By Arelis García
Today, as the U.S administration self-proclaims as true spearhead of a crusade against the world-wide terrorism, it shadows the crimes committed by counterrevolutionary bands, encouraged by the White House itself since early of the Cuban Revolution. Worthless wound up its attempts to blow up the Literacy Campaign, initiated on 1961, which achieved an outcome in less than a year, of having taught more than a million Cubans elementary reading and writing.
The fresh breeze coming down restless from the mountains, exciting the leaves of the Bienvestido still pleads to be innocence of the crime. From these tree branches are yet hanging Manuel Ascunce Domenech and Pedro Lantigua’s deaths. Limones Cantero region does not forget yet that November 26, 1961, when anti-Cuban bands, sponsored by Washington covered with a blood blanket the Escambray cordillera.
That same soft breeze rolling down from the mountain, freshes back-in-time memories, and Neysa Fernández Rojas, the only person completely literated by that young teacher is still overwhelmed by so much fright.
“Bandits arrived at Pedro Lantigua’s hut nearly at seven in the night and knocked the door: ‘Pedro, Pedro, we are your fellow comrades’, and as they wore militiamen’s uniforms, confused the peasant who opened the door for them.”
They threatened him, seizing his rifle and young Manuel, who was in the next room, hearing the noise came closer. Mariana, Pedro’s wife, hugged him tightly and said he was her son, but he was ahead and said the avowal: “I am the teacher”. “So you came to be the communist teacher?”, said grimly one of those bandits and followed hanging them both Manuel and Pedro, scarcely few meters far from the house.
41 years after this murder, fright is still stuck in Neysa’s throat who made her way on through the same roads that once were regularly walked by the 16 year-old teacher.
“When I heard the shaking news, I thought I was going crazy, I cried nonstop and said to myself :” I must be strong to see him” the day before I had seen him so happy, cleaning his gas lamp and the following day I found him masacred, with his stomach full of knife wounds and bruised neck. No, it couldn’t be real that was a terrible torture for just a boy, a serious one, who taught me reading and writing.”
Teresa Rojas, Neysa’s mother, has not been able either to get over such overwhelming memories that appeared to be laden with accusation.
“I looked after him as one of my real sons, forewarning of leaving the house at nights was unsafe or suggesting the clear paths he must breach through. And it happened to him inside our own place; they physically mistreated him in such an indicriminating way as if they had got enraged with him. Of course they did, as he was the teacher and then, dared to say straight all harm they were causing before their faces. I just could not have the strEngth to see his mother, Evelia, again since she repeatedly reminded me he was under my cares”
“This is the most horrible crime ever committed, and committed to one of my children: because he even slept in between my husband and me,when we three used to take the nap all together daily and later he followed telling me: “Mom I am hungry”, and I prepared some food for him. I washed all his clothes as well. He was also my son and hence, I will never be able to forgive they have tortured him that way .”
Although the early age of Mario Rodríguez Valero, he was a member leader of the Literacy Campaign in the Escambray. His testimonies also are recalled today.
“We knew that that area was to be extremely dangerous. For terrorist and murderer Pedro and his band used to maneuver over there and had already intimidated to some of us teachers, near the Pastora farm and outskirts of the then-village of the FNTA sugar mill (in Trinidad). They tried more than once to kill some Literacy Campaign members, including women ; in several occasions we set up fencelike ambushes and they did nothing. Commander Félix Torres, Boss of the Special Plan Escambray, purveyed us with weapons to protect all boys and girls, as well as the families, enrolled in this crusade over illiteracy.
I knew of Ascunce and Lantigua’s death early Monday at a plenary of the Central Organization of Cuban Trade Unions. There I announced that blood was running, but it was necessary to follow until the final victory. When I arrived at Limones Canteros, their bodies still hanged, I felt myself so impotent when seeing those bodies completely slaughtered by knife cuts on the lower part”. Hundreds of thousands of people rallied and marched alongside Ascunce’s corpse till it left the town, Mario recalls.
“Aboard a truck, we gave farewell to Ascunce and vowed to go forward with the Literacy Campaign. I had the saddest mission of giving his cadaver to his parents, it was a really hard moment for me. I was only 22 .”
Neysa Fernández, her mother, Teresa Rojas and Mario Rodríguez Valero do not yet get rid of such a ordeal.
Now not even that soft breeze from the mountain is listened to. Only silence is heeded. And when one believes death seizes everything around and life lays in a distant place, Manuel Ascunce’s voice,16, sounds in a sentence: “I am the teacher.”