We Were Fidelistas, We Still Are, Says El Cuate on Fidel’s Birthday

Por Luis Manuel Arce Isaac

Mexico, Aug 14 (Prensa Latina) Just six months older than Fidel Castro, Antonio del Conde has an enviable memory, which is tested when he speaks about the expedition that left from Tuxpan for Cuba on his yacht, Granma.

Few know him by his name or the nickname of Tony, but when someone refers to ‘El Cuate,’ everybody immediately links him with Fidel, Raul and the members of the expedition that travelled to Cuba on the Granma yacht, which he bought with his money from a US couple who had abandoned it on the banks of the Tuxpan river, in Veracruz, after the boat was damaged by a hurricane.

The story, which he has told hundreds of times since November 25, 1956, of the yacht setting sail bound for Cuba’s east coast carrying 82 people, even though it only had capacity for 12, seems so new and fresh that El Cuate’s gray, bearded face seems to rejuvenate as he speaks about that day and mentions Fidel constantly.

The Che Guevara Room of the Cuban Embassy in Mexico is full of people, because everyone wants to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the birth of the immortal leader, and El Cuate shines, illuminated by memories that are so deeply rooted in his head and, especially, in his soul.

He speaks about everything – when he met Fidel in his gun shop, his astonishment due to the young man’s broad technical knowledge about weapons, even though he didn’t appear to be a military man. He remembers as if were today the question that Fidel repeated on three occasions about the characteristics of a rifle that he wanted to buy. Something deeper than a friendship was born there between El Cuate and Fidel 64 years ago. ‘That is why I am here every year, every day, making what he told me then when I ceased to be Antonio and became El Cuate, as he called me: Revolution, and I will continue to make it,’ he stated with such emotion that the audience gave him a standing ovation.

El Cuate offered several anecdotes and as he spoke, his memory stretching back years as his stories took him back to the Mexico of the time, to Maria Antonia’s house on 49 Jose de Emperan Street, where Fidel and Che met, when he was a young storekeeper, gunsmith, industrial advisor, military man, civil pilot, editor, entrepreneur and much more.

Perhaps it was that diverse curriculum in such a young man that drew Fidel’s attention as the group of revolutionaries organized the expedition and elements of their plans came apart, like acquiring a boat for the voyage to Cuba. Fidel had heard about the acquisition of the Granma yacht and asked El Cuate to put it at the disposal of the cause, on which the Mexican agreed.

But Fidel, he recalled, was a conspirator par excellence and he asked Chucho Reyes, one of the members of the future expedition, do you guarantee with your life that El Cuate will not fail us? Chucho answered affirmatively.

‘I did not fail him, nor will I ever fail him,’ El Cuate stated energetically, as if the years had not passed, and again the audience gave him a standing ovation.

He may have been moved by the spontaneous reaction of those listening to him, but he did not show, except if looked into his eyes at that precise moment. El Cuate knows that all of the world’s glory fits in a kernel of corn, and he is loyal to that statement.

The hosts invited him to cut the cake, decorated with the colors of the Cuban flag, and a brief inscription in italics: 93rd Anniversary. He took the knife, and before cutting the cake noted, as a whisper, to himself rather than for those surrounding him: ‘We were all Fidelistas. All of us were his disciples. We still are.’ 


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