José Ramón Fernández, Who Helped Form Cuba’s Army, Dies at 95
On Jan. 12, 1959, less than two weeks after Batista fled the country, Castro called General Fernández to a gathering of more than 100 former government officials who had been imprisoned for opposition to the old regime.
Castro “asked me what I would like” in his new government, General Fernández recalled.
Although he had already found a job at a sugar production plant, Castro asked him to run a new cadet school. However, Castro said he could not match the salary of 1,100 Cuban pesos a month — then the equivalent of about $1,100 — that the sugar plant was paying.
General Fernández did not know what to say.
“You are right,” he recalled Castro as saying. “I’ll go write a book about the Sierra Maestra, you go to the sugar plant, and the revolution can go to hell.”
“Fidel could be very persuasive, sometimes very rocklike,” General Fernández said. “I thought about it for five seconds, and two hours later I was at the school for cadets.”
Two years later, with 1,900 troops under his command at the school, General Fernández received an urgent call from Castro: Enemy troops had entered the Bay of Pigs, off Cuba’s southern coast.
General Fernández commanded militia troops in the battle against about 1,500 Cuban exiles trained and armed by the C.I.A. with the aim of overthrowing the new government. Washington was concerned that Castro’s leftist government would help the Soviet Union establish a beachhead just 90 miles from American shores.
Three days later, on April 19, General Fernández arrived at Playa Girón, on the bay, and Cuba declared victory. He remained with the army and assumed the post of vice defense minister in 1966.