An Unbelievably True Story from Cuba

Dariela Aquique

Retiree. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — He wipes the sweat off his face with an age-worn handkerchief. He steps away from the unbearable din, the dizzying crowd. “Jesus, it’s hot as hell!”

Some kids are playing around him, yelling and running frantically. Every time he tells them to behave, they mock him and say hurtful things like “grumpy old fart!”

It had become a familiar epithet. Years ago, when he still worked, when he was a decorated employee, a union leader and a brown-nose who was always ready to answer the call of duty and criticize what people did wrong, many of his workmates called him that too.

He had never quite managed to understand why those words came to define someone who wanted to do things right, or pointed out what was wrong. “So many things had changed, even the language people use,” he would think.

People in the crowd are yelling. He chooses to ignore them. The yelling becomes louder, bringing back memories. He’d spent his life yelling.

At the young age of 15, he had gone to countryside to teach peasants to read and write. “Pencil, notebook, manual, teach, teach, teach!”

A spirited young man, he had volunteered to cut sugar cane and collect coffee beans. “Oh, malebe, Cubans won’t give up or sell themselves, malembe!”

Then came the reprisals from organized mobs: “Throw out the scum, throw out the traitors!”

During May 1st rallies, he would yell: “Fidel, pitch away, the Yanks strike out every time!”

When he frenetically fired his machine gun from a trench dug out in an African jungle, he would exclaim: “Fuck you!”

At the Anti-Imperialist Tribune, he’d cry “Free Elian Gonzalez”, and, at the many mass rallies he attended, “Reagan, Carter, Clinton, Bush…fuckers, remember the Bay of Pigs!”

More recently, one could hear him yelling: “Obama, return the Cuban Five!”

Now, he only harbors a strange feeling, a sense of confusion about what happened. He is just a tired old man with a drawer full of medals and diplomas, a veteran on a pension traumatized by so much noise.

He recalls many of his friends left the country during the Mariel exodus, and others who died in Angola, that he has only two or three friends left, people he sees when he gets a prostate exam or plays dominos at the club for the elderly.

His children rub it in his face: he sacrificed so much for the country and his house is falling to bits. His grandchildren play loud music and only talk about leaving the country.

Nowadays, he has a very important mission. Every month, he goes to quarrel with a good-size group of old people and other neighbors in line to get their 17-ounces of chicken.

Today, he hates yelling, so he steps away from the unbearable din, the dizzying crowd.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.


6 thoughts on “An Unbelievably True Story from Cuba

  • February 3, 2014 at 10:37 am
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    The conditions laid out in the Helms-Burton Act are as follows:

    Declares United States policy towards a “transition government” and a “democratically elected government” in Cuba.

    Protection of property rights of certain United States nationals.

    Prohibits the completion of the Juragua Nuclear Power Plant.[a][b]

    Prompts for the retirement of former Soviet Union personnel out of Cuban military and intelligence facilities, including the military and intelligence facilities at Lourdes and Cienfuegos.[a][c][3]

    Prohibits recognition of a transitional government in Cuba that includes Fidel or Raúl Castro.[a][d]

    Prohibits recognition of a Cuban government that has not provided compensation for U.S. certified claims against confiscated property, defined as non-residential property with an excess of $50,000 value in 1959.

    Prompts for extradition or otherwise rendition to the United States of all persons sought by the United States Department of Justice for crimes committed in the United States.

    As you can see, several of those conditions are no longer relevant (the USSR is no more and the Juragua Nuclear Power was long ago abandoned).

    Nature will take of the Castro brothers soon enough. All that remains is for Raul to retire, the Cuban government to round up US fugitives and hand them over, to announce free elections, form a transitional government, and to begin negotiations of compensation for seized US property. Obama would jump at the chance to lift the embargo if those conditions were met.

    Julia Sweig hints at as much in this piece: http://www.cfr.org/cuba/competition-cuba/p32298

    Of course, the current regime will never agree to anything which will lead to the end of their grip on power, so the Cuban people are condemned by their rulers to suffer.

  • February 1, 2014 at 9:38 am
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    Griffin,
    You really need to study U.S. foreign policy to understand it.
    In 1918 the U.S. and a few European nations invaded the new Soviet Union to prevent socialism .
    That reason has been at the center of scores of U.S. interventions throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
    The reason for the U.S economic war on the people of Cuba is to prevent Cuba’s socialist-style economy from being a success and an example to the other poor and capitalist countries of the world.
    It’s the same reason for the 1918 invasion of the Soviet Union.
    Think about it for just a minute.
    Who gets hurt and who benefits from the U.S. embargo ?
    Even were Raul to step down and a new government be elected , that new government would not be able to reach a state of normalization with the U.S. since the sticking point is Cuba’s socialist-style economy and not its totalitarian governmental form.
    The U.S. could normalize relations and not much would change for the people of the United States .
    But were the U.S. to normalize relations with Cuba, all the people of Cuba would benefit , the entire society would benefit and life would be much better for all Cubans.
    It’s why the U.S. government will NOT end the embargo.
    The aim of the embargo is to make life for all Cubans so difficult that they would overthrow their ( socialist-style) revolution.
    Based upon your understanding of U.S. foreign policy , what do you think the reason for the U.S. embargo is if it is not to force capitalism upon Cuban society ?

  • January 31, 2014 at 9:00 pm
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    What an absurd wish!

    Did it ever occur to you that the Castro regime does not allow the Cuban people to have normal relations with the United States?

  • January 31, 2014 at 11:35 am
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    Oh, it is a very believable, true story.

    A similar story is found in “Yocandra in the Paradise of Nada: A Novel of Cuba” by Zoé Valdés. She writes of her father, who believed in the revolution with all his heart. He was a model militant who had volunteered for all the committees, brigades and so on:

    “My father was one of those who predicted publicly that the goal of ten million tons of sugarcane would not be met, for which he received an official reprimand. He took that reprimand badly and began wandering aimlessly through the streets of Havana, in a state of dementia. Without even realizing where he was, he went one day to the gates of the Mazorra insane asylum, grabbed hold of the bars of the fence that surrounded it.

    “Let me out of here!” he began to shout at the top of his lingoes. Everyone -passersby, patients, visitors, people inside and outside the psychiatric hospital – took him literally. He was confusing the inside and outside of the hospital. He wasn’t completely wrong. For him, the crazier were the ones on the outside, and the normal people were inside; and in his hysterical state he saw the streets as cells.”

  • January 31, 2014 at 11:28 am
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    I so deeply wish the government of the United States would do the right thing and normalize relations with the Cuban people .
    They can boycott Raul and any government officials they don’t like but let the common people , the hard-working people the good people of Cuba have a normal life free from U.S . hostilities.
    It is just so incredibly inhumane to punish a whole society because they won’t follow your orders.
    The man in the story deserves a far better fate.

  • January 31, 2014 at 11:15 am
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    This story reads like the story of my wife’s grandfather. Very sad and so preventable.

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