Men were sent out on various missions, especially to find the sick men but I was told to stay near Ramon for now. I think they are trying to ‘take care’ of me and I told Pombo that I’m happy to play my part. He laughed and said ‘your time will come Jejenito, don’t worry.’
News came back that the soldiers have captured our old camp. We got a document from Joaquin explaining that the soldiers are running reconnaissance patrols and that they came really close to his group on the way down the hill.
We found more cows, with calves. They will be killed and eaten.
A note was sent back to Joaquin. I asked if I could go, but again I was told to stay by Ramon. I’m getting a bit bored but Ramon has given me another book to read from the library. It’s about political theory – can’t remember the name at the moment as I haven’t started reading it. I don’t know which is worse, the boredom of doing nothing or the fear that when it all kicks off I’ll have to kill or be killed. It will happen soon enough. We are going to head along the gorge to Pirirenda but it’s a good day’s walk and I don’t know when we are going to set out. It may take us further from the soldiers which will be a good thing. Pombo says there’s plenty of time to engage with the soldiers and it’s better when we do it on our terms.
We were getting ready to leave this morning on our journey but then Negro came and told us there were a bunch of soldiers coming down the river. Inti and I went to tell Rolando who is at the ambush site. I was pleased to leave the camp but I wasn’t ready for what came next. We got into a fight. We were along the river and when the soldiers came they clashed with Braulio before they came into the ambush. There were shots for a few seconds but it felt like minutes. I was truly scared. I didn’t fire a shot. At the end of the shooting there were six prisoners, three wounded and one man dead. I didn’t get a chance to shoot because I was towards the back of the ambush. Not because of cowardice. I was afraid, but I’m not a coward. I proved it because when the shooting stopped I went with Pombo to deal with the prisoners. We found Rubio, who had been at the front of the ambush, Pombo said in a poor position. He looked dead when we got to him but wasn’t. Then he died. I’ve never seen a man die like that, not that close. It’s not something I want to see again in many a day. I didn’t know Rubio well but losing one of our group is terrible.
Word came from Ramon that we were to keep the ambush in place. The soldier prisoners said that they’d got lost and there would be rescuers out looking for them. What felt like just a few minutes later and I shot my first man. I don’t think I killed him, only wounded. We took another twenty two prisoners as well as five wounded and seven dead. I may have shot one who died. I can’t tell. It all happens so quickly that you just aim and fire and don’t have time to think too much about the consequences. It was a terrible day, but I am proud to have played my part. There is no glory in killing. Pombo said that today I became a man. Not because I took a life but because I played my part in keeping my comrades alive. And today was my seventeenth birthday. I forgot all about that till now.
We buried Rubio and moved all the goods we’d requisitioned from the soldiers. Inti stayed behind with the prisoners – he will take them away and set them free – we can’t keep that many extra men with us. He’s also to look for scattered weapons. Prisoners we don’t need, weapons we do. The soldiers are of the Fourth Division. Some of them looked as young as me. I got a new pair of boots from one of them. We all got new boots. Mine are not really better than the old ones – but they are less worn and I’m carrying my old boots in my knapsack for now – Inti says I should ditch them but I know one day soon I’ll be pleased I have a spare pair even if that is a luxury. We spent all day moving stuff and then went to the new camp. Joaquin’s group came there too. We listened to the radio report of the ambush. They lie about it, saying that there are four confirmed guerrilla deaths, when there was only Rubio. On the radio there was also a detailed account of the camp and they said they’d found a picture of Che Guevara smoking a pipe. We can’t know if this is true, but it is worrying if his cover has been blown. The soldiers will redouble their efforts if they know we are being led by the great Che Guevara.
Che talked about how it was a Cuban who gave his life first in this struggle. He told the Bolivians to respect the Cubans as they’ve been complaining a bit recently about us not pulling our weight. He told us to come together and stop being divided between our nationalities. We started studying the book I have been carrying in my knapsack but haven’t had time to read. It is by Debray (the Frenchman who is with us) and is called ‘Revolution in the Revolution?’ It is about the armed and political struggle in Latin America. I didn’t know I was carrying his book. Che explains things well and I have more respect for the Frenchman now than I did before. I didn’t know who he was and I haven’t really spoken to him because I don’t speak French so I can’t understand him – though he speaks some Spanish. It reminds me that I shouldn’t underestimate anyone. Debray may not look like a fighter, but he has made a great contribution through words. Che says we all have our ways to contribute and that words are good, as long as they are matched with actions. Debray has told Che he wants to stay with us and fight. Che says he will be more use to us in the outside world.
We were on a slow march today towards the camp. Everywhere you go you expect soldiers now so I was constantly on guard. That’s really tiring. We got to the caves and found nothing disturbed so they haven’t been found by the soldiers yet. The radio said that US military were preparing counter insurgency troops. Che said that we are perhaps witnessing the first episode of a New Vietnam. We set up an ambush. That’s becoming normal now and I took my turn at watching out. I am ready.
We spent the day sorting out the food supplies. I went in a party to get milk cans. Forty eight were left and when we got there, there was only twenty five. So twenty three were missing. Someone, or more than one, have been stealing them and this is stealing from his fellows which is inexcusable. No one has owned up, of course.
We took a mortar and machine gun from the cave to help protect us till Joaquin arrives. Che is still trying to work out how to drop Debray and Carlos so that they can send messages out and be safe. He has written a message explaining the ambush from our point because of the lies being put out by the radio. He gave this message to the young soldiers: ‘We call upon the young recruits to follow these instructions: When a battle begins, throw your weapons aside and put your hands on your head, remaining silently where you are at the moment when shooting starts.’ We don’t want to kill young men or conscripts. Che says we don’t want to spill the innocent blood of recruits but if they advance on us at the front of a column we have to shoot to kill. This war is about freedom not killing, but sometimes killing is a necessity if we are to stay alive ourselves.