An Interview by Arleen Rodríguez Derivet with photographs by Ismael Francisco for Cubadebate
Hours before his 54th birthday, or “forty and always” as Gerardo Hernández Nordelo likes to define his current age, the man the empire condemned to give up two lives in prison plus 15 years, plays with his three children like another child, very close to the beach. It’s his fifth birthday since freedom and he looks more smiling and serene than ever.
A while ago a great childhood friend told me who could have predicted that you were going to be surrounded by kids, with your wife…having a good time, enjoying your birthday, with so many that you spent behind bars? It was a date I didn’t even want to remember, because paradoxically, when that day came, you didn’t even want to remember your birthday. But my life has changed tremendously, for the better.
The house that he and Adriana, with the help of friends and family, have rented near the sea, looks like a children’s playground. And only cartoons can be seen on television. It’s not time for adults. I ask him if this was his birthday idea.
They have to be taken into account for everything. Before, we could travel a little further, perhaps go to the Escambray, to places we like. Now we have to take into account the kids and everything that they need to be carried with us when we go out, their different interests etc. But we came here to Santa Maria del Mar, with the family, which is quite big, and we spent some good hours with the kids on the beach.
I remember your letter to your unborn children and the fear of having them a later in life, more than the parents of other children the same age, but you don’t seem to care as much anymore.
“Not at all, at least I can still accompany them by throwing myself on the floor with them to play.
Of those who are no longer here, who will you be thinking of on June 4?
Well my parents. First of all my mother, that exceptional human being that she was, full of kindness and good humor and in my father, they were the ones who gave me life. I also think of my sister who died in 1998, of the people who at certain times were close and now are no longer here. And, of course, I think of those who are here, those who always, in one way or another are with me, who send me their message or accompany me, fortunately I have many friends and family.
But, above all, I think of the people who made it possible for me to celebrate a day like today here with my family. You know that the empire’s plan with us was for this birthday to be just like so many others I spent in prison.
If I am here, I owe it to the efforts of so many people, to so many comrades from Cuba and the world who did their part so that we could enjoy this day here as we are enjoying it, including you and so many compatriots who supported us in so many ways.
The job you were given…you didn’t choose it. Would you accept it again now, after what you know?
I think so. I was asked the question several times when we returned. Sometimes more formally, sometimes informally, they asked me what I wanted to do, and I always said, “I have no preference but to serve the Revolution. I am a soldier of the Revolution and I will go wherever I am told to go. The task they gave me, I assume, is because someone thought I could do it well and that’s what I dedicate my efforts to, whatever it is. I got that one, of course I appreciate it very much. Sometimes I’ve been asked if I didn’t want to go to MINREX, etc. I always say that I’m fine there, doing exactly what I do, as Vice Chancellor of University Extension, with all the activities of the students.
Gema and the kids ” is there a special relationship with her?
Well yes, Gema because she was the first and she is in a certain way the symbol, don’t you think? No matter how hard we try to see her for what she is, regular girl from a Cuban couple, many people, and rightly so, also see her as a symbol, the symbol of victory in the cause of the Five. A lot of effort had to be put together for her.. Many hands joined together to make it possible for Gema to be with us today and for that story of ours to have that happy ending.
And well, there’s the twins too, obviously. They are also the fruit of that solidarity that made them possible. And special relations, I have with all three of them. Although Gerardito has broken a little the mold that says that the males are closer to the mothers and the females to the fathers. He has broken the mold because he has a tremendous link with me. He is super attached to the father. But really, and luckily, I have a very nice relationship with the three of them, each of them their own personality, because the three of them have different personalities.
Amber is, apparently, the most tender, the quietest, but she is the most calculating and has tremendous character. Just like her mother…[just kidding] Gerardito is the craziest, the most scandalous, the one who screams the most, but he really has a soft side to him too.
Are you really happy?
Yes, very happy. And I thank Adriana, who is an excellent mother and has dedicated herself to the three kids, because sometimes because of work and other activities, I’m not with them all day like she is. She has assumed all the burden of attention to the children and she has done it in an excellent way.
During the interview, which Cubadebate will publish in full in its podcast next week, we also talked about his experience as a deputy, the next June 6, anniversary of MININT and his pending dreams:
I will always consider myself a member of the Ministry of the Interior It was a great privilege, as a Cuban, to have the opportunity to fulfill a mission like the one we did. Knowing so many anonymous heroes and anonymous heroines, who at the time did similar work or do it or will do it, for us it is a commitment to celebrate a date like this.
My dream was to get out of prison and then assume whatever came. As a human being, my dream is to get up in the morning and dedicate the day to caring for my children, my plants and my animals, which are many. And just for that 24 hours will not be enough.
What happens is that as a revolutionary you know that there are always other tasks and other responsibilities and other things to do and you have to fulfill them. Really in terms of aspirations: to be useful is the only one. That’s what I’ve been saying since I set foot back in Cuba, and that’s what I’ve been doing and I’ve been fulfilling. And that hasn’t changed. If they tell me tomorrow that I have to leave my position for another place, I will do it with pleasure again. We are soldiers of the Revolution. And we owe it to her.
I ask him again about his pending dreams to realize and he also insists on the answer:
Maybe I don’t have many dreams, because I’ve fulfilled all those I had. What else am I going to dream about after being here with my wife, with my three children and surrounded by family and friends who love me? Reality exceeded all my expectations and my dreams. In terms of dreaming, I wouldn’t have much more to accomplish. Sometimes I’m sitting or lying on the floor with the kids and looking at them and I think it is a dream. And I think, from there to here is nothing else. After this happiness that I live with your children, in my homeland, after having lived the experience that we lived, which lasted 16 years, it would be a little selfish to continue dreaming.
Today I’m living the dream I’ve already fulfilled and enjoying it.