Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

HAVANA, August 22, 1998, Cuba Free Press.


HAVANA Every midnight, Miguel Duquesne (not his real name) falls asleep, drunk, dirty and tired, under one of those royal poinciana (flamboyan, in Spanish) trees which line Santa Catalina Avenue, in the Havana neighborhood known as Tenth of October.

Now only 54, Duquesne was a renowned boxer. Back in the 1960's he was one of the best welterweights 67 kg. (about 148 lbs. in English) on the island. He participated in about a dozen international meets and in national competitions under the name of "Giraldo Cordoba Cardin."

He was a mediocre and unknown fighter who, just because he also had participated in the July 1953 attack on the soldiers at Moncada barracks in Santiago was elevated to the category of "National Hero" in Cuban sports. (It may be remembered that a young Fidel Castro led that assault.) Miguel is sad to know that, in this motherland of Kid Chocolate, there isn't a single championship to name HIM one of the best in the world.

The former fighter suffers cirrhosis of the liver. He's very much in fear of death but awaits it stoically and peacefully under the royal poinciana trees which toss him their flowers. Since Dusquesne retired with a lesion of the retina which cost him vision in his left eye, his life has been a calamity. His brain stopped short of his fists. He's half-literate.

His parents never worried about his fate, and his brothers kicked him out. That was enough. He felt like a stranger out of the ring. Then he started using his fists to get through life. And it knocked him out.

After several strong arm robberies to steal money and jewelry, Miguel was caught by the police back in 1975. He was sentenced to 17 years.

"My life could have changed back in 1980 when the prison authorities urged me to leave through the massive exodus of Mariel," he explains.

But he didn't want to become one of the 125,000 which the closed society expelled from the land of their birth. He doesn't begrudge it, in spite of his tragedy. "They nearly forced me. They even gave me a T-shirt with the slogan 'down with the scum.' But I can't leave Cuba. Something divine holds me to this damned island."

Perhaps there are profound roots like the ones of the royal poinciana which shelter him daily.

Miguel Duquesne left prison in 1988. After 13 years, he was quite accustomed to living in jail. The first thing he thought of doing was to punch someone out and return to his "crib."

But no, a friend put him to work in a bar. His tendency to drink rum heavily returned. He turned into an alcoholic and his liver got sick.

After a fight at the bar, he lost his job. Finding himself with no money, he couldn't keep up with the rent of his one-room shack in Santa Amalia.

His situation worsened since he didn't have any ompanionship to rely on: He never married or even became engaged to any woman. He always kept the Bohemian lifestyle of many fighters, large dosages of alcohol and different partners.

Now, Miguel Duquesne treks down Santa Catalina Avenue, lined with royal poinciana which keep the sidewalks in multicolor carpets from spring until late summer. The flowers are red, yellow, or orange. The boxer tramples them in his walks. Almost always drunk. The drinks are oftentimes paid by other drunks after they listen to him sing old boleros, now in fashion. "I sing just like Luis Miguel," he says as he shows the few teeth he has left.

It doesn't matter whether it's cold or hot, raining or not. Every night, he places some cardboard under a royal poinciana tree and stretches out to rest his beaten and stinking body. Sleep overtakes him almost immediately. One of these nights he knows it well he's not going to wake up. Because death also is there, catching up to him.

He awaits it defiantly. Miguel Dusquesne knows that he's fighting his last round.

By Iván García, Cuba Free Press.

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Copyright © 1998 - Cuba Free Press, Inc.