Today we had a quiet day at camp. We resumed study classes. It was nice to have this routine again instead of constant walking through rain! But men were sent out on ambush duty from time to time. And my turn will come on that soon enough. Also, Inti told me soon we are going to look for a cow to give us some regular milk.
Ramon spoke to us all this evening about the experience of our journey. He demoted Marcos and put Miguel in his place. He said that Marcos has fallen very far short of expectation. He also discharged Paco, Pepe, Chingolo and Eusebio and told them that while they stay here they will only eat if they work for it. They are to be deprived of cigarette rations and their possessions are to be distributed amongst the rest of us. He said ‘words that do not match deeds are unimportant’. We must live up to the life we have committed to. Everyone was spoken about, either praised or criticised. I am happy to say that I came out of it quite well. Ramon said that I was afraid, but even in fear I showed courage, like with the water and that I was considerate of my fellows. He said that I must not be afraid to learn or to take responsibility even though I am the youngest I might be the strongest. I must not shy away from the radio or from ambush duties as I need to become able to deal with all aspects of guerrilla life. I am resolved to try harder. I am happy not to be amongst those going to be dismissed.
At the end of the long meeting, our name was decided upon. We are going to be known as the National Liberation Army of Bolivia.
Antonio and Inti left with some others to find a cow. But they ran into troops instead and came back. Luckily they weren’t seen. The soldiers have a lookout post in a clearing nearby the river. We saw a helicopter. There has been bombing on and off for a while – I was scared the first time but I’m getting used to it. Today those of us at camp were studying and Ramon was busy writing something. Pombo says it is a very important document. I have finished reading Marx. Time to change the library but some of the books were lost in the river. I don’t know what I will read next. It is strange to be sitting in the Bolivian jungle reading books, something I never really did at home in Cuba. A year ago I was just a boy with boyish dreams and hopes. Now I am in the middle of a truly important part of history. How does it feel? Strange. Not how you would imagine at all. A lot of the time it is just about hunger and being uncomfortable and tired. But also being with some of these men makes me feel proud and gives me something to live up to. I wish my father could have seen me now, I am sure he would be proud of me. My mother and sisters would tell me to get my hair cut and worry about how skinny I am. Women do not understand. They are not like Tania.
The radio was hot all day with reports of the ambush and most of it lies. It says that fifteen of us are dead and that four have been captured. Some of the deserters or prisoners must have talked and talked rubbish. They seem to know of Tania. Ramon had wanted her to leave soon but it looks like she will have to stay. I’m quite pleased about that really. Ramon says it means we have lost two years work if she has been identified. I find it hard to think of how this struggle is going on away from the camp.
Ramon has finished his document telling the world about the ELN (that’s our name in letters) He wants to get the truth out there to counter all the lies we are hearing on the radio.
He detailed what happened in the incident with the soldiers. He titled it ‘revolutionary truth versus reactionary lies.’ He gave a clear description of the ambush and of the men captured, killed, released along with the weapons we have seized. He explained what our intentions were. He said that our deeds will match our words. He said that we did not seek to kill men, or take pleasure in doing so. That we would always treat prisoners with respect. He said the peasants can rely on us but that peaceful bridges are not built with mortars and machine guns and that we are only fighting to support the peasants who are being oppressed by the military. He issued a call to all the peasants and workers in Bolivia to join us, against those in power who are selling their country piece by piece to American monopolies (as was done in Cuba before under Batista) and that our goal is to raise their standard of living.
We saw a plane dropping paratroopers. Benigno, Loro and Julio were sent to find a route to Pirienda and then travel onwards to Gutierrez to get supplies. We need to establish a supply line now that the troops are here. Ramon wants to send someone out with his Communique. I offered to go but he said I was best here. He said we are planning a diversionary attack and it would be good experience for me.
The radio is telling more lies. At least I hope it is lies. It says we are surrounded by 2000 men with the circle tightening. It says they are dropping napalm bombs on us. I would believe it but it also says we have suffered fifteen dead and I know that is a lie.
Braulio and some men were sent to the old camp to bring some corn. He came back to say that the cave has been gone through, and that while they were there some Red Cross doctors and unarmed military personnel turned up. They were taken prisoners because the truce has expired, but they were left to get on with their work of recovering the dead. But they said they couldn’t move the corpses as they were too heavy – also in a horrible rotting state and they would come back tomorrow. Braulio said that more soldiers came but withdrew without firing a shot. Benigno has gone missing but Coco turned up. They also confiscated two horses. I don’t feel so bad about the one we ate now he has been replaced several times over. But I wouldn’t want to be a horse in these circumstances.
Once again, listening to the radio and its lies. We also heard Radio Havana today. They have reported the ambush but not mentioned Che at all. No one is supposed to know he is here but there are of course rumours.
There was news that two guerrillas had been killed near the ravine where Benigno was sent and he has not returned. He was told not to go into the ravine, but he doesn’t always obey orders. Still, I hope it isn’t true. Most of what they report isn’t so I will just hope this is more lies.
We killed one of the captured horses today so that everyone had a good meal. The other one is held in reserve at the other camp. We have been building a cave for supplies around here, digging while listening to the radio. Ramon says that once it’s finished we can move on and we should do this soon because he thinks they know we are here. He has told some of the weaker men to stay here for a few days to recover but those of us who are able will move on.
Benigno showed up. Not dead. That's more lies from the enemy proved wrong. They said that there is a lot of fire from the air along the route to Pirirenda. Antonio was sent on a scouting party and he reported that there are soldiers dug into trenches along the river.
The other horse came and that means we have a good supply of horsemeat for some days if nothing else. Ramon says that we are going to send the forward group out on two operations, one to seize Gutierrez and the other to ambush the road from Argaranaz’s farm along to Lagunillas. We have to find a way out of here and not sit like ducks waiting for them to come to us.
Meanwhile I’m still working on the cave. It should be finished in a day or so. I am working as hard as I can because I want to be away from here.
I went with Inti on a scouting mission and we saw that the soldiers have completely taken over the farm. There are all kinds of artillery there including aircraft. Ramon sent others to go towards the other little house and take it if it is empty. He says we plan to move out in the next two days and will try to find a way to both mount an ambush and avoid Argaranaz’s farm.
The radio keeps on telling its lies but in between them it seems they have a very accurate position for us and I’m worried that maybe they do have us surrounded. How will we elude 2000 soldiers circling us?
Some of the men are just fighting amongst themselves. Maybe it is because they are scared. I am sure we are all scared but people react in different ways. Loro said it’s all over and we are going to be killed. Aniceto more or less agreed with him. He says that Marcos and Benigno’s indiscipline will kill us all. Ramon was angry with him. Later Loro told Coco that he had stolen some cans of food which he had denied previously. Some men are really not to be trusted. But we all have to work together if we are to survive. We stand no chance if men fall apart at the first sign of hardship or danger. It’s hard to be positive but we cannot just give in. I will do everything Ramon asks of me and more. I know we are not in a good situation now but Ramon says it is just a test of us as a guerrilla force and he is confident that we will pass the test. And those who don’t will fall by the wayside. He has split us up into three groups for the next stage. The forward detachment is led by Miguel. The rear guard is led by Joaquin and the centre group led by Ramon. As he was reading out the names I was hoping against hope that I would remain in Ramon’s group. And I have. So we are now really a group of eighteen plus the visitors. Our group includes the men I trust most Inti, Pombo and Tuma and the strongest men Ricardo and Rolando as well as some others I’m not so sure of. Tania is also in the group with the visitors because Ramon wants them to leave to go to safety and continue the struggle away from here. Of course if I am to die, I will be proud to die by the side of Ramon. But I hope we shall fight and live and be victorious. And whether I live or die, I am resolved to be like Che. Death or victory.