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

An attack on a small army garrison at the mouth of the La Plata river in the Sierra Maestra produced our first victory. The effect was electrifying and traveled far beyond that rough region. It was like a call to attention, proving that the Rebel Army did in fact exist and was disposed to fight. For us, it reaffirmed our chances for final victory.

On January 14, 1957, a little more than a month after the surprise attack at Alegría de Pío, we came to a halt by the Magdalena river, which separates La Plata and a ridge beginning in the Sierra Maestra and ending at the sea. Fidel gave orders for target practice as some sort of training for our people — some of the men were using weapons for the first time in their lives. We bathed there as well — having ignored matters of hygiene for many days — and those who were able to do so changed into clean clothes. At that time we had 23 working weapons: nine rifles equipped with telescopic sights, five semiautomatic machine guns, four bolt-action rifles, two Thompson submachine guns, two submachine guns, and a 16-gauge shotgun.

That afternoon we climbed the last hill before reaching the environs of La Plata. We were following a narrow track, traveled by very few people, which had been marked out by machete especially for us by a peasant named Melquiades Elías. He had been recommended by our guide Eutimio [Guerra], who at that time was indispensable to us and seemed to be the epitome of the rebel peasant. He was later apprehended by [Joaquín] Casillas, however, who, instead of killing him, bought him off with an offer of $10,000 and a rank in the army if he managed to kill Fidel. Eutimio came close to fulfilling his part of the bargain, but lacked the courage to do so. He was nonetheless very useful to the enemy, informing them of the location of several of our camps.

At the time, Eutimio was serving us loyally. He was one of the many peasants fighting for their land in the struggle against the big landowners, and anyone who fought them also fought the Rural Guard, who did the landowners' bidding. That day we took two peasants prisoner, who turned out to be relatives of our guide. One of them was released but we kept the other one as a precautionary measure. The next day, January 15, we sighted the La Plata army barracks, under construction and with zinc roofs. A group of half-dressed men were moving about, but we could nevertheless make out their enemy uniforms. Just before sundown, about 6 p.m., a boat came in; some soldiers got out and others climbed aboard. Because we could not quite figure out the maneuver, we postponed the attack to the following day.

We began watching the barracks from dawn on January 16. The coast-guard boat had withdrawn during the night and although we searched the area, no soldiers could be seen. At 3 p.m. we decided to approach the road along the river leading to the barracks and take a look. By nightfall we crossed the very shallow La Plata river and took up position on the road. Five minutes later we apprehended two peasants; one of them had a record as an informer. When we told them who we were and assured them that if they did not speak our intentions could not be guaranteed, they gave us some valuable information: the barracks held about 15 soldiers. They also told us that Chicho Osorio, one of the region's three most notorious foremen, was about to pass by; these foremen worked for the Laviti family estate. The Lavitis had built an enormous fiefdom, maintaining it through a regime of terror with the help of individuals like Chicho Osorio. Shortly afterward, the said Chicho showed up drunk, astride a mule, with a small Afro-Cuban boy riding behind him. Universo Sánchez, in the name of the Rural Guard, gave him the order to halt and Chicho rapidly replied, “mosquito.” That was the password.

We must have looked like a bunch of pirates, but Chicho Osorio was so drunk we were able to fool him. Fidel stepped forward and in an indignant tone said he was an army colonel who had come to investigate why the rebels had not yet been liquidated. He bragged about having gone into the woods, which accounted for his beard. He added that what the army was doing was “trash.” In a word, he cut the army's efficiency to pieces. Sheepishly, Chicho Osorio admitted that the guards spent all their time inside the barracks, eating and doing nothing but firing occasional useless rounds. He readily agreed that the rebels must be wiped out. We carefully began asking about who was friendly and unfriendly in the area and noted his replies, naturally reversing the roles: when Chicho called somebody a bad man we knew he was one of our friends, and so on. We had some 20 names and he was still jabbering away. He told us how he had killed two men, adding, “But my General Batista set me free at once.” He spoke of having slapped two peasants who were “a little bad-mannered,” adding that the guards were incapable of such action; they let the peasants talk without punishing them. Fidel asked Osorio what he would do if he ever caught Fidel Castro, and Osorio, with an explicit gesture, said that he would cut his ... off, and that the same went for Crescencio [Pérez]. “Look,” he said, showing us his shoes, which were the same Mexican-made kind our troops wore, “these shoes belonged to one of those sons of ... we killed.”

There, without realizing it, Chicho Osorio signed his own death sentence. At Fidel's suggestion, he agreed to accompany us to the barracks in order to surprise the soldiers and prove to them they were badly prepared and were neglecting their duties. Nearing the barracks, with Chicho Osorio in the lead, I was still not certain he had not wised up to our trick. But he kept on ingenuously, so drunk he could not think straight. After crossing the river again to approach the barracks, Fidel said that established military rules called for a prisoner to be tied up. Osorio did not resist and he went on, unwittingly, as a real prisoner. He explained to us that the only guards posted were at the entrance to the barracks under construction, and at the house of one of the other foremen named Honorio. Osorio guided us to a place near the barracks on the road to El Macío. Compañero Luis Crespo, now a commander, went on to scout around and returned saying that the foreman's report was correct. Crespo had seen the two barracks and the fiery ends of the guards' cigarettes.

We were just about ready to approach the barracks when we had to hide to let three soldiers on horseback go by. The men were driving a prisoner on foot like a mule. They passed close by me, and I remember the words of the poor peasant, “I'm just like one of you,” and the answer by one of the men we later identified as Corporal Basol, “Shut up and keep walking or I'll whip you.” We thought the peasant would escape danger by not being in the barracks when we attacked with our bullets, but the following day, when the soldiers heard of the attack, they brutally murdered him at El Macío.

We had 22 weapons ready for the attack. It was an important occasion, and we had very little ammunition. We had to take the army barracks at all costs, for failure meant wasting our ammunition, leaving us practically defenseless. Compañero Lieutenant Julio Díaz — who later died heroically at the battle of El Uvero — Camilo Cienfuegos, Benítez, and Calixto Morales, armed with semiautomatic machine guns, were to surround the palm-thatched quarters on the right side. Fidel, Universo Sánchez, Luis Crespo, Calixto García, [Manuel] Fajardo — today a commander with the same last name as our physician, Piti Fajardo, who was [later] killed in the Escambray — and myself, would attack the center. Raúl [Castro] with his squadron and Almeida with his would attack from the left. We approached within 40 meters of the barracks. By the light of a full moon, Fidel initiated the gun battle with two bursts of machine-gun fire and all available rifles followed. Immediately, we demanded the enemy's surrender, but with no results. The murderer and informer Chicho Osorio was executed as soon as shooting broke out.

The attack had begun at 2:40 a.m., and the guards put up a much fiercer resistance than we had expected. A sergeant, armed with an M-1, responded with fire every time we demanded their surrender. We were given orders to use our old Brazilian-type hand grenades. Luis Crespo threw his, and I mine, but they did not detonate. Raúl Castro threw a stick of dynamite and nothing happened. We then had no choice but to get close to the quarters and set them on fire, even at the risk of our own lives. Universo Sánchez made the first, futile attempt and Camilo Cienfuegos also failed. Finally, Luis Crespo and I got close to one of the buildings and this compañero set it alight. The light from the blaze showed us it was simply a storeroom full of coconuts, but we had intimidated the soldiers and they gave up the fight. One of them, trying to escape, ran right into Luis Crespo's rifle; Luis shot him in the chest, took the man's rifle, and continued firing into the house. Camilo Cienfuegos, sheltered behind a tree, fired on the fleeing sergeant and ran out of ammunition. The soldiers, almost defenseless, were being wounded mercilessly by our bullets. Camilo Cienfuegos was first into the quarters, on our side, where shouts of surrender could be heard.

We quickly took stock of our takings: eight Springfields, one Thompson machine gun, and about 1,000 rounds; we had fired approximately 500 rounds. In addition, we now had cartridge belts, fuel, knives, clothing, and some food. Casualties: they had two dead, five wounded, and we had taken three prisoners. Some, along with the informer Honorio, had fled. On our side, not a scratch.

We withdrew after setting fire to the soldiers' quarters and tending to the wounded as best we could — three of them were seriously wounded and we left them in the care of the prisoners. We were told after the final victory that they had died. One of the soldiers later joined the forces under Commander Raúl Castro, was promoted to lieutenant, and died in a plane accident after the war.

Our attitude toward the wounded was in stark contrast to that of Batista's army. Not only did they kill our wounded men, they abandoned their own. Over time this difference had an effect on the enemy and it was a factor in our victory. Fidel ordered that the prisoners be given all available medicine to take care of the wounded. This decision pained me because, as a doctor, I felt the need to save all available medicine for our own troops. We freed all the civilians and at 4:30 a.m. on January 17 started for Palma Mocha, arriving at dawn and searching out the most inaccessible zones of the Sierra Maestra.

Our eyes met with a pitiful spectacle: the day before, an army corporal and one of the foremen had warned all the families in the area that the air force was going to bomb the entire zone, and an exodus — almost all the peasants — toward the coast had begun. No one knew of our presence in the area, so it was evidently a maneuver on the part of the foremen and the Rural Guard to take the land and belongings away from the peasants. But their lie had coincided with our attack and now became a reality. Terror reigned among the peasants and it was impossible for us to stop their flight.

This was the first victorious battle of the Rebel Army. This battle and the one following it were the only occasions in the life of our troop when we had more weapons than men. Peasants were not yet ready to join in the struggle, and communication with the urban bases was practically nonexistent.

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