Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES —The first battle I waged against Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship involved, not firearms, but the pen: I wrote a journalistic article and, unaware of its implications, sent it to the COCO radio station in Las Villas, which had a rather outspoken program that defended the interests of the working class.
It was 1955 and the dictatorship had approved a law that offered tax benefits for the construction of hotels and facilities for the establishment of casinos in hotels and nightclubs.
The authorization for the setting up of casinos and gambling locales in all of the country’s cities and towns over a three month period may have stemmed from that law.
In the absence of a more appropriate locale, a casino was set up in my town’s cock-fighting ring and (occasionally) in the meeting hall of the Liceo society.
I was only 18, but what happened during those 90 days made a deep impression on me. I heard of mid-income people who were ruined by gambling, of workers who lost what little they had to put food on the table and even of people who committed suicide after losing all of their money.
I also saw how chiefs of police would charge the bankers at the different games a “fee”, for protection.
After those nightmarish three months, we heard a rumor that the government was planning on giving these dens of vice permission to establish permanent locales around the country.
On hearing this news, I set out to fight that decision whichever modest way I could. I was a regular listener of the radio program broadcast by COCO, then hosted by union leader Conrado Rodriguez (who later emigrated to the United States).
I immediately wrote a letter explaining what I had seen and heard people say: all of the risks to which the workers were exposed during that time and the profits it represented for the government and the police. It was a fairly long letter that outlined all of the negative aspects of gambling.
I signed the letter with my full name and wrote down my place of residence. The letter was read on the program. Many friends of mine who were older than me made positive comments about that letter.
The next day, after work, while walking down the street, a police officer approached me and, giving me a very nasty look, said to me: “Tell me something, boy. You a journalist?”
“No, I’m not. Why?” I replied.
“If you’re not a journalist, why are you writing for the radio station?”
“You have to be a journalist to write a radio station now?” I answered.
“You be careful, now.” He said and turned his back on me, leaving with the nasty look on his face.
Less than 24 hours went by before I was detained on the street and taken to the police station, where they locked me up in a cell. They pressed charges against me, saying I was wearing a pair of pants similar to those used by the rural police (it was a light brown, very different from the color of their military uniforms). I had to pay a 100-peso bail and leave the pair of pants behind. I was released late at night, after all the paperwork had been filled up.
As of that day, I was detained on several occasions and sent to a court in Santa Clara, never with any evidence against me.
After some time went by and following the triumph of the revolution, I had the opportunity to study at the University of Havana and complete a major in journalism.
One day, I traveled to my province and got on a bus. The same police officer who had once given me a nasty look and asked whether I was a journalist was the driver.
I don’t know whether he recognized me or not but, as I neared my stop, I walked up to him, showed him my work ID and said: “Now I am a journalist.”
He gave me a surprised look, but didn’t say a word. He got back on the bus and left.