Brow furrowed in concentration, the General continued to draw up his analysis of the situation in the Middle East. A renowned internationalist, with combat experience going back thirty years, ‘El Moro’ was certainly the man for the job. It was a Spring day in Havana, and the weather was warm enough to leave the windows open. A slight breeze ruffled the papers on his desk. The General paused. He reread the opening lines of his conclusion. The policies of the current Soviet administration have left the Palestine Liberation Organisation militarily exposed and politically isolated. In this context, Arafat’s acceptance of Israel’s right to exist is no surprise…” The General removed the over-sized blackframe glasses from his face and rubbed his eyes. A Hero of the Revolution still has to work, he mused. The phone rang. He sighed, and plucked the receiver from its cradle. The conversation was brief, but his head was spinning when he replaced the handset. Christ, Raúl wasn’t joking.
Commander of The Western Army.
They were going to make him the third most powerful man on the island.
Fidel. Raúl. Then him.
It was Celia who had founded the movement. Fidel and Ché were the natural leaders and the biggest characters, but she was the one who had brought them all together. Nobody could have done it on their own, of course, but she was the one who had the knack for measuring people, sensing how they needed to be dealt with, understanding how they should be treated. She was sharp as hell, and the man who would become known as ‘El Moro’ had warmed to her immediately when they first met in Manzanillo. She was barely 25 then. Extraordinary. El Moro had much comradely affection for her. Nothing unseemly, of course. Besides which, it was rumoured that herself and Fidel had something of an intimate relationship with one another. Good for them, had been El Moro’s reaction. Life had to be seized. At that time, none of them knew how soon it might end.
Neither of the brothers could believe it at first. It was simply not possible. The man was a hero – but more than that, he was comrade. His fidelity was beyond dispute. Once confronted with the full weight of the evidence, however, they were convinced. Raúl, friends with The General since the very beginning, cracking jokes all those years ago on the Granma, was particularly devastated. He squeezed his eyes shut, balled his fingers into fists and hammered at his own temples, muttering oaths to himself – at one point, Fidel and José had to each put an arm round him and speak soothingly to calm him down. Then Raúl quietly wept into his hands. How could this be – the man with whom he had grown so close during the assault on Santa Clara? It was heartbreaking. A routine background check… Who could believe it?
Impressed was not the word. Ché often spoke of his admiration for El Moro, Camilo regularly pointed out the man’s fearlessness, determination and strategic genius, and Raúl beamed with fraternal pride whenever El Moro’s name was mentioned. Friend and foe alike regarded this revolutionary fighter with respect – in the Sierra Maestra and at the Bay of Pigs, he had been like an ancient warrior; calm, composed, but fearsome. Fidel knew what an asset he had at his disposal. El Moro was quickly enrolled in the War College at Matanzas, to hone his skills before being sent to the prestigious Frunze Academy in Moscow. El Comandante had big plans for this comrade; he intended to use El Moro, as best he could, to lead Cuba’s Brigadas in their future interventions around the globe…
Raúl pleaded with him to come clean, to reveal everything, to beg forgiveness and ask for clemency. The General never denied the charges with any great passion, and yet despite these repeated pleas – and those of numerous other revolutionary brothers & sisters – he stayed stubborn as a mule. El Moro would not cooperate. After a month or so of this desperate wrangling, it became clear that there was just no reasoning with him. The Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces had no choice but to arrest The General, and announce the shocking charges against him. The country was rocked. Even then, his closest comrades continued to do all their power to convince him to say something, anything that might result in a lenient judgement or ameliorate his sentence. He was not senile by any means – he was only 59 after all, and with his shock of well-kept black hair and smooth looks, he appeared younger – but it seems that, in this instance, his head was in the clouds.
They had performed well in Angola. El Moro had once again led his troops with zeal, intensity and panache. The victories over the FNLA had won the appreciation of both the Soviets and, more importantly, of Fidel. South Africa, that racist, apartheid state, had received a bloody nose – arguably the beginning of the end for that abominable regime. El Moro had nothing more to prove…but he had everything to lose. We will never know why he delved into the sordid trade of diamond-smuggling and ivory-selling. Greed? Perhaps – but what need had a man like The General for more money? Later he would claim that there were “mitigating circumstances”. His soldiers needed vital equipment, and the only way for him to procure the materiel required was to raise funds – quickly. That would be understandable…except for the fact that he then smuggled guns in Nicaragua and, worst of all, had used his position to enable drug traffickers to utilise Cuban territorial waters for their operations. The prosecution asserted – with some justification given what happened to Noriega less that a year later – that had the United States learnt of this, the Yankees could have used it as a pretext to invade Cuba. The General was sullen, downcast, deflated…but he insisted:
He was just trying to secure the weapons that could be decisive in the War for Angola…and then one thing led to another.
They still loved him. Every single one of them. There had been many executions since the rebirth of Cuba – what revolution does not experience this? – but none had caused as much sadness to the populace as a whole. The atmosphere leading up to the trial had been one of sadness. The response to the verdict, one of sombre acceptance. Almost all accepted that there was no other choice. What other choice could there be, for one convicted of treason? Out of respect for his part in the great Revolution, his last two wishes were granted.
He was allowed to wear his blindfold.
He was allowed to command the firing squad.
I confess, I was crying floods of tears as I walked over to his riddled body, slumped against the walls. Big, fat drops were rolling down my cheeks and splashing onto the hard ground. It was a hot day – oppressively, crushingly hot – and the droplets vaporised almost as soon as they splashed.
As I put the final bullet into his head, I caught the reflection of the sun in one of my own tears; a flash of brilliance, and then nothing.
Solidaridad, hermanos y hermanas… ★