Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I visited the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia of Santiago de Cuba, for the first time in 1969.
I was a kid, who was led by my aunt in a trek among the graves, and the debris of death, to make sure that I learned where many important figures of the History of Cuba were buried, and who were them.
In ten years of revolutionary tyranny, the cemetery looked like it had been abandoned for at least a century.
The tombs were in disrepair, some of them had caved in, and the spectacle was macabre even for a kid who was used to wander in a much more well kept cemetery, as it was the Necropolis of Colon back in Havana at that time.
We went straight to the tomb of Marti, the most imposing structure of the cemetery. Marti's remains are in a pentagonal urn, and a statue of Marti seated looks down to it in sadness, like if he knew what would rain onto Cuba.
We passed our hands on top of every name of different generals of the independence war whose remains are interred there, and under the blasting sun of July, we set off to wander about the tombs. For the first time, I did tombstone rubs.
We found the tombs Cespedes and Estrada Palma, both unkempt.
My aunt picked up a marble flower from the dust and crumbles of an old tomb, and kept it as a memento mori...
That was at a time when the city of Santiago the Cuba was just the Capital of Oriente, not the Capital of Palestina. The noise that engulfed Santiago was a reflexion of the only apparent worry to its inhabitants to my then young eyes, the Carnival was full fledge booming, it was also the anniversary of the burst of the kasstros onto the national conscience with the attack to the Moncada Barracks.
I returned in 1981.
By the same time, casually.
The tomb of Marti was gleaming, with the most foreign and alien thing that you could ever imagine in that setting: kasstroite soldiers dressed in their gala uniforms stood still outside, almost melting. You could see the bead of their sweat dropping to the floor. They were immobile, and every thirty minutes they would spring into motion, goose-stepping on the stone pavers with the most terrible thunder that has ever violated a place of peace.
That time I didn't find the tomb of Estrada Palma. I missed it among all the vines, the destructions, the palo de monte offerings, the empty chispa de tren bottles, and the drunkards asleep among the graves.
A toothless guy took me to the tomb of Cespedes for one peso.
It had a lot of dignity, standing weather-battered among the heaps of rubble, old wood and in an air that brought the sounds of the trumpets and drums from rehearsals of the Carnival comparsas and the smells of death.
As I stood there two men broke the lid of a grave, and one of them fell inside.
It was hell. They were so drunk that I couldn't understand a word of what they were saying. The one inside the grave was standing over a coffin with a skull in his hand, and spoke: Bienvenido al Chago, Leon!
Somehow, my looks were tale telling. I was an Habanero, un leon, a foreigner.
So it was not Santiago, it was el Chago. It was not Oriente anylonger, it was Palestina, "The craddle of the revolution", Havana will be its grave.
I walked out of there.
It was afternoon.
It was noisy.
I packed my bags and took a train to Havana.
It was full of drunkards who dreamt of a future in the capital.
How many of them would end up as cops, chivatos, members of the repressive forces, and the brigadas de accion rapida, the antimotines -avispas, that I would never know.
I swore never to return.
Thirty two hours later, I abandoned the train in Havana, pushing drunkards out of my way. It was dawn in Havana.... I needed a cup of coffee, and I realized that I was at the feet of the ruins of the Havana ramparts, and at sight of the childhood house of Jose Marti.
His tomb was in the cradle of the revolution.
And his cradle used to be in what will be the tomb of the revolution, I thought.