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Haydée Santamaría: 40 years after her death

Haydee SantamariaHaydée Santamaría, one of the first women to join the guerilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra and founder of the Casa de las Americas, remembered the Moncada’s horrors until the last day of her life, July 28, 1980, but these memories only strengthened her resolve

“Honor her as a brave woman,” wrote Fina García Marruz in an ode to Haydée Santamaría after her death, describing in a few lines who Haydée was and how we should honor her. On the 40th anniversary of her death, it is worth returning to the poet’s text before recounting, succinctly, her life and work.

(…) Cover her with flowers, like Ophelia. / Those who loved her have been orphaned / Cover her with the tenderness of your tears. / Become dew to refresh your mourning. / And if the devotion of flowers is not enough / Tell her in her ear that it was all a dream. / Honor her as a brave woman / Who lost her last battle alone. / Do not remain long in her inconsolable hour / Her deeds are not destined to the oblivion of the grass. / Let them be gathered one by one, / There, where the light does not forget its warriors.

The Uruguayan poet and essayist, Mario Benedetti, who worked with her for many years at the Casa de las Américas, wrote: “Haydée Santamaría means a world, an attitude, a sensibility and also a Revolution.”

These two voices give a particularly beautiful meaning to remembering and honoring Haydée Santamaría Cuadrado, on this anniversary of her death.

Before and after the Moncada, Haydée Santamaría was one of the most outstanding leaders of the Revolution, with a history that began to take shape within her own family, among her brothers, there alongside the Constancia sugar mill, in the former province of Las Villas where she was born. Her intelligence and character earned her recognition from an early age. Her political affinity and close relationship with his brother Abel Santamaría led her to travel with him to Havana, when the young man came to the city to work and study. She and Abel shared the same revolutionary ideas and Haydée would be his most determined and faithful collaborator in the apartment at 25th and O, where they lived, which soon became the clandestine headquarters of the Centennial Generation Revolutionary Movement, led by Fidel after Batista’s military coup on March 10, 1952.

Haydée participated in the organization of the Moncada assault. The story of that day, regarding the torture and murder of Abel, is often recalled, based on the denunciation made by Fidel during his trial, both in the Justice Palace on September 21, and in the Civilian Hospital on October 16, when he presented his self-defense statement, History will absolve me.

The horrors of those days remained vivid in Haydée’s mind and heart until the last day of her life, July 28, 1980. The memories did not weaken her, but rather strengthened her revolutionary resolve in the Guanajay prison and after her release, eight months later, in the company of Melba Hernández, with whom she shared the harsh consequences of participating in the July 26th assault.

For Haydée, as she herself stated many times, the fact that Fidel chose Melba and her to edit and print his self-defense statement, which he painstakingly reconstructed in prison on the Isle of Pines, was an honor, and encouraged her to move forward on the path charted with more strength and intelligence.

Her contributions before the triumph of the Revolution were exceptional, including preparations for the November 30th uprising in Santiago de Cuba, as one of the leaders of the July 26th Movement; her immediate ascent to the Sierra Maestra; her underground work in Havana, and tasks undertaken as the M-26-7 delegate abroad, in the collection of funds to acquire arms. Her asthma, a lifelong affliction, never limited her efforts.

Haydée was filled with fervor by the triumphant Revolution, and would dare to take on any challenge, with the courage of the complete revolutionary she was. She demonstrated her innate intelligence by leading the Casa de las Américas, creating and reconciling intellectual and revolutionary interests with outstanding writers and artists from Latin America and the Caribbean – a task she completed like a weaver of a warp. Much valuable testimony from outstanding figures attests to her ability, regardless of the fact that she did not have the opportunity to pursue formal education beyond primary school.

Haydée, from her days living in the Constancia sugar mill town, was always an avid reader. She continued to read voraciously in Havana, after the Moncada, fully capable of conversing with visionary intellectual men and women who, like Mario Benedetti, for example, she attracted to the Casa, to become important collaborators. Knowledge and rebellion were always her passions.

It was precisely Che who wrote to her in a letter: “…I see that you have become a literate woman with a mastery of synthesis, but I confess that I like you best as you are on New Year’s Day, with the gunshots and cannons firing all around.”

On the political front, Haydée was a member of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee since its foundation and president of the Latin American Solidarity Organization. In this arena, she enriched her Latin Americanist perspective and met with Ho Chi Minh as part of efforts to mobilize Latin American revolutionaries in support of the Vietnamese cause. In Cuba, her talent for unifying benefitted not only writers and the Casa de las Americas, but also nascent musical movements like Nueva Trova and Canción Protesta.

Haydée was all this, without ever forgetting, for a single day, the atrocities of the Moncada and, in particular, the crime committed against her brother Abel.

(Source: Granma)

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