By: Susana Gómez Bugallo, Yuniel Labacena Romero
October 16 is the birthday of Antonio Guerrero, one of the five Cuban anti-terrorists unjustly held in US penitentiaries. October 16 is the birthday of Tony, the father of two sons who will never get tired of admiring their father for his sensitivity and his big heart. And since many may not know that Antonio and Tony are the same person, we asked his two sons to talk to us about this amazing man.
They would have liked to be with him all the time. But circumstances didn’t let them. They grew up without his physical presence. But still they find consolation and pride in the fact that their father is upholding a just cause.
In all these years of separation, Gabriel and Tonito, “Tony’s” sons have nurtured their souls with letters, poems and the few phone calls Antonio has been allowed to make to his family.
“My dad is an amazing man. I’m prouder to be his son. He is very down to earth. He is always there, ready to teach new things, to be there for you, to give advice. One feels his absence and wishes to be with him and talk to him all the time.”
“I’m always amazed by the constant happiness he transmits us so we don’t get worried. He is always caring about my things at the University, about my grandmother, about things in my house, and that’s praiseworthy, because he remains strong in a difficult situation,” says Gabriel.
Gabriel, Antonio’s youngest son, was born of the relationship of Antonio with Panamanian Niccia Pérez and he has always lived in Panama. He knew very little about the political connotation of the case of the Cuban Five because in Panama, as in other places worldwide, the media have built a wall of silence around them.
Antonio convinced Gabriel to go to college in Cuba. A year later, Gabriel still remembers the first time he walked into a Cuban classroom and is still amazed by the fact that he passed all the subjects of the freshman year of Automation Engineering, a major he finds challenging.
Tonito, Antonio’s older son, says: “My father, despite the distance, has always been there for me. An excellent father; one who knows how to counsel you, regardless of the where and the how, someone who knows how to be there.”
Tonito is a computer engineering graduate who works as a network administrator after completing school. He says that his father was essential in his college education, because he supported him from the prison cell where he is locked away from his family.”
“An example of all the care my father takes for his son is when I started college. I had failed several exams and I have only one chance left to stay on the course. Then I went to visit him and I told him how “entangled” I was.”
“I don’t know how, but my father managed to get a calculus book in English. On the next visit, a week later, he had already prepared a review that he gave me in the bad conditions of the prison: there were no pencils, no papers, no gestures, no signs. I passed on thanks for his brief explanations and the lectures, which I don’t know where he got them from, that he sent me in the letters.”
Meetings with their father
The meetings with their father were, for Tonito, a reunion with the father he spent all his adolescence thinking that he had gone away and maybe someday would return to be with him or to take him with him; whereas for Gabriel it was the opportunity to see in the flesh and bone the father he had only met through pictures.
“At the beginning there was a heavy silence. We had to break the barrier of many years because no matter how many letters you receive or how many times you talk on the phone, it is not the same when the person is standing in front of you. The sensation of shaking hands, receiving a hug or a kiss…,” says Gabriel as he recalls that first visit.
“We had the opportunity to talk in private about the things I needed to know. He, with his usual patience, explained me everything with honesty. From that day on we are more confident and have grown closer.”
“Now I can say that I truly know my father, although we have always been in touch. Our relationship grew steadily, but now I can see him more profoundly as a person and as a father.”
“I was surprised to see how he remains in high spirits despite being in prison. When one arrives in that gloomy place, and meets with this man full of life, one feels encouraged. Anyone else in his place would have sunk into depression. He doesn’t. The poems, the paintings and the letters have helped him through this ordeal,” Gabriel says.
Tonito remembers that athletic man that used to take him to play baseball and basketball and always made time for him. But the pictures and the memories have little to do with the reality awaiting him in the visits.
“It is really painful to see how pressure and bad treatment deteriorate a person in prison. He has lost hair, his gums are damaged, his skin is very pale. It is one of the things that hurt me most. I say this too for my grandmother, who underwent hip surgery.”
During the visit, despite all the laughter and the harmony we have created, we can see that the years have passed,” he says.
Being the children of Antonio Guerrero is a privilege life has given to Gabriel and Tonito. A father so sensitive and brave means encouragement to go on, even in a situation that has affected their everyday life. But not everyone can adjust to a situation like that.
The last day of the visits to prison is the toughest one for the family: “When you leave and you see him there, you want to take him with you, although you know you can’t. How is it possible that a person with so many values and good feelings has to stay there? It tears your soul apart,” says Gabriel.
“We can’t hold back the tears, because it is not easy to see him come out the door dressed in the inmate’s uniform,” says Tonito with a teary voice, and he recalls he was in high school when he learned his father’s true story.
“My life turned over; I realized what was the cause of everything and I became aware of who my father really was. It answered many questions such as: why he left? if he was a good person, why wasn’t he by my side? And it also justified all his absences on my birthdays, graduations and family gatherings, where I used to have him before,” Tonito recalls.
A source of inspiration and pride
“My father has always told me to be myself. I’m just like the next Cuban and wherever I go, I try to be that way. I don’t live off his name. Some people think I benefit from the fact my father is a Hero of the Republic. Other expect more from me for who my father is, than for who I am.
To all these things, all I have to say is : Would you like your father to be in prison?
“My dad left everything he had to fight for the Revolution. Those are his principles and if this is what he decided to do, I support him; I don’t live off that. I tried to be like my father, but I’m no hero, I just represent him wherever needs be, “ says Tonito.
“I’ve juggled study, work, daily activities and everything young people do with the battle for the return of my father and his comrades. There are no concessions with me, they treat me like any other student, but I’m committed to fight for the truth of my father that put him in jail.”
“We need to put an end to injustice. When you see people struggling with diseases like my grandmother is, and thinking about the days she has left to see her son free, it is really heart-breaking.”
She is very strong, she never complains and it encourages us to go on. I couldn’t be prouder now of whom my father is,” Gabriel says.
And Tony is equally proud of his two sons from his prison cell. A prison cell that is shaken by the strength of love. An imprisonment that the hero come artist fights from his pinnacle.
Translated by ESTI