Chronicle of my Trip to London (Pt. III)
Sue, Graham, Yanisel, and I arrived to the heart of London at midday. Graham recommended we eat at the “Arch Duke” restaurant which specializes in cocktails, steak, and jazz music. The food was exquisite and the jazz sounds provided a sensuous feeling to the occasion.
We then began to explore the rest of London. Inevitably, I remembered that only 10 months ago my life was being consumed in a maximum security dungeon in Canaletas Prison of Ciego de Avila. Now, I was walking through one of the most beautiful and important cities in the world. Not so long ago this was but a dream which seemed impossible but now it was an accomplished reality.
Before nightfall, we took a tour through the River Thames, the most important river of England. From the boat we were one we saw various historic sites of London such as the Tate Gallery and monuments such as Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye. Concluding our trip alone the Thames, we went up the London Eye and what I saw exceeded all my expectations.
Standing in a glass capsule, London was at my feet. The Cathedral of St. Peter, The Chamber of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben. My view extended beyond the view of any passerby on the ground. I truly never thought I would live to see and tell about such things, considering that I do have certain fears of height, and there I was standing in the worlds highest Ferris Wheel at 135 meters in height.
I cannot deny that London produced a very profound emotion in me. I fell in love with this European capital.
On Monday, Sue invited me to a meeting with a group of Amnesty International students, with professors of Henley College, and a group of French students. These young students who are in the process of completing their high school careers and who in a few years will be the future of their country, do not know the reality of the totalitarian world, that world of suffering unleashed upon some people through hate, intolerance, thirst for power, disrespect for human rights, and the lack of freedoms imposed by those who reside in power.
The questions about Cuba quickly went underway. The most frequent ones were in regards to education and health.
I explained that in my country, ever since children are 6 years of age they must daily shout slogans such as, “Pioneers for Communism, we will strive to be like Che” in the mornings. I told them that we Cubans want our children to be whatever they strive to be and not like Che because, despite the fact that the Cuban dictatorship has sold his image as an example for the world to follow, this man is not an example worth emulating for kids because he assassinated many Cubans simply because they were against the communist regime which has ruled Cuba for 52 years. In the same vein, I explained to them how Cuban students are separated from their parents when they hit 12 years of age and are sent to rural schools to study and work, in addition to receiving communist indoctrination which marks them for their entire lives and impedes them from personal initiatives and from thinking freely. That is not the kind of free education we want, I affirmed.
Later on I detailed how, when students are completing their high school careers to enter the university, they must overall be members of the Young Communist Union. As if that were not enough, those who succeed because of their talent and hard work in school find themselves working for a miserable monthly salary of less than 20 euros.
As far as the “free healthcare” and the “medical potential” which the regime boasts about, I commented to them how in Cuba the tourists are provided with hospitals which have technology that is much more advanced than what is found in hospitals for nationals. In fact, in hospitals, I explained, there is an apartheid which is practiced towards nationals, for we do not receive the same medical quality or attention which is provided to foreigners once they pay with convertible currency. I finished this point by explaining that with all this money which the regime steals from its workers, including doctors, they pay the public health service.
Lastly, I shared with them what I lived for during 7 years and 4 months in captivity just for writing what my conscience dictates and for denouncing the cruel reality which my people face and that the dictatorship tries to hide through its propaganda which distorts the truth. In Cuba, the life of an average person is very different to the style of life of those who command the revolution, seeing as how they live like aristocrats.
The majority of the students showed concern for the changes my young son has had to go through in exile. They asked how he felt in Spain and how he has adapted to this new world. I told them that Jimmy is happy because he recuperated what had been stolen from him- the company of his father, a good morning kiss, the hug before going to sleep, and most of all the desire to be a normal kid.
One student said, “From today on, I am going to value what I have much more, such as living in a democratic country and knowing that, despite mistakes of our types of government, there is a sharp contrast between what we live and what your people live. We have options, we are free to express ourselves, and of choosing our own paths. Thank you, Pablo, for making me appreciate what I have”.
A knot took over my throat and at the moment, more than ever before, I understood the importance of waking the conscience of humans in regards to Cuba. “Thank you all for sharing this unforgettable moment with me”, I responded.
We took photos over and over, we hugged each other, and we shook hands. In each salutation I felt the solidarity of the young students, while a rush of satisfaction ran throughout my body. It was something very special, a memory which will last a lifetime for me. Before wrapping up the meeting, they gave presents for my wife, my son, and myself. This was the most sensible part of my trip to London.
That night, Sue and a group of her Thai Chi students invited me to a performance by the “Shaolin Warriors”. The evening was extraordinary. It was very impressing to see the mastery of martial arts they displayed. For a moment, I thought I was in a dream but I knew what was happening was in fact real, and was happening all thanks to human solidarity.
On Tuesday morning Sue and Graham took me to the Gatwick Airport. We bid farewell to each other amid tears and hugs. I will live with the certainty that a better world is not only necessary but possible. My debt to Amnesty International will be eternal. My pain, suffering, and punishment was all less dramatic thanks to them. Their support surpassed frontiers, traveled through the seas, and achieved to cultivate a feeling of solidarity within my very cell which helped me to wake up each morning. During my days of isolation and darkest hours I lived through for more than a total of 87 months behind the bars, the cross I was carrying became less heavy and I must confess that it was in great part due to Amnesty International.
I then found myself aboard a plane flying back home, anxious to tell Oleivys and Jimmy about what I witnessed during those 6 days- an unforgettable and unique experience.