Batista's Drive To Crush Rebels Called Failure
Travelers Say He Controls Towns Only--Talks to Free Americans Begun
By Homer Bigart
The Cuban Government's drive to crush the rebellion led by Fidel Castro in Oriente Province has collapsed in failure, according to information from travelers recently in eastern Cuba.
These sources say that Government forces control only the towns of Oriente and that Americans working at isolated mining properties are usually at the mercy of rebel bands. Four more Americans were kidnapped yesterday and talks are going on for the release of forty-eight persons now in rebel hands.
The Government offensive opened soon after to collapse of the rebel-sponsored general strike in April. Few observers believed then that the army could knock Señor Castro out of the rugged terrain of the Sierra Maestra. President Fulgencio Batista boasted that he would "destroy" Señor Castro but acknowledged it would be a "long-term operation."
Castro Gains In Strength
Up to now the Batista regime has banned newsmen from Oriente. Travelers provided this picture of current conditions in the rebellious province:
Señor Castro's bands have increased in number and size. Estimates of rebel strength in Oriente now go as high as 20,000. It is very doubtful that all the rebels are adequately armed, but travelers said they encountered bands that appeared well armed and outfitted.
The main rebel force in the Sierra Maestra is said to have created two airstrips. Another group operating in northern Oriente is reported to have built an airstrip near the Moa Bay Mining Company and the Nicaro nickel plant, both which are American-owned. The rebels are said to be getting most of their arms and ammunition by air.
Army Driven From Foothills
The army has concentrated about 11,000 troops---7,000 recruits and 4,000 regulars--on a front running from Niquero, near the western tip of the Sierra Maestra, eastward through Manzanillo to Bayamo. But efforts to penetrate the 2,000 square miles of forested sierra have failed.
Then the army reverted to its old tactic of sending strong patrols into the mountains. But the rebels resisted so strongly that no major penetration of the sierra was achieved.
The fighting has increased in savagery. Travelers were told by residents of Oriente that the main reason for the expanding rebel strength was found in the "savage repressive methods" of the Government forces. They said that "hundreds" suspected of rebel sympathies had been slain. Other "hundreds" had fled the lowland and joined the rebels.
Villages have been "bombed out of existence" by the army or burned, the travelers reported.
The private army of Senator Rolando Masferrer, a Batista crony, continues to sow terror. The "Tigres [tigers] de Masferrer" are reported to number 1,500. In Manzanillo a Masferrer band of thirty of forty men was ousted by army authorities after enraged civic leaders complained that the band was involved in many killings and burnings, according to travelers, but after a short exile the band was allowed to return and resume its depredations.
Rebels Also Show Savagery
Savagery is indulged in by the rebels, too. "Chivatos," or informers, are restlessly hunted and killed. Two women living on a farm near Bayamo were slain by rebels a few days after the women were said to have informed the army that a band of rebels was in night encampment beside a near-by stream. The army suprised the rebels and "wiped them out to the last man."
Oriente, Cuba's largest and richest province, is becoming impoverished by civil war. Hundreds of refugees have poured into Havana. Many who remain are "on the verge of starvation."
Along the 100-mile stretch between Bayamo and Niquero 200 stores in small towns have disappeared. Some were burned by the army, some were sacked by the rebels, others were closed by terrified owners.
The Sierra Maestra included the riches coffee region in Cuba. But coffee plantings are deserted because the army refuses to let workers go into the mountains.
As an example of Government terror, travelers reported that the army commander of a district south of Bayamo ordered that every native should have his hands waxed with paraffin. If the wax exposed traces of nitrate, the native was to be shot on suspicion of having recently fired a rebel gun. Then it was discovered that all workers handling coffee and fertilizer had specs of nitrate of their hands. Yet the tests were continued.
Rebels in northern Oriente, led by Raul Castro, younger brother of Fidel Castro, last week seized the towns of Caimanera and Guantanamo, near the United States naval base. Both towns were held for two days. Then the rebels retired after a clash with Government forces. Casualties were said to be heavy on both sides.
The same rebel force killed three Cuban soldiers and two Cuban civilians in an attack last week on the Moa Bay Mining Company. The rebels lost one man. Besides kidnapping ten Americans and two Canadians, the rebels seized food, medical supplies, and nineteen vehicles.
This raid followed an attack May 22 on the Nicaro Nickel Plant, which is owned by the United States Government. Meeting no resistance, the rebels took sixteen trucks, one bulldozer and office supplies.
Another rebel force is said to control the countryside around Baracoa near the eastern tip of Oriente.
Outside Oriente, the rebels are active in the provinces of Camaguey and Las Villas. Fidel Castro is reported to have sent one of his most trusted lieutenants, Lara, into southern Camaguey. Trains do not operate at night in eastern Camaguey, and many buses have been seized and burned by rebels.
'Second Front Opened'
In Las Villas, students of Havana University calling themselves the "Revolutionary Directorate" opened a so-called "second front" last winter. Reinforced by other revolutionists, this group is now said to number more than 600. Employing guerrilla tactics in the mountains near Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus, these rebels say they have killed more than 200 soldiers. The Army is reported to have sent 3,000 troops into the district.
The students say they have lost only nine men.
Dr. Mario Llerena, Señor Castro's representative in New York, said yesterday that Government forces suffered heavily in an action last week-end at Santo Domingo, north of Palma Soriano. He reported that a "tremendous number of casualties" were inflicted when Army troops fled across a mine field. He said the rebels reported 50 Army troops killed and twenty-five wounded. Twenty-seven prisoners fell to the rebels, he said along with considerable arms.