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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Joe Garcia, executive director of the influential
Cuban American National Foundation exile
group, called the trade "commerce with
"I think it's sad that Floridians,
who know much more about the suffering in
Cuba, are doing business with Castro,"
But not all of Florida's Cuban-Americans
"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
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,"
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
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
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
But the ECI agreement specifically barred
the foreign banks from doing business with
countries under U.S. sanctions.
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
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
Posted on Fri, Jul. 23,
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
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
''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
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
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
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
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
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
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
''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
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
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,
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
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
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
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,
But the once classified documents reveal
a nearly decadelong struggle to overcome
the government's communist suspicions --
until she finally was granted asylum in
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
''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
"She created her own world -- of things
she wanted to forget, and things she wanted
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
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
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
''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
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.' ''
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
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
''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
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,''
''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.