After a day's liberty in Guantanamo city eleven uniformed unarmed U.S. marines and 17 equally inoffensive U.S. sailors climbed aboard their chartered bus one night last week for the 15-mile ride back to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The Cuban driver swung out of town and the bus bucketed along the narrow muddy road. Suddenly the headlights picked up a band of armed men. Guerrilla fighters in Cuban Rebel Chieftain Fidel Castro's 19-month-long uprising against Dictator Fulgencio Batista, they climbed aboard the bus and ordered the driver to turn east.
The bus jounced through canefields for 30 miles, finally stopped alongside a cluster of waiting trucks on the San Antonio sugar plantation at the edge of the mountain foothills The servicemen, their driver and the bus conductor were loaded aboard the trucks and carted off into the mountains, captives of Fidel Castro's leftist, anti-U.S. brother Raúl, who commands the rebels' Sierra del Cristal column.
That night, as the Navy began a search for the missing bus another sailor was grabbed just outside the base. At the same time, across the island at the northern edge of the Sierra del Cristal, U.S. Consul Park Wollam set off into the hills with a pair of Cuban guides. His mission: negotiating the release of ten U.S. and two Canadian executives and engineers kidnaped by Raúl Castro's men two days earlier from the village of Moa, site of a $75 million nickel-processing plant under construction for Freeport Sulphur Co. (Time, May 5)
In kidnaping the engineers, the rebels also stole 19 vehicles, including a gasoline-tank truck, loaded them with food and medical supplies. Before they left one of the rebels turned to the wife of one of the engineers said "They'll be treated well and returned in a few days." He said the reasons for the kidnaping were U.S. support of the Batista regime in general and the refueling of Cuban military planes at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay in particular.
As far as the refueling charges were concerned, U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Earl E. T. Smith declared flatly that "the base has not and will not refuel or in other ways service Cuban military aircraft engaged in military operations." But the charges were beside the point. The kidnapings were obviously to get publicity and make Batista look ineffective. In forcing the U.S. to negotiate directly with them for the prisoners' release, the rebels readily accomplished their purpose of the moment.