The Day I Asked Forgiveness from Huber Matos / Camilo Venegas

L. Camilo Cienfuegos, Ctr. Fidel Castro, R. Huber Matos

L. Camilo Cienfuegos, Ctr. Fidel Castro, R. Huber Matos, entering Havana on 8 January 1959

For years I tried to imagine his face, but it didn’t appear anywhere. He had been erased from the national history with meticulous cruelty. They airbrushed him out, even in one of the most iconic images of the Revolution, the one where he and Camilo Cienfuegos accompany Fidel on top of a Jeep, during the victorious entry into Havana.

In the middle of the last decade, Huber Matos was visiting Santo Domingo and they invited me to a meeting with the heroic commander. He was already a fragile cornflower, but kept intact his stature and his strength. When we shook hands he pressed mine firmly. I felt gripped by the bones in his hands.

It was hard for me to ask for the floor, I was intimidated by his glance and the weight of the history he carried on his shoulders. “I would just like to ask your forgiveness, commander,” I said to him. Then I told him of the hatred I had felt for him as a child. “To my generation they instilled in us that you were a traitor to the fatherland and responsible for the disappearance of Camilo [Cienfuegos].”

He stood up and gave me a hug. Again I felt myself gripped. “Thank you, son,” he said, very moved, almost in my ear. Although they couldn’t shoot him, they assassinated his reputation, which is the most cowardly method Fidel Castro has used to annul his adversaries. Because of this the young people in my country know very little about one of the bravest leaders of the Revolution.

The man who died today was one of the first Cubans who warned that that popular feat would turn itself into a shameful dictatorship. The day when history can tell it like it was, Huber Matos will once again climb up on that Jeep from which he never should have been removed. Then, without erasing anyone else, it will be perfectly clear who betrayed whom.

Camilo Venegas from his blog El Fogonero

27 February 2014