By Owei Lakemfa
Carlos Trejo Sosa was perhaps the friendliest Cuban Ambassador I ever knew. He was a wise, widely travelled man with deep knowledge of Cuban sayings and proverbs, which he said mainly emanated from Africa.
When in 2016, he received the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, he told him: “We are the same family. I am an African. Do not mind my colour. When you go into my gene, you will know that I am an African.”
A personal friend of many of us who identified with Cuba, Carlos told jokes and loved a good laugh. He loved teasing one of us, Abdulkareem Motajo who had studied in Cuba. One day, as we stood discussing, Motajo switched to Spanish. However, Carlos insisted he spoke in English, but Motajo persisted. A laughing Carlos told me Motajo does not want me to hear what he was saying. With that, he dragged me away to tell me what Motajo was trying to hide.
When after the 2019 Afro-Cuban Conference in Abuja, Carlos told me he was leaving Nigeria, I felt sad and told him he was the friendliest and best Cuban ambassador we have ever had. He smiled and said, the ambassador replacing him, was even better; then came Clara Margarita Pulido Escandell. It seemed Cuba had deliberately trained her to be Ambassador to Nigeria. She had attended University of Ghana, Legon for her Masters and her thesis was on Nigeria politics.
So she was quite knowledgeable on Nigerian politics from colonial times. She had been ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union, with concurrent accreditation to Djibouti and South Sudan before becoming Ambassador to Algeria with concurrent accreditation to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara).
When I met her and she learnt I had been Secretary General of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity, OATUU, in Ghana, she exclaimed: “Where is my father?” “Your father?” “Yes, Hassan Sunmonu!” “You know him?” “I was his adopted daughter in Ghana.” With Alhaji Sunmonu being my father in unionism, our relationship took off on a flying start. Coincidentally, she shared the same January 7 birthday with Hussein and Hassan Sunmonu.
Pulido read my twice-weekly columns almost religiously, and after each, she would call to discuss them or send a message. Soon, she started calling me her professor. If in a week or two we were not in contact, she asks for a meeting. When we meet, she would usually say: “Professor, have you ever seen where a teacher abandons his pupil?” She teased the more, my comrade, Abiodun Aremu, the Secretary General of the Joint Action Forum, JAF, who is also a recipient of the Cuban Friendship Medal. Sometimes when Aremu visited from Lagos and we had arguments, she would give a mock salute and say: “Owei, our commander is right”, and we would all laugh.
She doted over her Nigerian comrades like a mother hen; keeping in constant touch and even linking them up. I could get a phone call from her, and she would say: “You know Mambissa (Tar Ukoh) is sick? Call him.”
Pulido believed she was Nigerian and emphasised that her political father, the Commandante Fidel Castro repeated in the ears of Cubans that they are over 90 per cent African. She cherished a photograph she took with Fidel when she was Cuba youth leader. Pulido believed that in all likelihood, she was Yoruba. Therefore, despite the security situation in the country, she felt quite free to move around. She took serious, invitations her Nigerian comrades extended to her, including visiting their families in their homes. She once flew to Lagos to attend a concert at the Afrika Shrine organised by the Amilcar Cabral Ideological School. She also visited the leadership of the Alimosho Local Government as well as some institutions in Lagos. She explained her visits as acts of solidarity which is: “In our gene, our blood and our hearts.”
Pulido worked round the clock and would sometimes call me late in the night to seek clarification on issues. Needless to say, when I started a weekly radio programme in Abuja, ‘Diplomatic Hour With Owei Lakemfa’, she was my first guest. She also went out of her way to speak to her fellow ambassadors on my behalf, urging them to honour my invitation.
She was a very effective ambassador of the Cuban people. I recall in a report I wrote that when she met journalists in Abuja on Thursday, February 18, 2021 mainly on the then 60-year American blockage of her country, the elegant Pulido “walked in wearing half boots, a knee-length overall jacket and confidence; the message and the messenger rhymed”.
Later that year, there were protests and counter-protests in Cuba as a result of COVID-19 resurgence which, with the American blockade that had cost the country a cumulative loss of $1,098,008,000,000 in six decades, had led to shortages of food and medicines. She analysed the situation as being essentially a struggle between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces and added as a matter of fact that if things degenerated into street fights, she was prepared to return home to pick up the gun in defence of the Cuban Revolution.
However, there was no need for her to make a quick return as the huge pro-revolution rallies easily swallowed those of the counter- revolutionaries. In May 2023, having ended her tour of duty, she returned to Havana. We kept in touch through her Cuban number. Then for a few weeks, there was silence from her. But on July 29, she sent a message. She had not been in good health: “But I hope to recover in August. All the best in the world to you and our comrades.”
Then on August 14, I got a message from her: “Today I will be back at the hospital and tomorrow, I will go into surgery. This is the main reason for my silence, I am not feeling too well, but I hope that things will be better. Take care. Solidarity forever.” When I got home on October 9, I found there had been three missed calls within minutes from Cuban Ambassador Miriam Morales Palmero. I thought it must be quite urgent.
But before I could call, I got a message from one of my comrades: “Clara is dead.” Numbness. Dizziness. Emptiness. One of the greatest Afro-Cubans, gone at 63!
Cultural Ambassador Tar Ukoh, sent an ancestral chant for Clarita: “Do we cry? Why should we cry CLARITA? Our Beautiful Daughter. Our Red Rose Sister. Our Afro-Cuban Shield and Spear. From the Womb of our Struggles. Our Cuban gift to Africa! Always with us!”
It was quite difficult writing this; how do you say goodbye to a living ancestor?