Книги: Episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ernesto Che Guevara
Episodes of the Revolutionary War,
Ernesto Che Guevara
WE SPENT THE ENTIRE MONTH of June 1957 nursing the wounded of the Uvero battle and organizing the small group that was to join Fidel's column.
David was our contact man with the outside. His timely advice, in addition to the food he always managed to find, made our situation quite bearable. We did not know Pancho Tamayo then. Old Pancho, a peasant, was another contact man and his cooperation will always be remembered. Pancho was killed by the Beatons, following the triumph of the Revolution.
Sinecio began to show a lack of revolutionary morals. He used the Movement's funds to get drunk, he would not obey orders, and once, following one of his escapades, he brought back eleven unarmed men. We tried to avoid any enlistment of unarmed men, but the peasant; kept bringing more and more young men who were anxious to join us. Our column was visited by more than 40 people, but on the other hand, desertions continued, with or without our permission, so our effective troop never amounted to more than thirty men.
My asthma became worse and I was reduced to an immobility similar to that of. the wounded men. I used to relieve my condition by smoking the dry leaf of the "clarin" - that is the Sierra's remedy - until we received the medicines and I was able to recuperate, but our departure was still postponed. W organized a group to recover all the weapons rendered useless following the Uvero attack; we could still repair them and use them once again.
In our position, all those old rifles, more or less serviceable, including a 30-caliber machinegun, became a potential treasure, and we spent a whole night looking for them. Finally our departure was set for June 24. This was our army: 5 men, still recovering from their wounds, 5 assistants, 10 new men from Bayamo, 2 that had recently joined us just because they "felt like it," and 4 other from that zone, total:26. We started out with Vilo Acuna in the advance guard, followed by the Commanding Staff which I led because Almeida could hardly walk, and two other squads led by Maceo and Pena. Pena was a lieutenant. Maceo and Vilo were soldiers and the highest rank was held by Almeida, who was a captain. We did not leave on the 24 because of several incidents: a guide was coming with another man, or perhaps it was a new shipment of medicine and food. Old Tamayo went back and forth bringing news, canned food, and clothing. We had to find a cave to store some food. Our contacts in Santiago had materialized and David had brought back such a load that nobody could carry it; at least not our troop made up of convalescents and raw recruits.
On June 26 I made my debut as dentist, although at the Sierra I was known by the modest title of "tooth-puller." My first victim was Israel Pardo, now a Captain in the army, who did not fare too badly. The second one was Joel Iglesias and I thought that if I ever wanted to extract his ailing canine tooth I would have to use a stick of dynamite. I must confess that I failed, and Joel finished the war with his tooth "ill in his mouth. My lack of experience and the lack of anesthetic forced me to resort to "psychological" anesthesia, which in plain language means insulting the patients whenever they complained about the pain.
Whenever we announced our departure someone would leave, only to be replaced by newcomers. Tamayo brought 4 men, among them Felix Mendoza, who carried a rifle. He told us that the army had caught them off guard and his comrade had escaped while he, in turn, had jumped off a cliff. Later, we found out that the "army" was a patrol led by Lalo Sardinas. They had found our man's friend and he was now a member of Fidel's troop. Evelio Saborit, now a Major in the Rebel Army, also joined us.
With the addition of Felix Mendoza and his group, we increased our number to 36 but the next day three men left us, to be replaced by others and we went back to 35. However, as soon as we started out, the number of men decreased. We were now on the foothills of Peladero, climbing a very short distance at each stage.
The news over the radio described a picture of violence all over the island. On July 1 we heard about the death of Josue Pais, Frank Pais' brother, and others, in Santiago. The city was the scene of continuous struggle. Despite our short journeys some of the new recruits began to feel depressed and asked to be sent to the city "where they could be more useful." On' the way down we passed Benito Mora, at the hill known as The Bottle. He played the gracious host in his little hut perched at the edge of the Sierra. Shortly before our arrival at Benito's, I had spoken to the men telling them that we were about to face difficult, dangerous days, that the enemy was near-by and that we might have to go on for several days, always on the move, with very little food. Some of them were decent enough to express their fear and leave immediately, but a man named Chicho spoke on behalf of his group, saying that they were ready to "go on to their death" if necessary. Soon after our visit to Benito we camped near a stream and received a great surprise when the same group approached us and told us that they would like to leave the guerrillas. We agreed to their demands and jokingly nicknamed the stream "Death's Stream. After all, this was where Chicho and his confreres had ended their activities as guerrillas.
Now we were only 28, but the following day two new men, ex-army men, came to the Sierra to the fight for freedom. They were Gilberto Capote and Nicolas. They were guided by Aristides Guerra, another contact man who became of inestimable value to our column. We used to call him "The Food King." The "King" helped us at all times, carrying on missions much more dangerous than just fighting. Several times he drove caravans of mules from Bayamo to our zone of operations.
As we continued our short journeys we tried to have our men familiarize themselves with the use of firearms. We appointed the two army men as instructors in dismantling and putting together the weapons, dry-run firing, etc. Unfortunately, no sooner had the lessons begun when an instructor's gun went off, accidentally. The man was demoted, and we began to look upon him with a certain degree of suspicion, although his look of genuine consternation made it very difficult for us not to believe he was truly sorry about the whole thing. Neither he or the other man could stand the constant moving, and they left with Aristides. Alberto Capote did return some time later. He died a hero's death at Pino del Agua, bearing the rank of lieutenant.
We left the house of Polo Torres at La Mesa, which later became one of our centers of operations, and went on, guided by a peasant named Tuto Almeida. We had to reach La Nevada and join Fidel, crossing the North lope of the Turquino. On our way we saw two persons who ran away when they saw us and we had to chase them for quite a distance before we caught them. They were two Negro girls, Adventists, and absolutely against any sort of violence. However, they gave us their full support at that moment and continued doing so for the duration of the war.
We ate a hearty meal and rested. Then, as we neared Malverde which we had to cross in order to get to La Nevada we were told that there were soldiers all over the zone. Following a short meeting between our so-called Staff and the guides, we turned back and headed for the Turquino; a much rougher road, but less dangerous under the circumstances.
Our little transistor radio kept us well informed, although the news was quite alarming: heavy fighting in the Estrada Palma zone, Raul badly wounded, etc. Now I cannot remember whether the news came through our radio or by the Sierra grapevine. We did not dare believe information that had been proven false on other occasions but we did our best to rush toward Fidel's location. Marching through the Sierra at night, we came to the house of a peasant known as El Vizcaino - the Basque - who lived in the foothills of Turquino. He lived alone in his little hut and his only friends were some books on Marxism which he kept carefully hidden away under a rock, far from the hut. He was proud of his Marxist militancy, which no one in that zone suspected. He showed us the way and we continued our slow march. Sinecio was now getting further away from his base of operations and for a peasant like him, who was now practically an outlaw, the situation was alarming. One day, carrying a rifle, he joined another man named Cuervo, who was doing sentry duty with a Remington rifle. A half hour later I went to see what was going on; I did not trust Sinecio any longer and the rifles were a treasure to be well guarded. When I got to the sentry post they were both gone. Banderas and Israel Pardo went after them despite the fact that they were carrying revolvers and the two-escapees had rifles. The men had disappeared.
It is hard to maintain a high morale among a troop with practically no armament, without direct contact with the Head of the Revolution, stumbling through the darkness, lacking experience, surrounded by enemies, who appeared as giants if one was to listen to the peasants' tales. Men from the plains, not used to the rough going over mountains, added to the crisis. There was an attempt at escape, led by a man called The Mexican who once readied the rank of captain but is now living in Miami; another traitor to the Revolution.
I heard about the escape through Hermes Leyva, Joel's cousin, and called for a confrontation in order to solve the problem. The Mexican swore by all his ancestors that he had no intention of leaving us; that all h wanted was to have his own guerrilla group to kill informers, because there was no action in our group. Actually, his plan was to kill informers and rob them. A typical bandit's behaviour. Later, at the battle of El Hombrito, we lost only one man: Hermes Leyva. All suspicion fell upon the Mexican, but we. could never prove that he had murdered Leyva.
The Mexican remained, swearing on his honor as a revolutionary, etc., that he would never try to escape or encourage anyone to do so. Following a few short, tiring marches we reached the zone of Palms Mocha, in the western slope of Turquino, where we received a great welcome from the peasants and established direct contact due to my new profession as "tooth puller," which I practiced with great enthusiasm.
Once again we had a good meal and rested up for a fast move toward our old friendly zones of Palma Mocha and El Infierno, where we arrived June 15. Emilio Cabrera, a peasant living in the area, reported that Lalo Sardinas had set up an ambush nearby, involving great peril to his house in the event a fight began.
On June 16 our column met a platoon belonging to Fidel's column, led by Lalo Sardinas. Sardinas told us he had been forced to join the Revolution, he was a store owner who used to bring us food when we were in the plains. One day he was taken by surprise and he had to kill a man. Then he took the way to the Sierra. Now he had instructions to lie in wait for Sanchez Mosquera's columns. Once again Sanchez Mosquera, an obstinate man, had come to Palma Mocha and had found himself practically surrounded by Fidel's column. He evaded the trap and went full speed to the other side of Turquino.
We had heard about the presence of troops nearby and had seen the trenches. What we did not know was that what we considered a sign of a sustained offensive against us was really a sign of an enemy retreat, signifying a complete qualitative change in the character of the operations in the Sierra. We were now strong enough to encircle the enemy and force it to flee under the threat of complete annihilation.
The enemy learned its lesson well. The soldiers made only sporadic raids on the Sierra, but one of the most tenacious, aggressive and bloody officers of the enemy army was Sanchez Mosquera. In 1957 he was only a lieutenant; following the last battles of the general offensive on the part of the army, which ended in defeat, he was promoted to Colonel. He had a meteoric career as regards promotions. He was also extremely successful in robbing the peasants of everything they owned every time he set foot on the labyrinths of the Sierra Maestra.