Copyright: © 2005 Aleida March, Che Guevara Studies Center and Ocean Press. Reprinted with their permission. Not to be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Ocean Press. For further information contact Ocean Press at and via its website at

After the surprise air attack described previously, we abandoned Caracas peak and attempted to return to familiar regions where we could establish direct contact with Manzanillo, receive more help from the outside, and better follow the situation in the rest of the country.

We turned back, crossing the Ají, and returned through territories familiar to all of us, until we reached the house of old Mendoza. With machetes, we had to open up paths along the ridges of the hills that had not been walked for many years, and our progress was very slow. We spent the nights in those hills, practically without food. I still remember, as though it were one of the great banquets of my life, when the guajiro Crespo turned up with a can of four pork sausages — a result of earlier savings — saying that they were for his friends. The guajiro , Fidel, myself, and someone else enjoyed the meager ration as if it were a lavish feast. The march continued until we reached the house, to the right of Caracas peak, where old Mendoza prepared us something to eat. Despite his fear, his peasant loyalty meant he welcomed us each time we passed through; such were the exigencies of friendship with Crescencio Pérez and other peasants who were his friends in the troop.

For me the march was excruciating — I was suffering a bout of malaria. Crespo and the unforgettable compañero Julio Zenón Acosta helped me complete the anguished march. We never slept in the huts in that area; but my state and that of the famous gallego Morán, who took every opportunity to fall sick, meant that we had to sleep beneath a roof, while the rest of the troop kept watch in the vicinity, coming to the house only to eat.

We were forced to reduce the troop's size, as a group of men were suffering very low morale, and one or two were seriously wounded; among the latter were Ramiro Valdés (today minister of the interior), and one of Crescencio's sons, Ignacio Pérez, who later died heroically with the rank of captain. Ramirito [Ramiro Valdés] had been badly wounded in the knee, the same knee that had already been hit during the [1953] Moncada attack, so we had no choice but to leave him behind. A few other men also left, to the advantage of the troop. I remember one of them had an attack of nerves and began to shriek, there in the solitude of mountains and guerrillas, that he had been promised a camp with abundant food and antiaircraft defenses, but that now the planes were hounding him and he had neither a roof over his head, nor food, nor even water to drink. More or less, this was the impression new guerrillas had of campaign life. Those who stayed and survived the first tests grew accustomed to the dirt, the lack of water, food, shelter, and security, and to a life where the only things one could rely on were a rifle and the cohesion and resistance of the small guerrilla cell.

Ciro Frías arrived with some new recruits, bringing news that today makes us smile, but which at the time filled us with confusion. Díaz Tamayo was on the verge of switching allegiance and “making a deal” with the revolutionary forces; and Faustino had collected thousands and thousands of pesos. In short, subversion was spreading throughout the entire country and chaos was descending on the government. We also heard some sad news, but with important lessons in it. Sergio Acuña, the deserter of some days before, had gone home to some relatives. He began to brag to his cousins about his feats as a guerrilla. A certain Pedro Herrera overheard and denounced him to the Rural Guard. The infamous Corporal Roselló arrived, tortured him, shot him four times, and apparently hanged him. (The assassin's identity has never actually been verified.) This taught the men the value of cohesion and the futility of attempting to flee a collective destiny alone. But it also made it necessary for us to change camps, for presumably the young man had talked before being murdered, and he knew we were at Florentino's house.

There was a curious incident at that time and only later when we were fitting the evidence together did things become clear: Eutemio Guerra told us he had dreamed Sergio Acuña's death, and that in his dream, Corporal Roselló had killed him. This sparked a long philosophical discussion about whether dreams could really predict things to come. It was part of my daily work to explain cultural or political-type things to the men, so I tried to explain that it was not possible. Perhaps the dream could be explained by a huge coincidence, and anyway, we had all believed Sergio Acuña might meet his fate that way; we all knew Roselló was the man pillaging the region at that time. Universo Sánchez provided the key, suggesting that Eutimio was a “storyteller,” and that the previous day when he had left the camp to get 50 cans of milk and a military lamp, someone had obviously told him about it.

One of those who insisted most strongly on the premonition was a 45-year-old illiterate peasant I have already mentioned: Julio Zenón Acosta. He was my first student in the Sierra Maestra; he was working hard to learn to read and write, and every time we stopped I would teach him a few letters of the alphabet; at that point we were learning the vowels. With great determination, not dwelling on past years but looking at those to come, Julio Zenón had set himself the task of becoming literate. Perhaps his example may be useful today to many peasants, to compañeros of his during the war, or to those who know his story. For Julio Zenón Acosta was another of our great compañeros at that time; he was a tireless worker, familiar with the region, always ready to help a combatant in trouble, or a combatant from the city who did not yet have the necessary reserves to get out of tight spots. He was the one to cart water from distant springs, the one to take a quick shot, the one to find dry kindling on days of rain and quickly build a fire. He was, in fact, our jack-of-all-trades.

One of the last nights before his treachery became known, Eutimio complained that he did not have a blanket, and asked Fidel if he would lend him one. It was cold in the heights of those mountains that February. Fidel answered that if he did so, they would both be cold, and suggested that they sleep under the same blanket and Fidel's two coats to keep warm. So Eutimio Guerra spent the whole night next to Fidel, with a .45 pistol from Casillas with which to kill him. He also had a pair of grenades to cover his retreat from the peak. He spoke to Universo Sánchez and me, both always near Fidel, about Fidel's guards, “I'm very concerned about those guards; it's so important to be careful.” We explained that there were three men posted nearby. We ourselves, veterans of the Granma and Fidel's trusted men, relieved each other through the night to protect Fidel personally. Thus, Eutimio spent the night beside the revolution's leader, holding his life at the point of a gun, awaiting the chance to assassinate him. But he could not bring himself to do it. That whole night, the fate of the Cuban Revolution depended, in large measure, on the twists and turns of a man's mind, on a balance of courage and fear, and, perhaps, on conscience, on a traitor's lust for power and wealth. Luckily for us, Eutimio's inhibitions were stronger, and the day broke without incident.

We had left Florentino's house and were camped in a ravine in a dry creek bed. Ciro Frías had gone home, relatively close by, and had brought back some hens and food, so that the long night of rain, virtually without shelter, was offset in the morning by hot soup and food. The news came that Eutimio had passed through as well. Eutimio came and went, for he was trusted by everyone. He had found us at Florentino's house and explained that after he had left to see his sick mother he had seen what had happened at Caracas, and had come after us to see what else had happened. He explained that his mother was now well. He was taking extraordinary, audacious risks. We were in a place called Altos de Espinosa, very close to a chain of hills — El Lomón, Loma del Burro, Caracas — which the planes strafed constantly. With the face of a soothsayer, Eutimio said, “Today, I tell you, they will strafe the Loma del Burro.” The planes did in fact strafe the Loma del Burro, and Eutimio jumped for joy, celebrating his keen prediction.

On February 9, 1957, Ciro Frías and Luis Crespo left as usual to scout for food, and all was quiet. At 10 a.m., a peasant boy named [Emilio] Labrada, a new recruit, captured someone nearby. He turned out to be a relative of Crescencio and an employee in [León] Celestino's store where Casillas's soldiers were stationed. He informed us that there were 140 soldiers in the house; from our position we could in fact see them in the distance on a barren hill. Furthermore, the prisoner said he had talked with Eutimio who had told him that the following day the area would be bombed. Casillas's troops had moved, but he could not say exactly which direction they were going in. Fidel became suspicious; finally, Eutimio's strange behavior had come to our attention and speculation began.

At 1:30 p.m., Fidel decided to leave the area and we climbed to the peak, where we waited for our scouts. Ciro Frías and Luis Crespo soon arrived; they had seen nothing strange, everything was normal. We were talking about this when Ciro Redondo thought he saw a shadow moving, called for silence, and cocked his rifle. We heard one shot and then another. Suddenly the air was full of the shots and explosions of an attack, concentrated on our previous camp. The new camp emptied rapidly; afterward I learned that Julio Zenón Acosta would live for eternity at that hilltop. The uneducated peasant, the illiterate peasant, who had understood the enormous tasks the revolution would face after victory, and who was learning the alphabet to prepare himself, would never finish that task. The rest of us ran. My backpack, my pride and joy, full of medicine, reserve rations, books, and blankets, was left behind. I managed, however, to pick up a blanket from Batista's army, a trophy from La Plata, and ran.

Soon I met up with a group of our men: Almeida, Julito [Julio] Díaz, Universo Sánchez, Camilo Cienfuegos, Guillermo García, Ciro Frías, Motolá, Pesant, Emilio Labrada, and Yayo [Reyes]. (There was one other in this group, though now I don't remember who it was.) We followed a circuitous path, trying to escape the shots, unaware of the fate of our other compañeros . We heard isolated explosions following on our heels; we were easy to follow since the speed of our flight meant we could not erase our traces. At 5:15 p.m., by my watch, we reached a rocky spot where the woods ended. After vacillating for a while we decided it was better to wait there until nightfall; if we crossed the clearing in daylight we would be spotted. If the enemy had followed our tracks, we were well placed to defend ourselves. The enemy, however, did not appear and we were able to continue on our way, guided unsurely by Ciro Frías who vaguely knew the region. It had been suggested that we divide into two patrols in order to ease the march and leave fewer signs. But Almeida and I were opposed to this, wanting to maintain the unity of the group. We realized we were at a place we knew called Limones, and after some hesitation, for some of the men wanted to continue, Almeida — who as a captain led the group — ordered us to continue to El Lomón, which Fidel had designated as our meeting point. Some of the men argued that Eutimio knew about El Lomón and that the army would therefore be waiting for us. We no longer had the slightest doubt that Eutimio was a traitor, but Almeida decided to comply with Fidel's order.

After three days of separation, on February 12, we met Fidel near El Lomón, at Derecha de la Caridad. There it was confirmed for us that Eutimio Guerra was the traitor, and we heard the whole story. It began after the battle of La Plata, when he was captured by Casillas and, instead of being killed, was offered a certain sum of money for Fidel's life. We learned that he had been the one to reveal our position in Caracas and that he had also given the order to attack the Loma del Burro by air, since that had been our itinerary (we had changed plans at the last minute). He had also organized the attack on the small hollow in the river canyon we were sheltered in, from which we saved ourselves with only one casualty because of the opportune retreat Fidel had ordered. Further, we had confirmation of the death of Julio Acosta and at least one enemy soldier. There were also a few wounded. I must confess that my gun caused neither deaths nor wounds, for I did nothing more than beat a highspeed “strategic retreat.” We were once again reunited, our 12 (minus Labrada who had gone missing) and the rest of the group: Raúl, Ameijeiras, Ciro Redondo, Manuel Fajardo, [Juan Francisco] Echeverría, the gallego Morán, and Fidel — a total of 18 people. This was the “Reunified Revolutionary Army” of February 12, 1957. Some compañeros had been scattered, some raw recruits had abandoned us, and there was the desertion of a Granma veteran named Armando Rodríguez, who carried a Thompson submachine gun. In the last days, whenever he heard shots closing in from the distance, his face filled with so much horror and anguish that later we termed his the “hunted face.” Each time a man revealed the face of a terrified animal, possessed by the terror our ex-compañero had shown in the days before Altos de Espinosa, we immediately foresaw an unfortunate outcome, for that “hunted face” was incompatible with guerrilla life. Someone with such a face “shifted into third,” as we said in our new guerrilla slang; Rodríguez's machine gun later showed up in a peasant hut some distance away: his legs must have been blessed.

Copyright: © 2005 Aleida March, Che Guevara Studies Center and Ocean Press. Reprinted with their permission. Not to be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Ocean Press. For further information contact Ocean Press at and via its website at