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(From Granma, July 2, 1967)
ATTACK!-A REPORT BY MARIO MENÉNDEZ IN COLOMBIA Mexico City, JUNE 21 (PL):- In the most recent issue of the magazine Sucesos, Editor-in-Chief Mario Menéndez Rodríguez published the first of his articles on the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN). This extensive and sensational report on the activities of the ELN in northern Colombia includes a detailed eyewitness account of an attack on a military train made by the guerrillas.
Menéndez' article, "Al Ataque!" (Attack!) stresses that in the ELN there is a strict military discipline that "has ‘hardened' all members in a way I had not observed in any other Latin American insurgent movement.”
The Mexican journalist, who has interviewed the principal leaders of the guerrilla movements in Venezuela and Guatemala, details in this 56-page report—his impressions during a month-long stay with ÉLN combatants. The article is profusely illustrated, with 75 photographs.
In addition to telling of the attack made by guerrillas of the José Antonio Galán Front, under the direct leadership of the ELN commander in chief, Fabio Vásquez Castaño, the article also tells of the successful attack on and taking of the town of Vijagual by guerrillas of the second, new front-named after Camilo Torres Restrepo, and commanded by Major Ricardo Lara Parada.
These two guerrilla fronts carry on their activities in the departments of Santander and North Santander in northern Colombia.
This article, which bears a heading taken from the words of Cuban patriot José Martí: “Words are not to conceal the truth, but to reveal it,” reports that for the first time in the history of the Latin American liberation struggle a guerrilla action—the attack on a military train-has been filmed from beginning to end while it was actually happening. This exclusive documentary film is the work of Sucesos photographer Armando Salgado, who accompanied Menéndez to Colombia.
According to Menéndez, “This is the first time that an interview has been given by the extraordinary insurgent leader and ELN commander in chief, Fabio Vásquez Castaño.”
“Al Ataque!" is written in three parts: a summary of the Colombian situation and the ideas of ELN martyr-priest Camilo Torres Restrepo; an account of the attack on a military train; and a discussion of the courage and heroism of the ELN combatants, described as “extraordinary apostles, men with an admirable sense of sacrifice and devotion-Quixotes of our times.”
TWENTY-FOUR FAMILIES RUN COLOMBIA
This report, written during February, March and April of this year, begins by stressing the fact that “Twenty-four families run Colombia--at the point of a bayonet-today, dominating the political, economic and social destinies of more than sixteen million persons in Simon Bolivar's adopted homeland and leaving the people of Colombia abandoned, in desolation and misery.”
He points up Colombia's high illiteracy and mortality rates and contrasts these with the fact that “Colombia's military budget is larger than the total sums allotted for education and public health.” In dealing with the political machinery of Colombia's reactionary forces, and the prospects of opposition use of legal methods, he quotes the priest Camilo Torres Restrepo:
"Since it is impossible for the opposition groups who succeed in being elected to parliament to overcome those who control the electoral machine and all other levers of power, those opposition groups will never be able to make any revolutionary transformations.'
THE ONLY ROAD: ARMED STRUGGLE
The Mexican journalist again quotes the words of the heroic martyred priest and revolutionary leader who stressed that “The people in general have believed and continue to believe that the only way to solve their political, social and economic problems and win complete independence is through armed struggle.”'
Menéndez stresses that it is in Colombia that “The best subjective and objective conditions exist for waging revolutionary warfare." And, specifically referring to the ELN, he points out that “One of the factors that enables one to predict victory for the ELN in Colombia is this: it is composed almost wholly of peasants.”
He praises the determination of the founders of the ELN, who began by organizing a guerrilla movement-practically without funds-only a little over two years ago in Santander Department. “Nonetheless, to cover up their own lack of effectiveness and to get more money from their masters in the U.S., members of the Colombian oligarchy blamed Čuba, the nation which has become the major worry of the im perialists today.”
Menéndez has high praise for the disciplined life led by the ELN guerrilla forces. Their daily schedule--which is only changed in the event of battle-includes: reveille at 5:30 a.m.; physical education classes; morning classes in Spanish, history, sociological problems and political science; disassembly and cleaning of rifles; and, in the evening, classes in military strategy based on the history of revolt in Colombia itself.
“The ELN is an admirable school that is brining the peasant forth from the shadows, that is cerned about his health, and that is waging revolutionary war that will lead him to the winning of power.”
Menéndez also describes the personality of Fabio Vásquez Castaño. “This extraordinary leader and guerrilla commander possesses a correct concept of politicalmilitary strategy. He is a young man who deeply feels the problems of his oppressed country, problems that do not permit him to live in peace. He reminds us, not only because of a certain physical resemblance, but also because of his positive concept of what a revolution in Latin America is and should be, of Fidel Castro the insurgent and the 26th of July Movement-which has a twin in the National Liberation Army of Colombia."
Vásquez Castaño, who is thirty years of age, is of rural extraction. His father was assassinated during the years of reactionary violence. FABIO VÁSQUEZ: ABSOLUTE SCORN FOR THE “LEADERS' OF THE VENEZUELAN CP
Reporting on his first conversation with the leader of the ELN, which touched upon various aspects of the revolutionary movement in Latin America, Menéndez pointed out Vásquez's "absolute scorn for the 'leaders' of the Communist Party of Venezuela." He quotes Fabio Vásquez as follows:
“The degree of decomposition that exists in the poorly terms 'revolutionary camp' is incredible. We feel respect and admiration only for Cuba and Fidel Castro, who is a berraquera (Colombian term used to describe a real man, in every sense of the word) of a revolutionary
Vásquez also expressed a high opinion of “the extraordinary other patriot leader, Major Ricardo Lara Parada, leader o the front bearing the name of the priest-martyr of the Colombian Revolution.”
Menéndez speaks of the outstanding personal qualities of Lara Parada, "whose seizure of Vijagual was a source of inspiration for the men of the José Antonio Galán Front.” He also includes a full account-published for the first time of the Vijagual action as described by Major Lara Parada in a message to Fabio Vásquez.
CAMILO TORRES WAS A MAN WITH AN IRON WILL Describing the battle of Patiocemento, where priest Camilo Torres was killed, Menéndez says: "He was killed in combat against two soldiers armed with automatic weapons. The only weapons the priest had were a .45-caliber pistol, an iron will and determination."
In another part of the article, Menéndez points out the changes that have taken place among the inhabitants of the zone where the ELN combatants operate; he gives the example of Barranca Bermeja, one of the country's important oil centers. “In Barranca Bermeja, in only two years it has become evident what a correct conception of armed propaganda can do to incorporate Latin America's weak working class into struggle. In this oil center par excellence the trade union was headed by so-called revolutionaries— 'book' revolutionaries--dogmatists who only wanted to create martyrs, without perspectives; sectarians who, for
their own convenience, preferred to keep on mouthing the same clichés about an absurd democratic way
The reporter points out how the ELN’s revolutionary armed action showed the workers that "Action will do almost everything, and the rest will follow.”
He then relates the episode of the assault on a military train guarded by a platoon of riflemen, an action carried out successfully at a point between the Carare and Opón Rivers.
FABIO VÁSQUEZ LED THE ATTACK ON THE MILITARY TRAIN “The spot chosen for the attack is a narrow, rocky canyon with sides about three meters high. The railroad tracks run right down the middle of this canyon.
Menéndez points out the perfect coordination throughout the operation, including synchronized radio contact between the guerrillas. He refutes the Colombian Government's charge that the attack had been planned in order to get newspaper coverage. He explains that this operation had been planned for execution one month earlier but that it was impossible to carry it out, due to unforeseeable circumstances. Then he tells of an attempt that turned out unsuccessfully, due to an unexpected change in the military train's schedule. Menéndez gives full details of the operations involved in placing explosives which would blow up the tracks and derail the train. He then goes into the 25-minute battle, which was led by Fabio Vásquez in person.
A detailed account of the battle is given. Menéndez dwells on the treatment given civilians by the guerrillas, which was in sharp contrast to the behavior of the soldiers, some of whom even used the women as shields. The last moments of the operation are eloquently described by Menéndez:
seven soldiers were killed in the attack. There were no dead or wounded among the insurgents, who benefited by 6 San Cristóbal rifles, one Madsen machine gun, 16,000 pesos, five .38-caliber revolvers, ammunition, boots and uniforms
Describing the withdrawal of the guerrillas after the attack, the Mexican journalist points out the daring, uncompromising spirit of the ELŃ combatants. "The oligarchy,” he adds, "was deeply concerned about the intrepid actions of the insurgents. It announced a series of arrests of people allegedly involved in the patriotic movement.”
In conclusion, the editor of Sucesos reports the opinions expressed by some of the ELN fighters. One of them, a guerrilla named Santos, had this to day about the present problems of the revolutionary movement:
WHERE IS INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY WITHIN THE REVOLUTIONARY CAMP?
"The Soviet Union's is a nameless attitude. We fight imperialism and its native Colombian agents, while the Russians make even extreme efforts to establish trade relations and reopen diplomatic relations with the military dictatorship headed by Carlos Lleras Restrepo. They—like the U.S. imperialists --are interested in aiding countries such as Argentina and Brazil, which are headed by gorillas. Where is international solidarity within the revolutionary camp? Viet Nam is an eloquent example."