Elio Delgado Legón
HAVANA TIMES – The early days of October 1958 were upon us. On the first, I had joined the rebel camp. That’s how my life as a guerrilla began. It was a new experience for me, although I had already spent more than four years in the struggle against the dictatorship, risking my life on numerous occasions.
However, the conditions were different in the city, and I had been leading an almost normal life: working, studying, and carrying out the revolutionary activities that were needed.
Life as a guerrilla was something quite different. By day I participated in the programmed activities: exercises, target practice, doing guard duty at selective points far from the camp to be able to warn everyone if the guardia (soldiers of the dictatorship) were approaching.
For lunch we ate whatever the cooks had prepared. Sometimes food was plentiful, but other days it was scarce. We didn’t even think about bathing – the little water that we obtained was earmarked for drinking and cooking.
The general conditions in the camp were very unstable. There wasn’t any source of abundant water. The site also lacked points of higher ground from which to observe whether the enemy was approaching. There wasn’t even a thick brush cover with tall trees to offer protection to the guerrilla band.
It was nothing but a rolling plains with brush, some palm trees and a few medium-sized trees.
If someone had betrayed our location and the enemy had located the camp, it would have been easy to surround and destroy it since we rebels didn’t have enough arms or ammunition for a sustained battle.
I was the last one to join this group of guerrillas, making us a band of thirteen. For some, the number meant bad luck, for others just the opposite.
After a few days without rain, the weather began to get bad. Dark, low clouds raced from north to south. According to the battery-powered radio that the captain and guerrilla leader had, there was a hurricane approaching from the south of the island.
The sixth of October dawned rainy and with a really exasperating wind. In order to perform the guard duty, we had to go out wrapped in a sheet of plastic that the wind fought to rip off of us. Those who weren’t assigned to guard duty stayed in their hammocks beneath plastic, or huddled under some roofs we had made among the trees using the stuffing of balsa trees in order to better protect us from inclement weather.
By the afternoon the wind began to whip at us with more force, so much that the little trees of that scrubland looked like they were going to tear in two, while every few minutes some fleshy leaves would tear off the palm trees and be carried into the distance by the wind.
When it was getting dark and the wind was producing the strangest and most varied sounds from the bushes, the son of one of the campesinos – a loyal guerrilla collaborator – arrived to urge us to head for his house since no one knew for certain how intense the storm might become or if we could withstand it in our precarious conditions. Next to that peasant’s house there was an empty hut big enough to shelter us thirteen guerrillas during the storm.
After analyzing the pros and cons of moving under these conditions, it was decided that we should pack up camp and move to that little house; from there we could later head elsewhere with the hopes of establishing a new camp with better conditions.
When it was completely dark and with the campesino as a guide, we began the march in single file, staying close together so as not to get lost in the darkness. The wind blew ever stronger, and every so often the stalk of a balsa tree would fall near us.
We walked about three kilometers in that rain, through hurricane force winds, on paths soaked with water that at times reached halfway up our legs. Finally we got to the hut and could stretch out on the floor by the light of a kerosene lantern.
Almost no one could sleep that night, since it seemed like the wind would rip the roof right off the hut. Close to dawn, the hurricane began to calm and give signs that it had passed and was moving away. The rain and wind continued, not as strong as the day before, but enough to inundate the fields and paths of the terrain that we had to cross to move to our new camp.
During the day, we stayed in the hut in order to avoid being seen by anyone passing nearby. The campesino’s family brought us breakfast, lunch and other food. They refused to charge us, but the captain left money for them on the table.
We had to wait for nightfall to move our camp since the darkness protected us from being seen by anyone who could reveal our presence.
When it began to get dark, we left – once again in single file, without much distance from one to another in order not to get lost in the darkness. We marched through water and mud almost all night until we arrived at another small rise, near a swollen arroyo whose water was caramel-colored and couldn’t be drunk until the mud dissolved in it had settled.
The next day we returned to the same routine and to preparing the conditions for life in the new camp. By then, we had finished even talking about the hurricane.