Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, like the rest of the Cuban Five, is being wrongfully held in a maximum security prison in California, under a double life sentence plus 15 years; Miami’s scapegoat for a tragedy he had nothing to do with. If anything, he was working to prevent it. And like his compatriots, he is a tremendously courageous, brilliant, dignified human being. The U.N. has called their detention “arbitrary” and in addition to the sentences pronounced by the judge in their case – sentences remanded to that same judge for revision because of their inappropriate harshness – additional, unwritten, illegal sentences have been imposed upon them. In Gerardo’s case, his mail is tampered with, arriving late, or sometimes not at all. He is denied access to what passes for prison email; presumably because the United States of America would be rendered helpless in the face of some unspecified threat, were he able to access the costly, pitiful intranet set up for prisoners to communicate with the outside world. His wife has been prohibited from visiting him during the entire period of his incarceration. This has also been condemned by the U.N., and there is a word for it: torture. And now, after a long illness, his mother has died in Cuba, and because of this sentence which will one day be overturned, Gerardo is being forced to grieve for her alone, thousands of miles away from the family remaining to him. Again, torture. Any condolence cards will arrive for him, at best, several weeks from now. It is a punishment that stretches the imagination – the wound of losing one’s mother being insuperable on its own.
And what a mother Carmen Nordelo was. Gerardo is her living proof; the testament to her achievement as a parent. She was posthumously granted Cuba’s highest honor, the Order of Mariana Grajales. The order was named for the almost impossibly fertile mother of Cuba’s independence hero, Antonio Maceo; Mariana Grajales Coello, who gave birth to the last of her nine children at the age of 52 and was an extremely active participant in the 19th century Cuban wars of liberation. (Too many North Americans confuse the 1959 revolution which finally achieved Cuba’s liberation as a one-shot deal, without realizing that it was simply the successful culmination of nearly a hundred years of bloody struggle.) Speaking of Grajales, Jose Martí famously said “Faciles son los heroes con tales mujeres” (It’s easy to be heroes with women such as these).
Nearly ten years ago, Gerardo composed this poem for his mother on her birthday. In Spanish it is in rhyming verse, something that is almost impossible to achieve in translation without destroying the content. Gerardo, our hearts and love are with you.
I’ll write you a poem that will touch the universe,
and still I worry that it will be too little praise for your love,
it’ll carry a thousand words of appreciation for your kisses,
those that healed my painful wounds.
I will try to tell you how much love I have for you,
love that shines within me and protects the truth,
and how I always ride through the world unscathed,
since part of my life is in your heart.
I’ll tell you how much your wakeful years mean to me,
your infinite silence and your immense courage,
and you’ll know how I long to return to you,
to be reborn in your arms and feel your warmth.
These words will have to come with tears of passion and joy
because I will keep the return hidden in my chest
and until that day arrives, how I want
for you, mother, to read these verses.