Exactly one year, a month and about five days after being repatriated from Barbados to his Cuban homeland with bitter-sweet emotions, Raul Garcia is still “struggling” to settle into a country he first left 19 years ago.
In a two-hour interview with Barbados TODAY via online chat, Garcia, who spent close to 20 years incarcerated in Barbados on drug-trafficking charges, questioned whether he would ever establish himself back in Castro Country.
“Yes, very much so. This is a country extremely different from all the countries I have been to, and people here are different from the rest. I think [it] is going to be a long time before I get used to it –– if ever,” the 59-year-old father of four replied when asked if he was still settling in.
Garcia, who now lives alone, but a stone’s throw away from his cousins and uncle, said he was currently experiencing “radically” conflicting feelings, which he partially attributed to his nearly two decades of “isolation” at Her Majesty’s Prisons in Barbados.
“Nineteen years of my life. It’s been great, sad, sometimes confusing, other times depressing; and, of course, on many occasions, extremely happy to be free. Why all these emotions?” he asked.
“I feel that one of the reasons many ex-cons find this firewall between them and society –– I am sure that if not all, many of the long-timers go through the same problem –– is the total isolation that Her Majesty’s Prison [in Barbados] deals with its system: [by] leaving prisoners completely ignorant to what is going on in the outside world.”
Garcia hopes that for the benefit of Barbados –– and the prisoners –– that this is corrected “to the level of the modern world”, where inmates have access to computers and the Internet, in addition to longer visits with families. He claimed that right now families only had 15 minutes a month.
The father, who developed painting skills while in prison in Barbados and won a NIFCA Award, told Barbados TODAY some of his most recent work were now being exhibited overseas. While here, Garcia painted many scenes of Barbadian life, and he has pledged to continue pushing this country in his paintings.
“When I feel down, the paintings bring me up. I am painting sceneries of Barbados still, but right now I am painting the places where I grew up in the countryside where my father had his farm that was confiscated in 1965 by the government in the so-called new reform. Those were my most happy days in my childhood and the most beautiful places as well. I want to put it all in colours.”
Garcia said he wanted to pursue painting full-time.
“My colleagues and I are thinking of an exhibition in Barbados and other parts of the world of our paintings –– and other Cuban artists that people have not seen yet. Right now, the economy is too slow, and we are waiting for better days.”
However, Garcia pointed out he would not be coming to Barbados; his colleagues would represent him.
“If I could go myself, that would be like coming home again. I love your country and respect it as well, and Barbadians are my people forever.”
He said the exhibition was expected to have been January this year . . . “but things are too slow. Most likely next year”.
Garcia also disclosed that he had recently received a licence to manufacture ladies’ clothing.
“I do have my licence, and did start; but I had to stop. Here in Cuba, people are very complicated to work with; but if everything goes right, we will start soon [again].”
Recalling a recent reunion with his 38-year-old American-born son Franki Garcia, who visited him in Cuba, he boasted that his families in the United States and in Cuba had been
“My family has been my saviour for the past 20 years, and still today. Since I lived here, my brother also came, as well as my other son. My mother has not been able to come due to health problems, but we are still hoping to find a way for me to see her.”
Garcia has two Colombian-born children and two American-born.
“My beautiful family in the US, as well as here, have given me unconditional support; and, thank God, I am fine and in pretty good health. In general, I feel happy, but there is one thing that will always keep an incomplete happiness and that is the vacuum that the loss of my son [one of them] has produced in my heart.”
Garcia said thoughts of Barbados were deep in nostalgia.
“As for Barbados, I feel nostalgic every time I think of it; or when I go to the countryside here in Cuba and see the similarities of sceneries, I miss it even more. I went the other day to a place called Baracoa and encountered dozens of breadfruit trees. I went wild, picked them and asked a cook where I stayed to do them for me. I felt in Barbados for that evening.”
The artist said he missed the family that took him into their home when he was in Barbados.
“My dearest friend that I still love, her grandchildren and all those wonderful people who took me in their homes with open hearts. Also I send my love to the churches I visited and thank them once more for accepting me with love and understanding when I need them most.”
Garcia declined though to go into details about his possible marriage to his Bajan girlfriend.
“I don’t want to disclose my girl’s plans between her and me, due to her privacy rights; and I didn’t ask her permission to do so. But she is a woman I love dearly; and as long as I live, I will always love this woman.”