Книги: Episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ernesto Che Guevara
Episodes of the Revolutionary War,
Ernesto Che Guevara
Surprise Attack at Altos de Espinosa
following THE surprise attack mentioned in the prior chapter, we left Caracas hill, in search of more familiar areas where we could establish direct contact with Manzanillo, receive additional aid, and get some information on the situation in the rest of the country.
Therefore, we returned to the Aji, traveling through familiar territory, until we reached old Mendoza's house. On the hillsides we had to cut our way through the brush using our machetes, and we made little progress. We spent the night in one of the hills, with practically nothing to eat. I still remember what I consider one of the greatest banquets I ever attended: Crespo showed up holding a can containing 4 sausages, the results of his "savings" for his friends. Crespo, Fidel and I, together with some other man, ate the meager ration with great joy. Our journey continued until we reached the house "to the right of Caracas hill", where old Mendoza was to give us some food. In spite of his fright, this loyal peasant would welcome us every time we passed by, urged by Crescencio or some other friendly peasants who were now part of our troop.
It was a painful journey for me. I was suffering from an attack of malaria and both Crespo and the unforgettable Julio Zenon Acosta nursed me throughout the entire trip. It was not our habit to spend the night indoors, but my condition and that of Moran, who was always finding an excuse to get sick, made it necessary for us to sleep in one of the houses, while the rest of the men kept watch outside. The only time they used the house was when they had to eat.
It was necessary to "clean up" our group. We had a few men of very low morale and others who were seriously hurt, among them Ramiro Valdes, now Minister of the Interior, and Ignacio Perez, one of Crescendo's sons later killed in action bearing the rank of captain. Ramiro had received a blow on one knee already weakened by wounds received in the "Moncada" attack, so we had to leave him. Several other men left but we considered their defection very advantageous to our troop. I remember one of them who was overcome by an attack of nerves and suddenly, in the stillness of the woods, began to shout that he had been sent to a camp where there was plenty of food and water and an anti-aircraft defense, and now he was being chased by planes and there was no place to hide, no food, and no water. This was the impression most men received during the first few days of war. Later on, those who stayed and passed the first tests would become accustomed to the filth, the lack of water and food and the lack of safety, placing all their trust in their rifles as well as in the cohesion and resistance of the small guerrilla group.
Ciro Frias, accompanied by a few new men, arrived. He told us a series of stories that caused quite a lot of confusion. Today, we smile when we think of it, but at that time it was no joke: He had been told that Diaz Tamayo was about to make an about-face and was "dealing" with the revolutionary forces; that Faustino had been able to collect thousands of dollars; in one word, that sabotage was rampant and the end of the government was drawing near. There was also a sad note, but one that served as a warning: Sergio Acuna, the deserter, had gone to some relative's house; there he began to brag about his heroic deeds in the Sierra and was heard by a man named Pedro Herrera who informed the police. The notorious corporal Rosello —later executed by the people— arrested Acuna, tortured him, fired four shots into him and hung him. It was a great lesson for our troop; it showed the value of cohesion and the futility of trying to escape from a danger that threatened every one of us. It also made it imperative for us to move to another location; presumably, the boy might have talked before he was murdered, and he knew Florentino's house, where we were at the moment. A curious incident occurred which we did not quite understand until some time later: Eutimio Guerra had said that he had dreamed about Acuna's death. He even added that corporal Rosello had been the killer. This led to a long philosophical discussion on whether or not it was possible to predict any event by means of dreams. Part of my daily routine was to lecture the men on some cultural or political subject and I explained that such a thing was not possible; chat it was due to an extraordinary coincidence; that we all expected Acuna to end that way, and that we all knew that Rosello was running wild all over that zone, etc. Universo Sanchez settled the whole affair by saying that Eutimio had the habit of telling tall stories and that someone had probably told him the whole story; we must remember that Eutimio had left the day before and had returned with fifty cans of milk and a flashlight. One of the most staunch supporters of the theory of "illumination" was the 45-years-old peasant Julio Zenon Acosta. He was my first pupil in the Sierra. I was doing my best to teach him to read and write and where-ever we stopped we'd take up the lessons. We had reached the stage of distinguishing A fromО, Е from I, and so on. Julio Zenon, not thinking of the years gone by but rather of the years to come, had put his heart into the task of learning how to read and write. Perhaps he could be a very good example to other peasants who were his comrades at that time, or to others who have heard about him. Julio Zenon Acosta gave us great aid in those difficult times. He never tired, he knew the zone well, and he was the first to run to the aid of a comrade in trouble, or help a city man who was still unfamiliar with his surroundings. He would bring water from a distant stream, start the fire and find the right kind of kindling to get the fire going on a rainy day. He was our all-around man.
One night, only a short time before we discovered he was a traitor, Eutimio complained that he had no blanket and asked Fidel to lend him one. It was a cold February night, up in the hills. Fide] replied that if he gave Eutimio his blanket they would both be cold; that it was better to share the blanket, topped by two of Fidel's coats. That night, Eutimio Guerra, armed with a 45 caliber pistol that Casillas had given him to use against Fidel, and two hand grenades that were to be used to cover his getaway once the crime was committed, slept side by side with our leader. Universo Sanchez and I had made it a point to stay close to Fidel and that night Eutimio had said to us:
"I am very interested in this business of the watch. We must be on guard all the time." We explained that three men were on guard nearby. We, the Granma veterans, and a few of Fidel's trusted men always took turns protecting him. Thus, Eutimio spent an entire night lying side by side with the Leader of the Revolution, waiting for his chance to murder him, but he never gathered enough courage to do it. Throughout the night, a great part of the Revolution depended on the thoughts of courage, fear, scruples, ambition, power, and money, running through the mind of a traitor. Fortunately for us, the sum total of inhibitory factors emerged triumphant and the night passed without any incident.
We had left Florentino's house and were now settled in a ravine. Ciro Frias had gone home and returned with a few hens and some other food. Hot soup and other viands were our reward for a long, rainy night in the open. Somebody said Eutimio had been around there too. Eutimio used to go in and out at will; we trusted him and we had accepted his explanation of his trip to see his sick mother, the story about the Caracas hill battle, etc. He said his mother had recovered from her illness. The man was extremely audacious. We were in a place called Altos de Espinosa, near a chain of hills such as El Lomon, Loma del Burro, Caracas, and others, that were under constant aerial attack. Eutimio would say: "I told you they'd strafe Loma del Burro today". The planes would come and strafe the hill and Eutimio would jump to his feet, bragging about his accurate forecasting.
On February 9, 1957, Ciro Frias and Luis Crespo went foraging for food as usual. Everything was quiet, and about 10 a.m. a young peasant named Labrada, who had recently joined our group, captured a man nearby. It turned out to be one of Crescendo's relatives, a salesclerk in Celestino's grocery store where Casilla's soldiers were stationed. The boy reported that there were close to 145 soldiers in the house. We checked, and we saw a few of them, far away on a barren spot. Our prisoner told us that he had spoken to Eutimio who had told him that the zone was to be bombed the next day. Casilla's men moved about but we could not determine which way. Fidel became suspicious; Eutimio's strange behaviour was beginning to dawn upon us and we began to comment on it. At 1:30 p.m. Fidel gave orders to leave and we went to the top of the hill to wait for the comrades who had gone scouting. Ciro Frias and Luis Crespo returned, saying that everything was normal. Suddenly, Frias requested silence saying that he had seen someone moving around. He cocked his rifle and at that moment we heard a shot, followed by a volley. There was the sound of volleys and explosions coming from the place we had previously occupied and which was now being torn apart by the concentrated fire. We left our position at full speed and some time later we found out that Julio Zenon Acosta had been killed atop the hill. The uneducated peasant, who had been able to comprehend the enormous tasks that the Revolution was to face following its triumph; the man who was getting ready to lend a hand in these tasks, was dead. Our group had become dispersed. My knapsack —my pride and joy— full of medicines, reserve food, a few books and blankets, was left behind. I managed to pull out a blanket that had belonged to Batista's army, a trophy of the La Plata battle, and started to run.
Soon I met a small group of men: Almeida, Julito Diaz, Universo Sanchez, Camilo Cienfuegos, Guillermo Garcia, Ciro Frias, Motola, Pesant, Emilio Labrada, and Yayo. We took off in an oblique direction, trying to avoid the shots. We did not know where our other comrades were or what had happened to them. We could hear shots at our rear, and we knew our trail was an easy one to follow because we were moving fast and did not have time to erase our tracks. At 5:15 p.m. we reached a craggy spot, where the woods ended. We made up our minds to wait there until darkness set in because if we tried to cross the open space by daylight, the enemy would see us. If they followed us to our present location, we could still defend ourselves, protected by the rugged terrain. However, the enemy did not show up and we went on, guided by Ciro Frias who was slightly familiar with the area. It had been suggested that the group be broken into two patrols allowing for faster moving and a less conspicuous trail but Almeida and I voted against the idea. We wanted to keep the group intact. We reconnoitered the area, called Limones, and held a meeting because some of the men wanted to get away from there. Almeida, head of the group, based on his rank of Captain, gave orders to continue to El Lomon, where Fidel had called for a meeting. Some of the men argued that the place was familiar to Eutimio and we would find the soldiers there. We had no doubts about Eutimio being a traitor, but it was Almeida's decision to obey Fidel's orders.
We met Fidel on February 12, near El Lomon, in a place called "Derecha de la Caridad". Then we heard the whole story about Eutimio. It began with his arrest by Casillas following the La Plata encounter. Instead of killing Eutimio, Casillas had bribed him to kill Fidel. Eutimio had given away our position in Caracas; he had given the order to bomb Loma del Burro because it was in our itinerary —we had changed it at the last moment— and had organized the concentrated attack on the spot of Canon del Arroyo where we withdrew with only one casualty thanks to Fidel's quick thinking. We verified the death of Julio Acosta and it was said that some guards had been killed and others wounded. I must confess that neither the dead nor the wounded was any of my own doing; at the time, I had executed a "strategic retreat" at full speed. Now we were all together, excepting one comrade lost the day before. Raul, Ameijeiras, Ciro Redondo, Manuel Fajardo, Echeverria, Moran, and Fidel; in all, 18 of us. This was the "Re-unified Revolutionary Army" on February 12, 1957. A few comrades had already given up and a few rookies gave up their guerrilla war right then and there. A Granma veteran was also missing. His name" was Armando Rodriguez and he carried a Thompson machinegun. For the last few days he had looked so alarmed and frightened every time we heard shots around us, particularly if the shots came from all sides, that we began to describe his expression as a "surrounding maneuver look." Every time a man's face showed the look of a trapped animal we expected something unpleasant to happen. That type of look was incompatible with guerrilla warfare. Our friend with the "surrounding maneuver look" got into high gear, as we used to say in guerrilla jargon, and took off. Some time later, we found his machine gun abandoned in a peasant's hut, a great distance away. Undoubtedly, the man was gifted with a good pair of legs!