Sunday, July 02, 2006



The meeting on December, 28th 1958 was at the old "Central Oriente" sugar mill, a strange place, in my memories. was not tidy and modern, with wooden houses, like the Central America.

Here at Central Oriente the buildings were old, massive, brick, stone and concrete structures, out of scale with the countryside. The huge steel cane grinding machinery, no longer fed cane, was unmoving and rusting.

It was as the great house on the empty barren plain in the movie "Giant" except the scale was larger. Instead of house chimney’s, the round stacks of the sugar mill boilers towered hundred of feet high.

The blades of grass dwarfed by the foundations of the house in “Giant,” were here eight-foot stems of cane. Instead of the sparse shrubs of arid West Texas, the blessing of Cuba’s rains and fertile soil had spread the grown seed of endless lush plants.

Some buildings were intact, others in semi-ruin. Great, ancient, iron machinery stood in great rooms resting in darkness. The buildings silent like ancient ruins behind breeze strung clouds of fog seem to alien to reality.

Even today these empty buildings, out of scale, vague changing, mysterious, sometimes enter my sleeping mind as scenes of vastness suddenly opening, suddenly appearing, after passage through the constricting dream portals of birth trauma caves.

In this place of mists and silent old gray buildings, a group of rebels gathered in puzzlement around an autistic child, perhaps five, sitting back against a sunlit long stone-like wall. The child kept pushing his head back sharply against the wall, as if he derived pleasure from banging it.

We rebels gathered and stared not knowing why the child did this or what we could to do to stop it. The poor child’s actions made as little sense as our purpose here. We knew nothing, yet we felt the electric currents of change course though our bodies. Things were happening and we did not have to be told.

Castro and his officers, in groups of constantly talking bigwigs, walked rapidly about with great airs of importance. We soldiers walked about slowly glad to be resting, and step aside deferential when one of the groups past. The bigwigs ignored us. We were just cannon fodder.

There I was told of the escopetero leader, perhaps Arnaldo Ochoa. The escopetero’s men ran away on threats from our column. However, the escopetero leader refused to run: he preferring execution to loss of dignity, and thus was 'pardoned' by Castro.

Castro thought this was amusing. I thought the whole thing sadistic. Now I know that Castro needed the escopeteros as pickets, scouts, and simple to hold ground, but he was far too proud, or even too selfish of glory, to recognize to others the escopeteros’ essential worth.

Suddenly officers came running; now the big wigs needed us. Orders were shouted.

I found myself playing bait, my horned rimmed glasses and my beard made me seem important, standing as ordered, by Comandante Mora or was it Capitan Puerta, exposed to fire in an old brick archway. Above my head and at my side was protecting brickwork, but the front was completely open. I was a perfect target. The others of Rebel Column One spread out running into the field, diving among the eight of more foot high stalks, frantically pushing aside the cutting, rustling, leaves of cane. They sought an American, a “sniper” we presumed.

Being bait was scary, and the minutes stretched out slowly. Soon the sniper was caught. The sniper came out accompanied by a moving cloud of shorter, hairy rebels. One rebel held the captured telescope sighted rifle. The others surrounded, the sniper, who kept protesting that he had come to fight for Castro.

That day, perhaps because I spoke English, my orders were to go to the house where the manager and his family lived and make sure that nobody looked out of the windows.

We were on the second floor. At a table spread with white linen tablecloth and elaborate formal dining gear, the manager’s family gathered. Among them was a young pretty woman jet-black hair speaking Spanish with a peninsular accent. The longer side of the rectangular table faced the double window.

The window had light colored short curtains, an unusual touch in Cuba, and these were closed. Behind the drawn curtains, the manager’s family and I shared an excellent meal. Or so the meal seemed, for I always hungry then, was not a good judge of such.

All I knew was my continued hunger that gnawed at my stomach most of those days was banished. If memories do not deceive me, somehow through the curtains thin beams of intense tropical light lit the cut glass of cruets and carved water jugs, reflecting moving flickers onto our faces and on the sets of knives and forks set carefully at the edges of each place setting.

The meal included canned escargot. This is the first and only time that I ever ate snails. The snails tasted good; the company was pleasant, although I think they were terrified of me.

There was a noise the slow chop, chop, chop of a helicopter coming, so I rose pushed the curtains back a little and looked out of the windows. A large helicopter, with what must have been Cuban Airforce markings, was descending, its large rotors spinning, and then the machine sank behind a gray, two storied, building.

The father of the family tried to look. I let him. For there seemed no point, for the sound of the helicopter told all, to stop him. We knew that something big was happening, but we did not know what. We finished our meal.

On one of those days in Central Oriente sugarmill, I met the reporter Dickie Chapelle. She is supposed to be short and older. I did not notice either.

I followed her around like a puppy as she went from place to place in the camp, translating on request. Between stops, she kept questioning me about communists, repeating her questions to me again and again as if I was stupid. Maybe she had something there.

However, I could not give Dickie Chapelle good answers since I was not sure, nor did I trust her loyalies. Besides I found it strange that she was reporting for the Reader’s Digest and there was something about her that seemed amiss.

However, I did find her attractive, and brave. I did not find her ten or more years older or nor did I find her particularly short as she in reality was. Having always liked brave women, I propositioned her very clumsily. She did not know that was the first time I had ever dared try a thing like that. She ignored my advances, and went off to seek bigger fish to fry. To this day, because of nothing that I was conscious of, but everything my gut told me, I believe she was working for The Company.

Later I would learn that the helicopter was bringing Batista General Eulogio Cantillo trying to make a desperate and separate peace. The Sniper was Allan Robert Nye, from Chicago, who then was about 30.

The day he was caught was December 26, 1958, then as I saw he was carrying a rifle, supposedly a Remington 30.06. Allan Nye was held for quite some time, even after the Revolution was won, and eventually released.

Castro counts this as one of the hundreds of attempts on his life. Today I wish he had been less lucky. Dickey Chapelle, brave than brave, died in a land mine explosion in Vietnam.

Hugh Thomas on page 240 of The Cuban Revolution says:

"In Oriente the next day (Christmas Eve), Cantillo (having given $10,000 each to Colonels Ugalde Carrillo and Jesús (should be José RS) Maria Salas Cañizares, and $15,000 to Colonel Pérez Coujil, succesfully arranged through Father Guzmán, a priest of Santiago, a meeting with Castro at the Oriente sugar mill (which had once belonged to the Chibás family)..

A friend (RS) clarifies “The money mentioned --by words-- were bribes for them to leave the country.”

Larry Daley copyright@1997, revised 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006


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