Deep in a dripping mountaintop forest, two men huddled on the ground at sunup one day last week, talking in guarded whispers. One of the men was Fidel Castro, 30, the strapping, bearded leader of the never-say-die band of anti-Batista rebels who strike and run from hideouts in eastern Cuba's Sierra Maestra range (TIME, Feb. 25 et ante). The other was Herbert Matthews, 57, veteran war reporter (Ethiopia, Spain, Italy) of the New York Times. In a series of three articles this week, Herb Matthews, now a Times editorial writer, told how he crossed the battle lines, described the rebels' guerrilla life, and firmly concluded that Strongman Fulgencio Batista "cannot possibly hope to suppress the Castro revolt."
To get through to Castro, Reporter Matthews played two roles. For the trip by car from Havana to eastern Oriente province, Matthews and his wife Nancie were "tourists"; at roadblocks, guards waved them on with friendly smiles. Leaving Nancie in the home of some Castro sympathizers, Matthews then rode in a rebel jeep deeper into the cane country around the range as "an American sugar planter who could not speak a word of Spanish," dressed "for a fishing trip"which proved convincing to patrolling troops. The reporter, with escorts loyal to Castro, reached the foothills at midnight, slithered on afoot. At dawn, through whistled recognition signals, Matthews and Castro were brought together.
"Here was an educated, dedicated fanatic, a man of ideals, of courage and of remarkable qualities of leadership," Matthews wrote. Dressed in olive-drab fatigues and carrying a sniper's rifle with a telescopic sight, Castro seemed idolized by his men. Asked how he got supplies, Castro flashed a stack of pesos a foot high, hinted that he had plenty more. The morale of the rebels, whose number Castro kept to himself, seemed high. Batista's troops "never know where we are, but we always know where they are," Castro said. "We can pick them off at a thousand yards with these guns."
From the interviews not only with Castro but with dozens of students, U.S. businessmen and politicians, Matthews concluded that:
Batista is "generally unpopular." "There is more corruption than ever, and this is saying a great deal in Cuba." "Highly respected citizens" all over Cuba have joined in a civil resistance movement against dictatorship and corruption, are supporting Castro. "An internal struggle is now taking place that is more than an effort by the outs to get in." But Batista, with the support of high military officers, still "has the upper hand, and with any luck he can hang on until his term ends in February 1959."