In the bitter memories of the new exiles, the Cuba of Fidel Castro emerges as a miserable place -- a grim land where bold revolutionary slogans mock everyday realities.
For these arrivals in America, the story began on New Year's Day 1959 when the tyrant Fulgencio Batista fled and Fidel Castro's bearded Robin Hoods marched into Havana.
It was called "La Revolucion," and with it came great hope. In Oriente Province, where the Castro insurgency began, even little Jose Rolando one of 11 children of a sugar worker and seamstress, sensed the joy.
"Our whole family was with the revolution. We were happy. Things were going to change. There would be universal love of one's fellow man. Justice, decency, freedom," said Castillo, now 29.
Instead, Castro took his island nation into the arms of the Soviet Union and communism. There was tension, abortive counter-revolution, an exodus of malcontents, persecuted, anticommunists, misfits. In 20 years, nearly one million Cubans have fled. Yet Castro remained in control with an impressive Third World image of courage, independence.
Now, 21 years into the revolution, the situation is again changing. The new wave of emigrants, unlike those of the past, are those in whose name the revolution took place. They are not doctors and lawyers; they have no memory of prosperity under an earlier regime. Many have lived under Castro since childhood, some all their lives.
In the space of a month, the old romantic notions have been badly tarnished.
The scratch that began at the Embassy of Peru in Havana has become a rampant, hemorrhage of emigrants. As of today, close to 30,000 desperate Cubans have landed on U.S. shores after harrowing trips to freedom in small boats.
Millions of loyal Castro supporters remain in Cuba, of course, but that seems to matter less now than before.
The people of the freedom flotilla, many able for only the first time to talk with ease, draw a vivid and disturbing portrait. It is a portrait that may well sway the minds of Americans still entranced with Robin Hood.
Jose Rolando Castillo is one of those flotilla people.
He, like most of the others, concedes that Castro's revolution has elevated Cuba in a number of areas -- medicine, health care, education, sports, race relations.
But there is the darker side: scarcity of food, political repression, forced labor, a system that breeds hyprocrisy and criminality and deceit, abandonment of basic human rights and decencies, Cuban set against Cuban, families divided.
Extensive, at random interviews with dozens of these refugees, even considering the prism of distance and emotion through which their stories are seen, produce a depressing view of Cuba in Year XXI of the revolution. a
These are some of the stories. The Story of Jose
After a hijacked bus crashed into the embassy April 1, opening the door for others, Jose Rolando Castillo was one of the first Cubans to seek asylum there.
He and his buddy, Pepe Fernandez, walked in at 8:30 in the morning. By 8 p.m. there were 3,500 people on the embassy grounds with them. In days to follow, more than 10,800 gathered there and suffered in the grimmest way -- sleeping on their feet, eating boiled leaves, fearing assault.
This is the same Jose Rolando, who, as a peasant's 8-year-old son in 1959 saw nothing but joy coming from the Castro revolution. His life has been infernal ever since.
He stayed in school for eight years, but helped his mother by shining shoes as a lad. She taught him religion and in those early days they attended a Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Religion was the cause of Jose Rolando's final estrangement from his land. He would not carry arms after he was drafted. Five days after induction, he deserted. He sold his unifrom on the black market and with the money fled back to Oriente.
Castillo was arrested, charged with desertion and attempting illegally to flee the country. He served a mandatory prison term, then as an ex-prisoner could get only menial jobs -- always the case in Cuba.
He was fired from nine jobs, each time because he refused to work on Saturdays, a working day in Cuba. He considered himself a victim of religious persecution.
"Fidel Castro is a person who has sold his soul to a devil. I have called down plagues on this man who has allowed his own people to endure such suffering. The party implants its own judgments and they have made it a crime to be a man in Cuba.
"No one can accept the idea of living under a system in which hunger is endemic, in which, because of scarcity, people have been forced to rob and cheat," he said.
"My church in Cuba continues to function and move forward without any type of friendship with the government. But I have suffered because I must obey God first. I will not work on Saturday. One's conscience cannot be slain." A Macabre Dance
At 5 a.m. they come knocking, waving the search warrant. Ana Julia Fernandez, 29, dancer in the chorus line at the Hotel Nacional, awakens, opens the door and lets the police in.
They scoop up jewelry, clothing, personal items. Now Ana Julia and her mother, a physical education teacher for 30 years, must go to headquarters in a paddy-wagon to answer questions.
The women are puzzled and frightened. At headquarters, the picture becomes clearer. There are 100 or more other women, all detained in this pre-dawn sweep across Havana.
They are held and interrogated under a recent statute that allows the state to make sweeping arrests on the vaguest grounds for "antisocial" conduct. It is called "La Ley de la Peligrosidad" a law of common danger. The law is applied, widely and sternly and every refugee deplores it for what it is.
Ana Julia's crime is association with homosexuals -- male dancers in the splendid floor show at the Hotel Nacional. She cannot deny the charge. They are friends and colleagues; they work together, visit and travel together.
"This is preposterous," she tells authorities. "These men are licensed to dance by the government. We are professionals, friends. If you want to persecute homosexuals, why don't you start with Alicia Alonso's ballet troupe?"
Alicia Alonso is the aging ballerina whose ballet company draws global raves for the revolution. She and Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer, and Alberto Juantorena, the runner, may be the best ambassadors Castro ever had.
Ana Julia knows this and so do the authorities. They take another tack. She is accused of cruising the docks, selling herself to sailors. The accusation brings her revulsion full circle.
It is the stuff of Orwell and Koestler. Ana Julia's mother, only months away from retirement, is accused of parasitism -- not working. Equally preposterous. She is a nonpolitical pedagogue, in her 30th year of teaching.
After 19 days of detention, the mother is given "conditional liberty," a kind of strict probation. She loses her job and pension rights.
After 22 days, Ana Julia is tried and found guilty in a private trial at La Granja prison. She appeals and waits. Then on April 22, four months after her arrest, she and other prisoners are called suddenly to a dining area at 4 a.m.
The women are told that something has come up and there is a possibility they may be able to leave the country. Clerks are waiting with papers for the women to sign, conceding antisocial conduct, the key to leaving Cuba.
Ana Julia signs the statement.A few days later she has a passport, and, weeping, she is herded onto a American shrimp boat and sent to Key West. She cannot say farewell to her mother, who still does not know Ana Julia is gone. Aspiration I
Olimpia Canales is a wraith, 15 years of deceptive innocence that falls somewhere between fragile little sister and a role in Bizet. Badly chipped front tooth, nails chewed away, smudges on the face, enormous almond eyes complete the picture.
She is a child of the revolution, but hardly the prototype of the disciplined chanting young Communist pioneer. She quit school in the fourth grade and hung around home the last few years. She thinks it would be nice to be Spanish, but she has no idea where Spain is. Her aspiration is to be, like her mother, a dishwasher. In Cuba that would pay $75 a month, not close to enough for the basics.
What Olimpia would like to know is how Carlos will react when he finds out she left Cuba. Carlos, 17, was the love of her life. He was a "revolutionary," a fact ascertained by Olimpia because he liked Castro, his father worked in a bank and his family had a car.
They met when Olimpia was 10, but the families feuded. Carlos' mother thought Olimpia wasn't good enough for her son. Physical violence between the families ensued. Carlos was forbidden to see the girl, but the liaison would not end. "I felt sorry for him, so we kept meeting in secret," Olimpia said.
When Olimpia was 13, for the first and only time she had some cosmetics -- a lipstick, an eye pencil. "I liked that very much. I drew some blue lines on my eyelids when I was 13. Carios liked that also," she said.
By then Olimpia was a veteran dropout. Elementary school is mandatory, but no truant officer ever looked for her. She would spend days hanging around the house, helping with the chores, waiting for Carlos, listening to the Voice of America's musical shows.
She especially liked the way the VOA announcer always said the programs came "desde Washington" -- from Washington -- and she does a perfect imitation of his singsong inflection. She does not know where or what Washington is.
Olimpia couldn't grasp the politics of it, but she felt something wasn't right in Cuba. She saw people stealing food and she saw young boys hauled off to jail for sassing policemen. She was very upset when a cousin was arrested on what she felt was a false charge of stealing cigarettes.
Ramona Canales, her mother, would come home from washing dishes complaining about the unfairness of life. Worse, Ramona's two brothers were party faithful. They kept saying things would improve. But Ramona was fed up. She never had enough money to feed her daughters or buy them clothing.
"Hah," said Ramona. "The party people had all the good houses and all the money, all the privileges. I never had enough. My daughters refused to study. You could die of hunger there. Cuba is a rich country, but they send everything to Russia.
"Shrimp, for example, I haven't tasted that since I was a child. Castro has been deceiving people for 21 years. It's worse than ever now. I told my husband I was getting the hell out. Meet you in the States."
Ramona and her three daughters fled to the Peruvian Embassy and came here in a small boat.Carlos, the boyfriend, was away at military camp. Olimpia never got a chance to say goodby. She was nervous and frightened when they ran the gantlet of angry, rock-throwing Cubans outside the embassy.
But she giggled when she thought back. The crowd chanted directly at her with a funny little bit of doggerel: "Gusana, gusana; Te vendes por pitusa." (Traitor, traitor; You sell out for blue jeans.)
Olimpia could not understand that. "If I have gone to a clothing store three times in my life, I would be exaggerating. Besides, I don't like blue jeans. I would like a pretty skirt.
"Now," she added, "I want to work. Something simple, like washing dishes. To start off, one must work hard and begin at the bottom." Playing Ball
He is lithe and angular, Jose Quirino, a panther of a young man whose step and mind are those of the classical centerfielder.Malamud the writer would call him a natural, at least on looks.
Jose Quirino, 24, is a little shy about his abilities, but his friends from the city of Guanabacoa who are with him now say he was hell on wheels in a baseball suit.
One of the things the Castro revolution has done is elevate Cuban athletics to world class in a number of sports -- track, boxing, basketball, volleyball. Development programs are islandwide and the young athletes compete vigorously to make the national teams.
As in other Communist countries, the putative amateur athlete has special status. He draws a salary from a job he does not tend, enjoys privilege and trains full time in his sport. In the land of equality, Stevenson and Juantorena, the Olympic medalists, are more equal. They have fine homes and automobiles.
Such status becomes the goal of the young athlete. Jose Quirino started pushing in that direction when he was 11. He played basketball and volleyball, but his first love, his calling, was baseball.
Cubans are born to baseball. It was played before there was a revolution and figures like Al Lopez, Minnie Minoso and Pedro Ramos made indelible marks in the U.S. big leagues.
Through the early school years, Quirino played baseball. He kept moving to the better teams as he studied and worked to become an electrician. Then he was drafted and served his mandatory three years in the army.
In 1975 he was asked to volunteer for service in Angola -- more time in the military, but a choice made by many young Cubans because of favors it may bring on return to civilian life.
Quirino refused to go to Angola. "I refused because of my mother. I wanted to stay in Cuba working because I had to support her," he said.
But baseball also was on his mind. He was vying for a spot on a Havana area team, which would open doors. He applied for the license that would excuse him from work and allow fulltime practice with his $107 a month electrician's salary.
"I was turned down. They told me flatly that it was because I had refused to carry out an international mission. My teammates went to my workplace and begged that I be given the license, but it was for naught.
"The only way I could play was to continue working. It became impossible.
The work schedule conflicted with team practices. It could not be done. I had to give up baseball," he said.
"What a crime it was," said Quirino's friend, Rafael Rodriguez. "He won't tell you this, but he had it all -- the arm, the legs, the mind. Had it all, played every field."
Quirino's eyes flashed a bit when he heard the Cincinnati Reds sent scouts to Florida to put other refugee ballplayers through trials. Then he dimmed.
"For me, it is too late. At 24, I am too old to be trying to develop this talent. In Cuba, politics controls sports. It's all I know, but I never liked the system. Cubans have waited 21 years, but it is always next year, next year. Aspiration II
Like a lot of couples, Barbara Acosta, 38, and her husbands had political differences. They thought the government was just fine, she didn't. Splitsville.
"At first, I thought the revolution was good -- because Castro said it was. He never said he was a communist. But life became impossible -- nothing to eat, no money, nothing," she said.
Husband No. 1 had his small store taken over by the Castro government, but he didn't mind. He thought good things would result. As Barbara saw it, good things didn't result. They argued, then split.
Husband No. 2 was heavy into politics, away from home most of the time. They argued, then split.
That left her with two young sons and a pittance of an income, supplemented with odd jobs. "I was selling my old shoes and clothing to help make ends meet," she said.
She decided to get out as the two sons, 17 and 15, neared mandatory military age. The oldest boy came with her, as fearful as she of the army.
"Most mothers in Cuba are against this. Their sons are sent to faraway places and they cannot be visited. Many of these young boys desert. I signed a paper admitting antisocial conduct just so I could get out with the boy," she said.
What of the future for an unlettered, unskilled woman in a strange new country?
"I can wash clothes. I want to take care of myself. I'm not afraid. I'll work in something. I want to stay here." A Mother's Love
Married at 15, a mother three times since then, Margarita Sosa is wiser and wearier than her 24 years should permit. Not having enough for the babies was painful. Trying to explain it was impossible.
In Cuba, almost everything is rationed, when it is available. Then one might not have the money to buy. With the $75 a month she earned at an ice cream shop and the $175 her mechanic-husband Mario earned, there usually was not enough.
Life became more complicated when Ariel, the first child, now 7, came home crying. He wanted to be like the other children and wear the blue handkerchief of the Young Pioneers, the Communist youth indoctrination program.
"I didn't want him to be in the Pioneers, but there is such peer pressure that I finally gave in. A child is criticized, ostracized, if his parents don't let him join," she said.
"He would come home saying that everything we had, we owed to Fidel. That is what the children are taught. But they did not teach why we had nothing."
Ariel, for example, could not understand why the ration book allowed him only three toys per year on July 26, the anniversary of the revolutionary movement. "You take the toy that is available, whether the child likes it or not. This made Ariel cry," his mother said.
But toys were the least of the worries. The risk of going into the black market, a criminal act, to seek basic necessities when ration tickets had run out kept everyone tense. Yet basic allotments were so slim that black market ventures became mandatory for survival.
Margarita said it was the children who suffered the most, sad irony in a land that always celebrated the infant. At age 7, a child's ration of a liter of milk per day is cut to three cans of condensed milk per month. At age 2, a ration of malanga, a nutritive root, is stopped. At 3, the monthly ration of 20 jars of pureed fruit ends.
"Sometimes we went to the black market. You couldn't avoid it, even with the threat of going to prison," she said. "I can say the free medical service was pretty good, but there usually wasn't enough medicine."
The ration book allowed four meters of cloth per year, at $16 a meter; a small amount of chicken or beef three times a month; one pack of cigaretts, at $1.60, per week; one cigar every two weeks; one razor blade per week; one pair of shoes per year; on and on.
"It was an incredible tension, trying to find things and make ends meet," she said. "You might be washing clothes and word would spread that they just got some potatoes or vegetables in at the store. Housewives would drop everything and go running to get in line. Everyone stands in line in Cuba.
"A human being must have the necessities. We couldn't go on that way. Couldn't criticize, couldn't talk. We are Jehovah's Witnesses, but we had to observe our religion secretly. It was time to leave." Mr. Camouflage
If Margarita Sosa took a risk by buying on the black market, how about Rena Morales, a roguishly handsome fellow of 28 who did for black marketeering what Col. Sanders did for fried chicken.
In his hometown, Alquizar, not far from Havana, they called him Mr. Camouflage. That was because he operated unlawfully but always got away with it. He was the classical victim: A graduate physical education teacher who deserted from the military, served time, then could not teach because of his prison record.
Morales' thing was going down to the docks in Havana and buying goods from sailors -- the Greeks, he said, particularly liked to bring in chewing gum, scarves and jeans.
"I would buy a carton of Chiclets gum for $2 and sell it for $7. That was a $5 profit. The teen-aged girls liked gum so much that I had them selling it for me in the schools on a commission," he said.
He would buy a pair of jeans for $60 and resell it for $150. Any item from abroad was a sure sale. Morales saw that most Cubans were offended by the easy access that government officials and their families had to otherwise unavailable products.
When a large photograph of Castro was published showing him wearing a Rolex watch and smoking a fine Havana cigar, the Maximum Leader was never forgiven. Neither product was available to rank-and-file Cubans.
"It got so a lot of people didn't even worry about getting caught," Morales said. "I had government officials among my clients. I would go along the street tranquilly with my little briefcase full of Chiclets and sell them door-to-door. He who does not do those things does not live.
"You know, where I came from, the guy who stole a bag of beans to feed his family would become a famous delinquent. That is no crime." Broken Links
The Castro government's policy of sporadically and selectively lifting bars on emigration has created one of the great disruptions of family life in this century.
Since 1959, thousands of Cuban families have been torn apart by this policy.A father here, a mother there, a child someplace else. Divided families live in constant agitation. Constant sorrow.
Despite the apparent open door today, the great disruption of family continues to build on itself. A lucky family members leaves and then hopes he somehow will be able to retrieve loved ones later.
Cristobal Sosa, 36, went to prison twice for attempting illegal exits. He got more time for deserting from the army. This time, as a former prisoner, he got out on a boat to Key West.
He quit his $118-a-month clerking job and left three daughters and a wife behind. "I can only hope," he said. "Somebody I will bring them out." w
But he fears what the system may do to young minds in his fatherly absence. "I tried to teach them . . . They would come home from school telling me of the greatness of the revolution and how everyone had the same opportunity. I would point out that, no, there is favortism and they would start to understand," Sosa said "Now, I don't know."
Florentino Avila, 53, a distinguished-looking man with steel-gray hair, is serious and bitter. In the Batista era, he was a chauffeur for the wealthy. The wealthy left and the Castro government made him an ambulance driver.
The political executions of the early 1960s converted him to counter-revolutionary. He never before had been involved. Carrying away the bodies in his ambulance made him convert. His anti-Castro activities earned him six years in prison.
Avila's wife divorced him. "She couldn't wait six years for me," he said. That was the first broken link. The second came a few weeks ago when he emigrated without his three young sons.
"They were born under that system and they live in a world of shadows," he said. "Their mother didn't want them to come. . . . But they are learning. . . . Castro the man is a comedian with a new lie at each opening of the mouth. A devil in angel's disguise."
Emerito Vicente Naranjo, 26-year-old electrician from Guanabacoa, fought with his brother over politics. "Before this became so intense, there was unity in our family. But politics became a cause of friction and we were always arguing," he said.
"My brother has always sacrificed and he has nothing to show for it. We fought bitterly. He said I had my eyes closed to the truth and that perhaps I would repent. It is sad they have done this to us."
Caridad Montero, 21, a student of psychology, married when she was 18. There was not enough housing, so her husband Valentin lived with his parents and she stayed with her parents.
"This is one of the reasons families are falling apart in Cuba," she said. "Divorce is commonplace because of the lack of housing. Divided couples simply don't feel the same marital obligations."
Secretly, Caridad and Valentine talked about someday leaving Cuba. They dreamed of stealing a boat to flee or committing a crime that would get them deported. When the Peruvian Embassy opened, they made their move. She went first and he followed hours later.
But it all seemed ominous.
"He was very sad. I stiffened my resolve. I told him we might be separated again and that it would be painful," Caridad said.
Then they were separated by the authorities and sent from the country separately. Caridad Montero sat in the refugee center all last week waiting for the husband who never arrived, refusing to move from her place.
The computers had no record of his arrival. His name appeared on no processing lists. Information banks provided no help. His face was not to be seen.
"My hurt is profound," she said. "My mother and brothers remain in Havana. My husband has disappeared. I know no one here. What will become of us?"