Wednesday, May 03, 2006




Section A The place and its mountains.

Surrounded by hills in eastern Cuba, San José de Guisa is a “plaza fuerte.” It is a fortified town. It guards this place where that constant refuge of the rebellious, the Sierra Maestra Mountains protrude most deeply towards the flatlands. For its strategic location, Guisa as it is known now has always been of military value in times of war. As early as 1848, a Spanish military heliograph was installed on a nearby hill. Despite increasing Spanish defenses it was taken many times by the Mambí rebel forces including the actions of 1868, 1869, 1872, and 1897, and 1958.

Here the foothills protrude out of the Sierra as if the fossil head of some enormous dire wolf. These hills bite as if doubled twinned rows of blunted teeth into the vulnerable belly of the rich plains of the Cauto. The road north north-west out of Guisa protrudes through the gaping maw between these jaw-like hills. This road extends to reach for the Central Highway lapping into the flatlands like a dexterous, immensely long, but very thin tongue.

The once heavily forested lands around Guisa were frequented by bands of the free roaming Taínos called the Guis. And this site was a major Native American settlement. The Taínos, according to Spanish chronicles, were almost as light skinned as the Spanish. The Spanish soldiers, officers, and crews found it far more exciting that the Taíno, both men and women, went around nude. The Taína women were most attractive and quite uninhibited. These women I would learn much later were secretly in the family line.

The Spanish held these Native Americans in cruel captivity using them for free labor and the Taínas for their carnal pleasures. Thus, as time passed, the descendents of the surviving Guis and other Taínos intermingled with the Spanish, and became almost indistinguishable.

Guisa was “founded” as a Spanish town by Señor Don (José) Antonio de Silva(s) y Ramírez de Arellano, Marquis de Guisa on August 12, 1741 (alternatively confirmed August 16, 1765). A century later the Mambí of my family (1868-1898) warred for freedom against the Spanish. Thus in the 1950s like many places in Cuba the central plaza of Guisa had a bust of great grandfather, General Calixto, which stood on a small pedestal among the dusty plants in the small forlorn central square.

Above the statue’s nose, a hole in his great square forehead represents where a bullet flew out from Calixto’s living head. Since in the 1950s the town’s foremost businessmen considered themselves Spanish. These merchants had not forgotten the expensive disasters accompanying my family’s repeated habit of taking this town in war. Thus this bust seems intended to be a site where these merchants could pray for protection. It was a kind of idol, a Taíno Zemí, demanding fearful homage to the ghost of wrathful Calixto. Calixto’s third eye glared at all who passed.

Section B Family ancestry

Honor was very important in Cuba. This is often more important than death, far more significant than mere morality. A brave pimp, hero to his women and their clients achieves fame by honorable death on the streets of Havana. A doomed revolutionary dies in the 1930s, amid a madness of sex and cocaine at the hands of Batista’s assassins. Communists worship a bust of an apostate hero they themselves have killed, and riot violently if his memory is sullied. A politician who failed to substantiate his accusations kills himself at the end of a radio speech and thus recovers his honor. As in the Greek or Viking Sagas war hesitates, as truces for ceremonies are held. These heroes have funerals that respected by their killers are matter of great processions and their lives are constantly remembered.

Heroes are not celebrated as much for their victories, but because of their defiance of fate. Family ancestry is important. To be descendent of heroes (ascendencia de estirpe valiente) brought respect in and obligations to the motherland that were difficult to understand and imposed obligations of bravery and honor that were sometimes too great to bear.

Each of my two maternal great grandfathers, Major General Calixto and Colonel Don Benjamín were Mambí officers of the brave armies of Cuban independence who made the wars that first liberated the Cuban slaves and then gave the country independence. After more than thirty years of war and troubled peace, the Mambí set the stage and participated mightily in the defeat of the cruel Spanish in 1898.

General Calixto and Don Benjamín loved one of two brave, wild, part Taíno Enamorado sisters. Both of these sisters, Leonela and Manuela, Enamorado Cabrera became my maternal great-grandmothers and their mitochondrial DNA confirms their native origins. Cabrera is one of the most ancient Spanish names in the area, and since their surnames are of course Spanish they are derived from the first Spanish either by inheritance or Spanish Baptism. Cabrera is the last name of the Taíno Cabrera clan.

First Names

Names and the particular cultures of old Latin American honor are tightly linked. In a Spanish tradition of centuries names of ancestors are repeated in their descendents, since as in the Ancient Greek and Mediterranean tradition hidden under layers of Catholicism, as long as one’s name is recalled, one’s shade lives on after death.

Leonela is a fictional personage in Don Quijote. Leonela in real life was also the first name of one of my indigenous great-grandmothers, a diminutive of Leonor and female equivalent of Lionel. It means little lioness. Yet, it is far more ancient than that. Thus, in memory of honor, my mother is Leonela too, as is Leonela Perez her cousin. My cousin Leonela González, daughter of Leonela Perez, is a famed ballet and cabaret dancer. My uncle Calixto Leonel carried the name, as does my brother Lionel. My sister Leonor is also such, in memory of a Spanish great grandaunt who adopted my grandfather to give him the family name, for his father had not had time to recognize him formally. Likewise Aunt Manuela carries the name of her other Taína grandmother, and thus MJ my cousin, was baptized Manuel José.

Don Benjamin has a son called Benjamín but we called him Tío Min and as did another son the illegitimate Taíno we called Ping Ping, he of the three testicles. However, in the Güajiro Culture illegitimacy is no disgrace but great potency, the size of a man’s tool, and the greatness of the dimensions of his gonads are considered a mark of honor and give a reputation for valor. There is even a special two handed gesture to indicate this. In ancient indigenous cultures, Américo Vespucio (circa 1454-1512) writes “”…because their women are lecherous, lustful, voluptuous, lewd, and libidinous, they make the members (penis) of their husbands (or lovers) swell to such a great extent that they seem 'brutally deformed'. They do this with a certain practices and with the help of the bite of certain venomous animals (probably blister beetles)..." (more on this later)

Calixto is a name repeated in my family for many centuries, from the Ancient Kings of Pamplona from the line of Iñigo Arista (the Oak in Basque) and his descendent with the hispanicized name Calixto García Iñiguez. Iñiguez of course means son of Iñigo. You will find here mention of Calixto de Luna, Calixto García Iñiguez, Calixto Enamorado, my two Uncles Calixto Mario and Calixto Leonel, and cousins Calixto those we called Cali Norman, and Calixtín García Iñiguez. In these names of living souls the ghosts of their ancestors survived. Then there is Calixto Sánchez White a distant cousin who died in the Cuban wars of the late 1950s.

Family ancestry part I Don Benjamín Ramírez (de Arellano)

Don Benjamín Ramírez (de Arellano) was descended from the same Don (José) Antonio de Silva(s) y Ramírez de Arellano, Marquis of Guisa. The first Marqués de Guisa was colonel in the Spanish Militia, Lieutenant Governor of San Isidro de Holguín and councilman for life of Bayamo. He was granted the hacienda of Santa Bárbara de Viriviví, in 1716, fought the English at Havana in 1762 and is known to have had two legitimate wives.

El Marqués de Guisa apparently was a descendent of Don Juan Ramírez de Arellano Governor of Jamaica who was captured fighting the English in 1655 and died in captivity soon after. Much to the anger of the advancing English, the Spanish living in Jamaica, abandoned their houses, took their treasure and religious objects to Cuba and set their cattle free. The governor’s wife Doña Maria Salvatierra escaped ahead of the English and fled to Bayamo (near Guisa) with her sons Don Juan and Don José.

The slaves of the Spanish of Jamaica were freed, organized into fighting militias, trained and set loose to fight the English. These militias held fast for long years in the karst strewn strange eerie cockpit country of the hills of San Juan, on the Vermejales Savanna and on the Juana River to become the Maroons (from the Taíno Cimarron, or wild ones).

Great-grandfather Don Benjamín, he was always called that, as a mark of much respect. The informal title “Don” is followed as in royalty by the first, not last name, for it is an individual mark of respect for class, dignity and honor but not necessarily inherited. By then the title Marqués de Guisa, had been “extinguished,” because of disputes between the last two heirs to the title, the vast estates between the Cautillo and the Bayamo Rivers were now once again in the Bayamo Municipality.

Don Benjamín was almost always grumpy and closed mouthed, thus we do not know if he was fruit of a semi-legal union with enough status to inherit vast holdings but not enough to retain a formal title of nobility. Others say he was Señor de Horca y Cuchillo of Guisa, Lord of the Noose and the Knife. That title would mean he was a magistrate with power of life and death, and the portals of his house could give refuge to all who could touch his door.

Oscar Ros, our family genealogist reports that Don Benjamín’s inheritance came from his first wife Susana Almenares, perhaps La Marquésa de Guisa. He was born in the municipality of Bayamo, Oriente. However, his father died when he was young, but he was raised by his mother perhaps with the help of family friends, the Rondóns. Benjamín Ramírez (Ferral) Rondon’s father was reported to be Manuel Jacinto Ramírez (de Arellano); mother Rafaela Ferral.

What we do know is that Spanish society in Cuba of the time was, as were most of the western world in those days, still very stratified and sexist. There were very different rules which depended on one’s status of honor and gender. Women of high status had to protect their public honor with secrecy. Men of the upper classes were required to demonstrate bravery but on the other hand outside of their marriages, they were allowed to enjoy the favors of any available woman. The lower classes of both sexes were allowed much sexual freedom, but little social advantage. Thus, Don Benjamín, as was expected of a man of his social stature, took mistresses and fathered a number of illegitimate children.

It is doubtful that Don Benjamín, as a medieval European noble might, used La Pernada, the right of the first night. He did however, have at least two Taíno children outside of his marriage. This matter was never discussion, perhaps because in Güajiro-Taíno tradition virginity was neither highly prized nor customary; a woman’s skills in physical love were far more prized than clumsy first fumblings.

In the Taíno traditional marriage the bride was shared by all on the first night. Spanish chronicles relate that thighs shining with spilled seed, the bride would emerge triumphant with the cry of “Manicato! Manicato!” or Victory! Victory! This matter left devout and innocent Father Bartolomé de las Casas puzzling how these very willing Taína women could manage that so easily. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, also reports this; however, being far worldlier and possibly a participant, found the mechanics of these customs quite feasible, and thus unremarkable

In the Ten Year’s war he lead the Regiment of Baire and for a time Don Benjamín was charged with the protection of deposed President in Arms Carlos Manuel de Cespedés. His mother Rafaela left for Jamaica during these ten years with his brother Juan Bautista Ferral (Rondón). Yet Don Benjamín, lived long returning to Cuba and dying, well into the next century on Feb 7, 1924. His wife Manuela, Doña “Lica,” survived into the 1930’s and is reported to have tried to prevent execution of a family friend, and the Mayoral of the farm, by Batista forces in the forgotten Gamboa rising of 1933.

Often Rondón is used, albeit incorrectly, as Don Benjamín’s second surname. Once, a woman, I think it was the Taína Indian Conchita Ramos, told me quietly that the surname that followed Rondón was Canao. Canao is perhaps a Taíno (Island Arawak), or at least an Arawak name, for there is a place in Venezuela, near the Orinoco delta of that name. Canao was given as a second (maternal) Spanish surname. However, Taíno inheritance is counted through the mother’s line. All this is quite puzzling. Perhaps some of the family’s Taíno genetics comes through him too.

Coronel Don Benjamín Ramírez Ferral (Rondón) left his Genealogy to the family. The surname Ramírez de Arellano did not come from his father, but from his Ursula Tamayo Ramírez de Arellano (circa 1770s Bayamo), (his GGGGreatGrandmother) the line passed on through his mother, Rafaela Ramirez de Arellano. Tamayo is one of the oldest names in Bayamo’s written history, deriving from Rodrigo Tamayo who arrived in 1513 and perhaps his illegitimate, probably half Taína daughter, María Agustina.

What ever Don Benjamín used his mother’s last name which implies either illegitimacy, Taíno inheritance or both. Don Benjamín had lived in Guamá, still a wild Taíno area before the 1868-1878 war.

Legitimacy mattered less than paternal inheritance, since the Spanish term for nobility is Hidalgo, which means the recognized son of somebody. One does not have to be born legitimate to be hidalgo, “recognition” by one’s noble father is sufficient. A bastard at birth, William the Conqueror would have understood. Although considered crude by some of the more class conscious elite in the nearby and larger city of Bayamo, Don Benjamín was thus once a Hidalgo. Hidalgo however, is a feudal title and thus lost to him for his rebellion against Spain.

During the Ten Year War, the first big war for Cuban independence, Don Benjamín was disenfranchised by the Spanish for rebellion and his vast lands confiscated. On the 9th of January 1869 Don Benjamín fought at the Cauto Ford at Saladillo as a captain under the orders of Donato Mármol, where despite a successful cavalry charge lead by Antonio Maceo. The Mambí were defeated by the artillery of the evil Count of Valmaseda; although some did reach the Spanish cannon. Perhaps 2,000 Cubans died there in awful carnage. Yet the Cubans retreated fighting and killing and dying, but they could not hold the Cauto River line nor could they successfully defend the City of Bayamo. The Mambí burned their houses in Bayamo on the 12 of January 1869 and fled to the countryside.

Don Benjamín fought on; his lands (inherited from his first wife Susana Almenares) which then extended to the sea, were so large that after he was wounded in an attack on Guisa, he still was able to hide there with his whole family, including the two Enamorado sisters, and his retainers. His mother Rafaela endured what she could during the Ten Year War but eventually left with his brother Juan Bautista Ferral (Rondón) to Jamaica. Susana Almenares was butchered by the Spaniards in or near Holguin.

From 1868 to 1898, ancestors Calixto García Iñiguez and Benjamín Ramírez, and their numerous clan of relatives fought for independence from Spain. They were among the leaders of the Mambí. In the Ten Year War these two Mambí warriors often united their forces to fight the Spanish who tried to hold Guisa. Calixto and Benjamín finally stormed Guisa taking it, for a while, from the Spanish in the 19th Century Ten-Year War.

Don Benjamín did not fight in the battles 1895-1898 war but he supported the insurrection from Jamaica. Jamaica was an important station of the Cuban rebels for it was from here that Lieutenant Andrew Rowan took the Message to Garcia. Don Benjamín would legally recover property rights to at least some of these lands after independence. And that was where I would live in Cuba.

Family ancestry part 2 Major General Calixto García Iñiguez

Calixto García was also from an older and even nobler family than Don Benjamín. When I was young, I knew that Calixto was important, although then I did not know how important. It seemed strange to see streets named after him, and see busts and statues of him, in common public display. Even the great university hospital in Havana was named after him.

Calixto’s genealogy, like that of Don Benjamín, is discontinuous and his family’s origins disappear into the fogs of time. Besides the daughters of Caciques, like his grandmother Doña María de los Ángeles González, if they married to a husband of high social status, were considered honorary Spaniards.

The original Calixto García Iñiguez (circa 810-882), a Basque warrior known in Arab chronicles as Wannaqo ibn Wannaq, was king of the Basque city of Pamplona. Whatever his links to ancient warriors, Great-grandfather Calixto, carried the exact same name as that Ninth century Warrior-King.

Great-grandfather’s grandfather Calixto García de Luna e Izquierdo fought in the Spanish armies in Venezuela. Born in Soria, Castilla somewhere around 1768, he was a Spanish merchant in Valencia Venezuela, and may well have been brother to Spanish Expeditionary Force Colonel don Manuel García de Luna victor in the battle of Santa María de Ipire in 1815 and interim Capitan General of Venezuela (governor of Venezuela) in 1816. Putative brother Don Manuel may have been the Manuel de Luna executed by independence forces in Ecuador circa 1821.

Don Calixto apparently survived being run through with a sword in 1816, and he certainly lost a hand in the final decisive battle in 1821. This was when the Spanish were defeated by Bolivar and the English Troops at the battle of Carabobo. The place name, Carabobo, means in Spanish “the place of the face of a fool.” However, in Arawak, the word may mean the place of the dreaded cannibal Caribs.

Leaving his Indian princess wife and daughters in Venezuela forever, Calixto García de Luna e Izquierdo fled to Cuba with his three sons in a small boat. Since the “de Luna” part of García de Luna’s name, is a link to nobility, the Inquisition, and even to a Pope. A changed Calixto dropped this part of his name after he left Venezuela. He thought “de Luna” was too closely linked to royalty, and he was no longer loyal to the king. In Cuba, he raised his sons, prospered in commerce, and made trouble, as he plotted to support Cuban independence. In 1836 he was jailed for a year for supporting the 1812 Spanish Constitution and for trying to hang a pro-Spanish cleric. His sons grew up in Cuba, and one grandson also called Calixto would become famous.

This grandson Calixto García Iñiguez inherited ancient American genes from his Venezuelan grandmother, a daughter of a Cacique, a Chief. Yet in Spanish tradition the male line counts far more than the mother’s ancestry; and the children of a Cacique were considered part of the nobility and thus de facto Spanish.

General Calixto’s statues, like Taíno Zemí, like native idols, still stand throughout the land. Of course unlike the explicitly phallic Zemí, Calixto’s statues are not so graphically masculine; that trait is merely recorded in history books (following the customary ancient Greek euphism, see Oedipus (swollen foot) as in Oedipus Rex) as a large foot size; and testified to by the birth records of his seemingly endless illegitimate descendents. Calixto, as was his conceded prerogative, took mistresses during the wars; however he always returned to his armies before the sun rose, since the Spanish never attacked before dawn.

The wound in General Garcia’s forehead is part of his legend. In the Ten Years War, in early September of 1874, General Calixto was surprised by the Spanish who were tracing a cut telegraph line at a place halfway westward to the sea from Guisa, south west of Bayamo. Calixto’s men, fought back at the low wet place of the bagá, the pond-apple tree about five miles from the Spanish post at Veguita and the Yara River. This was once a Taíno place, re- made as Spanish and known as Saint Anthony of Bagá (or Baja).

There, surrounded, General Calixto’s forty or so escort troops were dead or dying, his foraging armies too far away to help. Honor demanded escape from the disgrace of capture. Calixto shot himself under the chin with his .45 caliber revolver. The bullet traveled up through his head, and yet somehow Calixto survived. In captivity Calixto recovered his damaged voice, and bright tactical mind. Yet even in captivity and exile he fathered children with a good number of women. It is said that his mother stopped him from taking a willing nun who was nursing his wounds.

Wearing a shining jagged silver star to cover the exit wound on his brow he continued to plot and war against Spain for twenty four years more until he saw victory. At the end of the Ten Year’s War, still in prison he was released when the peace treaty was signed and most of the Cuban forces surrendered. General Calixto who had not signed the peace treaty, promptly went to war again, and again he lost. This time after fighting, and his decimated forces reduced to four, fleeing among the crags and thorns of the jungle, he was forced to surrender stark naked and proud. The Spanish requisitioned clothing and large sized boots. In a tradition at least as old as Rome he was taken to Spain as a trophy.

After a number of failed attempts at revolution, war came again to Cuba in 1895. My grandfather Calixto Enamorado his son mothered by Leonela Enamorado was already fighting there. Major General Calixto escaped Spain. Two of his legitimate sons Carlos and Mario and at least one illegitimate son he had with Spanish woman followed. There is a tender legend in which this Spanish woman, knowing Calixto is leaving, brings his son to him. She is reputed to have said, words to the effect “This is your son! Take him he should fight at your side.” This son died of fever on campaign in Cuba. Carlos and Mario survived the war.

Now General Calixto arrived in Cuba well equipped. His armies and cannon took Guisa again in the final War of Independence at the close of that century in November of 1897. Guisa was then protected by nine blockhouses including a fortified church. These defenses protection did little good. At the beginning of this siege the heliograph was destroyed by General Calixto’s dynamite cannon. After the siege, the town was burned disobeying his father’s wishes by order of Carlos García Vélez, the second of Calixto’s legitimate sons.

Major General Calixto García Iñiguez’s first son Calixto García Vélez, brother to my grandfather and to Carlos, had died in the dénouement of a famous love triangle. Leonela Enamorado had provided him with a second Calixto, and so would my grandfather who also would have five daughters and four sons, including one legitimate and one less so both called Calixto. Such is the rich life of these lines of once hidalgos instinctively fulfilling the urge of these warriors to perpetuate their line and their names towards all eternity. It is said that there are five hundred relatives of the Major General in the city Holguín alone.

Major General Calixto García was designated first President of a free Cuba by proclamation of the Mambí leadership in 1898. He died on a diplomatic mission to Washington DC on December 11, 1898. Initially he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full U.S. military honors, before transport to Cuba. Then his body was taken to Cuba for further honors. Today a great equestrian statue of the Major General stands along the Malecón seawall-highway close to the former US Embassy in Havana.

Family ancestry part 3 Brigadier General Calixto (García Iñiguez) Enamorado.

Brigadier General Calixto (García-Iñiguez) Enamorado, illegitimate son of Leonela Enamorado Cabrera by Major General Calixto García Iñiguez, my maternal grandfather, was also Mambí. He had married Rafaela Petronila Ramírez Enamorado daughter of Don Benjamín. Grandmother and Grandfather were first cousins, so I had both of the Enamorado sisters as great grandmothers.

Calixto Enamorado, grandfather was born in war torn fields of eastern Cuba at Canapú, near Holguín on June 1st 1974. The troubles in Cuba intensified by the early 1890s, then Calixto Enamorado looked even younger than he was. Family verbal histories relate that he was caught by a Spanish patrol; standing orders directed his captors to hang him as they did with any male captive, caught in the Cuban wilds. The patrol leader could not bring him-self to do it and Calixto Enamorado was let go presumably with his mother.

When the war started fully by 1895 he joined the Mambí forces on March 9th with the rank of a soldier. Calixto Enamorado then 20 would participate in many battles, first under the command of Antonio Maceo, and then his father. Showing almost mad courage in battle, he had arisen from the ranks to become brigadier general at the end of the 1895-1895 Cuban War of Independence.

Calixto Enamorado saw action and victory, amid maddened cattle, barbed wild pineapple fences, a dead Spanish General and a fleeing Spanish Governor, at Peralejo and rode among the flames in the madly charging Antonio Maceo’s war columns, defeating the Spanish armies as they traversing almost the whole length of Island in “La Invasión.” During this classic military advance, he fought at Iguará against the Spanish when Winston Churchill won the enemy’s medal on a Cuban battlefield. Calixto then fought in his father’s battles, leading his own regiments at Tunas and at Auras, and numerous actions in between. His illegitimacy was hidden to outsiders for he was using his mother last name Enamorado; thus some war reports refer to him as a “nephew” of his father.

Showing almost mad courage in battle, he had arisen from the ranks to become brigadier general at the end of the 1895-1895 Cuban War of Independence. He was one of the youngest generals in that war.

Calixto Garcia Iniguez Enamorado, was small and thin. Gustavo Cardelle, his doctor and father of cousin Leonela Gonzalez that most beautiful ballet dancer, members him as having the energy and power of a giant. Although I only knew him when, old and dying and had once grumped at me because I, not yet being used to Spanish, did not use the honorific form when I addressed him. Grandfather’s friends recall him as been well humored, educated with out vanity or ostentation. He was always helpful and generous. In his strength he showed, great interest in women, a matter to which grandmother objected, but grandfather’s half-brother Eduardo Perez (son of Leonela Enamorado and Eduardo Perez) had shared together. Grandmother was not pleased.

In addition grandfather had been Cuban consul in diverse foreign lands for many years, once member of the Cuban House of Representatives, and leader of a Column of Cavalry in the 1917 Chambelona War. He built his hacienda residence “Entre Rios” (La Casa de los Generales) on a large section of land he purchased from Don Benjamín. Calixto Enamorado, the name he preferred, died on the 19th of May 1951, on exact anniversary of the death of his hero Jose Marti, for he also had been there then 56 years before.

Grandfather never knew that Fulgencio Batista had once again taken power by force. Grandfather, committed to democracy and Batista committed to power, were longstanding enemies; perhaps since the time when in the Cuban War of Independence, Batista’s father Belisario had served in his regiments.

Sixty years later

The Spring of 1956 Cuban Army Goicuria barracks near the city of Matanzas was attacked on April 29. The attackers lead by Reynold García García, they belonged to the Authentico Party lead by Carlos Prío Socarras. They were betrayed and machine-gunned down by .50 caliber machine guns after the entered the barracks in sandbagged trucks. I remember my horror seeing the photographs fo the dead bodies in Bohemia magazine.

The Fall of 1956 Frank País, leader of the urban guerrillas of Castro’s 26th of July movement attacks the police and army in Santiago de Cuba on November 30th. Castro lands near Niquero on December 2nd. Batista disperses Castro’s forces and Castro is believed dead.

The Spring of 1957 By January 17, the attack on the garrison at the mouth of La Plata River, on the south side of the Sierra shows that Castro is still alive. Batista’s Palace was attacked on March 13th in an assault by non-Castro rebels who were defeated in fierce fighting. Batista narrowly escapes with his life.

By the fall of 1957, My sisters Lucía and Leonor, had left our land for the last time; they were safe attending a convent school in Havana. I had taken all my final secondary exams and should have been attending Havana University.

In Cuba’s capital, the University was closed. Batista, the consummate and devious plotter, was dictator for his second or was it his third time. Wanting to keep the mostly anti-Batista students from gathering, he had ordered the University shut.

While waiting for the University to re-open I had gone to the eastern Province of Oriente at the other end of the Island. I then took to living in the batey, that farm compound on the land grandfather had bought from Don Benjamin when he married grandmother. It was called “Entre Ríos,” nestled far further into the foothills of the Sierra Maestra than Guisa.

There was much unrest against Batista in the towns, and there was military action far away from us south beyond our land in the very highest ridges of the Sierra. However, in our area apprehension smoldered.

Under its Spanish tile roof, our sprawling country house, the locals called “La Casa de los Generales,” was empty of family. I was there alone, living in another building. Our vast extended family was divided. Mother and stepfather were deep into urban resistance in Havana.

Dad was also in Havana. He, when not teaching, was spending much time eating leisurely meals, enjoying the food and good company at his favorite restaurant. Many evenings he would dress up in one of his hand tailored tropical suits, and go to repeat fancified gossip to woefully ignorant and credulous listeners, at the British Embassy in Havana. For this indiscretion Dad would be let die in Castro Cuba.

One of my many uncles, Calixto Leonel, had chosen the government side. He with his wife, Aida, was in dictator-controlled Bayamo on the Cauto Plains, staying with Grandmother in a modest house she owned near the Batista Army Barracks.

The family’s mayorales (the word roughly translates to overseers, but the position of mayoral has more status, privileges and obligations), our workers and servants were keeping the farm operations going as best as they could.

My brother, Lionel, alone of the family, was still working our coffee plantation, back lot seven in the southern heights, in the area called Los Números. The coffee was sent down and north on mule trains to Entre Ríos, the northernmost and lowest portion of our lands. I was charged with unloading, stacking, and guarding the precious crop. I slept on a cot among the coffee sacks.

I sometimes went to up to see my brother at his house in the mountains. As usual I climbed the hills and mountains on foot, and as also was usual and wise, I starting the steep climb in the refreshing cool of dawn just before sunrise. After I get there, we talk, and we watch the mountains, and worry. To the south, beyond a valley, high steeply rising mountains of the main ridge of the Maestra Mountains made a great wall that seemed almost to touch the uppermost southern sky. Lionel does not tell me everything for there was enough to worry about.

My brother now, almost fifty years later, tells me that in those days he had been help extinguish a fire at the foot of the crag of Peña Prieta. He tells it in first person and in the eternal present tense of vivid memories.

“I feel something pressing against my back. Turning around I see to my surprise a Springfield 1903 rifle wielded by Cabo (Corporal) Pinto of the Guardia Rural. Cabo Pinto then takes me all the way down to Guisa, to the Cuartel headquarters of the Guardia Rural just outside that town.“

“Sergeant Ortega comes out of the Cuartel, and greets me, asking Cabo Pinto why he is here. Cabo Pinto tells his sergeant that I am a “Fidelista,” a follower of Fidel Castro. That accusation is a death sentence. As proof Pinto states I was carrying a holstered long barreled .38 caliber S&W revolver.”

Of course Lionel was not a Fidelista; as to the revolver Lionel had bought it from Vergel, Uncle Calixto Leonel’s mayoral. To this, Sergeant Ortega responds to Pinto saying loud and severely, words to the effect: ”Don’t you know he, Lionel, is one of the family of the “Generales” and thus untouchable!”

So Ortega invites Lionel for a drink. As they go towards the town, Ortega mentions his family and their need; then he asks Lionel for twenty dollars. Lionel gives it to him; they do not share a drink. All seems to be a opportunity to elicit yet another bribe from the family.

At this point it seems the Batista forces are not taking Fidel Castro seriously. After all Castro’s forces reached land, late and at the wrong place, not only that but they were sick and weak, apparently having survived the trip on “rations” of amphetamines since survivors talk of taking food pills. Batista forces killed or captured, not necessarily in that order, at least half of these dazed rebels who landed with Castro. The rebels’ memories of these times are often incoherent, talking of air attack and fear. Frank País sent agents to help them escape and Batista’s forces made the mistake of breaking off pursuit. Castro under sporadic air attack and paranoid with fear, dealt harshly with spies real and imagined. The next time the Batista Government forces encountered the rebels on the ground was an attack by reorganized rebels on an isolated out post.

Úbero Later things change the war is no longer a mere game. Probably on May 26, 1957, while I was still in Havana, Lionel who was on our land in the heights of Los Números near the Crag of Peña Prieta, had seen what looked like a platoon of about twenty or thirty Batista troops passing right by where he lived. The platoon was heading southwest towards the southern coast, beyond the Sierra Maestra’s main ridge.

The Batista Government troops, wearing full battle dress, tan, not camouflage, uniforms start going downhill on Lot Seven on the sloping ridge that goes straight past Lionel’s house, towards the little river, now falsely know as the “Bayamito.”

These soldiers, although they looked so formidable and well trained, were going towards a losing action. The soldiers leapfrogged each other’s position, the lead man lying prone ready to provide cover, until he in turn was passed. Then they crossed the ”Bayamito” Stream and disappeared in the distance going and up to cross that massive main ridge

On that coast is the little and isolated village of Úbero. This village sits at the edge of the Caribbean at the foot of the mountains, just north of and above the immense undersea chasm that is the Deep of Bartlett.

Úbero, the place of the glossy wide-leaved purple fruited sea-grape tree, usually bakes quietly in the sun in the dry rain-shadowed south coastal side of the Sierra Maestra. However, this place was busy then, for the Batista garrison there was under attack by Castro’s rebels.

The brisk and deadly action was far from Los Números and Lionel’s house, beyond the massive wall of the main ridge, down on this wall’s southern far side, many steep miles away by land. Some of the soldiers Lionel saw were going to die. My brother would not hear the sounds of battle.

Calixto Sánchez White, was a distant relative according to Mother. Calixto was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1923, and thus probably in contact with grandfather who was almost certainly in England as Cuban consul general in Liverpool. Calixto was a WW II veteran World War II aviator, an anticommunist aviation labor leader and member of the Union Insurreccional Revolucionaria (UIR), loyal to deposed constitutional president Carlos Prío Socarrás. The UIR was a group of gunslingers led by war damaged Emilio Tró; Fidel Castro, Orlando Bosch, and others were members of this group.

On March 13th 1957 Calixto and his men had not arrived at the Presidential Palace on time to support the failed presidential palace assault intended to end the dictatorship in one stroke by killing Batista. In Havana then, I had heard the shooting and was terrified but did not know what was going on. I only knew a little from one of the Batista bodyguards an American who attended the same Judo dojo as I.

April 8th 1957 the Directorio Revolutionaria, a non-Castro Organization, landed a group under the direction of Foure Chaumont in the Escambray mountains of Central Cuba, and within a week was in action against Batista forces. I did not know of this.

That year what I did not know was legion. Some of those who escaped the failed assault hid in the lower floors of Humbolt 7, below the penthouse where mother and stepfather Enrique Sanz lived. These were betrayed by a communist member of their group and were killed on April 20, 1957. Luckily, my Mother, my sisters, Enrique nor I, were there at that building at that time.

When Calixto Sánchez escaped Cuba, and reached Florida, he was absolved by his friends of blame for not being in the Assault on the Palace. He returned and sailed back to Cuba. Calixto did not know his expedition “Corynthia” had also been betrayed to Batista, and landed in the Sierra Crystal the northern part of Oriente province probably May 24th or 25th 1957. Calixto Sánchez was soon killed after surrender (28th of May) with somewhat less than twenty of his men.

However, Calixto Sánchez action kept many Batista troops occupied away from the May 28th Úbero action in the southernmost part of the province. One of the few (three?) survivors of the Corynthia landing Fernando Mirelles (Virreyes) joined with the Che in the Sierra and became a rebel captain. Both Sánchez’s landing and the Úbero attack used weapons intended for the Palace assault.

Frank País the able urban leader of Castro’s 26th of July movement is betrayed by communists in the same organization and killed by Batista troops in Santiago de Cuba on July 30, 1957. This removed Castro’s most able lieutenant and rival in his organization.

September 5, 1957, Batista, with B-26 air support (Douglas A-26 Invaders) suppressed with much bloodshed a Cuban Navy revolt at Cienfuegos, in middle Cuba.

Ana Elsa, Lionel’s daughter, was born December 14, 1957 in Lionel’s house on those heights beneath that great crag of Peña Prieta.

By February 16th 1958 Batista’s B-26 would be bombing and strafing rebels near Pino del Agua, and I would gather with the people who worked for us at the edge of cliff above the lagoon below La Casa de Los Generales. We watch the planes flying and the bombs exploding far away in the mountains.

Larry Daley Copyright@2001, revised 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006


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