An Interview With Richard April
HAVANA TIMES — Who in Cuba can run into a world boxing champion three or four times a day? I can. Who, in this country, can run into one of the five Cubans who have become part of this professional boxing elite, three or four times a day? I can. You see, Richard April, one of these select few, is currently debating whether to keep his belt or become a full-time pig farmer in Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud, where the simple mortal who writes these lines happens to live.
He has just returned from the United States. When I contacted him for this interview, the first and only question on my mind was whether he was actually thinking about quitting boxing to raise pigs, but I opted not to make that my introduction, fearing that would make him evade the interview. What I didn’t know was that Richard April actually wanted to tell the world how happy he is with the pigs he is breeding, about his plans for his five-hectare farm on Isla de la Juventud and that he is certain his future is there – that boxing, as he put it, “is something that passes.”
Why have you boxed so little in recent times? Why have you cancelled a number of important matches?
RA: Finding opponents who are willing to fight me has actually not been easy. They’ve gone away with injuries in some matches, and I have too, in others. The best boxers in my weight range leave the division so they don’t have to fight me. I’ve only cancelled two matches, and it was because of lesions.
It’s my understanding the World Boxing Association gave you an ultimatum, owing to this inactive period of yours.
RA: Yes, they did. They gave me 120 days to decide and I wrote them a letter saying I’ll be ready to fight the mandatory opponent (the interim champion) in two months. Now, I have to wait for the English and Colombian boxers to fight on July 18, to fight whoever wins.”
You make a habit of spending long periods of time in Cuba. Does that have anything to do with the little time you’ve spent on the ring recently?
RA: Yes, I travel to Cuba a lot, to Isla de la Juventud especially. The truth is that I’ve got plans; I want to become a pig farmer, which is something of a tradition in my family. It was the life I saw around me when I was a kid, because we were country folk. I don’t only want to be a pig farmer, mind you – I want to be one of the best in the country. I have a farm in a place on the island they call “camino 29” (“Road 29”). It’s very small right now, only five hectares big. I have some mango, guava trees, grow pineapples and have a handful of pigs. My aim right now is to finish building the pig-stys and then breed and fatten up the stock, but I don’t have enough space for that right now. We need more land.”
And what do you plan on doing?
RA: I think that, as I breed more and more pigs and with the agricultural credit I can secure, I’ll be able to request more lands for the cattle. I hope they don’t turn me down. I don’t know whether I’m being too ambitious, but it seems to me that Cuba is changing for the better and that my farm can develop. I like being in my country, I feel better here, though I think the new economic freedoms we have now should be applied in other areas. We have to continue changing things, like the fact they don’t let me train others in the gym where I trained to become a boxer. I always represented Cuba with pride, I’ve never lifted a finger to do this country any harm, I’ve never said anything against the country and I also left legally. That’s why I don’t understand that decision.”
Do you train while in Cuba?
RA: Of course I train, and, a month before the fight I go back to the US to continue my training, to be able to focus better. Usually, I train at a place on the island called “El Rodeo,” where there are good hills. Leonel Maceo, the trainer who made me a champion back when I was in junior boxing and helped me become Cuba’s most skilled boxer in 1996, always helps me.
Richard, why do you think so few Cubans have gotten as far in professional boxing as you have?
RA: Because Cuba’s style of boxing isn’t much liked by boxing aficionados. Our style is to hit and avoid getting hit, and they don’t box like that in the US. There it’s a fight to the death.
If you do well with your farm, if your business prospers, will you quit boxing?
RA: Yes, my plans are a go. As a pig farmer, I feel I’m continuing my family’s farming tradition and contributing to the country’s development. Also, boxing is a rather short career. The years go by and boxing goes by with them.
Don’t you think it too risky to give up your successful boxing career for a 5-hectare farm with a rather uncertain future?
RA: Some people call me crazy. Others tell me not to be too confident about that business, that they can take everything away from me the very moment I’ve invested most, that it’s the sort of thing that tends to happen in Cuba. I don’t think that’s going to happen, because I’m not doing anything illegal, on the contrary, I only want to work for my own, financial wellbeing and that of my family and the place I was born in. I’ve donated some of the crops grown on my farm to schools and kindergartens. That makes me feel good. Also, like I told you, I am very hopeful about the changes that are taking place in Cuba.
Do you think other successful athletes such as yourself who live abroad would be interested in returning to Cuba to invest?
RA: I don’t know specifically about athletes, but I do know that what most Cubans living abroad want is to be able to have a good life in their country. Personally, I do it because I feel proud of my country and I would give everything I have to help it break out of underdevelopment. I know many high-level athletes who pretend to be revolutionaries and make up a lot of excuses when they are asked to do something for Cuba – that’s not being revolutionary. There are others who have wanted to donate things and they haven’t let them. I think that the government should give the green light to anyone who wants to contribute something good to the country. I think they have to open themselves up to anything that brings development, no matter where it comes from. Doing good deeds is a personal decision; I can speak for myself only. If everything goes as planned, many people on Isla de la Juventud and Cuba are going to serve their tables with the pork this world boxing champion is going to produce.
So, as of July 18, we’ll be seeing you in the ring again, and, any day now, walking around the streets of Gerona…
RA: You bet, especially in Gerona…And, by the way, you can publish everything I told you.”