HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 20 — One could write a soap opera about the life of my friend Fernando, though certainly not for Cuban television. Coming from a middle class family, one very supportive of the revolution, he’s a film buff who was influenced by Soviet movies, which helped him decide to enroll in military school.
There, in mid-adolescence, his thoughts changed drastically. Renouncing the ideology he had once defended, he was kicked out of his own house.
Without a home or a set direction, his vagabond life — with the absence of rules — plunged him into excesses. Condemned to perpetual movement and uprootedness, he tried three times to leave the country on a raft. On the last attempt he was discovered and served three years in prison.
Approaching 40, after being turned down by the US Interests Office for permission to leave for there as a political prisoner, he presented his case again the following year and was granted a visa and the right to live in Salt Lake City, Utah.
On his last day here we went to the Cojimar River to meditate together in an environment of peace, almost paradisal.
When I think of him, the first thing I recall is his smile. Then too there’s his frail build, almost emaciated, and his coughing fits when asthma strikes, and his incredible serenity.
When we would walk together through the streets of Regla, I knew it would take a long time to get to where we were going since everybody who knew him would stop him to say hi, plus he was always willing to talk for a few minutes.
After eleven years without having seen each other, he agreed to respond to my questions. Despite our disagreements and long e-mails, I finally got his replies, in addition to a couple of photos of him – who I could barely recognize.
HT: How was your childhood?
Fernando: I can say that it was one of a child from the Cuban middle class. You know that my parents were actively involved in politics. But only later, when I had a little more consciousness, did I begin to notice the differences between the home lives of my friends and mine. In that sense I’d say I had a childhood unlike most Cuban children. There was always plenty of food and all types of it (thanks to Cuba’s relations with the former Soviet Union), in addition to lots of toys.
All this made me somewhat spoiled. With that innate cruelty of a child, I would overdress and flaunt my pets just to show off in front of other children. I don’t mean to try and justify myself by saying that this was the result of sexual abuse when I was three or four, but I’m sure this was part of it. I could see this quasi-fascist cruelty in other children as well, even if I wasn’t completely familiar with their lives.
HT: Can you talk a little about your experience in “Los Camilitos”?
Fernando: “Los Camilitos” back then was different from what it became years later. I don’t know if there were protests about what happened. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, because some people might get hurt, but I can tell you that at that time they trained youth with the aim of creating efficient soldiers, with all that entailed.
The military exercises and training included, for example, going out in groups every so often to kill animals. We didn’t go to hunt, which is more natural, but to kill barnyard animals with bayonets, with bats, so that we would fell the warmth of a living body. Personally, I never enjoyed that exercise, but whenever I came in contact with an animal I had no choice. But that’s not all, there were more serious experiences, but I’m not going talk about those.
HT: How did you live after you left home?
Fernando: Well, what do you think? Cuban society isn’t structured for people to live independently. You know that the housing problem in Cuba is pretty chaotic. However back then people didn’t pay rent, though I’m not sure how it is now.
So, me and the woman who was my wife at that time, we had to survive the best we could. And yes, we got involved in the black market, crime, and even prostitution to survive. But of course not everything was bad. I experienced a world I never knew existed, and in it were some fabulous people…while at the same time there were others who were absolutely terrible.
But overall, that combination of the terrible and the total freedom that comes from living without rules, without complying with the norms of a society that stifled its followers, it gave me a different sense of life that maybe I still possess.
HT: Tell me about what we might call the “spiritual” experience in your life. How did that occur?
Fernando: That too is pretty complicated to deal with in such little space. But perhaps my curiosity about all this started at that time when I was living on the street. My ex at that time and me, trying to find an “explanation” for all this barbarity around us, we ended up joining the Theosophical Society. It was fascinating, and this was what led me to reading about Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. I also visited traditional Catholic churches. Prison had kept me away from all that, but even in prison I had “inexplicable” experiences.
Not long after leaving prison was when I discovered meditation and when I met some very nice people, including you, who has been my friend all this time. But I can guarantee you that this system is definitely not for me.
While I know there’s something else, I don’t think that any philosophy or religion has the key to something transcendental. I say this with all due respect for the millions of believers around the world who are willing to kill for their beliefs or to just censure and discriminate in the name of their belief systems.
HT: Do you remember that experience you told me about concerning your contact with extraterrestrials?
Fernando: Yeah… it was interesting. It happened two or three times. I was simply a witness to something…like I told you before…to something real unusual. I saw this totally phosphorescent person beside me; I saw shades of light repeatedly coming through a door, and this person next to me started speaking in some unknown language (later I saw a movie with Mila Jovovich where they recounted some very similar experiences, here in Alaska). I heard a lot of vibration and I had a brief “dialogue” with a light that gave me some information that, incredibly, I was able to confirm a few hours later.
So, I myself know that around us is another world, another life, but I don’t think any organization can take you there.
HT: If your parents — rather than throw you out of the house — would have tried to understand and support you, how do you think your life would have turned out?
Fernando: That’s difficult to say. When I was in Los Camilitos I saw a lot of things that made me think, that made me question… Maybe I would have become one of the best graduates from cadet school. Maybe I would have ended up like so many others who later defected and made the news. Who knows…
HT: How do you see Cuba now?
Fernando: That’s a difficult question too. If you mean the future of Cuba, I’d have to say I don’t know, because the world is changing. Right now even America’s future is totally up in the air.
Some say that’s why there are prophecies for 2012 (though the Maya did not talk about destruction, but change). Others say this has to do with capitalist economic cycles. But theories come and go. I don’t know because I’m not an expert. However, the future of Cuba is subject to changes just as much as the rest of the world.
Now, if you mean how I see Cuba as a Cuban outside of Cuba, I’ll tell you: I miss talking with you terribly, giving you a hug. I miss the ex-cons on the corner, with their alleyway rumbas.
I miss the incredible pleasure of giving half a croquette to a mangy street dog because it’s probably all that it’ll eat that day. I miss the jineteras [prostitutes] with their incredible energy and the deployment of their whoring skills when they go out “on the hunt.” I miss my friends …
Other than that, unlike other Cubans I don’t I think anything else makes me nostalgic because I’m a citizen of the world, not only of Cuba.
HT: Do you think the only alternatives we have for building societies are socialism and capitalism?
Fernando: No, something else has to emerge. It’s a fact that neither system has managed to make this a better world. Now we’re seeing the crisis of capitalism as an economic, political and social system. Everything is collapsing around us. And while the capitalist system prevailed in the struggle between capitalism and socialism, it’s not because it was better, as we well know.
Perhaps the solution lies in re-focusing ourselves on ourselves, because regardless of the name of the system, as long as we human beings don’t change, we’re going to keep on going in circles around the same spot. Ambition, control of one person over the other, no matter if it comes from a politician or the Pope or a guru, it will always be a major impediment to creating a just and balanced system in which humans, nature and animals can live together in peace .
Looking at the super population of a country like India, for example, how will we ever see harmony between people and nature? Here we also see machines clearing away the land for more highways and apartment complexes… It’s crazy. And so it goes all around the world. So — necessarily — there has to emerge a system that balances all that.
HT: Tell me a dream of yours for Cuba.
Fernando: I’ll tell you a very simple one…that someday Cubans can feel the same freedom to express what they feel, whatever it is, like I do today. And I’m not talking about political systems, OK?