The first time I went to Havana was to attend a one week workshop sponsored by the Maine Photographic Workshops. That week I met Roberto Barrueta who wore all white each day, was multilingual, and had a huge smile. As my wife and I were staying for an additional week, we made a plan to hire him for several days to assist us out and about in Cuba. He was extremely helpful. We met his son Ellington named for Duke Ellington, one of Roberto’s favorite musicians. We visited his home, took pictures of the entire family and had a good time. We found that Roberto was undergoing his year of denial and penitence on his quest to become a Santeria Priest or babalao. This accounted for the white clothing.
The following year I returned to Cuba with two photography acquaintances- Steve and Ira. I had communicated with Roberto and we had agreed on dates,fees,and goals. He asked me to bring a few things, basically the innards of a PC computer. I took that and another box of gifts for others in Cuba. We rented a car and Roberto drove. He fancied himself more of a Cuban Formula 1 driver than a guide! It took most of a day to convince that trip was more important than the destination. He was convinced only when I gave him a camera and he became more interested in making photographs.
The next time I took a group if students to Cuba for a month. We had a blast. Roberto was a big help. Maria was unfortunately a bit sick with hepatitis C, but there were hopes that a sacrificial Santeria ceremony might turn the tide. We attended that, Roberto had been told by his babalao friends that this should be at a place where a fresh water river joined to the ocean. This was due to the fact that Maria’s orisha was Yemaya. He had the perfect spot in mind. The babalao aye he found to officiate was named Ernesto.
This is Maria with a flower by the river. She had a “spell” and collapsed into the mouth of the river and was being swept put to sea, fortunately my old Myrtle Beach days as a life guard sprung into action by instinct! Maria was pulled to safety.
The last time I saw Roberto he was depressed and did not feel well. His wife, Maria, had died of Hepatitis C, Ellington was in jail, and Antonio his adopted son had grown up and moved on. He was still actively involved with our workshop group during our stay in Havana but the enthusiasm was gone. I recently tried to contact him as I wanted him to guide several acquaintances of mine who were planning a trip in December. I called several friends in Cuba, none knew what had happened to Roberto. I emailed Steve who had continued to retain Roberto for the many workshops he conducted in Cuba. I heard back last PM that Roberto died of complications of hypertension in late May 2016.