Posted by Craig Borlase on 16 June 2017

Gabe Ferrer was thirteen when he saw his first execution. He sat in front of the tv in his family’s large house in Havana, Cuba, his mother and grandmother beside him. They tried to make him turn away, but his eyes were fixed. He watched as the blindfolded men stood against the wall, listened to the charges read against them, then heard the shots.

In the weeks that followed, the executions continued to make prime time viewing. Gabe watched as many as he could. He was curious, calm, nonchalant even. But deep inside a conflict raged.

“My father was wealthy. He owned maybe 100 apartments and he was about to sign a deal to be the sole distributer for Kraft in Cuba when the revolution started. I had to be careful. I was in a religious school and we were all supposed to march in the militia. My dad said that I could not do it, but I wanted to.I wanted to believe in the revolution, to be like the other kids I knew. The communists tried hard to indoctrinate the children and my parents were scared that we might turn against them. I wanted to be on the winning side.”

Eventually the revolutionaries executed all the members of the previous Batista regime. They had to find somebody else to shoot. That’s when they came for Gabe’s uncle “On every block there were spies. The caught my uncle sheltering a supporter of Batista and arrested both him and the young man. It was a tragedy.”

Gabe was fourteen when his parents sent him and his brother to Miami to stay with another uncle, following on a year later. “We had no money, we were poor. But we didn’t whine, we went to work.” For the following decades, Gabe’s life followed the American Dream script. He worked, saved, studied, invested and was able to retire a little bit early.

“I had a happy life. I had a wonderful family, but I think I could have been a much happier person. I had a lot of hatred in my heart. For fifty years it had stayed with me, always inside, always eating away. If affects your personal life, your relationships.”

Gabe went to see a psychiatrist. He told him to go to a beach and write in the sand the name of all the people he hated, then watch the waves wash them away. “I did that and it didn’t help. It was only later when I went back to the bible and read what happened to Jesus – what the crowds did to him, how he suffered and still said ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they did.’ – that I understood that forgiveness is the only way to unlock hatred.”

Realizing it was one thing, but putting it into action was altogether harder. When his son challenged Gabe to let go of the bitterness, he recoiled. “I went Cuban on him. I didn’t talk to him for a month. But his words stayed in my mind and we started speaking again soon enough.”

Within a few months Gabe was at the airport in Havana, waiting in line for customs. “I was so nervous. And when a plain clothes officer tapped me on the back and asked to see my passport, I was terrified. He looked at it and he asked why I was here. I told him I was here to see a cousin. Then he smiled and said “welcome to Cuba.”’

“While I was here I started to interact with the Cubans. I expected them to hate me because I had left, but they opened up their arms and accepted me like a brother. And when I knocked on the door of the house I used to live in and asked the woman who answered if I could step inside and look around, I thought that she would say no, go away. Instead, she said ‘sure, come in.’”

As soon as he stepped inside Gabe was drowning in flashbacks. Fifty year old memories resurfaced: his grandmother sitting on a rocking chair, knitting. His mother greeting his father when he came back from work. The old tv set.

“It had been a beautiful house once, but so much of it had gone: the Roman columns out front, the second story above. But after a while I said I was going to leave. I told the woman that the house was hers, that I would never come back and claim it. We hugged, I gave her $100 and left.”

Gabe returned to the US soon after. He felt different, but couldn’t say why – at least not until the day he woke up and realized that there was no hatred left within him. 
But Gabe’s story was not over. He prayed, heard about a project to install water systems in Cuba and decided to get trained and join up. Today, he makes multiple trips to Cuba each year as part of the work, and is setting up further initiatives to promote development, reconciliation and hope.

“I needed to forgive. When I did that I was able to lose the hatred and reconcile. So now one of the main items on my bucket list is for there to be a reconciliation between the US and Cuba. I want there to be a chance for the families that split up to be able to come back together. I want to see people come back together.” 

Ever since he sat and watched the revolutionaries kill the opposition, Gabe's feelings about Cuba have changed. But no matter how toxic as his bitterness and resentment became, his love and forgiveness flow deeper still.

“People make mistakes. Hatred eats you up. Listen to Jesus. Forgiveness shouldn’t be embargoed.”

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