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 days following our departure from the house of Epifanio Díaz were for me, personally, the most grueling of the war. These notes are an attempt to give an idea of what the first part of our revolutionary struggle was like for all combatants. If, in this passage, more than any other, I have to refer to my own involvement, it is because it is related to later episodes. It would not be possible to separate the two without losing the continuity of the narrative.

After leaving Epifanio's house, our revolutionary group consisted of 17 men from the original army, and three new compañeros : Gil, Sotolongo, and Raúl Díaz. These three compañeros came on the Granma ; they had been hiding for some time near Manzanillo and, hearing of our presence, had decided to join us. Their stories were the same as ours: they had been able to evade the Rural Guard by seeking refuge in the house of one peasant after another; they had reached Manzanillo and hidden there. Now they joined their fate to that of the whole column. In that period, as has been described, it was very difficult to enlarge our army; a few new men came, but others left. The physical conditions of the struggle were very hard, but the spiritual conditions even more so, and we lived with the feeling that we were constantly under siege.

We were walking slowly in no fixed direction, hiding among bushes in a region where the livestock had won out over the foliage, leaving only remnants of vegetation. One night on Fidel's small radio we heard that a compañero from the Granma, who had left with Crescencio Pérez, had been captured. We already knew about this from Eutimio's confession, but the news was not yet official; now at least we knew he was alive. It was not always possible to emerge with your life from an interrogation by Batista's army.

Every so often, from different directions, we heard machinegun fire; the guards were shooting into the trees, which they often did. But although they expended considerable ammunition, they never actually entered these areas.

In my campaign diary I noted, on February 22, [1957], that I had the first symptoms of what could develop into a serious asthma attack, as I was without asthma medicine. The new date for the rendezvous was March 5, so we were forced to wait for a few days. We were walking very slowly, simply marking time until March 5, the day Frank País was to send us a group of armed men. We had already decided that first we had to fortify our small front before increasing it in numbers, and therefore, all available arms in Santiago were to be sent up to the Sierra Maestra.

One dawn found us on the banks of a small stream where there was almost no vegetation. We spent a precarious day there, in a valley near Las Mercedes, which I believe is called La Majagua (names are now a little vague in my memory). By night we arrived at the house of old Emiliano, another of the many peasants who in those days felt the shock of fear each time they saw us, but who nevertheless risked their lives for us valiantly, contributing to the development of our revolution. It was the wet season in the Sierra Maestra and we were soaked every night, which is why we entered the homes of peasants, despite the danger, because the area was infested with soldiers. My asthma was so bad I could not move very well, and we had to sleep in a little coffee grove, near a peasant hut, where we regrouped our forces. On the day I am describing, February 27 or 28, censorship in the country was lifted and the radio streamed news of everything that had happened during the past months. They spoke of terrorist acts and of the Matthews interview with Fidel; it was then that [Batista's] minister of defense made his famous statement that the Matthews interview had never taken place, and challenged him to publish the photos.

Hermes, the son of old Emiliano, was a peasant helping us with meals and pointing out paths we should take. But on the morning of February 28 he did not appear as he usually did, and Fidel ordered us to evacuate immediately and post ourselves where we could overlook the roads, as we did not know what would happen. At about 4 p.m., Luis Crespo and Universo Sánchez were on watch, and the latter saw a large troop of soldiers coming along the road from Las Vegas, preparing to occupy the crest. We had to run quickly to the top of the hill and cross to the other side before the troops blocked our path, which was not difficult, given that we had seen them in time. The mortars and machine guns were beginning to sound in the direction we came from, proving that Batista's army was aware of our presence. Everybody was able to reach the peak easily, and pass over it; but for me it was a tremendous effort. I made it to the top, but with such an asthma attack that each step was difficult. I remember how much work Crespo put in to help me when I could not go on and pleaded they leave me behind. The guajiro , in that particular language among the troops, said to me, “You Argentine son of a ...! You'll walk or I'll hit you with my rifle butt.” With everything he was already carrying, he virtually carried both me and my pack, as we made it over the hill with a heavy downpour against our backs. That is how we reached a small peasant hut and learned we were in a place called Purgatorio. Fidel passed himself off as Major [Armando] González of Batista's army, supposedly searching for the insurgents. The owner, coldly courteous, offered us his house and waited on us. But there was another man there, a friend from a neighboring hut, who was an extraordinary groveler. Because of my physical state I could not fully enjoy that delicious dialogue between Fidel in the role of Major González and the peasant, who offered him advice and wondered aloud why that muchacho , Fidel Castro, was in the hills fighting.

We had to make a decision, because it was impossible for me to continue. When the indiscreet neighbor had left, Fidel told the owner of the house who he really was. The man embraced him immediately, saying he was a supporter of the Orthodox Party, that he had always followed [Eduardo] Chibás, and was at our service. We had to send the man to Manzanillo to establish contact or at least to buy medicine, and I had to be left near the house without his wife knowing or suspecting I was there. The last combatant to join our group, of doubtful character but great strength, was assigned to stay with me. Fidel, in a generous gesture, gave me a Johnson repeater, one of the treasures of our group, to defend ourselves with. We all pretended to leave in one direction, and after a few steps my companion (who we called “El Maestro”) and I disappeared into the woods to reach our hiding place. News of the day was that Matthews had been interviewed by telephone and announced that the famous photographs would be published. Díaz Tamayo had countered that this could never happen, since no one could ever have crossed the army lines surrounding the guerrillas. Armando Hart was in prison, accused of being second-in-command of the movement. It was February 28.

The peasant carried out his task and brought me sufficient adrenalin. Then came 10 of the most bitter days of struggle in the Sierra Maestra: walking, supporting myself from tree to tree or on the butt of my rifle, accompanied by a frightened compañero who trembled each time we heard shots and who became nervous each time my asthma made me cough in some dangerous spot. It was 10 long days of work to reach Epifanio's house once again, which normally took little more than one.

The date for the meeting had been March 5, but it had been impossible for us to get there. Because of the army line and the impossibility of rapid movement, we did not arrive at Epifanio Díaz's welcoming house until March 11.

The inhabitants of the house informed us of what had happened. Fidel's group of 18 men had mistakenly split up when they thought they were going to be attacked by the army, in a place called Altos de Meriño. Twelve men had gone on with Fidel and six with Ciro Frías. Later, Ciro Frías's group had fallen into an ambush, but they all came out of it unhurt and met up again nearby. Only one of them, Yayo, who returned without his rifle, had passed by Epifanio Díaz's house on his way toward Manzanillo. We learned everything from him. The troop Frank was sending was ready, although Frank himself was in prison in Santiago. We met with the troop's leader, Jorge Sotús, who held the rank of captain. He had not made it on March 5 because news of the new group had spread and the roads were heavily guarded. We made all the necessary arrangements for the rapid arrival of the new recruits, who numbered around 50 men.

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