Scream echoes pain from the past, present
She has come to be known as ``la mujer que gritó.'' The woman who screamed.
In the tumult of Pope John Paul II's Mass in Havana, she stood in the Plaza of the Revolution and let out a vein-popping plea.
``Cowards! Scream `Down with Fidel!' ''
A man dragged her out of the crowd and then she vanished.
Throughout Havana and Miami, speculation thickened around the woman's searing presence and ominous absence.
Why had she screamed with such rage? What could have happened to her?
Then a supposed uncle came forth, an Angel Gutierrez of Miami. On local broadcasts, he told a horrible story about his niece, whom he insisted was the woman who screamed.
Her name was Maria Lourdes ``Marilu'' Gutierrez, 27, a resident of Villa Clara, a city in the central province of Santa Clara. When she was 3 years old, her mother was killed before her eyes by Fidel Castro's political police.
Her mother, Barbara Alvarez, 23, had given birth 45 days earlier to Marilu's sister. She was preparing a milk bottle for the infant when she saw a police agent harassing a shirtless young man on her front porch in their house in Regla, Havana.
Leave him alone, Marilu's mother screamed. The agent shot her in the cheek, instantly killing her.
The brutal symmetry stunned us. A mother screams against the system and she is killed. Decades later, her daughter screams and she vanishes.
Marilu became a kind of heroine of the plaza. The uncle's story sent independent journalists in Cuba scrambling to find her. They located her father, who had his own horrible story to tell. Some years ago, he had been falsely accused of stealing from the factory where he was foreman. He was detained for 11 days and beaten so badly that his kidney had been perforated. In the days following the Pope's Mass, he had been warned about making political remarks. The fish dies by his mouth, agents warned him.
The story was told in communiques out of Havana from human rights activists and independent reporters. Dissidents like Odilia Collazo identified with the young woman's pain. She, too, had watched the system brutalize her father, a political prisoner for 20 years. She understood the trauma well.
In fact, 25 years ago Collazo lived near Regla, where Marilu's mother was killed. She heard about the murder on the street. It was the kind of story told only in the shadows, never in the official press. But Collazo said she had never forgotten it.
The only problem is that it may not be entirely true.
On Monday night, Miami's WSCV-Channel 51 aired an interview with the woman who screamed. It was taped in Havana, not Santa Clara, said Miami reporter Juan Manuel Cao. And the woman's name is not Marilu Gutierrez. It is Mercedes Luceño Ruiz. Her father lives in Naples, not Regla. Her mother was not killed by the Communists.
The reporter insists the mix-up originated with Marilu's uncle, whose telephone was disconnected Tuesday.
He told a story that appears to be true only in part. There was indeed a girl named Marilu whose mother was killed, and whose father was brutalized. All that appears to be consistent. But this was not the woman who screamed. In fact, Cao believes, Marilu was nowhere near the Pope's Mass in Havana that Sunday.
Meanwhile, an assistant to congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said her office received a call from Marilu's uncle, asking for help in getting the woman a humanitarian visa to the United States. But he never went to the office to fill out the paperwork, the staffer said.
So far it seems this Mercedes Luceño Ruiz has a story that is not nearly as dramatic as the one that belongs to the woman who didn't scream. Of course, we don't know that.
In fact, we don't know why she screamed in the square that day. But what we know is that she did. And because she did, we learned the heartbreaking story of another young woman who has lived with her pain in the shadows for decades, without a mother.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald