28 IN THE BARRACKS AT MANAGUA
28 IN THE BARRACKS AT
We were euphoric and we were fearful, but above all we were in a trancelike state induced by hunger and far too much stimulus.
Victory ours, we travel west all guns and tanks and glory. At each town grateful crowds cheer madly, and while women wildly give themselves to cause. Yet, somehow I know promised freedom dawn is being betrayed.
My hunger fades to visions midst my lassitude. In starving reverie, slowly trance-like, I ride along,
not sure as just to where.
As if mandrels of a roulette wheel, steel truck axels
slowly turn. Rotating tires clock our hours and days of chance.
The warm day fades to chill epiphany. Growing shadows run to flee in fear across the green beauty
of a palm strewn plains of Camagüey.
A golden sun dies sinking fast in a tropical sky, now no longer blue, but blood's cruel crimson stain. I see visions in that sunset’s red.
Spawn of perverted theory alien monster hatred,
hidden inside a scheming brain, is in a birthing cruelty. Men blinded by pride are plotting in secret planning countless nights of trembling fears, and days of endless deaths. I fear the future years will fill with gore and tears.
copyright@2001, 2002, 2004.
Previous version web published at http://pub54.ezboard.com/fcafecafefrm47.showMessage?topicID=52.topic
It was the first week of 1959. We had traveled almost the entire length of the island in seven dizzying days of cheering crowds, broken highways, and much hunger. As we went west, we gathered strength in numbers, tanks and guns.
Again, I remember scraps of detail, as if sun breaks in a long gray mist fogged memory. Our group had started out in a Greyhound-style long distance bus, with plush soft reclining seats inside and much shining chrome without.
However, as the days passed and our exhaustion faded, we could no longer sleep well on these seats. Stiff and sore so much I could care that such would hinder exit. I tied my hammock high up diagonally across the center of the aisle; wrapping the hico ropes at the hammock ends to the luggage racks at either side of the bus.
After this, occasionally the heads of those passing underneath bumped me, on the way to the bus bathroom. However, most of the time thus comfortably stretched out, I could now sleep soundly.
Still in war, in a fire-fight, such a vehicle could be a death trap. Only about two months before victory a truck load of rebels under the command of Captain Jaime Vega Saturnino had died that way crossing
Two years past,
Then Batista had wanted all to know and fear him for it. The dictator had his wish for now almost all feared him; but then almost all hated him for it too.
In the future more horrors would come. Such as the screams of hundreds of Castro’s militia men, strafed on open causeways by B-26s bombers, then burning died trapped in
At this time the first week of January 1959 we continue our advance. Now we change vehicles to ride in an open flatbed truck with wooden rails around it, perhaps a cattle truck; here we can stretch out more. Now, if or when we encountered resistance, getting out of this vehicle would be much easier than if such would occur while riding in a bus. We could have a chance to survive ambush by vaulting over the railings to the ground. This small measure of added security makes us happy.
We stop at a former Batista army-base. We do not know where we are for our leaders do not bother to tell us. We merely know it is on the plains perhaps in flat Camagüey province. The Batista soldiers are there milling around and now harmless, for they have surrendered and are joining us.
It never occurs to us to ask these Batista soldiers where we are. To do such would reveal weakness, and they, although psychologically defeated, are still in numbers and in armament potentially far more powerful than us.
We pay little attention to our former enemies, for we are famished. The base has an American style cafeteria. Here we anachronistic hairy barbarians gather our food from a serving line of chrome steel and elegant modern 1950s facilities. We find the food good; but we were not so picky then.
When at school term end in 1957 I arrived from
As we ride on the open truck, sitting on its wooden bed, the truck jolts across red earth taking detours around where the road had been sabotaged. We cross flat plains most likely also in Camagüey. The thin two-lane
Again we suffer hunger; again we are in almost hallucinating revere. I am as if in Sioux vision quest in time of war; things are not real and yet more than real. Time is fluid and flexible; in this place the future is not as hidden as it should be to spare us pain.
The day is ending. Long shadows chase each other across a palm- strewn plain. Pools of darkness gather to grow large under the gigantic algarrobo rain-trees.
The sunset is crimson, as if it were the cruel stain of fresh spilled arterial blood. Somehow I see this bright, deep red. Normally I only see red at dawn, before the rays of the rising sun completely quenches my red-green color sensors. And yet, I recall seeing red at this day’s end.
Then, in a brief moment since tropical sunsets are fast, in a quiet and chilling epiphany vague past forebodings condense to present reality.
The vision makes clear that the future is no good that another long darkness is being born. In victory there will be even greater dangers and than in this ending war. This sudden understanding also makes clear, in a chill, unspoken, and unadorned warning, that I must not talk of this now.
The sudden cool breeze of evening brings chills the darkening night.
Life goes on; the slow advance continues. We rarely eat; we are always hungry. I go to forage on another Batista army base. With help from the defeated Casquitos I find, and the Casquitos bring to us a whole truck-load of cartons of C-rations. The C-ration cartons are heavy, and the truck that carries them looks like a German built Unimog. The cartons are not packed deep. I should have squirreled away a few cans, but I do not.
When my first can of C-rations, it tasted delicious, is finished I still hungry ask for seconds. This is denied; until I make mention that it was me who brought that whole truck in. Then the rebel officer in charge supplies one miserly can more, plus a severe and quite hypocritical, communist type lecture on sharing, and a nasty scowl. Catching on quickly, I know now quite definitely that I am not one of the chosen in these new times and thus must be careful and silent.
That sun set epiphany becomes a symbolic synthesis of all the horrors the new Castro regime, the executions, the thievery and the outright meanness, and lack of recognition of debt for support and sacrifice. Castro will soon say that “Revolution owes only to the dead.” At this point I know now for sure and all too well that there are ruthless communists in our ranks, and that they had access to the revolution’s highest levels. The dream in which we were fighting the evil of Batista to restore democracy is now much muddied by these executions, and by the soiling presence of these communists.
The blood “red” sunset I saw stays in my mind. In the week that we travel on westward, I stare and stare as if in a trance. That epiphany watching the sunset among flat pastures and gigantic rain-trees has stayed with me ever since. My education tells me this is not a religious thing, nor mystic revelation; it is just the synthesis of my past experiences that suggest an uncertain and bloody future.
Endlessly it seems we go on. Our column is now enormous, well armed and tank supported. Our progress is unstoppable. Batista has fled on the first of the year. All enemy have surrendered; none stand in our way. The locals in each town take violent vengeance on those known or thought to be Batista’s murderous minions.
Blood runs again and it seems it really has never stopped. It is if the now perverted revolution has become an altar of human sacrifice. Castro communism sacrifices to the false deity of “historic necessity” of communism.
Castro was born in Birán,
Few of out of Castro’s inner circle, know this yet. Although I can barely guess at the full extent of what is coming, I already know it is far too dangerous for me to speak freely now. On the 8th of January we reach
Our group does not stop until we reached the main Cuban military strong hold. This is the Colombia Military base west of
I once heard that “Tio Carlos,” grandfather’s half brother and like him a general of the Cuba Wars of Independence, had sold this land for this purpose, but this may not be true.
Then we move to the south in
The southern part of
From here in late 1898 these surviving Mambí went north to the capital, sniping killing Spanish in Havana in the city proper as these defeated peninsular armies retreating from US forces, passed among their still starving dying victims, to their ships and off to a shamed and angry Spain.
Back to early January 1959. There are two small, scruffy, scrubby, hills in the back of
The barracks are amazingly comfortable compared to what we have had before. They are long and clean and have double deck bunk beds. We rest, eat regularly and well. We have real toilets, off to the side in a large tiled alcove.
Some toilets are labeled with a sign indicating that they are only for those with venereal diseases. The toilets have no doors. I see a woman sitting in one of these labeled toilets. Thinking she is a mountain girl, who has come with us and perhaps cannot read, I tell her of the sign. She answers quite calmly, still sitting on the toilet:
She answers: “¡Si! ¡Como no! ¡Esta bien lo se! ¡Lo tengo! Of course I know! Its OK! I have it!”
Shocked at her calm stoic acceptance of reality there is nothing else I can find to say.
One of my endless distant cousins, he is a Perez, descended from my maternal great-grandmother Leonela Enamorado and her second husband Federico Perez. He is billeted in the Batista soldiers barracks, and he had heard I was there; and invites me over.
We talk and play chess. He is in his thirties, stout; and I think a sergeant. He is a good player and we play good games.
He invites me to come and visit again. Either before this invitation or when I get back there is an “accidental” shot.
A bullet goes past my feet, and cracks a tile at the base of the wall. Somebody is cleaning their weapon, it goes off. There is no apology just a sheepish grin.
That gun must have been a
Coming apart this way, suddenly the automatic carbine reveals its complicated steel innards, of shining springs and oiled, lathe ground, dark steel. That ease of disassembly might explain how the sheepish rebel had left it with a bullet in the chamber. Still that does not explain how and why he pressed the trigger with the gun pointing towards me.
The fickle switch between life and death has flickered, on and off again, and somehow once again I have survived. I think “Stupid, ignorant and scary idiot!” but cautiously do not say these angrily things.
Anger fades, and I try to be as indifferent, as if unaffected. I try to stoically accepting unchallenged these events like that woman of the life I had spoken to earlier. She has accepted her illness, as that condemned man in the hut at Las Peñas, months earlier, had accepted his death sentence. Now I try to accept my “gun shot accident” as unavoidable reality, but I cannot. In this war I have developed a ferocious will to live and a growing, but not well formed, need to survive to bear witness.
Another day, I return to my barracks after playing chess with my cousin. It is about a mile or so between the victors and the defeated barracks; dusk comes with the usual tropical rapidity. Soon it is as dark as pitch that night. A bullet comes from the direction of the rebel barracks. It passes close, perhaps a foot from the left side of my head. It sounds like a 30.06 round.
This is most disturbing. This is no accident.
After that I am spooked and sleep with the hunting knife Uncle Marcos had given me under my pillow. My rifle close at hand, I say nothing, but stay as alert as possible. It seemed clear, because of the circumstances and the repetition of events that these shots have either been a warning, or an attempt to murder me.
The first day of the year dawned without Batista, for that dictator believing himself defeated and betrayed by his own, had abandoned his supporters to escape with a plane load of cash. Ventura fled to Florida. Enrique lived, spinal nerves damaged from the beatings, he was given to irrational bursts of anger that ate at his heart and eventually killed him at 47.
I tell my parents of my precarious circumstance, and wise in these matters of revolutions, they immediately understand. We go to Comandante Juan Almeida’s office and Mother and Enrique serve as witnesses to my resignation; it is far safer with witnesses. We meet in a small room with a simple desk. All of us including Almeida stand.
Almeida is thin and intense, his face long, sad looks innocent. He is mulatto, with a tight cap of buffalo hair on his head. His eyes are dark, bright, a short beard curly and mustache makes an oval around his mouth. He is a battle proven hero; his chest was shot through at Ubero.
The hero has the almost sacred aura of one of “the twelve.” Almeida tells me that "the revolution is not over." I tell Almeida that "for me the revolution is over." Afraid, I explain in half truths, that I want to study agricultural science.
That answer is acceptable, sufficient and good. Almeida is a direct not devious, he agrees.
We go through the simple paperwork; an assistant takes it all down. I turn in my very accurate, low number, 30.06
I made this weapon exchange immediately after Guisa. There that Batista lieutenant had stood defying us in the open outside the cuartel fort, at the bottom of that hill in Guisa. The
With this rifle I turn in my ammunition belt and its cartridges. This ammunition is also noted on the receipt.
However, the receipt did not list the ammunition in my two full bandoliers. That seems irregular, but this is not a time to quibble.
Mother, Enrique and I leave as quick and quietly as possible. We leave in a cab driven by a trusted friend used to these matters.
Most people who know me in
Ambitious revolutionaries with self-inflated credentials strutted like pea-cocks on parade. They were everywhere, seeking position and status, and notoriety.
I am educated and of “good family;” thus it seemed those who knew of me then that I was throwing away, promotion, power, and everything else that could be mine. But I have secrets they do not know.
Only over forty years later, have I only been able to let myself bring these secrets fully to mind and to tell others outside of my family,
My critics do not understand why I held no rank. They view me as a fool, which was then the greatest sin of all in cosmopolitan
Things are quite interesting in
We are heroes. Sex with almost any woman was available to every rebel. Translated into today’s circumstance we are as if rock-stars.
Still very Catholic, I did not take advantage of it. Sometimes in my old age, I think I was a fool; for then I was so young and strong and there were so many beautiful willing women in that city at that time.
Later that year, or was it early the next year, I am going to class at the university. Climbing the low steps into the main Agronomical Engineering building at la Quinta de los Molinos, I fall. I am suddenly taken with a violent fever. Somehow, I get home.
Although I lived with my father on
Mother cares for me, as I lay tossing on a little folding cot the small room at the back of the apartment.
South of the room was a high window and a little veranda. Below the veranda, was long drop onto a deep well-like alley way between buildings. Here the Batista police had killed university students, survivors of the Presidential Palace assault, just two or so years before. It was not yet well known that these students had been betrayed by communists who were now members of Castro’s government.
The Batista police, machine gunning from the shadows of the street, through iron railings into the even darker alley, had killed the students as they sprawled fallen, broken limbed on hard concrete, begging for life. I think it was
My fever rages for days. Fever delirium gives me the strangest haunting dreams of rawest fear. I scream and shout incoherently.
Doctor Antonio Calzado lives on the first door on the left, next door to Mother and Enrique. They are friends. The good doctor comes and examines me; he cannot find a cause for my sickness.
The fever runs its course. It peaks high, very high, and yet … as time passes it subsides, and I live.
Tests reveal nothing, except the internal parasites that until then had not bothered me. I get better.
Dr. Calzado tells me I am the first rebel he has examined who does not have venereal disease. He should know for that is his specialty, for he treats the women of the best houses in
Larry Daley, copyright 1996, revised 2002, 2004, 2006.