One of the welcome changes which has come from a Barack Obama presidency, despite opposition to such news by the very vocal Diaz-Balart brothers and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is the news that Cuban Americans will be able to make unlimited trips to Cuba and send unlimited amounts of money to their relatives in Cuba.
A cascade of memories unearthing themselves, from their long ago burial place, gushes forth.
It was March of 1960 and I was 18 years old, when, after almost getting arrested for distributing anti-Castro pamphlets with two friends at the University of Oriente, my father, thankful that I had not been arrested, but nevertheless fearing for my safety, informed me that he had made arrangements to have my step-mother travel with me to Havana where I was to catch a flight to Miami and to “safety.”
Unbeknownst to the three of us that fateful night, my friends and I were being tailed by the Castro Secret police after we left the University of Oriente where my friends had been “observed” (during a Fidel Castro speech there) placing counter-revolutionary pamphlets in the Ladies’ Room while I waited for them in the car.
The people tailing us, lost track of our car as my friends turned onto Avenida Manduley, and from Avenida Manduley to the suburb where I lived; but, they where quickly picked up by the Castro tailing militias shortly after they dropped me off and returned to Avenida Manduley on their way home.
By the midnight hour when they had not yet made it home, concerned family members called to inquire about them. When I told them that I’d been dropped off by them, "hours ago," and they were headed home, everyone, including me, began to fear for them.
After my friends were picked up by the Castro forces, they were taken to the Castillo Bacardi which the Castro government had turned into a prison, and where they were treated to alternating cycles of solitary confinement and harsh interrogation. Among the many things the police wanted to know, they wanted to know who the third person in the car with them was, and where did this third person in the car with them lived.
Given that family ties still mattered in Cuba at that time and family members were not yet turning against each other for their poitical differences, and given that one of the officials connected with the prison was a relative of my friends’; their whereabouts were made known by mid-morning to everyone of us who were still looking for them.
Thankfully, through lots of “well connected people” within the Castro government pulling strings for them, they were released to house arrest and to the custody of each of their parents--not before their having had to face a trial at the University of Oriente during which there were voices there prepared to ask for their “fusilamiento”, while other many more voices, belonging to the Catholic Youth Organization in Santiago de Cuba in attendance at their trial, joined in the singing of the Catholic Hymn, “Cristo Vence” during the trial and sentencing period, making it impossible for the Castro forces to sentence them to anything other than said house arrest.
Due also to the influence of those, “well connected people”, my friends were given permission to travel to Havana and, eventually they were given permission to leave the country.
Prior to my departure from Santiago de Cuba, my father had been told, again by the net of “well connected people” that I was under “surveillance” by the Castro snitches, that they knew who the third person in that car that night was, and that they were keeping me under watch, ready to pick me up the minute I took a false step, or made a wrong move.
As a result, fearing for my own safety, my father decided that I was to leave Cuba, and he forbade me to have any contact with my friends, whether by phone, or by visiting their house, or to even communicate with them in any manner to say good-bye to them or to ask how they were doing.
My father booked my travel to Havana via train. He knew that my two friends would also be traveling to Havana. He had been told, again by this net of well connected sources, that they would be traveling by plane. He really wanted to keep distance between them and me.
As irony would have it, when my stepmother and I boarded the train for Havana, we found that my two friends and their mothers were also boarding the same train. Neither of the three of us was allowed, by either of our frightened caregivers to speak to each other for the entire train ride.
That was 49 years ago.
I went from Cuba, to Miami, to Mississippi, where my mother’s Mississippi family (she had died five years earlier) was waiting for me at the airport.
It was a cold and dreary morning (coming from the warmth of a Caribbean island, anything ... feels, o! so cold).