The Long Night of Whispers: An Excerpt

January 1, 1959 marked not just the culmination of a long effort of struggle by our people over the course of many years, over nearly 100 years at that time.  That day was not just the day of victory; it was also a day of great decisions, fundamental decisions, and a day of great definitions, great lessons, and great training.  Because on January 1 victory was not only won, it also had to be defended…Our people wanted change, our people wanted a revolution, and the changes had to be deep-going and fundamental, the exploiting society had to disappear.  And we told the people that this time the revolution had triumphed, that the demands of the revolution would be fulfilled!       Fidel Castro

 

“Fidel arrives as a messiah.  Young, bearded, and at the head of a guerilla army.  That unleashes the imagination and the fantasy of the Cuban people.”                               Carlos Alberto Montaner, Author

 

This is a man of huge appetites and huge ambition.  Georgie Anne Geyer, Journalist

 

One night we were studying and we decided to take a break and we went to have a café con leche.  And we started talking about the future.  And I said I’d like to travel and have a lot of friends, which was the truth.  And another guy said, I want to be a poet.  Another wanted to be a lawyer.  Then I turned to Fidel and said, “Guajiro, what do you want?’ And he said, “I want glory and fame”. 

Alfredo Esquivel, Schoolmate

Fidel, Camilo and Che were my heroes.  They had saved my country from Batista.  There would never be a man dipped in tar dying on my bed again.

I was eleven the day the militia arrived in Havana.  The depictions of this day in movie reels and documentaries show people in the streets rejoicing and sometimes fighting.  Fidel arrived smiling triumphantly and waving to his new subjects from a tank turret with his friend and fellow combatant Camilo Cienfuegos.  Camilo looked like Jesus.  Che Guevara shone by his absence.  Fidel, not wanting the popular Argentinean to outshine him, left him at the La Cabaña Fort accepting the surrender of three thousand men said to have been members of Batista’s troops.  It seemed all of Havana was at the plaza to see and welcome their saviors.  Now, looking at me from old movie reels, the faces of my countrymen seem filled with  joy and hope and triumph.  Not a trace of the defeated, angry, or cowed Cuban people on the island today.

When the Milicianos, the Militia, marched into our neighborhood in triumph a couple of days later, Fidel wasn’t with them.  They appeared suddenly and unexpectedly, marching in silence.  At the sound of their rhythmic footsteps, little by little, the streets began to fill with spectators.  I ran outside my house to the sidewalk with my tata, (my nanny) keeping watch.  My grandmother and the rest of the adults watched the procession from the porch.

I saw beautiful young men of all colors dressed in militia uniforms, with long hair and beards, walking six to ten abreast through our street.  Many of them wore rosaries around their necks, inches from the straps that held their rifles.  When I close my eyes I can still see all their crucifixes glinting in the afternoon light …and hear their footsteps.

They walked in silence.  We watched in silence.  The silence has stayed with me as a peculiarity because it was remarkable-  some would have said impossible,  for Cubans to be silent in celebration.  The silence seemed appropriate for the solemnity of the occasion, as these men carried the hopes and dreams of a country on their young shoulders. Young shoulders bearing their crucifixes and their guns.

One of the men approached me and handed me a bullet from his belt.  He must have seen the adoration in my face.  Standing in front of our house, a rather palatial structure, I became aware of an occasional glance of hostility from a handful of my heroes.  I didn’t understand its source and though I was uncomfortable, I don’t remember asking the adults what the glance meant.  I enjoyed the moment of victory and reveled in the thought that the pain was over.  Now our country would be free and my father would be safe.  We would all be safe.  The time of whispers was over.  Now we could freely speak about our world.

My family was happy save for what I sensed at the time to be some caution, some “let’s wait and see” attitude on my grandfather’s part.  I rejoiced in the knowledge that my friends and I would be able to go to the movies without checking under our seats for bombs.

Our Christmas break from school had been extended, and Piti, Olguita, Rosita and I, went about collecting bullets from any Miliciano that walked past our houses.  No more sticker books of the Wonders of the World.  Bullets of every size became our most prized possessions and our new status symbols.  My Tata Margarita kept my collection in her room, fearing the bullets could explode if I wasn’t careful.  All my tatas, at one point or another, seemed to catch the fear of the household as if it were the common cold.

My dad, instead of being ecstatic and celebrating Batista’s leaving, appeared to be pensive.  My grandmother, on the other hand, had already decided there was trouble.  During a speech, shortly after Fidel came to power, doves, symbols of peace and the Holy Spirit, were released.  One of them defecated on his shoulder.  My grandmother was sure it was a bad omen.

My aunts had resumed their rounds at the Havana Yacht Club, and the Havana Biltmore.  No politics for them!  Theirs was a life of the latest in couture, the best hairdresser, the next game of Canasta and the search for the best available man.  Their definition of that man and my grandparents’ definition were quite different, as it turned out.  My aunt Celia continued to date an American Jew, Laskar J. Steinberg.  Perhaps the largest courtship in history, as my beloved Uncle Larry waited twenty three years for the family to accept him.  I had loved him right away.

When I went back to school, some of my friends were gone.  Their families, who had been part of the Batista regime, had left for the United States and other countries.  There were several empty desks in our classroom, never talked about by our teachers, as if mentioning them might initiate a discussion no one wanted to participate in.  It was the first of many times that my friends would disappear.  Eventually it became a way of life.  We didn’t know that then.  We were bereft not only from their loss, but because we realized we had spent years loving the enemy and had not known.  We ripped these girls out of our hearts and banished them from our conversations.  We were Fidelistas.  We were the new generation of the Revolution.  We experienced our first excursion into heartlessness.  For some of us who couldn’t quite manage to extirpate our feelings so quickly, it was the day of our debut as actors.  We would learn to always remain in character to survive.

We had been back in school a short time when again we were off for a few more days in February.  Fidel had decided to hold public trials in the Palacio Deportivo, The Havana Sports Palace.  Between fifteen thousand and eighteen thousand people witnessed these trials.  CheGuevara was in charge. Some say Fidel put him in charge so that an Argentinean would be blamed for what happened in the plaza. So that all the blood stuck to him.

To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary…These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail.  This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.  We must create the pedagogy of The Wall! (El Paredon)         Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Piti, Olguita, Rosita and I were riding our bikes in the yard at my grandparents’ house.  Olguita fell down and scraped her elbow, so all of us went in the house to get a Band-Aid.  As we passed the family room I was stunned to noticed my grandfather’s beloved bald head among the heads of all the adults who seemed glued to their chairs in front of the television. My grandfather at home on a workday… shades of the nights of whispers.  Keep walking.  Don’t stop.

Walking towards the bathroom closet in search of her bandaid Olguita said:

“How come your whole family is in front of the television?”

“I don’t know, I answered with my best casual voice: “probably Fidel is talking again.”  But my old familiar uneasiness had awakened.

We were on our way out the back door when Rosa, one of our maids, rooted us to the ground with her words.

“They’re going to kill some people”

My heart sank.  Again?  More killings?  I said:

“Rosa, are you crazy?  Fidel promised no more killing!!”

“And you believe that man, you foolish girls?  He’s already killed lots of people!  What do you think he was doing in the mountains all those years?”

She rolled her eyes and continued.  He says he wants to make us all the same!  How can we be all the same?  I’m a maid and I’m going to be a lady of the house?  He’s   one that’s crazy!”

We giggled at the roll of her eyes, the tone of her voice, and her words.  Poor Rosa, She couldn’t believe that things were going to change.

We went back outside and played for some time as we had learned to play since long before.  Our games were seldom free of preoccupation since the days of ordinary terror had begun a few years before. What if Rosa had not been kidding?  What if the impossible was happening again?  Why else would my grandfather be at home on a workday?

Piti said: “Let’s go watch the TV”.

Any other day when my friends and I came in the house tired from our tomboy games, Aunt Mimi made us one of her special chocolate shakes with evaporated milk, Nestle’s Quick and a ton of sugar.  But not today.

As we approached the family room this time no one was talking.  On the screen there was a man handcuffed to a chair.  A woman was pointing at him accusing him of killing members of her family.

I asked my grandfather what was happening and he said:  “La justicia revolucionaria” (revolutionary justice”).

I learned the man’s name was Sosa Blanco and that the crowd was there in anticipation of his death sentence and that of other prisoners.  The death sentence would be administered and carried out immediately after the trial.  How was it possible that people were going to be tried and killed on TV?  It had to be pure nonsense.  But why was this Sosa Blanco wearing a similar look to that of the man who had died on my bed not so long before?  The four of us went to the kitchen in search of Lola the cook so we could have a snack.  Aunt Mimi wasn’t going to move from her chair.

Two days later I sat with my family and watched as Sosa Blanco died at the hands of a Revolutionary Court.  I thought about the dove that had defecated on Fidel’s shoulder and thought about the promises of peace and forgiveness and unity he had uttered in his discourses.  HE HAD PROMISED!  A familiar feeling began to overtake me…terror; again, so soon.  Would whispers follow?

 

Copyright 2010 Adrianne Miller

6 comments

  1. This takes me right back to those days when our hopes were fulfilled as in a dream come true only to be instantly shattered to become the 52 year and counting real life Cuban nightmare. Thanks for sharing it and I look forward to reading the book.

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  2. Thank you for reading Elena, yes, a real life Cuban nightmare indeed. Scheherezad would have stayed alive so many more than her alloted nights, had she been able to tell this talle…..A little island in the midst of the most beautiful azure ocean, once the proud Peal of the Antilles, and now, the lost island of the Caribbean. How did this happen 90 MILES away from our shores? And how did it happen to us? And how has Fidel managed to rewrite history to convince people that the little island in ruins was not once the proud and colorful place where we lived? Ahhhh so many questions……

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  3. Yes, how well I recall your excellent description of the events and the general feelings of euphoria felt by most cubans then. I remember the words of the hymns of the Revolution, which I memorized from hearing them over and over, each one outdid the previous one, with incredible lyrics which foretold an era of peace and justice for all cubans. Everything was a complete fantasy…Castro’s victory turned out to be a horror story, a neverending nightmare for Cuba to this day.

    Sounds like a very interesting book to read! Congratulations on your excellent work.

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