In the Sierra Maestra, Paco (behind) was a leader in the struggle.
In the Sierra Maestra, Paco (behind) was a leader in the struggle.

Minutes before leaving to return to the island after a four-day visit to Venezuela that had everyone exhausted, but happy for what it represented for the nascent Revolution, the Cuban delegation, headed by Fidel Castro, was finalizing the details. The head of the escort realized that the long arms were in the other plane and went to look for them, but he did not realize the danger. 

The aircraft was above him, he cowered in an instinctive defensive gesture and one of the propeller blades hit him. By the time they came to pick him up, he was dead. Thus, on 27 January 1959, at 12:55 a.m., the brave officer of the Rebel Army, the guerrilla of numerous combats, who would not accompany his Commander-in-Chief on the return journey, lost his life.

Francisco (Paco) Cabrera Pupo was born in a hut on the Aguadita farm, Velasco 29, in the Vázquez neighborhood, in the municipality of Puerto Padre, on 4 December 1924. He grew up among sugar cane fields, guardarrayas, streams, and creeks and became a young man almost six feet tall, with very white skin and light eyes, who rode horses, bathed in the river, and played ball with the boys of the region.

Together with his parents and siblings, he lived in Paso Palmar (today's Vedado 3) in search of economic stability through sugar cane farming. In 1941, when he was barely 16 years old, he married Socorro Guerra Peña, and in their hut of yaguas and guano their first three children were born: Gerardo, Severino, and Gladis. As the family grew, the situation worsened and they decided to move to Marchán and Santa Isabel, in the northern sugar cane massif of Puerto Padre.

Paco joins the political struggle led by Eduardo Chibás with the Cuban People's Party (Orthodox). He became an activist and went around the neighborhoods to recruit new members to the orthodox party. While doing so, he meets Francisca Carralero Pacheco, a young woman from the village of Vázquez, whom he marries and has his other children: Adonis, Idania, and Nedelsy.

The coastal village of Playa La Jíbara was the main meeting place for his conspiratorial group. The death of Chibás dampened their hopes but did not dampen the fighting spirit of those young people, who saw the assault on the Moncada barracks as the necessary motivation. On Puerto Plata, repression was swift, and many of the orthodox were persecuted. Paco was arrested and taken to Squadron 73 in Delicias, and as he did not denounce his comrades, he was sent to the bivouac in Holguín to await trial for "participating in revolutionary activities" against the government. Once acquitted, he returned to Marchán determined to confront the Batista regime.

He thus began his life in hiding and was one of the first members of the first cells of the July 26 Movement in Villa Azul. "If Fidel comes to Cuba, I'm going with him", he said when he heard of the commitment to "be free or martyrs" made by the Leader of the Revolution in 1956.

Paco was the head of Fidel's escort.

When the Granma landed, he was quartered in La Jíbara awaiting the promised weapons to carry out various actions, but the shipment never arrived. From then on, he took part in sabotage, burning sugar cane fields and selling bonds, while waiting to go up to the Sierra Maestra. He made it at the end of April 1957, together with Alcibiades Bermúdez, in the second reinforcement group sent by Frank País.

He was first assigned to Che's column, under the command of Ciro Redondo, and there he demonstrated his fighting skills. Among others, he played an outstanding role in the battles of Bueycito and El Hombrito; in the latter, he earned the rank of lieutenant.

When the Batista army offensive began in May 1958, Paco was already a captain and commanded his guerrilla troops. He excelled in the battles of Santo Domingo, El Naranjo, and the battle of El Jigüe.

After the tyranny's offensive, on 22 August 1958, high-ranking officers of the Rebel Army suggested to Fidel the creation of a personal bodyguard corps, given the importance of his figure for the destiny of the homeland; and they recommended that Paco Cabrera head it, in recognition of the prestige he had earned. And so it was.

In the battle of Maffo, at the end of December 1958, he distinguished himself for his valor; there, Fidel promoted him to the rank of Commander. He had already taken part in more than 30 battles. After the revolutionary triumph, he led the guerrilla leader's protection to Santiago de Cuba and from there to Havana. On 3 January, at the 7th Regiment of the Rural Guard in Holguín, the escort was reorganized and augmented with a group from Puerto Padre, members of the 1st Eastern Front.

Arrival in Havana entailed constant activity and little sleep, and the life of the leader of the Revolution, who had temporarily set up his General Staff in the Habana Hilton Hotel, had to be safeguarded.

Fidel was scheduled to visit Venezuela on 23 January, at the invitation of the government of that sister country, which had collaborated with the July 26 Movement in the Sierra and the plains. He was to take part in the celebrations marking the first anniversary of the overthrow of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez. The reception from the Venezuelan people was formidable.

It was the last mission of the brave fighter, the humble peasant turned illustrious name. He died in an illogical and tragic way. On hearing the news, the Commander-in-Chief said: "The war is over, death is not. Cuba and the Revolution have lost an extraordinary man, he was one of our most solid values". His fellow countrymen, and members of his bodyguard, remained in Caracas to take the necessary steps. Paco's body was taken to the José María Vargas hospital in La Guaira for an autopsy, after which he received the homage of his colleagues and the Venezuelan people.

The leadership of the July 26 Movement in Puerto Padre, upon hearing the news, decreed three days of mourning and placed black banners on the front columns of its administrative building. In the afternoon of January 27th he was honored at the Calzada y K funeral parlor in the Cuban capital, and the following day, at 11:30 am, his remains arrived in his homeland, where they were received at the Fort of La Loma and taken along Libertad Avenue to the Municipal Town Hall. At 3:00 pm, the first part of the tribute by the people of Puerto Plata concluded there.

Thousands of compatriots attended the burial at the Municipal Cemetery. Comandante Eddy Suñol Ricardo, a comrade of the Sierra's in the struggle, bade farewell to the mourners. There, in a pink marble pantheon, his remains rest 65 years ago, where a pyramidal spire points to the sky of the Homeland he defended, and where a Cuban flag flies from its flagpole in a clear sign of reverence.