Mario and Nara, Trapped in the Socialist Utopia

By Fabiana del Valle

HAVANA TIMES – It was early 1978 and Mario was in the fifth year of his Veterinary Medicine degree. He had a girlfriend who he was planning on marrying after graduating, but he was drafted to fight in the Ethiopian Civil War.

With Somalia forces advancing in November 1977, the Ethiopian Government asked Cuba for military aid. The island began to send regular and specialist troops, at the command of Major General Arnaldo Ochoa. The first tank battalions arrived at the front on December 28, 1977. Cuba sent 18,000 troops in total. 

Mario was one of these young people. He left with the promise of being able to pick up his studies where he left off upon his return, and that his girlfriend would be waiting for him despite him leaving. In one of their letters, he wrote:

“Nara, we can’t write on the street, so I’m writing on and off whenever I can and in hiding. (…) We are camping in a mountain under rain, sun, and dew, without time for anything, we even train at night. (…) There are so many things that I want to tell you, but I can’t right now, I’d like to unload all my emotions, but I can’t, I’d like to have a hundred pieces of paper and twenty hours to talk to you, but I don’t have that either. This is a real forge where men, ideals and feelings are made. I don’t want you to hold anything against me. Let me just say one thing, I love you, I’ll always love you.”

Upon his return in July 1980, he discovered that his years of studying were in vain. He’d had to start all over again with the first year, even though he was just a few months away from graduating before he left for Ethiopia. He had been promised that he could pick up his studies from where he left off. That’s why he gave up on his dream of becoming a graduated veterinarian, he didn’t have the energy to start all over again.

At least his Nara continued to love him and was willing to marry him. They just had the registration though, as they couldn’t afford to have the wedding she deserved. But the family came together and organized a decent party between them all for the couple.

Photo of the wedding of Mario and Nara

With two children and a wife, he discovered that his miserable wage as a vet wasn’t enough. Nara shared the duties as a mother and housewife. She’d sew things to sell and spent her nights sewing custom orders.

I remember it all: the ornaments she made from sugar cane and seeds, fabric flowers to decorate your hair, sneakers/slippers with soles made out of tires, homemade cigarettes, fabric bags and distilled alcohol. Lots of the time, I’d see meat on our plates and just rice and beans on theirs. They built their house brick by brick; it was with great sacrifice that they put clothes on our backs and food on the table.

Family photo from 1989.

Today, they are 60+ years old and they continue to struggle. Price increases, hardship and restrictions that imply growing on this island have shaped their view on life. Surviving and keeping their family together is the only thing they aspire for.

Mario and Nara belong to a generation that grew up hearing speeches, promises of a better future that never came. A generation that today many people call blind, but I understand them, despite our differences.

They’re my parents, it’s been 38 years of watching them struggle, their determination to have a basic life. I have seen fear and understanding in their eyes when I raise my voice against injustice. But I feel like they’ll never agree with me, they will continue to defend this ship that is sinking, plagued by violations and poverty, because it’s very hard to stand in front of the mirror and admit that they lived and risked their lives for a utopia.

A current picture of the family.

Read more from the diary of Fabiana del Valle here.

One thought on “Mario and Nara, Trapped in the Socialist Utopia

  • Political issues aside, what a beautiful family and love story!

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