One year ago today in Havana. Fidel Castro

One year ago today in Havana. While in Havana to attend the funeral for Fidel Castro I was invited, as a foreign guest, by the Association of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) to attend the special meeting of Cuban journalists to recall their respective experiences with Fidel. The following was a report from Cuba on that activity:

FIDEL Sincere Memories

Tribuna de La Habana, Saturday, December 3, 2016

by Yelena Rodríguez

Translated from the original Spanish.

It was always a dream of mine to see him up close, to shake his hand, give him a hug. When I chose journalism for a career, my aspirations grew and I started dreaming of interviewing him, listening while he talked about his childhood and the guerrilla.

While I have no stories to tell of time spent by his side, nor any photographs of me with him, I can share a “recipe” given to the press by that greatest of Cuban journalists, Fidel Castro himself, a man who skillfully strode the tortuous paths of research, discussion, and argument: “To be a journalist is a vision, a conviction, a spirit pulsing through you; it springs from the authentic feeling that one is useful to the cause.”

I harbor memories of his words and teachings, and I have had the privilege to hear, from colleagues who knew him, of his humaneness, his witticisms, his extraordinary memory, and his feats as a guerrilla and a man of letters:

-Marta Rojas, laureate, José Martí National Journalism Prize: “My first encounter was when I was a university student and I saw him standing next to a car parked by my school.

“The second time I saw him, he was getting a haircut at Adolfito’s, the storied barber shop on Neptuno Street. Fidel was vying with the barber himself to be the Orthodox Party candidate for the position of municipal assembly delegate from Cayo Hueso. The contest between them turned into an alliance, and Fidel ultimately became the delegate.”

-Lesmes La Rosa, Radio Progreso journalist: “There was an official awards ceremony over which Fidel presided, and I was covering the event. At the end, they brought me over to him to show him what I’d written. ‘You’re a journalist?’ he asked.

“He read my article carefully, and when he got to the last paragraph he said: ‘Looks great, but you’ve written here that the honorees will be presented with a “replica” of the Granma. Your readers might think you’re talking about a full-sized boat. How about specifying, “a scale-model of the Granma?”’ I realized then that he was a stickler for detail, but also a man of great simplicity. ‘Yes, that works,’ I replied, and so my article found its final form.”

-Arnold August, Canadian journalist: “I was present for every stage of the Cuban elections that took place in 1997 and 1998. Based on that experience and my reading of Cuba’s history, I wrote a book to counter the disinformation that exists in the world around democracy and elections in Cuba.

“In 2000, I was invited to one of the Cuban television roundtables along with other foreign colleagues, and there we were able to see Fidel as a Cuban like any other. After the debate, Fidel came over and told me that my work was very important because it was one way in which to convey the truth about democracy and social participation in Cuba to the capitalist countries. I will always treasure that encounter as one of the greatest moments of my life.”