The night we learned of Fidel Castro’s death

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The day of Fidel’s  death, the hustle and bustle of the friends of solidarity was unceasing. They had been organizing for several days the 15th National Meeting of Solidarity with Cuba in Argentina, for which Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Hero of the Republic of Cuba and president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP by its Spanish ), had traveled from Havana.

The Argentine Solidarity Movement (MASCUBA), in particular its Buenos Aires branch, was putting the finishing touches on this event, which would be attended by representatives of groups and houses of friendship from most of the country’s 24 provinces.

That night, November 25, 2016, after talking about the challenges of the solidarity movement with our country in different regions of the world, especially in Argentina, Fernando, my wife and I went to sleep. The next day the Meeting was inaugurated and we had to be at Casa Alsina’s headquarters by 9 am.

Minutes after turning off the lights in the room, my cell phone rang insistently. On the other side of the line there was Niurka, the Counselor of Tourism of the Embassy, who was returning to Buenos Aires after promoting the destination Cuba in Peru. With a choked voice, she told me that she was at the Lima airport and CNN was permanently broadcasting the news of the Commander in Chief’s death.

The news about Fidel’s death on CNN

Instantly, and without leaving the astonishment, I turned on the TV in my room and woke up Daylenis. CNN was broadcasting historical material, presumably from the archives, about the leader of the Cuban Revolution, with a sequence that caught my attention and almost offered no doubt about a truth that I was reluctant to accept.

I suddenly knocked at the door of the room where Fernando was sleeping and told him what was happening. We looked at each other in astonishment and decided to call the MINREX and the ICAP to confirm or not what CNN was spreading as last minute and transcendent news.

When I dialed the Minister’s Secretariat at the Foreign Ministry, it struck me that the phone was picked up by WV Ana Tere and not by one of the comrades who usually stand guard on the 8th floor. To my question as to whether it was true what CNN and other media were spreading about Fidel, he answered briefly: “Pray, unfortunately yes.

After several seconds of silence, he told me that I should call the good friends that the Comandante en Jefe had in Argentina and tell them the sad news “so that they would not find out only from the press”.

After having the confirmation of what had happened, Fernando and I, almost at 2 am on Saturday November 26th, and knowing that most of the participants were already in Buenos Aires, we wondered what was the right thing to do, whether to suspend the Meeting or to hold it in homage and remembrance of Fidel.

In the end, and after talking on the phone with several friends of solidarity, we decided that it was the wisest thing to do.

That morning, on the several-minute journey from the residence to the embassy, I was surprised by several solidarity groups that were heading for the diplomatic headquarters with Cuban flags and chanting slogans in favor of the Revolution.

Once at the embassy, I set out to make the calls to Fidel’s closest Argentine friends: the current Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the journalist and writer Estela Calloni, the political scientist Atilio Borón, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the president of the association Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, and the president of the association Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini.

I treasure in my memory the conversation with Hebe. It was brief, sad. She told me that she had not been able to articulate any word for hours and that the news broadcast by the media gave her chills and she was reluctant to believe. That he hoped it wasn’t true, but my call, “the one I never wanted to receive”, only confirmed it.

For Hebe, the Commander is one of the few people who are indispensable. “It was our inspiration when a few mothers began the silent marches around the pyramid of the Plaza de Mayo – during the years of the military dictatorship – to ask for our relatives, friends and comrades who had disappeared”.

At the end of the conversation, unable to hold back her tears and visibly grieving, she told me: “wherever she is, don’t let her leave us”.

Eternal gratitude for Fidel

The days following the Commander’s death were one of pain and gratitude. Thousands of Argentines and Cubans, with flowers, flags, songs, poetry, photos and candles approached the embassy to sign the Book of Condolence that we had opened for the occasion. Initially we planned three, but it was necessary to enable another two due to the influx of people.

Surrounded by hundreds of her followers and sympathizers, the current Vice President of the Nation, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, approached the diplomatic headquarters at that time. She remained there for two hours. She signed the book, made statements to the press and spoke with several Cuban diplomats and embassy staff who were on site.

Before leaving Virrey del Pino’s headquarters, she wrote in the book: “With the recognition of a generation that was formed in the ideals of sovereignty, independence and justice”.

With her inseparable white handkerchief and her slow walk, Hebe also went to pay tribute to the historic leader of the Revolution. On two occasions he passed the gate of the embassy to “talk very quietly, almost in a whisper”, with Fidel, a man for whom he feels great love and affection. On both occasions she was accompanied by several of the mothers who have been by her side over the years.

The first time she wrote: “To Fidel’s family, to the beloved Cuban people, receive my tears, my hugs and my kisses at this moment that is so hard for everyone, that I would never have wanted it to come. He, wherever he is, will surely be accompanying our struggles and will light up our path with his wisdom. Without him Latin America will not be the same, the sun will not shine as before and the moon will drop its tears every night”.

Beautiful words that reflect the closeness of Hebe and the Mothers to Fidel and the admiration they feel for him. “I did not have the strength to come. When I found out I couldn’t believe it. Only when I received your call, I knew it was true and I thought the world had gone dark,” she said with tears in her eyes when I received her at the door of the embassy.

She once confessed to me that she will always thank the Commander in Chief for the unparalleled gesture of being the first to call her when her daughter was tortured. “She always cared about my family. That’s Fidel, looking out for everything and everyone”.

With a “Hasta Siempre Fidel” (“Farewell Fidel”) he left the embassy the second time he visited us to pay homage to his friend. On his fences, together with white roses, poetry and messages, he left a white handkerchief, the same one that has accompanied them for more than 40 years.

Adyanis Castillo Licea

Adyanis Castillo Licea


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