14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 September 2019 — He answers the phone with a sprightly voice, as if he wasn’t 81 years old. Norman del Valle is on the other end of the line and I only know one image of him, that of an old man forcibly taken from the Regional Museum of San Ramón of the University of Costa Rica. But as he speaks, I get other snapshots. In one he is seen as an activist, in another an emigrant, a father, a dog lover; but in all of them it shows that he is a Cuban who carries the Island with him.
“I am calling from Havana,” I say with some shyness and he greets me like a neighbor of my whole life would do when we meet climbing the stairs of my building when the elevator is broken. In just a few seconds we are talking in front of a hypothetical cup of freshly brewed coffee and, the time, distance and vicissitudes of telephone communications from Cuba no longer matter.
Last Saturday, Norman del Valle took an envelope with dozens of sheets where he compiled the armed presence and ideological intervention of the Plaza of the Revolution throughout the planet and especially in Latin America. Thin, gnarled and vital he went to participate in one of those calls that use the word “solidarity” or “peace” but spread the official Cuban propaganda abroad.
“They sent me the invitation to the event and I said ‘I am Cuban’ and I have to know what is happening there,” says this retiree, born in Santa Clara and now the executive deputy director of the Democracy Movement. Pending what happens in his land, Del Valle traveled to Costa Rica for the first time as a child and later had a business to export vegetables to the United States. “When I retired, I decided to stay here.”
On September 21, he arrived at the San Ramón Regional Museum, a building with a large central courtyard and rooms that are rented for conferences, conversations and other private activities. Upon entering, he was captured by the security operation that guarded the event, in which the Cuban ambassador to Costa Rica, Danilo Sánchez participated.
“As soon as I arrived, a man attached himself to me and started asking me questions,” he recalls. “He wanted to know if I knew Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen or Mario Díaz-Balart.” To “mislead” the guard, Del Valle approached a woman who was handing out stamps with the image of Che Guevara to attach to one’s clothes and tried to put on the face of an Castro fan, but did not convince anyone.
The Cuban ambassador took the floor before an auditorium where there were barely fifty people. The event had that atmosphere of a carefully prepared presentation, loaded with slogans and with a very defined script. Del Valle’s cup of patience overflowed when Danilo Sánchez began to establish a line of union between the figures of Cuban independence that passed through Costa Rica at the end of the 19th century with the current Government of the Island.
“Just a minute, don’t compare those patriots with the tormenting people that govern Cuba today,” escaped from the exile’s throat in the middle of the event as he raised his hand to ask for the floor. Long faces, momentary paralysis in Sánchez’s gestures and an immediately activated expulsion operation. In a few seconds, the old man was dragged to the exit door by two individuals in civilian clothes.
In the video, which has gone viral, the voice of the Cuban diplomat is heard in the background, cut by the phrases of the Del Valle denouncing “the dictatorship” on the Island and noting the thousands of Cubans who passed through Costa Rica “fleeing from hell” from the arrival of Fidel Castro in power.
“They took away my right to free expression, because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say,” he denounces. “I’m a pacifist, I didn’t even use obscene words, I just wanted to talk.” So far no one from the Cuban Embassy in San José has approached Del Valle to offer an apology although the outrage grows on Facebook and Twitter over the treatment given to a senior citizen.
Despite the fact that the activity continued after his expulsion, the retiree does not believe that this type of official event can change the impression that many Costa Ricans have about the lack of freedoms on the Island. “The Costa Rican people are aware of what is happening in Cuba,” he says. He adds that he has received “mass support” after what happened and has also given numerous interviews.
When thinking about whether he will one day return to the Island, his voice cracks a little and does not seem as lively as when he answered the phone. The years begin to weigh too much when there is nostalgia and separation. “I don’t want to kill the memory I have of Cuba, of Santa Clara where I was happy as a child, where I skated and biked. I want to go to my grave with that memory.”
Although he also has a very personal prediction: “I do not know if I can return to Cuba but I have the dream of seeing her free.”
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