Monday, July 24, 2006

31. La Comparsa de Repudio

31. La Comparsa de Repudio

Here on Infanta Avenue, a street in the middle of the city of Havana, a wide urban avenue barren of green growing things, a comparsa is being held. Here clerical approval is not sought. This is a feast of the comparsas where the primeval pre-coital dances following the traditions of the Black slaves paying tribute to their African gods during Spanish rule in Cuba are, for that moment all there is, are all that matters in this instant. These are not güajiros, montuno peoples from the mountains, nor are they Spanish from the cities. I am as if in a foreign country. These people are alien to me. I observe them, in a feeling a roiling mix of fascination, attraction and fear, as one might observe strange, novel and unusual beings.

These comparsa dances are little changed from the feasts of fertility when the filling of slave women’s’ wombs was their reproductive intent. Then even the formally dressed house slaves ran out to the fields to return perhaps days later their mistresses once used and then discarded dresses bedraggled and torn, their bodies sweaty, but their eyes wide like those of calves, full of remembered pleasure.

This carnival, this recalls the wild abandon of the breeding of slaves. Here the women, wood nymphs in heat, dance their glossy skins, their full breasts, firm raised buttocks sway for and aft and sideways skillfully showing the oiled agility of their ready hips.

The men of the Comparsa crowd are as contending satyrs in bright loud clothing. Each color is a symbol, an aspect, of their gods. In red, blue, blousy shirts, bright often yellow trousers, their best maybe two-tone shoes, and these men strut-dance wild competitions of virility. It is a ritual remembering, a reliving of the life of captive, slave, ancestors who on certain days could give themselves completely to the narcotic of sexual pleasures to forget all else.

It is the same unthinking animal drive for survival through sexual joy and the making of progeny that drives salmon upstream, buck deer to fight in rut, lions to mate endlessly for days. The music’s hypnotic beat, telling all, that humans are animals too.

The rhythmic drumbeats pull all. Most in Havana resist through fear of crime, loss of control or pride or religion, yet all feel the pull to this primeval drive. Astutely the Castro government is sponsoring this carnival to break all bonds with the past, and to deliver the minds of the young to their power. Sex is pitted against G-d; lust is pitted against property, wild abandon to sexual congress against political freedoms. Parents guard their young with care.

This is a strange Havana carnival, in 1961. Castro is consolidating his power; he readies to expel most of Catholic priests claiming they were foreign born. The Bay of Pigs landing is only perhaps a month away.

An atmosphere of excitement of anticipation and dread fills Cuba. All ponder will the now clearly communist atheist Cuban government prevail? Will there be a bloodbath? Fathers send sons to safety in foreign lands, mothers smuggle their children to the safety of the US. All who can try to leave.

Some people plot against the government and in the still time of early morning lay wake and listen, their adrenaline pumping through pulsing arteries for the dread knock of Castro’s police on the door. Other’s seeking safety throw their lot in with the Castro militia and dream fitful nightmares of facing the fire of landing US Marines.

In movie theaters, in the shielding dark, Castro’s opposition loudly hums the US marine hymn. The syncopated marching beat of “From the shores of Mon-te-zuma” triggers abject fear in the members of the militia guarding these places.

Some dream of waiting open, tree shaded mass graves. In nightmares, high soft mounds Cuba’s fertile earth wait nearby ready to cover thousands of piled bodies. The shadows of the dawn sun making sharp triangles angles of shadow and light in the rectangular gaping open mouths of the pits.

I sleep disturbed, my dreams change to terror. In the days before the Carnival came, my puritanical Irish Catholic faith is not yet failing, and my suppressed desires take the form of steel. Yet, steel does not bring tranquility it never has. Not my fine automatic pistol, .38 Super Colt, under my pillow, nor my little belly gun, the .38 Colt Cobra revolver I carry during daylight, give me peace.

I am no longer innocent, I know the horror of violent death, and then trivial spilling of blood, in seconds enemies die and friends cease to exist. My memories of the impure ecstasy of triumphant battle come and then go. I recall as crystal clear memories of simplified good and evil. I think of a friend dying slowly and in great pain and fear. I tremble with panic and adrenaline.

I lay awake watching the night sky through the high iron barred windows of my third story bed room. I listen in the predawn for footsteps that never come across the empty rooftops of Concordia. Fear, and courage, hate and love, lust and purity, in uncertain pairs dance through my mind, they chase my dreams and live in weaker but still vivid my waking hours.

With the rise of the hot sun, fears fade a little, but they do not go away. Now the beat of the Comparsa drummers, the crowd noises and that loudspeaker amplified torrid voice of a fully eroticized woman singing her explicit desires does not let me hear any other thing

Fear of death has driven most to their basic reproductive instincts. In this drive to survive, through out Cuba men and women bury themselves and their fears in the buzzing heart pounding fog of choosing multiple, ready sexual partners. They seek to lose themselves in the glad, frantic joining of willing bodies, and in the forgetful wet, musk scented, sleep, that follows exhaustive copulation. Cuba, always lubricious, now burning to fight fears, is more than ever is in the arms of Eros.

These Comparsas are new celebrations to me. I never knew much about the carnivals, the pre-Lenten feasts of carnality, the feasts of the living flesh, the wild carnivals filled with frenetically dancing Comparsas of urban Eastern Cuba.

These Comparsas are not part of the culture of the warrior Güajiros that I know from the mountains of the same province. This is not the 1950s style Americanized organized parade of sumptuous floats adorned with elaborately dressed and flesh revealing women, an elaborately tamed display to be motored by to delight the admiring sophisticated crowds of Havana. This carnival is different.

For this carnival the new government, has brought in people from the far Eastern province, the Comparsas from Santiago de Cuba. They come from such poor districts as Los Hoys and Mejiquito barrios of this city. Their culture relates more to Santo Domingo and even Haiti than most of Cuba.

These Comparsa people are not bound by the rules by which most Cubans try to live. Culturally and linguistically they are distinct from the peoples of Havana's and the other provinces, even other parts, more Taíno, Güajiro based parts of the same old Oriente Province.

These people of the Comparsas live lives modeled after the African gods, gods as far from the rules of Catholicism as the lecherous gods of ancient Greece. These people are examples our families fear, be our skins black or brown or pink. Our parents fear we children could become like these people if they relax their guards. Our parents fear: if they lose their income, marry “wrong,” if we do not have a productive life, do not get a good education and a good profession, or take to crime, we children could be come as such.

Many of these people of the Comparsas had recently followed Batista, for his own brother Hermilindo a priest of these African rites, was half-Black, like many of them. Now they seek and find new allegiances to the new Castro government. To this new government, as to the past government they so recently served, they will offer their lives as soldiers. Like in the past the new government will use them and their freer morality to serve its purposes. Then, as the previous government did, will abandon them when such rejection is expedient. Then these people in the 1990s will be the despised and internally deported “Palestinos.”

Other Comparsas dancers here on the street are from the Havana Cayo Hueso district. They are from places of desperation, poverty, crime and cheap prostitution. They are from poor places that will not change, despite all the promises of the new government.

This is not a place where those like me can go; it is too dangerous. Old hates, old envies can be appeased with a quick, secret, jab of a knife. So from afar, I learn from what can be heard from Grandfather's Havana house on La Calle Concordia. I soak in what can be seen from the high third floor balconies of our house.

The tiles on the old iron railed balconies wobble at my steps. I step with care not wandering close to the edge. The surface of narrow Concordia Street, the street of concord, of conformity, is far below, hard and unforgiving. I dare not go to the edge high above cruel concrete of the street. It would be so easy to fall from there.

The government detours all buses, all traffic, from Infanta Avenue. Yet, but even high as I am, I can smell the diesel fumes of the buses going up the San Lazaro incline. Diesel fumes are strong and drown out the gentler salt-iodine-putrescine smell of the fertile sea not a mile to the north.

Here high above the ground, the strong smell of the floral perfumes of the women, the perfumed talc from the men’s socks and shoes, and the increasing smell of sweat does not reach me consciously. Unconsciously, all the smells fill my mind, invading me with lustful thoughts.

Our tall ancestral Havana house, iron barred doors and windows protecting it, is less than half a block uphill and west of Infanta Avenue. The sound of the songs and the music is quite deafening. The syncopated beating of the poly-rhythmic drum beats, spreads downward through the streets of old Havana and upwards to the steps of the University making the street and the old floors of old house undulate to the rhythm, the rigid tiled walls vibrate.

The Santiaguera comparsa woman sings again. Her rich, somewhat hoarse, sonorous voice powerfully amplified over the loudspeakers, keeps singing in a hypnotic, mesmeric, repetition, some Freudian chant. Her song, is full of frank desire and undisguised lust, it tells about her having a catchers mitt and her man a baseball bat.

At first, it is an almost all black or deep tan crowd. For blocks to the south the wide Avenue is packed almost edge to edge, with sweating Comparsa dancers. They are dancing frantically, but smoothly to the drumbeats, filling Infanta Avenue from San Lazaro to many blocks south. The microphone amplified songs and drums beat their complicated rhythms for the hours without end.

Then not all is Black; the carnival draws in the rainbow of race in Cuba, mixes and stirs in it endless human whirlpools. The torrid atmosphere transcends race, transcends humanity, all involved commit themselves to the sexual oblivion. In the crowd, the blood so recently spilled for freedom forgotten, all is now all is urgency for pleasure.

Women’s curving hips sway to the music in endless seduction. The men resplendent in their loud colors respond with passion and aroused to semi-madness compete, dancing for the more desirable females. The women move ever closer to their choice of mate of the hour. Men’s hands’ reach out and touch the willingly offered flesh. There is no coyness; this is a time of unabashed primeval lust. The dark, moving flesh shines with sweat and the pheromones of passion fill the air.

They dance for hours; they dance for days. They never seemed to tire. They buy food and get drinks from the vendor stands. The stands are sheltered from the rains, along the wide covered sidewalks, on the western side of Infanta Avenue. Under this shelter, out of the tropical rain, the vendors sell from small- wheeled carts.

On each cart, exotic food preparation-machines work their diverse tasks. The machines make food in strange extrusions of bright primary colors and strong flavors. The odd machines functions’ are shielded, and the prepared food kept for paying customers, in glassed in boxes on top of the carts. The vendors, wearing flat sided white army type caps and dirty stained white aprons, provide greasy fried foods: coconut flavored cookies, fruit flavored ices, and many other things.

The dancers gather for their refreshments behind the great columns that rise bulky, often square, from the very edge of the raised sidewalks to support the rooms above their heads. The stores, restaurants and bars open directly on to this sidewalk like great dark caves entered by square doorways hung over with stiff curtains of rolled up steel shutters.

The bars sell rum to the dancers, inhibitions flee. Stores sell bottles of powerful drink to be passed around from mouth to mouth. The restaurants sell strong Cuban coffee in tiny demitasse cups. Caffeine levels are so very strong. Such strong caffeine, my biochemist mind now tells me, inhibits phosphatase breakdown of cyclic GMP hormones and gives erections that last forever. Under their clothing the women’s vaginas pulse, opening wide like red lipped flowers. The dancers sing deliriously of coffee and lovers lost and waiting…

Outside in the street, the warm tropical rain falls unheeded on the possessed dancers. The dancers wet clothes clings to their bodies, hiding nothing. There are revealing rounded muscles and firm dancer-breasts and rounded nether regions, the dark secrets of their loins are exposed, the dancers’ excitement is boldly displayed. In pairs they creep away to rooms, to doorways, to satisfy their excited lusts, and return to the street seemingly still full of a mad energy that defies sleep.

This incredible loud rhythmic and lascivious song goes on for days. The dancing crowd blocks the entry to, harasses and disturbs the Lenten, pre-Easter, services at the massive, somber, brown stone bulk of the Iglesia del Carmen Catholic Church building which is on that street, at that place. From the roof of the church’s squat, square bell-tower, above the bells that now do not ring, the glazed dull metal eyes of a huge bronze robed statue of the Virgin Mary do not see the revelers disport their wanton passions.

The Church building’s raised, pillared, shallow sloped roofed, Roman style portico protrudes to the edge of the street. Government guards and informants stationed there had monitored the faithful to no avail. The believers, their faith strengthened by adversity, still come to pray, to climb the steps of the portico; they pass the open, great, iron studded wooden church doors to enter the cool dark candle lit interior.

Iglesia del Carmen's interior is a blur of candles, altar railings, and pews. The smell of incense rises from pendulums swinging, of smoking, silver censors held high by white robed altar attendants. As the faithful eyes’ adapt to darkness of the Church the magnificent gilded baroque paintings of saints and flowers on the walls and columns stun their minds with detail and richness. The somber polished wooden pews dully reflect the flickering candles. The faithful kneel on the hard knee stands, their knees hurt from the worn wood; they pray for hope and future.

The believers smell the purifying odor of nose itching, tear inducing, burning incense. In this odor of sanctity, they wait their turns, to rise one at a time from the pews. They walk head bent to kneel again to confess their sins and their fears at the side grills of the elaborately carved, ornate, wooden, confessionals. Priests sit leaning forward in the dark to hear the faithful. The priests have heard these sins many times before, yet still they pray to themselves, to rid their minds of carnal distractions.

The Catholic Church fights the atheistic Cuban State; this is just another attack. The Church, a stronghold of the strict morality of the Catholic faith is under siege. The Cuban State has chosen its weapons and its allies well this time.

Yet, this is more than just a battle for power. This is another battle in the endless war between of freedom and unrestrained passions of the ancient polytheistic religions and the more sober, more restrained monotheistic faiths.

Here is as the old conflict in which those who once censored King David for his dances of joy had once fought those who danced like the Queen of Sheba, the African bride to be of his son Solomon. Here is as in the times of the apostle Paul fighting the excesses of lechery, lubricity, libidinous, drunkenness and lust of celebration of Bacchus, and the ritual prostitution of La Gran Puta of Babylon.

This is just another battle in a struggle that antedates the escape from Africa of the followers of the one G-d. It replayed the escape of stiff necked, pious, Hebrews from the Egyptian Pharaohs. Each Pharaoh living, breeding, and dying in turn, as the centuries turned to millennia had erected, great statues to graphically display the power of their phallus. The stone phalli of Egypt are gone now smashed from the living stone by irate, puritanical, Moslems. In the here and now, in the Catholic Church of the Carmen, the remembrance of Passover, transformed into Easter, also defends itself against the gods of Africa.

Once more, passion wins the confrontation between faith and the flesh. The pagan spirits light the faces of the children of those stolen from that ancient continent as they dance seeking solace and sexual joy from the old ways.

Perhaps this circumstance is also a kind of rhythmic precursor to the acts of "repudio" and rejection that the Cuban government will later use to suppress its adversaries. Or perhaps it is just Carnival. What ever it is the situation is too dangerous we, in the family, as most upper and middle class people in Havana, stay away

In the Church of El Carmen a brown robed friar kneels. His hands trembling as he holds them before him, he prays desperately to keep the drum driven sounds away from his ears, the passions of the flesh at bay from his mind.

Outside in the warm, humid, tropical night there is are powerful odors of heated sweat. An impassioned woman raises her skirts to her lover, pressing her buttocks against him. She raises her left leg leaning sideways against the hard stone of a pillar of the portico. The stone is still warm from the day's hot sun. Now her right knee is bent around the ridged muscles of his slick sweated waist. The sensitive inside of her knee feels the pressure as her gripping thigh holds her against him. She feels her groin press against his. Her pelvis thrusts back, back arches. She feels the lips of her wet vagina swell in the welcome of the vertical smile; the lips first hold, and then slip as he enters each time. Their bodies touch and she feels the fire of contact. He drives in again in lost to all around him. They move to the music. The drums' beat as if following her accelerating pulse, the complex polyrhythm goes on and on faster and faster, then slows. She throbs, she holds herself, and she throbs more and more. She lets go. The nails of her outstretched arm half hold, half claw, towards the chinks and cracks of the old church walls; she cries out her sexual ecstasy."

In the third floor apartment where I live in the family house on Concordia , the sound continues, the tile floors vibrate…

Larry Daley copyright@1996 revised@1998, 1999, 2000, 2006

Saturday, July 15, 2006

000 Levarbo escapes death

000 Levarbo escapes death

during Gamboa’s 1933 revolt against Batista

It was during the fall of 1933, three years before I was born, Levarbo Ramírez was about eighteen, slim and darkly handsome. On that day he seemed a doomed prisoner of Batista troops. Years later, under pressure from grandfather, who would arrive at the Guamá Hacienda, armed with his powerful presence and a priest, Levarbo would marry his first cousin, my Aunt Muñeca, and become my uncle. This is an account of how Levarbo lived that day and how Aunt Dulce María’s lover Renato Barrero Laborde died against the old Mango tree in the Guamá batey.

Background of the times

As today, in those days ideological hates stalked peace. Order overrode kindness. In Cuba, and too much of the world, times were confused and bloody building up to WWII and beyond had begun. Doctrinaire “strong men” were rising to power, ruthlessly crushing resistance, all over the globe. Thoughts of liberty were on the defensive.

In Cuba Dictator Gerardo Machado had been removed by a general revolt that had the support of the American Ambassador Benjamin Sumner Welles early that August of 1933. Welles well dressed and dapper was aggressively bisexual and omnivorous in his selections; this apparently influenced his choices of associates and collaborators. He chose among his lovers the mysterious Havana Post newspaper reporter, the bilingual William

Arthur Wieland (aka. (Arturo) Guillermo Montenegro, Wilheim Wieland) as protégé who, with his slicked down hair and pencil thin mustache, looked more than vaguely like Clark Gable. Wells actively promoted Wieland’s career. Wieland would become a highly influential U.S. State Department Official, variously and conflictingly described as a communist.

Rolando Masferrer was university gangster, brilliant scholar, Professor at the Havana Institute, Cuban Senator and supporter of Batista. Masferrer is known to have been a communist and an infamous lame assassin in Civil War Spain as well as in Cuba. Masferrer claimed that, in the 1930s, he belonged to the same communist cell as Wieland. Wieland would be very influential in Fidel Castro’s rise and control of power. However, that is “another story” since Castro was a child at the time. By 1957 US State Department documents make clear that Wieland wanted to get rid of Masferrer, who could, it seems, remember Wieland from his communist days. Both Wieland and Masferrer, significant personages in Cuban history, will be mentioned as these narrations progress.

Under Welles influence a temporary government was formed Cuba. And yet struggle for power continued. Almost every political group of those turbulent times sought power. With the dictator gone some non commissioned officers and enlisted men including an increasingly dominant Batista rebelled against the Cuban officer corps.

Batista, was vividly alive intelligent and darkly robust in a strikingly virile Taíno way. So much so that he was called “El Mulato Lindo”, the “Good looking Mulato.” However he was dangerous since his ethics were flexible and his little tutored, but agile and quick learning mind, was set on gaining power. These factors made Batista attractive to Welles who was seeking a way to solve Cuba’s problems and saw him as a “man of the people.” Thus, with the backing of Welles, Batista was emerging as the leader of the Cuban Army’s enlisted men’s mutiny. To live and survive Batista must remove the all rivals from any source of power.

Now Sergeant Fulgencio Batista rising from his key telegraph office position was essentially in command of the non-commissioned rank and file that now comprised the Cuban army. The ousted officers made strong in the Hotel Nacional which was on a buff overlooking the sea, and much of then newer part of Havana. It was also the American Ambassadors residence. After much consultation with either side, Welles left the hotel. Then, Batista’s forces, and some civilian action groups including those of Antonio Guiteras Holmes who was part of the provisional government, attacked. These soldiers and civilians fought clumsily but after heavy losses they forced surrender from their former officers on October 2 at the Hotel Nacional.

Stepfather Enrique Sanz once told me of the fighting. He described how attackers located in the large adjacent Careño building, were unable to fire at the hotel. As soon as they attempted to fire their rifles at the hotel from the Careño they were hit. Even if only their right elbow protruded they were wounded as they held their own rifles in the orthodox fashion right elbows bent and extended at a right angle to their chest.

A cannon was brought up but could not be fired indirectly out of line of sight because the ranks lacked the skill to do it; fired directly sighting through the barrel exposed the cannon’s crews to enemy rifle fire and they were soon killed. An armored car, some say it was bringing supplies to the officers, was thought hostile and driven off by pistol fire from the defenders which penetrated the vision slots in the vehicles armor.

Surrender was negotiated. However, the officers' far reaching almost supernaturally accurate rifle bullets had killed too many enlisted men; thus vengeance was called for by their comrades, and radical supporters. At conclusion of Batista’s victory at the Hotel Nacional in Havana some of the defeated officers were killed on surrender Ancient Roman style.

As he progressively rose in power to Batista would commonly revive this Ancient Roman tradition again and again; each time he defeated his opponents and they surrendered he would kill a selected number of them. A relative, an officer and a member of the Cuban Olympic rifle team named Enrique Ros y Fernández Castro was lucky not to suffer such a death. Mother told me one day, that she dated this Enrique Ros once; she tells he took her to a movie, but that she, 23 at the time, found him too old.

US Ambassador Sumner Welles, although aristocratic represented the left wing of the U.S.’s F. D .Roosevelt administration, and is widely believed to have betrayed the Army Officers. Batista continued to crush resistance. On November 9th less a week before the events described the blood of Mambí and anti-Machado fighter Colonel Blas Hernández and many of his men often had just dried the stone inside Atarés Castle and the grass outside.

This crime which also included a confused killing of the defeated again stained the Batista troops’ hands. Blas Hernández had been called out while filing out of the castle after surrender; he answered to his name and was immediately shot down by Captain Mario Alfonso Hernández who was one of the few army officers who had joined forces with Batista a month before; these two were not related Hernández is a common last name. Riots broke out in Havana and hundreds were killed. Then, as it is said in the Cuban vernacular, in those days “La Muerte andaba en bicicleta” ‘The Grim Reaper needed to ride a bicycle to complete his rounds.’

The bloody struggle for power continued, Antonio Guiteras Holmes, a chemist-pharmacist and a revolutionary against Machado, as a member of the provisional government began to both covertly and actively oppose Batista’s rise to power.

Levarbo is captured

On 13 of November of 1933 Levarbo was captured by Batista troops in the Corojo hamlet on the Royal Road from the City of Bayamo and the town of Guisa to the Sierra Maestra. The troops were seeking “Gamboa”, almost certainly one of Guiteras chieftains Francisco Gamboa Tornés and his men. The Batista troops, now without their officers to map their way needed a práctico, a guide,.

Levarbo was taken across the Bayamo River at the Paso de Lajas. Levarbo, fearful and reluctant and on pain of, and in anticipation of death guided the troops towards Guamá.

Levarbo led the troops up that road where the ancient lava rocks, broken by the explosive charges gave their names to that ugly place. The part of the road there is called Los Barrenos, that is the place were holes for the explosives were drilled. Here twenty five years later the Baker and others would die.

To the east at the Guamá Hacienda, the rebel sentry, on the high rising hill of guinea grass north of Adobe House, looked south for a moment towards the lowest, northern-most, crater wall of the ancient extinct volcano now called “Los Números.” This hill is south across and near the curving Guamá River covered its skeleton like etched, intricately caved, white rock with dense stands of trees.

Then Los Números had not been subdivided, it was called La Mambisa, and was heavily forested. This is family land. Here the Números rise first as hills, then mountains.

The high ridge-of the Números stood tall like a wall blocking the southern horizon. Below Los Números the clear, cold, stream of Arroyón came out of its canyon and lost itself in the river. Each evening as the sun set and the shadows grew rapidly longer on the little plateau, the almost wild, tiny enana, barely domesticated chickens took flight to their nightly tree roosts in a great rain-tree, their spread white wings glisten like mother of pearl in the evening light. In the high guinea grass pastures the wild guinea fowl cried “Gwonk! Gwonk!” on their way to rest.

Down on the little plateau of the Hacienda Guamá, in this year of 1933, the revolutionaries of Gamboa, were roasting an ox near where the old sugar mill, the old ingenio, of Don Benjamín Ramírez had stood. That old fashioned sugar mill had been burned in the Guerra de los Negros twenty two years before and never rebuilt.

Details on this Gamboa are almost lost to history. It is not clear if Gamboa was bandit who decided to support Guiteras or if he was merely an ideological disciple of his violent leader. Since the armament promised to Gamboa had not come, these rebels had few weapons.

That day in November of 1933, the Gamboa's rebel sentry then looked west towards, the high cliff and the watershed divide at los Barrenos. The sentry had just time to fire one warning shot. Highly trained although their tactical leaders were gone, the oncoming Batista troops were also known to be ruthless. These troops once loyal to Machado, a president "gone bad" in his efforts to make Cuba the Switzerland of America, were rushing to Guamá.

The ambitions of Batista for power needed to feed on blood, and that had to be done fast; thus these troops pressed on quickly. They moved rapidly, now that their presence had been announced. Levarbo forced to at gun point to move ahead, was at point position of the soldiers advancing from the north-west.

Levarbo knew he was being taken to the old Adobe House in Guamá were he would be killed. Apparently the Batista soldiers had prior information. Levarbo was to be held in Guamá with cousin Robertico's father Renato Barriero Laborde and the "El Manco." El Manco was the top hand, despite his handicap that gave him his name, still could, but never would again, milk cows with his only hand. They were the only prisoners.

The insurgent sentry's warning shot had not been in vain, the Gamboa rebels rode off in great haste, down off the plateau, passing the ancient, enormous, mango tree long ago planted by the escaped slaves of the Cimarrón who had a century before and more held a palenque at that place. This was same mango tree René Cuervo would know, some two decades later as sign of his home, an inspiration to rebellion and a way station of his family's remembrance.

The 1933 rebels needed to reach to the ridge of Cacaíto to the west and its sheltering woods with its path to the heights of what is now called Los Números. The rebels’ escape south through by Arroyón canyon to the heights of Los Números was blocked by another group of Batista soldiers. These Batista soldier, it seems had approached from the north east coming from Guisa towards the Guamá Hacienda, via the road through El Sordo and Pueblo Nuevo. This is the same path the evil Count of Valmaceda took when he was slaughtering civilians during part of the Ten Year’s War 1868-1878 known as “La Creciente” the flood of Valmaseda.

The rebels way west was blocked by the cliffs of giant laja lava slab that rose from the west bank of the River Guamá as the river curved to the north. The rebels needed to reach the break in the cliffs at the ford "Paso Caimanes" the ford of the crocodiles. They were forced to ride towards los Barrenos, and the other Batista troops.

The rebels rode as hard as they could north, some riding double, all desperate. The road on the east side of the Guamá River was flat and smooth they made good time.

They were expected.

These ruthless Batista soldiers, jumped up non-commissioned officers in charge, had prepared an imperfect ambush, an "anvil." The anvil was set up on that Los Barrenos road to the River Bayamo and El Corojo west of Paso Caimanes on the Guamá River. They prepared to kill those rebels driven towards them by the other Batista force, the "hammer" force that had surprised the rebels at the little plateau at Guamá.

The war knowledge of the Mambí, the legendary fighting force of last century's Cuban independence wars, was still with the Gamboa rebels. The rebels smelled the ambush and cut to their left riding across the upwardly sloping shoulder high guinea grass pastures towards the forests of Cacaíto now south of them.

Here the soldiers’ dead officers' skills were needed, for the soldier's rifle fire was not disciplined perhaps because most soldiers do not want to kill. Although well in range of the soldiers accurate 30.06 1903 model Springfield rifles, only two rebels were killed, two unfortunates each riding double behind two other riders. The rest of the rebels got away and the Batista troops were angry.

The Batista forces pushed on to Guamá. Levarbo got free just before arriving at the Adobe House. Leaping, tumbling down the steep buffs of the old abandoned river bed of the Guamá, "La Madre Vieja de Guamá", he reached where the main river ran. There shivering with cold and fear, Levarbo hid, for days under the standing wave of a rapid of the Guamá River running fast in its new bed.

The other two prisoners were not so lucky. Cousin Robertico’s father Renato Barrero Laborde, still protesting his innocence he had nothing to do with the Gamboa or his rising. This was true since he was dragged from under his beloved Dulce María’s bed in that old adobe house and forced down the high rough concrete steps.

The soldiers’ black well shined high boots moved forward. An odd assortment of chickens scattered in a rainbow of colors. There were the small and white enanas birds, some jaunty brilliantly colored “atravesaos” bastards of game cocks with domestic hens. Some birds showed imported US farm breeds, some large and red plumed showing the influence of Rode Island Red, some heavy and barred with pin stripes of blue like the shirts of stock brokers. Some were the hot wet tropics adapted “cocote pelao’s” who dissipate excess heat through their vulture-ike naked necks. The birds got out of the way, squawking protests; cackling brood hens gathering their downy chicks as they ran. The black boots now spattering mud moved forward.

Despite the entreaties, and desperate begging, of "Doña Lica" Manuela Enamorado de Cabrera, grandmother’s mother, Renato and El Manco, were placed against a small mango tree in the batey in front of the Adobe House Standing barefooted in mud and dung, perhaps Renato thought of his widowed mother, perhaps his mind went blank, perhaps he called to Mary Mother of G-d to intercede for salvation or deliverance.

El Manco, the beloved mayoral, the top hand, made of firmer stuff, was by Ranier’s side. Renato stood there trembling violently with rushing adrenaline, as fearless Mambisa Doña Lica Enamorado argued vainly for their lives. Renato watched the argument, he saw Dulce María his beloved in hysterics, with other horrified female family relatives gather on the wood railed high veranda, beneath the roof poles holding up the galvanized metal roofs.

Renato looked forward and saw the windows with their mosquito screens and the uneven dirty white adobe wall behind his loved ones. He saw that the high wooden door, beyond the veranda, was open to the inside of the house. To his left, the Guamá River, running fast and hidden below its cliff, was the green blue of the mountains of the Mambisa, and the narrow canyon like valley of the Arroyón. To his right the assorted messy Royal Palm thatched plus galvanized corrugated metal roofed buildings of the old Batey of the Guamá Hacienda.

The soldiers to him were a blur of light tan uniforms, high polished but mud splattered boots, horses, saddles, holsters and guns, brown four dented, “Smokey the Bear”, hats and some stolen flat officers’ caps. The sergeants had taken over the officers’ heavy .45 caliber Colts Revolvers with their command.

The powerful Springfields spoke loudly. “!Ay mi madre!” the 30.06 bullets buried deep into the living flesh and the living tree. The sounds bounced back echoes successively from surrounding cave ridden karst hills, the nearby rain-forested mountains, and finally from the far, high, old igneous rocks beneath the high, thin, twining, ribbons of falling water of Chorrerón of Guamá. The sound died, and was lost as in the distance the water roared as it fell down, between the two thigh-like mountains into the cleft, where the valley of the Arroyón stream was borne.

Blood spurted and then just spilled in that Batey of the Guamá Hacienda. It then pooled in the holes the horse, mule and ox hooves left in mud and dung. The air smelt immediate of burned cordite. Shock numbed El Manco and Renato as they fell dying rapidly. The wind blew the cordite smell lingered and left, replaced by the metallic smell-taste of more subtle blood sulfhydyls. The witnesses sensed blood salt on their tongues. Soon in turn the blood odors were blotted out by the sharp stink of human waste and urine released from under the dead. Thus Renato Barrero Laborde and El Manco ended their lives on the 13 of November of 1933 around 3:00 PM. Their bodies are still buried, under grapefruit trees near by.

The soldiers’ blood raced with the exhilaration of the kill, their fatigue was gone. The women sobbed and cried themselves to mere emptiness of permanent loss. Doña Lica’s long sad memory added another chapter, her dark old face wrinkled as if to form yet another line. Dulce María Ramírez Renato’s young woman had memories were engraved with scars from the events of that day.

The mango tree, as I saw 14-15 year later, was full with sadness and lead poison, sparse foliage and branches like upstretched ghost arms. The tree rarely bore much fruit.

Dulce María Ramírez, Robertico's mother, carried the pain of the death of her lover and the father of her son until she died some sixty years later. My mother remembers "El Manco" with the affection of a cherished memory of childhood.

About two years later in 1935 Guiteras was caught waiting for arms supply at a place called El Morrillo in Matanzas. There about a hundred miles east of Havana, Guiteras, was surprised by Batista forces. The revolutionary chemist was killed by these Batista troops while, according to my stepfather Enrique Sanz, distracted amid an orgy of cocaine and women. The escape of apparent communist Alberto Sánchez Méndez from this Morrillo ambush is seems strikingly familiar to other later well verified communist betrayals of nominal allies; such as that of the survivors of the Palace Raid against Batista who were killed at Humbolt 7 in the 1950s.

Blas Hernández’s killer Mario Alfonso Hernández was later conveniently assassinated by "General" Manuel Benítez on Fulgencio Batista orders which eliminated yet another formally trained military rival. In 1939 General Benítez, and his greed for bribes, would be instrumental in rejecting the Jews who had tried to flee Europe aboard the German ocean liner St. Louis.

I never learned what happened to Gamboa after this incident at Guamá.

Larry Daley Copyright@1997 revised 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

16A truck load of Thompsons

16A truck load of Thompsons

The New York Times
April 26, 1958, 10

Death of 7 Rebels Reported In Cuba

Special to The New York Times

(This was probably written by Ruby Phillips of the Havana Herald. MJ Norman was running dangerous errands for the international press, including Mrs. Phillips, in Havana when he was arrested that time).

HAVANA, April 25--Seven rebels were killed in an encounter with army troops on the Corral Nuevo Plantation near Holguin, Oriente Province, according to a communiqué issued today by Camp Columbia army headquarters. Seven shotguns, five rifles, and nine vehicles were captured, it said.

Headquarters also reported that rebels had assaulted the San Jose Plantation near Holguin and killed the owner Mariano Roman, when he refused to join them. His daughter was wounded. I Las Villas Province, the rural guards at Esperanza reported that two rebels had surrendered.

The British Embassy in Havana has arranged a safe-conduct for two Britons, Lionel Dal(e)y, 21 (19) years old, and his brother Law(u not w)rence, 19 (21) out of the combat zone in the Sierra Maestra, where Government troops and insurgents of Fidel Castro, rebel leader, are fighting almost daily.

The young men's mother, Mrs. Leonard Dal(e)y, is now on her way to the area, where the family coffee plantation is situated.

The British Embassy also is intervening in the case of (cousin) M. J. Norman, another Briton arrested last week (about April 15th) on a charge that he is a member of the Castro 26th of July movement.

Cuban history is linked by strands of blood that thread the years to weave a tapestry of flawed heroes and of death. This episode of my memories is a complex story in which I narrate why I never encouraged the donation of Thompson submachine guns to Castro.

Such a thing seem odd, given our desperate need of weapons, until one understands the circumstances of betrayal, mistrust and fear of the time, of the past and what would happen in the future. Please let me explain at length.

Intended to close down all work places, commerce and the economy, the April 1958 the “general strike” against Batista had failed. It was now late in April.

We, Mojena's escopeteros, were again at the mountain saddle of the Cacaíto. This is on the northwestern slope of the walls of the extinct ruptured volcano that is our family’s land. This land was then never quite ruled by the Cuban government, nor the Spanish colonial government before that. Here rebellions were held in their season; and bandits commonly wandered through without harming anybody here because this was their refuge and the local people their friends.

On this same slope of the crater wall, but quite a distance higher and to the south is Pinalito. Pinalito means the small pine tree; it was the place of red earth and tall pine trees. Uncle Rafael used to send that strong, brown, merry, and very polygamous Taíno Guillermo Ramos to cut a Christmas tree there each Yule season.

Before this present season of rebellion lead by Castro, this was wild country and often ruled by Edesio Hernandez, who was know as the “King of the Sierra Maestra,” or in Time magazine as “The Tennis Shoe Bandit.” The land of Edesio's banditry and other activities ranged as far, into the eastern plains, as Maffo, and deep back of into the most hidden parts of the Sierra Maestra.

This town of Maffo was one of the places where in the 1930‘s the Guiteristas including Francisco Gamboa Tornés had resisted the then Dictator Machado. Guiteras and his men, at times nominal allies, would be in a death duel with Batista until 1935, when Batista killed Guiteras. We, the rebels of 1958, in our life’s season of revolt, would be there in Maffo too, as this year closed with violence and victory.

Edesio died in 1956. Unable to be defeated by direction action, Edesio was betrayed by an infiltrator whose name is not commonly known and who had joined his band of outlaws. This traitor, abided his time, and then shot Edesio in a moment of helplessness, as the “Bandit King” going cross country bent down to climb between the strands of a barbed wire fence.

The fatal fence was at a place called La Toronja (the grapefruit). La Toronja is very near where the guerrilla group that I belonged to “La Gente de Mojena” would operate in the spring and early summer of 1958 south of the town of Guisa.

Of course, this betrayal was covered up in official reports which attributed Edesio’s death to military action. The day Edesio died, Sunday August 22nd 1956, was only a few months before Castro would land in the Sierra, and perhaps relates to efforts by Batista to remove people dangerous enough to threaten him. Or perhaps some postulate Castro’s deep cover agents removed him to avoid competition. However what is certain is that Edesio’s fourteen years of survival showed that it was possible to have successful small unit actions against Batista forces, and live to tell about it.

Pinalito is on the western ridge of family land. Here near the house of "Chito" Chacon in November 1949 the bandit Edesio Hernandez lost one of his band, Luis Hernandez, while fighting the Guardia Rural. Luis, a nephew of Edesio, was surprised and killed by the then Chief of the Guardia Rural Station at Guisa, Lieutenant Miguel Yanes, Acting Corporal Carlos Figueredo Cabrera and soldiers Tomas Cejas and Francisco Bejerano.

Those who live by the sword also quite often die by the sword. Franciso Bejerano (also spelt Vejerano) who had retired after his little battle with Edesio’s men had re-enlisted. Vejerano was riding a mule loaned by Aunt Manuela Jiménez in 1957 when he was captured by Rene Cuervo, at the Banqueo del Oro on the upper gorge of the Bayamo river.

It is my understanding that Vejerano was executed by the Ernesto “Che” Guevara; and Aunt Manuela Jiménez’s mule was eaten by this group much to the horror of local people who like most of us did not like to eat what they ride. However, the Che was not known to follow custom or refrain from killing anything.

Tomas Cejas would be wounded, in 1958, during an ambush by Lorente's men. He would be leading a column of Batista's troops he had betrayed, on the northern face of east ridge of Los Números, at a place we kids called Banana Hill Two. This was still in the future.

At Banana Hill Two action Batista troops march on offensive, Tomas Cejas, wore the Guardia hat he left word that he was going to wear on his head leading the way up that steep slippery hill.

The rebel ambush is poorly executed, mainly because Lorente, in his greed for fame, has assigned only one of the far too widely spaced and far to inexperienced rebels to fire at one chosen soldier. Only Cejas is hit, a glancing, slashing, shot to the left shoulder. A rebel too brave for his own good, stays for a second shot and is hit by Batista soldiers fire and dies there.

Lorente then had his much desired dead hero warrior, which to him was almost as good as killing a Batista soldier. Still Lorente’s war record was scanty. After the Revolution was over he tried to make the best of it by rather stupidly accusing Corporal Cejas of the foul deed of cutting off the hands of the dead rebel for fingerprinting identification. In that way his record, and his allegiance to Castro, would be “improved” by one execution.

However, Cejas would survive a trial in Manzanillo, in 1959, at least partially because I testified truthfully he had told us that the column was coming; he grateful for my support showed me the pellet wounds in his shoulder. To the judge and to most it would be obvious if Cejas had been wounded at the start of the action, the corporal could not have done it. I think I made those particular pellets, using hollow petioles of yagruma (shake wood, Cecropia peltata) tree leaves as molds.

We, the escopetero Castro rebel group “La Gente of Mojena” have returned from our new lair in El Sordo and going west have stopped at the Cacaíto. It is the very end of April, 1958, two weeks after the general strike against Batista had failed. I had offered to stand guard all morning on a northern vantage point, at the edge of the woods high up over the Ros batey. I went along the ridge northward and lay down under the cover of trees at the edge of some woods. These were the same woods where twenty five years ago, November 13, 1933 Gamboa’s men had escaped Batista forces.

I was in the lands of my grandaunt Aurora Ramírez de Ros, one of the daughters of Don Benjamín. Less than a century before, in the 1870’s, a Spanish General, the evil Count of Valmaseda had passed through here slaughtering all civilians he could catch. Then the screams of the dying had filled the now gone forests of this valley.

From this point in 1958 I could see, far into the now almost deforested plains to the north, only small copses still exist in the pastures and on the heights of hills. At that time, abundant trees still dotted the pastures. The view was magnificent. In a wide stretching panorama full of beauty and detail, I could see the opening gap between Loma la Viuda and Las Bocas, as the River Bayamo flowed into the plains. This river, I knew, is going on to flow past Bayamo and on to meet the Cauto River, this city and this larger river are invisible in the distance.

I heard a noise, and looked towards the Camino Real just north of the Corojo hamlet. And saw a truck, on the west side of the Bayamo River moving approaching the Corojo and going towards the Banqueo del Oro.

Worried that Batista’s army was coming I ran back to the other rebels. They lounging in the safety of a tree shaded shallow hollow on the ridge, just laughed and told me that trucks can now move along the road because the April strike was over.

Then much to my surprise, I find that Mother and my stepfather Enrique Sanz Sariol (of the anti-Batista Organización Auténtica) are waiting for me. They had dared visited me traveling from Havana to the Sierra; in early 1958, few had such courage. Enrique, ever the city slicker, was riding for his first time on a broad white mare. It must have been one of the Ros’s animals.

My parents have come from Guisa, riding in a four-wheel drive bus, a rebuilt WWII surplus US army truck or the kind we called “La Sapa” or the hopping toad, for its bumpy ride. In the Sapa, Mother and Enrique, had traveled from Guisa to La Casa de los Generales; there they found Blanco Lionel’s Mayoral, his foreman or top-hand.

Mayoral Blanco was waiting for them at the La Casa de los Generales with horses. Then my parents had ridden along the less traveled, tree shaded paths of the east side, our side, of the Bayamo River; all on our families land. They ride along cattle paths above the cliffs that line our family’s side of the river.

Mother and Enrique ride a little up the western ridge going towards the mountains along the road to Guamá above “Las Lajas” pools on the river, and below the pass of the Barrenos. Then passing through a gate they go from there into the Ros’s land. They travel on the uplifted massive lava flow.

Suddenly, where the cliffs have broken in some forgotten mighty cataclysm, they leave the road. And crossing the pastures they descend riding on a rough path through a hidden wooded cleft made by an intermittent stream.

Staying close to the cover of the cliffs they go along the old, now dry bed, of the Bayamo River. This is where very recently during the action during the height April 1958 strike against Batista, Desiderio Alarcón and his men had fled after their successful ambush at the ford north of the Corojo.

My mother and Enrique pass the lumber mill of Antonio Geronimo. As close to the hills and away far as possible from the dangerous river edge is a two story house, made of raw but precious wooden and raised on stilts in the Louisiana Florida swampland style with wide roofed verandas. This is the where the post office is located.

Here live three merry sisters, middle aged in 1958. They are the daughters of Adelaida (tía Adela) Enamorado y Cabrera, and Jesús De La Guardia, a commander in the armies of the wars of Cuban liberation from the Spanish. Their women’s names are Iluminada (Lala), who was never quite with it, Maria (Marita) and Antonia (Ñiquin).

These women are slim and bird like seemingly always happy, and often given to lecherous gossip. When we were younger, my brother, male cousins and I would visit there, to pick up mail and do errands, or to wait before our Spanish tutor Húmberto Naranjo arrived. After serving lemonade in tall brightly colored glasses and homemade cookies they would talk to us. They enjoyed embarrassing us English raised boys with lewd, but gentle, jests.

Ñiquin means little Antonia. Antonia is wife to Antonio Geronimo we always called him that because there were other Antonios in the family. His given name was Antonio Jerónimo Jiménez y Ramírez.

Antonio Geronimo travels in his large flat bed truck seeking logs of precious woods for his sawmill. Tropical woods for technical reasons of plant pathology and dispersion mechanisms, as well as their relative scarcity are scattered far and wide, thus gathering them is quite a task. However, fine tropical woods are very valuable and this makes it all worthwhile. He makes a good living.

Antonio Geronimo as befitting his condition as a man of his stature has at least one other woman a common law wife to comfort him when he is traveling. His second family includes a beautiful daughter; however that is another story.

Antonio Geronimo was happy man. Mother still recalls how Antonio sang long, long ago:

“Quien no se acuerda ya,

cuando en el batey,

si no andamos listos,

se nos confunde un buey.

Quien no se acuerda ya……”

Which translates roughly to:

“Who does not recall now of the days gone bye,

when in our own compound batey,
if we were not smart and swift to dodge an ox

would have hooked and gored.

Who does not remember of those days gone bye!

The singing has turned to silence, all family are gone now to the safety of Bayamo or Havana. All here is deserted; all here is sadly still.

Going on, it is hot in the pastures; they hear only the cries of birds, the scurry of lizards and the beat of their mounts’ hooves. They pass the Ros’s tidy batey with its all elegant wood frame house.

At the Ros’s batey the great white guard dogs Gestapo and OGPU are also gone. These dogs despite their huge size and ferocious appearance had tolerated us kids and sometimes walked for many miles with us. One time I had to pull a live kitten out of Gestapo’s mouth; I still hope it had lived on unharmed.

Mother recalls the heavy uncomfortable furnishings inside the Ros’s house. She and Enrique ride passed English lawns now turning wild, tidy fences, and coffee drying aprons. These buildings, unwisely set on part of the flood plain, the place of the little black man, the mythical water sprite called the Jigüe, seducer of women, will be gone soon in the Bayamo River’s coming rage.

Mother and Enrique go by the now also abandoned store of Uncle Norman’s and the concrete slab on which he had cattle butchered in open air; and crowds of country people had gathered to buy the still warm meat.

Enrique is thinking, I am sure, of his own dangers. He, when studying engineering in the University of Havana, had been a democratic activist affiliated with the moderate Auténtico Party, a group also fighting the Batista Dictatorship.

Enrique now secretly belongs to the “action group” of José Lauro Blanco Muñiz they are negotiating an alliance with Castro. That will not last long, Lauro Blanco two years later will be jailed by the Cuban dictator for thirty years.

At the University, such students as Fidel Castro, Rolando Masferrer and others like them had been gunmen belonged to more violent organizations. Thus, potentially Castro’s officials, could be as dangerous to Enrique, as Masferrer the Batista ally whose stealthy forces, the “Tigers of Masferrer,” occasionally also frequented the area. Enrique, a brave man but wise in the ways of armed resistance, certainly would push these ideas from his thoughts, for they interfere with what he is about to try to do.

Nearby, and slightly further on and raised slightly above the Bayamo River flood plain was the house that Uncle Calixto Mario had built with beams of precious ripple grained yellow wood. My memory recalls it as having a wide peaked roof. The beams which Uncle Calixto Mario was so proud of were probably made of Ayúa, which is the Taíno name for the great tree tropical called in English, West Indian satinwood.

Uncle Calixto Mario is safe in Havana; Rafaelito his youngest son is a F-47 Thunderbolt pilot in the Cuban Air Force that Batista controls. Neither Rafaelito, not any other enemy pilot is flying near, the sky is clear of enemy.

My parents, their horses leaning forward, hoofs digging in, take the steep road up the hills towards the coffee plantations at el Cacaíto. They somehow know that we escopeteros are hiding here.

Mother rides her chestnut gelding, “Rusty.” She, as an Independence War General’s daughter should, rides well. Rusty is a beautiful horse, long mane, tail, and handsome small Arabian head.

A hank of hair from Rusty’s mane hangs over his forehead; he looks from his huge eyes as if he has almost human intelligence. Both horses Rusty and the white mare, as most horses in Cuba, are pacers with a smooth, comfortable and elegant ride.

Both riders use long comfortable stirrups. Here in the hills only some of the Ros, such as elegant frail Cousin-Aunt Aurorita rode using short jumping stirrups attached to the flat tortillas of uncomfortable English saddles. Aurorita is Uncle Rafael’s wife and Grand Aunt Aurora and Antonio Ros’s daughter.

Uncle Marcos had loved Aurorita very much, and was quite upset when Aurorita chose his taller, more serious, more responsible brother Rafael. It is said that well cherished daughters often grow up to love and marry men like their fathers; this seemed to be true in this circumstance.

Antonio Ros had been Cuba consul general in Liverpool, after Grandfather left for the position in New Orleans. Antonio was always solemn in the Spanish way, and took far too seriously his dignity as Consul General. I feel sure he did not approve of wild and merry Uncle Marcos.

Uncle Rafael died before this war against Batista. He, overworked by his responsibilities, died very suddenly of a scratch that suddenly turned to septicemia. Aurorita was extremely distraught when her beloved passed away.

Mother is no way as serious as Aurorita; I am sure for this is her want, she jokes as she rides easily and well in a light US Calvary surplus McClelland saddle. She is surely smiling watching Enrique sit, uncertain, uncomfortable and wobbly city style.

Despite the smooth riding horse and the comfortable saddle, Enrique, a tall heavy and not too fit a man, was tired. He, fated to die early of heart attack, would refuse to eat the salad mother always served. Saying:

“!Yo no como yerba! I do not eat grass!”

Enrique curses eloquently in florid, long and ancient Spanish phrases as he always does under stress. Enrique rides mumbling, insulting and blaspheming ancient, almost forgotten, Mediterranean gods, desecrating, defecating on the head of Zeus, defaming goddess Astarte the biblical sacred prostitute of Babylon.

“!!!Yo me cago en la cabeza de Zeuta, y en la gran puta de Babilonia!!!”

The white horse flicks his ears to listens his curses, then realizing they are not orders, wisely ignores his talk and moves steadily, legs “kneeing” high, pacing up the mountainside. Enrique is quite sore after he gets to Cacaíto, but there after he dismounts he is as talkative as ever.

Enrique stands tall in the dark below the coffee shade trees and among the mature coffee bushes growing beneath them. His feet are on the ground at last, among the duff of fallen leaves. The ground is dry; the rainy season ruts and hoof holes are now diminished dents on the hard and bumpy path.

Enrique takes off his hat and holds it in his hand by his side; his straight dark hair is combed uncompromisingly back with Vaseline as was the custom of those times. I can see his hair is already receding severely at the sides, making him look vaguely demonic.

Enrique was not wearing his dark suit as was his custom in the city, nor the flimsy linen guayabera jacket as was custom of most in Cuba. Instead he wore, held up by a broad leather belt slightly baggy cotton “drill” trousers the kind and color we call chino today, tucked into low boots and also tucked in a plain wide-sleeved cotton shirt which I remember as light brown.

Mother’s high cheekbones mark her partial Taína inheritance across herr strong maturely beautiful face. Her face is shaded below a wide brimmed floppy yarey palm frond hat. She wears her usual country outfit, a low cut blouse over her full breasts, and baggy, simple cotton riding pants and short boots.

Mother stands at his side to let Enrique talk. He talks, and I listen; yet I know that Mother had been as much an organizer and motivator of this trip as he.

I worry silently about Mother. She has been through so much already. She has sheltered the anti-Batista underground, providing meeting places. She had quietly counseling caution to the crazy ones, helping facilitate movement of weapons and supplies, mourned the dead in her apartment building, worrying about her doomed cousin Calixto Sanchez on who’s armed expedition against Batista rides the fate of the Authenticos and her jailed relatives.

Mother worries especially about her four children and her husband, all of whom were involved in the resistance to some degree. Having heard the sounds of death in Havana, and read the exaggerated official reports of battles in the mountains; knowing her loved ones were involved, she must have suffered much. Now she is risking death to bring me a salvoconducto, a formal certificate of free passage.

The document was obtained at the Guisa Cuartel through mediation of one of the few surviving Mambí Generals (Enrique Loynaz del Castillo). General del Castillo is the last of the great men of honor, that were the Cuban generals of the Wars of Independence.

General Loynaz del Castillo had served with grandfather the century before. They were in “La Invasion” together serving under the command of the great cavalry general, the Bronze Titan, Antonio Maceo. La Invasion was a massive campaign of the last Cuban War of Independence that took the war from one end to the other of the Island. General del Castillo was somebody who’s word was his bond; we trusted him. There were so few to trust these days, and in the future even less.

Loynaz, was an educated man of action. Just before the last Cuban war of Independence of 1895-1898, he shot down, a would be assassin a crazed Spaniard, who was ready to finish with his second shot the already wounded Maceo in Costa Rica. In this last great war, Loynaz also wrote the music and text of the Invasion’s theme, “El Himno Invasor.” His unit had seen combat in innumerable actions.

Loynaz’s was fearless. His war record is a litany of exotic place names, recording battles fought along the length of that 760 mile long Island: Guaramanao, Lavado, la Reforma, Iguará, Casa de Tejas, Manacal, Boca de Toro, El Quirro, Mal Tiempo, La Colmena, Ingenio Antilla, Coliseo, Calimonte, Central Maria, Isabela, El Estante… and endless other places. At Iguará he and grandfather had been among the Cuban forces that unknowingly fought against young Winston Churchill.

At “Paso de Damas,” the “Ford of the Ladies,” Loynaz had two horses killed under him. Fighting in far western Cuba he crossed the western Spanish Trocha line, and did further battle at Santa Teresa, El Bejuco, Guinia, El Relámpago….. He returned from that campaign with only fifteen men left.

General del Castillo has strong bonds to out family. In 1906 Loynaz del Castillo, then a member of the Cuban House of Representatives, had also won decisive victories in the Veteranos and Patriotas rising while “Tio” Grandfather’s half brother, Mambi General Carlos Garcia Velez, one of the principals in that revolt, caught in Havana before he could leave, was held in jail by Estrada Palma. A hastily expanded and armed Rural Guard supported Estrada Palma. Estrada Palma forces less well armed with mismatched weapons were helpless, lost in the still heavily wooded island, and facing the strength of the still vigorous Mambí veterans.

General Enrique Loynaz del Castillo had decisively beaten Estrada palma’s champion, General Alejandro Rodriguez of the Guardia Rural at the battle of Wajay. With that defeat, General del Castillo had broken the only force that the Estrada Palma government had; to thus enforce a stalemate and allow peace.

This defeat forced the retreat of Estrada Palmas forces and essentially made his point. Estrada Palma, old, grumpy, parsimonious, and stubborn, did not get his constitutionally prohibited second turn in office. Fred Funston, one of Great grandfather’s old officers, and now a senior General in the US Army negotiated a truce. For this US president to be William Howard Taft got all the credit.

And the second US intervention came with Charles Magoon and then went with the flow of the years and Cuba returned to independence. However, honor was fading in Cuba.

If Loynaz del Castillo, diplomat, musician and Independence War hero, was a man to be trusted, Batista certainly was not was not.

This was not 1898, nor 1906, or even the time of Menocal victories in the Chambelona War 1917. Then Grandfather had led a victorious column of cavalry to the old battle ground in and around the town of Victoria Tunas. Aunt Betina was born that year and her real name Victoria commemorates that triumph.

During aftermath of the 1933 Revolt against Machado, the fading Mambi under former President Menocal lost the last of their military influence fighting the against Batista’s consolidation of power. The New Dealers in Washington, preferred a man of the people; they got that but were to find that Batista was a man of little honor.

By 1958, most of the old Mambí, the warriors of honor of the Wars of Independence had died, and they had gone to their reward. Those who had survived had their survivors political power was essentially broken two decades ago by Batista. Now, Mambí such as General Loynaz had only their prestige.

Batista, was once limited in his viciousness, he had killed only selected surrendered enemies, at the shoot-out of the Hotel Nacional and the Battle of Atarés in 1933. Tony Guiteras his ally and rival in these actions had wanted to kill all prisoners.

Just days later, at the end of that same year Batista’s minions had killed at Guamá on our own land, despite the desperate pleas for mercy of great grandmother Doña Lica (Manuelita) Enamorado. Batista was not looking to hurt the family but to kill Guiterras’ men, the family members were simply in the way.

Batista in his second dictatorship did not do better. Now, in the 1950s, the dictator had hardened even further and was now increasingly ruthless; essentially all his surrendered opponents were killed. He was trying to suppress revolt by littering the country with corpses.

Although the dictator had uniquely spared the Castro brothers after Moncada, one needed to know that may well have been because Raul Castro was Batista’s godchild. Most others who surrendered in these years, as they did at different times and many occasions, and next month they were killed, as would be Calixto Sanchez White and all the members of his “Corynthia” expedition. Such tactics favored Castro as well as Batista since they eliminated the rivals of the new dictator to be.

This was the coming of a greater ruthlessness to Cuba such as had not been seen since Spanish rule. Now it was never wise to surrender to such a treacherous foe. I refused the salvo conducto believing it to be a trick which would end in the death for all three of us. For this visit by necessity was known to the Batista authorities; thus not ready to surrender of leave and believing the Salvo Conducto far too dangerous, I declined.

Mother and Enrique knew the circumstances far better than I. Once I had said no to the Salvo Conducto, my parents spoke to me of their real purpose, in English, a language that only I of the rebels there understood.

They offered a me a "truckload" of Thompsons. These weapons seemed to have survived from the attack on the Palace and were not accessible to the doomed expedition of the Corinthia lead by ill fated cousin Calixto Sanchez White that would land May 24 of this year.

By then I knew that the people at headquarters deep in the Sierra demanded all real war weapons. We of Mojena's escopeteros were always stripped of our good weapons that came our way and then these guns were sent to others deemed by our superiors be more loyal to them. And having some nascent worries that these weapons might fall into the hands of those such as Lorente who I knew to be communists, I decided not to act on this.

Thus, although surprised at the visit and honored by the very valuable offer of weapons I told Mother and Enrique that I thought the circumstances too dangerous for a second try and counseled caution, and a safer destination for these Thompsons.

Robert and Santiago do you know anything about these Thompsons, I think they ended up in the Escambray...

Larry Daley Copyright@2002, 2004, 2006