By Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Fidel’s voice is unmistakable. I’ll never forget the night/early morning before Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba; I fell asleep around midnight after three long hours listening to him on the TV. Around 4 AM, my bodily needs made me get up and go to the bathroom, a distant loudspeaker was broadcasting the speech that still hadn’t finished. I switched on the old Russian Krim 218, black and white screen and accompanied the Comandante after more than 7 hours of never-ending explanations.
On a personal level, when I was 15 years old and had just finished 10th grade, I enrolled in a teacher training program. At the junior high school in Vladimir Komarov Camp – a martyr in cosmonautics – Fidel appeared, who was then excited about the idea of a new educational concept which was based on combining studies with agricultural work.
Ever since that day, I’ve admired the professionalism of his bodyguards, I could be really close to my country’s Head of State, who displayed his usual naturalness in front of crowds, sitting down on the edge of a central stage and speaking with the 500 students who had promptly gathered together in the small square beneath his impressive person.
Always improvising, he spoke about improving maritime services between what was still called the Isle of Pines, where we were, and the largest island of Cuba. He put his hands in his pockets, took them inside out, showing they were empty, and said: “We have very little money, but we will do something so you can travel in better boats.”
Students were complaining about the inconvenience of having to travel between both islands on a monthly basis. Fidel’s plan had separated children from their parents, sending them to institutes which had been conceived, from a material viewpoint, within the best international standards for boarding schools back in 1972.
As time passed by, the Isle of Pines ended up being called the Isle of Youth. From being a teacher, I became a journalist, which gave me the privilege to cover a large number of visits that the Revolution’s leader made on our soil.
I was only summoned once, without rudeness, by those responsible for his personal safety. I owe my telling off to my natural professional curiosity to get a close-up recording, for radio broadcasting, and which by the way was an outdated technique that the Socialist Bloc in force supplied us.
The tape recorder, made in Hungary, nearly took off my shoulder because it was so heavy; the microphone was connected to a large split antenna which got tangled up without capturing the voices of Fidel and his guest properly, an African president whose country had thousands of students studying in Cuba. His educational plan had become international, and Cuba had taken on 22,000 foreign students.
Over time, very little has survived from all of that initiative once European Socialism that sponsored it fell through, mainly the USSR’s economy. Grapefruit fields where students had to work half a day ended up taken over by weeds.
Invited to a special meeting for young intellectuals, I ran into Fidel again at the Palace of Conventions in Havana. It was when the Cuito Cuanavale battle was taking place, a conflict against the South African army that would lead to Angola’s independence. In the first session’s intermission, armed with a better recorder – Sony – I went to the meeting with the Comandante who had stepped off of his platform to speak.
A typical Galician face, freckles, thick brows which were still black, he improvised like he normally did in his public appearances. We hoped that he would speak about the meeting’s motives, dedicated to exploring how to improve young artists’ activity in the country.
Fidel had other things in mind; he began to tell us military details about the budding battle, we looked at each other in shock, he even told us about the role aviation and tanks would play, what artillerymen would do, detailing the tactics he would use to defeat the enemy. His long right hand even touched the buttons on my shirt; I didn’t dare to record any of it, even though there were no bodyguards preventing me from doing so.
Later the so-called “Special Period” was announced, the resounding crash, partial news about his human physical illnesses and finally, his death, which none of us can escape. The country, whose reality he marked forever, remains.
Vicente Morin Aguado: firstname.lastname@example.org