“Last Hours of Camilo Cienfuegos” – Jaime Costa Chávez

“Last hours of Camilo Cienfuegos”.

The content of this article is a translation of Chapter X of the book “The bugle plays at dawn”, (El clarín toca al amanecer), story told by Commander Jaime Costa Chavez about the last hours of Commander Camilo Cienfuegos. This book is banned in Cuba since it contains a direct accusation against Fidel Castro, who appears as the main responsible in Camilo’s death, something that government elite has always tried to hide from the people.

From the 37 chapters of the book, Chapter X is the only one that gives details on this sad page of our history, and as far as I know, the book was never translated to the English, but due to the importance of this fact, I decided to at least translate this chapter so the people may have an idea of the real story that hides behind the myth the Castro regime created to present it according to their purpose,  simply as an accident, when it was not more than a murder.

There is no reason why not to believe the author’s testimony, because the information he provided was enough to identify the exact spot where the killing took place, an airstrip in the middle of Ciénaga de Zapata, and although is was completely demolished, I think it would be impossible for Raúl Castro to deny its existence, because those involved in the crime left clues behind that made possible its discovery. It is evident that the remains of Camilo’s airplane were buried nearby, under the trees that were planted in the area with the intend to conceal the fact that an airstrip could have ever existed here.

“DEATH OF COMMANDER CAMILO CIENFUEGOS”  

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 A telephone call from the Army General Staff required that I be stationed there, with the character of urgency according to the message received, which I immediately did.

When I arrived, it seemed like a crazy house. No one could tell me who had called me, or specifically the reason, but an abnormal situation was in full development, and I remained there, first waiting to be informed about the call, and with more interest on my part to see how ended that problem.

The news were arriving in disorder, and the version of each one was given according to his position and the political projections to which the informant responded. The truth was only at the top of power, in the hands of Fidel, and perhaps he alone had full and complete information, which he would make public at the time, adapting it as was his custom, to his political conveniences.

Ramiro Valdes had gone to Camaguey to arrest Hubert Matos (1), chief of the regiment of that province, since Camilo Cienfuegos, the chief of the army, as a version said, had not acted in accordance with Fidel’s desires. Hubert Matos had submitted his resignation to the position and degree within the army, as others assured, and had left the camp ….

Camilo Cienfuegos, after having a conversation with Hubert Matos, had left for Havana, as other informants said, telling the situation was under control. Hubert Matos, rebelled with his regiment, refuses to surrender the command and is ready to fight, and Fidel is going to face him, said others …

At that moment a concrete information arrived from the Palace of Government to the staff, saying that Fidel Castro was flying to Camaguey to personally take care of the situation, which was extremely serious, and that a state of alert has been ordered in all military garrisons. This was a complementary information that allowed us to clear the picture of events still in progress.

Commander Hubert Matos had sent, as the rules established, a communication to the Chief of the Army requesting that he be granted a resignation of his rank and position as a member of the Rebel Army, and at the same time he had sent a personal explanatory letter to Fidel Castro, describing to him his decision, and urging him to process as quickly as possible the acceptance of his resignation, in order to withdraw into civilian life.

Camilo Cienfuegos informed Fidel Castro the contents of the dispatch in which Hubert Matos presented his resignation, and between the two agreed that the head of the army flew to Camaguey to solve the problem of command in the regiment, and to take control of the situation, acting according as the circumstances demanded.  

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Several military transports landed in the airport of Camaguey well advanced the dawn, arriving in them chosen troops under the orders of the Commander Camilo Cienfuegos, who was waited in the runway by an assistant of the Commander Hubert Matos, and only with this one, being accompanied by Commander Cristino Naranjo, Captain Agustín Méndez Sierra and some members of his personal escort, went to the regimental headquarters.

When Camilo arrived at the military camp, without abandoning his chronic humor, he asked the first subordinate officers who came to meet him, if it was true that they had rebelled in the Sierra de Cubitas, and without waiting for a laugh in response to his joke, he immediately asked for Hubert Matos, being then led to his private house, where Camilo was being expected. After the usual greetings, devoid of any ceremony, the two commanders sat down to talk while the fresh coffee was served, beginning a discussion between them, far from the cordial. Camilo objected to Hubert the times that, having jumped over his hierarchy as head of the army, he had gone straight to find solutions to the problems of the regiment with Raul or Fidel Castro. Matos pointed out that neither he nor Cienfuegos were respected by Fidel, and that ultimately in the regime there was only one hierarchy, which was that of Fidel.

The interference of the Communists in the affairs of the military zone under his command has not been avoided by you, Camilo, not because you did not want, but because those are abnormal things done against your will and mine, and you do not do them, but you cannot stop them, and I have to go to the source of the problem to try to stop it.

The discussion was extensive and varied, entering and leaving the central motif, which was the resignation according to the reasoning of each one in it. Finally, they were able to establish with clarity the most important things; Hubert Matos was not on a position to fight or uprising, and his resignation was irrevocable. Camilo Cienfuegos, in the course of the conversation, was changing his rigid position and ended up understanding that Hubert Matos had no choice but to leave the army, which seemed acceptable to avoid greater problems, but at the same time Camilo felt the army was going losing an exemplary leader, and he personally, a stronghold that would be dominated by those same forces that constantly pressed on his position of Chief of the Army to reduce and manage it, because in the future the regiment of Camaguey would be one more place in the hands of the Communists .

The two commanders arrived at the headquarters of the regiment and, in the presence of the higher staff, the change of command took place, being designated temporarily Captain Agustín Mendez Sierra for that position. No less than fifty officers were in the room, and they all wanted to expose their points of view. Some, who could to establish a dialogue directly with Camilo Cienfuegos, told him about the agitation that was being developed in the city by the G-2 agents, the communists and the INRA Provincial Headquarters.

The people of Camaguey, who admired and respected the military chief Hubert Matos, watched astonished the masquerade, for they knew there was no uprising at all. The veteran cadres of the “26 de Julio”, the labor unions and the students, offered moral solidarity to Commander Matos, who did not demand physical support, since he was not asking for physical support, because he had not rebelled.

Now the local radio announced the arrival of Fidel Castro to the city of Camaguey, and at the same time 

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maintained a campaign against the resigning commander, inciting the people to remove the traitors from the burrow. Camilo Cienfuegos, who was in command of the regiment, listened to those diabolical machinations and understood once again, how much reason was on the part of Hubert Matos to resignate.

Fidel, picking up the troops left by Camilo Cienfuegos at the airport, slowly initiated a march toward the city and went to the offices of INRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform) that seemed to be acting as a fidelista headquarters for that political maneuver. At the same time trucks loaded with salaried agricultural workers from farms exploited by the state were already arriving from other parts of the island, and the whole population was waiting expectantly, not knowing what the true purpose of Fidel Castro was.

Hubert Matos, seeing the bias that things were taking, decided to make a recording of the letter sent to Fidel Castro, along with his resignation, of which he had not received an answer, and also adding in the recorded response, the accusations that he was being subjected by the agents of Fidel Castro.

Once it was known that Fidel Castro was in the offices of the INRA, Camilo Cienfuegos went to meet him to explain personally the situation. Even at this time many junior officers expected an intelligent reaction from Fidel, to save the situation in which he was falling as time passed. Camilo returned to the camp a little later, telling the officers that Fidel was coming to the regiment and wanted to speak with them, advising them that as they were all somewhat exalted, they would voluntarily abandon their weapons. The officers left their pistols on a counter that was in the general staff and began to write their resignations, for they did not find the way that morally justified abandoning the beloved and respected boss, in circumstances as adverse as full of reason and moral in his favor.

Fidel entered the camp, changing slightly impressions with Camilo, who ordered the officers to enter the hall of the headquarters, which a group of Fidel’s companions had already entered, and there Fidel began an exhortation to the officers on behalf of the Revolutionary discipline, asking them not to support morally their resigning boss. This created an interchange of opinions among the officers who interrupted him, and Fidel, who, seeing their attitude, treated them harshly. The results were negative. Fidel had not succeeded in joining even one of these men, and on the contrary, their attitude began to be characterized by open hostility towards the maximum leader. In an outburst of Fidel, he shouted to them:

Well, go with the henchmen and with Trujillo if you want! – then two officers grabbed him by the lapel and told him to bring Hubert Matos to discuss the matter in a civilized manner in his presence.

Finally, Fidel left the premises, and advancing in great strides abandoned the place while talking with Camilo and Ramiro Valdés, to which he gave instructions.

All the officers were reduced to prison, something more than 40 people, that with Hubert Matos were isolated while beginning to organize their transfer by air to Havana. Without any delay, Ramiro Valdés left toward the airport with Hubert Matos, and the junior officers were also taken as prisoners. Later they would detain more officials, by the same way. The prisoners sang the National Anthem and vociferated against communism in response to the insults they received from the crowd that shouted to them when they left. That was the manifestation prepared by the Communists to crush the Cuban revolution and humiliate its men.

Hubert Matos and his officers were taken prisoners to the Ciudad Libertad Camp in Havana, where they would be prosecuted for trial.

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Inside and in the vicinity of the camp, were all the people who had come after Fidel: soldiers, curious people and the agricultural workers mobilized by their new employer, INRA. The maximum commander, Fidel, advanced with his plan, more arrests continued in the camp and in the city of Camaguey.

A tribune was now being arranged from the balcony on the second floor of the military headquarters building, and Fidel Castro occupied the microphones. Trying to give a certain formality to the act, he read the resignation letter sent to him by Hubert Matos, and his response to the letter that until now no one had known or received. In one of his paragraphs, he said: “Commander Camilo Cienfuegos will receive the command, since your decision to resign is irrevocable. After that you will do what you think can be more convenient or hurt more. If you decide the first, we always will have an opportunity to meet again on the path of service to the country, when you have had time to mature the last eighteen months of your life. “

The response letter read right there by Fidel Castro himself was in complete contradiction with the behavior that he had assumed during the process. If he had acted in accordance with the letter, he would not have more than a hundred military prisoners flying to Havana as he had now, but only a commander who, having renounced his military status, wanted to retire to civilian life, where he could do whatever he decided would be better for him, but Fidel’s reply letter was no more than a document drafted at the last minute by pure formality, contradicting his entire conduct, and also, with the rest of his dissertation in that same speech; the letter served only to demonstrate the contradiction, unveiling the evil maneuver of which Hubert Matos was the only victim, whom Fidel repeatedly called ungrateful and traitorous, while his followers displayed posters asking to kill Matos in front of a firing squad, and shouting insults raising the tone of what the speaker pronounced from the makeshift tribune.

In the military post of Sola, a small garrison from the interior of the province, Fidel’s speech was heard by radio, along with officers, classes and soldiers whose captain, Jose Manuel Hernandez, had returned hours before form the capital city, after speaking with Camilo Cienfuegos, trusting that everything would be handled harmoniously and that the morale of Major Matos and other officers would not be affected, neither his personal safety. Now he knew that all his companions had been imprisoned and that they were being taken to Havana. He also heard the sour and violent tone in which Fidel called them traitors and cowards; All them were astonished and crushed. Then Captain Hernandez left the room where they all met and returned minutes later, but, taking a few steps back, he grabbed his pistol and shot to his head, dying right there in the eyes of his men: they just had to say, everything was over for him,… “Thank you, Fidel.”

Camilo had arrived in Havana and was notified that the communists dominated the streets with demonstrations against Hubert Matos, whom they called a traitor and revolted. The CTC (Cuba Workers Central) was struggling in indecisions, between the fear to Fidel Castro and his moral obligation to the “26 de Julio” movement and the revolutionary line. The “26 de Julio” was already a shadow adulterated in its direction, under the command of a communist killer, the obese Aragonese; It was easy for the communists to manage their organized servants and put them under their slogans.

The army staff was full of officers who had come, some called and others looking for news. We fraternized there with the old people with old stories 

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..we had lived in common got together, and in a general sense, we all had the same attitude, the same concern, and the same fear facing a situation in violent development. The order of quartering of all the troops was ratified. Camilo returned from Camaguey appeared in the General Staff in a very bad mood; He looked out of his usual mood. Talking to us, in a small group in his office, he said: 

“This is the classic tangle of the Communists, but it may cost them a high price, it seems that now they want to destroy us. 

And addressing to me personally he said:

Jaime, stay here, I’m going to the Presidential Palace.

And he left the office. When he returned two hours later, I was still there. In his absence many had already gone while others awaited his return to come.

“Nothing can be done, he told me, since everything was prepared to convince Fidel that we are all conspiring, and that we do not want to cooperate with him.” There was the pigheaded of Dorticos who said: “You, what do you say about your people? What do you say now? We have catched you with your hands on the cookie jar, since the conspiracy was all over the Island.” Dorticós was very happy and next to him was the fat Aragones, who seems to be the one who organizes the show here; The two were very happy and smiling, I think now you will realize what I have said a thousand times, that what it has to be done is not to give up, but to stay, see the way they handle someone’s resignation. Who knows who will be the next one in their fateful list, since they will not rest until we have all disappeared? They will go little by little, because they are not in a hurry, but not one of us will remain untouched. You will be one of many, since they have identified you as an enemy and they will crush you.

We stayed there the entire night, talking about these problems. Whenever we were given a break, between problem and problem, we felt more united than ever, because we knew that adversity had its eyes on us. 

The next day I went to school as I used to do, but I was far from desiring to study in the midst of the storm that had us tied to the revolutionaries.

Fidel gathered the high civilian and military personalities in order to get a solid opinion in the government that would allow him to go ahead with his plan against Hubert Matos, while contacting the media to a rally at the Presidential Palacio. There were high officials who did not accept to be manipulated and decided to resign. The communists dominated the streets, and the “26 de Julio” (revolutionary movement), in the hands of their chiefs, finger-picked and not knowing the history of the movement, appeared to support the agitation, with the communist organizations and the CTC, which was threatened because the communists would sweep their positions to replace them if they did not do it. The provincial leader of the “26 of Julio” in Camaguey, J. Agramonte, presented its resignation and was also arrested, being replace by another guy who would control according to their purposes.

One plane flying over Havana was dropping anti-government propaganda pamphlets across parts of the capital city. Anti-aerial weapons received orders to knock down the plane, and launched a huge shoot-out, trying unsuccessfully to hunt the plane, resulting that one pedestrian in the street was accidentally reached and killed by a projectile. This incident was the best that could happen to Fidel’s plan, who immediately raised the accusation that the city had been bombarded and that the dead was caused by the bombs thrown from the air. Who knows how many thousands of Cubans believed that huge lie. 

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The pamphlets were signed by the former commander of the rebel army Pedro Luis Dian Lanz, who as a pilot in the service of the revolution had contributed significantly to the supply of weapons to the war fronts, and later was designated chief of the aviation, until he resigned in conflict with Fidel because of communist interference in the government.

Fidel appeared in television and dominated the public opinion with the thesis of the bombing of the city, without being able to show any real proof of it, using the incident to somewhat distract the public attention from the situation with Hubert Matos, situation that he was handling personally, using the conjuncture to link it with the “bombing of pamphlets”, presenting it as a criminal attack from the enemies in USA against the defenseless civilian population.

While the investigations were advancing, at the request of Fidel, Camilo remained responsible for the military camp of Camaguey, without considering that a man of his confidence occupied the position temporarily. Now Fidel dedicated all his effort in the organization of a great popular concentration to show to the people that Hubert Matos was a traitor to the cause of the revolution. Fidel wanted to show the way he crushed traitors, to start paving the path with terror as a way to consolidate his unipersonal power, or for the opposition that they occupied, they could influence strengthening the public opinion in favor of his projection.

Fidel told Camilo that he had to speak to the crowd, but Camilo suggested leaving him outside, that he did not want to speak. Fidel insisted, but Camilo told him clearly that he could not accuse Hubert Matos and therefore, he had nothing to do in the tribune. Fidel answered that it was a necessity of the government to do so, but Camilo said that the solution that seemed more correct to him was not to go ahead with Hubert Matos’s case and send him to another country as an ambassador, since Matos had a good cultural level and would know to handle the position very well. Fidel let him see that it seemed good to him, and that it would be the end with Hubert Matos case, and Camilo, believing that Castro would do something in Matos favor, agreed to go up to the platform, not to make a speech, but to say a few verses.

Not less than 300,000 people gathered around the Presidential Palace, raising posters with violent slogans. “Death for Hubert Matos”, “Execution for traitors “, “Fidel pass the prisoners by the arms “.

The speakers were David Salvador from the CTC (Central of Cuban Workers); Osvaldo Dorticós, President of the Republic, Rolando Cubelas, president of the University Students, Camilo Cienfuegos, who recited some patriotic verses; Che Guevara, Raul Castro, and the last one, Fidel Castro, who turned that public concentration into a legislative assembly, showing the real face of his program of terror, and the groups of supporters previously prepared answering his questions while raising their voices thirsty for punishment, “Death, death”. Finally, Fidel asked: “Would those who believe that traitors like Hubert Matos should be executed, raise their hands?  And the voice of the prepared groups became the voice of the multitude, and the cry of “Death” dominated above that sea of ​​heads. Fidel was euphoric and confident; Dorticos shared the triumph with his mouth full of laughter as he spoke; Raul, nervous about Camilo’s attitude, concentrated on a conversation with Ché Guevara; Camilo left the group and Fidel followed him. The meeting was not easy at all, because Camilo complained him that that was not what was agreed upon, but one more time Fidel convinced him that it was only an external make up to the issue, that in the end, the problem could be fixed, but it was necessary to take Matos to trial when all the investigation be concluded, and furthermore, telling Camilo that in consideration of the rank of Hubert Matos in the army, he could preside over the court that judged him.

Camilo protested, pointing out that this was far away from what they had agreed on the subject,

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while Fidel insisted that it was necessary to celebrate the trial, not to be seen as an act of irresponsibility before the world that had put the eyes on the process, and that the situation would serve to give a good lesson to those who thought to take the same decision, but that with Hubert, in the end the matter would be arranged as they had agreed in the previous conversation. Camilo refused to join the court and Fidel ended with threats against him, telling him that it was his obligation and that he had to be the president of the court. Finally, Fidel gave Camilo another hope, stating that if Matos were convicted, the President of the Republic would sign an Amnesty for Hubert and all the officers of his group, who would be released from prison and Hubert would have the opportunity to occupy the position he wanted. If he wanted to become an ambassador, ​​he could choose the country he liked the most.

Camilo did not accept at the moment of the conversation, but when he spoke to me afterwards and told me how things were going, he told me that he would do it, that he thought it would be better to preside in the trial in order to have the possibility to force Fidel to comply with what he had promised, that way he would appear as a guarantee in favor of the accused. On this occasion Camilo told me that he barely saw Fidel, because the situation between them was increasingly getting worse, and Fidel was always surrounded by communists wherever he went, and that even between Fidel and the President there was a weird situation.

“Fidel meets with the Communists, they agree to do things, and he orders them to be done as he decides, and he does not take the time to inform anyone,” said Camilo, -adding, “we are going very, very bad along this road and you will see when the trial begins, the kind of show they will orchestrate.

The population was deeply alarmed, and the figure of Hubert Matos was growing before the public opinion, appearing as a martyr of the personal tyranny of our leader. We the revolutionaries had no other concern than to see what to do in order to keep Hubert Matos alive, we no longer dedicated time to consider the injustice that was being committed with him, nor even counted the years of imprisonment that could cast him, we were concerned only with the worst, that Hubert could be sentenced to death.

Ramiro and Che, in conversation with Fidel, imposed on him the true state of public opinion and pointed out the necessity of doing something that distracted the popular attention from Hubert, since everyone was against what Fidel was doing, and of the worst they expected. Camilo, who participated in that conversation, left the place decided to take the plane to Camaguey, where he had to carry out a personal and direct inspection of the regiment, and what that situation allowed him to do, to get away from Havana, where he only found insurmountable problems and adversities………

Now the news offered by the radio and television stations, added a new ingredient of anguish to the tormented public opinion. An official report of the government, coming from the Press and Radio Section of the Army General Staff, said:

“It is made known to the public that yesterday, October 28, 1959, at six o’clock in the afternoon, departed from Camaguey airport and heading to Havana, the airplane Cessna 310, carrying on board the Chief of the Rebel Army, Commander Camilo Cienfuegos, accompanied by pilot Lieutenant Luciano Fariñas and the soldier Felix Rodriguez, who unfortunately have not arrived to their destination. It was also informed that the search for the disappeared had, so far, been unsuccessful, fearing that they had suffered an accident, indicating that the existence of squalls between Ciego de Avila and Matanzas, could be the cause. 

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The Air Force, as well as the civil aviation, conducted a thorough search in all areas between Havana and Camaguey, asking all citizens to cooperate in their efforts. The news seemed to produce consternation in all citizens, as if it were a family misfortune of each one of them, leaving aside momentarily the process of Hubert Matos and the alleged bombardment of the Capital City. Now all the attention of the media was focused on the disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos, which brought together the government and the people in the same anguished concern.

When I heard the news, I went to Ciudad Libertad, looking for Commander Juan Almeida whom I was able to speak with. He served as Chief of the Air Force. Almeida told me to join him, since he was going to go out on a big plane, and there was no one to accompany him on the trip, telling that later we would go to Varadero, where we would have to pick up Fidel to go to a certain place. The airplane left while we kept searching through different areas of Havana and Matanzas provinces for more than an hour. We were all watching, trying to identify the small plane Cessna of Camilo Cienfuegos, supposedly injured; We discovered nothing, and Almeida ordered the pilot to set direction to Varadero.

Once we arrived to Varadero we found Fidel Castro in the company of Osvaldo Dorticós and some auxiliary personnel. Almeida approached them, and I followed him to where they both were engaged in a lively conversation, which we did not interrupt. Dorticós dominated the conversation, speaking rather loudly and denoting a passionate attitude in his points of view:

“Try it and you will see,” – said Dorticos to Fidel, “you’ll see that he is more popular than you, and think of the danger he represents for you, for there is no doubt that he was in the conspiracy in Palacio to eliminate you politically.” He is the most popular figure, “he repeatedly said, displaying his crony smile, adding: “He is more popular than you (referring to Camilo), and if you want to prove it, announce on the radio news that during the search for Camilo, Raul disappeared, and you will see that nobody cares. They neither go out to look for him, with Raul you will not see the uproar that has produced the disappearance of Camilo”. 

And he kept telling Fidel:

“Try it and you will see the results”.

Both went a few steps away, as if Fidel needed to be somewhat distant to meditate, and walking around the room he approached Dorticos again, who resumed his attack with new arguments, saying:

“And if you want to try something else” – and here his excitement was made visible by the movement of his arms – and added: announce by radio that Camilo was found, and you will see the tremendous joy of the people.

Fidel stepped away again, and we were closer to Dorticos, but came back again, keeping silence for a while, as if he were evaluating a new argument. We all were in suspense; although we were together, we had not greeted each other, and both Fidel and Dorticos had ignored our presence and continued their dialogue, interrupted only by the pauses they made. We were there hearing everything. Fidel came and went in silence. Almeida and I kept were expectant, waiting for one of them to speak again, at least to notice we were there, to greet us or say something, or that we leave them alone. But nothing happened, we were still ignored. Fidel, putting an end to one of his strolls, came again toward Dorticos who was then very close to us, and said:

-Let’s do it.

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Dorticós, showing his most expressive smile, while arranging his hair with his hands, said to Fidel:

– You’ll see, you’ll see.

And taking Fidel by the arm, he moved with him toward a small distant group, giving specific instructions to Aragones, among others, who turned around, followed by some others, to accomplish the task. -The order had been transmitted and immediately the radio and television stations started giving publicly the false information that Camilo Cienfuegos had been found, adding as the only comment that he had been found well. But at the same time, they said that now it was Raul who appeared to be lost because his plane had not been reported and everybody feared for his luck. We then started hearing from the radios of the cars the people manifesting their joy because Camilo had been found. The radio informants said that Havana had been shaken by the good news, and that the people were expressing their happiness in the streets. The cars sounded the horns and for everyone the news was a real party.

Everyone was talking about Camilo’s appearance, and the information centers felt pressured by the people, who wanted to hear news in detail about the fact. Up to that point I still did not know the truth of that strange game.

We came back in the rustic country house, and we approached Fidel again, while he listened to Dorticos:

“Don’t you see it? I told it to you, -said Dorticós again, displaying his triumphant joy,” – there is no choice but to do with Camilo the same it was done with Frank Pais (2). Camilo will reach too much power and you will have to give him information of everything, and at the end to share the power with him. Now you cannot go back.  …for everybody Raul is lost, and nobody worries for him, the people do not care if he is found or not, and maybe they prefer that he is not found. -Now I will give orders saying that Raúl was found, but you will see that the news will make no effect, because no one cares about him.

 “Do you think it will be like that?” – asked Fidel, showing an expression of absolute naivety, and it looked to me that he had not meditated in the question, but that did it mechanically, without processing it because he had another idea in his mind.

 Walking away, Dorticós went to talk to the same group that he was before and stayed with them for not less than half an hour, coming back again to where Fidel was, who walked slowly, but reaffirming with force each step, as if he were expressing with his own feet the conclusions of his brain.

  “No one paid attention to the news,” –repeated again Dorticos, adding:

– “Do not forget Frank Pais”.

Fidel remained motionless for a moment, in silence, apparently accepting the idea that the others had been putting into his mind, and finally said:  -Well, let’s go.

Dorticos’ expression seemed triumphant, as if he had won the game and felt sure that Fidel was already decided to execute the plan that had been presented to him as the main actor, the hierarch, the decisive figure. We all went to the cars and I do not know how I sat at the wheel of one of them. Almeida was by my side, and in the rear seat there was another person that I do not remember, and also Fidel Castro, who as before, did not make the least reference toward my person. We left for the Ciénaga de Zapata, which was located on the opposite side of the Island, to the south side. I did not know the route to follow, but Almeida would guide me as part of a caravan of vehicles, trying to avoid any complication, to be able to arrive at the desired place. By the radio in the car we heard the news coming from the….. 

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……Presidential Palace denying the information given previously that said that Camilo Cienfuegos had been found but informing now that Raul Castro had already been located. We tuned the radio to other stations, and they all repeated the same, returning after to their routine information.  They ended turning off the receiver. We all kept silence until we arrived at a place where there were a few scattered houses that seemed not to be occupied by people of the place, they looked like warehouses for farm implements, machinery, fertilizers, but a little further there was a dwelling house whose large portal was extended towards a wide esplanade.

The house had probably been the residence of a family that had been expropriated by the new government, and it was now being used, as it seemed to me, as a place of rest and pretty discreet work. In front of the house the esplanade continued to form a small airstrip, where I saw the Cessna airplane used by Camilo Cienfuegos on a regular basis.

Fidel entered the house and sat on a sofa and stretched his body completely, as if he needed rest. He heard everything others said and gazed across the room, without stopping at anyone. His eyes looked like lost, as if he were looking nowhere, like figuring out secrets on the walls, he seemed to pay attention to what they said to each other, without giving any answer to anyone. It was as if he were studying the opinions others were giving, who by their hierarchy, felt entitled to give their opinions, or just say something.

Agustín Martinez entered the room, very conscious of the issue to which he would refer, and said to Fidel:

“What do you think, he (Camilo) is just like Frank País, who was as leader as you are, but those of the movement “26 de Julio” obeyed him more than you, and there was no other choice but to get rid of him”. -The Party was the first to realize it”, -he added with enthusiasm-, because he had many sympathies for the Americans and they valued him greatly, as he was becoming the leader of the Rebel Army. Anytime you gave an order to the people, and they immediately went to consult him to see if he approved or not the decision fulfilling it, and now the same story is repeated with Camilo, who has the sympathy of the Americans and the Rebel Army. Did you see the joy of the people when they heard that Camilo had been found?”

Fidel kept silence, showing neither approval nor rejection, he simply heard and continued in his abstraction.

Then Aragones entered and without any introduction, as if he knew what Augusto Martinez had exposed, said: 

“Did you think that the people would take the streets, the same they did when they knew that Camilo had been found?”  With Camilo it was different than when they knew that Raul had appeared, Isn’t it?    

Fidel either said a word. The same ideas were repeated again and again, and each time the speakers were of lower category, and poorer the elegance in the expressions, but the same crushed ideas, repeated, like elaborated by someone behind the scenes, but ideas that were getting into the brain little by little, thanks to three different people from whom he (Fidel) had heard the same expressions, or it was a theater by which it seemed that Fidel was being pushed to a decision that had already been taken, indeed born in himself, while the others were only some sort of helpers who served to give him a sense of collegial will, to what it already was a unstoppable decision in the mind of the maximum leader.

Fidel remained in silence. He had a muffled tobacco in his left hand and continued laid on the couch, with his back resting on his right arm.

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After stay in the same position for a long time, stood up and without asking anyone to accompany him, he wanted to be alone, then left and began to walk slowly in front of the house.

I went to the window, looking to the view offered by the small groups that were talking here and there, at a distance on the tiny landing strip, Camilo Cienfuegos’s small plane. At that moment it did not pass by my mind the idea to say to all: “Look, this is the plane we’re looking for, this is Camilo’s plane”.

I was speechless. No one approached me, no one spoke to me. Fidel came and went as if counting the steps. To the left, other rustic houses that looked unoccupied. I thought the only facility that was inhabited was the one where we were.

There were two automobile that had been out for a while that arrived, bringing some things to eat, which I supposed they had bought in a nearby town. They entered the house and went to one of the rooms, supposedly the dining room. Many moved in the same direction looking for something to eat. I stayed in the same place. I felt isolated and confused, and everybody, as if we were obeying to an order to keep silence, no more than broken phrases and minimal comments could be heard. Only those of higher rank talked in small isolated groups.

Much later arrived Raúl Castro in the company of Ramiro Valdés and someone else. No greetings, no one said anything. Raul asked about Fidel and, followed by Ramiro, he went looking for him because he had disappeared from the scene. The presence and sudden absence of Raul attracted everyone’s attention.  Only the murmurs could be heard, but everything remained the same, except that only those of superior rank and auxiliary personnel were within the reach of my sight, all the important folks were disappearing.

 After a while, the existing silence was abruptly broken, loud voices began to be heard, sometimes shouts, exclamations and imprecative expressions of people who snatched the words from one another, overlapping the arguments each time with a higher tone …..then I heard Raul’s tipped voice, as usual in him when he wants to impose himself and make people pay attention  to him. I stayed attentive, but I heard no longer Raúl’s voice. The loud voices came from one of the houses near the residence where we were in. A few minutes of silence passed, and again Fidel’s voice was heard, as if expressing a conclusion that said, “There is everything, there is no other way.” And again Fidel’s voice was heard, saying: “The people of Cuba is the one who condemn you, not us, and they condemn you because you want to be more than me, and that would destroy everything, and the revolution would sink.” 

Then we heard Camilo’s voice saying: 

  “What the fuck the revolution! If you know that this has been fucked up by the number of parasites communist that you have brought into the government, and that all the accusations against me are nothing more than intrigues of the Communists with whom I have been in conflict for a very long time, and they do not stand me, because they cannot manipulate me.

We heard blows as if they were slaps on a table, and then a thud, as if a body had been thrown against the boards of the wall. And a babbling of Dorticos, who said:

“You see, you see now? (Talking to Fidel) – while he continued with expressions that I could hear only in parts.  And again Camilo, who said:

“There you have Dorticós, intriguing number one, ready for handing the revolution over to the Communists, but when we fought, he was only a miserable Batista’s lackey,..

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aspiring to aristocrat, who now has become the door opener of the Communist Party.

Now Dorticós, irritated, said to Camilo:

-You oppose everything, you dislike everything, you go against everything. You do not want the new structure of the Ministry of the Interior, you do not want the Armed Forces to be reorganized, you oppose all of them, and do not cooperate in any of the new plans, and more than that, you’ve been openly trying to overshadow Fidel, and every time there is a public act, you expect to arrive exactly when Fidel is speaking, so that the speech be interrupted and Fidel has to keep quiet until the people finish applauding you, and then continue. That’s what you’ve done twenty times in the last times, and you know it, and everybody knows it, that the army is a hotbed of conspiracies, and that what happened with Hubert’s was not a joke, and you failed there, and if we allow you to continue what you were doing, it would have been a disaster.

 Camilo, without giving answer to what Dorticos had said, then said:

 -Do you believe, Fidel, that with guys like this one, who is nothing more than an opportunist and an exploited one, we can save the revolution? ….when he spends his life intriguing against the serious people in the new government, to move them away from the power, to be able to force the entry of the communists. This is a jerk dressed as a president, who, since they brought him, he worked day and night to destroy the revolution, and now he is your adviser. “Do not fuck, revolution with this big-headed guy as President.” 

This time Fidel’s voice sounded even more irritated, who, running over bad words and insults, ended up saying:

-I did not put you in the position of Head of the Army for you to pay me that way, what you are is an ungrateful, a scoundrel and a traitor, you are always looking for the way to cross you in my plans and criticizing everything I do.

The answer was firm in Camilo’s voice: 

“Damn, all that are no more than slander that these intriguers put into your head, they have made me a tremendous harm, and you, you imbecile, you allow them to manipulate you. Stay with the Communists, if you believe more in them than in me. Stay with them and you will see the way they betray you and how they will sink you. You know that they are cowards and that they cannot see any revolutionaries and that they are a negative and strange element that has gotten into the revolution, incapable of doing anything for themselves. They only know to act through the betrayal and never face the situations. Cowards, as they did to me, telling me to come to this place, making me believe that it was you who called me, and that’s why I came, and then the Che and the rest received me and made me enter here deceived, telling me that you were here waiting for me. Why they did not come themselves to catch me to bring me prisoner? Because they do not have the courage to do so, they only dare to do so through deception. You know well, Fidel, of what these brazen are capable to do in order to achieve their purposes.

There was no further dialogue. Fidel appeared, walking with his head lowered and in silence, after him, Dorticós, and later Raul and Ramiro. We heard the blow of a door violently closed and everything remained in silence. Fidel started again his walks in front of the house. Dorticos, Raul, Ramiro, and others, sat in the porch of the house where and as they could. Again, the silence dominated the atmosphere, a silence that was interrupted only by slight comments from person to person.

Suddenly, as if by magic, waiters dressed in white appeared carrying trays with abundant food and drink which they served without measure, with…

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…diligent efficiency, as people who, without a doubt, were working in gastronomy, and who were fulfilling perfectly their task, but suddenly they all disappeared.

I ate a little and let down myself on a couch that had been left unoccupied in the hustle and bustle of food, and thinking that the situation would remain unresolved for many hours, I let myself be overcome by sleep and I slept, without having a clear idea of the time that had elapsed, when abruptly I was awakened by the blast of a machine gun that sounded very close. With a jump I was already by the window, trying to determine where the sound of the shots had come from. Raul Castro, Abrantes, and Almeida were at the door and there, in the distance, close to the plane, Fidel, Dorticos, and others, in the middle of the darkness. 

Now the body of a man evidently dead on a rustic stretcher, whose arms hung on each side, was being taken out of the small house immediately to ours, carried toward the plane, in which they introduced him. Coming from another direction two or more men walking were being pushed while carried to the plane with violent movements, followed immediately after by several spaced gunshots. Next to the plane were several men moving actively, and instants later tongues of fire appeared illuminating the whole distant stage and completely wrapping the small airplane, which appeared with the front downward, as if its nose almost touching the track. In a short time, we started hearing explosions, and the flames that seemed suddenly grew, fed by the fuel of the tanks burning out after the blasts.

All men had already moved away from the small plane in flames, and Fidel, Dorticos, and his immediate companions went toward the house where they plotted something. Fidel, speaking to all the present, but to none in particular, as passing his sight without looking to any person, said: 

 “Well, you all know that here nothing has happened, no one has seen anything, no one saw anything, since it was the people who condemned him, not me, – and as if he thought necessary to repeat it again, he said: – nothing has happened here, nobody saw nothing. 

He looked very agitated and spoke in intervals of silence that were not familiar as how he normally used to express himself. Then, standing up, at the time he walked, he said:

Well, come on – when I was already transposing the door towards the esplanade in front of the house.

The flames were not that strong, and the fire seemed to go extinct, we all had left after Fidel, who, after walking a little stretch stopped and turned to us, to repeat:

-You know, here did not happen anything, nobody saw anything, it was the Cuban people who condemned him, not me – and when it seemed that he was going to continue walking, stopping his impulse, he turned again to say: For history, he is a hero, everyone knows it very well, and his ashes will be spread throughout Cuba, since he is a martyr of the people, he is a hero. 

He got into the car, leaving immediately.

It was already dawn and it was cold. Everyone was going to take their vehicles, and Raul, who noticed me as he passed by, asked me: 

“And you, who did you come with?”

-With Almeida.

“Well, go with him,” he suggested me and kept walking, adding – you know that nothing has happened. 

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I stayed silent, as if I had swallowed my tongue. We went toward the cars and left the place following the caravan, feeling a little stunned in front of those facts that were already consummate and that were irreversible. I turned my face to see if there were still any flames on the plane; Over there had been left the remains of a heroic revolutionary commander killed in campaign against communism. I thought that the only truth that Fidel had said in that place was that Camilo had been a hero.

The next stop was the city of Matanzas, in a house where Fidel already was, and once we arrived, he told Almeida that he had to take over the Direction of the Army, since he could not put another official, because of the new structure which was being implemented for the Armed Forces. Almeida accepted without objection.

We separated ourselves from the rest of the group and returned to Havana without talking anything of what had happened, we remained silent all the way, as if we were already obeying to the recommendations given by Fidel, that beyond doubt, contained an order whose noncompliance would be paid with our own lives,  -“here nothing has happened, nobody has seen anything “ 

-Now you’ll come to work with me now – Almeida told me.

I cannot, I want to finish what I am doing now, – I replied, trying not to bring the subject to a discussion.

When we had left Havana on the military plane that took us to Varadero, our only topic of conversation had been Camilo Cienfuegos, his disappearance and his search; we were plunged into anguish.

Now, the only thing that could not be talked about was Camilo and his sad end, because it had been already said: “nothing had happened, we had not seen anything, the people condemned him, but he was a hero, a martyr of the people.” And as if we were already obeying to that tone imposed, we simply did not speak, because that was the only obligatory subject, but it could not be mentioned. We came back crushed with fear.

The silence during the travel back to Havana served me to order the things that now, tying cut sentences, small indiscretions of those present in that place, information that I randomly captured, the violent discussion I heard, plus the background that I already knew, showed me a clear picture of the events, whose final scene was the small plane in flames.

Camilo had left Havana for Camaguey to make an inspection visit to the Ignacio Agramonte Regiment, which was under his personal responsibility since Hubert Matos was jailed, and being there, he received a radio call that ordered him to go to a farm in Ciénaga de Zapata where Fidel Castro would be waiting to have meeting a with him, as it had happened hundred times before in the same place, since the rice farm had a runway for light aircrafts for fumigation, that had been taken as a rest station and discretionary work by the high command of the revolution. 

Camilo knew the place perfectly. His pilots had descended on that small track many times, and considering the appointment as something quite normal, Camilo changed his plans without delay and went to the place. Ché Guevara, Leonel Soto, Augusto Martinez, Aragonés, Piñeiro, and others awaited him at the landing strip, receiving him cordially, telling him that Fidel was waiting for him in one of the houses, to where they went while having a friendly conversation, in an atmosphere of a great cordiality. Camilo got to the door, but once inside the house, he was surprised by an avalanche of G-2 men that were ambushed there, dominating him completely, tying his hands and feet, leaving him totally reduced.

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 The pilot was also dominated and confined to another of the small buildings on the side of the track, leaving them prisoners and under strong custody of the G-2, under the personal command of Manuel Piñeiro. 

Once the mission to reduce to prison the Chief of the Rebel Army was finished, Ché Guevara, Leonel Soto, Augusto and Aragonés, went to communicate to Dorticós the happy result of his betrayal, receiving from him the necessary instructions on the complementary functions that each one of them would have to do, in what was still missing from the operation. All of them were waiting the arrival of Fidel Castro to finish off the plot in which the most heroic of all would undoubtedly be eliminated, and perhaps the cleanest of any men who ascended in the revolutionary hierarchy, based on bravery and personal courage.

 Almeida took me to the airport where I recovered my car, leaving directly for the naval school. 

In my mind were still jumping the flames that had destroyed the small plane and burned the body of my friend and comrade of fights, Camilo Cienfuegos….. and echoed in my brain the words said by Fidel:

“The people condemned him, not me. ” “Let everyone know that he was a hero, a martyr of the people.”

I felt guilty for not having acted as I should at that moment, even though I knew it would have been useless, but I said to myself that I must have done something, a thousand times I reproached myself for not having acted. That is what people always think after things happen, but when it is already late; those are decisions to be taken in a minute, but by not taking them, we feel its burden on us for the rest of our life.  “The people condemned him, he was a hero”

 

***********************
See the original text at: “El clarín toca al amanecer”.
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(1). Hubert Matos Benítez (26 November 1918 – 27 February 2014) was a Cuban military leader, political dissident, activist and writer. He opposed the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista from its inception in 1952 and fought alongside Fidel castro, Che guevara and other members of the 26th of July Movement to overthrow it. Following the success of the Cuban Revolution that brought Castro into power, he criticized of the regime’s shift in favor of Marxist principles and ties to the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Convicted of treason and sedition by the post-revolutionary government, he spent 20 years in prison (1959–1979) before being released in 1979. He then divided his time between Miami, Florida, and Costa Rica, while continuing to protest the policies of the Cuban government.

In July 1959, Matos denounced the direction the revolution was taking by giving openly anti-communist speeches in Camaguey. This launched a months-long dispute between him and Castro, then Prime Minister of Cuba. When Castro replaced President Manuel Urrutia with the more radical Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, Matos tendered his resignation in a letter to Castro. On 26 July, Castro and Matos met at the Hilton Hotel in Havaba, where, according to Matos, Castro told him: “Your resignation is not acceptable at this point. We still have too much work to do. I admit that Raúl [Castro] and Che [Guevara] are flirting with Marxism … but you have the situation under control … Forget about resigning … But if in a while you believe the situation is not changing, you have the right to resign.”

In September 1959, Matos wrote: “Communist influence in the government has continued to grow. I have to leave power as soon as possible. I have to alert the Cuban people as to what is happening.” On 19 October, he sent a second letter of resignation to Castro. Two days later, Castro sent fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos to arrest Matos. Matos says that he warned Cienfuegos that his life was in danger, that Castro resented Cienfuegos’ popularity and had purposely infuriated and seemed to have hoped that Matos’ supporters would kill him rather than allow him to take command from Matos. Cienfuegos listened but relieved Matos of command and arrested Matos and his military adjutants. Cuban Communists later claimed Matos was helping plan a counter-revolution organized by the CIA and other Castro opponents, an operation that became the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Link:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huber_Matos

 

(2). Frank País García (December 7, 1934 – July 30, 1957) was a Cuban revolutionary who campaigned for the overthrow of General Fulgencio Batista’s government in Cuba. Frank País was the urban coordinator of the movement “26 of July”, and was a key organizer within the urban underground movement, collaborating with Fidel Castro’s guerrilla forces which were conducting activities in the Sierra Maestra mountains. País was killed in the streets of Santiago de Cuba by the Santiago police on July 30, 1957. 

People close to Frank Pais assert that Vilma Espin was the one responsible for Frank´s capture, because she made a phone call to a number where she had been warned not to call. Frank himself did not want Vilma know where he was hiding not even phone numbers to locate him, but at the end it is evident that she got the number and called, alerting the police about the place where Frank was hiding. Minutes later the block was surrounded by the police, and Frank, along with Raul Pujol, owner of the house, close friend and colaborator in the rebel movement, were captured and assassinated.

Fidel could not accept the idea of not being the main leader of the revolution in moments when other leaders were experiencing more acceptance among the population. Those others had to be eliminated.

That’s the reason why on Page 110 the author recalls words of Dorticos telling Fidel about Camilo:

there is no choice but to do with Camilo the same they have done with Frank Pais”.

It meant simply eliminate Camilo the same way they had eliminated Frank País in 1957. He was only 22 years old.

This version of the death of Frank Pais is unknown for the most of Cubans, mostly the new generations, and anyone who dares to talk about this in public would for sure face serious consequences.

 

 

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