Within a few days the book titled The Strategic Victory, in which I narrate the battle waged for the extermination of the little Rebel Army, is to be published.
I begin it with an introduction in which I explain my doubts as to its title “…I didn’t know whether to call it ‘Batista’s Last Offensive’ or ‘How 300 defeated 10,000,’” the latter of which sounded like a science fiction story.
It includes a small autobiography: “I did not wish to wait for the publication some day of the responses to numerous questions asked me about my childhood, adolescence and youth, stages which converted me into a revolutionary and armed combatant.
The title that I finally decided on was The Strategic Victory.
It is divided into 25 chapters, contains many photographs of a quality possible in those circumstances and the relevant maps.
Finally, it has diagrams of the types of weapons used by both contenders.
In the final pages of Chapter 24, I made affirmations that turned out to be a premonition.
In the final part, which I wrote to be read out by Radio Rebelde on August 7, the day after the end of the final battle of Las Mercedes, I stated:
“The offensive has been liquidated. The greatest military effort in our history as a Republic concluded in the most horrific disaster imaginable on the part of the arrogant dictator, whose troops in full flight after two-and-a-half months of defeat after defeat are signaling the final days of his odious regime. The Sierra Maestra is already totally free of enemy forces.”
The book on “the strategic victory” textually explains:
“After 74 days of incessant fighting, the defeat of the enemy offensive signified the strategic turning point of the war. From that moment the fate of the dictatorship was definitively decided, as the imminence of its military collapse became evident.”
“That same day I wrote a letter to Major General Eulogio Cantillo, who directed the entire military campaign from the command post in the area of operations, based in Bayamo. I confirmed to Cantillo that around 160 captured soldiers were in the hands of our forces, many of them wounded, and that we were prepared to immediately establish the relevant negotiations for their handover. After complicated negotiations, this second handover of prisoners took place several days later in Las Mercedes.
“In the course of those 74 days of intensive fighting to repel and defeat the major enemy offensive, our forces suffered 31 losses. The sad news of their deaths never daunted the spirit of our forces, although it made the victory painful on many occasions. Even so, the loss of combatants could have been far higher, taking into account the intensity, duration and violence of the land actions and air attacks, without the extraordinary skill achieved by our guerrillas in the rugged landscape of the Maestra and because of the solidarity among the rebels. Many times, serious injuries saved their lives; in the first place, because their compañeros did the impossible to transfer them to where the doctors could attend to them, and everything in spite of the rough terrain and the whistling of the bullets in the midst of the battles.
“Throughout these pages I have mentioned the names of our dead, but I wish to list them all here in order to present once and for all the complete chart of our martyrs, worthy of the eternal memory, full of respect and admiration, of all our people. They are:
“Commanders: Andrés Cuevas, Ramón Paz and René Ramos Latour, Daniel.
“Captains: Angel Verdecia and Geonel Rodríguez.
“Lieutenants: Teodoro Banderas, Fernando Chávez, El Artista, and Godofredo Verdecia.
“Combatants: Misaíl Machado, Fernando Martínez, Albio Martínez, Wilfredo Lara, Gustavo; Wilfredo González, Pascualito; Juan de Dios Zamora, Carlos López Mas, Eugenio Cedeño, Victuro Acosta, El Bayamés; Francisco Luna, Roberto Corría, Luis Enrique Carracedo, Elinor Teruel, Juan Vázquez, Chan Cuba; Giraldo Aponte, El Marinero; Federico Hadfeg, Felipe Cordumy, Lorenzo Véliz, Gaudencio Santiesteban, Nicolás Ul, Luciano Tamayo, Angel Silva Socarrás and José Díaz, El Galleguito.
“Campesino collaborators: Lucas Castillo, other members of his family, and Ibrahim Escalona Torres.
“Eternal honor and glory, infinite respect and affection for those who died during that period.
“The enemy suffered more than 1,000 casualties, of those 300-plus dead and 443 prisoners, and no less than five complete large units of its forces were annihilated, captured or dismantled. A total of 507 weapons remained in our power, including two tanks, 10 mortars, a number of bazookas and 12 Caliber-30 machine guns.
“All of that was compounded by the effect on morale of this outcome and its significance in the advance of the war: from that moment, the strategic initiative remained definitively in the hands of the Rebel Army, moreover, the absolute master of an extensive territory into which the enemy did not even try to penetrate again. In effect, the Sierra Maestra was liberated for ever.
“The victory over the major enemy offensive of the summer of 1958 marked an irreversible turning point in the war. The Rebel Army, triumphant and extraordinarily reinforced by the vast quantity of weapons taken, was in a condition to initiate its final strategic offensive.
“Those events opened a new and final stage in the war of liberation, characterized by the invasion into the central area of the country, the creation of the 4th Eastern Front and the Camagüey Front. The battle extended throughout the country. With the devastating Oriente and Las Villas campaigns, the Rebel Army’s final major offensive led to the definitive defeat of the dictatorship army and, as a consequence, to the military collapse of the Batista regime and the taking of power by the triumphant Revolution.
“In the victorious counteroffensive of December of that year, the triumph was decided by approximately 3,000 men equipped with weapons seized from the enemy.
“The columns of Che and Camilo [Cienfuegos], advancing across the Cauto and Camagüey plains, reached the center of the country. The former Column 1 once again trained more than 1,000 recruits in the Minas del Frío school, and with chiefs who came from its own ranks, took the towns and cities on the central highway between Bayamo and Palma Soriano. New T-37 light tanks were destroyed, heavy tanks and fighter planes were unable to prevent the taking of cities hundreds of times larger than the little town of Las Mercedes.
“In its advance, Column 1 was joined by the forces of the Frank País Second Eastern Front. In that way we occupied the city of Palma Soriano on December 27, 1958.
“Precisely on January 1, 1959 – the date noted in a letter to Juan Almeida before the start of the dictatorship’s final offensive against the Sierra Maestra – the revolutionary general strike decreed via Radio Rebelde from Palama Soriano paralyzed the country. Che and Camilo received orders to advance along the central highway to the capital, and there were no forces to offer resistance.
“In a meeting with myself, Raúl and Almeida, Cantillo acknowledged that the dictatorship had lost the war, but shortly afterward coup maneuvers, counterrevolutionary, pro-imperialist and in violation of the conditions agreed for an armistice, were instigated in the capital. Despite that, within three days we had at our disposition the 100,000 weapons and the vessels and aircraft that, not long before, had supported and made possible the escape of the last battalion that penetrated into the Sierra Maestra.”
An untiring team of personnel from the Council of State’s Historical Affairs Office; designers from the Creativo de Casa 4 group, under the direction of the assistant professorship; with the cooperation of the cartographer Otto Hernández , Brigade General Amels Escalante, artist Jorge Oliver, young designer Geordanis González, under the direction of Katiuska Blanco, the brilliant and untiring journalist, are the principal actors in this feat.
I thought that it would be months before this book was published. Now I know that it will be on the streets by early August.
And, for myself, having worked for months on the subject after my serious illness, I am now inspired to continue writing the second part of this history, which should be called, if the team does not suggest another name, “The Final Strategic Counteroffensive.”
Translated by Granma International