New York Times
February 3, 1958. p. 1.
Castro Aide Says Industry of U.S. Won’t Be Spared in Bid to Bar Election
By Homer Bigart
Special to The New York Times
HAVANA, Feb. 2—“A month from today all Cuba will be in flames.”
The speaker was Luis Pérez Rios, youthful leader of the underground labor wing of the rebel forces of Fidel Castro. He was interviewed near Havana. Luis Pérez Rios is, of course, a nom de guerre—his identity remains secret.
Señor Pérez revealed that at a meeting of rebel leaders Jan. 24 to Jan. 27 it was decided to concentrate on industrial sabotage.
“We are changing our tactics,” he said. “We had been doing sporadic bombings in the cities as well as burning sugar cane fields and tobacco drying sheds in the countryside. This will continue.
“But now we will center attention on the disruption of industry,” Señor Pérez continued. “We will cripple sugar mills, tobacco factories, public utilities, railroads and refineries.
“Our first action under the new plan was the fire last week at the Esso refinery. Don’t get the idea we are picking on American-owned installations. Esso just happened to be handiest from a tactical standpoint.”
The fire, which started Jan. 27, destroyed a gasoline storage tank at Belot, across the bay from Havana. Newspapers in the capital estimated the loss at $100,000 to $150,000.
“We are entering a decisive period,” the young rebel went on to say. “We must do everything possible to prevent the national election June 1. We cannot accept this election.
“Why not? Because everyone knows the electoral process is a farce and that Dictator Batista will continue to hold power.”
The Constitution bars President Fulgencio Batista from seeking re-election to a second consecutive term. He would have to wait eight years—two terms—and run again in 1966.
But Batista is expected to hand-pick the Presidential candidate of the Government coalition. Moreover, a special law recently adopted permits the retiring President to assume supreme command of the Cuban military forces. Thus the rebels see scant hope of getting rid of President Batista by peaceful means.
The rebel strategy is to disrupt the relatively settled and prosperous national economy in the hope this will impel the passive elements of the populace to join the uprising. The sabotage campaign would culminate in a general strike.
By adopting this plan Señor Castro, who runs the rebellion from its stronghold in the Sierra Maestra of Oriente Province, is taking a calculated risk. He believes Cuban resentment over destruction of property and the loss of jobs will turn not against him but against President Batista.
There is a further danger. United States business has an $825,000,000 investment in Cuba, Widespread destruction of American property might change the State Department’s attitude toward Señor Castro from one of apparent neutrality to outright hostility.
Señor Pérez told this correspondent the sabotage campaign would not spare United States property.
How the Esso sabotage was accomplished is “a military secret,” Señor Pérez said.
Reviewing the results of rebel sabotage of the sugar crop, Señor Pérez said the burning of cane fields inflicted $42,000,000 damage.
United States sources here insist this campaign so far has been “a complete flop.” They say only 50,000 to 60,000 tons of sugar cane has been destroyed and that the rebels would have to burn a million tons before there was any appreciable effect on the Cuban economy.
Señor Pérez said unusually heavy January rains had hurt the campaign. Now his men will go after the sugar mills, he declared. There are 161 sugar mills in Cuba, of which thirty three are American-owned, according to the United States Embassy.
The rebel leader asserted that the burning of tobacco sheds in Pinar del Rio, which produces the best cigar tobacco, had been “very successful.”
In Pinar del Rio last week this correspondent was told by Armando Aguilar, wealthy tobacco grower, that about 400 sheds had been burned, but that the loss was minor compared with the recent devastation by wind, rain and blue fungus.
Señor Pérez was eager to dispel the notion, which he believed was widely held in the United States, that the 26th of July movement headed by Señor Castro was predominantly a middle-class affair. He said that although Cuban labor leaders were “on Batista’s payroll,” the labor rank and file sympathized with Señor Castro.
Special to The New York Times
HAVANA, Feb. 2—An army lieutenant was killed and three soldiers wounded by a group of youths believed to be members of the Castro movement in the town of Bayamo last night.
Bayamo is on the edge of the Sierra Maestra, stronghold of Señor Castro and his insurgents. It is field headquarters of about 5,000 Government troops now surrounding the Sierra.
Railway service was interrupted between Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba for about twelve hours yesterday when a locomotive was derailed by saboteurs at Ignacio Agramonte, near Camaguey.
A group of youths invaded the national assembly of the Opposition Free People’s party today as it was preparing to nominate Dr. Carlos Marquez Sterling as Presidential candidate in the election scheduled June 1. Shouting “Viva Fidel Castro!” the youths threw the meeting into an uproar for fifteen minutes and then withdrew.
Señor Castro has repudiated any elections held under the Administration of President Batista.