Silence and Mourning in Holguin, Cuba

by Jose Ramirez Pantoja 
(El Toque) 

A relative of a victim on flight DMJ092 in route to Havana to identify the body. Photo: Juan Pablo Carreras (ACN)

HAVANA TIMES — A Cuban province has lost over 60 inhabitants all at once. Since Friday, images of the Boeing 737-200 accident have been replaying, over and over again, on screens in Holguin’s pharmacies, barber shops, cafes, restaurants and homes.

Before announcing a state of National Mourning, the vast majority of the city’s cultural and recreational institutions, such as the Casa de la Musica and La Trova, had already suspended their activities. And music won’t be heard here for days to come.

The tragedy and mourning period, as individuals and a city, has only just begun and will last as long as it takes to return and bury the bodies of the dozens of victims from Holguin who perished on flight DMJ 0972. The first four bodies arrived on Sunday May 20th.

In Calixto Garcia Park, the hub of social life in this city, you could only hear birds singing and the sound of a car or two driving past.

People aren’t talking about anything other than their pain for the over 100 people, mostly from Holguin, who lost their lives in the surrounding areas of Jose Marti International Airport, in Havana.

“I knew a couple who were traveling on that plane, musician Jose Angel Leyva, director of the Bolero Salsa band, and his wife Amparo Valdes. She had gone to keep him company while he received treatment for heart disease, and look at the misfortune that befell them. However, I’m not only mourning their deaths. I put myself in the shoes of families who have lost loved ones and the truth is that the pain is too much to bear… I can’t put it into words.”

Pain settles into the deepest corners of people’s souls and eyes tear up when listening to Pura Garcia Almaguer, a neighbor from the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood, who in spite of having a knot in her throat, manages to tell her story:

“I also know that the daughter and granddaughter of a renowned cardiologist here in Holguin were traveling on that plane. He lives near my home, in the Peralta neighborhood. I imagine what they are going through and my chest tightens.”

“At the bus stop at the main square in Holguin, you can hardly see anyone. They talk about the tragic event in almost a whisper.

“The grandmother of one of the girls who survived the accident and is still alive lives very near my house. That poor woman is in ruins, there’s no calming her, this has been really heartbreaking,” Claribel Martinez confesses, a neighbor from the Piedra Blanca neighborhood.

“I believe that everyone in Holguin feels like they have lost a relative, it’s time to stretch out a friendly and sincere hand,” she adds.

Nazareno churchgoers are experiencing a special kind of mourning, in the way they are experiencing and processing it. Twenty of their “brothers and sisters in faith” were on that flight, including pastor Gelover Martin Perez Avalo and his wife Yoneisi Cordovez Rodriguez.

“If God called for them, then as people of faith, the pain we feel is reduced,” Yolanda Perez Aguilar, a member of the Nazareno church community, says, moved.

“They were ready to enter the Lord’s kingdom, if they weren’t, he wouldn’t have called for them,” she insists, seconds before joining in the prayers that her congregation have been holding since Friday night.

The tragedy of these religious people is heightened when we now know that the pastor and wife are leaving their three children behind:

“We were all greatly moved by the news in the neighborhood,” Nelsis Calzada, a neighbor from the Ciudad Jardin neighborhood, says. “I received the pastor’s call just before noon. He called me so that my husband could go and pick them up at the airport. By chance, one of his three children was at my house but he left as soon as his father called. When the news appeared on the TV, I couldn’t believe it. Many of us neighbors went straight to the pastor and his wife’s home to console the children.”

The city still has a long period of mourning ahead. In Havana, 135 relatives from the eastern province are receiving all kinds of attention while they wait for their turn to identify the corpse of their loved one, a process which could take days, or weeks, due to the state of some of the bodies, authorities have said.

Then, another very hard part will begin, a time when we will see a lot of pain. Holguin is in mourning and it will take a long time to pass.