Revolutionary hero of Cuba, Harry ‘Pombo’ Villegas, one of the three surviving Cubans of the guerrilla detachment led by commander Ernesto Che Guevara, died this Sunday in Havana, at the age of 79.
Villegas was born in 1940 in Yara, a town located in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, between Bayamo and Manzanillo. His brother, Teogenes, was a young local leader of the Orthodox Party, an active opponent to Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship and a follower of Fidel Castro, the leading figure of the Orthodox Youth who led the assault on the Moncada Military Unit in 1953.
At the beginning of 1958, Villegas and other young people decided to go up to the Sierra Maestra to join the Movimiento 26 de Julio and were accepted by Ernesto Che Guevara, who was in La Plata at that time.
When the Ciro Redondo Column was formed, under the command of Che, Villegas was assigned to it and quickly became one of Commander Guevara’s trusted men, integrating his personal escort. Villegas remained the entire military campaign next to Guevara.
He participated in the Battle of Santa Clara and other battles and then settled in the Fortress of San Carlos de La Cabaña, Havana, in January 1959.
In 1965 he was summoned by Che once again to fight in the group of Cuban guerrillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There he took the nickname of ‘Pombo’, with which he has been known worldwide, that in the Swahili language means “leaf.”
Between 1966 and 1967 ‘Pombo’ participated in the guerrilla that Che Guevara installed in Bolivia, in the area of the Ñancahuazu river.
Villegas was one of the five men, three Cubans, and two Bolivians, who managed to survive the collapse of the guerrilla group in the Andean nation, where Che was killed on Oct. 7, 1967.
After 1967 he continued to serve in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, participating as a military advisor in Angola and Nicaragua. Among the highest distinctions on his resume are that of Hero of the Republic of Cuba, and that of Brigade General of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.