To promote this book the Militant is running "Pages from Cuba's Revolutionary History." This series features articles by and about combatants of the July 26 Movement and the Rebel Army, which led the revolutionary war that overthrew the U.S.- backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and opened the socialist revolution in the Americas.
This week's installment - the ninth - takes up the fight against U.S. support to the Batista dictatorship through Washington's naval base at Guantánamo on the southeastern part of the island. This base was set up shortly after the U.S. military occupation of Cuba in 1898. Since 1959 it has been held in spite of the demand of the Cuban government that it be returned, and has been used as a constant source of provocations against the Cuban revolution.
In mid-1958, Raúl Castro commanded the Rebel Army's Second Eastern Front whose area of operations encompassed the Guantánamo base. In an article published Sept. 22, 1963, in Verde Olivo, the Rebel commander wrote:
"At the end of May our Department of Rebel Intelligence sent me some photographs and a document of exceptional importance. Included were photographs taken inside the Guantánamo naval base, showing two of Batista's planes together with a U.S. truck parked beside it full of weapons. The insignia of the Cuban planes together with the U.S. insignia on the side of a shack on the runway left no doubt that these were Batista planes receiving aid from the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay.
"The other document, even more important, had come from the files of the Guantánamo naval base itself consisting of a shipping list dated May 8, 1958, and bearing the signature of the officer in charge. It detailed the war materiél shipped by the U.S. government to the Batista regime."
The U.S. weapons were used by Batista's air force to bomb peasant villages throughout the Sierra Maestra and Oriente province, killing numerous civilians.
To halt these attacks, Raúl Castro issued an order on June 22, 1958, calling for the seizure of U.S. personnel living in the area under the jurisdiction of the Second Eastern Front, to draw worldwide attention to the U.S.-supported bombings and the use of the Guantánamo base to supply Batista's troops. Some four dozen U.S. military and civilian personnel were soon detained in what the Rebels called "Operation Anti-Aircraft." During this period the bombings stopped.
In early July 1958 Fidel Castro, who had not authorized the action, ordered the operation halted and all detainees released.
Summing up the results of this effort, Raúl Castro wrote in 1963:
"Operation Anti-Aircraft had fully achieved its political, military, and moral objectives. In addition, the masses of workers and peasants who supported us throughout the liberated territory understood and at the same time enabled us to clearly see the true face of the Cuban reality, and see who was fundamentally responsible for it. There was no doubt whatsoever that our struggle could not end with the fall of Batista, but had to go much further, up to the elimination of the true causes of the evils in our country.
"Days later, when our messenger and lawyer Capt. Jorge Serguera returned to the Sierra Maestra, he brought a letter by Fidel criticizing us, in which Fidel was entirely correct. As he had already said prior to Batista's offensive, the dictator was already defeated and the offensive constituted his last hope. Once it was repulsed by the Rebel Army - as had already happened - Batista and his regime had no salvation. Utilizing the pretext of the detention of the North Americans, the United States government could therefore have utilized this to intervene militarily in Cuba and try to save Batista, which would have dangerously aggravated the situation."
Below is an account of the seizure of 29 U.S. marines and sailors from the Guantánamo naval base, written by the commander of the rebel unit who carried it out. The article was published in Verde Olivo, Sept. 15, 1963. Translation and subheads are by the Militant.
by José Sandino
I was in my camp, on the banks of the rapidly moving Yateras river, at a place known as Vega Grande, in the municipality of Yateras, when I received a message from our immediate commanding officer, Capt. Félix Lugerio Peña, who headed the "Antonio Fernández" Column no. 18. Pena was urgently summoning me to his command post.
Those were difficult days for us and for all the people, particularly the peasants. We were subjected to intense aerial bombardment by planes of Batista's bloody and monstrous dictatorship. Every type of plane it had - from small propeller craft to jet planes, were dropping hundreds of bombs of all types and sizes on the fields and poor homes of our brothers, the defenseless peasants.
The shrapnel and bombs were being supplied by the U.S. naval base on the only piece of Cuban soil where the United States flag flew, contrary to the desires of our people, and which one day will be free.
The dictatorship's planes landed and took off every day from the Yankee naval base with their lethal cargoes. From there they flew to various points of the zone encompassing the "Frank País" Second Front, to sow destruction and terror.
As soon as I received the message I set out for Captain Penás command post, where I met other officers of our column. At the start of the meeting Pena informed us of the order issued by the head of the "Frank País" Second Front, Commander Raúl Castro, who had issued Military Order no. 30, informing the entire world of the crimes being committed. That same military dispatch by Commander Raúl ordered the capture of U.S. citizens living within the territory under our jurisdiction, so they would be witnesses, and at the same time drawing the attention of the entire world to how Yankee imperialism was aiding the murderous and traitorous government through the delivery of shrapnel and bombs.
A dangerous mission
Receiving such a mission constituted an incentive for me; the more dangerous a mission, the greater was the incentive given us by our superiors. At the same time, we were concerned about selecting the comrades to participate in the action, since we knew well how our combatants would react; they were not afraid to face death, and would even cry when they were not included in an operation.
A dangerous mission
Everyone wanted to participate in the most dangerous missions, where a small error could cost the lives of everyone. During my return trip to the camp, I selected the personnel who would accompany me in capturing the U.S. citizens living at the Los Caños sugar mill, a very dangerous place where soldiers were all over. To arrive there we had to cross through 15 kilometers of flatland, where the sugarcane was less than a meter high. In the event we were discovered by the enemy, they could fall on us easily and none of us would have come out alive.
A group of 13 men left our camp in a small truck and a jeep. At two in the afternoon we crossed through pastureland, canefields, and hills until we reached the Infierno heights, consisting of some very tall mountains. We arrived around eight at night at the house of one of my messengers - a peasant who was trusted by the dictatorship's army - so that we could descend to the plains and go to Guantánamo. Our messenger used to pass in front of the Rural Guard garrison, and often said hello to the head of the post.
The guards did not imagine that among the packages this comrade was carrying were bullets, uniforms, correspondence, and so forth. The name of this peasant was Eduardo Ponciano. When I saw him he informed me that the plains were crawling with soldiers. That night we slept at Ponciano's house and the following day we left. We decided not to advance at night because of the poor conditions of the road and the risk of falling into an ambush.
At nine in the morning we reached the place I had set aside for leaving the vehicles hidden and picking them up later.
From there we went on foot down the mountains. When we reached the agreed-upon place, in the plains, a messenger named Ricardo Domínguez was waiting for me. He informed me that the Americans who lived in Los Caños had gone to Guantánamo. I thought for a minute that my mission could not be fulfilled.
The plans called for all units to carry out the operation at the same time on the same day. This could not fail. Anyone who lost time put his mission in risk, since as soon as news of the capture of the first North Americans was known, the tyranny's forces would take all measures necessary to prevent any more from being captured.
I made a quick decision. I asked Domínguez if any buses passed by along the Guantánamo highway carrying U.S. marines. He said yes....
With great care we took up positions. Soon a bus appeared coming around one of the curves in the road. I asked my second in command, Captain Sergeant Manuel Tames Guerra, if it was a marine bus. He waited to see it again, and immediately said: "It's one of theirs!"
I ordered the comrades to be ready for action, and I approached the road. I signaled the driver - it was a tremendous fright for the driver and the conductor who saw me. Perhaps they thought I was a ghost, since it was very strange for there to be a bearded man alone in that place, armed with a rifle and signaling them to stop.
The driver became nervous, and when I realized he did not intend to stop, I shot at his tires. The man slammed on the brakes, with the idea that the soldiers were returning. I fired a shot and ran toward the bus, with the other comrades behind me. Three of our men remained at their posts in case the army troops came, where they could fire at them with a clear view.
Climbing aboard the bus, I found all the marines lying on the floor, some on top of each other. The driver could not respond to my questions. The marines got up and were startled to see me standing there. I ordered them to be seated and called three comrades in. They got on the bus and proceeded to fulfill instructions. They seated the marines in the back of the bus, and positioned themselves in front of the detainees, ready for whatever was necessary.
After ten minutes, the marines' commanding officer asked the combatant closest to him who the leader was. Immediately the officer asked to speak with me. With him was a Puerto Rican marine who served as interpreter. The first thing he asked was: "Do you know what you're doing?" I responded by asking him why he was asking me that question. He answered that this was the first time that members of the Armed Forces of the United States had ever been taken prisoner without a fight. I responded: "Then that honor belongs to us."
The officer told me the bad consequences that would befall us by capturing U.S. citizens. "Where are you taking me?" he asked again. I told him to stay calm, that nothing would happen to them, and that he was going to meet our leader, Commander Raúl Castro.
U.S. soldiers cheered
When the officer informed the others what I had said, they immediately began to cheer for Fidel and Raúl. The only one who did not seem happy was the Puerto Rican, who was all set to get married the next day. The most curious thing is that the only somber faces belonged to a Puerto Rican and a Mexican. On one occasion they fled the camp where we were holding them, but they were captured by some peasants of the zone. As for the Yankees, they accepted things calmly.
U.S. soldiers cheered
The marines wanted to meet the hero and head of the "Frank País" Second Eastern Front. Among our group was a comrade who could speak English named Pedro Pérez Tozis, whom we called Peruchón. He began to talk with them. In a little while the combatants had no more hats or armbands, because the marines had asked for them and put them on.
While some talked, others sang and shared their cigars with the combatants. Meanwhile I was thinking about what was awaiting us only a few kilometers away, since we had to pass by an army ambush. According to our reports, there were no less than 250 soldiers, and their weapons included a .50 caliber machine gun and mortars.
The bus drove toward the ambush. "Tito," the driver, knew very well what was at the Yateras bridge, because he told me it was dangerous to pass through there. I responded that his life was in his own hands.
"This bus must pass over the bridge like an airplane," I told him.
He answered that the bus did not have enough power to build up the speed I was asking for.
"What if they shoot at us?" he asked.
"Bad luck then!" I answered.
I ordered him to turn off the inside lights of the bus and I told one of the combatants to begin singing to see if the marines imitated him. In a few seconds there was a tremendous racket inside the vehicle.
I kept my eyes on the movements of the driver, and was ready for anything. We passed through the ambush as fast as the bus could go and I was able to see a few soldiers with rifles in their hands. They clearly thought that inside the bus were some drunken marines headed toward the beach to party.
The next day, very early, the captain who commanded those troops was able to learn through the mouth of the owner of the reservoir-which supplied water to the base-what the truth was. When Mr. Victor Shue arrived at the reservoir, the captain, making conversation, told him that around eight o'clock the previous night a bus full of drunken Americans had passed through, heading toward the beach at Yateritas, and apparently it was quite a party because they had still not returned. To the surprise of the captain and all those listening, Shue answered: "Do you know what happened to those marines? They're prisoners, and they're in the custody of Sandino and a group of his boys!" He had already heard of me.
Getting through the ambush was not yet the end of the danger. We had to travel along a very dangerous part (a highway in very poor conditions hugging the coast), where there were always two frigates stationed with their lights out. This highway was some 40 or 50 kilometers long, after which we would be out of danger, but only partially; if the bus that was awaiting them did not arrive in time, patrols would be sent out searching for them, and even the forces of the tyranny's army would be mobilized.
Mission completed successfully
We thought that after risking the lives of us all and having carried out the operation speedily and as planned, we could not allow everything to go down the drain.
Mission completed successfully
Arriving at the town of San Antonio del Sur I felt more at ease, since we had left the highway and were taking other roads leading to Valle de Caujerí - free territory - where it was very difficult for the soldiers to enter. When we arrived at Abra de la Mariana - a chain of hills surrounding the valley - we found out that there was only a single entrance for vehicles into the valley. It was a road opened by nature. Those hills were pockmarked by bombs, and the houses of the peasants were in ashes.
We climbed one of the most dangerous parts of the heights, Las Fuentes hill, and the bus's motor stopped and it began to go backwards. The driver was able to swerve the steering wheel before it picked up speed, leaving the vehicle stopped against the wall of the hill and thereby preventing everyone inside from perishing.
When everyone got out, I gathered all the marines together and checked that none were hurt. I gave instructions for two combatants to go to San Antonio del Sur to look for transportation. The rest of us would continue on foot. The marines were not very pleased by this and wanted to protest. We had some 30 kilometers ahead of us to reach our destination, and the walk served as exercise for them.
Leaving the heights, I ordered a halt to take advantage of the clear moonlight, and we could see the houses of the peasants burned by the bombs. I pointed these out to the North Americans and told them that their government was primarily responsible for it. We continued our way and as soon as we reached Los Letreros, the comrades we had sent to San Antonio del Sur arrived in a dump truck. We had already walked more than 25 kilometers on foot, in mud up to our knees. Some of the marines were tired.
To reach our destination, Mameyal, we had to climb a hill in front of us more than three kilometers long. We drove the tired marines, since the dump truck could not fit everybody inside. Several times we even had to push it because the road was so bad.
After so much work, covered in mud from head to foot, we reached our destination at three in the morning. Upon our arrival the peasants awoke, having heard the Americans. We were alert because we didn't know how the peasants would react to seeing the marines. Many of them were indignant, but I explained to them that these were not the ones guilty of the bombings and strafing. The peasants understood, and in a little while they brought baskets of fruit to the marines.
I immediately sent a messenger to inform the head of our column, Capt. Félix L. Peña. I told him that we had arrived and had brought with us 29 members of the U.S. Marines, the driver of the bus, and the conductor, that everything had gone well and without problems. At six in the morning Captain Peña arrived and I filled him in on the mission. We withdrew to rest. I believe we had earned it.
This was the end of our mission, which went off without incident. We were ready to fulfill another mission, no matter how dangerous. That was our duty.
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