Appointment at the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, MINFAR
I didn’t know the precise time because I was flying, but after a while we continued our pace and came to MINFAR. We parked in the parking lot of the National Library. Jorge Luis, who threw himself out of the car, went directly to the post on the site, said something and returned; then, turning to me, he told me to follow him.
I got out, thinking about running, but where? It didn’t make any sense so I continued to my interrogator. The guards at the door saluted us militarily. There was black-complexioned boy, with his impeccable green uniform and red beret. I returned the salute and we went into the garage, with its incongruent marble floor, granite is slippery and causes accidents, but who cares about that. We went in through a hallway to the elevator, where we found another guard waiting for us just like at the door. Without saying a word he hit the button for the fourth floor. But before getting there, I began to imagine what I would find. Another soldier, equally perfect, led us to a small lounge with a rather dark and stuffy décor, the same style as “Object 20,” a style that abuses saturation, sadness, and complication. With such decor anyone would get drunk and depressed. We sat at some new wicker chairs with dark cushions and horrible flourishes, the wood-lined walls made the place look like a dark cave; on one of them hung a photo of Stalin with maybe fifteen or more old photos of Russian soldiers.
What a strange décor! Wow! With a place like this I could make a discothèque.
We sat down, looking around, and thinking: Jorge Luis is not an ugly man, if I were gay I’d eat him up. Suddenly a double sliding door opened and a soldier I’d known since childhood came in; I almost stood at attention, but he ignored me and I sat back down, frustrated, I would have loved to greet him with hug and kisses:
“Major Pérez Castro,” roared my old acquaintance, wanting to imitate the strength of Hercules.
“Here,” answered Jorge Luis, standing at attention and smoothing his green uniform.
Jorge Luis breathed deeply and like a tin soldier came through the door. Immediately after another soldier, just like the earlier ones, came up beside me. He didn’t direct a single word my way, but as I was getting rather bored I asked permission to use the bathroom. He told me to wait, opened the door of the bathroom, looked inside inspecting everything, and then said,
“Enter, it is here.”
I went inside, washed my hands, the bathroom was really clean, so clean it hurt to use it. I left, and as I prepared to deposit my ass on that ugly carpet, I heard the same voice that had made Jorge Luis jump:
“Have the other one come in.”
What nonsense! This guy knows me like I’m family, surely he praised my mother’s belly and was among those who applauded that December 2 when Fidel announced my birth because he knew me before I was born. And now he can’t say my name?
Fine, but another one was about to enter. I would have been more frightened if he hadn’t been such a clown.
“This way,” said the guard who accompanied me, showing me the way.
I walked through the double sliding door and through a metal detector like they have at the airports. It seems this is an office with more fear than money. To my right, a desk with two soldiers I knew since I was a boy, Fonseca and Font. In front, a small table with four empty chairs, to my right a large desk, three chairs. In one sat Jorge Luis, in the other, behind the huge desk, was Raúl Castro with his military uniform and his four stars. I looked in his eyes and honestly did not feel afraid even though I respected him because this man had been my hero, my father, my son, my uncle, my brother, my fate, and me myself. I remained standing.
“Come in, sit down,” he said with a firm brusqueness, pointing to the empty chair, “How are you?”
“Good,” I answered briefly. For a moment I thought to ask him about his family, which was also my family, but only for a moment and I didn’t.
“Who told you I was in charge of all this?” It’s hard to explain that from the first moment, and still, I don’t know why, he tried to present himself as someone with the dream of being worshiped.
“After they read us the card signed by the high leadership of the country, I came to the conclusion that it was you.”
“Ah! The letter,” the General repeated. “Who said we had the phone taken out? That is very expensive and we don’t spend too many resources.”
Wow, I thought, if they had spent more, it would have just been for a war: a helicopter, the trackers… It makes me think he thought I was stupid and the immense respect I had for this man started to crumble.
“You have a Mexican passport?”
“Me?” I answered. “No, I’ve never had a Mexican passport.”
“Are you sure? I have a tape recording here of a conversation you had when you were in a hotel in Varadero and you called Irina.”
“Indira,” I interrupted him to correct the name of my daughter.
“At the same time”… how disrespectful Señor Minister. You want to intimidate me with that? He continued to play hard ball and I continued pleasantly.
“… in the conversation you said it was in order to stay as a guest at the hotel, that the Mexican passport was in the drawer.”
He remembered perfectly the details of that conversation that I’d had in early September 2003. It is true that I told him passport for the Mexican Immigration Form, which in Cuba everyone knows as the Mexican Passport, or FM3, even though in reality it is not a passport. I told him I changed my picture and put in one of her lover so they could stay in the hotel; but they hadn’t even gone to Varadero that time. The nicest thing is I also remembered the conversation the Minister was referring to, I’d made it from my cell phone from my house. Wow, what do we have left? Is my phone tapped or not? It made me a little incoherent because I remember that it is a crime to listen to the conversations of others. At least under the Constitution. I don’t answer, just repeat that I don’t have a Mexican passport and it was the truth.
Then he continued:
“This is the falsification of documents, no?” he asked Jorge Luis, trying to strike an absurd interrogative pose where he intended to show himself as the last bastion of puritan orthodoxy. As if I had not learned how to fish from him, how to walk from him on his yacht, as if he had not taught me to travel, as if I didn’t know about his capitalist autos, his mansions in Laguito. But never mind, I don’t criticize him, because I like this corruption.
“Yes, General,” the instructor fired back like a shot.
I think that in this country the people are crazy, and sometimes I think I’m crazy, that so many people can’t be wrong. Life is too short to make it so complicated, why let not people have some fun? There are too many problems, we are a fun-loving country, happy, the tourists come to the Caribbean among other reasons to enjoy themselves, looking for sand, sun, beaches, rumba, rum, love, food, stories and parties. I would like to understand why, in Cuba, only foreigners can enjoy all this. Or perhaps that’s not what the word apartheid means in Afrikaans? The only difference is that there they divide by races and colors and we by place of residence or closeness to the axis mundi. Fuck it, if they don’t want us to forge documents or buy stolen foreign passports just to be able to stay in some hotel, just let us vacation there and end of problem. Also, we don’t forget that this little freedom is an important card up the political sleeve because it creates no change, but it appears to. That’s why everything gets complicated, “to protect us.” Of course, I couldn’t say this, because if some idiot Minister is unhappy with me, he could get rid of me because I was accused of falsifying documents and that was enough.
“Some time ago, my son Alejandro told you, when he went to your house, to get rid of the antenna, and you fucking didn’t do it because you think you’re so cute but you’re nothing more than a lying piece of crap. Bring it to me, complete. Tomorrow I’m going to the provinces, when I get back,” he paused, corrected himself, and continued, “No, give it to Francis there in Personal Security.”
Is this the reality of what we have to hear in this country? Tell me if it wasn’t much easier, when his son Alejandro Castro Espín visited my house and told me that my antenna provoked ideological diversionism in my daughter (because the story is not exactly as the Minister painted it), that had he warned me to take down my antenna because they didn’t have one and his dad needed it. I’d have given it up gladly. Evidently I’m an idiot and people don’t understand me. That I wouldn’t take my antenna down for a courageous man? No, there is nothing further from me than a valiant man. If I didn’t take the antenna down it was because Cuban television was too good, too educational, too political and round-tables bore me; and I’m a boob who’s enchanted by commercials, the kind of television that doesn’t instruct, incites one to consumerism, the kind that doesn’t have educational programs and, yes, films loaded with violence, sex, and adult language — the kind that bombards you and provokes ideological diversion because it shows some other version of the truth. Wow, there’s something wrong with him. Because of that, I didn’t take the antenna down — it was simple to understand, and if he’d asked me to, of course I wouldn’t have broken it nor, additionally, would I have taken it down. I’m not an engineer or anything, I don’t even know how to take apart a match holder, I’m only a specialist in useless knowledge that only serves to make my friends feel good while playing dominoes.
“Your sister Belinda has behaved herself very well”, he continued in attack mode, “you tried to deviate, by luck she keeps on being a good girl, that’s why we’ll respect her, nothing will happen to her.”
How good and kindly is Señor Minister. Does he think I’d believe anything he says? Nooooooo, but I thanked him for that, because my sister Belinda is a very good person, she helps a lot of people, including a beautiful story with a friend who has HIV and has faith in this Revolution. For me she is an unquestionable person. I respect everyone’s religious, sexual, and political inclinations and I respect them very much. Of course she’s behaved herself well, she volunteered her services in Honduras as a doctor during Hurricane Mitch, in a place called La Mosquitia.
“… like you did with your sisters and you took them to Cancun. You organized all that. Who did you think you were? And that other one — that Beatriz — has no respect for her instructor, even sticking her tongue out at him; this is a serious lack of respect and we’re not going to permit it, at any moment they’ll get her.”
It’s a pity that I had nothing to contradict him with, because I haven’t ever organized a thing. The only things I know how to organize are house parties, and if they followed me and listened to me for so long, they must know this very well and would not allow this person to repeat such stupidity believing it to be information; but as I also heard as a child: “From each according to his capability, to each according to his labor!”
What a country! What a future!
He continued his monologue with the clear objective of impressing me:
“Where you’re sitting is where Ochoa sat, and for not telling me the truth, look what happened to him.”
It didn’t occur to me to ask what had happened to the General and Hero of the Republic Arlando Ochoa because all Cubans know that Ochoa was shot at dawn. I didn’t know it it was true or he did it just to intimidate me or torture me psychologically. What I do know is that a question ricocheted in my mind. Could this man erase my life in a moment, as he said he’d done with his friend Ochoa, for only bothering him a little? Could he refer to someone’s life with such audacity? In that instant, my life stopped being so important and I started to think about the very things I’d stopped doing since who knows when. I’d never taken off my mask and yelled at people like I am. I’d never told my father that I loved him infinitely, that I never agreed with him about some things; but in all — absolutely all — things I respected him and forgave him for them. If it hadn’t been for all that respect I had for him, we would have achieved a more beautiful relationship and he would have understood how good a friend I know how to be. Neither do I understand why he never did anything to bring all his children together, or tolerated such disunion. I never said goodbye to my mother. There are hundreds of ways to say goodbye to someone: a kiss, see you later, ciao, forever, and many, many more; but I couldn’t express any of those to my mother. That I never got to do. I never got to be a better person, I never got to tell my sisters what I felt for them. I never got to do so many things, and this guy was showing me at this precise moment that he, omnipotent, could make it so that I’d never succeed in doing the things I’d never done. It was the power of a single man, and one mustn’t allow that a mere man be omnipotent. I had arrived at the conclusion that the true love and respect that I felt for that man and his family were reciprocal, but I was wrong. What a strange feeling self-deceit leaves behind. I’d lived 38 years of my life deceiving myself. Loving and respecting an image that was irreversibly crumbling to pieces in plain sight, how sad it was to realize that things you believe aren’t as you defended them. He kept on talking and talking, I only remembered, and while I did so, one by one, those beautiful memories fell; like when as a boy, he carried me on his back at Varadero, to give me some rest from the exhaustion of learning how to swim, or when we played shark and he lovingly scared me with his thundering voice. How many birthdays together, how much laughter. In my childhood I closed my eyes, intending to open them with the sole intention of being like him.
He brought the interview to a spectacular close:
“Do you think your sister Beatriz wants to illegally leave Cuba?”
“No”, I answered, “and if she had understood that at any moment she’d made that remark, they could only be loudmouth blabberings.”
I couldn’t know what my sister thought or did, but I felt that if I said anything contrary or stuttered, they’d arrest her.
“We have information”, he continued, “that you’ve served with foreign intelligence services, we have proof, and I want you to tell me the truth.”
When I heard this I literally stopped dead, it was the last thing I’d expected to hear. I never, NEVER HAVE SERVED IN ANY FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE. I’m not an agent, nor will I ever be, of anyone, nor of anything.
I left there with my feelings totally discovered, my pedestals emptied, my values altered, sickened by many things, but not defeated, ready to confront what was coming.
During the return trip I stayed silent. Somebody spoke, but I couldn’t hear anything, I felt tiny and everything around me crushed me, it was hard to describe the tremendous emptiness that was rising up
inside me. The rafts, the oars, the rafters. They aren’t insane, they’re empty. What a horrific reality.
Juan Juan Almeida
*Memories of an Unknown Cuban Guerilla
Ediciones Espuela de Plata, Seville, 2009, pp 210-219
TRANSLATED BY: JT