Книги: Episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ernesto Che Guevara
Episodes of the Revolutionary War,
Ernesto Che Guevara
The Arms Arrive
NEAR PINO DEL AGUA sawmill we killed the horse that had belonged to our prisoner, the corporal. It was a magnificent animal, but certainly of no use to us in the jungle, and we were short on food. There is a touch of irony in this story: the corporal had insistently repeated t hat t he horse belonged to a friend of his'. Now, sitting on the ground and drinking horse soup he still kept repeating his friend's name and address in case we ever had an opportunity to return the horse.
We heard over the radio that our Granma comrades had been sentenced; also that one of the judges had voted against the verdict. The man was Urrutia, whose honest gesture was rewarded by his appointment to interim president of the Republic. The gesture, per se, had no other significance than that of being a gesture of dignity. Undoubtedly, it was, at the moment. But the aftermath was the establishment of a bad president, incapable of understanding the political process that was to follow, in capable of understanding the depth of a revolution not made to fit his reactionary mentality. His character, and his reluctance to take a determined stand, caused plenty of trouble. The climax came when - faced by the people's unanimous hostility - he presented his resignation as president of the Republic. It happened at the time when the people of Cuba were getting ready to hold their first 26th of July celebration.
One day, a contact man from Santiago, named Andres, arrived with the welcome news that the arms would be delivered within a few days'. A sawmill on the coast was set for the rendezvous. The Babun brothers, who owned the sawmill, were handling the operation. They expected a great profit from their participation in the Revolution. Further events made them drift apart, and three of the sons of one of the members of the Babun firm attained the dubious privilege of being part of the counter-revolutionary element captured at Playa Giron.
It is a curious thing to observe how at that time many people had the idea of profiting by the Revolution. They did little favors here and there, everyone of them expecting great rewards from the new State. In the Babun case, the reward was to be concessions for commercial exploitation of forests, which would include the eviction of peasants, thus increasing the latifundia of the Babun house hold. We now had a new addition to our group: a U.S. newspaperman, Hungarian by birth, named Andrew Saint George. He belonged in the same class with the Babuns.
He was careful to show his less dangerous side, appearing as a mere newspaperman, but he was an agent for the F.B.I. I was appointed to take care of him because I was the only one who spoke French, and none of us spoke English. In all sincerity I must say that he did not look like a dangerous character, but after our second inter view he had no qualms about being taken for an agent. We went on, skirting Pino del Agua, to the source of the ' Peladero river, marching through rugged areas and always carrying a heavy load. We continued to a stream named Del Indio, where we spent two days. Passing through small villages, we established a sort of non-legalized Revolutionary State. Sympathizers were told to report every thing that went on including, of course, any move made by the enemy. Always, we stuck to the woods. On some rare occasions we would sleep in some hut close to the woods. Daytime was spent under the protection of the tall trees, under a canopy of leaves, and always on guard.
Our worst enemy at that time of the year was the "macaguera," a species of gadfly so called because it lays its eggs on the Macagua tree. The macagueras would bite every unprotected part of our bodies, our skin was far from clean, and the constant scratching caused abscesses. Our legs, wrists and necks always bore the marks of the macagura.
On May 18 we heard about the arms and what they consisted of. Everyone got very excited, because we all wanted to improve our individual armament. We all hoped to get something; either a new weapon or a used one that might have belonged to one of the veterans who would be issued a new weapon. We also heard that the moving pictures that Bob Taber had shot at the Sierra Maestra had been very successful in the U.S. Everyone was happy, with the exception of Andrew Saint George. After all, in addition to being an F.B.I. agent he was also a newspaperman, and he felt that he had been "scooped." The following day he left the Babun zone, aboard a yacht bound for Santiago de Cuba.
A man had escaped, and we became very alarmed because everybody knew about the new weapons. We sent patrols after him and they returned after several days with the news that the man had taken a boat for Santiago. We suspected he had gone to inform the authorities but we found out later that his desertion was due to lack of physical and moral capacity to face the hardships of our life. In any event we had to take extreme precautions. Our fight against the lack of physical, ideological and moral preparation of the combatants went on relentlessly, but the results were not always successful. Men would find the flimsiest excuses to justify their demand to be released and if the answer was in the negative, desertion would follow. We must remember that desertion meant death; the execution was to be carried out at the spot where the deserter was apprehended.
That night the arms came, and it was the most beautiful sight in the world. There they were, the instruments of death, on exhibit before the hungry eyes of every fighter: 3 machineguns, with their tripods, 3 Madzen machinegun rifles, 9 M-1 carbines, 10 Johnson automatic rifles, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition. Although the M-1's were allotted 45 rounds apiece, they were distributed according to each man's merits and time spent in the Sierra. One of them went to Ramiro Valdes, now a Major, and two others were given to Camilo's advance guard. The other four were to cover the tripod machineguns. One machinegun rifle went to captain Jorge Sotus' platoon, one to Almeida's and another to the Staff; that was my weapon. The tripod machineguns were distributed as follows: one for Raul, one for Guillermo Garcia, one for Crescencio Perez. Such was my initiation as a direct combatant. I had participated in combat but my steady position was that of physician. For me, it was the beginning of a new stage.
I will always remember the moment when the old rifle, one of inferior workmanship, was given to me. At that moment it was a precious gift. Four men had been appointed to operate the weapon. These men were to follow opposite paths: the Beat6n brothers, Pupo and Manolo, were executed by the Revolution for the murder of Major Cristino Naranjo and their subsequent escape to the Sierras de Oriente, where they were captured by a peasant; the other one was a 15-year-old child who always carried the enormous weight of the gun's magazines., The boy, named Joel Iglesias, is now President of Rebel Youth, and a Major in the Rebel Army. The fourth man, now a lieutenant, was named Onate, but we nicknamed him "Cantinflas," Our struggle to increase the ideological and combative strength of our troop did not end with the arrival of the arms. On May 23, Fidel ordered the release of more men, among them a complete squad, This reduced our forces to 127 men, most of them armed, including 80 equipped with very good weapons.
Of the entire squad released, including its leader, only one man remained. He was Crucito, who later became one of our most beloved combatants. He was a natural poet, or balladeer, and he would hold long contests with the city poet Calixto Morales, one of the Granma men,
who called himself "the country nightingale." Crucito would always end his songs with a scornful refrain that went something like "you old Sierra buzzard."
Crucito had written songs about the Revolution, beginning with the departure of the Granma from Mexico. He would sit, smoking his pipe, and compose lyrics. There was a shortage of paper in the Sierra, so Crucito learned the words by heart. Not a single line of verse remained when he was killed in the battle of Pino del Agua.
In the sawmill zone we had the invaluable aid of Enrique Lopez, an old childhood friend of the Castros. He worked for the Babuns and was our contact man for supplies and safe travel throughout the zone. The area was crisscrossed by narrow roads that were used by the army trucks, and we had set up several ambushes but never succeeded in capturing a truck. Perhaps this contributed to the success of the coming operation, one that had the greatest psychological impact in the entire history of the war: the battle of El Uvero.
On May 25 we heard that an expeditionary group, led by Calixto Sanchez, had arrived aboard the launch "Corintia" and landed near Mayari. A few days later we heard about the disastrous outcome of that expedition. Prio Socarras had the habit of sending his men to die, but he never bothered to accompany chem. The news of the landing and its aftermath made us realize that it was imperative that we begin diverting maneuvers against the enemy to give the survivors a chance to reach some place where they could reorganize themselves and go into action. We did this out of sheer solidarity with the men, although we did not know their social makeup nor the real purpose of the landing.
On the occasion, we held an interesting debate, with Fidel and I the leading characters. I argued that we should not waste the opportunity to seize one of the army trucks; that we should devote ourselves, specifically, to catch one of them as it went carelessly by. On the other hand, Fidel had the operation of El Uvero in mind and he maintained that the decision was a just one; it would have been of very cessful to capture the army post at El Uvero. The psychological, impact would be tremendous and the event would be known throughout the country; something that would never happen if we seized a truck. Such an incident could easily be reported as a simple accident, with s few casualties, in that case, even though some people might suspect the truth, nobody would know about our effective existence as a fighting force in the Sierra. This did not mean discarding the idea of seizing a truck, but this was not to be the focal point of our activities.
Now, several years after chat debate where Fide! had the last word but did not convince me, I must recognize that the decision was a just one; it would have been of very little advantage to us to carry out some action against a patrol traveling by truck. Of course, our desire to fight made us adopt drastic positions, lacking the patience, and perhaps even the vision, to see faraway objectives. Anyway, we had come to the final preparations for the Et Uvero action.