Milagros Rivera Pérez, chair of the Cuba Solidarity Committee in Puerto Rico and director of the Juan Ríus Rivera Brigade, treasures several photos with the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, whom she describes as humanity’s best friend.

Both organizations work intensely to challenge the blockade laws imposed by the United States, which prohibit tourist travel by U.S. citizens to the Caribbean island, fight media campaigns aimed at attacking the Revolution, and demand the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantánamo and an end to the genocidal economic, financial and commercial blockade maintained by successive White House administrations.

Since her adolescence, the charismatic Puerto Rican was curious to learn more about the Cuban leader so negatively portrayed by the media in her home country. Today she recalls that in the late 1960s, she had a neighbor who frequently listened to a radio station, at top volume, which served as a voice for the Cuban extreme right in Miami. These messages were so grotesque and absurd that they awakened an adverse reaction in her, reinforced by her mother, who was active in trade union struggles.

One of Milagros’ teachers at high school encouraged her to find information on the Cuban Revolution and its leading figures. Thus arose her admiration for a man who managed to overthrow a dictatorship, headed by Fulgencio Batista, and lead social changes for the benefit of his people.

In 1973, Milagros first visited Cuba, as a member of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, which reaffirmed her position to fight for the construction of a society far removed from capitalism, which would focus on solving the problems of human beings, with social justice and equality as basic principles.

On April 16, 2001, Fidel called Milagros Rivera up to the stage to discuss the current struggles against imperialist neoliberalism. Photo: Archivo

In founding the Juan Ríus Rivera Brigade in 1991, and the Puerto Rican Cuba Solidarity Committee in 1992, Milagros defended internationalism with a nation hit hard by the fall of the socialist camp and the constant attacks of the criminal blockade, providing an example of dignity in its defense of sovereignty.

In 1994, she participated in the First World Meeting of Friendship and Solidarity with Cuba, heading the Puerto Rican delegation. Following the discussions in Havana’s Convention Center, a formal reception was held, with the attendance of Fidel, who patiently spoke with the representatives of each country.

Fidel asked the Puerto Rican friends about the struggles waged for the decolonization of the Caribbean island and on other fronts. He offered some wise advice and asked that they keep their independence movements alive.

Time was scarce for dialogue and they forgot to take a photo, thus the delegation became one of many in the long line hoping for a second chance. They thought the Comandante may not remember them, given the number of people with whom he had spoke, but on seeing them again he said: “You have already passed through here.”

“We challenged the empire to come to Cuba,” an excited Milagros explained, “it would be a second challenge to return home with a photo of you accompanying our group.” Thus materialized the first snapshot treasured by the prominent Puerto Rican activist, who told Granma International, “Fidel very lovingly made a joke, we all laughed, we took the photographs and hugged him, each taking with us a bit of his enormous strength for all time.”

In November 2000, Havana hosted the Second World Meeting of Friendship and Solidarity and Milagros was invited to participate in the Mesa Redonda news talk show, together with representatives of other solidarity organizations. Just minutes before the program went on air, Fidel arrived and an excited cheer stopped everyone in their tracks for a moment.

An extremely positive energy pervaded the environment, as each reiterated their commitment to globalize solidarity with Cuba as an alternative to neoliberal capitalism. At the end of the show, the Cuban leader held personal conversations with the participants and group photos were taken. A very special photo is that of Fidel in the middle, between Gloria La Riva, the coordinator of International Peace for Cuba in the United States, and Milagros, serving as an expression of peoples united.

In 2001, a delegation from Puerto Rico attended commemorative events for the 40th anniversary of the defeat of imperialism on the sands of Playa Girón. In Havana, on the corner of 23rd and 12th streets, where on April 16, 1961, Fidel proclaimed the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution, an emotional ceremony took place.

Taking advantage of a pause in the moving speech by the Cuban leader, Milagros shouted loudly: “Puerto Rico, present!” and Fidel asked her to accompany him on stage. He thanked the Puerto Rican for her solidarity with the island and assured her that the Cuban people would fight to oust the United States Navy from the Puerto Rican municipality of Vieques, where they had a naval base.

Milagros concluded with a message: “Thank you, Fidel, for existing. You are the Comandante of all the poor of the Earth, your confidence in the Cuban people has achieved a victorious revolution, your solidarity with the peoples is unmatched. The heroic Cuban people have had the leader they deserve.”