The Last Flight of the Santamarías

Aída Santamaría, Celia Hart Santamaría’s aunt and sister of her mother, Haydée Santamaría, has died. Celia Hart has written an obituary for this active participant in the Cuban revolution.

In the most difficult days of the clandestine struggle, our last battle to become free; when there were not enough contacts, or safe houses to hide in; as we faced the most brutal threats from a tyranny that was losing its battle and kept murdering the best young people in the country, there floated in the streets of Havana, a subtle and graceful beautiful woman, of white hair and the strongest of looks from the darkest of eyes.

My aunt Aida Santamaría was the most serene and beautiful of the strange and emblematic Santamarías that gave their hearts to the Cuban Revolution. When Chaviano [one of Batista’s most feared henchmen] would learn she was visiting the jail or making legal arrangements he would always be at a loss and not knowing what to do to a woman of such beauty and serenity, would only repeat as an idiot, “Oh, the little white dove, the little white dove!”

In the same way Haydée had an overflowing passion and an intelligence molded by emotions; in the same way uncle Aldo represented courage – someone who was entrusted with the secret of the landing of the Granma expedition and the secret of the strategic missiles during the Caribbean Crisis [known in Cuba as the October Missile Crisis of 1962]; in that same way little Aidita was the symbol of joy, of art. At her house of endless partying, Silvio and Pablo [Silvio Rodróguez and Pablo Milanés, Cuban trovadors and songwriters] found their best audiences. In the same way that, lastly... or rather firstly, Abel was the symbol of absolute dedication – an immaculate saint of green eyes; eyes with which our enemies wanted to buy my mother’s heart in the jails of Santiago de Cuba— Aida Santamaría whom we have just buried, was the symbol of serenity, of coherence. She was the kind of person everyone would go to when they needed to deal with a problem. It is said that when it became obvious that the little white dove was the most committed of the revolutionaries and she was ordered by agents of the tyranny in Encrucijada (hometown of the Santamarías) to leave the country, these agents found in a bookcase a book that had been taken there by orders of Fidel. A book Fidel knew was already part of History. One of the agents looked at the book signed by uncle Abel and, half surprised half threatening, said, “Abel, he’s the one who died in Moncada” and aunt Aida, undisturbed, answered, “No, Abel was the one who was cowardly murdered in Moncada.” It is said the agent looked at my aunt questioningly, but her beautiful eyes looked steadily at the man’s face for a long while. The henchman put the book back in the bookcase, in the same way the devil fears the cross.

At the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, which received as a legacy the life of her brother Abel and the sorrow of her family, Aida devoted herself entirely to the new tasks.

She headed the Departmento de Prevención y Asistencia Social [Social Work Directorate]. Social workers who are now our pride, had their first job under the wings of this little white dove who since January 59 decided to fly much higher.

Funeral parlors. slums, war veterans were objects of her attention. She was our first social worker. Goods and property left behind by the killers and cowards that fled the country were distributed among the needy by her white hands.

I remember that when I was a child during the sugar harvest in 1970 my parents were in Amancio Rodriguez, a little fishermen village in the province of Camaguey. As my father encouraged the cane cutters to reach the goal of the 10 million tons of sugar – and by the way, if we had reached the goal many problems would have been avoided, because the price we paid for the “defeat” of not reaching the goal was to fall into the hands of the Soviet bureaucracy with its many aberrations – well, as Armando Hart encouraged and organized the production of sugar, my mother was in charge of building a road, a water duct and other works in “Macondo” as she had renamed the village. She distributed bricks for peasant houses and social buildings. Then, like in a fairy tale, my aunt Aida would send down many goods left behind by the bourgeois who were leaving the country in a hurry: The farmers in Amancio Rodriguez got, together with their cane cutting job, quality pots and pans, fine cutlery, luxury bed linen, all sent from Aida Santamaria’s Department of Bienes Recuperados del Estado. Not that this was important for the humble to understand the Revolution, but somehow it was a sign of the times that the morning coffee of the cane cutters was served in a container that had once belonged to an embezzler or a thief. And these objects had not changed hands from defeated thieves to thieves in power: They were now in the hands of the people, of those who did not care if the china they used had this or that fine American brand, they would continue drinking their coffee for the “ten million ton harvest” oblivious of the containers and the mediocre and wasteful banana republic bourgeoisie that had left them behind.

Aida remained the stronghold in her family, mediator in the fights between my grandmother Joaquina and my mother; midwife (to call it somehow) of all her nephews. My mother used to tell me that when I decided to be born, it was not still time, because Aida had not yet arrived. To come into this world I had to wait for the approval and aplomb of my aunt Aida.

She died a Communist Party militant, trying to have us all, her sons, daughters and nephews, who grew up in the blessed Santamaría maelstrom, remain loyal to these commitments.

As was her duty, Aida buried her four brothers and sisters. Which was the most painful? One was murdered, another committed suicide, the youngest died before her time suffering from a consuming cancer... My uncle Aldo a year ago in the same way...

She stood by their graves and tried to ease the confused and different sorrows of their descendants.

This can be the end, at least for us: The last branch of this miracle tree has returned to earth.

I don’t know if my cousins, my brother, and I have inherited some of their magic, but it will not bloom in the same way: we are contaminated by new times, new urgencies and much less love.

An extended chapter of this peculiar work of the Revolution was closed today.

Let’s hold our hands with fervor... and... thought...and much love so that the pure ashes of that legion of enlightened beings walk with us a little further, when we have to cope with death in the years we still have. I don’t believe magic ever dies, but today at least I have lost my faith to try to find it.

With today’s burial something very beautiful and intangible has finally ended in the luminous history of a revolution, made of angel feathers.

Translated by CubaNews