Havana, Cuba — Hubert Matos is a symbol of the struggle against the tyranny that has dominated Cuba since 1959.
As an admirer of his rebelliousness and perseverance — something that characterized him until he drew his last breath — I resolved during my visit to the United States in January of last year not to go home without interviewing him.
We quickly settled on a date for the interview, arranged by Cuba Independent and Democratic (CID), an organization that he founded to bring freedom to his homeland.
With the help of a 17-year-old student, Christopher Campa, to capture the images of the meeting — he filmed unedited images — we’ll see three generations in his house in Miami. The same home which welcomed him on October 2, 1979, coming from Costa Rica, to where he was exiled by Fidel Castro, and in which country he asked for his body to be temporarily interred, before being placed to rest in Cuba some day.
Huber Matos gave us four hours of his precious time to explore his indefatiguable life, which he committed fully to Cuba.
Before his physical loss, we forwarded Cubanet fragments of the interview, taking notes of the transcription of the video.
Cubanet: I understand that your name has something to do with the life you have lived.
Huber Matos: “The first thing you should know, or the most important in my life, is that they gave me a name the kids said was unique — “Where did they get that name Huber from?”
“Before I was born, my father read a book by a Swiss-German researcher, biologist and naturalist named Francisco Huber. I used to say, “What does that have to do with me?” The man was blind by the time he began studying the lives of honeybees. He spent twenty years studying the subject with the help of two assistants and wrote the most definitive book of its era on the subject.
“That persistence, that strong will of that man… that means you have to be strong inside,” said my father. And that’s how me raised me.
“One cannot soften oneself, one cannot allow oneself to be defeated by adverse circumstances … The life of a human being has one principal function that goes beyond saving one’s skin.
“So I owe a lot to my parents and teachers. It is not happenstance that I could withstand 20 years in prison. Of course, there’s the luck factor. If, in those beatings they give … once they almost split me. They made deep scars on my neck area.
Cubanet: But you also trained values as a part of the Cuban magisterium.
HM: “I spent years training teachers in the normal school in Manzanillo. We were some 20 professors training teachers, from the first year though the fourth. Trying, not only to give them knowledge, but also to train conscience in my case.
“I told them: The Republic is an entity that must be built day by day. Each of you has a role to play, not only to teach reading and writing, and teaching arithmetic … helping to train the citizen in the field which corresponds to him. Help form a conscience.
“As a youth I was afraid of prison. Once they condemned a relative to one year, 8 months and 21 days because he’d taken a girl and didn’t want to marry her. He asked me to visit him in prison. “Cousin, get me out of here”, I told him, “this is insufferable”. Afterwards I had to tolerate 20 years in prison.
Cubanet: You were incarcerated due to a sinister and vengeful trial during the beginning of the Revolution. Linked to events like the death of Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the dark chapters of the revolution. Do you feel hatred towards the Castros, declared enemies of yours since then?
HM: “With all certainty, I tell you in a very sincere way, the question of hatred no, it’s a rejection and some unsettled scores. But I subordinate that of the unsettled scores to the harm I’ve done to them and they are doing to Cuba. In my personal order of things, I’ve overcome all they’ve done to me.
“When I left a free man, I could have accepted recognition at the international level. Afterwards, when I wrote my book, I noted that in my story.
“Right now they’ve called me to Mexico to recognize me as a Hero of Freedom in America”, I told myself “Boy, I didn’t expect this … I think this is beyond my rights, what I deserve.”
“Anyway, I think that in some form it’s a recognition of the demand of the Cuban people for respect of their rights. I try to cover the unsettled account (with the government) with the Cuban people.
“The Castros killed Camilo. I have no proof, but I know that Fidel had tremendous jealousy of Camilo, for his popularity. He wasted no opportunity in the months I was in office, from 1 January (1959) until 21 October, which was when I resigned, to impress me with Camilo.
“Fidel traveled all the provinces twice. I was the boss in Camaguey. No two weeks passed without Fidel calling to tell me something … the two (Fidel and Raul Castro) were determined he’d form some part of the government, or perhaps the Minister of Foreign Relations, or Minister of Agriculture, at the beginning, when they were talking of agrarian reform. In all their conversations with me they were always trying to impress me with Camilo.
“Camilo was a guy the people applauded, but he was disorganized, drunken … I was Camilo’s friend, and I’d tell him: “Take care, you know that Fidel eulogizes you in public, but in private he says nasty things about you.” Camilo didn’t put much stock in that.
“They took advantage under cover of my resignation to see if my people were trying to kill Camilo. Afterward, they took advantage of my situation to eliminate him.
“How they killed him, I don’t know. That which I do know is that they killed the pilot and bodyguard. I can’t affirm how they killed him because I don’t have the evidence. Camilo got in the way of Fidel’s popularity.”
Cubanet: Have you been afraid?
HM: “I’ve been lucky to be a man who doesn’t scare easily. In more difficult situations, I haven’t backed down.
“At my sentencing, I was convinced they were going to shoot me, they were going to shoot me for proclaiming my truth. If they didn’t shoot me, it was because they made a mistake. They brought a lot of people to encourage my execution, so they would shout “To the wall!”, and it happened that when I stopped speaking, they applauded me. And they applauded me because I said: “Okay, if with my death the true Cuban Revolution is saved and the republic is saved, then blessed be my death.”
Cubanet: You know intimately the how attached the Castros are to power. Do you think Raul has the will to change?
HM: “A change to survive them. One always has to expect the chance of deceit, of the trap. Because they’re two individuals who, although they differ much in their personalities, they team up to scam the rest. To deceive the rest and leave with what’s theirs.
“Fidel is a talented guy, an egomaniac who with all certainty harbors a tremendous hatred of the Cuban people, which no one can explain. He hates and detests everything that is not in his self-interest. His taste for dominion and power traps all mankind.
“Raul is very careful to make sure of this and that, he’s organized. Fidel is chaos.
“They’re being flexible in matters of maneuvering here and there, but if they find a seriously adverse situation, they will ensure it’s invented on the way. That is Raul Castro, in my manner of seeing, the man I know and have known through his pronouncements.”
Cubanet: If I told you to send a message to the new generations of Cubans, what would you say?
HM: “That it’s worth it to make the maximum effort to implement the ideals of the founders of the Cuban nation. In a true republic, as Marti said, “with everyone and for the good of everyone”.
“What exist and what the Castros have imposed on us is something, but not a republic. The opposite of the ideals that inspired the mambises, the founders of the Cuban nation. This one (Castro) has a fiefdom, a whorehouse, a colony, a farm — something — but not a republic.
“The compromise with the founders of the Cuban nation and the compromise with the values that inspired them is permanent. Service to collectivity.
“I trust in that. I don’t know if it will take us 20, 15, or 100 years more to achieve a real republic. It’s worth the trouble to make the maximum effort for that achievement.”
Cubanet: Does Huber Matos still have things to do?
HM: Before I die, although one never knows if death will come tomorrow or the day after, I have to write a few more things. I’m taking it from there. I can’t afford to fool myself, 94 years isn’t a very short time.
“I wrote the book How the Night Came; now I have to write how we want the dawn to come out.
“I still have a little understanding, but doubtlessly the almanacs are respectable.”
Cubanet, 28 February 2014. Augusto Cesar San Martin
Translated by: JT