Luis Alfonso Zayas
Luis Alfonso Zayas Ochoa (1936–2020) was born in the municipality of Puerto Padre, in what is today Las Tunas province in eastern Cuba. His father was a sugarcane farmer. Zayas as a youth worked on his father’s farm and cut cane on the Chaparra sugar plantation owned by the Cuban-American...
Luis Alfonso Zayas Ochoa (1936–2020) was born in the municipality of Puerto Padre, in what is today Las Tunas province in eastern Cuba. His father was a sugarcane farmer. Zayas as a youth worked on his father’s farm and cut cane on the Chaparra sugar plantation owned by the Cuban-American Sugar Mills Company. He attended school through fourth grade and then finished fifth and sixth grades in night classes.
While still in his teens, Zayas threw himself into the fight against the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who had come to power through a military coup in 1952. Briefly a member of the Authentic Organization, in 1955 Zayas joined the newly formed July 26 Revolutionary Movement led by Fidel Castro, helping to organize a local unit of twenty members.
On November 29, 1956, Zayas led an attack by members of the July 26 Movement on the Cuban-American Sugar Mills Company’s powder magazine in Puerto Padre, which was guarded by Batista’s army. The attack was intended as a support action for the scheduled landing on Cuba’s southeastern coast of the small boat, Granma. Eighty-two revolutionaries had sailed from exile in Mexico aboard the Granma—among them Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara, Juan Almeida, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Ramiro Valdés—to begin the revolutionary war against the dictatorship.
Forced to go underground following the attack on the explosives depot, in March 1957 Zayas joined the Rebel Army, then operating in the Sierra Maestra mountains. He was part of its first major reinforcement group. In May 1957 he fought at El Uvero, the first of twenty-seven major battles he participated in over the next nineteen months. When the second Rebel Army column was formed in July 1957—Column 4—under the command of Guevara, Zayas was assigned to that unit.
He took part in the historic seventy-four-day combat in the Sierra Maestra that resulted in the July 1958 defeat of the dictatorship’s “final offensive” to crush the Rebel Army. Afterwards Zayas helped lead the Rebel Army’s march to Las Villas province as a member of Column 8 under Guevara’s command. Promoted to captain after reaching the Escambray mountains in central Cuba, Zayas participated in the Rebel Army offensive in December 1958. That campaign liberated the major cities and towns of Las Villas, culminating in the decisive defeat of the dictatorship’s army in Santa Clara on January 1, 1959, and Batista’s decision to flee Cuba the same day.
After helping to lead the column to Havana on January 3, Zayas was put in charge by Guevara of the La Cabaña prison, where hundreds of the Batista regime’s torturers and murderers were tried for their crimes by revolutionary tribunals.
In 1965 Zayas was elected to the newly formed Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, a responsibility he held until 1986. Promoted to the rank of commander, Zayas remained on active duty in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) until 1968, when he was given a civilian assignment as first secretary of the Communist Party in the Holguín region. He held that responsibility until 1972, when he was assigned to work as director of agricultural mechanization in Havana province. The following year he became deputy director of the agricultural department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
In December 1975 Zayas volunteered to join the Cuban armed forces’ internationalist mission to Angola. There, serving on the northern front, he fought alongside the Popular Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) to defeat the US-backed invasion by the apartheid army of South Africa and its allies and thus preserve Angola’s newly won independence. Zayas returned to Cuba in late 1976 following the defeat of the first South African invasion. He went back to Angola several months later to help organize Cuba’s civilian collaboration with the new government there.
From 1978 to 1980 he was assigned to the Youth Army of Labor, EJT, the special unit of the FAR engaged primarily in agricultural labor.
In January 1980 he was named first secretary of the party in Las Tunas province, a responsibility he held until 1985.
Zayas volunteered for a third tour of duty in Angola from 1985 to 1987. He was assigned to Cabinda province to oversee the work of Cuba’s internationalist collaborators helping to develop health care, education, communications, forestry, and other programs.
From 1987 to 1998 he was again assigned to the Youth Army of Labor, serving as second in command to Division General Rigoberto García.
Promoted to brigadier general of the FAR in 1996, Zayas retired from active duty in 1998. Since 2000 he has served as part of the national leadership of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution.