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

On March 13, [1957], while we waited for the new revolutionary troop, we heard over the radio that there had been an attempt to assassinate Batista; they listed the names of some of the patriots killed in the assault. First, there was the student leader José Antonio Echeverría; then there were others, like Menelao Mora. People not involved in the attempt also died. The following day we learned that Pelayo Cuervo Navarro, a militant from the Orthodox Party who had always stood firmly against Batista, had been assassinated and his body abandoned in the aristocratic residential area of the country club known as El Laguito. It is worth noting, as an interesting paradox, that the murderers of Pelayo Cuervo Navarro, and the sons of the dead man, joined together in the failed [1961] Bay of Pigs invasion to “liberate” Cuba from “communist disgrace.”

Despite the veil of censorship, some details of this unsuccessful attempt on Batista's life — which the Cuban people remember well — got through. Personally, I had not known the student leader, but I had known his friends in Mexico, when the July 26 Movement and the Revolutionary Directorate had agreed to joint action. These compañeros were Commander Faure Chomón, who today is ambassador to the Soviet Union, Fructuoso Rodríguez, and Joe Westbrook, all of whom participated in the attack. As is well known, the men had almost made it to the dictator on third floor, but what could have been a successful takeover instead became a massacre of all those who could not escape the trap the presidential palace had become.

Our reinforcements were scheduled to arrive on March 15. We waited long hours in the agreed place, a river bend in the canyon. It was an easy wait in hiding, but no one arrived. Afterward they explained that there had been some difficulties. They arrived at dawn on March 16, so tired they could barely walk the few steps to the trees where they could rest until daybreak. They came in trucks owned by a rice farmer from the area who, frightened by the implications of his act, went into exile in Costa Rica. He later returned by plane flying arms into Cuba, transformed into a hero; his name was Hubert Matos.

The reinforcement was about 50 men, of whom only 30 were armed. They brought two machine guns, one Madzen, and one Johnson. After a few months of living in the Sierra Maestra, we had become veterans, and we saw in the new troop all the defects those who came on the Granma had displayed: lack of discipline, inability to adjust to the bigger hardships, lack of decision, incapacity to adapt to this life. The group of 50 was led by Jorge Sotús, with the rank of captain, and was divided into five squadrons of 10 men, whose leaders were lieutenants; they had been assigned these ranks by the movement in the plains, and these still awaited ratification. The squadron leaders were a compañero named Domínguez, who I believe was killed in Pino del Agua a little while later; compañero René Ramos Latour, an urban militia organizer, who died heroically in battle during the last days of the dictatorship's final offensive; Pedrín Soto, our old compañero from the Granma , who finally managed to join us and who also died in battle on the “Frank País” Second Eastern Front, and who was posthumously promoted to commander by Raúl Castro; also, compañero Pena, a student from Santiago who reached the rank of commander and took his own life after the revolution; and Lieutenant Hermo, the only squadron leader to survive the almost two years of war.

Of all the new troop's problems, difficulty marching was one of their greatest. Their leader, Jorge Sotús, was one of the worst, and he constantly lagged behind, setting a bad example for the troop. I had been ordered to take charge of the troop, but when I spoke about this with Sotús, he argued that he had orders to turn the men over to Fidel, and that as long as he was leader, he could not turn them over to anyone else, etc., etc. I still had a complex then about being a foreigner, and did not want to take extreme measures, although I noticed a great uneasiness in the troop. After several short marches, which nevertheless became very long due to the men's poor preparation, we reached a place at La Derecha where we were to wait for Fidel. There we met the small group of men who had been separated from Fidel earlier: Manuel Fajardo, Guillermo García, Juventino, Pesant, the three Sotomayor brothers, and Ciro Frías.

The enormous difference between the two groups was clear: ours was disciplined, compact, war-practiced; that of the raw recruits was still suffering the sickness of the first days. They were not used to eating one meal a day, and if the ration did not taste good they would not eat it. Their packs were full of useless things, and if they weighed too heavily on their backs they preferred, for example, to give up a can of condensed milk than a towel (a crime of lčse-guerrilla). We took advantage of this by collecting all the cans of food they left along they way. After we were installed in La Derecha the situation became highly tense because of constant friction between Jorge Sotús — an authoritarian spirit who had no rapport with the men — and the troop in general. We had to take special precautions and René Ramos, whose nom de guerre was Daniel, was put in charge of the machine-gun squadron at the entrance of our refuge so we had a guarantee nothing would happen. Some time later, Jorge Sotús was sent on a special mission to Miami. There he betrayed the revolution by meeting with Felipe Pazos, whose immeasurable ambition for power made him forget his obligations, and who set himself up as provisional president in a cooked-up intrigue in which the US State Department played an important role.

With time, Captain Sotús showed signs of wanting to redeem himself and Raúl Castro gave him the opportunity, which the revolution has denied no one. He began, however, to conspire against the revolutionary government and was condemned to 20 years in prison, escaping thanks to the complicity of one of his guards who fled with him to the ideal haven of gusanos [right-wing Cuban exiles]: the United States.

At the time, however, we tried to help him as much as possible, to iron out his disagreements with the new compañeros , and to explain to him the need for discipline. Guillermo García went to the region of Caracas in search of Fidel, while I made a little trip to pick up Ramiro Valdés, more or less recovered from his leg wound. On the night of March 24, Fidel arrived with 12 com pañeros who at that time stuck firmly by his side, and the sight was impressive. There was a notable difference between the barbudos [bearded men], with packs made of any available material and tied together whichever way possible, and the new combatants with clean uniforms, clean-shaven faces, and clean back packs. I explained the problems we had encountered to Fidel and a small council was established to decide on future plans. The council was made up of Fidel, Raúl, Almeida, Jorge Sotús, Ciro Frías, Guillermo García, Camilo Cienfuegos, Manuel Fajardo, and myself. Fidel criticized my behavior in not exercising the authority conferred on me, but leaving it in the hands of the recently arrived Sotús, against whom there was no animosity but whose attitude, in Fidel's opinion, should not have been tolerated. The new platoons were also organized, integrating the entire troop and forming three groups under the direction of captains Raúl Castro, Juan Almeida, and Jorge Sotús; Camilo Cienfuegos would lead the forward guard and Efigenio Ameijeiras the rear guard; I was general staff physician and Universo Sánchez functioned as general staff squadron leader.

Our troop reached a new excellence with these additional men. We had also received two more machine guns, although they were of doubtful efficiency since they were old and poorly maintained. Nevertheless, we were now a considerable force. We discussed what action we should take immediately; my feeling was that we should attack the first possible enemy post in order to temper the new men in battle. But Fidel and all the other council members thought it better to march for some time so they could get used to the rigors of life in the jungle and the mountains, and the long marches through rugged hills. So we decided to move eastward and walk as much as possible, looking for a chance to surprise a group of soldiers after having some elementary training in guerrilla warfare. The troop prepared itself enthusiastically and left to fulfill its tasks. Its baptism of blood was to be the battle of El Uvero.

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