Pastorita Nuñez’ Resting Place in Havana

Regina Cano

En el reparto Camilo Cienfuegos.  Foto Draken/
En el reparto Camilo Cienfuegos. Foto Draken/

HAVANA TIMES — The passengers, most of them adults, were looking out the bus windows at the primary school students in uniforms making their way to the roundabout leading to the Camilo Cienfuegos neighborhood (more popularly known as Habana del Este), carrying flowers to be laid before the bust of Jose Marti there.

In the bus I was on, the passengers were looking out the windows expressionlessly, observing how these children were led to the monument, part of an obligatory school activity to commemmorate a great Cuban thinker.

As for me, I wasn’t certain who they were paying tribute to, as, some years ago, the remains of Pastora Nuñez, known as “Pastorita” by the older residents of the locality – a woman considered a benefactor of Habana del Este – were strewn at this same rotunda.

Within the governmental structure established following the triumph of the Cuban revolution, she presided over the Housing Institute and was therefore responsible for distributing many of the apartments that make up the Camilo Cienfuegos projects (which had been fully built when she took this position, apparently). Locals consider and refer to her as the charitable woman who offered many an apartment, and she is similarly regarded in other residential areas around the capital.

I am told she was a fervent admirer of Jose Marti and, even though she remained in the shadows for many years, someone produced a documentary about her near the end of her life, shot at the Santovenia home for the elderly (one of the best in Havana), where she spent her last years, and that this documentary was aired on Cuban television. Someone who lives in the neighborhood also tells me that, when they tried to replace the bust of Jose Marti at the rotunda with one of Lenin (who was very much venerated back in those days), she opposed the move, saying that “if anyone tries to do this, I’ll shoot them dead.”

Pastorita Nuñez.  Foto:
Pastorita Nuñez. Foto:

At the time of her death, the rotunda was repaired and embellished, while a number of personalities visited the place and stood guard in her memory.

Two days ago, on January 28, Cuba commemorated Jose Marti and you’re probably aware (thanks to the Internet) of the big fuss the country makes about this. Children are taken to places with busts of Jose Marti (which exist in many, different spaces throughout the island) and are required to take flowers with them. Some are even organized into small music bands that make some noise, while others are asked to say a few words about Marti over the microphone.

I hope that, in the future, when it’s time to pay tribute to Jose Marti once again, someone will recall that, at this roundabout that welcomes wheeled visitors to Habana del Este, there is a traditional and vacuous bust of Jose Marti (not unlike the many scattered across Cuba) and also the resting place of Pastorita Nuñez’ ashes, and that her spirit – as some may say – is probably there, not at all happy with the mix-up.