Combat At Rio Ciego

Elio Delgado Legón

Foto: Elio Delgado Valdes
Foto: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES — On the morning of November 3, 1958, after saying goodbye to our comrade (who had fallen in combat the night before, during our assault on a military train), under the full light of day, we began to move away from the road and search for a place to set up camp again, as we would not be returning to our previous campsite. We had to move almost twice as quickly as we normally did, because there were no nearby hills to hide behind in case a reconnaissance plane flew by (something that would not have been unusual, given what happened the night before).

Around noon, we arrived at the estate of a farmer who was collaborating with the guerillas. We hid in a wooded area near his home for the rest of the day. We were all very tired after our long night, and very sad over the loss of our comrade, Sabino.

Though we’d arrived unannounced, they prepared some food for us at the house and distributed it among the men before dark. This way, we were able to restore our energies to continue on our way (we hadn’t eaten anything since noon the day before). As we were leaving, the farmer’s son, who was only 15, said he wanted to join us, and we had to convince him it wasn’t possible. In addition to the fact he was a minor, we didn’t have enough weapons to go around.

After walking all night, as we normally did in order to avoid being seen, we arrived at the Baracaldo farm and approached the steward. He wasn’t exactly to be trusted, but it was our hope he would not turn us in and would allow us to set up camp on a heavily-wooded hill that was cut through by a river known as Rio Ciego. This would guarantee us a water supply for drinking, cooking and bathing. As we would later see, the place was terrible from a military point of view, for the hill was bounded by a railway line and a path where trucks could circulate. We had ended up setting up camp between the railway line, the road and the river, that is to say, three fronts that were easy for the army to take. All they would have then needed to do was cut off our retreat down the hill and push us towards one of the three fronts they’d taken, and we’d be done for (as we didn’t even have enough weapons to combat them for very long).

Several days later, in the afternoon of November 11, after a meeting where we decided to expel a guerilla member who had acted in a treacherous fashion (trying to convince other guerrilla members to leave with him and form another cell), captain Chaviano took his Springfield and 100-bullet cartridge belt and headed towards the river with his father to take a bath. He was unable to reach his destination, however, for, as they were nearing the river, they almost ran into some soldiers who were advancing along the bank, seemingly planning on taking that front (they had already taken the railway and road).

The meeting took both the guerrillas and soldiers by complete surprise. Facing fire from Chaviano’s revolver, the soldiers retreated down the river bank towards the bridge, where they had set up a machinegun. They opened fire and, as we would later find out, killed several of their own soldiers. All of the fronts taken opened fire on the rebel campsite.

While retreating, under fire from the machinegun at the bridge, Chaviano dropped the 100-bullet cartridge belt for his Springfield, which was the only weapon we had with considerable ammunition. Realizing what had happened, Chaviano asked Lazaro Muñoz and I to accompany him and rescue the cartridge belt. We did this under heavy fire, as we had to go very close to the river, pick up the cartridge belt and head back to where the rest of the comrades were.

The decision of the guerrilla high command was to divide us into three groups, in order to break the enemy fence at different spots. Two groups would attempt to cross the road and the third would head up the hill, away from the railway. The orders were to cross the central road that night and head towards the south, towards a farm named El Platano. There, we would regroup and decide where to set up the new camp.

12 thoughts on “Combat At Rio Ciego

  • You knew better than himself at the time then. He respected a long-lasting tradition of any new Cuban leader to pay first visit to US, thinking that American people will appreciate nation throwing away oppression, – the very same thing themselves done in 1776. But short-sighted Eisenhower and establishment couldn’t see nothing beyond a threat to precious interests of American corporations and mafia and practically pushed him the opposite way.

  • Ken, maximum true and don’t forget, he probably gets his vegetables and meat a whole lot faster and better than the average
    Cuban. I’m a major fan of opening up Cuba, especially via
    internet and one on one with those who left this once beautiful country to tell first hand how successful and prosperous they’ve
    become since leaving years ago. Of course the mantra coming from the “privilege”, who run the show is that these are drug dealers and or Mafiosa’s! I can attest, knowing many of these expat’s it’s just not true. Let the gates open!!

  • Marti, so true! I remember Castro coming to the US after his victory and
    knew immediately that he was a card carrying marxist. The result has been
    devastating to many who actually supported the downfall of Batista, many
    of whom were executed and literally homeless months later. I too am amazed at Elio not recognizing this travesty. So much pain resulted after Castro came to power.

  • John, if you had been in Cuba during the Cuban revolution you would have been at La Cabaña, at one end or the other of Che’s firing squad.

  • To me a companero is someone who shares a love for the revolution .
    There were many Cubans who did not pick up a rifle but who did their part in the revolution.
    Elio and I are comrades and an imperial sympathizer like you is our mutual enemy.
    As a totalitarian and a supporter of murderous capitalism, you are hardly one to judge the morality of those who support socialism nor do you have any moral authority to tell me what I can do and not do.
    Too bad we could not have met at Playa Giron.

  • John,

    You do not have the privilege of addressing Elio as “companero”. That is something earned by a man who has fought for his ideals. Even if I disagree with Elio’s political beliefs, I respect his sacrifices and his integrity. A poser like you has neither to your credit.

    So stuff the “companero” crap.

  • It is a shame that those farmers who helped those revolutionaries hide from the Batista army and provided food and shelter to them would later have the same revolutionaries turn their guns on them for daring to want to own their own farms and to sell the crops grown on those farms directly to the market.

  • Elio,
    After reading N.J. Marti’s post I had to come back and ask you how you feel the revolution is likely to go AFTER any ending of U.S. hostilities.
    IMO- Cuba could remain a state capitalist economy with an authoritarian government , or could revert to feral capitalism combined with the same authoritarian (Leninist) government or could fulfill the promises of the revolution and begin a serious transition to a socialist state .
    That socialist state would have to fully implement the principles and democratic INTENT of Poder Popular in the electoral area and begin serious steps toward a bottom-up , majority worker-led economy as socialist principles dictate.
    How do you view the present government as regards democracy or a working representative republic ?.
    and what do you both hope and expect to see in the future for Cuba as regards democratization of the society ?.
    This might take another article from you and I would really appreciate hearing YOUR particular slant on things.
    Thank you companero..

  • N.J.,
    A really good post .
    I don’t want to scare or insult you but I could have written that .
    Your very accurate use of political terms is appreciated and gives me hope for others who, unlike you, choose to conflate socialism with what Cuba has now. .
    I would say that the expression “socialist democracy” is somewhat redundant in that to be socialist means to be democratic: i.e. bottom-up, majority rule but given the very common thinking that socialism can be other than democratic, it was a necessary thing to include..
    You made my morning . .

  • Actually, his name is Elio. And if you read his personal profile next to his picture, you will see that he remains a partisan of the Cuban government. He does not express any disappointment at all.

  • Thanks Elio.
    I appreciate hearing the history first-hand.

  • It is a shame that the revolution never gave the people the democracy they where promised. Not to take away from the many changes the revolution brought. A people’s socialist democracy was just not one of them. Instead they got a totalitarian central control economy. Eliot it must be a deep disappointment to you.

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