Articles / Policy & Gov't. / Reflections by comrade Fidel Castro / What I said about Pichirilo
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
What I said about Pichirilo
I promised to answer the journalist Daily right away.
In her letter that I mentioned yesterday, she said:
“My name is Daily Sánchez Lemus; I graduated from Journalism in 2006 and I have been working for the Cuban Television Information System ever since.
“My graduating thesis was on the journalism of Raúl Gómez García. I recall that at the end of 2005 and early 2006, I wrote to you on three occasions asking for more insight into the Son los Mismos and El Acusador clandestine press and for any detail you might remember, or some special commentary on Gómez García.
“It wasn’t meant to be at that time and I received an answer to the three letters which asked me to get in touch with the Office of Historical Affairs of the Council of State. I know very well how much work had and all your responsibilities and so I understood that my thesis had to come out without your testimony. And come out it did. “Raúl Gómez García, the Moncada Journalist” was the title I gave it, trying to show that that young man was not only a poet but a first-rate journalist.
“After finishing the paper, a friend I liked very much, and I still do, journalism professor Guillermo Cabrera Álvarez, told me: “I have so many things I have to write and I know I won’t have the time to do them all at the same time. I’ll give you a story”. And so it was, inspired by who knows what, that he opened one of the drawers in his desk and handed me a yellow envelope with the first bits of a love story. And thus I learned about Pichirilo, the Dominican who came on the Granma, whom you knew from the days of Key Confites.
“For me, writing this story was more than something incredibly special, it was a tribute devoted to the History of my country, to the Dominican Republic and to Guillermo. Now it is just like I had sailed in the Granma and reached these waters along with all of you, and fought alongside Caamaño. Now, the Dominican Republic is much closer to me. I still have a lot left to research and to read, but I am trying to combine that research with my work.
“Ramón Emilio Mejías del Castillo, Pichirilo, got to go on the Granma because you knew how good a sailor he was, that he was brave and really wanted to fight against dictators like Trujillo and Batista. In an interview I did at the end of 2006, Collado defined Pichirilo in a romantic and revealing way: “Pichirilo used to sail the seas”. But you, without a doubt, were the person who knew him best, who knew his personality and his peculiarities …those are necessary to write about him and so that other people can know about them.”
Unfortunately, what I know about Pichirilo is of great human interest, but dreadfully little, and that requires anyone writing about him to make a special effort to pull together the pertinent information about the person I came to know during a very short period of his life.
The idea never crossed my mind that some day we would have to render account of our modest existence.
I don’t know where Pichirilo came from. He was a Dominican who enlisted in the expedition set up to overthrow Trujillo in 1947.
When I set out from the coast northwest of Antilla, heading for distant Key Confites, to the northwest of Nuevitas and very close to Key Lobo in the English Bahamas, a few miles away, I did it in a type of small patrol vessel, whose captain was a man of the sea, a small man with a face weathered by the sun. His name was Pichirilo. After sailing for many hours, we reached Key Confites.
We met again later when I traveled for some days to the port of Nuevitas, around the month of July, to get in touch with my family and send them some news about myself.
I again returned to the Key. I became friends with Pichirilo on those trips; he was several years older, I hadn’t even turned 21 yet and I was a simple recruit in that expedition that brought together more than a thousand men.
Pichirilo continued to come and go from the Key to Nuevitas, supplying food for the expedition.
I talked to him a fair amount when we attacked Trujillo’s schooner Angelica that was traveling from Miami to Santo Domingo, passing by the vicinity of Key Confites. I remember that Pichirilo was the one who identified it from quite a distance away and he informed the commanders of the forces stationed in the Key.
Low flying T-33 fighters from the anti-Trujillo expedition were skimming over the Cuban island, showing off and encouraging us, and they showed up from time to time. I knew nothing else.
We had been there for months when the Orfila events rocked the expedition, wanting much more fervently to set off for their destination than to stay in the inhospitable Key.
The first movement of its unusual command, under the aegis of the pseudo-revolutionaries and corrupt Cuban leaders, was eastwards carrying out a maneuver threatening the Command of the National Army.
At Key de Santa Maria, north of Caibarien, massive desertions took place. The Sandino Battalion and other components of the expedition were traveling in the “Aurora”, the landing craft. I was Lieutenant and second in command of the vanguard of a battalion that was traveling in the bow of the vessel, with a machine gun as an antiaircraft weapon.
This is worth mentioning for just one reason: My friend Pichirilo was the second captain of the “Aurora” where Rodríguez, the former Dominican senator and head of the expedition, with historical prestige because he had been the anti-Machado head of the Gibara expedition in the north of Cuba was traveling with other important chiefs.
The treason committed by Masferrer at the command of the “Fantasma”, the other landing vessel in much better technical shape, decided my uprising since I could no resign myself to hand over the ship. Compliance with the navy order was reduced to that.
Genovevo Pérez Dámera, Cuban Army Chief, had sold himself to Trujillo for millions of dollars.
My great appreciation of Pichirilo stems from the fact that he took command of the ship to back me up and in coordination with me, he carried out great and audacious efforts to bluff the Cuban Navy corvette which, with two cannons at the ready in the bow, ordered us in the far eastern part of Cuba to fall back to the port of Antilla in Nipe Bay where the rest of the expedition was already being held prisoner. My aim was to save most of the weapons the “Aurora” was carrying.
Everything revolved around this.
I won’t repeat what happened the rest of the afternoon in regards to all the events I lived through that day.
Ten years later, when the Granma set sail from Mexico, Pichirilo had joined us and with all his audacity and courage he was the second in command of the vessel. I wish he would have been the first in command but that task was in the hands of a Cuban Navy Commander who was supposed to be an expert on the coasts and ports of our country.
I really didn’t know how Pichirilo was able to save his life after the Granma landing when our detachment was practically wiped out.
I learned those days that Pichirilo was one of the 19 members of the Granma expedition who succeeded in escaping without being tortured, murdered or sent to prison.
The task of knowing more about him will be the job of those who research the life of the Dominican combatant. I just know that he fought, with the rank of commander, under Caamaño, against the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division who along with more than 40,000 Marines landed in Quisqueya. He was shot at on August 12, 1966 by officers of the Dominican intelligence corps during the presidency of Joaquín Balaguer; such corps was under the aegis of the United States government. He died hours later on August 13, on my 40th birthday. His death caused a wave of protests in the city of Santo Domingo and his funeral turned into a combative demonstration of repudiation for the weak Balaguer government.
Nobody more than I would appreciate a biography of Ramón Emilio Mejías del Castillo, no matter how modest it should be. It is worthwhile that men like him, Jiménez Moya, and other heroic combatants should be known by Dominicans and Cubans alike.
Fidel Castro Ruz
March 6, 2009