28th October 1959 the Death of Camilo Cienfuegos

Camilo Cienfuegos

Today we pay tribute to Camilo Cienfuegos – one of the most important revolutionaries in Fidel Castro’s 26th July Movement, whose popularity amongst Cubans rivalled even that of his close friend and comrade, Che Guevara – tragically killed at the age of twenty-seven when his plane crashed, never to be found, into the Atlantic Ocean. One of the legendary twelve survivors from the original eighty-two who set sail on the Granma to start the Cuban Revolution, Cienfuegos allegedly secured the last place on the overcrowded yacht only because he was so thin. He subsequently became one of Castro’s most beloved, trusted and capable leaders in the two-year guerrilla war against President Batista’s corrupt and repressive regime. Said to kill the enemy and catch his rifle before it could hit the ground, Cienfuegos quickly rose to the highest rank of Comandante and led one of the two legendary columns that captured the provincial capital city of Santa Clara on December 31st. Batista surrendered the following day. In the heady months after the revolution, the charismatic Cienfuegos with proto-rock star looks and permanent smile became a favourite amongst the people in his official capacity as Army Chief of Staff and Castro’s unofficial right hand. At a rally in 1959 during which Castro announced an army barracks would be turned into a school, Castro asked, “How am I doing, Camilo?” Cienfuegos’ famous response – “You’re doing fine, Fidel!” – remains a Cuban rallying call.

The sudden death of this much-loved hero at such a young age and less than a year after the revolution’s great victory propelled Cuba into mourning and controversy. Without any substantiation, reactionary propagandists tried to undermine the fraternity of the Granma revolutionaries by suggesting that Castro issued an order to shoot down Cienfuegos’ plane. Three weeks earlier, Castro had received a letter of resignation from another of the Granma survivors, Huber Matos. Suspecting Matos of counter-revolutionary activity, Castro dispatched Cienfuegos to arrest him for treason. On his flight back to Havana after completing the difficult task of arresting his good friend, the Cessna twin-engine plane carrying Cienfuegos disappeared without trace. Che, Fidel and Raúl Castro all participated in the futile search, and when word of the tragedy reached the Cuban people, they flocked en masse to toss flowers into the sea for their lost hero – a tradition that continues to this day in Cuba every October 28th.

It was left to the unassailable Guevara to dismiss rumours that Castro suspected Cienfuegos of conspiring against him with Matos and/or felt threatened by the younger man’s popularity. Guevara went one further, ensuring Cienfuegos’ good character would remain forever untarnished by naming his son Camilo – and, with customary eloquence, dedicated his seminal Guerilla Warfare to his fallen comrade:

Few men have succeeded in leaving on every action such a distinctive personal mark. He had the natural intelligence of the people, who had chosen him out of thousands for a privileged position on account of the audacity of his blows, his tenacity, his intelligence, and unequalled devotion. Camilo practiced loyalty like a religion.

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23 Responses to 28th October 1959 – the Death of Camilo Cienfuegos

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sorry for what might appear like a typically female comment but….
    what an amazing looking man!
    Thanks for this post. I’d never heard of him but I’m glad I have now.

  2. Raf says:

    Castro had him killed because he was on his way back to confront him about Matos’ innocence….after all….Matos did not commit treason…he merely told the truth. That truth was that Castro was a communist. My father was at the Ministry of Communication when information about Cienfuegos crash was initially received. Shortly thereafter news came through that Camilo might have survived. Castro came in and was extremely angry and agitated labeling it counter-revolutionary propaganda. At the time, my father was confused about how Castro was sure Camilo didn’t survive. When Castro announced his leftist leanings…it all became clear. Castro had him clipped.

    • Jose Matute says:

      You have told the story exactly how it happened.

    • Helena says:

      This is very interesting as I finish writing my story. My father who was a moderator for the press, channel 11 in Cuba where Camilo Cienfuego’s had his last interview, and then disappears three days later is an obvious coincidence or is it? My father took it to the grave that Camilo was done away with because he was gaining popularity with the people. I have a picture of Camilo Cienfuego to the right of my father and some other person to the left known as Captain Jorge Enrique Mendoza Reboredo. The picture will be in my book.

    • Mr Guy Brewer says:

      It was a battle against US control and domination. In the history of humanism and liberation the Cuban social revolution was and is entirely positive.

  3. SJB says:

    Raf, your story sounds logical and believable, after all, we have no photos of a body as we do with Che. There are also stories of the Cessna making it to Key West and Camilo defecting. Who knows?

    • EFRAIN LOYNAZ says:

      Camilo would never defect. That was not in his character. Many of us who fought in the Revolution admired him…he was the leader of that Revolution not Fidel. He demanded that we not idolize anyone only idolizeexcept for the freedom of Cubans and to implement the Cuban Constitution and Democratic elections- just like the Revolution and those who fought for it…intended to do. Fidel could not take Camilo’s growing popularity. Cubans were duped. Fidel and Raul killed Both Che and Camilo. That is a fact.

  4. nina courtepatte says:

    did cammy’s plane crash in the bermuda triangle????

  5. Anonymous says:

    Que casualidad que después del triunfo de la revolución todas las herues importantes murieron espeto los hermanos Castro!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!;!!!!!!!

    • Clegg verret says:

      A lot of people disappeared in the years following the revolution. Many were executed so it safe to assume Camilo was murdered. The revolution was a great moment in cubas history. Too bad that lying Castro ruined it.

  6. George Gomez Del Rio MD says:

    why did his girlfriend ,Argentina Esteves leave Havana and Cuba when he disappeared?

  7. monsieur ian says:

    He truly was a handsome man

  8. Lorz says:

    I m going to say it only once because no one would believe me now. My grandpa worked for a US organization back in those days, and contrary to leople believe Castro did not ordee to kill Cienfuegos. At that time he was more popular than Castro and the US saw him as a real threat for their nterest in Cuba, so the CIA made a meticulous plan to have him killed. One day you’ll know why nothing was found.

  9. Anonymous says:

    he is death but he was the best

  10. Anonymous says:

    Camilo was so sexy. Real man look.

  11. Gilbert says:

    I came to know fallen Comrade Camilo Cienfuegos while reading Comrade Che’s two Biographies. According to Comrade Che by the authors of those books wrote that Comrade Camilo was a dare devil fighter in the Sierra Mountains who died at an earlier age after the war! At the time of his death he was also a Commandate like Che,Fidel & Raul and his death has remained mysterious to date ! you will always remain embedded in our hearts as a true hero who never betrayed your motherland ! Your participation in Cuban Revolution was not in vain b’coz the Cuban Revolution succeeded in liberating many African countries like Angola, Ethiopia, Namimbia & South Africa ! May your Soul Rest in Eternal Peace

    • There is no question that it’s extremely concidential that he disappeared at a moment of turmoil in the Cuban revolution. Fidel Castro’s behavior in those days does not jive with someone who is supposed to have lost his “right hand,” as he himself labeled the loss. His attitude was more like someone who was having the time of his life, hunting for cattle at the prairies of Camaguey for fun, while pairing up with the search groups who were looking for any trace of the crash or lighting up the emotions of the grieving country in one of his many monologues that would put the most restless souls, suffering from an intense case of chronic insomnia, to sleep. The truth is that no one will ever know. Whoever did it, whatever happened, no trace was left. Only the ocean or the concerted effort of a sinister few has the answer, and our brains, having witnessed the early patterns of a Machiavelli leader are left to assume and conclude with an educated guess, at best.

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