Monday, December 12, 2016

Adios, Fidel!

In memory of the old caudillo, this month's "battles" post at GFT is the twin engagements of Yaguajay and Santa Clara, December 1958; the end of the Batista Era and the final military acts of the Cuban Revolution.

Bearded revolutionaries, rum and coke, sugarcane, makeshift tanks and mountains and sinister secret policemen...
"In his triumphant entry to Havana on 8 JAN, Fidel spoke to the nation. "We can not become dictators." he said "We shall never need to use force because we have the people, and because the people shall judge, and because the day the people want, I shall leave."

One of the many "war criminals" given a show trial and executed was COL Rojas, the badass copper of the Santa Clara police station. He insisted on giving the final words of command to his firing squad in the tradition of firing-squad-heroics everywhere. Here he is, poor sod, his hat flying off as the bullets rip into him.

The good colonel wouldn't be the last man to die "for the revolution" and, as we now know, Fidel left, feet-first, just this autumn, long after I suspect the Cuban people would have been pleased to see the back of him.

For all the good that he may have done - and he DID do good, in his autocratic manner - Caastro's legacy is in the main part no less dictatorial and no less unjust than the man he replaced this month fifty-eight years ago.

Supposedly COL Rojas is said to have given his killers a warning of this, on that day he faced the line of rifles, that sounds in retrospect, frighteningly prescient.

The last words he said - before giving the command to fire - were: "Muchachos, ahora tienes tu revolución. No la pierda."

"Boys, now you have your revolution. Don't lose it."


  1. Nice work on that Chief. It is a shame that politics throws a blanket over history. And weird that the works of Galvez and Cienfuegos were never translated. I wonder why the Army War College or the West Point Historical Department never sponsored a translation? There are trained Spanish linguists to spare in all of the services, not to mention the millions of Americans that speak it.

    Leoncio Vidal was a hero of earlier Cuban Independence. A colonel, he was shot and killed by Spanish riflemen during an 1896 battle in Santa Clara. So I have to wonder if the Leoncio Vidal regiment(?) in 1958 was part of Batista's 'Ejercito Permanente' or a local unit named for a town hero.

    1. The Vidal regiment was a regular unit, so far as I can tell. The rurales - which were the "local units" - weren't organized above a fairly low (company or battalion) level.

      I suspect that there are translations of the Galvez works somewhere - possibly in the War College? I just couldn't find them. Part of the problem researching these posts is that most of the genuinely good military libraries are all too far away physically for me to access (Carlisle Barracks, PA...) and too spendy for me to access digitally...

  2. FDChief -

    You are probably correct re the Vidalistas. Although I did think it strange that a full regiment of regulars would give up so easily. Probably like their regimental namesake they preferred to side with libertad.

    You got my vital fluids singing with this post. You covered it in fine detail, but I found myself wanting to know more of the players, the lesser ones, not Che and not his lawyer friend Fidel. So I did some searching:

    It seems Captain Li died peacefully in bed just four years ago in Dumont, New Jersey:

    And there were many other Cubano-Chinos who fought with Che and Fidel: Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moises Sio Wong all became generals in Cuba's FAR. I've got their book on my must read list:

    Like you I could not find anything 'en ingles' by Galvez or Cienfuegos. But did order a biography of Cienfuegos by Carlos Franqui. Reviewers claim Franqui writes of a conspiracy that Cienfuegos, the only non-Marxist among the revolutuonary leadership, had his plane sabotaged in 1961 by Raul. Truth or fiction, who knows? So I have that on my read list also:

    And another early Commandante, General Nestor Lopez Cuba, was reportedly the first to train himself on the Sherman tanks. Two years later he commanded the T-34 tank battalion at Giron Beach that beat off the CIA-sponsored Brigade 2506 on 17 April 1961. And 12 years after that he commanded a volunteer Cuban tank squadron in Syria just after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Stayed for two years then went to Angola to fight the South Africans.

    Interesting times, thanks for the shove in the right direction.

  3. I was ridiculously gratified to hear that the CPT Danjou of Yaguajay passed full of years amd honor, surrounded by his beloved. He played a man's part that December.

    I caught a whiff of the cnspiracy theories surrounding Cienfuegos' death...but I'm not sure I buy it. Supposedly he was still a big Fidel fan at the point where his plane augers in. Dunno for sure...but doesn;t really pass the sniff test...

  4. The Fidelistas did not forget about their 'querida abuela' either. They named a province for her in 1976.

  5. Speaking of Bonachea and San Martin the authors (kind of as a note in passing) observed that during the Sierra Maestra period Raul took a...unhealthy interest, shall we say? the periodic administration of "revolutionary justice".

    They mention that while Fidel very conspicuously avoided the firing squads to the point of actively ducking them, Raul seemed to enjoy them, even insisting on delivering the quietus himself.

    Seems to have been sort of a creepy guy...

  6. FDChief -

    I also heard that. And reportedly at least one of the executions attributed to Raul personally was in Mexico against one of Fidel's followers who had been deemed politically incorrect.

    From Politico magazine:

    "Raul was content to be cast by his brother as a cruel hard liner, “more radical than I,” as Fidel once propounded. In fact, Raul was long an admirer of Stalin and Soviet communism; he enjoyed vacationing in the Soviet Union, and made many friends there in military and security circles. At home, in a booming baritone, and at Fidel’s urging, he periodically delivered jeremiads meant to instill fear in the Cuban populace. He was a dependably stern player in every one of Fidel’s political purges. It is also known that Raul presided over executions during the guerrilla years in Cuba in the 1950s, and another, a gangland-style murder by his own hand, in Mexico."

    Read somewhere else that the older brother Ramon called Raul "a little communist prick". Can't find it now though.