The Journey from Mina Carlota to San Blas

Elio Delgado Legón

In the Escambray Mountains near San Blas.  Photo: 5deseptiembre.cu
In the Escambray Mountains near San Blas. Photo: 5deseptiembre.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Our column stayed in Mina Carlota in the Escambray Mountains for 10 days. Soon after arriving at this camp, Major Anastasio Cárdenas left with troops to attack the Trinidad barracks. The next day, news arrived of his death in combat and of the operation’s failure.

During that time, we became friends with some of the guerrilla fighters, who told us about the atrocities that some of the leaders of the so-called Second National Front of Escambray were committing, including the murder of innocent civilians who had climbed up the mountains in order to fight against Batista’s dictatorship.

Captain Luis Vargas suggested to our commanders that we should stay on with them and that if we wanted to leave, we would have to do so without arms. However, when the order came for us to move to San Blas, a zone occupied by guerrilla fighters from the 26th of July Movement, which was our own organization, we were ready to leave the following morning, rifle in hand, whatever the price might be.

Our departure from Mina Carlota was tense as we didn’t know what was going to happen. However, nobody intercepted our path and at mid-afternoon, after having walked up and down several mountains, we arrived in San Blas, a small village located in front of La Ventana mountain, one of the highest in Escambray.

At that time, San Blas used to have a coffee drying facility, an electric plant, a forge and a winery. There was also a building with a fibre cement roof where a guerrilla doctor, whose name I can’t recall, had his infirmary to look after guerrilla fighters who arrived injured or sick, as well as attending to the village’s general population, although he lacked even the most basic resources.

On our way to San Blas, we came across a detachment belonging to the March 13th Revolutionary Directorate, which occupied the area between those of the Second National Front and the 26th of July Movement; this encounter was without tensions. We greeted one another as two guerrilla detachments fighting for the same end: to overthrow Fulgencio Batista’s bloody tyranny.

We had to wait several days at San Blas until Captain Chaviano who, since our arrival in Escambray, had gone to the El Pedrero camp, where, with Che Guevara, was analysing the war situation and waiting for the order to move our column. Meanwhile, we set up camp on a mountain somewhat at a distance from the village, which people used to call El Piquito, perhaps because of its sheer steepness.

We had to go up El Piquito along a narrow path which when it rained became slippery. Nevertheless, it was a place that enabled us to defend ourselves in the case that the army reached San Blas. At the top of the mountain, there was lots of vegetation which allowed us to hang up our hammocks and cook our “rancho” or communal meal, while walking up and down the mountain became our daily exercise in preparation for future operations.

Alongside the path that went up the mountain, a farmer lived with his many daughters and some of us, when walking past their house, used to stop to greet and talk to the young girls. The youngest formed a very special close friendship with me, and while we never became boyfriend and girlfriend, she gave me a kerchief as a present with the colours of the 26th July Movement’s flag: red and black, and I had to promise her that I would return when the war was over. It was a promise I could not fulfill. What lasts of that friendship are my fond memories and some photos in which I appear with the kerchief on my shoulders. I had kept the material but with time it completely deteriorated.

On December 12, Captain Chaviano returned and told us that he had received an order from Che Guevara for us to move immediately to El Pedrero, as he was reuniting all of the troops there in order to launch an offensive.

Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.


21 thoughts on “The Journey from Mina Carlota to San Blas

  • August 10, 2015 at 1:21 pm
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    The circumstances surrounding cold blooded murder of literacy brigade member Conrado Benitez, several other literacy brigadistas, and the local farmer who gave them assistance, is well known and documented. As a result of the unfavorable publicity of these cold-blooded murders, even the counter-revolutionary commanders later ordered the thugs under their command to cease such summary executions. Once again, Griffin’s comments fly in the face of the actual events.

  • August 9, 2015 at 9:03 pm
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    So says the Castro regime propagandists. But it would never have served the purposes of the rebels who returned to the hills to fight Castro’s tyranny to murder literacy teachers.

    It did serve Castro’s purpose to accuse the rebels of such ghastly crimes.

  • August 9, 2015 at 12:35 pm
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    I tend to give credence to Elio’s assertions. A few years later the same elements who chose not to cooperate with the 26-7 Movement, murdered volunteers of the literacy brigades who came to the Escambray to teach reading and writing to local residents.

  • August 4, 2015 at 9:48 am
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    Castro was already suspicious and hostile toward other rebel groups not under his command. Che Guevara was sent to the Escambray with orders to bring those rebels under the control of the M-26 organization. The discussions he held with the leaders of the Second Front of the Escambray were tense, but no fighting broke out. Some of the rebels agreed to join M-26 under Fidel, others did not. Those who did not agree to join Fidel were called bandits or criminals by Fidel & Che.

    Following the rise to power of Fidel & his revolutionary government, many members of the Second Front returned to the hills to fight against what they saw as the betrayal of the revolution when Fidel invited Communists into his government. The Cuban government called this rebellion as the War Against the Bandits, labelling the rebels as nothing more than violent bandits. It’s possible that Elio’s recollection was influenced by the propaganda the government churned out in the 1960’s.

  • August 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm
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    In your message below you suggest that the accounts of atrocities are a “…false story invented by the Castro regime…” But if Elio’s account is to be believed, these stories of atrocities were circulating at the time, before there was a “Castro regime.”

  • July 31, 2015 at 1:20 pm
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    That’s why I agree sometimes with you Moses! Best post ever!

  • July 31, 2015 at 1:18 pm
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    John, I’ve swallowed the Kool Aid so I agree with you. Now please don’t tell me you’re a vegan or I’ll leave this world sooner than later.

  • July 31, 2015 at 11:10 am
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    That you find anything of worth in Moses posts does not surprise me in the least .
    You are both deeply devoted to totalitarian free-enterprise capitalism and the oligarchy that is the GOUSA.
    You MUST criticize Cuba and Venezuela or any other country looking for an economy that works in developing countries because neo-liberal , free-enterprise capitalism does not as proven by the half of the world’s 7 billion people who live in dire poverty under it.
    No matter.
    The capitalism you love dies a long slow death by 2035 at the latest
    and with it, the imperialism you support.
    Ever consider the benefits of democracy ?

  • July 31, 2015 at 11:03 am
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    Please list those 13 interventions and the reasons for them given by the Cuban government . ..or supply the sources for this information .
    While you’re doing that research , look up what defines a Third World country so you’ll know what that is on your next post.
    Further, if you even dream that you know more about the U.S.-Cuban history than I do, you should immediately post an apology to me.
    “Castro family regime”
    “deprived citizens ”
    “zero knowledge”
    “Propaganda Department of the PCC”
    “dire poverty ”
    Don’t you ever tire of using clichéd expressions at the high school civics class level ?

  • July 30, 2015 at 11:57 pm
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    The usual diversionary tactic of dragging in a dead cat – in this instance Jamaica – but it makes a change from the USA.
    Your knowledge of the reality of Cuba is – as we have learned zero as you have never been there.
    You are totally unqualified to apportion blame for the dire poverty of Cubans and so you swallow the guff promoted by the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba as directed by the Castro family regime, that all the faults, errors and incompetence of the regime should be allotted to the embargo.
    You think Cuba qualifies as a third world country. Yet that “third world country under the direction of the Castro family regime intervened militarily in thirteen other countries, no concern for their own deprived citizens.

  • July 30, 2015 at 7:08 pm
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    I don’t have a doctorate in history but I’ve been aware of events since I started reading newspapers and books, some of them radical in nature, since I was eleven. Marched against the Vietnam War, was disgusted with what the US did in Latin America and Iraq will haunt us for a long time. I also know first hand from many of my expat friends what happened to Cuba after the revolution and it’s
    bad to say the least. Elio is famous for bringing up battles and struggles but as I stated many times what are you doing today to change a terrible system, as in Venezuela. I don’t know much but when the elite,
    as in sports team members defect in droves it seems that things aren’t too decent.

  • July 30, 2015 at 9:10 am
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    Ken,

    There were several different groups of rebels fighting against Batista. The Second Front of the Escambray, lead by Menoyo was one of them. William Morgan, known as “El Yanqui Comandante” fought along side Menoyo. This book gives a pretty good history of that theatre during the rebellion against Batista, and their eventual disillusionment with Castro when he betrayed Cuba and established a Soviet-style dictatorship: http://www.amazon.ca/Americano-Fighting-Castro-Cubas-Freedom/dp/1565124588/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1438266992&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=el+americano+morgan

    The impression that these rebels were an “indisciplined group committing atrocities” is a false story invented by the Castro regime with the intention of erasing all other than Castro & his most loyal followers from the official history of the Cuban Revolution.

    Within the cities, the DRE (Student Revolutionary Directorate) also fought Batista, carried out the most daring operations and took the highest casualties. At times independent from Castro, sometimes co-oordinating with him, eventually the DRE joined the M-26 umbrella group of rebels lead by Castro. They would come to regret that decision when Fidel moved to consolidate all power in his hands. Leaders of the DRE would either have to submit to Fidel, or wind up in prison or in front of firing squads. Many members of the DRE also returned to the underground to fight against Castro and his growing tranny in the early 1960’s.

    There is much more to the true story of the fight against Batista and the Cuban Revolution than is recorded in the official history as told by Fidel & his followers.

    This history by Carlos Franqui, who was for a while a close friend and ally of Castro, provides a ring-side view of the ruthless political machinations in the first months of the new Castro regime: http://www.amazon.ca/Family-Portrait-Fidel-Carlos-Franqui/dp/0224022687/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1438267756&sr=8-1&keywords=family+portrait+with+fidel

    “Unvanquished” by Enrique Encinosa http://www.amazon.ca/Unvanquished-Cubas-Resistance-Fidel-Castro/dp/0971436665/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1438268117&sr=8-4&keywords=unvanquished ….tells the story of the various rebel groups which sprung up in the months after Fidel seized power and betrayed his promises to hold free elections. A few of these anti-Castro rebels were members of Batista’s army, but most were former rebels who had fought with Castro against Batista. They all felt betrayed when Castro lead the country into Communism.

    Ironically, one of the last groups to pledge support to Castro and his M-26 Movement was the Cuban Communist Party, the PSP. And yet, within weeks of taking power in Havana, Fidel Castro has begun a series of meetings with Anibal Escalante and Blas Roca of the PSP at his home in Cojimar. There they talked about how to organize & consolidate power and lead the Cuban revolution toward a Marxist-Leninist direction. Loyal PSP members were placed in key ministries, pushing aside non-communist rebels who had actually fought in the mountains & cities against Batista. Fidel feared these experienced rebels who refused to accept his total authority. When rebel leader Hubert Matos complained to Fidel about the growing number of communists in the revolutionary government, Fidel sent his popular commander, Camilo Cienfuegos to arrest him. Matos was given a 25 year prison sentence, while Camilo died in a mysterious plane crash a few days later.

  • July 30, 2015 at 8:51 am
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    I enjoy reading Elio’s remembrances of his time as a rebel fighting against Batista. I have read several other memoirs of Cuban rebels, including those who were fought along side Castro only to discover they were betrayed when he sold the country out to the Communists. There was no mention of any atrocities committed by the Second Front of the Escambray against civilians.

    When Che arrived in the Escambray in 1958, he asked for those rebels to join him, under his command. Some did, but others lead by Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, who knew of Che’s associations with the Communists, refused to submit to his orders.

    When it became apparent that Fidel was never going to hold the free elections he promised, many of his former allies and rebels returned to the hills to fight against the growing tyranny. But because the SFE became the nucleus of the anti-Castro rebels, their record of fighting against the Batista dictatorship was erased form the official history of the Cuban Revolution. False reports of atrocities against civilians were invented to smear the Second Front of the Escambray.

    Above, Elio says he recalls somebody telling him of atrocities committed by the leaders of the SFE, but he did not witness these incidents himself.

  • July 30, 2015 at 7:27 am
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    You sadly underestimate the importance of trying to know history. Quite a common American trait.

  • July 29, 2015 at 11:14 pm
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    More people can read and write in Cuba because of the Castro revolution. More people have access to at least a minimum standard of health care because of the Castro revolution. There have been gains and successes. I have NEVER denied the positive aspects of the revolution. I have always contended that the price Cubans have had to pay is too high.

  • July 29, 2015 at 8:38 pm
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    First off, please don’t refer to vandals as punks, they’re economically deprived! secondly, i’m not rich, have no property but like you have the amenities that make
    life easier than some but have no problem with those who gather wealth. They are more creative than me and eventually, as in Elon Musk, Bill Gates, the late great Steve Jobs and so many more that have made a dent in making the world a better place. The only thing Elio brings to the table is what happened fifty plus years and that’s not really
    finding solutions to the embargo, which i’m adamantly opposed to. That’s creativity! th in Cuba, because of the bureaucracy, is barely existent. Regarding sports figures, they should get compensated for working their asses off day and night to achieve greatness and again, bravo for them. That’s how it works John and I’m
    not at all envious nor critical of their decisions. The fact remains Cuba is a mess
    and by the way, Venezuela, a country with the most oil reserves in the world, no embargo and steaming towards socialism is right behind them. Am i missing something? One final comment, I disagree more than agree with Moses but like
    you find threads of insight that I was unaware of before reading his posts.

  • July 29, 2015 at 7:03 pm
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    What “gains and successes of the revolution” are you accidentally admitting to here?
    The gusanos will toss you out of their club for such a transgression of counter-revolutionary practice/rules.
    Now go write 500 times on the blackboard:
    “I must never say anything good about the Cuban revolution.”
    I must never say anything good about the Cuban revolution.
    …….
    This is not like you at all

  • July 29, 2015 at 6:58 pm
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    Lighten up.
    The Cubans have to suffer in poverty due to the 54 year old US embargo .
    You’re in the position of a punk who vandalizes his neighbor’s house and then complains to the community how run down the place is.
    Jamaica is also one very fertile place in which a huge percentage of those 3 million people live in dire poverty, have piss-poor agricultural sector under that neo-liberal free-enterprise capitalism economy imposed upon THEM and they have no imperial economic war posed upon them .
    It’s the nature of Third World ( under-developed ) nations .
    Elite Cuban sports figures defect to get rich……I’m absolutely shocked…I never heard of anything like that before .( tongue-in-cheek sarcasm).
    Are you really tutored by Moses ?
    .

  • July 29, 2015 at 10:19 am
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    I learn something each time I read these memoirs. This is the first I have heard of a rival group of guerillas or, at least, an indisciplined group committing atrocities. Has this been covered in any books on the Cuban revolution? The Wikipedia entry on Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo gives a little information on this.

  • July 29, 2015 at 7:33 am
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    Elio, it’s great reminiscing as i can do that as well. i don’t write about how in 1957 my dad lost his job and i had to find ways to work and earn enough to buy comic books, ice cream, see movies and enjoy life. I was eight years old pal but now i have other issues like creating ways to improve my business and continue to pay my co-workers a substantial income. The revolution is over and many ex-pat’s
    supported this but left in droves when their churches were closed and free enterprise extinguished.
    your country is a mess and so my suggestion is to concentrate on how to make life better rather than
    bring up stories that the younger generation in Cuba could care less about. The only bright spot comes from enterprising individuals who are now renting out their rooms to present a better venue for those visiting Cuba. Agriculture is pathetic and you have one of the most fertile countries in the world.
    Subsidies from Cuban’s living in the evil empire along with Venezuela oil subsidies are sad indeed that you need this to sustain. You seem like a decent person but you may want to take the old adage; what did you do for me today to the level that will prevent PR disasters like elite sports figures defecting in droves and long lines getting ice cream from state run shoppes.

  • July 28, 2015 at 8:57 pm
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    Elio has an incredible recall of details after 55 years. The fact is even if some of what he writes is invented memory, it is still interesting reading. He really should stick to his war stories. When he scribbles his time-worn gibberish about the gains and successes of the revolution, his writing falls flat.

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