Thursday, June 22, 2006



It was very dark night, our eyes even when completely dark-adapted could see little, and so it was not easy to avoid the muddy spots in the not yet dry road. We trod carefully for mud on our low boots would make our steps, with the slosh of trodden and dripping water easy to hear; and mud inside our boots would make extra weight and could hurt our feet and slow us if we had to run. Yet we were walking fast, very fast, I could hardly keep up.

We were walking down from the relative safety of our camp above the entrance to an upper canyon on the Guisa River. A camp that was south and in the hills above El Sordo and Miguel Angel Calvo’s metalworking and timber truck repair shop. We passed by the large cave at the south end of a karstic, white carbonate, forested hill. In this cave, near the repair shop we had hidden the night we arrived here.

That night that we had arrived, we had come from the canyon of the upper Guamá River, from Lorente’s flea and communist ridden camp, glad to be rid of both. We had headed to the east-north east along of the road to Pueblo Nuevo and then beyond to El Sordo. At the cave by El Sordo we changed directions and went south to the upper Guisa River Gorge. And made a base camp, in a little tree shaded, rock strewn, hollow on the east side of the gorge at the mouth of the safe, cave ridden, narrow canyon.

Calvo would become our armor, and helped us make crude grenades. Grenades and Stupid Youth Re: Reyes a Cuba ?






In 1958 I remember how I watched the Calvo make the casings for the bomb Grenades. Calvo made the cases under the high wide galvanized metal roof of his open sided machine shop in El Sordo, by the stream near bomb Grenades. The Calvo made the cases under the high wide galvanized metal roof of his open sided machine shop in El Sordo, by the stream near the tree covered cave ridden white hill just south of Guisa.

He would pick up pieces of one inch galvanized pipe sealed at one end with plumbing fittings. He welded one after another big washers concentric washers on to the open ends ends of of the galvanized pipe. The metal was dull, dirty and dark scratchy gray covered with the coating zinc.

Calvo is tall, and old and thin and also gray. I watch as he works, stooped over his task, his dark goggles protect his eyes from the welding flame. I at a further distance do not look directly at the bright flame. Then, when his work cooled I gather up the casings, in a burlap sack, twisting the neck of the sack and throwing it over my right shoulder.

I take the casings to our camp above the entrance to that upper canyon of the Guisa River. As I walk the heavy casings bump hard into my back, I try to walk more smoothly. Walking up the short grass covered rolling hills that ends of the casings bump even more into my back. I stop, readjust the heavy load, and continue to walk on, up to camp.

I had gone to the Bejucero hill in Uncle Calixto’s part of the Números to get lead ingots which was prepared by a supporter, probably a member of the covert communist party that had an old cell in the area. He melted down the car batteries which were still used to power the old radios of the time. How I knew to go there I do not recall, it was either Mojena or Calvo who told me.

At the camp, in the pasture, below the shade of the living fence posts. just outside the open walled palm penca thatched kitchen of the camp the other escopeteros and I fill the casings. We take the long tubes we made by the pouring molten metal of the sulfuric acid lead battery electrodes through the ant tunnels of the petioles of the great yagruma leaves and slice the soft metal into little short cylinders with a knife. We slice open the sticks of dynamite stolen from the mines of Charco redondo. We cut through the translucid layers of thick waxy paper of the dynamite wrap and take out the almost "play-dough" like diatomaceous earth wet with with the nitroglycerine. The smell of nitroglycerin give us headaches as we prepare alternate layers of lead pellets and layers of dynamite inside the casings.

We move away and rest, breathing in the clean evening air when the headaches get too bad. We must have more weapons to survive. We have We move away and rest, breathing in the clean evening air when the headaches get too bad. We must have more weapons to survive. We have great need to survive, something must hold the Batista soldiers at bay, our shotguns and revolvers are not enough.

We return to work so very carefully pushing the dynamite and the pellets in with chopstick sized wooden rods. Then we cut the white woven cotton covers of the fuse into short sections, pushing the cut section into the open end of the silver colored pencil thick metal detonators until the cut end of the fuse is flush with the fulminate at the rounded closed end of detonator. We project out minds as we fit the fuse to the invisible fulminate, we see it touch with our fingers not our eyes. Then without releasing the fit we we crimp the open end of the detonator around the fuse with our right molars, I can still feel the soft metal give and its sharp metallic taste in my mouth. We know if we bite the wrong end of the detonators we could trigger the fulminate and blow our heads open. Yet we must crimp hard the fuse must be seated properly or our weapons will be useless. We sweat a little even in the cool breeze as the night comes.

Next day I remember how Mojena tried out one of the smaller Grenades. He inhales on his cigar and his cheeks swelled, fatten and reddened above his thick beard like those of a Santa Claus poster at a Mall. Then he lights the short fuse from the tip of his thin dark brown cheroot, the fuse turns red at the tip and gives off a few bright yellow white sparks.

Raising the over his head, in large hand at the end of his outstretched arm, his strong muscles stretch the dark grey cloth of his shirt, Mojena throws the heavy little monster as far as he can. The little engine of death falls where it should among a jumble of dog tooth like white karst rocks in the pasture under the guasima trees.

I duck, the explosion is not as loud as expected. I look up, there is but a whisp of smoke, and the hard ground is not much more than scorched, but when we get close and smell the burned taste of the explosion the damage of the pellets striking and scoring the white rock is impressive. These are really deadly toys, we are just reckless, desperate, irresponsible young escopeteros. We are new to the game of war. We still think of death more like boys playing games than with the sadness of the adults that violent death would soon make us.



We prepared the bombs in our base camp, with the support of a family that lived there and the neighboring güajiros. We were well supplied and established. We now had explored the area and made it our own. Now we knew the trails, the hills, and the places to hide. It was time to do more.

Tonight, coming from that safe refuge we were going further, dangerously further north towards a place too near Guisa. The Batista soldiers were in full strength in Guisa. We feared that old garrison town.

Mojena was leading and I was the last in line. We had left the steeply rolling hills and friendly hiding places among the karst rocks, brush and jumping and rapidly farting browsing goats. We were now on the low lands where we were almost as open and vulnerable as on the plains.

On both sides of the road were the shadows marking the living fences, piñon, matarata, rat poisoning, rat killing, glyceridia trees their tidal, moon flowing sap slow on that dark night. The trees impaled with brads supported the barbed wire fences, hedged us in making us vulnerable, and exposed on the bare dirt of the roadway.

There was fear because the Guisa soldiers could be, no not could be, were almost certainly, in ambush preparing to kill us on an open part of the road. If this happened, these living fences with their five tight strands of barbwire would fatally slow our escape into the bushy pastures at either side of the road. However, usually they, the enemy, the Batista soldiers, did not stray this far south at night, they kept their ambushes further north, close to their safe refuge behind the loopholes of concrete walls of the Cuartel Fort of Guisa.

The soldiers also feared to the road, if they sent a small patrol too far south, into our territory, we would ambush them. In the crazed give and take of night patrols, there was a balance of terror. If we were well placed in protected positions beyond the wire and with enough surprise to trap them in the bare killing zone between the two fences of that dangerous road they also would die.

However, open combat was not a possibility for us, our shotguns, .22 rifles, and revolvers were no match for the long killing burst of machine gun fire fully automatic San Cristobal light rifles, and long range automatic M-1 Garands carried by the soldiers. It was almost certain death for us to meet the soldiers on the open road, for if we stumbled into each other and they were ready and alert, their superior firepower would mow us down. Our war had to be a war of stealth and surprise.

Our fast moving carefully strung out dispersed line of escopetero rebels came to a wide, round, mud puddle in the middle of the road. The line took the right to go around the puddle; but the right path was very muddy, so I took the left side and the road dried out. That was great the road was now dry. First I was glad was making good time and moved faster.

Then worry came I could not see the next, but last rebel in line in front of me anymore. I hurried and still could not see him and moving faster and faster and with increasing fear I found myself jogging almost running north down that road. The road was quiet, no bats flew, no insects made noises, not little animals scurried, no boas chased rats, no smell of cattle crunching grass as they moved in the fields. The world was silent; there was the scary, blood chilling, complete absence of sound that so frequently precedes an ambush.

Fear slowed me, my brain churned through possibilities, each worse than the other. As I examined with great care the shadows ahead of me on the sides of the road, I realized that I had made a big mistake, a very big mistake. I had taken the dangerous fork north in the road that led directly, closer than I ever wanted to be, to Guisa, not the relatively safe south east leading fork of the Camino de la Toronja. My fear, now turned intense, poured galloping, pulsing, adrenaline through my arteries to every part of my whole body. Turning back, I ran south on the road towards the safety of the hills.

A noise startled me, then the noise turned to hoofbeats, a horse was coming. It was coming towards me, going north towards Guisa. I slowed and crouched in the shadows at the edge of the road, but the rider had seen me running south away from the town. For a few seconds I did not recognize him and then I did. I was very relieved. It was one of us. It was the gambler, El Tuerto, El Rubio, one eyed, tall, blond-haired, gray-stubble bearded, Naranjo, the oldest of us, he held his reins in one hand, his shotgun from his right arm barrel pointing left, that gun was ready.

I was glad to see him, and so was he to see me safe. On the way back he told me he would have, for he had orders, to shoot me if I had been moving north as if to surrender. On the way back, we both felt glad, and he rode slowly and I walked back besides his horse to the hills behind El Sordo.


Later El Tuerto joined Castro Comandante Sorí Marin's police after the battle of Guisa. With the town taken by our forces and civilians to control, I too was invited to join the new revolutionary police. Fearing being involved in more executions, I declined. The condemned Batista killers and informers of Guisa, now took their turns to die, shot by firings squads. Sorí Marin was a severe judge; he had written the draconic code of conduct of the rebels, which was as free with the death sanction, as revolutionary justice was free from trivial matters as exact proof. I was not there, but surely some guilt is mine.

Victory over the Batista soldiers came soon after Guisa. After victory and as the scene turned dark, Sorí Marin plotted against Castro. In the last stages of Marin’s defeat he, Sorí Marin or perhaps an entrapping secret police officer, had sent word asked to see me at the Granja of Bayamo. I did not go for my fearful and tortured mind told me I could not go and live. Sorí Marin, betrayed by his two gemelos, his jimaguas, his two twin brothers, was ordered shot by Castro. I still wonder if El Tuerto survived.

Larry Daley copyright@1996 (revised 1997, 2000, 2002, 2006)


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