Felipe Guerra Matos’Guerrita’, who was captain of the Rebel Army, sums up a whole struggle existence with the Commander in Chief in a few sympathetic anecdotes. For this venerable old man his life has “some importance”, according to his own words, for the relationship of his friend and companion that he shared with Fidel.
That is why time purified him even the bitterest memories of the war and gave him the gift of good times. This evokes the scene when he had to remember exactly words to say in case of being captured by the enemy during the combats in the Sierra Maestra:
“I know you’re burned, Guerrita, but it’s necessary that you go to Santiago de Cuba and Manzanillo. Learn this dictation so you can justify your presence there – Fidel told me.
“I had to mention, in order, a series of approximately 20 nearby locations, the points of a supposed trajectory:
“-I came out of Cayo Espino, I passed through Jibacoa, Las Mercedes, Las Vegas, San Lorenzo … But I was wrong like twice.”That does not go there,” Fidel interrupted me.
“-I left Cayo Espino, I went through Jibacoa, San Lorenzo … – repeated again. “That does not go there. You with that little face and those smart mirrors are more brute than the very same fuck, but you have to fulfill the mission and if you fall into the hands of the enemy I ask you to die with dignity, do not give us away, “he told me. “And I solemnly swear on my honor as a man and a revolutionary that if they had caught me I would have died with honor, Fidel prepared me for that.”
Felipe Guerra Matos had been linked to clandestine activity in his native Manzanillo, a town near the Sierra Maestra, the nucleus of the struggle for national liberation.
“For me it was the most natural thing to join the great insurrectional current of the city. From those moments I remember César Suárez, Rafael Sierra and Quique Escalona, a large group of fighters who were linked to the Revolutionary Movement July 26. When the Granma yacht disembarked, many tried to meet with the expeditionaries, but they did not succeed and returned to Manzanillo. There we began to work, we contacted Celia early and the first small group of manzanilleros that climbed the Sierra at the end of December 1956 and the beginning of January 1957 were carried by us.
” Due to his full knowledge of the area, he was entrusted with missions as a messenger and liaison under the direct orders of Fidel Castro, Celia Sánchez and Frank País.
As part of this work, Guerrita personally led the American journalist Herbert Matthews, of the New York Times newspaper from the foothills of the region to the rebel camp where the historic meeting with the leader of the Revolution took place.
“The first section led the reporter in my Wily tank, an almost deadly route for those who did not know the region exactly given the irregularity of the road. Then we walked, also a difficult journey, especially for the journalist who could not avoid a spectacular fall, but showed his will to recover quickly and continue the march determined.
“I felt great satisfaction when I witnessed the reception of Fidel. The conversation took place in an atmosphere of courtesy and respect. For both parties it was important: the journalist obtained his’palo’- as you call it- and the Revolution the evidence that he was alive and with possibilities of winning. The world knew that Fidel was ‘fighting’ in the mountains. In this way we mock the press censorship established by the government of Fulgencio Batista.
“We also contributed to the meeting of Fidel with the leadership of the July 26 Movement on May 3, 1958, a very important event that gave the organization a unique political and military direction, represented by Fidel as Commander in Chief of the Sierra and the plain and Secretary General of the structure “.
Due to his continuous clandestine activity, which already generated suspicions, Guerra Matos joined the Rebel Army. Due to his qualities he deserves the rank of captain. After the victory of January 1959 he assumed vital tasks for the young State, responsibilities that allowed him to know with precision the character of the Commander in Chief:
“Fidel could never be won, he was very competitive, he demanded the most and demanded himself even more. He knew everything because everything interested him, he asked everything. Theoretically, the horizon is a curved line that reaches our view where it seems that the sky merges with the earth, as Fidel saw beyond. He had an immeasurable dimension, a prodigious memory, an incredible speed to solve problems and analyze the most complex issues. When he dictated an order was thorough, did not give opportunity for misunderstanding.
“I saw him shine like never before when Cyclone Flora passed. At that time I was Chief of Civil Defense and I moved to Bayamo. He demonstrated, as in no other moment, his will and his humanism. He was willing to risk his life to save the peasants, any victim of that catastrophe. He led the rescue actions with an enthusiasm, with a faith, with a strength that was impossible not to follow, not inspire. ”
“In 1968 I assumed the position of delegate of the Construction. At that time we had some problems due to misunderstandings of several colleagues. One day the Commandant sent me to look for us, we left the route, and he did not talk to me all the way. He bit his glasses as usual.
We arrived at the Niña Bonita dam where I had directed the construction of a pumping station to favor the livestock activity that was taking place there. He was not very happy:
“-How many engines does it have?” He asked
“Four engines,” I answered instantly.”
-Where are they from?
“-They are English”
-How much is each engine worth?”
– 3 125 pesos”
– How many sprinklers does it move?”
– 76 sprinklers”
– How many liters of water per second fill the dam?
“Commander, I cannot answer that, yes.
“Already a little annoyed, he snapped:
“How long do I have to fight with your ignorance?
“Until I die because I am a basic means of this Revolution
.”Then we made the passes. We visited several construction sites that day. I had not eaten anything and, when I arrived in Havana, Fidel asked Celia to give me sweet guava with cheese:”Do you like it, Guerrita?” He asked me.
“- If you do not like guava bar with cheese, you do not want your mother,” I replied.”They brought me a fountain and when I ‘got a hand’ it was plastic.”He laughs with wishes remembering the absurd:”Fidel liked to make jokes.”
The first leader of the General Directorate of Sports, forerunner of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) is another of the data of his extensive career. But Guerrita prefers to give up the protagonism of its own history:
“We were one day at the José Martí International Airport to receive Fidel who was arriving from a tour of Central American countries; also there was the arrival of the boxers who won the World Championship of that discipline in Belfast, Ireland. The Commander congratulated the athletes and then told me to wait for him to speak.”He puts his arm over me:
“-Guerrita, I was reading the diaries of Raúl and Almeida and I was surprised how many times they mentioned you, how did you manage?”The vanity was growing, imagine, the high command was there, I thought I was an important guy.
“I do not know how you were not killed,” Fidel insisted.
“Commander, thanks to my intelligence”
– Smart you? Brutes the guards were. ”
And the passage, a thousand times repeated, awakens the laughter of the first day and the nostalgia for the past that does not return.
Like a revolutionary from Manzanillo, in Holguín province, of 92 years, twice wounded in combat, sequels that still drag on one leg and heightened his problems of locomotion, but still lucid and ready to fight to the end, Felipe Guerra Matos is described. Although it almost does not look like the vital bearded one of the photographs, Guerrita keeps the disposition intact, not even time changes the essentials. He longs for life to reward him with a second chance and return him to one of the twists and turns of the Sierra Maestra where he could orient himself without difficulty and fight without quarter, inspired by that impetuous force that is Fidel.