Epilogue: He left Cuba more than 50 years ago, but he never stopped fighting

Humberto Ferrer was an accountant in Cuba until his family fled. (Family photo)
Humberto Ferrer was an accountant in Cuba until his family fled. (Family photo)
Published December 13 2018

The travel poster is tacked to the wall, under the air conditioner. Near the top, Florida stretches toward Cuba. Rays of light shine up from Havana.

The poster hangs in what was Humberto Ferrer’s home office, next to a Tampa Bay Rays cap and his framed certificate of U.S. citizenship. On another wall hang photos of his Cuban heroes, José Martí and Máximo Gómez.

The 82-year-old died on Oct. 7, but what he loved and fought for is still here in his West Tampa home. It’s also two miles down the street, at La Casa Cuba de Tampa. That was his second home, his second family, where he worked for one thing - freedom for Cuba.

Years ago, Humberto traveled from one end of the island to the other, as an accountant for a cigar factory. His small home in Santa Clara had a huge backyard with lemon and orange trees and a farm beyond the fence. Neighbors on one side supported Fidel Castro, the revolutionary turned communist dictator. Neighbors on the other side didn’t.

Neither did the Ferrers. Humberto lost his job because of it.

In 1967, Humberto and his wife, Nila, their 7- and 6-year-old sons and 18-month baby girl fled to Spain. In 1968, they immigrated to Puerto Rico. In 1983, they relocated to Tampa, where other family was already established.

Right away, Humberto started looking for other Cubans. He was a founding member of La Casa Cuba de Tampa, which met every Saturday and raised money to help the families of political prisoners in Cuba. In the home his wife of 62 years kept so neat, his tiny office was cluttered with the things Humberto was always trying to fix and save for other exiles who might need them.

He tried to learn English, though he never spoke it well. That didn’t stop him from getting his daughter to translate letters to his elected representatives, speaking out about Cuba and against melting tensions between it and the U.S.

But he didn’t just care about the place he was from.

At St. Joseph’s Hospital three days before he died from congestive heart failure, he reminded his grandsons to vote.

“If you guys don’t go, then you don’t have a voice,” Betsy heard him tell them in Spanish.

They all did.

Humberto’s home office still has pieces of what he cared about on the walls, including the poster his daughter thinks he got on a trip to the airport to protest flights between Tampa and Cuba. The money, her dad argued, was just going to the Castros and the Cuban government.

But she never noticed how he’d altered that poster.

The original includes a pitch at the top that reads “Tampa to Havana reconnected.” And just under the shape of Cuba, hanging between the orange horizon and the blue water: “Inaugural flights - September 2011.”

At some point, Humberto neatly trimmed the words at the top off and fixed a strip of blue and green across the words in the middle. He wasn’t ready to go back to Cuba. Not until it was really free. But like the poster, he kept it close.

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Want to know more about Humberto? Head over to Instagram and @werememberthem and see one way his daughter will remember him. Know someone we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at [email protected]

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