14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Candelaria, Cuba, 17 June 2016 — At two in the morning last Sunday the villagers of Candelaria in the province of Artemisa slept peacefully. At the same time, in the city of Orlando in Florida a fierce firefight broke out in the gay nightclub Pulse, amid an evening of Latin music.
Alejandro Barrios Martínez, born in Candelaria 21 years ago, had settled in the city of Orlando where his father Saul Barrios had called for him. There, in 2014, he found a job, a partner, and also came to believe that there he would spend the rest of his life. That night he was at Pulse to celebrate a new job, but stumbled onto death.
On Monday regulars of the wireless network in Cuba learned the news of the shooting on the Facebook pages of some friends. TV channels that are prohibited through satellite dishes began to give details of the terrible event. That same night the whole town of Candelaria learned they had lost a son in the tragedy.
Jorge Guillen, a resident of the village, said that Saul, Alejandro’s father, was living in the Bayate neighborhood in Candelaria until a little more than seven years ago when he settled in the United States. As for the son, “people remember him as a peaceful teenager. Some say that if he had not gone this tragedy would not have happened to him, but if he had stayed here he would have died of sadness.”
Yusleni Alonso has another memory of Alejandro. “I gave him lessons when he was in José Martí elementary school, here in Candelaria. Every day he was holding the hand of his grandmother Cusa. He was a boy who looked fragile, but everyone liked him. When I heard the news at first I did not realize who it was, only on seeing his face in the photos online did all the memories hit me.”
Alonso looked at that face on the screen and “saw the child who was my student. When Orquidea, his mother, who worked here in the Military Committee moved to Pinar del Rio, he was left in the care of his maternal grandmother. Then when it was time for him to go to high school his mother fetched him and we didn’t seem him any more.”
Yusleni continues, “The news arrived here because, being in the place where the events occurred, a message was sent to his partner in Orlando and this boy was the one who advised the family. No one understood anything, there was a lot of confusion. Suddenly here in Candelaria the whole world was hanging on the news of friends’ Facebook pages. It created a very rare phenomenon, everyone on the village wanted to know the details and the newspapers didn’t say anything.”
Yusleni’s neighbor, who lends his phone to people in the neighborhood who receive important calls, said that “Orquidea had been in the military but retired when her son left. The papers on the Cuban side came through instantly, a passport with permission from the Armed Forces to travel, the documents to reclaim the body and bring his remains. Everything. The American embassy also acted quickly, but we knew that his mom had been denied a visa before and now they gave her one in for five years… those are the things that happen. She is already in Miami.”
Everyone calls María Magdalena Puente, Cusa. The door to her house in Candelaria remains open all day.
She says she has received more visits this week than in her whole life. She shows a recent photo of her grandson. Alejandro is wearing the white uniform of a butcher, which was the first job he had. He has a cap and is smiling, with a shadow of a beard covering his chin. “This was the photo we put here in the living room on Saturday when we held the wake. His classmates came, his teachers, many people he didn’t even know.”
Magdalena retired a year and three months ago. She always worked as a teaching assistant at the same school where her grandson studied. Now she makes small crafts thanks to her skills with her hands. When Alexander could, he sent her some materials for her work. “But they were silly things,” she clarifies, “because he hadn’t even been in the United States two years. He had to leave that first job in the butchers because the temperature in the refrigerators was affecting his throat.”
She said he hadn’t passed his military service because he had health problems, “He was sleepwalking and had some epilepsy-like attacks.”
Magdalena does not yet seem convinced that she will never see Alejandro again. “On Friday we talked with him, he was happy because he got a new job in a china shop. He told us that that weekend he was going to celebrate at the disco. I told him not to go, you never know what could happen in those places. And he laughed. He said something that I can’t remember, but it meant he was going to go anyway.”