a conversation.
IN CUBA’S SUMMIT
The first graduation of physicians during the Revolution, was an occasion for the Commander in Chief to organize a trip to Pico Turquino, highest mountain in Cuba, in November 1965.
The route set until the Turquino started from Las Mercedes, town near Bayamo, capital of today’s Granma province, in the Sierra Maestra mountain range, east of the island. The first stop was at Alturas de Mompie where we slept to continue the following day to La Plata, one of his commanding posts during the guerrilla warfare between December 1956 and the end of 1958.
In La Plata, Fidel was waiting for us, incentivating hikers with the news that a helicopter had arrived with ice cream from the brand-new Coppelia factory. That seemed so extraordinary to us as seeing an oasis in the midst of the desert.
On the third day we reached the summit of Turquino, presided by a bust of Jose Marti. We grouped all -Fidel, officials, students and soldiers- to take our picture in the emblematic place.
Already in Pico Cuba, next to the highest place in Cuba, we listened to lengthy stories of the fight in Sierra Maestra, related by Fidel and details given by Celia Sanchez, heroine of the guerrilla. We were all in awe around the President, seated in hammocks. Night closed around us and I was sure to carry this experience, like the rest, for all our lives.
Two years after the Turquino experience, complaints by the population reached the governmentÂ´s top officials from Guantanamo and Pinar del Rio, event that made Fidel asked the University Rector to organize a social research and dig into and find the cause of those complaints.
In Guantanamo, maybe the most shocking fact had been to know that a few trotskyists with barely no followers, regional authorities denied employment to their relatives of working age.
The social polls we carried out on Fidel’s initiative, besides that of Guantanamo, included the town of San Andres de Caiguanabo, Pinar del Rio, in Minas de Matahambre in the same province and another one in Banao, Sancti Spiritus. In all we were able to confirm afterwards that the methods of the local governments changed radically and solution given to the problems.
Even though the result of our research was not published, we knew that methods changed, leaders responsible of corruption and bullying were punished and in Banao, the camp ceased to be a jail for the women working there to become a source of new hope for them to face life.
THE FIDEL OF FIDJI
Among the tradeunion organizations from all over the world invited for the Mayday rally of 1974, I was asked to accompany a labor leader from the Fidji islands in the Pacific. Of name Tora, he was the first person from that territory to visit Cuba and was called by the news media of his country the ‘Fidel of the Pacific’ because he took part in the struggle for the independence of Malaysia.
Ever since his arrival, he insisted once and again he must meet President Fidel Castro, as he could not leave Cuba without having greeted the leader. His over six feet height and the exhuberant afro look in his hair, he impressed everyone.
The day arrived of the final reception at the Palace of the Revolution, where Fidel was supposed to host, and my guest was overwhelmed with happiness. A protocol official indicated we could place ourselves at the end of a corridor where Fidel was greeting the guests and so we did. I warned Tora that his enthusiasm could not carry him to embrace him suddenly or make any abrupt move when the admired figure came near him.
Everything started as planned, when he identified himself and Fidel commented that Fidji was known as ‘the sugarbowl of the Pacific’. The Cuban leader kept on talking and I heard a voice behind me saying: ‘translate to him girl’ and Fidel, hearing what it was all about, said jokingly: ‘girl, translate, translate, girl’ making everybody laugh except me, who, sorry, resumed my work as interpreter.
The Uruguayan-Cuban author, Daniel Chavarria, described very well this phenomenon of magnetism. His book ‘And the world keeps turning’ (Havana, 2008) explains the effects of Fidel’s personality over those who surround him.
Chavarría says that once, invited to a dinner in honor of guest authors of the Book Fair of Havana, Fidel arrived looking unusually old and with evident signals of weariness. But as the hours passed, he noted that his glow and locuacity of the head of government increased.
In time, Chavarria says he gives credit to a theory he heard from Vietnamese and Spanish scientists on the capacity of the human body to absorb the energy in the atmosphere. They assure that privileged organisms can attract most efficiently that energy, storage it and transfer it to others. I agree with the writer, who attributes that power to the magnetism and mobilizing vitality of great leaders like Fidel.
Elsy Fors Garzo, Prensa Latina