Our First Martyr

Elio Delgado Legon

Rural Cuba photo by Angel Yu.

HAVANA TIMES — I had joined the guerrilla a month before and still hadn’t taken part in any important actions. Only the most senior and experienced members, who had the best guns, had been sent to acquire weapons and to ambush a police patrol.

November 3, 1958 – the day Batista’s dictatorship had chosen to hold elections in, to bring about a change in government that would have a semblance of legality within so-called “representative democracy” – was nearing.

A messenger from the provincial headquarters of the 26th of July Movement had arrived with instructions to sabotage the elections. No vehicle was to be allowed on the town’s central road or railway (as we knew the government would be sending troops to the central and eastern provinces to ensure the fraudulent elections were carried out as planned).

At the time, our guerrilla cell, the Julio Pino Column, was made up of 60 combatants, but many of these had no weapons or had very precarious and ineffective ones. I had a sawed-off shotgun which was only effective if fired very close to the enemy, and a 38-caliber six-shooter, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to test.

On the afternoon of the 2nd, we started moving towards the central road. We were planning to set up camp between the town of Manacas and the Hatuey brewery, where the road was some 300 meters away from the railroad, a place where the men could be more easily distributed between the two ways.

At around nine at night, we crossed the central road, which was deserted. Captain Julio Chaviano set up a squadron (under the command of lieutenant Esmildo Chaviano) along the length of a stretch of road, between the eucalyptus trees that surrounded it. The orders were to fire on any vehicle that drove past.

The remaining men were deployed along the railroad, where a train carrying troops was expected to pass.

The hours went by and no vehicles were seen on either of the two ways. Only the mosquitos would flit by and bother us. At around eleven at night, we heard a vehicle speeding down the road and we got ready to open fire. As it was about to enter into our line of fire, we saw that it was an ambulance and the order to hold fire was given. Only one of us, who hadn’t heard the order, fired off a shotgun run, which luckily didn’t hit the driver (who continued on his way at high speed). Everything went quiet after that.

An hour or two later, we heard the noise a train arriving from the west typically makes.

The group spread out along the railroad was on the alert. The orders were for all to open fire at the same time as the train passed by and for the captain to open fire on the locomotive with his Springfield.

When the train entered into the line of fire, the sound of the wheels on the tracks mingled with the thundering of the rifles, shot-guns and revolvers.

The shooting lasted only a few minutes, as the train was moving fast, but some of the soldiers fired back at us. When the combat ended, someone in our ranks was left seriously injured. A bullet had gone through the chest of Sabino Hernandez Casal (Chambas).

We quickly decided to carry him to the house of the nurse at the beer parlor, some two kilometers away. We had to move by the side of the road and do so quickly. We would take turns carrying him. Every time one of us got tired, they would hand over the wounded man to another. We didn’t stop for a second.

When we reached the house of the nurse, we found out he wasn’t there and we had to go look for him at the factory infirmary. The wounded man was placed on a broad wooden bench, and I placed his head on my lap so that he’d be more comfortable, but he wasn’t even moving.

When the nurse arrived and saw him, he gave us harrowing news: Chambas was dead.

Sabino Hernandez had joined our guerrilla ranks not long before, but his agreeable nature had earned him everyone’s affection. He had told us he lived in Chambas, in the province of Camaguey, where he had a wife and a newborn whom he hadn’t yet seen. All of us had ceased calling him Sabino and he was known as Chambas in the group.

The decision was to bury him as soon as possible at a location that could be easily identified later. We opened up a hole next to a palm tree and laid him there, covering the grave with planks and a piece of plastic. We didn’t have time to do anything more.

It took us all the early morning to complete this operation. As dawn broke, we were still some 200 meters way from the central road, without any brushes to hide behind.

Captain Chaviano’s words of farewell made many of us cry. It was our first encounter with death and Chambas was our first martyr.

2 thoughts on “Our First Martyr

  • 50 + years is a long time to let an experiment run. The revolution is not without areas of success. The economic model is however an unmitigated disaster as is the lack of individual freedom. The people want change and they will get it as the errors of the revolution are corrected. It is long past the time to admit the Soviet model failed.

    This does not mean the Castro regime is done. Look to China and Putin’s Russia as transitional states. China in particular has retained it’s ruling counsel while adopting the most successful capatilist system currently in operation.

  • A very brave man who fought for what he obviously believes in and I can understand his annoyance at the attitude of some people towards the government and what they have attempted to implement since the revolution, however he also has to consider and appreciate why the youth and the middle aged people crave for something better, and I personally agree with the younger generation. I have visited Cuba 4 times now and I can understand the younger generations point of view. As for myself I was born in Ireland and can appreciate why the Revolution took place in the first place, however I believe the siyuation in Cuba is fast becoming critical and the people want change without disrespecting the people who gave their lives so that the people could live life freely, but are the people living freely? From what I have seen on m four holidays in Cuba for me the answer is no the people are not free, they are very closely monitored.

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