Monday, July 12, 2010

Olga Guillot (1922 - 2010)

It is a sad day for all Cubans. This afternoon it was reported that Olga Guillot, considered one of the most famous Cuban singers alongside Celia Cruz, died of a heart attack today at the age of 87.

Listening to the reports in the local Spanish media it's obvious that many in the Cuban exile community are deeply saddened by this loss. But, along with her musical talents, many are remembering Guillot for her politics. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says: "There will never be another Olga Guillot. Her patriotism, love for her homeland, talented voice and caring heart will be missed." And, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart remembers that "above all, Olga Guillot was a Cuban patriot." Several callers to Radio Mambi today made the same references to Guillot's patriotism.

Guillot was intransigent when it came to Cuba, and many in Miami loved her for that. According to El Nuevo Herald, a friend said Guillot's house in Cuba was repossessed in 1960, and soon thereafter she decided to leave and she never went back.

I've always read more about Guillot's politics than her music here in Miami. (This is the result of the coordinated anti-Castro propaganda that thrives in the local Spanish media.) When the "Peace without Borders" concert was about to take place in Cuba last year (dubbed the "Concert of Discord" by the local Spanish media), Olga Guillot was given an increased amount of airtime on TV and radio because she opposed the concert. (After the concert, a poll of Cuban-Americans showed a majority with favorable views of the concert.)

When the concert was over, she was asked in an interview about it. Guillot said that she was not impressed by the presentations and described the whole thing as "bien pobre" (very poor or poorly done). Guillot expressed the reasons for her political intransigence: she would never return as long as "the [Castro] regime" was in power. And, when asked what she thought of Cucu Diamantes, a young Cuban-American artist who traveled to Cuba to perform at the "Peace Without Borders" concert, she replied that Diamantes "has no character, and if she does then she is 'una infiltrada' (an infiltrator or spy)... here there are many people, many people who have been against the Cuba exile community because we are against that concert."

When asked what Guillot would do if she ever ran into any of the artists, such as Juanes or Olga Tañon, from the concert in Cuba, she replied: "Nothing. I am not going to see them as persons, or people. To me they are already strangers."

But, despite being mostly intransigent about Cuba, Guillot was also someone who could see beyond Cuban politics. In April 2009 it was reported that Olga Guillot and Omara Portuondo (another famous Cuban artist and supporter of the Cuban government) "embraced after 48 years separated spiritually and territorially."

The power of music can bring people together, if only for a while. Even the most intransigent.

--- Olga Guillot, in her own words ---

"God knows that we all want to [celebrate] in a free Cuba. But, since it will not happen, at least here [in exile] we can give each other greetings, the fraternal embrace of us all [Cubans] so we can feel alive. And we are loyal to our homeland, loyal to our traditions and to our roots because that is the only thing we should not forget.

"When they hear us say 'la Cuba mia' [that Cuba of mine] its because that Cuba of mine was so beautiful and so different to that Cuba of ours that suffers so much. And, one of the things that makes me sad is knowing that Cuba has not been lost, but kidnapped. Our island was kidnapped.

"I carry inside me and in my heart a map, [shaped like an alligator], I love that alligator, a beautiful alligator, I love her, Cuba, always Cuba.

[Photo courtesy of]

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