My Experiences Close to Fidel Castro

December 5, 2016 |

By Vicente Morin Aguado

Fidel Castro during one of his many visits to the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud).  Photo: islavision.icrt.cu

Fidel Castro during one of his many visits to the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud). Photo: islavision.icrt.cu

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: morfamily@correodecuba.cu

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  • Okasis

    I enjoyed the article, but am confused by the reference to grapefruit fields. Grapefruit grow on trees, so aren’t these simply neglected orchards? Or are they grapevines? That would be a mess…

    Here in Hawaii, in the same latitude, if a far distant longitude, we grow both grapefruit, and at the proper elevations, some grapevines. Then there are the Pineapple fields…

    Not a real objection, but as I said I am confused…

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      As obviously Vincente Morin Aguado was confused when he wrote the article.

  • harry clark

    The real story on Fidel Castro`s Cuba is told here “http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80171”

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Only an adherent to the Castro dictatorship could describe the article as “the real story”. Much is basuro.

      • harry clark

        HIstory of Castro`s Cuba is well recorded and documented so your denial if futile

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          As you ought to know Harry Clark, history depends upon who wrote it. In the case of Cuba, writing its history for publication to the people of Cuba has been the role of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba.
          The textbooks used in the schools illustrate this, for example if you care to read
          the textbook Geographia De Cuba which is used in the Pre-University Schools, you will note the absence of mentioning the Spanish American war. Pre-Columbia, and the Colonial period are dealt with in only two chapters. The so-called “Neocolonial period” (1898-1958) in one chapter and the remainder is devoted to the relatively brief in historic terms, period of the Castro dictatorship.
          Obviously if one bases ones views upon such distorted half-truths and omission of factual history – the activities of General Weylen for example, then you will come to accept that the history of Cuba and its oppression commenced with the involvement of the US. But in taking such a view, you do a dis-service to both the people of Cuba and the truth.
          Fortunately for history, your views will come to naught as the truth will eventually come out. May I suggest that you visit the grapefruit fields and meditate!

          • harry clark

            History is a record of events not a novel as you seem to believe even the Americans made movies proudly telling the stories of their mafia organizations in Cuba during the pre president Castro era but it cannot be denied it stopped once he took over and the proof of the pudding is that the Cuban`s who live in Cuba adored Castro how do I know this I have been there and witnessed it for myself

        • Dan

          It’s “basura” Scotty.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    If you had bothered to fully read the article, you would have noted the comment about the grapefruit fields being taken over by weeds. Being of a kindly nature I excuse your inability perhaps due to age, to read clearly. I did however make an error by writing of General Weylen it ought to have been General Weyler. I assume that your failure to comment upon history as described in textbooks in Cuban schools is due to the frustration of ignorance.

    • steve webster

      You are right many people in Cuba do not have the tools to turn this land around and produce food and other goods that Cuba needs. Under the current rules in Cuba people are much better off to try and make friends with the tourists, than work hard for the little the gov. gives their partners (workers).