Harry Villegas (1940–2019) was born in the village of Yara, in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains in eastern Cuba. As a teenager he joined the struggle against the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, taking part in clandestine activities in the city of Manzanillo. In 1957 Villegas joined the...
Harry Villegas (1940–2019) was born in the village of Yara, in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains in eastern Cuba. As a teenager he joined the struggle against the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, taking part in clandestine activities in the city of Manzanillo.
In 1957 Villegas joined the Rebel Army, where he served in Column 4 under the command of Ernesto Che Guevara. Villegas took part in numerous combat actions and fought in the column led by Guevara that crossed Cuba to open a new front in the Escambray mountains. In December 1958 he took part in the battle of Santa Clara, the last major battle of the revolutionary war.
After the fall of the Batista dictatorship on January 1, 1959, Villegas served as head of Guevara’s escort. In 1960–1961 the revolutionary government supported massive working-class mobilizations that expropriated Cuba’s industries and placed them under state ownership. Working alongside Guevara, who became minister of industry, Villegas took on responsibilities as a factory manager, helping to lead working people to restructure industrial production and place it on new foundations. He returned to active military duty the following year.
In 1965 Villegas volunteered for an internationalist mission in Africa. He served on the general staff of a column of more than a hundred Cubans, led by Guevara, fighting alongside anti-imperialist forces in the Congo. During this campaign Villegas received the nom de guerre he has used ever since: Pombo.
Around the world he is best known as one of the Cuban revolutionaries who fought alongside Guevara in Bolivia in 1966–67, where he also served on the general staff. The aim of the campaign was to open a revolutionary struggle for power in the countries of Latin America’s Southern Cone. Guevara fell in combat in October 1967, and Villegas commanded the five surviving Cuban and Bolivian guerrillas who eluded encirclement by the Bolivian army and US intelligence forces. He and the two other Cubans escaped across the border into Chile and arrived in Havana in March 1968. His account of this campaign, Pombo: A Man of Che’s guerrilla, is published by Editora Política (Spanish), Pathfinder (English), and Éditions Graphe (French).
Villegas commanded the Border Brigade in Guantánamo in 1974–77. That unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) protects Cuba at its border with the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, the Cuban territory occupied by Washington for more than a century against the will of the Cuban people.
In 1977–79, Villegas helped lead Cuba’s volunteer military mission in Angola, defending the newly independent country against the apartheid regime of South Africa and its backers in Washington and other imperialist powers. He commanded the motorized infantry regiment in the northern region, a Cuban unit that collaborated with the Angolan army. Returning to Cuba in 1979, he commanded the motorized infantry regiment of the FAR’s Tank Division.
In 1981, he was assigned as liaison between the Cuban high command in Angola and the Revolutionary Armed Forces special command post in Havana, headed by Fidel Castro. After the decisive defeat of the South African forces in 1988 at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, Villegas remained in Angola. As head of operations for the Cuban mission, he helped plan the withdrawal of Cuban forces.
After returning to Cuba in 1990, Villegas led the Political Section of Cuba’s Western Army, and served as a member of the Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1997 to 2011, a deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power, and served as executive vice president of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution. He also served as military adviser to the attorney general’s office. Retired from active duty, he holds the rank of brigadier general.
Villegas has received more than fifty decorations, including four awards for valor. In 1995 he was named Hero of the Republic of Cuba, the highest honor given by Cuba’s Council of State.