Back to Cuba: protagonists of the great passion of the first years of the Revolution

By Lázaro David Najarro Pujol/Contributor

I

September, 2021.- On our way back from the fishing bell in the Gulf of Campestre, we sighted the banks of the city of Havana. The commotion was great that most of the crew of the Tiburon Motopequero went out on deck to observe the beautiful Cuban city with tears of emotions.

The group of students from the Carlos Adán Valdés school in East Havana had fulfilled the mission entrusted to them with honor. We all received special recognition from the Young Communist League (UJC).

In front of us, Havana. We find it more beautiful than when we set sail in 1969 from the Fishing Port. The sea was like a plate.

For about a month we were participating in the maintenance and painting of the deck of the fishing boat until the orientation to return to school arrived.

After we had completed the theoretical-practical preparation, the National Fisheries Institute gave us the option (1970) to continue studies at the ALECRIN Technical Training School, located near the town of Santa María del Rosario, Guanabacoa municipality, near the Cotorro. It was named Alecrín in honor of the crew of the tuna boat of the same name that kidnapped its crew in seas near Venezuela.

I met there with Eudelio Jiménez, whom I knew from my neighborhood, there in Playa Bonita, Santa Cruz del Sur. Jiménez had finished a Cold Storage Plant operator course and was sitting on a rock, under a tree, ready to return to our town.

The school changed its profile, instead of training patrons, machinists and specialists in sponge cultivation, future turners, refrigeration plant operators and refrigeration technicians would be trained.

The campus distinguished by the existence of timber and fruit trees, with two entrances, to the east and west with paved streets. To the north of our school, a recreation center had been erected in one of the reservoirs built in the region.

Between the reservoir and the school a small forest also planted with fruit trees and timber trees. It featured an immense tall mamey tree, large leaves, and dense, crowded foliage. To the east, an old quarry, at the top of which grew a coconut tree on which its yellowish coconuts hung intact. To the west, the poultry farm and the town of Santa María del Rosario, four kilometers away. The town is accessed by a paved road and guarded by thick vegetation.

We were responsible for the construction of the classrooms and the amphitheater. On the site there was only, when we arrived, a two-story wooden building, the dining room, two shelters and the sanitary bathrooms.

II

We participated in large mobilizations for the Cordón de La Habana Project, [1] (began on April 17, 1967), in an area of ​​approximately 30 thousand hectares of land in which coffee would be interspersed among fruit trees. The plan began with the construction of the first 120 homes in 1967, long before I left Santa Cruz del Sur in 1968, with old shoes, a wooden suitcase and few clothes.

On January 6, 1968, in the middle of winter and with a bone-chilling cold, Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and then Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Government, inaugurated the community. “Valle Grande” [2], in areas of the Cordón de La Habana.

Valle Grande [3] It also had a playground, a children’s circle, a shopping center, a sports field and, finally, it only lacks the school. It seems that they did not have time to also do school in the 44 days. But, nevertheless, there are 336 children. In any case, in this town the construction of the school should immediately begin, which will be the type of new schools that we are building in these cases for primary school students; that is, a school where they will have breakfast, lunch and dinner, announced the revolutionary leader [4].

There was an overflowing enthusiasm in our center. We all wanted to live the experience in the Cordón de La Habana [5]. The students were in charge of filling, with red soil, black polyethylene bags for the subsequent planting of coffee seedlings. They were millions of units that were being prepared in those popular mobilizations. Nurseries were multiplying in the areas designated for the project in areas of the Vía Blanca, in the Cuban capital.

The educational activities were also combined with practical preparation, support for fishing programs such as frog breeding, a project assumed by Asian specialists who were in Cuba for aquaculture development.

While we were getting educated at school, I continued.

In the construction work of the National Highway considered the largest road project of all time carried out in the country, due to its extension and the technical requirements it demanded (The first section comprised from Havana to Santa Clara, executed between 1970 to 1979 It has an extension of 267.7 km, and was built with 8 lanes from the exit of the Capital to km 32; the rest with 6 to Santa Clara).

The course in the different specialties that were taught in the ALECRIN Technical Training School passed successfully. The practices in the specialty of Refrigeration Plant Operators in the Fishing Port of Havana, which had modern equipment, were positive experiences. We were fortunate to have an African-American professor who gave us very valuable printed lectures.

IV

The teaching authorities announced the visit to our school of the crew of the tuna boat Alecrín [6]. I offered myself to support the attention to those brave men of the sea.

Sailors and officers were happy. They narrated around the events that occurred in November 1968, when the motor-fishing boat Alecrín, manned by 37 fishermen and a Japanese instructor, was attacked near Venezuela.

More than half a century has passed since those events, for which I turn to the testimony of Miguel Reyes Oliva, published on the digital page of the Escambray newspaper [7].

In the vicinity of Venezuela, the ship had problems in its tail shaft, we stopped, the tide began to rise, we communicated by plant with Cuba so that they could send the tools we needed. Two days later the ship Hake handed us the order, we fixed the fault and again we went sailing.

A boat can be seen in the water; It is three o’clock in the morning, but the position lights on the mast reveal her presence, the Alecrín’s radar also captures her. Humberto Vargas García, the Cuban captain, asks the telegrapher to communicate with the ship, but they only respond to stop the march.

The Alecrín continues its course closer to the target; It is a war frigate with the cannons on top: El Calamar, of Venezuelan origin. The speed of its machines increases, it passes sideways on the starboard side, enters the stern, moves towards the bow in a reconnaissance maneuver of the Cuban fishing boat, then moves away, searches, looks and fires the first cannon that hits. the anchor windlass; the second enters through the hatch of the refrigeration room leaving the ammonia compressors in the open air; There were more than 12 shots that luckily missed the majority.

Shortly after, a new boat arrived in the area, it was an American destroyer, Admiral Brión, which began to prowl Alecrín, but it remained unanswered by the cannon fire from El Calamar.

We did not stop machines -remembers the fisherman-, we preferred to sink before stopping without an order from Cuba, we were unarmed because our mission was only to make catches. Around five o’clock in the morning the communication arrived from Havana, Fidel asked us to stop, so we did and we waited for full dawn, without dropping anchor we stayed at the haunches, El Calamar launches its boats into the water and sailors begin to descend, all armed, then we opened the gate and placed the ladder for them to get on board ”.

The Cuban crew remains waiting, in front of the occupants a deck officer distributes his force so that they proceed to arrest: the Alecrín is dragged by El Calamar towards Puerto Carúpano, in Venezuela; Once on the mainland, the island’s fishermen are subjected to interrogations, persuasive work so that they desert and damage the integrity of their country.

At first we refused to eat because we wanted to see our officers, who were being held, but in another part of the Navy General Staff in Sucre. Then they took us out, one by one, to ask us questions, they showed us large sums of money, the keys to an apartment and a car, so that we would desert. Two did, but the rest remained firm for the month of that nightmare. The succulent meals of the first day had already disappeared, instead we only received bread and coffee water and they kept us in a small room, with a bathroom for more than 30 people”, says Miguel.

An international campaign was unleashed immediately in Cuba, public events, government statements, steps, many steps, became stronger and stronger to return the fishermen to the island. On December 26, after three in the afternoon, Commander Lucio, of the Venezuelan General Staff, informed the Alecrín crew to collect their belongings, that they would leave.

We had nothing to pack, because for a month we kept wearing the same clothes we were wearing at the time of the arrest, our clothes

stayed on the ship and never delivered them to us. They transferred us to our boat, which was supposedly repaired, but they kept more than 250 tons of tuna that we had caught. We started machines, climbed ropes and went out to sea on a journey that took several days due to technical defects”.

Free again, returning to Cuba, where family, friends and the people of the capital were waiting for them. There they were received at the port and then, in a public act that shook the world, they welcomed him.

That December 31 I spent with my people. For 23 years I was in the Cuban Fishing Fleet, I visited countless countries, I sailed the seas, but I never forgot that my baptism as a sailor was fireproof, on the Alecrín ship”, Miguel finally acknowledges.

V

Only twelve students from the Refrigeration Plant Operator specialty reached the final stage. The mission? Recover the old Refrigerating Plant of Unit number 9 in the Port of Havana, which had US compressors. Also reactivate all abandoned refrigerators. The first thing was to extract all the earth accumulated by time. We were happy with the assignment to the school of two new Robur brand buses, made in the German Democratic Republic. It allowed us to commute to work practices every day.

A great joy invaded us all when we put those old compressors to work. Then we check the refrigerator coils. The African-American professor attentive to details to avoid mistakes that could cause danger to our lives because ammonia is an extremely toxic refrigerant gas.

The ammonia traveled through the network of pipes to complete the closed cycle of evaporation, compression, condensation and expansion. Not a single refrigerant leak was detected. Twelve hours later the refrigerators were frozen.

“Now if it is very cold”, exclaims a student.

-Not cold, absence of heat-, rectifies the teacher.

It takes place in May 1971. In the amphitheater of the ALECRIN Technical Training School [8] the graduation ceremony of the different specialties takes place. Transportation is available for after the ceremony to return in caravans to the provinces of origin. Before sunset we started the return trip, heading to the East of Cuba.

 

[1] According to experts “a plant of the Bourbon variety, which has a mutation of a single gene that causes the plant to grow smaller (dwarfism)”. It is native to Brazil, quite widespread in Central America, with high yields, with a density of 5,000 plants per hectare, but sensitive to diseases such as coffee rust.

[2] Valle Grande belongs to the Popular Council Cano -Valle Grande- Bello 26 y Morado of the Municipality of La Lisa, Havana, Cuba. In the area surrounding the highway that leads to San Antonio de los Baños, another important settlement was built that was supposed to replace an unhealthy neighborhood that had previously appeared around the Novia del Mediodía Drive-in Movie Theater, as well as provide housing to neighbors and small owners of lands adjacent to the Highway that were incorporated into the Plan of the Cordón de La Habana. Taken from https://www.ecured.cu/Valle_Grande_(La_Lisa)

[3] In the opening ceremony, Fidel raised to the crowd the problem of the name that he would call the new community. “Valle Grande” was approved by all, as a tribute to Commander Ernesto Guevara, as that is the name, in Bolivia, the Department in whose territory he was vilely assassinated three months ago.

[4] Speech by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and then Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Government http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1968/esp/ f060168e.html

[5] The hypercritics deploy a communication campaign on the reverse of the coffee growing project in the Cordón de La Habana, but they do not refer to the hundreds of peasants who benefited from housing, electricity, reservoirs, a decent life and arable land. Fidel said on January 6, 1968: Up to now, 458 houses, 130 small pig farms, 100 chicken coops, 79 stables, 338 works of another type – dining rooms, warehouses – and 280 works in green areas have been built in the Cordón de La Habana. Of the errors also learn. Who has not been wrong in his life? It was a beautiful stage in my life. The Revolution opened doors for us and gave us opportunities that we had not even dreamed of. I was born on December 29, 1954 and only had one pair of shoes to go to school.

[6] Alecrín. Year of construction, 1966. This ship was delivered by the Shipyards Construcciones Navales P. Freire, S. A., of Bouzas (Vigo), to the Transimport de Cuba shipowners. This ship is part of the series of 20 that the aforementioned shipping company has contracted in Spain.

[7] Nightmare on Alecr Shipín Alsina, Xiomara. Escambray Newspaper November 25, 2015.

http://www.escambray.cu/2015/pesadilla-en-el-barco-alecrin/?unapproved=46027&moderation-hash=ec825dd36d6c043d3d8ca81adb8b8254#comment-46027

[8] Where the ALECRIN Technical Training School was established. since 1974 the El Alecrín community emerged. Locality of the Guanabacoa municipality of the Havana province, belonging to the Peñalver – Bacuranao popular council. It has a total population of 1,443 inhabitants. (Photos: From the author and the Internet)

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