By Carlos Alberto Cremata, La Colmenita Director, Special to Cubadebate
Photos: Bill Hackwell, with captions from Alicia Jrapko
Today it was Ramón…We talked with another of the Cuban Five!
Topping off five days of one surprise after another, today, after having rehearsed tomorrow’s performance at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, located in the upscale neighborhood of Georgetown, where many luminaries from the arts world in the United States have studied, we received another huge surprise. A call from Ramón! And for the first time (we’re hicks after all) we figured out the speakerphone and everyone could listen and talk at once.
First off, we heard the hearty laugh of this good, noble Cuban. Afterwards we commented that anyone with a laugh like that could not possibly harbor any ill will. Immediately he told us that he was up to date with all that was happening on this tour, and we told him the many things we know about him, through our incessant questioning of everyone who knows him. For example, we know how much he loves cans of condensed milk, and his very special way of drinking them (once again, the hearty laugh)…
We also know about the time our Ambassador gave him a Three Musketeers bar and he waited for the Ambassador to get up and go to the restroom in order “to gobble it down, feeling like he could eat six or seven more Musketeers.” Another laugh, deeper still, and then the inevitable suspicion, “Hey, where did you learn so much?!” but said again with a laugh, as only he could.
His strong clear laughter is the kind that fills the soul.
One afternoon when we had a long talk with Ambassador Jorge Bolaños, he told us how much Ramón likes adventure stories and his fondness for Alexandre Dumas and “The Count of Montecristo.” Today he told us by phone: “How I’d like to be with La Colmenita in its adventures traveling the world, carrying love and truth!”
“You’re with us, Ramón, you’re with us!” the children reminded him, and Carolina sang to him, she sang softly and tenderly and this bear of a man let loose: “Look, you’re going to make me cry.” Later he told us that he knew that we’d invited Rene to see [the Cuban movie] “And yet…” at its debut soon, and he said “Don’t forget to save a seat for me!”
And just to tease this man who laughs so freely, we asked, “…well, ok, Ramón, how many seats should we save for you?” He chuckled and said “Well, plenty” (and we laughed like crazy) and he explained:”Sure, because there’s my wife, my daughters (another laugh); I have a big family!”
Lilita recited the letter from his daughter, sent to him in prison when she was very young, with the poem “The Four.” Ramón, a large, strong man, the sports champion at Jessup Prison (in Georgia) just as he was at the prison in Texas and later in Kentucky, whom everyone respected and admired, said once again, “Come on, come on, you’ll make me cry…” And we, who every once in awhile were crying ourselves and could scarcely conceal it, passed the phone to our little Captain, Federico – the Argentinean, our Che on this Granma – and a beaming Federico told him how much we loved him, and how much he is loved in Cuba and all over the world, while Ramón whispered back: “Federico, I know you and I know all about you. How wonderful it is to talk to you, my boy!” And at that point we begged him to save the few telephone minutes left to him for his loved ones, while we improvised a huge chorus that came straight from the heart: “Ramón, take very very great care of yourself!”
And when we were about to hang up, more than ever we felt that he is at our side all the time, that he is with his brothers, that they must return very soon to Cuba, that it is impossible that injustice could continue to deny us the ability to hear the laughter of these great and good men with whom we’ve spoken like fathers.
Before hanging up, he repeated the phrases that we’ve heard a million times, but that coming from his serene and emotionally charged voice seemed new to us: his desire that Fidel, Raúl and the Cuban Revolution live on, and then he shared with us a prediction that we carry deep within for the path ahead: “You, Cuba’s children, are the guarantee that the future of our homeland and Revolution will be much better than whatever we could have done.”