Survivor of 1961 Raid Tells Her Story

A Juventud Rebelde team travelled to Soplillar to interview Nemesia Rodriguez, one of the survivors of a raid perpetrated by counterrevolutionary forces against a Cuban family in 1961

Hugo García
digital@juventudrebelde.cu
April 20, 2011 21:40:46 CDT

SOPLILLAR, Zapata Swamp, Matanzas.— The devastating story of Nemesia Rodriguez, one of the survivors of a raid perpetrated by counterrevolutionary forces against a Cuban family in 1961, is well known in Cuba through a poem in which Jesus Orta Ruiz, also known as Indio Naborit, tells the tribulations of the Rodriguez family.

A Juventud Rebelde team travelled to Soplillar, the town where Rodriguez lives, to interview her on occasion of the 50th anniversary of those events.

When one meets Rodriguez, the conversation unavoidably ends up revolving around her tragic experience and her white shoes —one of the motifs used by Naborit in the abovementioned poem.

“Before the 1959 triumph, we used a railbus to go to Jaguey Grande. It was a four-hour trip to the Australia Sugar Mill. It was the only way out of the Zapata Swamp. We travelled to Jaguey Grande when we were sick.

“I was a sickly kid and my parents would take me to Jaguey Grande often. When I got better and I saw other girls wearing white socks and shoes on our way back, I dreamt of wearing shoes like those one day. I always told Mother that if one day she could afford a pair of shoes for me, they had to be white, not brown or black. But she used to point out that white shoes were not practical for someone living in a swamp.

“When the Revolution triumphed, Celia Sanchez took three of my brothers to study in Havana. Fishing and coal cooperatives were created and Father began earning more money. We were better off. A road was built and there was a bus that connected the swamp with Jaguey Grande every two hours, more or less. One could make the round trip the same day for only 25 cents.

“I told Mother, ‘Now that you can afford my shoes they have to be white.’ And she bought me the longed-for shoes in early April 1961. When I had them in my hands, I couldn’t stop staring. Those shoes were the dream of my life, and I never found a good enough occasion to wear them in the swamp. I only wore them once, and then I put them away.

“My father learnt about the invasion on April 17, when he got to the Soplillar community and he heard that Abraham Maciques, who at the time was the head of the Zapata Swamp Development Plan, had commanded to evacuate the area. My father rushed into the house and told us to take the bare essentials. ‘We had to go Jaguey Grande,’ he said.

“I always tell the people, adults and children, to take into account that a 13-year-old in 1961 was very different from 13-year-olds nowadays. I had no idea what an invasion was, or why would someone want to kill us or shoot us when we hadn’t done anything.

“The first thing that came to my mind was my pair of white shoes, because I would get to wear them in Jaguey Grande. I took my best dress and we got in the truck. In the Palpite-Jaguey Grande road, a plane started flying over us. I could see the pilot, so I think he could see us too. We would wave our hands at it as it passed us by.

“There were five children in the back part of the truck. I was the eldest, there were two 11-year-olds, a three year old kid, and my baby nephew, who I was carrying in my arms and was only six months old. My mother, my father, and my sister-in-law were also in the back of the truck. My two grandmothers and my older brother were in the cabin. My brother was driving.

“The plane flied in circles and came down. When Father saw it approaching he told my mother to knock on the cabin to warn my brother that there was something wrong with the plane and the pilot was probably trying to land on the road. That is why Mother got shot first, because she was standing when the plane opened fire against us. Father told us to lie down on the truck floor; he said the pilot had made a mistake and was shooting at us.

“We lied on the floor and I hugged my baby nephew tightly. The bullets reached Mother on the waist and ripped one of her arms off. My youngest brother was in shock and he couldn’t throw himself into the floor; Father had to push him and he got shot in the hand and one of his thighs. My older brother got shot in the lower part of the neck. My grandmother was reached in the waist and she died four years later, paralyzed. She was never able to walk again.

“Mother used to visit my brothers in Havana. Sometimes she entertained the idea of bringing them back home, she feared a war. However, Celia Sanchez dissuaded her. She said that that was what counterrevolutionaries wanted, they didn’t want peasants to get an education.

— How did you meet Indio Naborit?

— Celia Sanchez, in Havana, called Indio Naborit, who was in charge of the literacy campaign in Varadero, and told him to go to the Zapata Swamp to write a chronicle about what had happened to my family. Naborit took pictures of what was left of the truck, the burnt blankets, the sweetened condensed milk cans pierced by the bullets. And then he found my white shoes in a box. He showed me the shoes and asked me why I was carrying the shoes in a box.

“He was moved when I grabbed the shoes and started crying. My mother’s burial was very recent yet. He told me to take a seat by his side and tell him what had happened. I told him everything my family had been through.

“He told me later that when he got home, he told his wife, Eloina, that he could not do what Celia Sanchez had asked him for. She wanted a chronicle for the One O’Clock News the next day, and he preferred to write a poem, which was what he did best. And that was the origin of Elegy of the White Shoes.

“He loved me as a daughter. He took me to Havana and I spent a few days at Celia’s. Then he took me to visit a school in Santa Maria del Mar, the principal was Marina Alonso. It was a school for the Martyrs of the Homeland. Celia and Naborit never lost contact with us.

“Naborit talked to me every year and he always tried to find the way to see me. That year of 1961, he took me to the Fin de Siglo department store in Havana, and he bought me a pair of white shoes. The shoes were lovely. My teacher at the Soplillar Elementary School also gave me a pair.

“Naborit visited us at the swamp many times, even after his first heart operation.”

— Did you ever hear him recite the poem?

— Yes, he knew it by heart. I heard him recite it many times, at the Palmas y Cañas television show and also at the Soplillar Elementary.

PC: story, Nemesia Rodriguez, survivors, counterrevolutionary forces, poem, Jesus Orta Ruiz, Indio Naborit, anniversary, tragic experience, white shoes, Zapata Swamp, Revolution, Celia Sanchez, Abraham Maciques, head of the Zapata Swamp Development Plan, Elegy of the White Shoes

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