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

The Arroyo del Infierno is a narrow, shallow river flowing into the Palma Mocha river. Walking along it, away from the Palma Mocha, and mounting the slopes of the bordering hills, we reached a small circular clearing where we found two peasant huts. Here we made camp, naturally leaving the huts unoccupied.

Fidel presumed that the army would come after us, locating our approximate position. With this in mind, he planned an ambush to capture some enemy soldiers, and to this end he posted the men.

Fidel watched our lines vigilantly, and checked and rechecked our defenses. Contour lines were marked irregularly every five or so meters up the hill. On the morning of January 19 we were reviewing the troops when there was an accident that could have had serious consequences. As a trophy from the battle of La Plata, I had taken a helmet from one of Batista's corporals, and I wore it with great pride. But when I went to inspect the troops, walking through open woods, the forward guards heard us coming in the distance and saw that someone wearing a helmet was leading the group. Fortunately, at that moment they were cleaning their weapons, and only Camilo Cienfuegos's gun was working. He opened fire on us, and immediately realized his mistake. His first shot missed and then his machine gun jammed, preventing him from firing further. This incident was symptomatic of the state of high tension that prevailed as we waited for the relief that battle would bring. In such moments, even those with the strongest nerves feel a certain faint trembling in the knees, and everyone longs for the stellar moment of war: battle. None of us, however, wanted to fight; we did so out of necessity.

At dawn on January 22 we heard a few single shots from the direction of the Palma Mocha river, and this forced us to maintain even stricter discipline in our lines, to be more cautious, and to wait for the imminent arrival of the enemy. Believing the soldiers to be nearby, we ate neither breakfast nor lunch. Some time before, the guajiro Crespo and I had found a hen's nest and we rationed the eggs, leaving one behind as is customary so the hen would continue to lay. That day, in light of the shots we had heard during the night, Crespo decided we should eat the last egg, and we did so. It was noon when we saw a human figure in one of the huts. At first we thought that one of the compañeros had disobeyed the order not to approach the huts. That was not the case: one of the dictatorship's soldiers was looking around. Then about six others appeared; some of them left, three remained in view. We saw the soldier on guard look about, pick a few weeds, put them behind his ears in an attempt at camouflage, then sit calmly in the shade; his face, clearly visible through the telescopic sight, showed no signs of fear. Fidel's opening shot shattered him; he managed to shout out something like, “Ay, mi madre! ” then he fell over dead. The gun battle spread and the unfortunate soldier's two comrades fell. Suddenly, I noticed that in the hut closer to me another soldier was trying to hide from our fire. I could only see his legs, since from my elevated position the roof of the hut concealed his body. I fired at him and missed; the second shot caught the man full in the chest and he fell, leaving his rifle pierced in the ground by the bayonet. Covered by the guajiro Crespo, I reached the house and saw the body; I took his bullets, his rifle, and a few other belongings. The man had been struck full in the chest, the bullet probably piercing his heart, and his death had been instantaneous; he already showed the first signs of rigor mortis, perhaps because of the exhaustion of his last day's march. The battle was extraordinarily fast and soon, our plan successfully executed, we all withdrew.

Taking inventory, we found that we had spent approximately 900 bullets and had retrieved 70 from a full cartridge case. We also acquired a machine gun, a Garand, which was given to Commander Efigenio Ameijeiras, who used it for a good part of the war. We counted four enemy dead, but months later, after capturing an informer, we learned that fi ve had actually been killed. It was not an absolute victory, but neither was it Pyrrhic. We had matched our forces against the enemy, in new conditions, and we had passed the test.

This improved our spirits greatly, and enabled us to continue climbing the whole day toward the most inaccessible reaches in order to escape pursuit by larger enemy groups. We reached the other side of the mountain. We were walking parallel to Batista's troop, also withdrawing, both groups having crossed the same mountain peak to reach the other side. For two days our troops and those of the enemy marched almost side by side without realizing it. Once, we slept in a hut that was barely separated from another housing the enemy, by a small river like the La Plata and a couple of bends in the road. The lieutenant commanding the enemy patrol was Sánchez Mosquera, whose name had become infamous throughout the Sierra Maestra in the wake of his pillaging. It is worth mentioning that the shots we had heard several hours before the battle had killed a peasant of Haitian descent who had refused to lead the troops to our hideout. If they had not committed this murder they would not have alerted us and found us waiting for them.

Once again, we were carrying too much weight; many of us had two rifl es. Under these circumstances, it was not easy to walk, but clearly morale was different from what it had been after the disaster of Alegría de Pío. A few days earlier we had defeated a group smaller than ours, entrenched in a barracks; now we had defeated a column on the march, superior in numbers to our forces. We could all verify the importance of this type of battle to eliminate the enemy's forward guard, for without a forward guard, an army is paralyzed.

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