Report From Oscar - About Fighting for the Revolution – The Moncada and the Aftermath – Camaguey, Cuba – August 18, 2011 – Via Delivery by Hand


[Oscar – Age – 80’s; Birthplace – Havana, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba; Lives with Wife and Extended Family; Occupation – Retired, Previously Revolutionary for Fidel Castro’s Movement]

Hola, Mi Amigo, Franklin:

It was a tremendous pleasure getting to know you during your trip to Cuba. I am sorry that our apartment, here in the heart of Centro Habana, is tiny, hot, and bare. I know it is not what you are accustomed to. But this is the life of Cubans. We do not regret it. We love our country. And it was nice to hear you say you love our country and our people as well.  We enjoyed being able to share a Cuban coffee with you. Even though you know that our coffee beans are blended with other products to stretch it out until the next month in the ration book. Olivia and Yusimí send their regards and warm wishes as well.

You wanted me to describe what occurred at the inception of the Revolution here in Cuba.  I was a student in the early 1950’s at the University of Havana. Fidel Castro was one of my classmates.  There was much unrest at the time, as we were forced to endure the horrible Batista for a second time. We thought we were rid of him some years earlier, but somehow he managed to return to power.  If you read newspapers of the day, you would see constant strikes, violence in the streets, beatings, killings, and so on. It was miserable.  Students and other young people decried the horrible state of affairs. We would demonstrate on the huge marble steps of the University and the street outside, and riot police would come and beat us. There were a number of different communist, socialist and other anti-government groups, all over Havana and in other areas.  Although separate, they were anarchists, revolutionaries, against the status quo. I was a member of such a group, all of whom were students at the University.

Talk began of an effort to stage a coup against the Batista government. We didn’t really have much interest in the details – we just wanted to be an active part of whatever would happen; we wanted to overthrow the government. We wanted a free Cuba. The plan kept popping up, over a several month period. We had meetings. The leaders of our group met with the leaders of other groups. We had more meetings. We would hear that such and such a group was in, and then that that group was out. Concepts and vague plans swirled like chocolate in a cup of milk. It was difficult to ascertain where one strain started and where it ended, before it mixed and changed texture.

But a master plan began to congeal. We began to learn that our group and many others would travel to Santiago de Cuba, far to the south and east of Havana, and that the coup would take place there. It was difficult to understand how the coup would occur in Santiago, since the capital and seat of the government, and Batista himself, were in Havana.  But that was the plan.

On Friday, July 24, 1953, a day I’ll never forget, I showed up at the headquarters of our group, with a small bag of clothes and toiletries, knowing we were traveling to Santiago, but unsure of the rest of the plan. Everybody was jabbering, wild-eyed, moving to and fro. Some rifles were stacked on a table. Jaime was making a list of names, with information about whether they’d ever shot a gun or rifle, and clothing sizes. Strangers showed up, talked to the leaders, and left. Some of our group would leave, and return. I recall asking for input on what I should do, but there plan was mush; there was no cohesion.

Late in the evening, we were piling into cars. I got crammed into the middle of the back seat of a Ford.  Rifles and provisions were stuck into the trunk.  People lumbered with huge, dark-green duffel bags from car to car, and crammed one into our trunk. 

As we left Havana and slowly moved along the poorly-paved highway towards the southeast, we passed other cars, each with four or five thin young men, some with scraggly beards. The ride was long and uncomfortable. We stopped from time to time, just to relieve ourselves, and switch drivers.

At seven in the morning, we arrived in Santiago. We’d passed broken down cars with men standing around looking forlorn. We’d picked up some provisions from some.  We stopped the car across the street from the Hotel Rex, where a man stood on a corner and waved us down. He had a list of which men were in which car. He directed us to a house on a nearby street.  We entered a house, jammed with thirty or so men, some sleeping on floors, some sitting and smoking, some whispering, discussing the apparent plan, some carrying canvas bags, and some checking sizes of musty, wrinkled military uniforms.

I was exhausted. So I went to sleep on the hard floor, in the corner of a room, for several hours. Somebody brought in ham, cheese, bread, pastries, and guava in the afternoon. We had a feast. A woman, I never did figure out who she was, was making multiple cups of sugary espresso.  That woke us up.

In the late afternoon, we piled back into cars, with some of the same provisions, and other provisions, and headed in a caravan through the upper part of the city and out the Siboney Highway, towards the coast. We passed colorfully-dressed teenaged girls and women, heading down to the lower part of town for the Carnival, an annual street party of drinking and dancing. We saw government soldiers, in uniform, but looking a bit unkempt.

The cars rumbled and bounced on the bumps and gulleys in the beat-up, dirt highway. Clouds of dust and dirt filled the air and roared into the open windows. Rifles stuck out the rear window of the car in front of us. I couldn’t take a breath without dirt infiltrating my nose. The phlegm in my throat was heavy and thick. When I tried to clear it, my throat stung.

The cars slowed, and veered into the dirt yard of a small farmhouse followed and swallowed by even larger clouds of dirt. Everybody piled out, grabbed the canvas bags, boxes, guns, and so on and carried them into the house.

Inside the house, the turmoil was wilder than in the house where we had arrived in the city, mostly because the rooms were completely packed. I walked straight through and out the back door, hoping to find some relief from the tension. But the back yard was packed with men as well. Everywhere, people carried stacks of uniforms, rifles, and other supplies. Three men kneeled over a cistern in the side yard, and pulled up a bucket, which held rifles.  Several men came out with guns pointed at other men, and ushered them to a wooden structure where cars were parked. They ordered the men to climb a ladder to what I supposed was a loft area for prisoners.

The insanity continued all evening. Finally, we were all given or told to find uniforms and rifles.  Since I didn’t rush to the front of the line, I, along with many others, received a crumpled, musty, stained, uniform, the pant legs of which made it to my mid-calves. I couldn’t buckle them, so I just held them up with my belt. I got a rusty, small caliber rifle, which didn’t matter much, because I’d never shot any type of weapon in my life.

Then Fidel Castro gave a non-inspiring speech in the driveway, and we were all back in cars, heading into town. The car I was in stopped on the street between the Moncada and the officers’ dwellings.  We started running towards the parade ground, but somebody with apparent authority, said, “No, you guys go to the hospital, across the street.”  We turned and ran back towards the main street, and then bounded up the steps and into the hospital. At least one other group was already in there. We had no idea what we were to do. Some of the men pointed their rifles at medical staff and ordered them into a small area. I ran with another man through the halls gathering whomever we found and pushing them into rooms.


[Photo from Franklin Marquez – Taken from Wall Depiction at Siboney Farmhouse – Shows parade ground (Poligono) outside Moncada, officers’ quarters, (Casas de Allistodores) hospital and courthouse (palacio de justicias. This is the courthouse where the trial was held.]

After some time, solders rushed into the hospital.  I grabbed a hospital patient gown from a table, slid into a room, and climbed into an empty bed, where I feigned sleep.  Little by little, while concealed under the sheets, I removed my uniform pants. As I tried to remove my uniform shirt, a soldier rushed into room room, ran to me, pushed me with the muzzle of the gun, pulled down the sheet, pulled the neck of the gown out so he could see the uniform, and arrested me.

Along with over a hundred others, I was a defendant in the trial, which went on for weeks.  Fidel Castro, representing himself, tried to turn it into an attack on Batista’s government. He gave his speech – “History will Absolve me” at the end of the trial. But almost all of us were convicted, and sent to the Isle of Pines, to the “Model Prison.”  I had to put up with Castro’s speeches in there for almost a year before being released. 

When we were all out of prison, I decided that Castro was still the best choice to lead the country. I became a follower again. After the Revolution, I went to work for the government. I know you expect me to criticize the government, Franklin, but I cannot, and I will not. We Cubans have what we need. Our government is making strides daily to improve our situation. I am convinced that our situation is the result of the U.S. Embargo and Russia’s abandoning us.  I’ll tell you more about current life in Cuba in another letter.

Un abrazo fuerte.  Su amigo, Oscar.

Ramón – Camaguey, Cuba – August 15, 2011

Ramón – Age – 80’s; Birthplace – Countryside near Camaguey, Cuba; Residence – Camaguey, Cuba; Lives with Wife and Extended Family; Occupation – Retired, Previously Soldier in Batista’s Army


Dear Franklin:

I hope this letter finds you and your family well. It was a great pleasure being able to meet you and spend some time at our humble farm here in Camaguey earlier this year. I am only sorry that our offerings were of necessity so meager. But you are aware of how limited our supplies are here. I am writing to you as you requested, to explain my history and our current lifestyles. I am sorry it took so long.

As you know, my family and I live in the countryside, near Camaguey. We live in the same home as my grandparents and then my parents lived in. At one time, it was a fairly large farm. But in the regimes of the 40s, 50s and 60s, farmland was taken away, so we have very little that we can use now. We and three neighbors share a cow, which provides milk. We have a few chickens, which produce eggs. We grow some vegetables. These things may seem inconsequential, but they actually provide tremendous help.

I am retired now, so my monthly income was cut in half --- from thirty U.S. dollars equivalent a month to fifteen. And with the new financial “improvements”, as our government sees them, things like soap and toothpaste are no longer sold in the government bodeguitas at subsidy prices.

Thank goodness we have our son and daughter living with us, with their spouses and children. Our son and our son-in-law both work for the government, paving the highways, which is the same work I did when I worked. Drudgery under a baking sun, shoveling steaming asphalt by hand. Thus, we have two and a half monthly incomes, which helps very much. Cubans have no housing expense, and no medical expense, so we get by on these earnings and what our shared farming generates.

You wanted me to tell you about the times before Castro. I was in my thirties when we went through one tyrant dictator after another. Unbelievably, after we got rid of Batista once, he got elected again, from Florida, and became worse than the first time. I was a soldier in the army. It was a job. I had no allegiance to any government, but I was also not part of any group looking to overthrow the government. I just survived. Like now. It was a job. No different from paving roads, as I did later. I would stay at the Moncada army barracks in Santiago, Cuba for days at a time, and do what I was to do. We were not at war. We cleaned, repaired things, marched, practiced shooting, held official ceremonies. We were soldiers. We also drank, caroused, walked the streets, and enjoyed ourselves. Since most of us lived some miles away, and it wasn’t convenient to go home often, we had our time out, right in town. The people were very unhappy with Batista, but we just survived.

Photo of graffiti, posted by Franklin Marquez, which remains intact on a city street now in 2011 – It says: “Down with Batista --- Assassin”


In 1953, six years before Castro final took control of the government, Fidel Castro and a bunch of revolutionaries wanted to stage a coup. They concocted a ridiculous plan to overthrow the Moncada army barracks. During the week of the annual celebration in the streets in Santiago, they thought by the middle of the night, we soldiers would all be drunk and sleeping, and they’d put on fake or used army uniforms and sneak in, surprise us, and take over the country. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? They came to Santiago from all over Cuba, but most came from Havana. They arrived by the carload, and others came by train. They brought arms and supplies. They stayed in several safe houses around town, and also the Hotel Rex. I know you saw that hotel, a couple of blocks from the Moncada when you were in Santiago. They also rented a little farmhouse on the Siboney Highway, about halfway between downtown Santiago and Siboney Beach. All the groups converged on the farmhouse the night of the attack for distribution and donning of uniforms, distribution of rifles, and review of final plans.

Photos from Franklin Marquez – Hotel Rex Photo from Siboney Farmhouse Museum. [Sorry about the reflection from the window]. Receipt of food eaten by the revolutionaries the night before the attack; Hotel Rex now.



The receipt says: 20 Chicken and Rice; 20 salads; 20 plantains; 20 bread and butter; 12 coffees; 27 mineral waters; 3 maltas (malted soda); 7 desserts; etc.



There were rumors that something like the attack might be going on, but the officers of the Moncada weren’t very concerned. They staged a few extra sentries, but the highest officers were out dancing in the streets. Castro and his men figured we’d all be smashed and unconscious. But that’s not what happened.

At five a.m., I was lying on my bunk, half asleep, thinking of my wife and family, when I heard the bang of a door, the sound of boots running on the floor, a gunshot, and then yelling. My rifle leaned against the wall behind me, and in a second I was up and armed. So were the other five soldiers in the room. We signaled each other in the dim light and separated into different corners of the room, armed and ready.

Three men, dressed in what appeared to be uniforms, ran in, holding rifles. We yelled, “Halt,” and startled them. In seconds, they dropped their rifles and put their arms behind their heads. We ordered them to the ground, left one soldier on guard and rushed through the halls looking for other infiltrators. The fake soldiers were more surprised to see us than we were to see them. They seemed to have no contingency plans, and no knowledge of what to do with their rifles. We took several more prisoners. The sound of machine gun fire outside echoed through the halls. We knew it was the sentries in the guard towers across the parade ground, so we stayed inside. Other legitimate solders raced, along with us, from room to room. We found fake soldiers cowering in corners, hiding under desks, walking around like we wouldn’t know the difference. It was laughable. We heard other gunfire outside, but we weren’t sure how many were there, where the shots were coming from, or whose guns were shooting. We cleared the entire inside of the second floor of the Moncada within about twenty minutes, and waited.

The rifle and machine gun fire halted, and we snuck a peak outside, carefully, to avoid being shot by our own men. Real soldiers walked among prone and bleeding intruders on the parade ground, while others stood guard above a group of prisoners. We brought our prisoners to the parade ground. Officers showed up from wherever they had been, and ordered the troops to separate the prisoners into groups and take them in for interrogation. Others were locked in the brig. Other troops brought in prisoners who had been caught near the officers’ dwellings and the streets.

Photos from Franklin Marquez – The Moncada now houses a museum and school. The bullet holes are real. They are from machine guns shot by the sentries in the guard tower across the parade ground. The hotel in the background is the Meilá.



We heard more gunfire, and shouts from the opposite side of the barracks, and an officer shouted to our group to rush to the hospital, which was across the street. As we rushed off, the officer ordered another group to the courthouse next door, where there was also apparently some conflict. As we arrived in front of the hospital, we saw men running, some yanking off fake uniform shirts, cars zig-zagging, skidding around corners, activity everywhere. A car pulled up in front of the hospital, a door opened, and revolutionaries tossed a bleeding man onto the asphalt. We rushed in. A nurse pointed to two men, scrambling up the hall dressed in hospital gowns, and said, “Stop them; they are intruders.” We did. Another pointed out a man dressed as a doctor. We had some trouble figuring out who was who, but little by little we found the Fidelistas and rounded them up. We heard shooting and ran into the operating room, where we captured three more prisoners without shooting. We took them all back to the parade grounds.

A corporal and I were ordered to throw a couple of gruesomely shot-up bodies into the back of a pick-up truck and take them to the Siboney Farmhouse, which was the staging area, and drop them on the front lawn as though they’d been shot there. We didn’t think it would be very authentic looking since they were full of holes from machine-gun fire, but we did as ordered. We drove the twenty-five minutes or so to the farmhouse, where we found other groups of soldiers pouring over the property and inside the house. We dropped the bodies in the yard. As we were leaving, the other soldiers fired at the house, leaving bullet holes in the walls, just like those at the Moncada.

Photos from Franklin Marquez – Siboney Farmhouse. Bullet holes shot after the attack had failed, when bodies were deposited in the yard by Batista forces.



Bloody Fake Uniforms of a Revolutionary – Photo taken at museum in Havana

The rest of the morning, prisoners were interrogated. From time to time we would hear one or two shots. We learned later that these were executions of prisoners who were not forthcoming with information. Finally, it was over. Newspaper men came and photographed bodies, some of which had been moved and staged. They were also directed to the farmhouse to photograph it. Almost one hundred fifty prisoners were locked in various secure places to await trial. Months later, I was a guard in the lengthy trial at the end of which Castro and almost all the others were convicted and imprisoned at the Isle of Pines prison. Castro was allowed to represent himself, since he was a lawyer, and made his famous speech, “History will absolve me,” at the end of the trial.

After some months, some were released from prison, and a year after being imprisoned, Fidel was also released. I never understood why they let him go, since ultimately he was able to return and overthrow the Batista government.

Well, Franklin, that’s my recollection in a nutshell. There’s a lot more to it than that, but you wanted to hear my side of it, and this is it.

I hope you get back to Cuba sometime, and we can talk more. Please add some of the photographs you took where appropriate when you put this on your blog.

Very Truly Yours,

Your Friend, Ramón

Fidel's 85th Birthday

Franklin Marquez – Miami, Florida – August 13, 2011

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]
According to The Telegraph and other sources, Cuba is celebrating Fidel Castro’s 85th birthday today. But, he didn’t show up for the party.


Report from Ernesto – about Ernesto and Marisa – Havana, Cuba August 11, 2011 - Via E-mail

Ernesto – Age – Early 20’s; Birthplace – Havana, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba; Lives with Mother and Extended Family; Occupation – Educated in Business and Finance, Works in Hotel Operations for Government Owned Hotel; Fiancé of Marisa

Marisa – Age – Late Teens; Birthplace – Havana, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba; Lives with Parents and Extended Family; Occupation – Educated in Business and Finance, Works at front desk of Government Owned Hotel; Fiancé of Ernesto
………….


Hi, Franklin. I thought I’d write this little story about Marisa, the love of my life, and our lives here in Centro Habana.
………………

I run my fingers across the bars of the gate that enclose the living area of the apartment where my love, Marisa, lives with her family. I check my watch. Five in the morning.

Her face peers around a wall across the room, on the other side of the bars. She holds up three fingers, and mouths “Almost.” I cross the narrow street and sit on the curb, imagining her fresh, gorgeous face, and her delicious scent.

Marisa’s family occupies the front half of the first floor of the old building, deep in the bowels of central Havana. All the buildings in the neighborhood are former apartment houses, several stories tall. The architecture varies, but most have concrete or tile facades, balconies, and wood-shuttered windows. Now, many years after the revolution, they are falling down all around. In Old Havana, the government has created a serious project of renovation, bringing back the former elegance by restoring crumbled concrete, painting the details in colors that cause a good contrast — bringing the streets back to life. But not here, in the slums.



At age eighteen, I’ve never seen these buildings in their elegant former state, but I’ve seen some photos, and I’ve heard how elegant this area was. In fact, when I have time and access on the Web, I search the Internet looking for photos from the old days.

My family lives in a portion of the third floor of the building next door to Marisa and her family. Like Marisa, I live with my father, mother and a grandmother. My grandmother and Marisa’s grandmother have lived in the same apartments (the entire floor, not just the portion they occupy now) when Castro and his revolution took title to all real estate of Cuba in 1959, and allocated living quarters to the people. Like many others, out grandmothers remained where they were, more or less. In the case of Marisa’s grandmother and the rest of the family, the government determined that they did not need the entire unit, so the government divided it and assigned the back half to somebody else.

My grandparents had been given the entire unit at first, and then the government took a portion later. Later still, after my grandfather had died, my grandmother had allocated two rooms to others, who’d created tiny self-contained lofts in rooms the size of small bedrooms. In each unit, my grandmother had allowed the occupant to install a flimsy, unsafe half floor, extending from the middle of the wall, and a makeshift wooden ladder to reach it. This was the bedroom portion of the room. The occupant would also shield off a tiny portion as a kind of bathroom, with or without plumbing, and another corner as a kind of kitchen, again with or without plumbing. There are hundreds of tiny “barbacoas” in apartments around the city. The party who had the right to occupy the dwelling collects rent for allowing the occupancy. If the existence of the room were known to the government, the “landlord” would have to pay tax. But many barbacoas go unnoticed.

While young people and some parents would complain about the government, those the age of our grandmothers never say anything.

Last night, Marisa and I sat here on the street, sharing hopes and dreams, holding hands, I sitting on the sidewalk and she crouched in front of me. I don’t remember exactly when we crossed over from neighborhood acquaintances, then friends, to having this extremely close relationship. Only recently, we’ve begun talking of marriage. I haven’t proposed. Our marriage just became an obvious result at some point. We aren’t going anywhere. We aren’t going to meet anybody else. We would never have a date like might be common elsewhere in the world.


A rat scrambles across the street. A scurvy dog lumbers by.

The love of my life arrives at the door with a large key, snaps the huge padlock, pushes the barred gate open, closes it, snaps the lock closed again, tosses the key into the middle of the room, and kisses Ernesto on the cheek.

I touch her hand delicately, careful not to be improper, as we turn and head to work. Her eyes sparkle as she gazes at me.

She whispers, “I studied the Excel book last night after we left. Do you know the word ‘series’?”

We’ve been secretly studying English, computers, and computer programs, hiding in our kitchens, or on the floor of the front room, so the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution will not see us.

“Yes,” I say. “It’s like a list, but in an order, like one, two, three, or January, February, March. You know?”

“And ‘fill’?” The sun reflects off her enchanting eyes.

“It’s like putting something into something - like dirt into a hole. In Excel it means input data. There’s a feature, where you have a number, and you mark it and some empty spaces, and hit fill down or fill right, and it logically fills in the other empty spaces.”

“Oh.”

We have decided that if we learn English, and computers, we will have several advantages. First, all Cubans receive basically the same paltry wages for working. But if a Cuban has knowledge about something important, it is possible to make additional money — the money that foreigners use, as opposed to the Peso Cubano. We can earn money by tutoring, and if the government of Cuba ever falls, and the relationship with the United States returns, we’d be one step ahead if if we know English.

“How long was the man in the brown suit outside last night?”

We’d noticed a man in the neighborhood the last couple of evenings. We presumed he was some kind of spy, because a stranger showing up and standing in a neighborhood was usually sent by the government to watch somebody. Maybe he knew about their studies and believed it was subversive. Maybe he was watching somebody else. Maybe he was watching their neighbor, Yaineris. We were sure she was selling her body for money. Maybe that’s why he was there. Or maybe he was looking for people who were renting out rooms without a license and thus without paying the tax. But surely he was watching somebody.

After walking a few blocks towards the north, towards the water, we turn eastward. The sun glows between buildings, illuminating crumbled and filthy apartment houses. Brick and other materials show through collapsed stucco building material. Precariously hanging balconies, some held up by two-by-fours or metal rods protruding from walls, keep them from falling.

A few old cars and modern European taxis pass by. Most of the time, we walk in the streets. Other workers walk towards the outskirts of the center city. Those who work farther away stand in seemingly endless lines at bus stops. We make our ways towards the Malecón, the long walkway that hugs the water from Old Havana to our right, inside the harbor, all the way to the other side of Havana, through the up-scale Vedado area to our left. We both work in the Hotel Deauville, right on the Malecón, in Centro Havana. It’s the only hotel in the area, rather old, but popular, rather far from Havana Vieja and from Vedado, but popular none-the-less. Tourists who read guide books would visit in order to see the 6th floor pool view of the city.

The blue building below is Hotel Deauville. The 6th floor pool area is on the other side, in the back, so the views are of Centro Habana.



As Cubans, we would not be allowed to enter a hotel except to work, and even though we work in the hotel, we’ve not been permitted to go to the 6th floor until recently, when I was promoted as a food server at the tiny outdoor bar area there. One day, I convinced a manager to allow Marisa to accompany me to the pool area, just to admire the view for a few minutes.

Below is one view from the 6th Floor of Hotel Deauville:


Marisa is working towards a degree in economics at the University of Havana, and works in the hotel part time. That gives her the right to work in the business office. She is good with numbers, and loves creating ledgers and spreadsheets, by computer when possible, but also by hand. I work in various areas of the hotel, but mostly in food management.

I am organizing the espresso bar in the lobby, when I hear the manager call Marisa out from the back room. “There’s a problem with the computer,” he says. “Do you know what’s wrong?” Like the computer she uses in the back, this is a dinosaur, slower than slow. It has a large, old fashioned, white monitor, keyboard and mouse, the plastic discolored by years of cigarette smoke and dirty fingers. I walk to the counter and peer over. She hits control, alt, delete, pulls up the task list, and closes the non-working program. I’m proud that I taught her that, on my laptop, which is lightning-fast compared to these pcs. My father, who left Cuba many years before, had a visiting friend bring it in from Panama.

As Marisa fiddles with the computer, a guest says his hotel key isn’t working. He hands a plastic card to the front-desk worker, who sticks it into a slot, and then slides it out and returns it to him. Prior to working here, neither of us had ever seen or imagined that a key could be computer-set like that.

Gabriela, the large, black cleaning woman who lopes around the hotel all day long with a mop and bucket, is talking to a white, male European guest. “Won’t you put me in your suitcase, and take me with you,” she says.

I laugh. I think it’s risky for Gabriela to say out-loud that she’d like to leave the country. Marisa always takes care not to criticize the government in any way.

A young, white, Cuban man enters the lobby. He shakes hands with and hugs a foreign man. It seems they knew each other from the past. The foreign man says in English, come up to my room for a minute, so we can transfer photos from the computer. The Cuban says, still in English, “I cannot go to a room. It’s not permitted.”

“Then, let’s go to the 6th floor, and have a coffee at the bar.”

I hear that I may have customers so I enter the elevator as well, at the same time they do. The security guard vaults across the room and sticks a foot in to hold the elevator open. In Spanish, he demands, “Where are you going?”

The Cuban says, in Spanish, “Sixth floor. To the bar.”

The guard looks at them. “Not to a room?”

“Not to a room.”

The guard sticks his head inside and looks at the buttons. The only one lit up is the 6th floor. The guard looks at me, like I’ll report an infraction. Then he backs out and lets them go.

The Cuban says, in English, “That’s how they treat Cubans. Second-class citizens.”

Marisa and I have a mid-morning break from work, so we walk, hand-in-hand to the Malecón. “How was your morning,” she whispers, in English.

“That’s it,” I whisper back. “Practice your English.”

Then we revert to Spanish. We sit on the wall across from the hotel. The water is a bit rough. Across the street, next to the hotel, stands one formerly stately home, in disrepair. One is being renovated. It has a street-level balcony, supported by sliced halves of concrete drainage pipes.

We can picture how grand the other was, but it’s hard to grasp its former beauty, as it crumbles.

Below is a view from the street to the left of the hotel:


Marisa brushes her fingers along my arm. “Mi amor,” she says, “What time do you get off? Are you coming to the University with me?”

“I think about three. Yes, I’ll accompany you.”

“Do you imagine the United States, so close, across the water?”

“Yes.”

“How I want to go.”

“I would love to go with you.”

“But we never can. We are stuck here, like flies in a trap.”

“We have each other.”

“Yes,” she says. “Will we marry?”

“Of course.”

“And we will be happy? Not like so many who become bored with each other and unhappy because they are stuck?”

I smile at her, and squeeze her hand. “We will always be happy because we will be together.”

“Will we have children?”

I sigh aloud. “I suppose, but I will feel guilty bringing another life into the world to be stuck here.”

“It will change,” she says. “Some day. Fidel will die. Raúl will be overthrown. He’s worse than Fidel, but not as powerful. He’ll be overthrown.”

“You know,” I reply, “The things we’ve been studying — Venezuela — all the other countries that seem headed down the same road — and those historical books we’ve read, about Russia, and China, and Germany, and so many others — I am not so confident about our future.”

Recently, we came across a paperback book left in the hotel, called ‘Shanghai Girls’, by a Chinese-American writer named Lisa See. Marisa says, “You know, in that Shanghai Girls book, the way they describe what happened in China in the thirties, and even the way the Americans spied on them and tricked them into confessing in the fifties, I don’t know if any country is safe, or better than any other.”

“My love,” I say, placing an arm on her shoulder, “I still believe Cuba is the worst. Being stuck here, it’s certainly the worst for us. Before we were born, there were so many bad people in government, and Fidel was supposed to be the savior, to save us from that horrible dictator, Batista.”

“Ha,” she says, “But then it turned out he was worse. He was supposed to give Cuba freedom. The big lie. The big lie.”

“We’ll have each other,” I say again. “I love you.”

Walking back across the street, Marisa squeezes my forearm and says, “I love you to, mi amor. I would love a beautiful wedding, with a grand party here at the hotel, and a honeymoon — remember we saw those articles about honeymoons the Americans take in exotic places.”

I laugh. “A honeymoon might consist of a day off of work.”

She smiles. “And whose grandmother will we live with, since we certainly will never, ever qualify for a dwelling in Havana?”

“Yours has more room. Maybe after a while, we can move to a smaller city, where there’s more availability.”

She puts an arm in mine. “We’ll keep studying, and find somebody to tutor, and we’ll be happy.”

“I am happy — with you.”




Report from Juan – Miami, FL August 7, 2011 - Via E-mail

Juan – Age – 60’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida; Lives with Wife and Extended Family; Occupation – Accountant, Works in Cuban Restaurant as Bookkeeper; Brother of Doris

Hi, Franklin. You asked me to write down my impressions about returning to Cuba after so many years. So, here it is. As you know, I escaped from Cuba by raft in 1993 along with my brother, who had just gotten out of prison, but was being sought again for revolutionary ideas. [That of course means ideas contrary to Castro’s government, “the Revolution.”]

Besides the problem with my brother, the reason I left Cuba when I did was that we were in the doldrums. The Castro regime had eliminated all hope for the future. Water and electricity were scarce. Food was scarcer still. Nobody could do anything to earn excess money.

I’ve been a bit hesitant to describe my impressions. The reason – I saw great improvement in the lives of the people; the radical Anti-Castro Miamians just do not want to hear that. To them, Cuba will always be in a pitiful state and the only way around it is to destroy the Castros. Period. Saying anything a little bit positive is outrageous. I just can’t see it that way. But of course, I run the risk of being viewed as communist for saying what I think.

The basic improvements include resolution of the problems mentioned above. There was new city water in the neighborhood where I grew up and where family members still reside. The electricity remained constant. Farmer’s markets displayed and sold attractive and tasty fruits and vegetables. The new business initiatives allowed more opportunity for people to sell products. I never had a problem finding water or other liquid to drink. I even learned that a friend had invented a product combination, for which the government is paying him a tidy royalty. All this was unheard of when I left.

Ever since I began working in the U.S., I have sent my family money to supplement their living expenses. They remain in the rather large home in an exclusive neighborhood where I grew up. In spite of the improvements, their earnings remain the same, so I must still supplement their income. It may be worse now that certain items have been removed from the list of subsidized products on the ration card. But I took a supply of those products with me when I visited.

I have heard that cities like Santiago reflect more improvement than Havana itself. I guess that is natural. Havana is a huge city, with a large inner city. Of course, the inner city was already overcrowded and occupied by the lowest earning people when the revolution began. Many were not hard workers. When the government doled out properties, they gave the apartments, which were already occupied by extended families and non-family members, to the patriarch or matriarch, and they remain in those properties. There is not sufficient housing in Havana; people from all over Cuba regularly trek to Havana to seek work that pays CUC, the international form of Cuban money, either by working legally, like driving a taxi, or illegally, like working as a prostitute or hustler (“jinitero”).

I believe, though I am not positive, that the education system and medical care are truly very good. The literacy rate is high. (Of course schooling is very pro-government.) The number of doctors is incredible, and they are well-trained. But, of course, there is little medicine available.

Well, that’s it. All in all, I saw improvement, and I’m not afraid to say so.

See you Franklin.

Juan.

Report from Yaneiris – Woman Who Works the Streets in Havana

Holguín, Cuba August 3, 2011 – Via E-mail - Translated


Yaneiris – Age – 30’s;Birthplace – Holguín, Cuba; Residence – Santiago de Cuba, Havana, Cuba, Holguín, Cuba; Lives with Teenage, Profoundly Disabled Daughter, in Illegal Rental Unit when in Havana, Extended Family When in Other Locations; Occupation – Educated as Economist; Worked in Government Stores; Prostitute

Hola Franklin:

I was happy to hear from you. I appreciate your tracking me down. I know it wasn’t easy. As you know, I don’t have the same cell phone number any more, and it’s so hard to communicate that way. I know it was as frustrating to you as it was to me to try to understand each other on that tinny sounding touch-and-go cell phone.

And the two e-mail addresses I previously gave you belonged to friends. They don’t have the addresses anymore. One is in jail. And, as you know, you have to go to an Internet hot spot, and spend more money than we generally have available to get on line.

You know that after being arrested that night --- the night before you left, I had to appear at the tribunal, and now I have a record. They deported me and my daughter the next day to my home city -- in Holguín. I’ve been back to Havana three times since I got arrested, but every time I get picked up and sent back. At least they haven’t actually arrested me again since that horrible time.

Sometimes I travel to Santiago to get a little work. But it’s hard. The local girls are younger, and I have no hotel or other place to attract work, and there are not so many tourists as in Havana. And I get stopped on the highway, or interrogated in Santiago. Then I get sent home again.


When I got picked up in Havana, the neighborhood spy for the committee of the revolution here in Holguín reported to Havana authorities how long I had been gone, and now she watches me like a hawk and reports my every move. My family has now heard details of what I was doing in Havana, and I’m very ashamed. But a woman has to do what a woman has to do. I have to support my child, and as you know her medicine is very expensive and is not covered by the government subsidy or free medical programs. Well, as I told you, life in Cuba is hard.

I’m glad you contacted Angel to find out about me. He couldn’t tell you how to contact me, because he was not sure he should. But he gave me your information. He usually knows where I am.

I hope to see you some day. I only wish you had a way to free us from this Island prison.

Cultural Group Trips to Cuba – USA Today Article

Submitted by Franklin Marquez – Miami, Florida – August 1, 2011

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]

USA Today has reported an interesting news story about Cuba trips. When I went only a year ago, it was early on in the new rules allowing easier visits to Cuba to visit family. I flew on a daily charter from Miami to Havana.  Now there are more, including flights directly to other cities. And there are flights from Tampa as well.

I’ve noticed more group trips as well.  Before I went, I researched group trips, but couldn’t find any going when I was going. Now they apparently are proliferating.

See the story at USA Today

The bottom line is that the U.S. Treasury Department, which is the agency that is involved with travel to Cuba, believes some of the trips are advertising vacations, and not promoting people to people contact. The trips are supposed to be cultural, and some don’t seem to be that way in the eyes of our government.

Yoani Sanchez’ Book – Havana Real

Submitted by Franklin Marquez – Miami, Florida – July 31, 2011


[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had purchased Yoani Sanchez’ book, Havana Real.  I’ve received it and I’m so happy I bought it.  Here’s the link to her publisher’s site.

I wondered whether I should bother buying the book since I follow the blog. I wondered whether there would be anything different.  The blog has archives, so I could have gone back and read old stuff.

Another reason I debated about buying it was that, even though I wanted to support her efforts, I couldn’t figure out how she could benefit financially from book sales, since she was in a communist country.  I decided she probably has it accumulating somewhere in the world, and someday when there’s a free Cuba, she’ll enjoy it.  I’m sure she won’t leave until Cuba is free; after all, she left once, and returned.  Unheard of. In fact, why should she leave after it is free, especially if her efforts help make it so?

I’m glad I bought the book. I learned how the blog started.  She has pulled out the blog entries that she thought would be interesting and would tell a story. And they do.  It’s really incredible seeing her descriptions of Cuba several years ago when she began her now famous blog.

I also learned that her blog was initially named Cuba Libre.  I did not steal the name from her blog.  I had no idea.  In fact, I didn’t know who Yoani Sanchez was when I began this blog.  Americans know the term Cuba Libre as a rum and coke, with a piece of lime. (Actually, they generally pronounce Libre as Libra.).  But I hope most readers know what it means – Free Cuba, meaning the speaker hopes Cuba will be free someday.

If you have an interest in a daily account of a person living in Cuba, persecuted, living like the other Cubans, check out the blog, and/or buy the book. It’s very interesting.