04 LORENTE ATTACKS GUISA
04 LORENTE ATTACKS GUISA
In the 1950s, the Montunos, hill-people, of the Sierra Maestra were mostly poorly uneducated. Many were illiterate, unlearned in all except oral traditions and the distortions of unrealistic radio shows. Thus some were easily misled. For some years, demagogues posing as rural labor or land reform leaders organize and then betray their montuno followers for coerced bribes. Even as early as the 1940s Grandfather, in his letters, had already noted communist activists gathering supporters and building infrastructure.
In those days the Montunos gave much credence to supernatural faith healing.
In memory I recall:
“Clavelito,” the little carnation, is the voice-radio-persona of a curandero, almost a Bohique, a Taíno shaman, “espiritista,” certainly a faith-healer. He, Miguel Alfonso Pozo, sings his “sermons” to the cords of the traditional Güajiro tres guitar: “Pon tu pensamiento en mí, y su mano sobre el radio, y ya tu verás Eladio…. ". Place your thoughts on me, and your hand upon the radio, and you will see Eladio….”
Thus, sings Clavelito proclaiming his ability to help “Eladio,”was a shamed man from the once Taíno town of
The impact of not understood new technology upon the once unchangeable rural life seemingly makes anything possible. Years earlier before the war, it must have been late 1940s or very early 1950s because the family and the place was at peace, Uncle Calixto Leonel would loaned me his copies of the latest Amazing Stories and other pulp science fiction. We understood that these stories were not real, although Uncle Calixto did believe in flying saucers.
However, sometimes at night I would turn sleepy and forget the magazines on the young people’s dining table on the south veranda. Then someone among the workers and the servant women would with the greatest stealth tear off and steal the bright lurid covers. The cover illustrations were all in primary colors, showing the purple-dark of space, cadmium yellow interstellar rockets and bright scarlet uniforms. These images showed, luscious, strategically covered but almost nude women, and somehow completely covered space suited men or tentacle armed BEM (Bug eyed monsters). I, puzzled by this adroit pilferage would be blamed and catch h…ll from Uncle Calixto for this vandalism. Later I would learn that the walls in the servants and workers quarters were plastered with these quasi-icons of an impossible, but believed, future.
In Guisa some few miles north of us and tens of miles west of Jiguaní, Doctor Joaquin Bueno is busy armed with the powerful glory of the new antibiotics and his surgically skilled hands, to repair the damage that Clavelito and his ilk had done Dr. Bueno, a man of much kindness and patience, heals the peritonitis of ruptured appendices that the magical belly-massages of the delusional “sobadores” had caused.
There are other false persuaders in these mountains, for at least a generation, communists have been building a stronghold for their evil faith. That today, so long ago in early 1958, these deceivers have decided to test their followers with a march supposedly to support the April 1958 strike against Batista.
Since being of the wrong political persuasion and social class I was not there, I merely heard this story.
Still, in that April of 1958, there were many untutored so dazed by the advances of sciences they would believe almost anything new if presented the “right” way. Now they and their descendents still march as ordered but now they are far more cynical, and require more coercion.
This is how my memories envision Lorente’s march.
The montuno men are marching in north to Guisa, in long sparse arrays following each other, at perhaps two steps of distance. They move alternatively as the paths and road permit in single, or truck track spaced double files.
Few marchers are tall, but all are strong. Most are ignorant, but most are also canny in the way of wild montuno güajiro. All, however canny, are tired of working for others and have been mislead by their greed for free land and prosperity. Beguiled by the marxist words of their leader, and unaware of their betrayal they march, bent forward, in the particular stiff very long legged stride of Cuban mountain folk that eats away the miles of road.
The April 1958 march goes on. Some, but very few of these montuno güajiro marchers are Black. Mostly they are part Taíno Indian, part Spanish. Many, perhaps most, have the azabache jet-black hair which in these mountains often comes with bronze skin tones and speaks of Taíno inheritance. One cannot see their hair now, for it is beneath their sombreros.
A few of these Montunos have this same azabache hair in combination with, and in surprising contrast to light eyes and pale skin burnt leathery gold by the sun. These strands of jet hair had replaced childhood blond. They are the children of present day
These Canarios “Isleños” we call them, perhaps share with the Taíno a faint common biological bond as well as the once use of the conch bugle the fotuto or guamo. Perhaps there is an ancient blood link between two peoples from these two groups of isles beyond rocks of
Perhaps the ancestors of the indigenous Canary Islanders had once crossed a then shrunken, ice age Atlantic Ocean, from the most western isles of the Old World to the lost and perhaps more than mythical transatlantic ream of of Atlantis that is considered by some to be place in the Caribbean.
Perhaps, just perhaps, a lost Roman or Carthaginian vessel set sail from the
Although the Isleños among the marchers, had genetic codes that may well hold these secrets, the marchers’ conscious minds know nothing of this. Some even think that
The marchers go on. They are dressed in drab and ordinary work-clothes: faded long-sleeved gray-green shirts worn outside their blue jeans. Rips in their clothing show hard, lean muscle and flat stomachs. They work hard. Lorente, is known for his slave-driving ways and his meager pay. He, the marchers’ employer and their ideological leader, is a marxist, a true believer in a doctrinaire need to rob his workers of “plus value” to enrich himself and his cause.
Most marchers wear ankle high rough boots, but no socks, cover their broad callused feet. Some wear rough canvas alpargatas, closed sandals with tire tread soles. Their traditional fan-palm thatch “yarey” hats are yellowed by many tropical rains. Made of long dried leaflets from these spreading yarey fronds these hats are assembled from plaited flat ribbons sewn in spirals on hand peddled SingerTM machines. These sombreros were made locally by industrious independent women. I did not hear of any woman participating in this march.
Machetes, the work tool and lethal weapon once called cutlasses by pirates, are in well-scuffed and worn leather scabbards. The cutlasses leather scabbards are carried cinched to their belts. The cutlasses hang down loosely, to sway with each stride, at men’s left sides. The black Bakelite pommels of the machetes show one vertical row of shining white metal studs rivets through perforated tangs onto the long, flat blades. .
Worn on left in the customary quick draw position, the machete’s protruding fat bellied grip and flat-topped beaked pommel face forward, waiting, always waiting, always ready to slide out of the scabbard for an incredibly swift, cross-handed, upward slash. These montuno-güajiros fight often in deadly duels, over such simple things as stolen chickens and over the priceless delights of wild güajira women.
A few güajiros also carry, foot-long, wooden-handled, flat-bladed, sharply-triangular, one-sided knives in slim sheaths. The knife sheaths have leather “tongues” to hold them on their belts under their shirts. These smaller blades can effortlessly chip and chew through the neck bones of the vertebra of a cow, or slice to expose the guts of a rival for the love of some woman.
The stiff, flat brims of their yarey sombreros shut out the bright sun and make deep masks of shadows. These shadows move with their movements and the way of the road to drift across their usually beardless faces, obscuring their countenances and hiding their identities. It is as if hundreds of masked Zorro’s were marching of Guisa.
The montuno güajiros are true warriors, descended from the guazábara warriors of the Taíno Nation and the Spanish conquistadores. They love bravery and song, dances and fighting. They always are counted in Cuban wars. Today their weapons are outdated.
In April 1958, the time of the strike against Batista, most of the province, storeowners are seen to be behaving strangely. The owners unlock to open and lock to close their store doors continually. Loud commands to open come from rough spoken Batista soldiers, all tidy in smooth “casquito” helmet liners, tan uniforms, trousers tucked into shiny black combat boots, and web-cloth weapon belts.
The Batista army soldiers carry short modern bayonets in gray metal scabbards, great .45 caliber revolvers or flat-sided .45 1911 pistols, and rifles: semiautomatic M-! Garands, or very accurate 1903 bolt action Springfields. The soldiers are backed by Browning machine guns, mortars and their little strafing spotter and larger fighter bomber planes.
Thudding and thudding, the metal heel-plate of a Springfield rifle-butt hits and splinters the thick wood of a store’s closed door. These soldiers know what they are doing there is no round in the weapons chamber, no unexpectedly triggered firing. The door opens very fast, bowed and gray the protruding head of shop owner mutters profuse and abjectly desperate apologies. The door stays ajar at least until the soldiers pass.
As time goes on, the sun rises to noon-height. In the heat of , beads of sweat mark the soldier’s efforts dripping out from under the helmet liners to their faces. The sun beats down mercilessly.
The soldiers move with tense caution. They fear if they are not alert, they will be killed for their weapons. Sweat wets the center line of the vulnerable back of their shirts, sticking the cloth uncomfortably to their spines.
Quieter, but at first even more compelling, educated voices of the discrete, shadow flitting, civilians demand closure. The civilians are not armed, but their white, clean, tidy clothing, well-combed bare heads, and heavy horn-rimmed glasses signal their middleclass status and their education.
These civilians barely sweat in the heat and the smell of strongly scented deodorant follows them. It “is not done” for educated people to smell of sweat. These, although I still do not know for certain, are probably the people of the undercover “Civilian Militia,” formerly the Agrupación Nacionalista Revolucionaria (ANR), now the urban part of Castro’s organization.
These civilians are not fully Castro supporters. These are the men who once obeyed Frank País and now his successor. There are many such groups fighting Batista and to some extent each other.
In the summer of the year before, in 1957 Frank and his brother Josue País García, were separately and secretly betrayed. Sold out by the Communists close to Castro, they are killed on the streets by the brutal Batista red-infiltrated “anti-communist” police.
Camilo Cienfuegos and the escopeteros of Lara are on the plains too. However in the towns and cities most resistance to the Batista dictatorship comes from these civilian urban activists who answer now more to “Daniel,” the war name of René Ramos Latour, than to Castro. Daniel (René Ramos Latour), the secret National Chief of the anti-Batista 26 of July urban “Milicias,” is the successor to the dead Protestant País brothers. Daniel takes the strike to the plains with a few victorious assaults and a number of losses in towns and places near
Daniel is also to be betrayed in the future. Victim of the ancient biblical ploy, once used by King David, to possess Bathsheba, exquisitely beautiful wife of his warrior Uriah, Daniel dies because of a “strategic withdrawal” and slow return by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his men. However, this is an account in for another chapter. All one has to remember now is that the “Che” is ruthless in ridding himself of rivals.
In the here and now of April 1958, in Guisa, the leadership of the anti-Batista resistance includes Alberto Soler. Alberto is middle aged, fat and ugly. He is only of medium height a mere civilian, a local pharmacist. He has not turned gray, his still black hair at that age is a trait that, as I said before is common, among those with Taíno ancestry.
Soler is quite intelligent. In Guisa, where centuries meld and mingle, he, and his pharmacist counterparts are known by their medieval title. He is “el Boticario,” apothecary Soler.
Perhaps El Boticario whispers orders to his allies. It is time leave. This part of the resistance to Batista, this strike, is over for now. Then El Boticario, starts to think of a future plan to rid Guisa of the Batista forces.
El Boticario’s plan will lead to a bloody action which will in about eight months break the back of the dictator’s armies. Fat and ugly does not mean powerless; however, fat and ugly does mean that others take credit for this plan.
The mothers of the province’s town and cities, knowing something dangerous is going on, pray for their young men. These women and their daughters drag the young men home from the street. The soldiers are gaining control; Frank País civilian resistance militias can do little to stop them now. There are some arrests by the authorities; torture elicits information and more arrests; the April General Strike against Batista is failing. Bodies of young men are strewn around the countryside.
MJ and Raul are held in the gray and grim stone walls of the ancient hilltop
MJ and Raul’s torturer Esteban Ventura Nova is the well dressed polite and cruel prototype of Capitan Segura described by Graham Greene’s Our Man in
MJ and Raul had been trying to get photographs of atrocities from
The rule in such circumstance is that one can do anything once. MJ and Raul did not know this rule, and having been successful the first time, tried again. This was not wise. Rumor has it, that the Paris Match reporter was interrogated by the Batista police, and may have revealed their names.
Whatever, Raul always was too brave; and had more passion than good sense. He brought police attention to himself and to MJ by carving the name of “Rebecca,” an American Missionary “girl,” Raul was infatuated with on a tree in a
Ventura, who is as paranoid as any good dictator’s police officer has to be, feels that this is some kind of plot to trick him into killing an Englishman and thus to precipitate an international incident. In an unusual act, for him,
MJ already has a record with the Batista Police. in the aftermath of the July 26 Cuartel Moncada assault at Santiago de Cuba, and Bayamo, way back in 1953, he had been caught up, quite innocently but suspiciously dressed in kaki Boy-Scout leader uniform. . My cousin was arrested in Holguín, a city far from
The barracks where MJ was held in 1953 were named after great grandfather Major General Calixto García Iñiguez. Great-grandfather had won La Loma de Piedra (Hill of Stone) battle near here. This was just one of our famous ancestor’s many victories; we tend not to remember his defeats. Uncle Calixto Leonel, now on Batista’s side, pulled the strings that freed MJ that time.
Now in 1958 it would take the full power of the British Embassy to release him. MJ, who’s real name is Manuel José Norman, reached the safety of
Now to Lorente’s march
So in these circumstances, in our area of the Sierra Maestra Mountains, between the Guisa and Bayamo Rivers, ambitious Lorente, part-time contract coffee planter, full-time communist, is making trouble. His mind stuffed with the marxist nonsense of “peasant masses,” sets out to lead a protest march to the town of
Lorente has communist party orders to do this, to dilute the influence of the anti-Batista non-communist civilian militias of Daniel already in the town. Thus, Lorente, his many workers and his fellow comrades, Ricarte Martínez, and Majin Peña, with the men of their households and fields, march on this strategic place.
The güajiro montunos marchers, I am told, went singing. Perhaps they even sang the melancholy, oddly rhythmic singsong words of the communist anthem the "Internationale." The güajiros, as some told me later, also went along shouting and waving machetes.
Using machetes against machine guns is madness. The march’s cynical real purpose is to make “martyrs.” The communists wish to “poner los muertos.” That is, these communists wish to pay a late fee for entry into the “Revolution;” they plan to pay with their own followers’ bodies.
As yet the marchers do not know what is waiting for them. "Al machete," the old independence patriot slogan, they yell. "Al machete," the war cry their fathers and grandfathers once shouted, is the old Mambí order to charge with naked blades. The blood and glory of these past charges fill their minds as they start towards Guisa. Visions of easy victory of the massed proletariat heroic charges stir their "nonexistent" socialist souls. They follow the heroic-looking tall, broad-shouldered, loyal communist party member. Surely with such a leader as Lorente, what could they fear; victory must be at hand.
The marchers really do not know Lorente’s scheming ruthless ways. They, unlike their leaders, are not really communists; what they want is the promised socialist paradise, which to their confused ideology, includes their own capitalist plot of land. They march blinded with the fervor of those seeking an impossible dream, for they truly believe this is a time of “scientific” miracles.
Unfortunately, dictators are by definition and necessity selfish and ungrateful. After Castro reaches power, some of these marchers will die, at the new dictator’s hands for seeking these illusions. Of course at this time of this march nobody knows this.
The march, this “demostración,” starts at Lorente's batey, his compound way up the gorge of the
Some days later in that April of 1958, after the strike has been suppressed, I would visit Lorente’s headquarters. I remember these low raw wood buildings of the batey with their galvanized metal roofs, standing on bare pebbles over boulders packed smooth with tamped down hardened dirt. The crudeness of the buildings was then not softened by tropical vegetation. The place lacked the crudest sanitation, and the clean mountain air was tainted by the pungent smell of urine and the sharp stench of human wastes.
Lorente’s batey then insulted the narrow exquisite landscape of naturally rough flood-hewed steep-walled canyon. Here this man’s work had sullied by its crude presence at the edge the usually transparent waters of the
I recall the interior of Lorente’s flea-infested shed where he had his workers sleep. Here we visiting rebels, as Mojena's Escopeteros would spend an uneasy night. We spent it lying awake, itching, slapping, rubbing and scratching in the dark. We watched as Lorente’s assassin slept on the dirt floor, peaceful as a baby, fresh blood just spilled by his hands (more about him follows later). Surely, at the time of the march this assassin must have been at Lorente’s side, but, that too, I really do not know.
Back to Lorente’s march:
Lorente’s 1958 April strike march is on. The marchers walk down the beautiful valley, the
The marchers pass the small crop fields. The marchers sweep past the prosperous shops of Los Horneros resting on the valley floor below the high pasture. Royal palms, green tufted sprays on erect smooth white trunks, climb in straggled ranks the infolded depths of rising gullies. The palms lead upwards towards the shade-coffee covered heights of the northeast ridge of Los Números.
A small plaque commemorating Cuban Independence Mambí hero, Franciso Maceo Osorio is passed unnoticed. He had taken Guisa in 1868, yet in the forgetfulness of mankind. I think somebody was using it as a stove top. Maceo Osorio had been a loyal friend and ally of Calixto and Don Benjamin during the Ten Year War. He died here of fever more than eighty years before, hiding from the Spanish, on Don Benjamin’s land.
Many have died in wars here before. This is one of the places where the evil Count of Valmaseda sent his killers to wipe out all Cuban Güajiro country folk, men, women, and children. These cruel soldiers killed whoever they could find here to stop them from supplying the Mambí with food and shelter.
The far more recently dead ghost of the Bandit King of the Sierra Edesio Hernandez is surely there. Edesio’s ghost -- he always had a sharp sense of humor-- smiles down at the marchers’ stupidity from the early mountain mists in the hollows of the heights of Bejuquero, the place of the tangled vines on the lower eastern part of ruptured crater that forms the ridges of Los Números. Here the communists had formed a secret cell years ago.
They cross the river, going north. They go by the guinea grass pastures of Teófilo Espinosa, perhaps most prosperous, and certainly the most gregarious and garrulous of all Guisa merchants. Purple-tinged green when heavy rains feed rapid growth, emerald when the rains are gentle, straw yellow in the dry season, the guinea grass covered slopes rise with increasing steepness to cliffs to wall-in the marchers’ right north flank.
The air smells faintly, but not unpleasantly and almost sweetly, of grass-fed cattle dung. Criollo and Brahma mix cows, mottled in light brown, white and black, great horns like lyres on their heads, graze bucolically, on the tropical richness. The tranquil beasts ignore the marchers and do not stir; but stand heads down munching on grass, their bovine stomachs rumbling ever so softly. They are tame; they are cattle; their fate does not cause them concern; they leave their future to destiny.
The marchers, sweating slightly now, climb up out of the
The marchers climb to the top of the smoothly rounded and complexly folded ridge of Pueblo Nuevo, which looks like a green rumpled bedspread over a gigantic bed. Here the land is poor and eroded and the grass is short. There are little seeps and springs of bad water, wet spots between the folds. The smell of human perspiration attends the multitude, but they do not notice. They are rural laborers. They are used to the varied scents of sweat.
On the ridge road of Pueblo Nuevo, steadily but now less surely, the marchers go on. They go in file towards a small, plank footbridge over tree shaded stream, and a white, forested, cave ridden, limestone karst hill. They are near the little crossroad at El Sordo, the place of the deaf man. Here on the bottoms the land is richer again.
In El Sordo, Spanish immigrant Miguel Angel Calvo, watches them from his shop but does not join; he is too intelligent for that. It as if Miguel knows that in November of this same year, his antitank mines will help take Guisa for real.
Past the heights of the ridge road, this part of El Sordo is now more shaded, more fearful. They are too near to the Batista held garrison town of
Less than two years previously violent death walked near by. Just ahead, this road crosses another road that goes south to la Toronja, the place of the grapefruit. Then, the brave happy bandit Edesio Hernandez, who loved his women who bear his children gladly, his rum, and the songs of the country folk, had walked by. He had walked without noise in his trademark tennis shoes, on to the Toronja and his betrayal and death at that barbed wire fence.
The marchers take the branch of the road that leads towards the ancient garrison town of
On the walk these rural communists, their less wise followers, and Lorente's more or less coerced workers have had time to think. As they think, surely their minds consider the deadly weapons of the Guisa garrison and the proven eagerness of the Batista soldiers to use these weapons against the less well-armed.
This is not just a day with free food, and no labor. Working for Lorente is hard, for he -who could forget- is a true communist is convinced that to be successful in a capitalist world one must exploit one’s workers. Yet today is not just a day away from Lorente’s harsh orders to work ever more in his coffee gardens and his root crops conucos. Today is a day of more sinister intent.
The marchers feel the long rock ribbed road sapping the strength from their legs. As they tire, their fear grows greater. Steadily their enthusiasm ebbs. Their confidence in their strong arms and razor sharp machetes, resting, ready in the worn leather scabbards at their sides, is dimmed.
The marchers’ suppressed worries about being the guests of honor at an approaching massacre became sharper, more realistic, and more terrifyingly clear and urgent. The odor of their sweat changes and becomes far more pronounced and unpleasant.
The marchers know that Batista is quite ready to order blood spilled.
They are less aware that death of country folk in far
Lorente also knows that the top leadership of the covert “black wing” of this marxist party is free from such bourgeois notions as the debts of loyalty, after all for them “gratitude is a vice of dogs.” They seek this war, knowing that it will bring them to an opportunity to take positions from which to seize power. He must be careful of them too, for he could easily become an offered sacrifice.
There has been yet another alliance of convenience between communist jackals and the tiger-clawed dictator. Now this evil alliance is about to be broken once again.
Both, the communists and Batista have done this a number of times before. The marchers do not clearly know, some old ones, and certainly Lorente, remember that communist blood was apparently spared by Batista 24 years ago near here. During the break-up of the “Workers Soviet” at the Mabay sugar factory, a place perhaps twenty miles on the plains to the west there the strike was broken, but there is no apparent record of communist deaths.
Having betrayed Batista once again, the communist leaders march their pawns at the dictator men; they know this time the dictator may well demand blood payment. Yet, this is not chess.
In chess, pawns cannot escape their board; in real life there are options. In real life, even pawns think and fear. These güajiros are not stupid, just un-tutored.
Trembling rushes cause the muscles of Lorente’s marchers to shake; the thin hairs of their arms rise like the back of a Rhodesian ridgeback hound. They are no longer living pawns, but frightened human beings.
Lorente, prudent as always, turns around to look. The marchers are no longer following him closely. Shirts are now streaked white by the salts of dried sweat, his men are straggling then disappearing, slipping away at every turn of the road.
Adrenaline blinds reason, to leave only fear, fear turns to panic. Hearts beat furiously. The men’s instincts scream: run!!! The Montunos’s calf muscles twitch; they are ready to bolt until safety is reach or their hearts stop. And run they do, fleeing for the hills.
Lorente makes a quick decision, hurries south too, following his men to the safety of the hills. His legs are longer; he runs faster. After all, Lorente is the leader, thus it is proper, and certainly safer, if he leads the retreat.
The march is over. The demonstration did not make it to Guisa.
Some time it must be just before this, Lorente sends his people to try to find weapons in La Casa de los Generales. I have joined the rebels, after the strike has failed, and the Batista soldiers have driven all of us out of Arroyón, we gather at the camp at El Sordo We are the Mojena’s escopeteros, Mojena's group, shotgun picket irregulars. We are a much mixed bag, we do not follow Lorente. Some of us are capitalists, some feudal minded, the youngest is a killer, bandit spawn, Edesio Hernandez’s son or nephew; another is a professional gambler. One, a town kid from Guisa, is unknowingly the son of a doomed Batista informant. Most are merely normal adventurous young county folk, Montunos from the mountains and Güajiros from the foothills.
I remember how: we escopeteros all would laugh as the story of how Lorente’s march came apart was told and retold in the evenings. The pretty, nubile, Güajirita daughter of the house slides a demure glance at her beloved Machado the tallest of our Güajiro escopetero group, as our food is served. Our bellies are full of the good fresh corn meal and "expropriated" beef. The good royal palm frond thatch keeps the rain out of that house behind the hill above El Sordo.
We laugh, for Lorente months after the event still cowers in his far canyon refuge, fearing even the rebel column of Huber Matos. However, Lorente is not afraid to send others to do his dirty work.
Our future is to be full of surprises:
Since then we are surprised that in
Naranjo, “El Rubio Tuerto,” the one-eyed blond gambler, will throw in his lot with anti-communist breakaway commander, the lawyer Humberto Sorí Marin, and both will lose.
I am a mere soldier without rank, but even so I will not be trusted and will resign two weeks after victory, and not be allowed to visit my friends in the Rebel Army. In three years I will be forced to leave Cuba to spend my life in another land.
Larry S. Daley copyright@1997, revised 1998, 1999 and 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006