December 2, 1956, the youngest member of the expedition aboard the Granma, Arsenio García Dávila, began the march through the mud in a mangrove called Los Cayuelos, two kilometers from the beach known as Las Coloradas.
The crossing began on November 25, and had been difficult, but not in vain. Deep inside he knew this, and did not lose hope. He was only 20, but his thirst for freedom had grown with every injustice he witnessed. He had see his brother die in their native Güines, because there was no money for medicine.
“The Granma was carrying more dreams than weapons,” the 80-year-old Arsenio said, in a room filled with photos that captured pieces of the story, “the greatest thing that could have happened to me as a young man, and a human being who wanted to change the desperate reality we were living.”
The son of campesinos, poor, obliged to leave school early to help support the family, he worked in a store, as a messenger, and became a revolutionary rebel.
Much could be said of Arsenio, of that boy filled with the desire to struggle, the need to struggle, but one word will suffice: consciousness.
He says simply, “We suffered exploitation, the discrimination of that era, and this produced in me the idea that something had to be done.”
On May 15, 1955, Fidel and his comrades, imprisoned on the Isle of Pines after the Moncada assault, were released, and a few days later, the revolutionary, engineer, and friend Francisco Valdés Ginebra took Arsenio to meet the leader of the rebels.
“I talked with him in an apartment on 23rd and 18th. I remember that it was very impressive to be in front of him, when he shook my hand. Raúl, Almeida, Melba, Montané were there. He asked me a lot of questions about my family and my work.”
From that moment on, the July 26 Movement had another committed member, who would soon take on the mission of delivering messages and funds to the Comadante in Mexico, to prepare and equip the expedition.
“Stay, we’re going soon,” were Fidel’s words, permanently engraved in the young man’s mind, a commitment, a gift from life, a huge compliment.
Then came the rigors of training, the vicissitudes, the tension of the final days before departing… until finally, a small boat in search of liberty was launched from the mouth of the Tuxpan River in Veracruz, without lifeboats in case of a shipwreck, or armament to fight the dictatorship’s aircraft and artillery. But with an indomitable desire to win.
The tension mounted with every minute of the crossing. From these days, constantly in danger of sinking, Arsenio chooses to retell the moment they were able to intercept a Navy transmission and learned of the uprising in Santiago de Cuba.
“I remember Fidel stuck to that radio, saying that he wished he had wings to be able to be with the people and the leaders of that operation.”
In that cramped space, designed for 14 with 82 on board, determination reigned. On the yacht with the men were uniforms, medicine, the minimum food necessary. Arsenio recalls that there were critical situations, but no room for protest or indiscipline among the group, with an average age of 25.
One dramatic moment was when Roberto Roque Núñez fell into the water, on deck despite the rough seas, attempting to spot the Cabo Cruz lighthouse.
In the silence of the night, Arsenio recalls, he heard the shouts of “Man overboard!” Fidel gave the order to find Roque. Once they finally did, the Comandante improvised a speech and they sang the national anthem.
“You see, this contingent was imbued with poetry, affection, and love. Fidel gave us a lesson of human significance: we could not leave a comrade to fate, even though we knew that, in these circumstances, with one mistake we could lose everything.” he said.
“The day of the landing, when we identified the vegetation of our homeland, we anchored some 40 meters from the mangrove in a muddy area. There were 12 or 13 compañeros in very bad physical condition and we had to carry their weapons. Then we saw the first campesino, Ángel Pérez Rosabal, the picture of poverty, who confirmed for us that we were in national territory.”
Cuba is, in Arsenio’s words, a Granma that “reproduces itself,” and its crew the youth who carry the Revolution in their blood. Among this youth we found
Orisbelis Hurtado and Adrián Deynes, who will participate in the parade commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Granma landing and Revolutionary Armed Forces Day, which has been postponed until January 2, 2017, since today is devoted to honoring the man who led the expedition.
In a Ciego de Ávila infantry battalion and the Mayabeque Camilo Cienfuegos Military Academy, the two believe that defending the future of this triumphant ship is the principal task of this generation.
Asked what it means to march alongside those bearded rebels, as they will this coming January 2, Adrian said it will be a moment of “great pride,” saying, “I feel that I am continuing the path they charted.”
For her part, Orisbelis states, “I will keep watch over the homeland as the expeditionaries did, so than it remains sovereign.”
“Representing Cuba as the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Fidel and Raúl have, moving forward despite the blockade, studying and doing the political-ideological work – these are the missions of today’s youth,” according to Adrián.
And these are beliefs Arsenio shares, because, “When an idea is just, if we carry it forward and inculcate it in the people, it is impossible to destroy.
“The Revolution is the realization of a dream that many thought impossible, that had a long term view. The joy surprised us all. I remember my family, as the time to see them approached, to tell them how much the country boy had learned.”
Sixty years later, Arsenio confirms that the path has been difficult, but not in vain. The defense of the homeland is the great challenge. And the rifles of today are ideas, as all three of the interviewees said in their own way – two generations who perhaps speak the same language when talking about the future of Cuba, as if they were setting sail on a new Granma. (Granma)
Periodico26.cu, December 2, 2016