The other Calixto García
BY LILLIAM RIERA (Granma International staff writer)
WITH the same "euphoria and joy" as nearly 50 years ago, Brigadier
General Calixto García Martínez recalls the moment that he met
young Fidel Castro, "when he still needed to pass one subject in
order to graduate as a lawyer."
It was Antonio (Ñico) López who introduced them at No. 109
Avenue, Havana, where the local Orthodox Party (PO) was based.
"Ñico and I were PO members and that is how we became friends,"
recalls this man who – despite being almost 70 – still has clear memories
of important episodes in the revolutionary struggle.
General Calixto García, a very unaffected and quiet man, participated
the actions of July 26, 1953, and was one of the 82 expedition members
who, under the command of Fidel, set out from Mexico on the Granma
cabin cruiser to initiate the struggle which was to definitively end more
than half a century of the neocolonial republic.
Since that first meeting in Prado 109, Calixto and his friend Ñico
convinced that "now we’ll win the Revolution."
That’s why when I asked him what was his fondest memory, he
didn’t hesitate to tell me that he had two: learning that Fidel was
alive after the attack on the Moncada Garrison, and likewise after the
unequal combat at Alegría de Pío, the first clash with the forces of
dictator Fulgencio Batista following the Granma landing on December
MEETING CHE AT THE SAN JOSÉ SODA PALACE
Calixto is a modest person and therefore doesn’t like talk about
himself. But he was the first member of the 26th of July Movement
to have contact with Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The meeting took place
at the Soda Palace in San José, the Costa Rican capital, a café where
many exiles used to meet.
He had arrived in the Central American country after escaping the
persecution and massacre suffered by the assailants of the Moncada
Garrison in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes
Garrison in Bayamo.
"Che and I spoke about the Revolution, about Fidel," he said,
describing that historic encounter that he believes was sheer chance.
He quotes just some of the words that Che spoke to him, still
engraved on his memory: "We will only achieve our goals if we work
They met again in Mexico City, where Calixto traveled from Costa
Rica with just one peso in his pocket. He later met up with Ñico and
other comrades. A Cuban named María Antonia, who was closely
linked to the revolutionaries, protected them and "gave all she could,
which wasn’t much, for the sake of the Revolution."
When Fidel and Raúl Castro and other revolutionaries were freed
from prison on the Isle of Pines, due to the political amnesty which
Batista was forced to decree, they traveled to Mexico, where two
thirds of the future expedition forces were arrested by the Mexican
Federal Police. They were freed some weeks later, all except for him
and Che. They were held together for 55 days, during which "we
talked about everything associated with revolution," he explained.
‘I DIDN’T WANT TO STAY’
After a great deal of pressure, they were freed, but had to remain in
hiding to avoid being deported for not having the right papers. Finally,
Fidel sent someone to find them. "He told us that he would wait as
long as possible, but if we didn’t arrive on time, he would have no
choice but to set sail. "It would have been terrible if we hadn’t arrived
The day they left, Fidel was on the pier welcoming the fighters.
Calixto remembers that he boarded quickly, "because there were
many comrades, I didn’t know if we would all fit and I didn’t want to
be left behind."
‘NOW NO ONE CAN DEFEAT U.S.’
The man who is now brigadier general participated in several of the
most important battles against the dictatorship: El Uvero – the first
major battle; the attack on La Plata Garrison; Guisa. He arrived on
the Granma as a sergeant and finished the war as a commander of
the Rebel Army.
But he will always remember that day, the first time he had contact
with Fidel after the bitter Alegría de Pío incident, the ambush of
December 5, when the revolutionary troop suffered 21 casualties
and the rest of the men were dispersed. Only 20 regrouped during
the same month and seven joined the Rebel Army later in the
mountains of the Sierra Maestra. Another 20 were taken prisoner.
"What did you think when you saw Fidel again?"
"That the Revolution would triumph, that now no one would defeat
It is as if he were reliving the moment in which he arrived at the Alejo
Piña farm, where he had his eagerly awaited reunion with the
"Was Fidel there when you arrived?"
"Yes, he was training people. And I accidentally set off a shot. I
wanted the ground to swallow me up."
"How did that happen?"
"We were taking positions, because we sensed a movement, as
though the enemy were approaching. In war you always have to
have your gun ready, because often just a fraction of a second is
enough to save lives."
Calixto continues counting back the years as if they were seconds. I
notice that his face assumes a crafty expression when he recalls his
stay on the Cosío family farm, during the time when the guerrilla
army began to travel deep into the Sierra Maestra, especially on
December 27, 1956.
"I said to Fidel, ‘What a coincidence, today is my birthday and today
we’re roasting the cow.’ Then Fidel said: ‘Ah, that’s why we’re
roasting it, to celebrate.’"
He gave a smile that made me his confidante and immediately
"We ate the cow half raw."
After the triumph in 1959, Calixto García held numerous military
responsibilities. But in his opinion, being in charge of the then province
of Oriente was the hardest mission that he has ever had, because
"that was when the struggle against the enemies of the Revolution,
the counterrevolution, began."
HIS SADDEST MEMORY: THE DEATH OF CAMILO CIENFUEGOS
When I asked him about the saddest memory he had from all these
years, he didn’t hesitate for one second before answering, obviously
moved: "Camilo’s death." Calixto was in Oriente province when the
plane carrying the Hero of Yaguajay disappeared between Camagüey
"One of Camilo’s last written communications was to me. Since then,
I’ve searched through everything but never found it."
Does he remember what it said?
"It was to ask me to transfer Captain Machadito to Oriente with me."
Did he manage to reply?
"He died that very day, but I carried out his orders. His loss was a
harsh blow for the Revolution. Saying the name Camilo is like saying
Revolution. He was a leader and a brother.
Calixto has two children, named Celia – like the heroine of the Sierra,
Celia Sánchez Manduley – and Camilo, who have given him three
grandchildren. He has managed to dedicate part of his time to them,
Perhaps because of his laudable memory, this social science graduate
is currently working as second-in-command of the Third Front’s
History Commission, headed by Major of the Revolution Juan
Almeida, with whom he shares a strong friendship forged through
years of struggle.
He told me that the connection between his name and the major
general of the 19th-century Liberation Army is coincidence. But after
meeting him, I have discovered that this other Calixto García is cut
from the same cloth.