Juan Juan’s Time Arrived / Iván García

In an interview published on December 14, 2009 in El Mundo/América, Juan Juan Almeida García told me, “I don’t see the time when Raúl Castro will let me leave Cuba.”

Finally, his wish was fulfilled. On Thursday, August 24, he arrived at the Miami airport, where his wife Consuelo and their daughter Indira were waiting for him.

Cubans often leave the island dressed in white, the color of Obatalá, the Catholic Virgin of Merced, considered the patron saint of captives. But Juan Juan — JJ, henceforth — chose to leave in a red shirt, a symbol of Santa Bárbara and Bárbara, the warrior orisha.

It must have been because in order to travel to receive medical care abroad, he fought a true personal war. The son of the nurse Púbila Garcia and Juan Almeida Bosque, one of the historic figures of the revolution, who died in September 2009, J.J. was denied an exit permit from the immigration authorities for seven years.

A lawyer by profession, J.J. is a kind and cheerful. He belonged to the Cuban counterintelligence. And like other descendants of revolutionary leaders, Vladimiro Roca, son of Blas Roca, number one of Creole community, or Canek Sanchez Guevara, Che’s grandson, J.J. looks more and more like his father all the time.

I met him back in 1984, when we both did our military service in the same unit, in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton, near the Ali Bar, the legendary venue where Benny Moré sang in the 50’s.

We had no direct interaction. J.J. belonged then to the world of the ‘Mayimba’ (senior leaders) and I lived very modestly with my grandmother, my sister and my mother, at that time a Cuban television reporter.

Twenty years later, older and with excess pounds, J.J. and I met again. First in the apartment of the blogger Yoani Sánchez, and then during the presentation of a short film by writer and director Eduardo Del Llano.

Later, we ran into each other several times. We talked about his father and the memories he preserves of the countless occasions that he saw the Castros, together or separately. As much as anyone, J.J. believed in Fidel and his revolution.

Not anymore. Long ago he graduated from military life and became a critic who didn’t mince words about the epic to which his father devoted his life.

In 2009, the Spanish publisher Espuela de Plata published his book “Memories of an Unknown Cuban Guerrilla.” On the cover is a photo of him at age 5, dressed in olive green and with a rifle, standing between Raul Castro and a replica of the yacht Granma. But the most Juan of all the Almeidas still has much to tell.

September 3, 2010