[From the book, A CUBAN SONG IN MY HEART]
By Iván Acosta
The mercenaries and traitors have landed, but our glorious revolutionary army is winning. Fatherland or death was the slogan that proclaimed a Cuban victory. It was broadcast repeatedly on national radio all over the island. It was April 17, 1961. Accompanied by the Riverside Orchestra, Tito Gomez was singing “Vereda Tropical.” They played the song more than ten times that day. Around 10:30 a.m. I went with Uncle Nené to the bus terminal, for he was returning to Santiago de Cuba. That was the last time I saw him. The streets looked empty early in the night. Only military vehicles and buses full of detainees were in the streets. I returned to the restaurant where I worked, on Carlos III and Infanta Avenues. Bonifacio was a bus inspector who always stood on that corner; he came close to me and literally whispered: "The boys are here." I could see the inner turmoil reflected on his face, although no one let their feelings show for fear of being arrested. We were in the midst of very difficult times. Two minutes later, two militia trucks stopped in front of the restaurant. They went in with a belligerent attitude, and one of them yelled: "No one move!" Everyone remained silent. The militiamen arrested all the restaurant employees at gunpoint. I was hiding under the counter from where I could see what was going on. Suddenly, I felt a pistol in my face and heard its owner, a black miliciano, say: "Get out of there, worm!" The weapon was a 45 caliber pistol. They loaded us unto a meat truck that smelled rotten and was full of flies. The truck stopped after a twenty-five minutes, and we heard people yelling: "Down with communism, the invaders are here.” They forced us off the truck still pointing the machine guns at us, as if we were the invaders.
I was scared and confused. They searched us one by one, and brought us into the sports arena, a huge stadium built for the people. Ironically, the people in there were kept under lock and key: women; rebel soldiers stripped of their weapons; bus drivers; clergymen; even children with their mothers. An evangelical minister stood up and started to pray out loud. A soldier struck him down hard with the back of his machine gun, silencing him. An engineer who had been a rebel commander now also under arrest- made a fast assessment of the situation, and told us we were among twenty thousand innocent souls imprisoned in the arena.
THE YOUNGEST IN THE MORRO CASTLE MOATS
At seventeen, I was the youngest among the six thousand men detained in the ditches that made up Morro Castle's moat, across the Havana skyline. April 20th marked the third day without food. By then, three of the men had died from thirst and sunstroke. Over the fortress loud speakers, authorities kept repeating military reports such as: “The Yankee imperialist invasion with the help of its mercenary worms has been defeated by our heroic naval forces, under the leadership of our Commander-in-Chief, our top leader…” More than 150,000 soldiers and militia were deployed to fight the thousand or so invaders that were left to their own fate by orders from the White House. By April 24th, the invasion had been totally defeated. They began releasing prisoners slowly. Five men had died without medical assistance. We had slept on top of stones and sand for eight days. Some of us managed to eat twice in all that time.
We had to push hard against one another to get a sip of water from a watering hose that was turned on thirty feet above us. One of the corners of the moat that became an improvised toilet, showed blood stains from all those killed at the fateful firing wall. I found a piece of charcoal and jumped to a reef to write on the old wall a line that came to mind: “Since the precarious situation I'm under doesn't allow me to prove that God exists, that is proof in itself that He does." I didn't know if the applause that followed, coming from a few prisoners, was for me or for my heroic deed. They let me go the next day. My fathers was among the hundreds of faces that waited outside for the release of their loved ones. Two restaurant employees, my dad and I took a taxi back home. En route, we saw several milicianos putting the final touches on a huge poster on one of the fortress walls. It read: Death to the Invader - Cuba, First Socialist Country in America. With a pained look on his face, the driver said: "We have to leave Cuba, or we have to stay and die fighting." No one uttered a word. He refused payment, but kept on driving. We traveled the rest of the way in silence, listening to the radio. First the “Queen of Guaguancó”, Celeste Mendoza, followed by Colombian, Nelson Pinedo, singing with the Sonora Matancera Orchestra I'm Off to Havana and Ain't Coming Back.