The story of a long hard road

Havana.  September 17, 2010

The story of a long hard road

Leticia Martínez Hernández

• MAKING a gala of his habitual punctuality, Fidel arrived at the University of Havana’s Aula Magna at exactly 10:30 a.m on September 10. Once again in his khaki uniform, once again with those eyeglasses that are now customary.

He came to launch his book De la Sierra Maestra a Santiago de Cuba: La contraofensiva estratégica (From the Sierra Maestra to Santiago de Cuba: the Strategic Counteroffensive.)

Once again he chose the University of Havana to make history, to tell it, or rather recall it, with those excellent combatants who supported him in every undertaking, every danger, every sorrow, every playful moment…

So, while La victoria estratégica (The Strategic Victory) is touring the country, filling bookstores, delighting those who scrutinize it, the Comandante en Jefe, working without noticing the time, has put out a new book that unravels the events preceding the triumph of the Revolution, with his special way of describing his personal recollections to his readers, who will find in its pages a Fidel larger than life, but at the same time of flesh and bone, who reveals letters, sentiments, opinions, tactics and strategies. The leader of always, the exceptional protagonist of an epic history, told in diary form about the strategic counteroffensive of the Rebel Army, from the Sierra Maestra to its victorious entry into Santiago de Cuba.

It is that “there is much history to tell”, he acknowledged later. Even the omission in this new book of a small village obliges him to “revise more, to converse more.” And he sorrowfully relates how he was unable to talk with Calixto García, the brigade general who died with so much history in his memory. On the Battle of Guisa he wanted to comment, “I tried to talk with him, but he was gravely ill.”

It was Katiuska Blanco, the noble young woman who edited La victoria estratégica, and who also wrote the story of the Castro Ruz family in Todo el tiempo de los cedros (All the Time of the Cedars), who opened the meeting of Fidel with his comrades in arms. Katiuska went on to say that through this book we can know more closely the honest man and tenacious revolutionary, the demanding leader who knew every detail, from the last rifle, the last bullet, to the comrade who had been disciplined, whose punishment was lifted and whose prize was to fulfill a mission.

In these pages, the researcher commented, people can read about the impeccable conduct of the guerrilla fighters.

“One can follow the Decalogue of conduct, of respect for human dignity.” And she recalled the phrase in which Fidel states that victory in war depends to the minimum on weapons and the maximum of morals. “It is a book that reveals to us a man who, even in the midst of war, recognizes that he has much need of his mother’s embrace.”

And if this book is beautiful for the story that it tells, it is also beautiful in terms of its design, binding, its images, its maps… Alberto Alvariño Atiénzar, deputy director of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, explained that this new publication gives continuity to the one before, not only in content but in design. Again the most modern technology was used to print 90,000 copies. The book is machine stitched and has 608 pages,163 of them illustrated. Alvariño spoke of the efforts of the Historic Affairs Office of the Council of State, the Creative Group of the Central Committee of the Party, the Federico Engels and Alejo Carpentier print works, Osvaldo Sánchez and Durero Caribe graphic design enterprises, to complete both books which various publishing houses are interested in publishing in English, French, German, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Czech.

Then Fidel asked Alvariño to read out the introduction to La contraofensiva estratégica. Meanwhile, he listened. And as if reviewing so many years at the speed of light, he assented with his head. Then came excerpts read by Fidel, and searching questions from the Comandante to his comrades of the Sierra. It is incredible how he remembered everything! He asked Guillermo, who was with Braulio Coroneaux, what was done with those Caliber 50 weapons, how many he had… immediately he noted that there were two, and that one had a broken part. He asked for Pastorita Núñez, and there she was in the first row, likewise in army uniform, “Ah, there you are, because I have news for you.” Then he read out an excerpt relating how he authorized Pastorita to visit sugar mill owners and inform them that they had to make contributions with the product of the 1958 sugar harvest. “We were beginning to have resources, and we even sent money to our compañeros on the Isle of Youth,” Fidel recalled.

“Do you remember that, Armando?” he affectionately asked Hart, who was also present.

Fidel read out messages, calls to the people, military orders… Every one sets about reconstructing a history created on the basis of much bravery against an army that was very superior in numbers. And Fidel laughed at the letters to Camilo, to Che… with the “bad word” said then over occurrences that they knew taught them a lesson, like the one in which he said to Camilo: “Tighten the screws for me, and don’t forget that fame, hierarchy and success can be ruined… If you reach Pinar del Río you will have one hair of the glory of Maceo.”

When the meeting in the Aula Magna had been going on for close to two hours, Fidel concluded the launch of the book, “because many battles are being waged.” Then he took advantage of that moment to talk of certain current events and to wage another skirmish against media manipulation.

At the end of his message of warning, the Comandante did not leave until he had shaken hands with or kissed his comrades of so many years. Thus he went to where they were all seated. He talked with them, perhaps looking for that story which so much needs to be told. He even went up to the Cuban television “Roundtable” journalists and talked to them about this very confused civilization and, in passing, urged them to continue analyzing “all that material that you have.”

A group of university students were waiting for him almost at the Aula Magna exit and it was their turn for Fidel’s greeting. The Comandante did not disappoint them. He was extremely happy to see them. He asked them about the conditions of the legendary Aula Magna, talked to them of the atrocities taking place in the world, the massacre of Palestinians, children dying, the holocaust. He admired their enthusiasm and their youth.

And so he left, with that elation produced by these meetings with friends, brothers and sisters, with the good Cubans of always, with those of today. Certainly the road has been a long and hard one, but the effort has been worthwhile. •


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