My First Failed Attempt at Joining Cuba’s Rebels

Elio Delgado Legón

HAVANA TIMES — Shortly after Fidel Castro began the war against Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship at the Sierra Maestra mountain range, I asked the leadership of the 26th of July Movement in the province of Las Villas to send me to a guerrilla front, as carrying on with my clandestine urban activities was becoming very difficult (I already had a police record and they were keeping an eye on my every move).

The leadership of the movement told me it wasn’t possible, because there weren’t enough weapons for all combatants and many guerrilla fighters were unarmed at the Sierra. At the end of 1957, I again approached them saying I needed to join the rebels at the Sierra Maestra, but my request was denied again. They told me they would let me know when it was possible, so that I could join the front created in the province by Victor Bordon Machado.

In the first days of April, 1958, the 26th of July coordinator in my town told me three of us had to leave with him for the camp headed by Bordon, which was located behind some hills one could reach on foot. He had gone before and knew how to get there.

In the afternoon, just before nightfall so as not to be seen, the four of us met in the outskirts of the town and headed for the hills, to try and reach the campsite before dawn. We walked the entire night and the only one of us who knew the way seemed to be lost. The next day, he tried to get his bearings. That night, we reached the home of a coal worker who told us Bordon and his troops had left, headed for Quemado de Guines. Our coorindator, who was our superior, decided that we should return to the town before the police became aware that we were missing.

My shirt was tattered from walking among marabou brushes and I couldn’t let anyone see me. We walked all night and reached the town just before dawn. Each of us headed in a different direction to get home. I had walk through the town and needed a shirt.

I decided to knock at the door of a revolutionary who belonged to a different organization. He lived in the outskirts of the town. The man, whose name was Ernesto Leon, got up and offered me one of his shirts. He was much more corpulent than I was (I was quite skinny), but I took the shirt anyways, tucking it under my pants so that it didn’t look so baggy.

As dawn broke, I went into town and headed for the home of the owner of the hardware store where I had been working for a little over year. His daughters were revolutionaries and he lived somewhere I could reach without exposing myself too much. From there, I sent for some clothes from home. When I had changed, I headed to the hardware store to work.

We later found out Bordon had left some men waiting for us at the campsite and that the orders to mobilize were related to a general strike scheduled for the 9th of the month. The column was to participate in actions in support of the strike.

After this failed attempt at joining the guerrilla, I had to wait until October to join another guerrilla campsite operating in the area under the command of Captain Julio Chaviano – but I will save that story for another post.

7 thoughts on “My First Failed Attempt at Joining Cuba’s Rebels

  • Thanks Elio, I enjoyed your essay, it is good to read some balanced accounts instead of the bitter recalcitrant “I am against anything” type that abound here. You were part of an heroic generation.

  • Yeah, my Latin teacher in California in high school, was the son of the dean of Havana University – Castro’s men carried him out of his office in his chair, because he refused to leave the university – I guess they put his whole family on the boat and shipped them off to Florida – I heard about Cuba –

  • Thank you for your kind words!

    However, I must decline your invitation to a symposium on sorting out the differences between the Cuba and the US, and more importantly, between the Cuban people and the Castro regime.

    Those are issues for the Cuban people to discuss, not a Canadian observer to meddle in. I will continue to add my two cents for the general interest of readers at HT.

    Best to you this season, as well!

  • Griffin, great post and you’re also a top commentator I read all the time.
    Perhaps you too, as I commented to Elio, could consider a symposium
    with others in Cuba to reach some compromise to make this country
    the number one most prosperous in the region. I also include Moses in this and many other who write worthwhile comments. Although you already celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada weeks ago, best to you this season!

  • Elio, I always read your posts and although I disagree with you 90% of the time am able to get a further grasp of how intelligent folk, like you, think in Cuba. This venue gives you a free reign and what’s upsetting is how so few in Cuba have
    that luxury. What I ask is that you post something, anything, on how we can reconcile our differences so as to move towards the center. The US has some very powerful expat’s all of whom have legitimate reasons why they will never negotiate with the Castro’s so why not have a symposium of others within your party and meet with those in the US who could make a change in Cuba that could make this country the most advanced and prosperous in your region? I also know that Fidel
    Castro is on line constantly and I’m sure reads all that goes on in this website.
    Look forward to your posts. The revolution is past tense and it’s great to reminisce but brings nothing to what that average Cuban yearns for. On a side note, we, in the US have our own problems as well so maybe this meeting could aid our situation as well.

  • Elio,
    A very interesting article, particularly because it’s written first hand. I look forward to reading your next instalment.
    ‘Vas bien Fidel’

  • Elio,

    I enjoy your stories about your time as a youth as a rebel against the Batista dictatorship. While I have taken issue with some of your columns on contemporary topics (I do not share your admiration for the Castros), I do understand the deep and widespread hatred toward Batista. I have profound respect for the young men, some still mere boys, who took up arms and risked their lives for a better Cuba.

    Your story reminds me of the one told by Reinaldo Arenas in his tragic novel, Palace of the White Skunks (El palacio de las blanquisimas mofetas). The central character, Fortunado, a skinny youth from Holguin, leaves home to join the rebels. He has been told he must bring a weapon if he is to be accepted and so he plans to stab a soldier and take his rifle. His scheme does not go well.

    I look forward to future instalments.

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