Reflection upon looking at my grandfather's youth soccer team photo in Cuba by Laz Aleman
Though there was no legal segregation in Cuba in the late 1930’s, not everybody was as open-minded or normal as my gramps - my Abuelo Ramon. Some people thought a certain colored person was not good enough to be on the soccer team that my grandfather’s stepfather owned. My gramps, a righteously heroic man, put his foot down and said, “I don't care if you say that his family members work for mine. I am going to give him special treatment. Not only is he going to be in the picture but he will stand on one of the cornerstones of the photograph.” Gramps is shown at the top left hand corner. His afro-Cuban friend Bienvenido (which ironically means welcome in Spanish) stands to the right and dons my grandfather's privileged white Jersey (reserved for the Goalie and Captain, or in this case Co-Captain, of the team).
Bienvenido and my gramps, among others, founded an underground movement in Cuba called the ELN (different from the leftist organization stolen in name by Castro and imported to Colombia). As part of their resistance effort they stockpiled weapons and planned a coup. On January 18, 1964, their D-day, Bievenido and 32 other leaders gathered to finalize plans for an armed uprising in which thousands of men would converge from all over, knock out the lights in Habana and do away with Castro. These events are confirmed by a copy of his prison sentence handed to me in 1999. The sentence elaboratively describes the charges "An attempted armed coup against the Cuban government" and specifically lists the activities undertaken to support their charges, e.g. devising a plan for the attempted murder of Prime Minister Fidel Castro; organizing an armed uprising, and such.
A spy infiltrated the organization thus foiling the plan at the 11th hour and at the top floor of the Focsa Hotel. (Oh boy). After more than 40 years of friendship, Bienvdenido and my gramps were going to be subjected to torture unfit for any living thing that breathes, particularly for fathers with kids at home. Among the many tortures my grandfather endured during his 11 years as a political prisoner in Castro's regime was placement in solitary confinement for one entire year - stripped down from all his clothes and repeatedly beaten and sprayed with water. During those times when they finally got some sleep, soldiers would barge in unexpectedly, blindfold them, tie them up, and lead them outside - made them think that execution was imminent. As they'd hear the words “ready, aim, and fire“ - a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention. Within a nanosecond he was hit in the chest with bullets not aimed to kill, but comprised of a material that “felt as if cigars were being put out on his chest“ as described by Bienvenido.
After over a year in solitary confinement and the above-mentioned treatment, the American government stepped in through an operation initiated by "Lechuga." My grandfather's and Bienvenido’s lives would be spared under the conditions that a certain government would secretly deposit foods (and things of that nature) in a country that could export them to Cuba. It also entailed that they give up the last of the assault weapons left in Cuba at the time, which were hidden underground. When all conditions were met, they were rewarded with a decade-long tenure at a slave camp where, placed into rooms, they watched "so-called Americans committing atrocities abroad" while told that the “comrade” Russians are so good. Yeah right. This sick reeducation program was intended to brainwash the weak. My gramps managed to withstand it but he never did succumb to the indoctrination. After 11 years of countless stitches, heartaches, headaches, name it they felt it, they were released. [As a kid, I overheard conversations between my gramps and Bienvenido (along with a few other high, profile, legit individuals) in which they share how Castro would integrate common criminals, (i.e., rapists, criminals, murderers, etc.) with honorable political prisoners (like them), as well as young teenage boys; another torturous tactic that hardened the strong-minded, which breaking the weak-minded into states of perpetual misery].