By João Cerqueira
When I first went to Cuba the last thing on my mind was finding a character for a novel there. For writers, meeting beautiful women on tropical islands often results in a blend of Nora Roberts, Henry Miller and E.L. James. Passion, sex and, sometimes, a few whiplashes. And, during the few moments in which the flesh is allowed to rest, dips in warm waters, toasts with mojitos, grilled lobster and salsa also feature – after all, they are the only things left that can unite revolutionaries and opponents of Fidel Castro.
Havana had inspired great writers such as Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway, but I never supposed it could inspire a budding author. What I found there wasn’t swordfishing, or a spy story about a vacuum cleaner salesman, but something completely different. The dancers at the Tropicana and the models at the Clube 1820 had been defeated by a revolutionary soldier without him firing a single shot.
General Arnaldo Ochoa appeared out of the blue. Marguerita told me his extraordinary story as we sat outside the Havana Grand Theatre. He was Fidel’s companion during the revolution; he fought the invaders in the Bay of Pigs; he was trained in the USSR; he fought in Ethiopia and Angola, contributing to the victory of Angola’s current government. In 1984 he received the title of Hero of the Revolution. In 1998, he was executed. Not because he tried to sell a vacuum cleaner to El Comandante, but for drug trafficking. This rocked the island. Nevertheless, for many Cubans the real reason General Ochoa was shot lay elsewhere: his intention was to remove Fidel Castro from power, like displacing a swordfish from the water.
And so began the birth of Camilo Ochoa, the main character in The Tragedy of Fidel Castro. Accused of many things – stealing papayas in primary school, misappropriation of weapons, corruption – he fights for the revolution and is devoured by it. In Havana, the paths of literature are as unpredictable as a revolution.
João Cerqueira is the author of The Tragedy of Fidel Castro, the USA Best Book Awards 2013 Winner in Multicultural Fiction. He was born in Portugal in 1964 and lives in Viana do Castelo.