CUBA NEWS
July 26, 2004

 

CUBA NEWS
The Miami Herald

Florida companies send goods to Cuba under embargo exception

John Pain, Associated Press. Posted on Sat, Jul. 24, 2004.

MIAMI - Richard Waltzer doesn't hesitate when asked to name his beverage company's best customer - Fidel Castro, of course.

"He's paying cash up front," said Waltzer, president of Splash Tropical Drinks of Fort Lauderdale. "It doesn't get any better than that."

Splash has sold more than $1 million in cola and juice concentrates, ice cream and daiquiri mixes and other food products to Castro's Cuba since the United States eased its trade embargo on the communist nation four years ago.

As Florida exports to Cuba increase, the state's farmers, ranchers and businesses are joining counterparts elsewhere in the United States to push for an end to the embargo that has been in place for more than four decades to topple Castro.

Congress passed a law in late 2000 that let U.S. farmers and companies sell livestock and agricultural and food products to Cuba on a cash-only basis. The trade is one-way, so Cuba can't sell anything to the United States.

The trade is contentious in Florida. Many businesses feel it is their right and duty to sell products and help the Cuban people. But the state is also home to Miami's Cuban exile community, many of whom are the most ardent opponents to any dealings with Castro and his government.

The businesses trading with Cuba say they aren't just trying to make money. They say they are doing humanitarian work as well by helping feed average Cubans.

"Is someone trying to tell me to wait until there's a new president in Cuba before we can start feeding people again? If someone needs help, you help them right away," said John Parke Wright IV, a Naples cattle broker working to open trade. "Our leadership has been wrong in trying to starve the island of Cuba."

But some Cuban-American leaders lambast that notion.

"They mask their greed with this veneer of humanitarianism but Mother Teresa they are not," said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican. "I'm all for capitalism, just don't try to dress it up as humanitarian acts."

Ros-Lehtinen and other Cuban-Americans say these shipments only reach elite Cubans, a claim denied by government officials and people on the island.

Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the Cuban food import company Alimport, said earlier this year that at least 95 percent of the U.S. food that Cuba buys is sold to average citizens at low cost on their monthly government food rations.

Among the American food average Cubans said they have received on their rations are skinless, boneless chicken breasts, eggs, rice and corn meal.

Florida is getting an increasing amount of the farm trade to Cuba. It had $13.4 million in exports to Cuba last year, more than three times higher than the $4.4 million sent in 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division. Through May of this year, Florida exports to Cuba were $5.6 million, U.S. Census data show.

That is still a drop in the bucket, though - Florida sent $2.5 billion worth of goods last year to Brazil, the state's No. 1 export destination.

And it's difficult to determine the exact impact of Cuban sales on Florida's economy, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc. That's because not all the state's exports to Cuba were produced here, but they still are counted because they are sent from Florida, he said.

Total U.S. exports to Cuba last year were $257 million, well behind the about $900 million of top exporter Venezuela, Kavulich said. The top U.S. trading partners to Cuba include North Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

Since those states produce staple foods such as corn and grain that Florida doesn't, Kavulich said Florida isn't likely to catch up to those states under the current trade rules.

Wright hopes that isn't so. He has ties to Cuba that date to the 1850s, when his great-great-great grandfather James McKay started shipping Florida cattle to the Caribbean nation.

McKay's daughter married into the Lykes family, large Florida landowners and shipping magnates who also sent cattle to Cuba in the 19th Century. That trade ended after Castro took power in 1959 and seized Lykes property. The family still has a $3.6 million claim for the land on file with the U.S. government.

But the media-savvy Wright, who is fond of wearing guayabera shirts and cowboy hats, said he doesn't hold that against Castro. He argues that he is working for the greater good in opening up trade to Cuba.

His company, J.P. Wright & Co., plans to send Florida-bred cattle to Cuba this summer. He expects the 300-head sale to be for nearly $1 million and to net him a small profit. But he says the deal is not about money, but rather putting more meat and dairy products on Cuba's tables.

Wright hopes that growing trade with Cuba will cause a groundswell of support to end the embargo. But that doesn't appear likely - President Bush has said he would block any attempts to weaken or eliminate the embargo and his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, also supports the trade and travel restrictions.

Ros-Lehtinen, one of the embargo's staunchest supporters in Congress, was also doubtful about further relaxation. She added that although the current trade was legal, "I would be ashamed if I were a business owner doing business with a dictator like Fidel Castro."

Joe Garcia, executive director of the influential Cuban American National Foundation exile group, called the trade "commerce with tragedy."

"I think it's sad that Floridians, who know much more about the suffering in Cuba, are doing business with Castro," he said.

But not all of Florida's Cuban-Americans agree.

"Forty-five years has been long enough. There comes a time and place for a different approach," said businessman Michael Mauricio, whose family left Cuba in the early 1900s. He said U.S. companies should be able to trade with Cuba, just as they are with another communist nation, China.

He has exported about $750,000 worth of fruits and vegetables to Cuba through his company, Florida Produce of Hillsborough County Inc. in Tampa, one of several Florida cities that have sent trade delegations to Cuba.

Mauricio disputes embargo supporters' contention that the U.S. food never reaches average Cubans. "I've seen my apples in supermarkets. I've seen my apples in fruit stands," he said.

Even when told of this, Ros-Lehtinen maintained that the farm trade only benefits one person - Castro. "I'm sure that he's eating good steak," she said.

Wright said that was ridiculous: "Fidel Castro and his family can't eat all this beef."

Associated Press correspondent Anita Snow in Havana contributed to this report.

Cuba mystery money gets scrutiny

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami wants answers on $3.9 billion that Cuba deposited in a Swiss bank.

By Nancy San Martin, [email protected] Posted on Fri, Jul. 23, 2004.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen won't let go of the mystery: Just where did the Cuban government get up to $3.9 billion it funneled through a Swiss bank over seven years.

Was Havana simply, as it claims, banking its income from tourism and remittances that Cubans abroad send to their relatives on the island? Or was dirty money involved?

Ros-Lehtinen, the Cuban-born Florida Republican, wants to know, and she has been badgering officials of the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) and the U.S. Federal Reserve for answers.

''That's an awful lot of money,'' Ros-Lehtinen told The Herald.

According to the latest answers she received from UBS officials Wednesday, Havana delivered up to $3.9 billion in U.S. currency to UBS in 1,900 transactions from 1996 to April 2003 for deposit to one Cuban government bank account at UBS.

In a statement published last month in the state-run Granma newspaper, the government said the cash was "obtained from sales in the hard-currency stores, tourism-related activities and other commercial services in foreign banks.''

According to Cuban government figures, its revenues from tourism and hard-currency stores -- where goods are sold for U.S. dollars, mostly to Cubans who receive remittances from abroad -- amounted in 2002-03 alone to about $2 billion.

Ros-Lehtinen has her doubts about the source of the funds, and has requested a full briefing in September from UBS officials.

''Given the . . . significant amount of money we are dealing with, it is doubtful that these . . . funds derived from tourism but, rather, could have stemmed from one of Castro's nefarious activities, such as drug trafficking,'' she said in a July 12 letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

NEW YORK INQUIRY

Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Juan Carlos Zarate told The Herald Thursday that the U.S. attorney's office in New York is investigating a ''potential nexus out of New York'' with the Cuba-UBS deal, but declined to go into details.

The tale of Cuba's dealings with UBS started within another mystery: the $762 million in U.S. cash that American troops in Iraq found in hide-outs linked to Saddam Hussein.

The cash was traced to several foreign banks, including UBS, that had been contracted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to exchange new U.S. dollars for worn-out bills being taken out of circulation. The program is known as the Extended Custodial Inventory.

But the ECI agreement specifically barred the foreign banks from doing business with countries under U.S. sanctions.

ILLEGAL TRANSFER

Although U.S. investigators who examined the Iraqi hoard determined the banks had not sent U.S. cash directly to Baghdad, they discovered UBS had illegally transferred about $5 billion to Cuba, Libya, Iran and the former Yugoslavia.

The Federal Reserve Board canceled its contract with UBS last year and in May fined it $100 million for the violations.

Still unclear is why UBS employees violated the U.S. regulations, and then tried to conceal the Cuban deals by altering the bank's records. No one has so far been charged with any crimes.

The majority of the transactions with Cuba took place from 1996, when the Federal Reserve contracted UBS for the ECI program, through April 2003, said Yleem Poblete, staff director for the House International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, which Ros-Lehtinen chairs.

The cash was deposited into a Cuban government account at UBS opened before the Federal Reserve contracted UBS, Poblete added.

Prominent dissident Roque released for health reasons

Posted on Fri, Jul. 23, 2004.

HAVANA - (AP) -- The Cuban government released political prisoner Martha Beatriz Roque on Thursday from a hospital where she was serving a 20-year sentence, marking the seventh such case in less than two months.

Roque, who is diabetic, said she was told the release was for health reasons. She is diabetic.

Roque, an economist, was among 75 Cuban dissidents arrested and sentenced to long prison terms in a crackdown last year after being accused of working with U.S. diplomats to undermine Cuba's communist government.

Half a dozen of the other dissidents also have been released for health reasons. Roque, 59, is the most well-known of the group.

Roque's early release was unexpected. She said she was told to pack her bags just moments before she was escorted to her sister's home.

''We were very surprised,'' said her 75-year-old sister, Bertha Cabello Roque. 'We were outside, and one of the kids said, 'there's Martha!' We are very happy.''

Cuban Artists Perform for Fidel Castro

Associated Press. Posted on Fri, Jul. 23, 2004.

HAVANA - Singer Silvio Rodriguez, a star of a ballad style known as Cuban trova, performed his music alongside maestro Leo Brouwer and a symphony orchestra Thursday night at a free concert in the Cuban capital.

President Fidel Castro sat in the front row and thousands of other Cubans filled the Revolution Plaza to hear Rodriguez sing, without his guitar, to orchestra music conducted by Brouwer.

The orchestra, made up of 200 young musicians from various Cuban provinces, began the event with selections from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" before playing Rodriguez's music.

Rodriguez performed nine songs spanning four decades, including "Quedate," "El Problema," and "Canto Arena," a crowd pleaser. He opened with "Oh, Melancolia."

Cuban trova has its roots in the ballads that traveling singers - troubadours - composed during the island's wars of independence.

Modern Cuban trovas recall American protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s that focused attention on social problems through musical storytelling.

The event was dedicated to Antonio Gades, a noted Spanish flamenco dancer and choreographer who died Tuesday in Madrid after a long illness. Gades, who was 67, had close ties to Cuba and supported its communist revolution.

After the final song Thursday, Castro, accompanied by noted Cuban politicians and cultural figures, went up on stage and hugged both Rodriguez and Brouwer.

An untold chapter in the life of Celia Cruz

By Carol Rosenberg, [email protected] Posted on Sun, Jul. 25, 2004.

The year was 1955, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, and Celia Cruz, 29, was a star on the stage and airwaves with Cuba's celebrated Sonora Matancera band. And, at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, she was banned from visiting the United States as a suspected communist.

In fact, the singer known affectionately as Celia to generations of Cuban exiles was at least twice refused an artist's visa to visit America in the 1950s, according to a recently declassified U.S. document that described her as a "well-known communist singer and stage star.''

It was an era before Fidel Castro was in power, a time when McCarthyism and the Red scare bred a Hollywood blacklist. The U.S. Congress was consumed by communism, and federal agents were hunting communists, real and imagined, in government and show business.

The Herald discovered the previously unknown chapter of Cruz's life, the nearly decadelong struggle to clear her name, after receiving her once-classified FBI file through the Freedom of Information Act.

Her biographies do not mention the episode, and the people tending to her estate, including her husband of 41 years, said she never spoke of it.

''She never told me about that. She never talked about politics,'' said her widower Pedro Knight. The alleged activities predate their relationship, to a time in her teens and 20s.

''It would've been a hard thing because, especially afterward, she was identified so much as a symbol of anti-Castroism,'' said Alejandro de la Fuente, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in race relations in Cuba.

Back then, ''it was not unusual at all for artists and intellectuals to have some sort of contact with the Communist Party,'' he said. "It was a progressive, liberal force at the time. There was nothing to be ashamed of at the time. That changed in the late 1940s, after the end of World War II.''

FILE FROM COLD WAR ERA U.S. EMBASSY REPORTED ON CRUZ'S BARRED ENTRY

At her death a year ago, Cruz, 77, was an anti-communist icon of the Cuban-American exile community.

But even as thousands mourned her in New York and Miami, her Foreign Counter Intelligence file sat at FBI headquarters. In it were 32 pages from the Cold War era when John Foster Dulles was secretary of state, J. Edgar Hoover was FBI director, and his agents kept files on everyone from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to Marilyn Monroe.

The Cruz file obtained by The Herald is not complete. But the 18 pages released so far begin on July 23, 1955. Marked ''SECRET,'' an operations memorandum from the U.S. Embassy in Havana says the singer was refused entry into the United States under a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that weeds out suspected subversives.

The memo also says that Cruz was earlier refused a visa in May 1952. It quotes reports that claim she was among a group in 1951 that signed a letter published in the Communist Party newspaper, Hoy, that endorsed a Pro-Peace Congress, and was a member of Cuba's Socialist Youth movement, at age 20.

It also claims she met secretly at age 27 with Cuban Socialist Party Secretary General Blas Roca Calderío, and had used an October 1953 concert as cover to meet covertly with communists in Caracas, Venezuela.

None of the records released, however, provide proof of these claims.

Also of concern, according to more than one memo, was her work at the communist radio station Mil Diez, where she performed a decade earlier -- in 1944.

Mil Diez emphasized entertainment over politics, had the fourth-largest audience in Havana, and carried a daily quiz on Marxist theory and application. The station was also a popular 1940s venue for emerging musicians to perform.

At the time, these activities were legal in Cuba. But U.S. immigration law forbade entry to foreigners found to have communist affiliations or anti-government sympathies.

Both the CIA and the FBI had agents in Havana, and it was embassy policy to submit each visa applicant to a political activity background check.

According to the documents, FBI headquarters in Washington did at least nine file background checks over several years -- looking through case files for references to Cruz, some explicitly for links to subversives.

An American who worked at the embassy then, and spoke with The Herald on the condition that he not be identified, said Cruz's 1955 visa application would have been rejected automatically -- because of government guidelines and the fact that she had already been rejected in 1952.

A few years later, the former embassy official said, U.S. policy would change as Cubans started to flee the island in earnest. People found to have flirted with communism were then given free passage from Castro's revolution.

But, given U.S. regulations and an internal report that called the entertainer a ''well-known communist singer and stage artist,'' 1955 America was off limits to Cruz.

Still, Cruz was also a celebrity among the 400 to 500 people who lined up each day to apply for visas at the U.S. Embassy. So American Vice Consul George Thigpen explained why her visa request was spurned -- in a two-page memo that went to Washington by diplomatic pouch.

It was part of a paper trail between Havana, the State Department and Hoover's FBI.

Today, at 81, Thigpen is retired in Virginia and says he does not recall the episode. ''I'm a great admirer of Celia Cruz, through her music,'' he said. "She was just a very simpatico person.''

Thigpen said he thought he had seen Cruz only on television -- until a Herald reporter read him the memo by telephone.

PERMISSION IS GRANTED SINGER VISITS U.S. AND LATER GETS ASYLUM

Cruz would get permission to visit the United States two years later, in 1957. She traveled to New York again in 1960, to perform.

But the once classified documents reveal a nearly decadelong struggle to overcome the government's communist suspicions -- until she finally was granted asylum in 1961.

In America, Cruz appeared largely apolitical -- aside from very personal jabs at Castro, whom she blamed for making it impossible to return to Cuba in 1962 for her mother's funeral.

''She was anti-Castro. In all the interviews of her life, she told everybody that she was not going back to Cuba until Castro was out,'' said Cristóbal Díaz Ayala, 74, a Cuban music historian who lives in Puerto Rico and grew up near Cruz's family.

Yet she never mentioned her early blacklisting. Rather, says Díaz Ayala, she chose to portray her life story as sweet, like the sugar she took in coffee, not bitter. She grew up in a solar, a communal home for impoverished people, said Díaz Ayala, and "Negro performers did not have the same opportunities as white entertainers in Cuba. But she never mentioned that. Not in Cuba. Not in exile. She was kind of a lady.

"She created her own world -- of things she wanted to forget, and things she wanted to remember.''

In her memoirs, written after her death from taped interviews, Cruz describes the 1950s as a halcyon time of chauffeurs and club dates, shimmering successes that made her seem transcendent, such a huge star that her race was inconsequential.

But at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, diplomats noted her race -- with interest.

In an urgent April 1957 telegram from Havana to headquarters, which characterized Cruz as a ''colored Cuban entertainer,'' an embassy official pleaded her case for a visa to perform in New York for the first time.

The telegram grappled with the question of whether she had been a member of the Popular Socialist Party, or PSP:

"Seven days signing (sic) engagement Puerto Rico Theater Bronx. Will receive gold record as recording artist from Sidney Siegel President of SEECO Records Company. Applicant continues denying PSP affiliation. Claims probable involuntary affiliation during employment at Radio Mil Diez.''

The cable urged reconsideration of her visa request, closing with "Collect telephone reply requested.''

It was signed by U.S. Ambassador Arthur Gardner and addressed to the secretary of state. Gardner was an outspoken anti-communist envoy who went on to blame State Department careerists for Cuban President Fulgencio Batista's 1959 fall.

The cable also offered a curious incentive to approve her visa: "In addition to public and press interest case is also matter of racial interest here.''

Fifties Havana was a color-conscious culture, with an unofficial but widely understood system of segregation, said de la Fuente, author of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba.

Black people were ''colored'' then, and while Cruz was a star, he said, she likely played at venues where black patrons did not go.

At the U.S. Embassy, in the years before Castro, American officials monitoring the island's communist movements saw the Popular Socialist Party as particularly attractive to blacks because it spoke of empowering the underclass.

So, by the 1940s, U.S. diplomats were trying to woo Cuba's black community -- inviting Afro-Cubans to embassy social events and pointedly visiting black clubs. Vouching for Cruz's visa made sense, de la Fuente said.

''They were trying to break a tight link between communism and Afro-Cubans,'' he said. "If they thought she was not a hard-core communist, I can see that they would see some advantage in trying to help her. That would fit with some sort of effort to court some support among Afro-Cubans.''

SINGER KEPT A SECRET SHE SETTLED IN N.Y. AND FOCUSED ON MUSIC

But throughout her life, Cruz kept that chapter secret. Even as late as 1961, six months after the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, Cruz was aware of her record. In Mexico with Sonora Matancera, she sought a U.S. visa to play the Hollywood Palladium.

''SUBJECT EXPRESSED DESIRE CLEAR NAME,'' said a confidential Oct. 11, 1961, telegram from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. "PLEASE FORWARD ANY DEROGATORY INFORMATION DEPARTMENT MAY HAVE SO EMBASSY CAN INITIATE DEFECTOR STATUS ACTION.''

A security source, cited by the embassy, "BELIEVES SUBJECT COMPLETELY ANTI-COMMUNIST AND ENDORSES REQUEST.''

In exile, Cruz settled in the New York City area -- never moving to politically volatile Miami. She married her Sonora trumpeter, Knight, and reinvented herself from La Guarachera de Cuba to The Queen of Salsa, symbolizing her wider Latino appeal.

She recorded and toured relentlessly. She appeared in American films and Mexican soap operas, once as a santera, and for 20 years made an annual pilgrimage to Miami to sing on a Spanish-language TV telethon for the League Against Cancer, the disease that killed her last year.

When she worked on her memoirs, said co-writer Ana Cristina Reymundo, 'she never wanted to discuss politics. She would say, 'I am an artist. And whenever politics comes in, art goes out the window. I learned that a long time ago.' ''

Read the documents

Trying to connect with Celia -- and aching to join her

By Lydia Martin. [email protected] Posted on Sun, Jul. 25, 2004

NEW YORK - Pedro Knight looks a little lost as he makes his way into Lasaro's, an upscale Cuban restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. Waiters and busboys stop in their tracks. A hairstylist from next door comes in to shake his hand. The owner of the restaurant snaps a few pictures.

It's the world Pedro knows best. The boisterous meals that always involved a crowd, the flashbulbs, the autograph seekers. But missing is the woman who always caused the commotion.

Celia Cruz is no longer at his side, and Pedro, who always had her supervise his menu choices because of diabetes, is doing his best to get through one more public meal without her.

''I can have one little glass of red wine, right?'' he says to Luisito Falcon, the family friend who was like a son to Celia and Pedro. After Celia's death, Pedro went to live with Falcon and his family in Los Angeles. The couple never had children.

Pedro orders grilled salmon with veggies, which gets the approval of Falcon, his wife, Celia's manager Omer Pardillo and her longtime publicist Blanca Lasalle. He declines dessert on his own, though when Celia was around, he might have ordered one to see if he could get away with it.

''Everything I do now, I do for her,'' says Pedro, 82, who made a vow to his wife to keep her name out there until he no longer had the strength.

Which is why he is in New York, attending a graveside memorial on the first anniversary of Celia's death, and in between pulling himself together to make bookstore appearances to pitch her just-released autobiography, Celia: My Life (Rayo, $24.95).

''I get tired going to bookstores and being on airplanes. Because when Celia left me, she took a lot of me with her,'' says Pedro, who still sports his trim muttonchop sideburns and requisite coat and tie.

"But the hard part is that it makes me very, very sad to go places without her. The tears spill all the time, from almost anything. Some little thing will remind me of something, and I cry.

"I was never a crier.''

They had the kind of love story that rarely makes it from the fairy tales into real life, as old-school as a romance could be.

When they crossed a busy street, whether it was home in Fort Lee, N.J., or far away in Paris or Tokyo or Berlin, he always took her hand. He opened doors for her and accompanied her everywhere, even to manicures. Every morning, he made her cafe con leche and toast with butter. He did all the grocery shopping so she never had to set foot in a supermarket.

She cooked all his meals when they were home, made sure he got all his pills on schedule, no matter what stage she was just about to climb or come down from. She packed his bags before every trip, never allowing a housekeeper to do the job a wife was meant to do for her husband.

''What I miss the most is her picadillo and her black beans,'' says Pedro. "I taught her how to cook. She had never been in front of a stove before we got together.''

What was the first thing she made for him?

''The first thing?'' Pedro laughs. "She made chicken soup. I went to the store and bought all the ingredients. But we were in Mexico, where they have these big green peppers that look like regular green peppers. Except they're really hot. But I didn't know that, and neither did she. I told her how to make the soup and she followed the recipe exactly. When I went to eat it, it was so hot I almost couldn't. But I ate it and I didn't say anything. Because it wasn't her fault. It was my fault. I ate the whole thing.''

They were inseparable through 41 years of marriage, even in illness. In 2002, they shared a hospital room when he went in for colon cancer surgery and she for breast cancer surgery.

''It was amazing to watch,'' said Pardillo, who was one of the people closest to the couple. "She was being wheeled out of surgery and he was waiting in the hall to be wheeled into surgery. They waved at each other and looked at each other. They were never apart. Which is why this year has been so difficult for Pedro.''

They met in the swinging Havana of the 1950s, when she sang and he played trumpet for La Sonora Matancera, one of Cuba's hottest bands. Pedro, tall and lean and in possession of a roguish smile, was surrounded by swooning girls; Celia was shy and proper. She played her gigs and afterwards went home to her mother -- no after-hours partying in a city that was legendary for it. ''We became good friends immediately. But there was nothing more,'' says Pedro. ''She wasn't like the other women. I had too much respect for her. We were friends for 12 years before I even said anything to her about the way I felt. But she said she didn't want to be with me. She said musicians had too many women and she didn't want to suffer. And, well, it was true. I had a lot of women,'' he says, managing a smile.

"But I told her that if she would have me, she could leave that problem to me. It took some convincing, but finally she said yes. And I stopped seeing all the women. I forgot about every single one. Because Celia was the most special woman in the world. There was a refinement about her. After we got married, there was never another woman. There is no woman who could take her place. Even now. I will be with her until the day I die.''

And sometimes he seems in a hurry to go.

''I wanted to go before her,'' he said a day earlier during the memorial at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. "Sometimes I just want my time to come already so I can be with her.''

He spends most of his days in Los Angeles, fighting with memories that won't let him go, and straining to make some sort of connection with his departed wife.

''I have never been able to talk with her,'' he says. "But I have seen her. She appears against the wall of my bedroom. She just looks at me, she doesn't say anything. She looks serious, not smiling. But she looks good.''

And just when he thinks he's having a good day, a stereo will blast a Celia song. "There is one song in particular that I cannot hear. But I also have to hear it. I can't go without hearing it. Siempre Viviré.''

Recorded in 2000, Siempre Viviré is Celia's poignant reworking of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

''In the soul of my people, in the skin of the drum, in the hands of the conga player, in the feet of the dancer -- I will survive,'' she sings.

''It comes on and Luisito will run to turn it off. But I always say, no, leave it. Because that song takes my heart,'' says Pedro, looking away as the tears come.


 


 

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