On November 14, 2011 I received an early morning phone call from a friend in Nanaimo, Gilberto Mayen – a member of the F.M.L.N. of El Salvador, now living in Nanaimo. Gilberto asked if I could help with a translation from Spanish to English, but when I asked him when
he replied “Today, this morning”. I tried to explain to Gilberto that this gave me very little advance warning, I had not even yet had breakfast (for being a retired folk sometimes my morning schedule is somewhat relaxed). Gilberto pressed saying that a visitor to the Nanaimo campus of Vancouver Island University (formerly known as Malaspina College) needed a translator. Gilberto continued to press ” Felipe, it’s Aleida!” I asked “Who?” and Gilberto clarified with great excitement “it’s Aleida, the daughter of Ché!
I didn’t need more encouragement than that. I found Anne Marie and she was of course anxious to join me. We quickly prepared and rushed off to Nanaimo which is a 30 km drive north of where we live. Arriving at the university we found great difficulty in parking our car but finally found a metered spot and rushed up to the building on the upper level of the university. The V.I.U. is a beautiful campus, literally built on the side of the mountain and every building is either up or down a flight of stairs.
We made it just in time to the theater where Aleida Guevara was scheduled to speak to student groups. We were quickly introduced and then I took my place on one end near the front of the room not too far from Aleida. She did speak some English but felt more comfortable to have someone else translate for her. There were other Cubans accompanying her, some who perhaps would have been better at translating but wanted to be involved in a different way. Fortunately they were able to correct me when my translation didn’t quite capture the meaning of what Aleida was saying. One of these Cubans had been involved in the march to Havana with the group led by Ernesto “Ché” Guevara.
Aleida, like her father, is a trained medical doctor, with a specialization in pediatric allergies. She has worked with Cuban medical teams in Angola, Nicaragua and Ecuador. She spoke about the history of the Cuban revolution, the challenges it faces today especially after the retirement of Fidel Castro who was replaced by his brother Raul. Aleida is committed to the Cuban revolution and was clear to extol the successes of the revolution especially compared not only to other Latin American countries but even the U.S.A. After her initial comments Aleida was able to take questions from students to clarify details or to explore themes of interest to the students at V.I.U.
For me this was a rare privilege, to meet such an extraordinary person who continues to make a huge contribution to bettering the world. I had visited Cuba only once, in 1977 when returning to
Peru with Roger Richard, but this was just a glimpse into the reality of Cuba which I could see through Peruvian eyes.