LIMA.— A small mark in the left hand corner indicates the photos suggested for the day's edition and those that would not be published. Only the best photographers took the time for this, given the pressure of closing the paper.
Jorge Oller was, and is, one of the best.
He was the one selected to accompany the Comandante en Jefe on his tour of Chile in 1971, which included a brief stop in Peru, December 4 of that year, to meet with General Juan Velasco Alvarado, a progressive hope in a Latin America dominated by the right.
The negative strips we reviewed had been stowed away for almost half a century in wooden boxes and white paper envelopes. The images had deteriorated as a result of acid in the paper, and humidity had aggravated the damage, which usually begins at the edges and moves toward the center, until finally, what is left is transparent film, revealing no image whatsoever.
Fortunately, or better, thanks to the artistry of those charged with caring for the more than three million photos in Granma's archives, Oller's shots were in good shape, and the digitalization process ensured that their deterioration would be stopped once and for all.
The photos from Lima show a packed airport, overtaken by an applauding crowd as Fidel arrived. But there are questions the images cannot answer. Who were these people? What were they thinking? Why were they there?
On few occasions does a reporter get the chance to talk to a picture. But
Gustavo Espinoza provided the opportunity. He was among the hundreds of Peruvians who awaited the leader of the Cuban Revolution at the foot of the airplane's stairs.
"It was the first time Fidel came to Peru; we knew he wasn't going to stay long, since he was coming on his way from Chile," he recalled, "We were holding the Second National Congress of Peruvian Workers and interrupted everything to take all the delegates to the airport."
In all, he told Granma, some 400 persons arrived, with dozens of posters about
Fidel, Velasco, the Revolution, and relations between Cuba and Peru, that can be seen in Oller's photographs.
Espinoza, who was at the time secretary general of the Peruvian General Federation of Workers, had the opportunity to see Fidel after his four-hour meeting with Velasco.
"Fidel said he was very happy to be in Peru, that it was a great honor to come to the homeland of José Carlos Mariátegui. He told us that he went to Chile to see Salvador Allende, on a tour to encourage the people's hope, and also said that the Cuban Revolution viewed the Peruvian process very sympathetically," Espinoza recalled.
To this day, it is not known exactly what Fidel and Velasco discussed, but it was clear that an affinity existed between the two, despite obvious differences.
A few months after Fidel's visit, in July of 1972, Peru established diplomatic relations with Cuba, against the wishes of the United States, that, just as is the case today, was intent upon isolating the country, using any means possible.
"Both had revolutionary intentions, although coming different points of view in terms of what a revolution was," said Espinoza, "For Velasco, revolution was not equivalent to socialism, in the sense Fidel gave to socialism."
Nonetheless, the veteran trade union leader has no doubts about the genuine revolutionary intentions of Velasco Alvarado, "He felt profound solidarity and identified with the people's interests. He felt their anguish as his own, their suffering, and the concerns of the downtrodden. He was a man from below."
Despite the social transformations he undertook, or perhaps because of them, some sought to close the book on Velasco Alvarado in Peru, describing him as a dictator.
Curiously, the same happened with Allende in Chile, and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua after their 1979 victory over the Somoza dictatorship - not very different from the treatment afforded Venezuela and the wave of progressive governments in Latin America since the beginning of the 21st century.
"There are two opinions in the country: those who say that Velasco's government was a dictatorship and those who say it was the most democratic government ever in the country," Espinoza continued, "We believe that it was the most democratic, because the changes made were of a democratic, anti-imperialist nature."
On the other hand, he added, there were "too many concessions to the ruling class, allowing it to recuperate, and deliver the blow that would finally halt the process."
Looking at Oller's photos, we noticed that Fidel's plane in 1971 landed on the same runway as that of the Cuban delegation to the parallel forums taking place at the 8th Summit of the Americas and the Summit of the Peoples, in Lima.
It is an area adjacent to the Peruvian capital's Jorge Chávez Airport, used for state activities or for reasons of security.
The symbolism is much more than casual. Fidel is also a delegate to this Summit. He just arrived 47 years early, to open the way.