OPINION: Milk on foreign soil, memories of a cruel Cuban dictatorship
When one thinks of Cuba, Guantanamo Bay often comes to mind. The Bay of Pigs, The Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy — his presidency frozen in time by his tragic untimely death — and for the Cuban people, the most significant issue of their lifetime never fully resolved.
The failure of the Bay of Pigs forfeited every last bid for hope the Cuban people had of changing course. For one man, my dear friend Gerardo Delgado (August 1938-August 2016), it was the beginning of the end. When the Castro brothers discovered his plans to emigrate to the U.S., they confiscated his passport. For 10 years he was forced to work in the sugar cane fields. Not a single cent was paid to him, and ironically, his own town had no access to sugar. For his indentured servitude, he was given two meals a day and nothing else.
“Every day,” he explained, “was an eternity.” His American Dream was deferred and it sagged like a heavy load. The reality is that Delgado was no threat to the Castro brothers. He was a common man, a peasant, if you will, who just wanted out.
One day, without notice, a government official approached Delgado and provided him with his passport and said, “You paid your debt; now you can go.” With some help, Delgado made it to Spain and then to America. He carried with him the pain, suffering and hunger of an entire people. It was for them that he drank milk every day on foreign soil, never forgetting the food rationing he had left behind.
In Cuba, the Castro brothers divided neighborhoods with a government informant on every two blocks. The informants knew what everyone was doing and reported back up the chain of command. Delgado described an elaborate, malicious scheme where the government took away property and livestock from every single person in his town and made everyone dependent on government. Not even a single chicken could be kept for eggs; everything was rationed. Every person received one egg per week, five pounds of rice monthly and five ounces of meat, and that was it. Milk was reserved only for toddlers. Once a child reached five years of age, there was no more milk available to them or to anyone else who unavoidably aged out. Sugar and salt were also not on the meal plan of Delgado’s town. If anybody had salt or sugar it was via the “bolsa negra,” or black market, facilitated by a member of another town.
Anyone caught violating the rules would be subject to a public trial, right on the streets, led by the Committee in Defense of the Revolution. Delgado described a miserable life where no one trusted each other and neighbors turned against each other trying to curry favor to the government informant. Many people were killed — friends and relatives.
One particular story stuck with me. The U.S. Army base located at Guantanamo Bay was adjacent to a town called Guantanamo. The Cuban people were using this town to reach Guantanamo Bay where they found refuge with the Americans. When the Cuban officials became aware of this, they set 55,000 landmines along the eight-mile route between the town and the base. Delgado dreaded leaving the sugar cane fields at nightfall because he would hear the landmines going off and the horrific screams of the good people of Cuba who, like him, just wanted out.
Delgado wanted his ashes to be spread over the Mountains of Guantanamo. He never dared to join the plight of those who attempted the treacherous dash across the minefields to freedom, but he wanted to one way or another join them in their sacrifice.
Robinson Iglesias, a lawyer who works in Downtown Brooklyn, has represented corporations, bankers, investors and individuals in state and federal courts. He is admitted to practice law in New York and the Eastern and Southern District Federal Courts, as well as The Supreme Court of the United States. He has served on numerous prestigious boards. Currently, he serves on the board of Legal Services NYC.
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