Two years, 10 months, and 20 days ago, I saw Fidel for the last time. It wasn’t the only time I was in the same room with him, but yes, it was the first time I was able to see him, hear him, admire him, close up… only a few steps away. It was January 8, 2014, in Romerillo.
Being commemorated was the 55th anniversary of the Freedom Caravan’s entrance into Havana, and Alexis Leyva Machado (Kcho) had chosen the historic date for the inauguration of his “project of social utility,” Kcho Estudio Romerillo, Laboratorio para el arte (Laboratory for Art).
Every now and then, I return to my memories of the day. I see in my mind the expression on his face, his clothes, his words, his careful steps… and I feel the same internal sensations of joy, emotion… nervousness.
It was after 9.00pm, on the corner of 7th and 120th; residents of Romerillo were congregating at the entrance to the community center for its inauguration. Suddenly, appearing before us all was the Comandante en Jefe.
Applause. Agitation. The faces of children, youth, adults, and elders reflected the same emotion upon recognizing the unmistakable profile of Fidel through the window of his vehicle, in the very heart of one of the city’s most humble neighborhoods.
His tour began in the Martha Machado Hall. Fidel entered with sure steps to view the exhibit of Lam’s work. It was amidst these works by the most universal of Cuba’s painters, evoking Chinese, African, Caribbean roots, in the human, the animal, the floral, the divine, that Fidel began to speak of his concerns, questioning, commenting, taking note, especially of the work done by teleSur journalists, and the event held in Venezuela to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
With the same lucidity as always, he referred to his most recent reading; to environmental problems; to the epidemics and diseases ravaging society; to his search for information on the internet and his preferences; and the importance of people being informed of all that occurs around them and throughout the world.
Next he visited Kcho’s exposition entitled El pensador, (The thinker), placed in the great hall devoted to contemporary art, along with the Comandante de la Revolución Juan Almeida Bosque library.
Fidel stayed in Romerillo for a bit more than an hour, touring the Laboratorio’s facilities. With a slight smile, he told its creator that he wasn’t going to offer any comments about the art work because he might “mess up,” but that in reality the project seemed very good to him.
Before he left, Fidel gave Kcho a book, La victoria estratégica, and dedicated it with a lovely message, “For Kcho, a genius of culture and education, with my sincere recognition of the dignity with which you dedicate your life to the happiness of others.”
As he left, he greeted the people crowded in the street, and left all present with the joy of having witnessed an historic moment, of seeing him, greeting him, and again, thanking him.
At that time, I wrote a chronicle. I remember my enthusiasm, almost euphoric as I wrote, and the fear I felt, as well. I didn’t want to forget a single detail. I wanted it to be my best. It was the first time as a journalist that I had been able to talk with Fidel – live, directly.
I knew, too, that the Comadante himself would read it. A chill ran down my spine. The possibility of not winning his approval gave me goosebumps. But it didn’t turn out that way.
A few hours later, the chronicle was published, under the same title with which this piece goes to press.
The history of Romerillo changed that day, and Fidel’s visit is an event that its residents will treasure forever. Fate would have it that mine would change that January 8, as well.
His message of approval was accompanied by some professional advice, that I will safeguard and keep to myself, as my most treasured possession. It is all the faith I need. A faith that will always be with me.