He made it hard for me to recognize his voice, he disguised it to not sound bad and the cell phone coverage was poor. Hey, guajiro, how’s it going, listen buddy, I don’t know your voice, in these days when communication is hellish. His voice sounded tired but never lost its usual humor and he never treated his compatriots on the island with anything but affection and friendship. His disease was taking over but he persisted in living. Listen, brother, don’t worry, I’m thinking back to Radio Marti in September. He knew the internal resistance needed him, that he wasn’t just another journalist. Perhaps now I sensed his approaching end but to avoid one more source of pain and worry we ignored the seriousness of it. It was late July.
When he was only 16 this peasant from Baez had gone to prison for distributing proclamations against the Castro dictatorship. After he was released, still very young, he was forced into exile among the captive peoples of the western provinces of Cuba. Little did this simple, natural and always cheerful peasant who would later leave for exile in the United States, imagine that he would wind up on Radio Marti in one of the most noble jobs: reporter. Nor did he know he would make so many friends all over Cuba and that his death would be so mourned.
From Thursday to Tuesday during the night we would listen to him. How are you man, how are things going, who should I call? Or, I called so-and-so or what’s-his-face, I’m very concerned about this or that. I remember one time of crisis in a certain sector of the opposition with the radio station, when he was worried and advised that we weren’t acting in the best way, something we understood.
I don’t forget how much he insisted that people and the opposition understand the real magnitude of remaining in the air for a station like Radio Marti living under the eyes of and with the sinister attempts of the regime and its agents on and off the island to remove it. When there were any awards or recognition for an opponent or an independent journalist Julio vibrated with emotion as if it were his own. I remember when the political police through known agents in Havana posted on the internet the false information that I was in negotiations to move to Chile. Guajiro, hey, hey Chilean peasant, he said laughing, call me when you get to Chile. Ah, don’t fuck with me, brother, I said. He relaxed me telling me that these slanders were normal and I should be prepared for it and not devote my time to responding to provocations, that was their goal, to divert my attention. And it was true, my slogan, “I won’t shut up and I’m not going,” annoyed and ate away at them and especially worried the tyranny and its henchmen.
And Julio Machado was not only the journalist who called in a formal tone to record a report and I don’t think he could have ever done more because his solidarity, affection and concern overflowed. There is an anecdote which speaks so little but it so illustrative of what that great Cuban meant and radiated: once there was a group of opponents and independent journalists in a video conference meeting in Havana in which were present, from the other side, several journalists from the station and they suddenly began to request the presence of Julio Machado and they had to go looking for him. I was not present at this conference but all the attendees I asked told me that when Julio appeared everyone stood up and started clapping and his reaction was to blush from embarrassment.
Although at the time of death he had been absent for many months because of his illness, he had something that made an impact and it will be difficult to recover from this loss. It always hurts to lose a friend, but it hurts more when it is someone we have come to love so much.
When I spoke by telephone with his wife from the funeral home thanks to Janisset Rivero and my sister Bertha who accompanied her in her grief, I tried to explain what is Machadito meant for us which is unimaginable, when I say we, I mean not those of any organization, tendency or particular region of the country but for all Cubans. And even sometimes we would say, hey, guajiro, how is it possible you call for so few hours and communicate with so many people; he replied with his smile and just told me, because, brother, it’s me who’s sorry and I do he work I can as a patriotic duty and I suffer with you and he added, you are unable to imagine how I suffer, Antunez, when they are beating you, when I arrive and I hear they beat Idania, Yris, Sara, Rondon. When he finished with his speech I was left thinking, this Julio is really special.
One of the things that made him greater and immortalized him is that despite having their own vision of the Cuban reality, he never questioned any project or initiative, let alone opposition groups or leaders, and he would have been able to do because he was connected and knew everyone, but it was quite the opposite. As a journalist he reported all views and opinions even in the most contentious issues.
Julio was also a school friend and inspiration to independent journalism on the Island. While recording GE listened to you and without diminishing you, he would suggest, and anyone who reported always wanted to record with him. He also had a trick that made his friends laugh and excited novices and beginners. I asked him what had happened and when he finished there were recordings with the raw and unedited testimonials. And after the stress and fear of talking on the radio, he would say forget about everything around you and that you’re going out on the radio, concentrate on me you’re talking with as a friend, and say it in your own words.
His great concept of friendship, his love for his fellow workers and the workplace he showed openly and without an air of bravado. Antunez, here we’re a group do not worry, he would tell me when I reported the news that another journalist that I had wanted to report to him. The opposition or the journalist who gave the news to Julio Machado had the certainty that it would air and that detail increased the confidence in him and his work. Now I wonder what would Machadito would have felt if he had known about the later repression and the lewd abuse to the girls of Rosa Parks whom he so admired. Now I wonder if he learned of the murder of Wilman Villar? God forbid, otherwise such suffering and helplessness would surely have precipitates his death. Until when will worthy Cubans keep falling without seeing their homeland free.
Brother Julio, you know what I regret most in what you just happened to you? That physically there is no remedy, that I can not hear your voice any more, and your sincere smile, that we could never get together here in Baez Park or Casallas in Placetas to have the coffee that we had promised we would when Cuba was free and that sooner or later stations like the one you performed on you with so much love would not have to report violations, abuse and all forms of human rights violations, because we assure and promise that our efforts and teachings and examples of men like you, will make the tyranny that oppresses us fall, guajiro, and that your descendants will not be captives people nor will they die in distant soils and among strangers.
Rest in peace dear brother, the country is grateful and proud of your worthy passage through life.
* Julio Machado, a journalist of Radio Marti, who died on February 3, 2012 in Miami.
February 6 2012