Excerpt Twenty-Two of "Brothers from Time to Time"


Emi's and Cuba's once-and-future prison: La Cabaña fortress.

Guanajay prison, October 24, 1970. «Wilkommen, Bruder!» Welcome, brother!

The greeting, belted out fortissimo and in a strange language, astonished the many inmates, visitors and guards who could not avoid hearing it. Emi and Adolfo were seeing each other for the first time since their contentious lunch in Havana a decade before.

This meeting had originated with el viejo who called Adolfo from a Miami hospital. When the old man implored him to visit his brother, Adolfo took the request for a dying father’s wish.

It was a duty Adolfo reviled and feared. For him to be seen with his brother would be a gross political discredit. He no longer had the privilege of working in politics – but in Cuba everything was political and he needed the job he had. How would his bosses feel about his going to visit an imprisoned CIA agent?

Anyway, here they were, together for the first time in ten years.

Emi went straight to it. “Listen! Have you read Isaac Deutscher’s volumes on Trotsky and Stalin? They are extraordinary works!”

Given the vogue that Deutscher’s books had gained in Cuba, Adolfo was not surprised that Emi should have seen them. But Adolfo had found the books deeply revelatory; and the news that Emi shared his language in this crucial matter was a lightning-bolt. At a stroke, Emi had come close to his heart.

Adolfo grew animated and lit a cigar. He gave Emi his account of the microfaction episode, of his expulsion from the Party, and of «Zarathustra», the 80-page statement written by him and other comrades. Emi, for his part, was fully aware of the campaign that Fidel’s regime had waged against his brother and listened sympathetically.

“What about an early release?” Adolfo asked.

“I’m not optimistic,” Emi said, mentioning the talk with former Vice President Pujol.

“I agree,” Adolfo said. “The thing is, you are trying to get out of here clean – and they do not want to let you out of here clean.”

Emi gave a look which his brother could read very well.

“Just think about it, will you?” Adolfo said. “You don’t have to be broken. You just have to look broken. You have to give them something.”

* * *

I said goodbye, took my cap and went out of the prison. I left and he stayed. It was shattering. What moved me was that I had behaved so badly toward him and that he had taken it all so well. The ride back to Havana was very difficult. A friend was driving me. I did not want to break down in the car. When I got home I didn’t even greet Marisa. I just blew past her, went straight to my room and closed the door.

The love that belongs to you

Combinado del Este, Havana, April 1978. Emi was approaching the end of his second decade in Fidel Castro’s special accommodations for wayward citizens when he received a letter whose arrival was the last stage of a very long pursuit.

Who would be pursuing him? It seemed to be his daughter. But how could Ermi be pursuing him, or anyone?

She couldn’t. Three-year-old Ermi was gone, and 19-year-old Irma Alicia was standing in her place.

Through childhood and girlhood, Irma Alicia had a void at the center of her life: no father. The man, or so she was told, had died long ago in the fight for Cuba. He was painted a martyr, paid homage in hushed tones on solemn occasions, and otherwise forgotten.

If Irma Alicia and her brother had known their paternal grandparents, who actually were living close by in Miami, it would have been different. But those grandparents could not get anywhere near the children.

Los viejos knew perfectly well that they had grandchildren near them. From time to time, using his reporter’s skills, el viejo was able to ascertain that the kids were fine. But the elder Riveros were powerless to affect their separation from the children.

Irma Alicia’s brother Rubén, blond and beautiful, was his mother’s sweetheart; he gave no apparent thought to his father. She, on the other hand, was a rebel. She rejected the reality that her elders were feeding her. As a teen she snuck around in closets and drawers, hunting for clues about her father – trying to sniff his blood.

At age 19 she found an item in Miami’s Spanish-language press that described her father as he actually was: a well-known counterrevolutionary serving a 30-year term as Castro’s prisoner. She contacted the reporter and asked for her dad’s address. It was the Combinado del Este prison in Havana.

In a letter dated “Valley of the Fallen, April 19, 1978,” Emi told his daughter: “Whenever I thought of you two – and not a day went by that I didn’t think of you – nostalgia would cast a shadow over my recollections. But now your lines are here and everything is changed. Now, at a stroke, my children are beside me. I have been expecting your letter, because I have lived secure in the knowledge that sooner or later you would come in search of the love that belongs to you – a love that no circumstance of life can take away.”

The complete book is being published by Pureplay Press. The book, including all material therein, is copyright © 2020 by David Landau.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from now through early October, the Impunity Observer will publish excerpts from Landau’s book. All in all, more than one-third of Brothers will be presented. Stay tuned.

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David Landau

David Landau, the Impunity Observer's contributing editor, is the author of Brothers from Time to Time, a history of the Cuban revolution.

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