Four Cubans tell their stories

Havana: On Jan 1, Cuba will mark the 60th anniversary of the communist revolution that brought the late and enigmatic leader Fidel Castro to power. Here, AFP talks to four Cubans about what the revolution still means to them.

The ex-combatant

For 97-year-old Alejandro Ferras Pellicer, the revolution is as alive now as it ever was. He was the oldest of a group of 100 rebels, including two of his brothers, who joined Castro in an unsuccessful attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba in July 1953, an operation widely considered to have launched the Cuban revolution.

On January 1, 1959, Ferras Pellicer was an exile living in the United States as the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled his island homeland. Ferras Pellicer left his wife behind to take “the first plane” to Havana. “I arrived before Fidel,“ who was still in Santiago, he said.

“I had to come to join the revolution here,“ he told AFP from the tiny museum dedicated to the Moncada operation that he built in the capital. “I’ve never left the country” since, he states with pride.

When confronted by the Batista dictatorship, “revolution was necessary” because it was about “fighting for the future.” Most of all, though, “the revolution was Fidel.”

The charismatic leader died in 2016. His brother Raul had taken over as Cuba’s president from 2008 and ruled until earlier this year, when he passed the baton to the first non-Castro post-revolutionary leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

“For us, Fidel is not dead. We’re keeping him alive,“ insisted Ferras Pellicer, because “we’re continuing the revolution” which “can last another 50 years” with public support. “As long as the revolution has the people, it is secure.”

The athlete

Ana Fidelia Quiros was a two-time world champion and twice Olympic medalist in track and field. She says she owes everything to the revolution, even her life. In 1993, she survived a stove explosion in her home that left burns over 40% of her body and killed the child she was expecting.

The revolution “represents everything for me. It’s thanks to the revolution that I was able to train as an athlete, become a better person and, most of all, allowed me to get through what could have been a fatal accident,“ the former 800-meter runner told AFP.

Two years later, the “Caribbean Storm” won her first world title in Gothenburg, before repeating the feat in Athens in 1997.

Such a Lazarus moment “wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t live in a country like this one, where medicine is free.”

The revolution also helped make sport accessible “for everyone,“ turning the island nation of 11.5 million people into an Olympic over-achiever, with 78 gold medals in the Summer Games.

Now 55, Quiros recognizes that “many things are missing” in the country but hopes that political reforms will “improve the economy” and help “Cuba regain its place” on the world sporting landscape.

The dissident

The son of a communist leader, Vladimiro Roca has nonetheless been one of the regime’s fiercest critics for many years.

“The revolution died a long time ago. Now there’s a dictatorial regime,“ the 76-year-old former fighter pilot told AFP.

Having originally followed in his father’s footsteps – Blas Roca was a Marxist theorist and parliamentary president from 1976-81 – the son grew disillusioned with the revolution.

“I fought for a democratic revolution and not for a family dictatorship, which is what has been established in Cuba,“ said Roca, who was fired from his job in 1992 and sentenced to five years in prison in 1997 over his opposition to the regime.

“People are afraid” of repression, according to the dissident, who insists the revolution “will blow itself out.”

“First of all, the youth are fed up. They don’t believe in any of that, and then there’s not much support from abroad.”

“It’s possible that when (87-year-old) Raul Castro dies, everything will end because those following aren’t prepared to risk everything for something that has no future.”

The doctor

Lourdes Garces was part of the Cuban humanitarian mission to Brazil that was abruptly ended last month after Cuban authorities reacted with indignation to criticisms from Brazil’s far right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

The 54-year-old doctor was part of previous humanitarian missions to Venezuela and Guatemala.

She says the revolution is “developing and can still offer a lot more.”

“Since its inception … it has shown solidarity in every sector of society, whether that’s in culture, education, sport or health.”

Her foreign missions meant she missed “many important events” in the lives of her two sons, but Garces is happy to have gained professional experience by “helping the poorest people.”

She refutes any accusations that Cuba has been using its highly trained medics to indulge in political indoctrination known as “white coat diplomacy.”

“We don’t interfere in politics or any other domain outside of health,“ she insisted. — AFP

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