How Cuba Remembers Its Revolutionary Past and Present

Castro’s cabin at the rebel headquarters had a simple bed, a fridge, a study and a secret trapdoor, in case he came under attack. 

“It’s not hard to see why Fidel Castro’s guerrilla headquarters during the Cuban revolutionary war was never found by the army. Even today, getting to the command post feels like a covert mission. Known as Comandancia La Plata, the remote hide-out was built in the spring of 1958 in the succulent rainforest of the Sierra Maestra at Cuba’s eastern tip, and it still lies at the end of steep, treacherous, unpaved roads. There are no road signs in the Sierra, so photographer João Pina and I had to stop our vehicle and ask for directions from passing campesinos on horseback while zigzagging between enormous potholes and wandering livestock. In the hamlet of Santo Domingo, we filled out paperwork in quadruplicate to secure access permits, before an official government guide ushered us into a creaky state-owned four-wheel-drive vehicle. This proceeded to wheeze its way up into one of the Caribbean’s last wilderness areas, with breathtaking views of rugged green peaks at every turn. The guide, Omar Pérez, then directed us toward a steep hiking trail, which ascends for a mile into the forest. Rains had turned stretches into muddy streams, and the near-100 percent humidity had us soaked with sweat after only a few steps. A spry local farmer, Pérez pushed us along with mock-military exhortations of Vámanos, muchachos! By the time I spotted the first shack—the dirt-floored field hospital set up by the young medical graduate Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara—I looked like a half-wild guerrilla myself. In any other country, the Comandancia would make an excellent eco-lodge, but in Cuba it remains one of the revolution’s most intimate historical shrines. The base was first carved out in April 1958 and continued to be Fidel’s main command post until December 1958, as the guerrillas gained one unexpected victory after the next and began to seize the rest of the island. Its 16 thatch-roofed huts were home to some 200 rebel soldiers and had the ambience of a self-contained—and strikingly beautiful—jungle republic. The structures are all original, Pérez insisted, and are lovingly labeled with wooden signs. Che’s hospital was used to treat wounded guerrillas and enemy soldiers, and ill local peasant supporters. (‘Che performed a lot of dentistry here,’ Pérez said. ‘Not very well.’) Paths lead to the press office, where the rebels’ newspaper, El Cubano Libre, was produced mostly by hand. At the summit, Radio Rebelde was transmitted around Cuba using an antenna that could be raised and lowered unseen. …”
¡Cuba, Cuba! 65 Years of Photography
Guardian – This is the real Cuba: a timeline of gripping photography since the 50s

Fidel Castro (seated left) and his comrades in revolution review plans at the Sierra Maestra command post in 1958.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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