The Raul Rivero I Will Remember

Raúl Rivero and his wife Blanca Reyes, a few days after the poet was released in 2004 and before leaving for Spain. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Desde Aqui, Havana, 6 November 2021 — A few days short of 76, the Cuban poet Raúl Rivero has died in exile. We were classmates in the University of Havana’s journalism school, and we shared a time at Cuba Internacional magazine, but above all we were friends.

In the early 1970s, while we were covering the information on the so-called Ten Million Zafra in Camagüey, Raúl Rivero wrote what he would have liked to be his epitaph at the time, or perhaps his will. I never knew why you asked me to keep that typewritten sheet without a copy. Unfortunately, the poem was lost and I only remember the festive tone with which the poet spoke from his imaginary coffin.

“Surrounded as I am by compañeros / I would like to mention my brief biography / that I was never one to ride those fast cars / that were taken from the slow legs of the people.” I am quoting from memory. For the time that was a controversial poem although the corpse appeared dressed as a militiaman.

When I asked him in June 1991 why he had signed that famous Carta de los Diez [Letter of the Ten] that led him to ostracism within Cuba, he replied: “When I read it, I thought that even Little Red Riding Hood could have signed it.” He had that sharp and sarcastic way of saying anything, I still remember him leaning out over his balcony on Peñalver Street, in Centro Habana.

We had long conversations and more than a few discussions, especially at times when he was suspicious of almost everyone who approached him. I remember one day talking about the freelance journalist David Orrio he told me “This guy just needs to put on his uniform.” Orrio had not yet exposed himself as ‘agent Miguel’ who served as a witness to imprison Rivero during the Black Spring.

As is known, Raúl Rivero was sentenced to 20 years in prison in that 2003 process. After being released on parole for health reasons, I visited him at his home. When I asked him how hard the prison had been, he replied: “What they did to me was shitty — not even a blow.” But the bruises were internal, they marked him for the rest of his life.

That will be the Raúl Rivero that I will always remember, smiling, clever, witty, the poet of impossible loves, the chronicler who knew how to narrate the dictatorship, a journalist without a mandate as he preferred to define himself. Life even connected our families and, although in recent years we barely had contact due to the distance imposed by his exile, I always knew that I had “Gordo Rivero” by my side.

In the distant days when I thought I was a poet, I fantasized that in an interview someone would inquire about my influences. I wanted to be asked, so as to be able to answer: “First, Raúl Rivero.”

Today when I have only managed to be a journalist, I could give the same answer.

I will be, when I do not return / some sweet ghost / a dear and sweet ghost, / if I do not return. / Raúl Rivero, 1988


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.