By Alberto N Jones
HAVANA TIMES — I can venture to say, that until July 25, 1953, not many people in Cuba or around the world had ever heard the name Fidel Castro, which changed dramatically on July 26.
As previous summers living in Guantanamo, we were invited by the Payares family to share with them Santiago de Cuba’s renowned Carnival, which usually began with a dance at the Hatuey Beer gardens that went on until 3:00 AM.
When we tried getting home there was no taxi so we had to walk and sing our way home, which took us alongside the walls of the Moncada garrison, which was just 4 blocks away from home.
As we were ready to get in bed we heard explosions which most assumed were fire crackers. When they intensified many neighbors rushed to their doors and looked toward the garrison where many believed it to be a conflict between Santiago based soldiers and the reinforcements from Havana.
The intense shooting lasted until around 7:00 AM and many teenagers moved daringly close to one of the garrison entrance. There was an intense in an out movement of army jeeps which were followed by sporadic gunshots, that turned out to be prisoner executions after being tortured.
A subsequent curfew shut down the city and random home searches, beatings and detentions terrorized everyone. At noon on Monday the curfew was lifted and as my family headed towards the station to return to Guantanamo, we came across approximately 40 stinking, leaking coffins covered with swarms of flies, laying in a blazing sun on the sidewalk near the garrison.
Fidel Castro was captured a week later and he miraculously saved his life because Afro Cuban Lt. Sarria disobeyed orders to kill him on sight, was court martialed and imprisoned. The trial took place months later and Fidel Castro’s powerful self-defense, “History Will Absolve Me”, was sneaked out of the courts, and became the recruiting manifesto of the July 26th movement.
Thousands of youths joined the movement and in his ignorance, Batista turned them into his enemies because of his persecution, incarceration, torture, murder and leaving their bodies by the roadside to rot.
Guantanamo was horrified with the murder of student leader Omar Ranedo, which led to a city uprising that was harshly squashed and prompted many youths to seek safe heaven on the GITMO Naval Base in the summer of 1958.
On GITMO other Cuban workers and myself supported the insurrection by collecting cash and used military garments.
I quit my job on the US Naval Base on October 22, 1962, the beginning of the Missile Crisis.
The Cuban government had created the University Scholarship System in 1960 which covered student’s needs, but I had not completed my High School studies making me ineligible. A good friend in Medical school kept me abreast of every development in education and when the Agriculture Faculty offered an entry exam, 700 hundred applied and miraculously, I was among the 128 lucky ones.
I had a hard time during the first two years, but I recovered in the third year when we and fourth year students were temporarily transferred to the Engineering Faculty at the CUJAE. We and a large engineering registration created a massive classroom disruption, indiscipline and a mess hall management crisis and the Faculty administrator Silvia Sanchez commissioned me to fix. After setting up a complex rotating system that angered most but solved the problem, earned me Silvia’s gratitude and respect.
Fidel instructed our director to train twelve fourth year students in the German Language to travel and receive urgent special training in exotic diseases in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
Although I was in my third year and had no knowledge of the German language, I was asked to replace a last minute drop-out. During our nineteen months stay in Germany we received language classes and basic Epizootiology training in catastrophic animal diseases, which I applied five years later during the first outbreak of African Swine Fever in Cuba in 1971.
I had a number of opportunities to corroborate Fidel Castro’s photographic memory. He visited the University frequently at night in 1967-68, where he discussed with students international issues he could not talk about during his mass gatherings. Once I posed a question to him which he responded, how do you know about that? When I answered he said, are you one of those who went to Germany?
That was the period in which Fidel was obsessed with the development of agriculture and the cattle industry. He invited to Cuba the most outstanding researchers in these fields from around the world. When Dr. Bonna Dona visited Cuba he was impressed with Fidel’s deep understanding of the issue and the first class national Artificial Insemination system he created. Shortly after he invited Dr.Andre Voisin to Cuba who marveled with Fidel’s knowledge and commitment, when he saw the massive development his pet project “Intense Cattle Pasture in the Tropics” in Cuba.
At Dr. Voisin farewell, Fidel shower him with praise in a powerful speech recalling his enormous contributions to mankind and how his work produced more health than health professionals. His heart could not resist so much accolades and he suffered a massive heart attack. His widow decided to bury him in Havana, a country he came to love dearly.
While I was still in my fourth year, Silvia Sanchez again enlisted me to be her veterinarian for four experimental farms that Fidel personally oversaw. It was terrifying and I feared coinciding with Fidel frequent visits and his questions. I learned through the administrators of these sites, that he knew that I was the veterinarian in charge.
Upon graduation and completing my residence, I became Director and Pathologist of the province of Oriente, but that did not keep me out of Fidel’s reach. Maria Antonia owns one of Cuba best cattle farms and I was instructed by my boss to oversee her veterinary needs. Maria Antonia was very demanding, but she always expressed appreciation and respect for my work. I later learned that she was Fidel Castro childhood friend and confidant that was just a phone call away.
With hundreds of threats on Fidel Castro’s life, four days before a visit to Bayamo during one of his cross country inspections, two pigs died suddenly at the farm house he was supposed to stay. Everyone thought the worst after another veterinarian made a premature diagnosis of an outbreak of deadly Antrax.
I investigated all animals, took many samples and based upon my findings I concluded it was not Antrax, but in my youthful inexperience I declared the facility safe, instead of having them re-route his tour. Weeks later I received his Thank You through the guards of that facility.
I achieved many professional successes, respect, envy and was forced to confront a burgeoning corruption within Veterinary Medicine, which earned me more enemies than I could handle. I was blacklisted and later accused of horrendous crimes against the nation for which the DA requested 30 years in prison, I was found guilty in a kangaroo court and sent to prison for eight years and released after 4 ½ years. One of my accusers is today a distinguished speaker/collaborator of the 2506 Brigade in Miami, invaders of the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
Upon my release, I sought justice at the highest level of every legal and political institution in the country to no avail. I migrated to the US in 1980 and was able to visit Cuba 12 years later. Surprisingly in 1994, I was invited to a huge solidarity meeting at the height of the Special Period at the Havana Convention Center. Before closing this 2 day event, all participants were invited to a reception that evening at the Palace of the Revolution.
The event began at 8:00 PM and we stood in a single line to access the reception. A personal security officer told everyone that Fidel was waiting in a large hall and that when we met him, we should identify ourselves and he usually gave females a hug and males got a handshake.
When it was my turn and I approached Fidel he was flanked by the Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina and Sergio Corrieri President of the Cuban Friendship Institute (ICAP). He extended his hand and gave me a warm handshake. When I told him my name while shaking my hand he murmured Jones, Jones as if he was trying to remember something, then Sergio Corriere said to him, he is Dr. Jones from Bayamo.
He looked into my eyes in dismay and said, How could that happen? Without thinking I responded, that the only thing that matters now is to save the Revolution.
He squeezed my hand so tight that my wedding ring hurt my adjacent fingers, erasing then and there forever, the treacherous, false accusations that tarnished my image and landed me in jail in Bayamo in 1974.