30 THE TRIAL IN MANZANILLO
30 THE TRIAL IN MANZANILLO
Robert the judge you mention is probably the same Jorge (Papito) Serguera Riverí, who held 'trials" in Manzanillo in 1959? If so,he is the same individual in whose "court" I gave testimony while trying to save the life of a "good" Guardia Rural. This good Guardia I remember as Cabo (Corporal) Cejas, although it might have been Capote. It was long ago and far away and I am now old.
Cejas had let us know that the Casquitos were going to climb the mountains of Los Números. Los Números is our family land between the Guamá and
He, Cejas, had also let us know, that as práctico, as a guide, he would be leading the Casquitos. He would be wearing a different hat. He was going to wear the Guardia Rural hat, the stiff, wide brimmed kaki hat, with the four symmetrical creases in the crown; this hat is one you see on WWI US soldiers, or present day drill instructors. The Casquitos of course would be wearing Cascos that is the helmets that give them their nickname.
The ambushes went wrong. The reason for this was that our (Mojena's) ambush was placed in useless and very unsuitable site. It was supposed to take place a a spot called
Beyond where the path had been cut in the great wall was a flat place, where Ping Ping, Benjamin our part Taíno uncle, illegitimate grandson of Don Benjamin Ramirez lived. The flat place was watered by a trickle of a stream was, empty of trees, full of low rocks that could trip you. There was no cover; there was no easy retreat.
It was very bad and dangerous place with no good escape route. It was in Lorente's zone, and thus under Lorente's command. As usual Lorente, who we even then knew was a communist, was up to his devious and lethal trickery.
We saw the danger. Since Mojena our group leader was away, I was in charge and thus responsible for our little band of rebels. I thought a little, and pondered a little longer. Then I led our group up the road to at a better sited place high on the ridge atop of the first of the steep ridge rises we called the Banana hills.
There, at the “first Banana Hill” we set up the ambush. We were hidden by a curve where the road was cut into the rock of the rising road, and we waited ready light our fuses and throw our bombs. We were then under some bushes on the bank of the “cut” south about twenty feet from the road, with a clear escape path to the back of us. We were invisible from the edge of the road.
The clay dirt on the path, when the weather was dry as was then, became crumbly, like little ball bearings, and thus very slippery. Here, watching their feet and out of breath already, the casquitos could not be expected to shoot well, react or move fast as they crested the hill.
Our plan was to light the fuses and throw our bombs over the edge of the cut. I questioned Machado if he could throw his particularly heavy dynamite bomb that far. He answered yes. Without other options, I took him at his word and worried if the soldiers would smell the matches as we were about to light them, if we could throw the bombs far enough to reach the road. Somewhat worried, that a spotter avioneta might see us, we sat, and waited, proud of our novice ambush.
Suddenly Mojena was back. He was really mad, at both at me; and I think Lorente. Raging at us he moved us out. We saw no action that day.
Lorente and Majin Peñas’s group carried out the ambush from a much safer place, much higher on the ridge. It was just above the steep slope of the ridge we as youngsters has called the second banana hill, because the coffee on it was also shaded by banana trees.
The casquitos must have been really out of breath with their calf muscle too tight and too full of lactic acid and pain to move fast, for this banana hill is also very steep and high. Sometimes we were told, they were less alert because they had been smoking marihuana.
However, when planning the ambush Lorente got over-ambitious. He did not group his men in one place for firepower and surprise. Instead he assigned one escopetero, a shot-gunner, to kill each Batista soldier. He placed his men in a long line of individual hideouts, each behind one of the tall blackened stumps and fallen logs of burned rainforest trees, stands of corn or growing coffee bushes. Each firing position was a few paces apart from the next; only a few feet back from the path that ran along the length of the ridge.
It was a bad ambush. The dispersion of the escopetero positions diluted the effect of the rebel fire, and allowed the casquitos relatively early warning. Yet although this ambush was not successful, since there, unlike lower down the slopes by the natural wall of
Cejas was wounded in the shoulder at so close a range that the pellets only dispersed about six inches. After the revolution I saw the wound while talking to Cejas before the trial. We discussed the matter and came to the conclusion that the wound had been made by the big lead pellets like those that we been instructed to make when Mojenas group was staying at Lorente's camp.
First we had shaped a lead rod using molden lead from old car batteries. We used the hollow, ant runways found inside the petioles of giant leaves of the ant protected yagruma (Cecropia peltata) trees as molds to make lead rods. Then, following the instructions we cut up the rods into short sections and beat with hammer to make them roughly circular.
Somehow, luckily for Capote, the pellets had not found a vital artery or vein; for contrary to cowboy movies, a shoulder wound can often be lethal.
The escopetero was less lucky or less wise. On trying for a second shot instead of running, he lost time to escape. The casquitos cut him down with the massive fire of their fast shooting automatic San Cristóbals. The Batista officer ordered the casquitos to cut the hands off the body of the rebel for identification, since his body was too heavy to carry.
Then the Batista officer told then to move up the ridge. They did and several miles further up and south on the relatively level ridge in Uncle Marco’s land. There the casquitos settled in for the night.
Then Lorente's people, uncharacteristically gathered courage, regrouped. They made a night of harassing fire with modified Krags firing 30.06 bullets and shelling with perhaps a hundred of hand made primitive “satelite” shotgun propelled dynamite grenades. These are the kind the Che Guevara describes in his writings and which are most ineffective.
That night, on the lower northern part of the
A year later, in 1959 the revolution was "won" and accounts were being settled. Somewhere in some building at the edge of the old city’s square, that the trial was held at Manzanillo. Papito Seguera, if indeed it was him, presided.
There was an atmosphere of fear. The judge was in complete control of the “court room.” He was sitting in green uniform and heavy bearded, with an unstoppable twitch in one eye. The twitch made him look as if he was winking all the time. The audience, confused, kept looking at him trying to find out what this apparent signal was ordering them to do.
My turn came, I testified for Cejas pointed out how he had helped us rebels. Despite a heart rending petition of the poor unfortunate mother of the rebel killed, Cejas escaped execution. Lorente was disappointed.
On the way back, Lorente somehow placed himself between the driver and me in the jitney cab taking us back to Bayamo. Soon on the road with the cab moving fast Lorente tried to kill me “accidentally.” He took out his Astra pistol and played with it the gun barrel always pointing at me.
I knew what he was up to yet there was no way I could reach my little Colt Cobra in time. I was lost another "accidental shooting" out of so many others of that time.
Then a little old lady, perhaps the sad mother of the dead rebel, screamed out loud in protest from the back seat:
“put that gun back it is going to go off.”
Lorente put his pistol away. On the road east to Bayamo he contented himself with unsuccessfully attempts to kill me. He kept trying, for he was much taller and heavier than I, to quietly and "accidentally" to push me out of the door of the cab as we sped along.
My legs brace against the door. The wind generated by the car’s speed kept helping me. The door did not open…
Larry Daley copyright@1996 revised 1998 and 1999, 2004, 2006.