(Circa) May 29
The rebel group moves to the west of the Pico Turquino,1 in the Plata Alta region, where they quickly settle in.
If you ever read Carlos Franqui’s Diary of the Cuban Revolution, you’ll see a small note of mine right on page 432:
William: The need to take out my weapon might, in my subconscious, have something to do with an incident that took place a long time ago when an armed man brandished a rifle in order to carry out an order. It came to be like a reflex for me. Fidel.2
William is Commander William Gálvez, who came from the Holguín resistance and I can’t remember right now why I had the deference to explain to him my “need to take out my weapon.” It appears that I was sleeping and William approached me and I woke up with my Browning in hand. I don’t go on, however, to explain who that armed man was who introduced that new reflexive act to my being. It’s one of the Cuban Revolution’s best kept secrets and perhaps now it would appear petty. But I have never revealed it to anyone before writing these pages. I’ve alluded to it in previous paragraphs but I still haven’t told the whole story. Sergio Pérez Zamora, Crescencio Pérez’s oldest son, became the owner of one of the Springfield rifles taken in the battle at La Plata. I did it above all to please Crescencio, so he would feel valued. But what every rebel in the Sierra dreamed of owning was a Garand. They called it el Garantizado, Guaranteed, or el Garañon, the Stud. And apparently Sergio wasn’t completely satisfied with his Springfield. Sure it’s uncomfortable to be messing around with the bolt action in the middle of combat, but that doesn’t make it any less fearsome in the hands of a guerilla willing to wreak real havoc on the enemy ranks. Its effective range is more than that of a normal man’s vision and if it flies at the height of these mountains it can be fired at a troop of infantry from very far away indeed. They have to sweep the area with grenades or with planes to try to find the sniper, who is just a single man fighting with maximum returns against an entire force. Go and try to explain that however you can to a man of Crescencio Pérez’s ilk whose newest fixation in addition to owning his country was being the owner of a Garand. He wouldn’t listen to reason. Such that when the party sent to pick up Frank [País]’s weaponry for the attack on the Uvero barracks returned to their rendezvous point, I couldn’t help but notice that Sergio had gotten rid of his Springfield and taken possession of one of the new Garands. Some dark intuition told me to turn a blind eye the matter. While it was wholly unacceptable that he should be allowed to distribute the Revolution’s resources to his liking, I had that strange feeling that I should leave things be. At the end of the day, disciplinary infractions only take place when you actually notice them.
I admit that he had fought very well in El Uvero with Camilo [Cienfuegos]’s squad and that afterward he was an able driver of the Diamond-T lumber truck in which we drove up to the road. Although we’d already had our first run-in that morning. Two run-ins. One was because of the greed, anxiety, and even violence with which he leapt on what he considered to be the war booty. This included relieving wounded soldiers or even those with their hands raised high of whatever object he fancied, be it a cheap watch or a box of cigarettes. “Listen, Sergio,” I told him, “the war booty is the military material that’s on the floor and not the prisoners’ personal effects.” I found Camilo knee-deep in the same in that end of battle confusion and I said to him, “Take control here, Camilo. They’re your men, aren’t they? Do me a favor.”
The second run-in is over the fact that Celia [Sánchez], who is at my side, tells him to ride in one of the lumber trucks that was in the sugar mill town-there were three total-bring it and load it with all the arms taken from the enemy. As I’ve said before, the equipment belonged to the company under the direction of the Babunes, the owners of almost everything in the Sierra. Sergio and Ignacio, both of them, had been truck drivers before taking up arms, expert mountain drivers by their account. Sergio brought the truck up to the barracks and they started to pick up the weapons and put them in the back, on the bed. Once the ballast was wrapped up, I told Sergio to wait. He gave me lip. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He told me it wouldn’t be long before the enemy’s planes showed up and did I mean for them to fuck us all up right there. I chose to leave him in mid-sentence and turned to Celia, who was in charge of checking on whether the wounded needed anything else that we could offer them. I then ordered the comrades aboard. I helped Celia up to the cabin and I put her in the middle, between Sergio and the place to the right that I immediately occupied. “Let’s roll, Sergio,” I said. Some of our comrades were hanging onto the mud flaps-and whatever else they could find-and we took off to return to the mountains.
Gilberto Cardero was driving the second truck, with the corpses of our people and a squadron of combatants. Ignacio was driving the third truck, which followed us in the afternoon, and in it went our wounded, cared for by el Che, and Raúl Castro’s squad.
Days later, when the trucks had been abandoned and we were on a break, practically all of us sitting on the floor, leaning back on our packs, we were getting ready to start the march toward the western section of the Pico Turquino when Sergio, who was standing, asked about the route we’d be following. In theory this question didn’t seem appropriate because it wasn’t customary from our bivouackers. Nobody asked the course. Later I found out that the matter had to do with nothing less than a woman. He kept one around Sevilla or el Lomón and was hoping our guerillas would pass through the outskirts. In any event, I responded with a fair amount of acrimony.
“Since when does anyone here, in this army, ask where we’re going?”
Sergio, for his part, didn’t like my response at all.
I think the only person who understood everything that could have followed was my brother Raúl. Because, without even standing up, he undid the shoulder straps of his backpack and stayed alert.
I didn’t calculate that I would be adding to the burden of humiliation with my next order.
“You stop asking where we’re going and grab that sack.”
I had seen that jute sack by his feet. The contents could have been grenades or canned food. I was ordering him to throw it over his shoulder because we were about to start our march.
He was speechless. Stunned. All the guerillas were silent.
“The sack,” I said, while I looked right into his eyes, which were sparkling with a dazzling intensity in the night’s shadows.
It was exactly my own impertinence that Sergio Pérez Zamora was waiting for to draw the Garand and point it at my thorax, ready to rain fire on me from less than thirteen feet away. His finger was already pulling the trigger when Raúl jumped up from where he was and, with his arms wide open, like a cross, stepped between the gun and me, still sitting on the grass. Raúl cried out, alarmed, “What are you going to do, Sergio? You’re going to kill the Cuban Revolution!”
He waited. Sergio hesitated. It was all very slow and difficult for him to digest. But he hesitated.
He lowered the barrel at no one’s request. Raúl still had his arms spread out like a cross. The other comrades breathed again and entered the scene. The sound of words of reconciliation, pats on the back, friendships being proffered, and the typical Cuban expressions apt for these circumstances could be heard. Coño, caballeros,3 how could this happen? Coño, caballeros, we’re all brothers here. Coño, caballeros, we’re all here for the same thing. Coño, caballeros.
Raúl had already lowered his arms, but he remained in front of me, like a live shield. Ciro, with his usual solicitousness and without showing off in any way, approached the damned jute sack and started to throw it over his shoulder when Sergio stopped him with animated gestures and said to him, “It was me who was told to carry it.” Sergio shouldered the Garand and with his free hand took the sack and placed on his other shoulder. He turned in the least forced way he could until he had his back to me.
Crescencio and his other kid, Ignacio, had stayed out of the argument, observing discreetly. I got up slowly. The designated guide to take us to the west of the Pico Turquino-because he said he knew the way-was Manuel Fajardo. I said, “Let’s move it, comrades, the night is long.”
My proposal was to convert this area around the Turquino into our principal refuge and hiding place, at least for a time.
Raúl arranged to have a tête–tête with me the next day while we were tying up the hammocks in the little forest of mastic trees where we had chosen to camp and told me we had to kill Sergio that night.
I forced a smile, in case anyone was watching us, and said, “Now it’s you who wants to kill the Revolution?”
He would have to be crazy to lay a single finger on that man. Everyone in the Sierra Maestra would be on us. If we killed him, the army could calmly retreat to their barracks. Crescencio and his confreres would take it upon themselves to get rid of us. Raúl understood right away. I admit that, of all our comrades, Raúl was one of those who most quickly embraced what was practical and didn’t waste his time on cerebral nonsense. At the end of the day, when you act in the name of justice or an ideology or to satisfy a vengeance, you’re merely massaging words. But that playing with abstractions can cost you dearly.
A few weeks after Eutimio’s execution,4 I came face to face with the problems brought by Crescencio’s son: Sergio Pérez. His actions would have cost him his life if he had been any of the other men and it’s true that a guerilla can never allow himself the luxury of leaving a traitor behind. But Sergio was in a different category because he didn’t stay behind. He moved with us. And besides, he had the balls to turn his back on me and continue on with us the whole time as if nothing had happened. In other words, in many ways he trusted in us and believed everything was behind us. In any event, it served to help me conceive of a maneuver that, until the present day, is of utmost utility to the Cuban Revolution. I call it the system of captive alliances. What I mean is, while Sergio was with us, he was under control. But the situation would become much more favorable when we abandoned our nomadic ways and became sedentary, because we would immediately establish a zone of responsibility for Crescencio and we would tell him that that was his area of combat. Of course, the sons would go to the same place as their executive officers. And in that case there would be no need to oblige someone to march alongside you or to kill him because you can’t leave him lingering. In that case you absorb him in the territory under your command. He’s your ally, but captive. You should know that type of alliance is easier to manipulate and infinitely more trustworthy than voluntary or good faith alliances.
I don’t want to leave out a single detail. Before leaving El Uvero, I told all three drivers that, when we reached a point at which the trucks couldn’t continue, either because of the road’s rough condition or because we were out of gas, that they should make the trucks disappear, either burning them or pushing them off a cliff. Not a single one of the three of them followed my orders. I found out about this years later. The three arranged to hide them under the foliage or leave them in the care of some relative at the edge of a farm and went back to recover them as soon as the Revolution triumphed. I came to learn of this matter on Thursday, May 28, 1987, when I saw the report in the evening Juventud Rebelde about the thirtieth anniversary of the attack on the Uvero barracks and the first thing they show is Sergio Pérez Zamora pleased as punch with himself in his olive green uniform, sitting atop the immutable Diamond-T saying it’s the very one that took Celia and me up to the Sierra that morning.
1 The highest point in Cuba, located in the Sierra Maestra and used by Fidel and his men as a base during the Cuban Revolution.
2 Carlos Franqui, Diario de la Revolución cubana, Ediciones R. Torres, Barcelona, 1976. (See, sure enough, page 432.)
3 Roughly, “Shit, man.”
4This scene is described earlier in The Autobiography of Fidel Castro. In it, Fidel accuses guerilla Eutimio Guerra of being a traitor. Che Guevara promises to take care of the matter and ends Eutimio’s life with a shot through the head.
From Ediciones Destino, S.A., 2004. Copyright © 2004 by Norberto Fuentes. Translation copyright © 2006 by Anna Kushner. By arrangement with the author. All rights reserved.