Granma International
November 30, 2001

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 Prado
                   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 in
                   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 were
                   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
                   2, 1956.


                   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
                   on time."

                   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
                   revolutionary leader.

                   "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."

                   ROAST COW?

                   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."


                   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
                   and Havana.

                   "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.