Albertina O'Farrill found death as an exile from her beloved Cuba.
At 95 and with the energy of a teenager, the always active former Havana resident died peacefully in her South Florida home, leaving behind a trail of projects vying for freedom in her homeland.
O’Farrill helped hundreds escape Fidel Castro’s revolution, using contacts in diplomatic circles to get them out of Cuba. And she helped many women confined to long prison terms for standing against communist rule. Together, they became known as plantadas, resistance cells of women who suffered some of the harshest punishments in Castro’s jails.
“She was always fighting for Cuba and fighting for all. She was passionate about life,” said her granddaughter Diana Brooks, for whom O'Farrill was always a heroine.
Albertina O'Farrill was born in Havana on June 19, 1921, the daughter of an illustrious family of Irish descent. A thorough education in Cuba and the United States allowed her to master four languages and gain a number of contacts in the diplomatic and business world, which served as a vital network after the Castro revolution to help get people out.
Married in Cuba to Rafael Montoro, a doctor, she was devoted to charitable activities and social works. That’s what she was doing when the 1959 revolution engulfed the island. Despite the large circle of friends who fled, she decided to stay and continue to give her best to her homeland.
Along with former President Ramón “Mongo” Grau and his wife Polita Grau, she worked hard to help get children out of Cuba through what became known as Operation Peter Pan. Her counter-revolutionary activities led to her arrest in 1965, and she remained behind bars as a political prisoner for 14 years.
The hardship and tortures of prison would mark her for the rest of her days: “They would tell me that my father was in prison, that my husband had been executed, that they were going after my children in Miami ... When they would take me out for interrogation, I looked like a crazy person, I would be weeks without bathing, without combing my hair, full of bruises all over my body...,” the former political prisoner recounted in the book Todo Lo Dieron Por Cuba (They Gave Everything for Cuba) by author Mignon Medrano.
O'Farrill won the respect of her jailers and prison mates.
“They regarded her as a mother because she never lost her composure and, despite all the suffering, always had words of compassion and encouragement for her friends and companions stuck in the same situation,” said Rodolfo Rodríguez San Román, brother of Aracelis R. San Román, who was jailed during the same years with Albertina and now chairs the Asociación del Presidio Político Histórico Cubano (Association of Historical Cuban Political Prisoners).
“We learned to love her as a member of the family. She was a great woman, extremely brave,” said Rodríguez.
Brooks, O’Farrill’s granddaughter, said that her grandmother never abandoned the desire to see a free Cuba.
“I remember that she taught us to play with toy soldiers and the villains were always the Castros and the game ended with the liberation of Cuba. That was her dream, to see her country free again, even though she had to renounce her children during a critical period.”
“Those of us who are still alive will carry the torch of our martyrs to achieve what they could not conquer, the freedom of our beloved Cuba,” Rodríguez said.
In addition to her granddaughter, O’Farrill is survived by her five children Maria Victoria Montoro, Rafael Montoro, Diana Aleman Montoro, Teresa Montoro Gross and Jorge Gross; eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A viewing will be held from 10 a.m. to Noon on Tuesday, at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Home, 3344 SW Eighth St. in Little Havana. A Mass will follow at 1 p.m. at the Church of the Little Flower, 2711 Indian Mound Trail, in Coral Gables.