Elio Delgado Legón
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.