This time I will talk about Camagüey, after many trips to my city, trips that are always of return and obligatory because with it, without my neighborhood of La Vigia, without the alleys, the dilapidated rail, the vibrant Republica Street, the thousand church domes bowing to the heavens wherever you look, the Casino Campestre park, the most insistent love poems in the world — courting Dolores Rondon even after her burial — and the statue of Ignacio Agramonte showing me how a man must walk, without all this, I can’t live.
And I speak of Camagüey because the State, always the State, is celebrating its 499 years — even though history says it’s not so — and because there are brave people and brilliant artists there, confirmed lately, in the midst of so much exile by plane or of the soul.
What we from Camagüey celebrate this week is the founding of Santa María del Puerto del Principe — which did not happen in February 1514, but in the summer of the following year — in a remote part of the north coast, tens of miles from the current city. At the site of today the great-great-grandparents of our great-great-grandparents didn’t come to live until January 1528, so we are celebrating 23 years in advance.
But there is little point in showing off so many centuries with no reasons, if the local people live disgusted with their reality, sheltered in their corners, disinterested in or fearful of what happens outside their walls, or having lost faith that life will be better tomorrow.
There is not much to celebrate when some children stand in endless lines to get a passport and leave, and others elude the gaze of the coastguard to launch themselves on the sea. Not when there are the poorest of slums, prisons, pockets and stomachs, leaving such a sad echo.
Rather, these are reasons for the city, between the music and the beer, to stop a moment and say, loudly, “This has to change now.”
And to scream it at every corner, like at the 1514 Restaurant — what a symbolic place to celebrate Camaguey’s birthday — where some guys, this February 1, some guys filled the air with shouts of “Long live human rights!” and “Down with…” before being overwhelmed by State Security.Without even knowing them I like these people who protest, simply for taking the risk of saying loudly and in the city center what thousands of Cubans whisper, with fear and hesitation.
Because Camaguey was always marked on the map of Cuba for its women and men of rebellious and lofty heart, for Joaquin de Aguero being first to free his slaves, Ignacio Agramonte of the army, Ana Betancourt and Amalia Simoni taking to the jungle not to look in the faces of the henchmen making themselves comfortable in the city, Ignacio Mora publishing his paper even from the Nasaja caves where he could share his ideas without pay.
In Camagüey all Cespedes desires for command ended, in Camagüey Huber Matos from Manzanillo found a quorum to tell him Communism was his boss, Camilo Cienfuegos left Camagüey with his head full of different ideas and was never heard from again, in Camagüey… In Camagüey.
On February 2, the Day of our Lady of Candelaria — Camagüey’s patroness — when the city began its anniversary party, some very kind and loving officers dragged me from my house, with cops and without the law, and hid me in an office for four hours to try to terrorize me, to try to buy me — “every man has his price” and I answered “mine is a free Cuba” — trying to dirty me, even grabbing me to receive their effusive kisses and hugs, the more they tried and tried in vain, so naive, it only made me laugh inside. Such desperation in them made me think about their fears.
Two days later, at City Hall, in front of the picture of the Commander-in-Chief diffuse and decomposing on a podium, I smiled again. Maybe next year, for the five hundredth birthday, Camagüey will feel more free. May the Virgin of Candelaria hear us and help us.
February 7 2013