Thirty years ago, when I was starting my journalism classes in Havana, she told the students that we heard her talk about the trade: Journalists are people who tell people what happens to people. That woman was Marta Rojas, legendary for having been the Moncada chronicler, the one who would tell what really happened on July 26, 1953 in the fortress of Santiago de Cuba that Fidel Castro and his companions assaulted.
A few died in unequal exchange with the soldiers of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, but more than 70 were finished off by the army after a week of torment.
Marta kept the photographs that proved the crime in the folds of her flared skirt and attended the trial where Fidel made his own defense and accused his accusers. Censorship prevented him from publishing his reports from those days, but he gave testimony as best he could and, without knowing it then, saved the women who participated in the heroic adventure: Haydée Santamaría and Melba Hernández.
The henchmen believed that the photographer Marta was accompanying had taken pictures of the two girls shortly after the attack on the Moncada Barracks and, therefore, if they were killed, they would have been forced to admit that they had not died in combat.
Marta, who at 93 years old was still doing journalism and literature, died in Havana on October 4 of a sudden heart attack. In September she put an end to her latest novel, Mirror of three moons, and when death surprised her, she led a full and independent life as a lady who goes to the hairdresser, does her housework, regularly visits friends and drives her old man. Blue Fiat when shopping at the market.
We all believed he was immortal and so did she, because she passed into the afterlife with notepads and newspaper clippings on her pillow, perhaps dreaming of her next book.
Wherever she was, the story took place. She was a special envoy of the organ of the July 26 Movement in the first years of the 1959 revolution, and then of the Granma newspaper. CAs a war correspondent, she was in Vietnam during the hardest moments, where the tape recorder and even the notebooks were useless objects that did not survive the humidity of the swamps and the predation of insects, which almost ate her alive.
His classes at the university were epic. If we did an interview, he would pay all his attention to the seemingly trivial details and the stories others told us about the central character. In his interview with Ho Chi Minh, the freshly cut lily as the only luxury in his bamboo house was as preeminent as the words of the Vietnamese leader or the confessions he obtained from his collaborators. The ensemble told us that Uncle Ho, as his comrades called him, had little resemblance to the leaders of other revolutions.
I remember Marta laughing with the anecdote of the comrade who could not organize the militants in his village, because they were some backward Buddhists who spend the day meditating. So go back and meditate, Ho Chi Minh recommended.
Marta’s pedagogy was that of knowing how to look. The routine taught me to fix the details as if I were looking at them, he said. Not so long ago, while researching for an article on Fidel Castro’s first forays into computing, I ended up at Marta’s house picking up from the attic of his fabulous memory an anecdote that no expert had ever recorded.
In the first days of October 1963, the Cuban leader toured the areas affected by Cyclone Flora, which had devastated the eastern part of the island. Marta accompanied him as an envoy for the newspaper Revolución. I felt like I was in the university classroom again when she began to remember the mountain that had slid spectacularly due to the force of the rains and buried a hamlet in the Pinalito hills, in Guisa, Granma province.
Despite the danger, Haitians and Jamaicans were reluctant to leave the varentierras that had been left standing. Some of them poked their heads out, but did not pay attention to the continuous calls. They were more afraid of the authorities than of storms. At the edge of a cliff, Fidel took from his olive green jeep the portable telephone that was activated with a handle inside, and gave instructions for those families to benefit from social security and put an end to the condition of pariahs. Use the Ramac, and the word, Marta said, sounded like a croak.
The Ramac 305 was one of the first computers manufactured in the world with magnetic disks and had been bought by the dictator Batista. He immediately proceeded to process the data from the checkbook of the poorest of the poor, the scattered and forgotten Antilleans on the island’s Caribbean coast..
Local color, that journalists are not stenographers, Marta insisted. She took us into the picturesque as in a world where describing people and places only operates on what is truly significant. The natural landscape is always linked to the human landscape, he added. In the Moncada Barracks, in Vietnam and in the mountains of Pinalito, with Fidel or with Ho Chi Minh, where there is a report there is also a story. In other words, journalism as a possible celebration of truth, beauty and ethics, and as a profession that can continue to draw resources from fiction, which is not synonymous with lies.
Thank you for this party, dear Marta.
(Taken from Cubajournalists)