An Interview with Cuban Rebel Army Captain Juliano Chaviano

Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado Legon and Julio Chaviano Fundora
Elio Delgado Legon and Julio Chaviano Fundora

HAVANA TIMES — Many of the accounts I’ve published in Havana Times have to do with my modest efforts as a member of the guerrilla that, under the command of Julio Chaviano Fundora, operated on the valleys of Santo Domingo, towards the border with Quemado de Guines and Corralillo, in Cuba’s province of Las Villas.

When I joined the guerrilla army on October 1, 1958, there were only 13 combatants in the detachment. When I was forced to leave because of an accident I had on December 13, there was already nearly 100 of us. How did this guerrilla assemble and what operations was it involved in after I left?

To offer a detailed answer, I interview our former superior, Rebel Army captain Julio Chaviano Fundora. This is what he told me:

“I was an official in the troop commanded by Victor Bordon, which was the first combat front set up in Las Villas. The troop operated in the valleys between Quemado de Guines and Santo Domingo.

When the strike of April 9, 1958 was being organized, we decided to attack the garrison at Quedamo de Guines, but we were unable to seize the facility and had to retreat towards Santo Domingo.

On April 9, we blocked the central highway and railway at a place known as Crucero Marcelo, located between Santo Domingo and Manacas. There, we burnt cars and blocked traffic down the highway and railroad. During these operations, the son of colonel Pedraza, who happened to be driving down the road, got out of his car and fired a machinegun at us. He was killed in the act.

Before the army arrived, we decided to retreat towards the Bermejal area, in the municipality of Santo Domingo, where Bordon decided to split up the troop into small detachments, in order to avoid pursuit.

Bordon left with a group towards Quemado de Guines and I left with another detachment for Manacas, in Santo Domingo. We had agreed to meet back at a ranch near Quemado de Guines (owned by a farmer named Patricio Diaz) after things had calmed down.

Bordon contacted the leadership of the 26th of July Movement in Las Villas and asked to be relocated to the Escambray mountain range. His request was granted and he was taken to the mountains. The group of combatants under his command relocated there later.

When we arrived at Patricio Diaz’ ranch, as agreed, we found out Bordon was at the Escambray, so we decided to return to Manacas and begin guerrilla operations there. Our detachment began to grow gradually.

Commander Diego (Victor Paneque), from the 26th of July leadership in Las Villas, suggested that, owing to the number of combatants in our detachment, we had already attained the status of a company. He decided to name the guerrilla the Julio Pino Machado Company.

Several guerrilla units were active in the valley area: one headed by Ramoncito Perez, operating in the San Diego and Cifuentes area, another commanded by Benito Campos, in Corralillo, and a third led by Tomasito Diaz, in Quemado de Guines. The movement’s leadership placed the three units under my command but, in practice, they didn’t follow my orders and continued to operate independently.

At the Escambray, Che Guevara called a meeting with the guerrilla leaders and appointed me area chief. He named the guerrillas there the Fourth Group and made me answer directly to him.

When the operations for the final offensive in Las Villas began, our guerrilla took part in the taking of Fomento and the destruction of the bridge over the river Tuinicu. These actions were led by Captain San Luis, Olo Pantoja and myself.

The bridge guard had been reinforced in the early morning, and these officers injured Lieutenant Esmildo Chaviano and killed Felix Alvarez and Agustin Rodriguez. Inexplicably, the guards retreated and we were able to take the bridge. That’s when Israel Chavez arrived with reinforcements.

We also took part in the taking of Placetas. There, Che Guevara decided we join Bordon’s troops and take Santo Domingo with him. We tried to take the bridge over the river Sagua, near Santo Domingo, and Bordon took the garrison and police station, but he had to retreat when army troops with heavy artillery arrived. Later, on December 31, we were able to take the garrison without much resistance. This was the last town taken in the west of the zone.

After Santa Clara was taken, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro instructed Che Guevara to advance towards Havana and take the La Cabaña fortress. I was appointed head of Squadron 43 of the Rural Police, in the city of Colon, Matanzas.”

One thought on “An Interview with Cuban Rebel Army Captain Juliano Chaviano

  • I appreciate your reminiscences, Elio. However, there are some historical inaccuracies, perhaps reinforced by the decades of propaganda repeating the official lies.

    As Jose Presol wrote in “January 1, 1959: The Beginning of a Betrayal?”, Che did not “take” La Cabana fortress. It was already in rebel hands, just not Fidel’s clique.

    Read on:

    “The first revolutionaries to enter Havana on New Year’s Eve 1958 were not the forces of the 26th of July Movement, a claim that is not disputed when the subject comes up. The first to go in were men and women of the Second National Escambray Front.

    Nor were Camilo Cienfuegos nor Ché Guevara the ones who occupied the Columbia or La Cabaña military barracks. It was a Ramón Barquín, a native of the city of Cienfuegos and an army colonel, who took command of those installations. He had been imprisoned on the Isle of Pines (now the Isle of Youth) since 1956 for leading a rebellion of Los Puros (“the pure”) against Batista. After he was liberated, he flew to Havana, where he became de facto commander of the army and president of the republic. However, he put aside any personal ambition and on Day 3 handed over command to Cienfuegos on the orders of the acting president, Manuel Urrutia Lleó. Colonel Barquín died in exile on March 3, 2008.”

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