Hasta La Victoria Siempre - Interview with Cuban poet who witnessed Revolution

Winter 2009

In an exclusive interview, Pedro Perez-Sarduy speaks to CubaSí’s Stephen Hallmark about seeing Che Guevara enter Santa Clara 50 years ago and the events which led him to write a poem for the revolutionary legend

Fifty years ago teenager Pedro Perez-Sarduy saw Che Guevara take part in the battle for Santa Clara, his hometown.

Later, in 1965, after hearing Fidel Castro announce to the nation that the former guerrilla leader had renounced his governmental positions so he could continue the struggle for the liberation of Latin American, Pedro decided to commit his memories to paper in a poem.

He had seen Che in action when his column of rebel troops captured Santa Clara from the crumbling Batista regime. Pedro was at the time living with his grandmother. Two rebel columns - one led by Che and the other by Camilo Cienfuegos - were engaged in the war’s last major engagement, after which Batista fled the country.

Pedro, a poet, writer and journalist who for many years worked for Cuban broadcasting and later for the BBC World Service, said: “Guevara led the battle to derail a supply train that was packed with Batista’s soldiers and equipment. It happened just a couple of hundred metres from where I was living, in Marti Street.

“Most of us helped with sabotage, and supported the revolution. And many of us, just like me, saw Che during those times. There was already a whole legend about the man, we all knew about the revolution’s main characters and I could tell just by seeing the way he carried himself that he had an aura. I was very impressed.

“It was in the morning of 28 December 1958, the bullets were still flying around, the fighting was going on and he was helping to lead the struggle.

“We all knew Fidel was the leader, but for my generation I think we felt closer to Che and Camilo because of their youthfulness and enthusiasm.”

The rebels finally took Santa Clara, the capital of what is now Villa Clara province, on New Year’s Eve.

Pedro said: “After they took the city it felt as if the whole of Santa Clara was in the streets to celebrate.

“I am a black Cuban from a working class family. I was exhilarated because I knew the revolution would bring change. Under Batista it was very unlikely someone from my background would go into higher education, and I was barred from certain places because of my skin colour. Educational opportunities weren’t there for my grandparents, even for my father - who was a shoe maker - and mother.

“I was able to go to university because of the revolution. In 1960-61 I went on to train those who went out into the countryside to tackle illiteracy, and I myself went. That was a very exciting period.”

Pedro saw Che a second time, while he was studying literature in Havana, when he came to talk with the students. But it wasn’t until Fidel’s famous speech, in Revolution Square, when Castro told Cubans about Che’s decision that Pedro felt compelled to write about his memories.

He said: “It was an incredibly moving scene in Havana on that day, when we were told Che was bound to other countries and was dedicated to making revolutions elsewhere. That very same night I wrote the poem(reprinted in English and Spanish below) that one way or another relates to what I saw in Santa Clara and to my reflections.”

Pedro met his English wife in Cuba in 1968 and came to Britain in the early 1980s when he worked for the BBC until1994. He lives in London with his family and regularly visits Cuba and contributes to www.afrocubaweb.com - a website which hosts a wealth of news, cultural information and music. He is the author of Surrealidad (Havana 1967), Cumbite and Other Poems (Havana 1987 and New York 1990), Malecon Sigloveinte (Havana 2005) and Las Criadas de La Habana, (San Juan 2001 and Havana 2003), Les Bonnes de La Havane (Matoury, French Guyana, 2007).


Como si caminaras por entre la selva americana hinchada de pólvora

como si de repente un gemido por tu partida

interrumpiera en la calle viva de la noche seis lágrimas rebeldes

como si madre nuestra madre soberbia te palmeara el hombro

sobre tu guerrera olivo y te indicara de nuevo tu próximo camino


Hay en los continentes exactos un viento reventado como de guerras

como si un profundo tumor se amamantara impotente

débil lazarillo que muere.

Hay detonaciones de bravas palabras que fusilan la curva del foete

que pega que vuelve y golpea nuestra espalda de batallas

y de cicatrices corpulentas se incorpora y tú vas.

Hay un grito increíble como un mar como un pedazo de montaña

o una agitada multitud o un poco de amor

inmensos como la madrugada que te aguardan en un lugar presentido

y tú vas

con la ebriedad sobria de mil combates

y tú vas

a vivir por los techos del mundo por su grito.

Nunca hubo temor por el aire que sudaras en todas aquellas

mis calles de Santa Clara y en todas las barbas crecidas

de diciembre.

Tu presencia se sintió bajita acariciando el filo

el calor de los perdigones

y tu trigueña mirada de invierno penetró como niño travieso

en todas las casernas tumultuosas de difuntos héroes robados

y así surgieron los días nuevos y enero cruzó dejando

sobre una esquina del cielo pedazos cuajados de la sangre.

Pero nadie se detuvo en la aurora reconquistada y menos tú

que con un suicidio de fiebres supiste herir el corazón más templado

por tu partida.

Sin embargo --y como ayer-- hoy comenzamos de nuevo

la nueva guerrilla

y un regocijo como de gaviotas revoloteando en la leyenda del alma

nos palpa en lo más sencillo

y tú vas así

como si madre nuestra madre soberbia te palmeara el hombro

sobre tu guerrera olivo

y te indicara de nuevo tu próximo camino


así te presentimos entre todos los hombres y mujeres.


just as if you were walking in the American jungle

and swollen with powder

just as if an urgent longing for the fatherland had interrupted

six rebel tears in the open street one night

just as if Mother-proud-woman had touched your shoulder

your guerrilla olive fatigues and told you

again about your next unknown journey

there is in the exactness of continents a whirlwind

as with wars

just as if a deep tumor were sucking a dying blind buffer

there are detonations of heroic words which shoot

the curve of the whip

which hits back and returns to strike again

our shoulder of battles of bulky wounds is joined

and you are gone

there is an incredible myth like a sea like a chunk

of the Sierra around you

an agitated multitude a millennium of lore

immense like the morning which is waiting for you

in some place a presentiment

and you are gone with the sober drunkenness

and you are gone to live under the roof of the world

there was never any fear in the air that you sweated

in any of the circumstances

in my narrow streets of Santa Clara or among the thick beards

in December

your presence was low-keyed as it caressed the rough edge

the warmth of smallshot

and your brown steely glance penetrated like a mischievous child

the thunderous barracks of dead heroes who were robbed

and so the crisp new days came and January crossed leaving

in a corner of the sky clots of blood

and nobody stayed behind in the morning

and least of all you who in your suicidal fever knew how to wound

the most prepared heart by your departure

nevertheless and like yesterday today we begin again

the new guerrillas

and rejoice like the flapping seabirds in the legend

of the soul

all this touches us in our most simple essence

and you are gone

just like that

just as if Mother-proud-woman had touched your shoulder

your guerrilla olive fatigue and told you


about your next unknown journey

so we fix you firmly as our presage in the core of humanity

Pedro Perez Sarduy (1965)

(Translated by John La Rose)

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