Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fidel Castro Launches Two Volumes of Guerillero Del Tiempo

Havana. February 9, 2012


"Our duty is to fight until the last minute"

Arleen Rodríguez Derivet and Rosa Miriam Elizalde

"Good day," Fidel cheerfully greeted the audience in one of the International Convention Center’s smaller halls, and with these magical words the launch of the memoirs of the leader of the Cuban Revolution began. Entitled Guerrillero del tiempo (Guerrilla of Time), they comprise two volumes of conversations with writer and journalist Katiuska Blanco, and are a jewel of editing and printing by Casa Editora Abril and the Federico Engels Printing Press, with photographs and drawings by Ernesto Rancaño, also responsible for the covers.

In the same cheerful tone Fidel warned, "They’re going to tell you about two books of which you haven’t even heard about." They are, in fact, two volumes which open with the leader’s earliest recollections of his childhood and end in December of 1958, just before the triumph of the Revolution. They amount to almost 1,000 pages – "in which I had some participation," Fidel joked, and his relaxed tone animated the entire encounter of close to six hours, at least one with the Comandante on his feet personally greeting a large number of those present, including old compañeros from the assault on the Moncada Garrison and Granma yacht expeditionaries, plus family members of the five Cubans incarcerated in the United States.

Wearing a light sports sweater over a checked shirt, Fidel’s expression reflected emotions inspired by the words and anecdotes reconstructed by the presenters of the two volumes of this edition, Culture Minister Abel Prieto and Miguel Barnet, president of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC). Occasionally he raised his eyebrows and his eyes shone, as when Abel recalled episodes from his childhood in Birán, or openly laughed, as he did when Barnet evoked the words of Che Guevara on the Granma landing, "It was a shipwreck."

In fact the reason why he was present, which he repeated in different ways during the encounter, responded to just one question, "What else can I do to help?" And if one had to choose just one sentence to give some idea as to where this book will take readers, perhaps it is what he said to Katiuska, "I prefer an old watch, old spectacles, old boots and, in politics, everything new."

While Katiuska Blanco briefly presented the volumes and Prieto and Barnet spoke, at times Fidel looked as moved as we were, as if suddenly, after their summaries, he was seeing his own life "like a 3-D film," as Barnet commented. And as Fidel stated, "It is that he is highlighting all the value of what was done, but what most interests me is being of use."

He mentioned that he reads hundreds of news agency cables every day, literally devouring the information that reaches him. He is following in particular detail the situation in Venezuela, which, on February 4 this year, commemorated the 20th anniversary of the military rebellion commanded by Hugo Chávez. "Never did anyone do more for the Venezuelan people than the Bolivarian movement," he noted.

Fidel talked about many things with an enthusiastic readiness for dialogue on the basis of comments and questions from the audience. He referred to the admirable struggles being waged by Latin American students and others worldwide for their rights, and his profound opposition to education that has to be paid for. He expressed his strongly held belief that knowledge acquired and developed within the country can multiply production, goods and living standards, including in the agricultural sector, and how mistaken we all were to believe that, within socialism, economic problems were all resolved.

He commented on Nobel prizes, observing that they are rarely granted to those who believe in a more just social system; of surprising innovations in science and technology; the risks of shale oil, as well as the fabulous prospects for nanotechnology. Then came visits of world leaders and the impression these leaders left on him. The Malvinas, "this piece of land seized from Argentina," from where the British are currently hoping to pump oil." And, of course, of the terrible threat hanging over Syria and Iran, while the United States and Europe are trying to convince Russia of the ridiculous notion that the anti-missile shield is designed to protect that country from threats from Iran and North Korea.

For the leader of the Cuban Revolution it is essential to keep abreast of events, and to acknowledge, "There is no longer any space for national interests, given that they are framed within world interests… Our duty is to fight until the last minute, for our country, for our planet and for humanity."


On two occasions, Fidel spoke about the novel Juan Cristóbal (Jean Christophe) by Romain Rolland, one of his favorite books. The first was when he saw the mothers of the Five sitting in the row behind his compañeros from the Moncada assault. The novel was among his reading materials in prison, one of those which survived the censorship of the prison chief, "an odious guy, an imbecile, a thief… So much so that he banned books like Trotsky on Stalin but let through Carlos Marx’s Das Capital. "We have here family members of the Five. We don’t know what those men have resisted!" he exclaimed in admiration. And while he stated that there is no comparison between the close to two years that he was in prison and the 13-year incarceration of Gerardo, Ramón, Fernando, Antonio, and even René – who is not allowed to return to Cuba – he has a particular interest in their current situation.

"I was just reading what Antonio wrote about his prison transfer, how is he?" the man who as a political prisoner suffered abuse and even death threats, asked with a marked interest.

Antonio’s mother, Mirta, explained that it was a change to which he was entitled. He spent 13 years in the Florence maximum security prison in Colorado – so harsh that he called it the ‘Alcatraz of the Rockies’ – which obliged visiting family members to take three airplanes. Now he is in Marianna, Florida, the same prison where René was until his release last October 7.

"The change has been very favorable because of the climate and because now I only have to take one plane and then continue along the highway," explained the mother of the imprisoned poet, an admirable woman who turns 80 this year and was already feeling the exhausting days of travel to visit her son. As for Antonio, she reported that he is in very good spirits and had asked her convey all his thanks for the support given to the cause of the Five, which has entered a crucial and decisive phase.

"Like his compañeros, he maintains the same fidelity, resistance, good spirits and the desire that victory will finally come," Mirta affirmed.


Writer Graziella Pogolotti, president of the Alejo Carpentier Foundation, began the round of questions. "One of the problems in approaching History – with a capital H – is that it follows the sequence of great events, but hardly ever the ins and outs, those intimate details, memory, those things that not only touch the mind, but the heart." She asked the leader of the Revolution to keep on writing, to continue with his testimonial saga and recount more of his experiences as a fighter and his exchanges with major world figures.

"I have to take advantage now, because one’s memory wears out." Once against the great humor of the afternoon bloomed, when Fidel promised, "I am ready to do everything possible to convey what I remember well… I have been expressing all the ideas that I had and all the sentiments I passed through." Later, he added, "I am becoming aware of the importance of relating all of this, in a way that it will be useful."

He noted the enormous revolution which has been produced in thinking, moreover in an era characterized by uncommon scientific advances. "Internet is a revolutionary instrument which makes it possible to receive and transmit ideas, in two directions, something that we must learn how to use." He commented on the country’s huge potential to participate in these developments. For example, the University of Computer Science alone, between students and teaching staff, has 14,000 people in its classrooms. "Are we taking advantage of these assets and resources to transmit ideas?" he asked.

In a dialogue with Mirthia Brossard, president of the Federation of Students in Intermediate Education, he said, "We must support the ideas of the young Chilean woman Camila Vallejo, in the context of fighting for equal access to education. Not just a generalized and free education, but to concern ourselves with what is being taught." And he added, "Education is the struggle against instinct. All instincts lead to egotism, but only conscience can lead us to justice. This is not just a practical formula, but theoretically the only acceptable one." •



Sara's courage

• DIANA Balboa, partner of the late Sara González – whose ashes were deposited in the waters of Havana Bay – went up onto the stage at Fidel's request, to receive an embrace and praise for her dedicated care of the emblematic Cuban New Trova singer during the long months of her battle with cancer.

"I know that you were very courageous," Fidel commented, and she replied: "Sara was the courageous one, Comandante. She was very brave and while she was still lucid, she was concerned about her work, about herself as a Cuban and a patriot, and she died in peace, there was no tragic ending."

Looking into each other's eyes, Diana said that she wished to say that Sara was very happy when Dr. Cepero, director of the Surgical Medicine Research Center (CIMEQ), and Professor Elliot, her physician, told her of Fidel's constant personal concern. "I just wanted to know that she wasn’t lacking anything," Fidel replied.

The rest, like everything essential, was not visible. According to Diana, "The conversation was more in the tenderness than in words. I felt this tenderness and a very profound emotion in his look. Who doesn’t know that Fidel and Sara loved each other mutually."

With Antonio or René?

• FIDEL and his guests were already leaving when René González called his wife Olga Salanueva on her cell phone, which she handed to the leader of the Revolution. Initially, he mistakenly thought that it was Antonio, and after sending him a warm embrace, asked him what he was reading and how his poetry was going." Evidently, the caller explained that he wasn’t a poet, because Fidel immediately said, "Dammit, I mistook you. We are thinking a lot about you all, and you in particular, you’re going to be receiving two books which you can read in half a day," he commented, among other things. Everyone in Fidel’s vicinity was trying to listen to the voice on the other end, but only heard René's last words: "Take care of yourself, Comandante and we’ll see each other over there."

"A very warm embrace for you," Fidel reiterated. He then asked Olga if anyone is accompanying René in this obligatory retention in U.S. territory. She told him that family members who are granted visas visit him, but that his "supervised liberty" implies a lot of restrictions and, worst of all, the refusal to grant her a visa so that she can be with him.

"Haven't they even given you one once?" Fidel wanted to know. "A visa, no, Comandante. They have always refused me one since they deported me in 2000. Neither has Adriana received one to visit Gerardo since he was imprisoned."

Bidding them farewell, Fidel insisted on his conviction that, in the battle for the return of the Five, "We are going to be successful."

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