It would suffice to find the right, precise words - those needed to describe, without subjectively reducing or exaggerating, all the love and pain felt by a people.
We Cubans went to the Plaza out of love for Fidel, and also pain.
On Monday, the Plaza, as well as the three function rooms in the José Martí Memorial, became a long, endless, winding line. There he was, a Fidel dressed in his guerilla uniform, with a backpack and boots to wander through time. And there was something else: a look fixed on the horizon, or perhaps on the future.
The right words would suffice. But after all is said and done, the right words come from those who knew and loved him. It’s better to let them speak.
Look, her eyes are heavy, the “I am Fidel” written on her left cheek reflects her soul like a mirror, and the moment, her farewell, becomes so intimate, so much hers, that it seems as though she were completely alone. An “I love you” on her lips; she blows him a kiss, standing there in his olive green uniform atop a mountain. Immortal.
“You start to find it hard to breathe as you move up the line, and the sadness is so great that it hurts. We know we must be strong, that the best way that we young people can honor him is to be better students, but how can they ask me not to cry when it’s like my father has died.”
María Carla Ávila a student at the University of Computer Sciences pauses for a second. She needs to take a few deep breaths otherwise the words won’t come out.
Geidy Padrón Blanco arrives to the Plaza with her son Álvaro, only a few months old and tells us that Alejandro her other son, who is four years old, went to kindergarten on Monday dressed in black, wearing the epaulettes of the Comandante which his grandfather made for him.
”Any Cuban who feels this way should be here,” states Geidy, who works at a development and research center affiliated with the Revolutionary Armed Forces. “I had the opportunity to speak with Fidel, to touch him. It was at the Ciudad Deportiva’s Coliseo while receiving the national baseball team returning from the First World Series. We were standing behind a rope and he passed by just where I was. I still remember his soft hand.”
For her, Fidel has been the best example for every sector of Cuban society. “He taught us to think, and it’s up to our youth to continue his legacy, bring his concept of Revolution to life everyday. And if you ask me what I hope my children will be like when they grow up, I would say like Fidel.”
“Speaking with the Comandante will be a life-long memory,” according to Andrés Gómez, teacher by profession and journalist.
“Even today with so much pain around the Plaza, we’ve got to be happy for the fact that we had a Fidel; for the opportunity to coincide in history, because we, the children of his wisdom know ourselves.
“And when his ashes leave for Santiago, as if the Caravan of Freedom was making its journey again, his people will be there, like they were on January 1 of 1959. Not much needs to be said; just that he is the greatest Cuban in our history. And don’t tell me that we’ve got to compare him to Martí; its not one versus the other, but two parts of greatness.”
Gaspar Loré, bearing all his medals and pain, also came to pay his respects to the man he considers to be his ultimate role-model. “We have lost Cuba’s greatest, but his lessons and the obligation to be worthy defenders of all he did for Cuba, remain. I was a member of his Column, I was at Girón and I’ll never forget his commitment, his courage.”
Gloria La Riva, U.S. activist affiliated with the Socialism and Liberation Party and coordinator of the Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Committee there, shares with us a bit of the Fidel she remembers, of the man that lives within her.
”I have many stories, to see him was amazing. Once he spoke for five hours straight without stopping; not even to take a drink of water and I said to myself: how does he do it? Perhaps he’s supernatural…He genuinely was.
“I remember that in 1993, in the most difficult years of the Special Period, he gave a memorable speech; it was on July 26, there in Santiago de Cuba. I was surprised at how this man, at such a critical moment, could be standing there, explaining to his people the changes the country would undergo; but that despite it all, the Revolution wouldn’t die. Only Fidel could do that…He was very witty, clever, a man who could uplift entire crowds. That’s the Fidel I carry with me, the Fidel I want to remember.”
This is perhaps the same Fidel that Yilian Contis, accompanied by her six and three year old sons Damián and Camilo, wanted to bid farewell to. Amilkar, her husband, has brought a flag “because the Comandante is also our flag, our symbol.”
They believe that “coming with the kids was the best idea, because although they don’t yet realize the significance of this difficult moment, they’ll come to understand it later and feel proud to have experienced it.”
Damián, a little shy, shares with us a poem he recently wrote for the Guerilla of the Sierra:
I am Fidel, I am a pioneer and study for the future,
Fidel is the doctor that treats us when we feel bad.
Fidel is the teacher that teaches us every day,
Fidel is the freedom we enjoy in our country.
To Fidel, our Comandante, who I will forever carry in my heart
Hasta la Victoria siempre,Comandante.
Every now and then Katina Leyva takes her daughter Aitana’s hand. At times she holds her in her arms. It’s been hours; hours of sun, fatigue, emotion. “No one is ever ready for death and much less when it happens to a man like Fidel who, for us, was practically immortal; and still is. He’s there in the gaze of every person who has passed through here, that has come to pay him the love and respect a father deserves.
“That’s why I brought my daughter,” she says, “because when she is older I will talk to her about this day and tell her that she was at her grandfather’s funeral, a man that always loved children very much.”
“Being here is a great responsibility as a revolutionary, as a communist, and human being. Today we feel immeasurable pain and the only consolation is that every Cuban carries the Comandante en Jefe with them, a man we must keep alive. As long as there are worthy human beings, there will be Fidel,” states Carlos Alberto Martínez Blanco, director of the General Calixto García University Hospital.
”He taught us to be loyal to the people, have faith in victory, even at the most difficult times. He is the most extraordinary person that has ever existed on the face of the Earth. Fidel made us worthy, he taught us his spirit of struggle and we must uphold his legacy.”
If anyone has been inspired by Fidel its Cuban visual artist Alexis Leiva (Kcho). “My daily life is full of his energy and light; when I draw, make a sculpture, build a house…The most powerful message my homeland possesses is his work and his teachings. He has been the greatest Cuban.”
“Everyday has been a sad one since we heard the news, at least that’s how it feels to me,” according to Alexander Abreu, director of the band Habana D’ Primera. For the musician, Fidel was so great that his death has not only been met with tears from his people, but also expressions of respect from all over the world.
“Right now, I’m remembering what my father told me, that Cuba before 1959 was for rich whites and that Fidel changed all that. I will tell this story of how the Comandante made us good people,” states Abreu.