Che pointed out to us that it’s exactly eleven months since we began. I can’t believe it’s less than a year, I have grown up so much since last year. I can only hope in a year from now we are in a better position. It’s hard to stay positive but we have to keep strong. I look at Che and Pombo and think that if they can do it, so can I. I must. Today a woman wandered into our camp. She was tending goats, but we had to take her prisoner. He was scared and wouldn’t tell us about the soldiers, though she did tell us something about the roads so hopefully we may be able to find a way out of here. I went with Aniceto and Pablito to the woman’s house late in the day. There was no food to be had but we paid her 50 pesos to keep quiet. I doubt she will so when we got back Che said we had to move on. We started late at night and everyone is very tired. We are not marching so much as dragging along. When we stopped to listen to the radio it said that there are a couple of hundred men in Serrano ready to cut off the escape of thirty seven guerrillas. In truth there are only seventeen of us. They have got our location wrong. That gives me some hope.
It was cold this morning. We were slow in moving. Moro and Chino are both struggling. But it was the most beautiful sunrise. On any other day I would have felt glad to be alive. But this was the worst day of my life. We split into groups and sent scouts in three directions. Soon they came back with the news that we were really surrounded and had very little cover. We couldn’t go back and we couldn’t go forward. Che ordered us to hide up in what little cover there was. We all split into groups, and arranged a meeting point. All we could do was wait and hope. But hope was vain. I was on one side of the ravine with Pombo and Urbano. Che was at another place. He was with Chino. When it came time to change the positions all hell broke loose. Aniceto and Nato had come to replace us and they had to cross a clearing. Aniceto was killed as he tried to cross.
The army started firing and it was coming in all directions. We were under constant fire for what felt like forever. It’s all a blur to me. Then there was an explosion which raised such a cloud of dust that Pombo grabbed me and said ‘run Jejenito’. We ran like hares to get to the place Che had agreed we would all meet. We waited there until the shooting stopped and the soldiers seemed to have left. It was a long time. Finally Inti came. But there was no sign of Che. ‘Where is he?’ Pombo asked. ‘Isn’t he with you?’ Inti replied. Urbano, Benigno turned up and they’d not seen him either. Finally Dario and Nato turned up and he wasn’t with them either. No one knew where he is.
We went looking for him and in the evening, around nine, we came to the place where our stuff had been stored. This was where I last saw Che. We found all sorts of signs of disturbance – food on the ground and Che’s plate. Inti picked it up and took it. Our knapsacks were there and mine was open. The radio was gone but my diary was there so I’ve picked it up and a pencil. I’m carrying it on me. We threw out a lot of other things to lighten our load. We need to move as fast as possible.
We walked all night, hoping upon hope we would come across Che at any minute, as he must have headed for the river with the woods nearby. He told Nato that he would try and break the encirclement at nightfall. It’s not much to go on but it’s all we had.
There are only seven of us now. No idea where the others are. We got within sight of La Higuera and heard dogs barking. Inti and Pombo discussed whether anyone else might have been killed in the fight. No one wants to believe that Che could have been killed. We must find him. I cannot believe that for the first time in nearly a year he is out of my sight. He is the best man of all of us and we must find him.
We saw a helicopter fly overhead twice. We only had a small radio for news. Benigno had it. It had been Coco’s. It said that the army had captured Che and he was seriously wounded. When I heard this my heart sank. I didn’t want to believe it but my guts told me it might be true. I don’t want to live without him. We must find him. Pombo said it was probably Pacho they had got.
We were still near La Higuera. We found water. Urbano heard on the radio that Che was dead. The description was accurate, down to the sandals and the poncho he wore at night which had been Tuma’s. I knew it was true the moment I looked at Pombo and saw him crying. No one spoke for hours. Then Pombo and Inti took command. Pombo said that as political leader Inti should speak. He addressed us thus: ‘Che, your ideas have not died. We who fought at your side pledge to continue the struggle until death or the final victory. Your banners, which are ours, will never be lowered. Victory or death!’
I can’t write any more. I will keep this diary but I do not want to write now Che is dead and can write no more himself. I know he is dead and the best part of me is dead with him. I don’t know how to live without him but Pombo says we must not give up.
The seven men Pombo, Inti, Nato, Urbano, Dario, Beningo, and Jejenito escaped from La Higuera after several battles. Walking only at night and with some help from local peasants it took a month to get to get to Santa Curaz. Nato died on the way in a battle. Inti and Urbano got to the city first. Pombo, Benigno, Dario and Jejenito then arrived. The other group of guerrillas was wiped out at a crossing on 13th Ocober.
Jejenito didn’t keep a diary of this time and he never spoke of the events afterwards when he got back to Cuba. When he finally told his daughter of the journey, he simply said that they made their way through many difficulties to Chile, then got to Cuba via Tahiti. He told her he felt nothing of those times as he was consumed with grief and guilt and felt himself more dead than alive.
When finally they arrived back in Cuba they were met by Fidel. They explained to him all that had happened and their guilt for the failure and their responsibility for the death of Che. Fidel said ‘You are alive because you were aggressive, because you fought. Had you been scared, had you shown fear, you would have perished. It is you ability to resist, your capacity to fight that shows your revolutionary strength.’
They all wept. They agreed to continue the struggle. And they all agreed that Che had wished Jejenito to be protected like a brother or a son. They made a pact to protect him by denying he was ever there. He was to return to his home. Live the life that was deprived to Che and serve the revolution by being a chimera. She told me that he cried as he told her this. He didn’t want this kind of protection. He felt to blame. If he had been by Che’s side instead of Chino he is sure he could have saved him. But since he couldn’t save Che, he felt that he had died too, so when they told him he had never been there, he had never existed, he went along with it. He felt he had no other option. It was his duty. But, before he died, he said he wanted his story to be told. He wanted to be a witness to history. Not for the praise of anyone else, just to remind himself of the truth he lived through and the man he tried all his life to be like. In this book we hope to have done justice to the boy who became the man who was not there and died twice in his life. Who knew Che as a brother, a father and a comrade. Who wanted more than anything to be like Che.
YOU CAN BUY THE PAPERBACK VERSION OF THIS McSERIAL EXCLUSIVELY FROM WWW.UNCO.SCOT for just £7.99 (plus P&P) . Just click HERE