The Hero / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 31 March 2016 — On March 26, in my village of Encrucijada, Rafael Rodriguez Gonzalez died, Rafelito as all of us whom he honored with his friendship used to call him. He followed his wife, Caridad, who died at the end of last year, and to whom he was married for more than 60 years. They survived in their old age thanks to the help of their children and a small business selling sweet treats and candy, the profits of which paid for their only nonagenarian luxury, coffee.

Very few men dare to stand up to that terrifying beast, the masses, when it rears up in fear in response to the black arts of the hallucinators and rogues. Rafaelito was one of those who did. One of those anonymous heroes who, at times, disenchantment makes us believe only exist in fiction, but there they are, at our side, behind the door, around the corner or with us on the bus, and to be aware of them we only need to not let our senses atrophy.

It happened in April or May of 1980. The teacher Delfa, in love, decided to leave the country to follow her husband, trying to escape the usual pogrom. Those were days of infamy, when the power of hatred fed the base instincts of their followers, or those who simply craved some entertainment. A group of lunatics was running up and down the block after the woman who had taught them their ABCs. On the corner Lieutenant Talavera and Corporal Habichuela laughed about it and protected them.

All doors were closed before the passing of the woman and the horde. Until suddenly, unusually agile at nearly 60, Rafaelito appeared in the middle of the public torture session, grabbed the woman’s arm and pulled her into the house. Surprised at the response, the horde stoned the house and tried to force the door. On the corner, Talavera continued to spit invective at the “piece of shit worm,” and if he didn’t knock down the door it was because of strict orders he’d been given not to intervene in any way, unless the Revolutionaries were attacked.

Worse was yet to come for Rafaelito. After that, he and his family were social outcasts. By direct guidance from the First Secretary of the Communist Party in the city, according to what the secretary himself told me many years later, the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in plenary sessions focused on repeating nearly detail by detail the harassment experienced by the Batiste family in the novel La Barraca by Vicente Blasco Ibanez.

It got to such lows as forcing the wife of the eldest son to either divorce her husband or resign from the Young Communist League. She chose, something not so easy to do then, to leave such an unworthy organization. Her husband, a teacher, lost his job and most of the ‘80s passed before he got another. As for Rafaelito, pushing 60, he retired almost immediately with a miserable pension.

Rafaelito and Caridad could have left, but they never did. They both loved the land where they had been born too much and they remained happy even in the midst of hatred, poverty and cowardice. “It wasn’t me who had to go,” he told me from time to time.

I remember Rafelito and Caridad, now almost deaf, sitting in their living room while they sent some greeting to my parents and some other errand, “tell Joseito (or Zoilita) to send us a little coffee.” Monuments to human greatness, for whom the weight of the years never managed to erase the marble or bronze of their skin and the shine in their eyes. Heroes should not remain anonymous, and now that they have gone together, if they are in some other place, it is where good people go.

Hopefully someday we can go there to greet them.