Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES — Perhaps not many people would believe me if I said I celebrate two birthdays, having been born twice. My first birthday is June 28, 1937, the date I arrived in this world, in a sad, poverty-ridden country where thousands of children died every year of preventable and curable diseases and where one had to walk dozens – sometimes hundreds – of miles to see a doctor, a journey many sick people did not survive.
I was born in a country where, in order to secure a bed at a hospital, one had to have a recommendation from a politician, to whom one had to promise the family’s vote at the next elections. It wasn’t enough to be sick and in need of admittance, what mattered was one’s political commitment.
It was a country where thousands of children were denied access to education, even though there were around 10,000 teachers out of work, and 30 percent of the population was illiterate.
My life started in a country where the immense majority of peasants did not own the land they worked, had to pay a rent for it and had no guarantee of being able to sell their products; a country where the tens of thousands of farm workers in the countryside only had work three months out of the year, during the sugar harvest. The rest of the year was known as “dead time.” The name says it all.
I was born in a country where the mafia and salaried thugs took the streets or gunned each other down, making life very unsafe for the population; a country where supposedly democratic governments were constantly threatened by coups, particularly when there was any chance that a leader concerned with the humblest could come into power. This is what happened in 1952, when Eduardo Chivas, with his slogan of “shame instead of money,” had every chance of winning the elections. The US embassy, however, had other plans and offered Fulgencio Batista support for his coup. Batista remained in power for seven years, in which time the country was drowned by a wave of murders, torture and disappearances that kept citizens in the grip of fear.
My second birthday – the day I feel I was born once again – is January 1, 1959. To arrive at my home town dressed in olive green, armed, with a three-month beard, to be able to walk around day or night without any kind of fear, was in and of itself like being born again, in a happy and hopeful country this time around.
The changes that took place in the months and years that followed more than justified the joy and hope of the first days of the revolution.
The progress achieved since in terms of health, education, culture and sports, for Cuba and many other countries, has resulted in a country that is completely different from the country I was born in and lived in for 21 years.
Today, we have a new country in which peasants own the land they work, where the poverty that scourged the countryside of all has disappeared. Today, doctors are everywhere, a few blocks away, in both the countryside and city. Cuba’s health system guarantees medical attention, from primary to hospital care, in modern facilities built and equipped by the revolutionary government. Free, top-quality education at all levels and of every kind contrasts starkly with the situation we had before, when us poor could not even dream of enrolling in university or of enjoying culture or sports. I arrived at a completely different country on January 1st, 1959. This is the reason I celebrate two birthdays.