Manolo Núñez and the Fangio Kidnapping
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Manolo and the author.
For Colonel Luis González
Manuel Núñez León, 89 years old and with seven children, is known as Manolo. He was born on September 4, 1928, at the El Rosario estate, today a Cooperative in the municipality of Puerto Esperanza. He currently lives alone in a modest house in San Vicente, between Palenque and Cueva del Indio, in Viñales. There, when he was able to locate him, Commander Faustino Pérez visited him several times.
It takes a lot of work to get words out of him that talk about himself. Always behind, against all bad things. In spite of accumulating so many years, he still has a prodigious memory and the same old mood, wearing a Carlos Gardel hat and a gray mustache. His life has been fascinating. Because of their way of being, those who pass by them cannot imagine the story they are carrying with them.
I asked him who his team was in the ball and he answered categorically: Pinar del Río. When I went further back, he repeated: Pinar del Río. After several inquisitions: “Well we were from Almendares, one was born like this”.
He is not satisfied with the film about that action: “I was invited to the presentation. When he finished they asked me what I thought and I said that some things didn’t happen like that and that the name of none of the members of the command didn’t appear. He silently accepted the explanation, because it is not purely historical, but fiction based on historical facts. He grimaced a couple of times and never came back.
The family lived next door to Los Cayos, where Antoñica Izquierdo was a transcendent figure for her preaching. They, plunged into ignorance and, in turn, helped by the enigmatic and kindly woman, took the sermons and began to heal themselves with cold water, or to try to heal themselves. Antonica, in her preaching, advised not to vote for corrupt governments, which brought her many consequences. That detail penetrated deeply into Manolo’s ideas.
The family did not vote and suffered the cruel eviction. They were placed on the side of the road with their articles and their gaze fixed on the sky, as if looking for a star to take them away or open the way for them. Several families were evicted in the style of Realengo 18 Oriental. From then on, life became much more difficult for them. Manolo recalls: “That area was owned by the landowner Pedro Blanco Torres, senator of the Republic, who demanded that they vote for him”.
According to her account, they sent thirteen wagons for thirteen families, which they took to a junction far from the Rosary, so that they could manage as best they could. The rural guard arrived and took some of the elderly prisoners to Pinar del Río. But the Cuban people have great solidarity and families in the new area took the “Bedouins” to their homes, especially the children.
Advised by several friends, he decided to go to Havana, but he was penniless. Then, in a conuco loan, he managed to sow and collect 100 quintals of malangas, which he sold for a peso each. And with the hundred pesos he went to the capital.
When I arrived in Havana, I joined the Orthodox Party of Eduardo Chibás, for which Fidel was running for the House of Representatives. I was accepted because of my revolutionary and peasant way. On Marianao’s 51st Street, Fidel made his last public speech to be elected. Coincidentally, when he finished, he called me and asked where I was from, what I was doing there and those things he was asking. I told him the story of my family and the Rosary Community. And look at the way things are, where he first came to my province, he went precisely to create the Cooperative in El Rosario. Maybe I had something to do with it. 
Then came the 1952 coup d’état, where all constitutional guarantees were closed and Manolo, along with other Orthodox militants, were left without a political compass, until they joined the July 26th Movement.
Juan Manuel Fangio, known as El Chueco and El Maestro, was born in Balcarce, Argentina, on June 24, 1911, and died in Buenos Aires on July 17, 1995, at the age of 84. He is considered one of the greatest motorist drivers in history and at his peak, the best.
Using the Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes Benz and Ferrari cars, as well as the Ford and Chevrolet, between 1929 and 1958 he was proclaimed five times Formula 1 world champion in the 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957 editions.
Batista’s tyranny was trying its best to attract attention with some cultural and sporting activities, including boxing fights, as the popular uprising was growing stronger. Thus, in 1957, they designed the Cuban Grand Prix in motor racing. Fangio won unquestionably. The idea of kidnapping has been around ever since, but it was not possible for several reasons. The same could not happen now.
On February 24, 1958, the tyranny tried to re-edit the competition. Approved by the highest leadership of the July 26 Movement, Faustino Pérez, who was leading the underground struggle in Havana, planned a reckless action of universal significance and activated the command that would kidnap the great champion, led by Oscar Lucero.
The objectives set out were fulfilled to the letter: to protect the life of the champion with all our might, to demonstrate the upward force of the Revolution in arms, to avoid or minimize the connotation of the race and to draw the attention of the world to the fight against Batista.
-It was planned to kidnap him on the exit of CMQ Television, but it could not be because of the public and the strong police protection. —The wagons were bet to execute the action; it was impossible. Among those mobilized was Manolo Núñez.
-On a visit of the champion to the National Hotel, but it was the most protected place.
-When I was walking along the route of the race around Havana’s Malecón, it was very well guarded.
And the time was passing. Then Faustino, a man of strong character and courage at all costs, said to Lucero, “You do it, or I will do it”. And from there the hero came out to accelerate the action. According to Arnol Rodriguez in his book Operation Fangio, Faustino later regretted speaking to a religious, disciplined and courageous man, who soon after became a martyr.
As is often the case, there are many versions of the event. From here we present Manolo Núñez’s:
On the night of February 23, 1958, a command of three cars (all with Thompson machine guns and handguns), loaded with three revolutionaries each and well-armed, stood in the vicinity of the Lincoln Hotel, where the champion was staying.
It was all in the blink of an eye. At 8:40 pm, Fangio went down to the hotel lobby and established his identification. The action has begun.
Manuel Uziel and Primitivo Aguilera entered the lobby and headed for the “Tres Molinos” bar. At the same time, several posts were erected. Manolo had to cover the entrance to the Hotel, machine gun in hand. Uziel approached the group where Fangio was and called him. The Argentinean was displeased: “Why do you want me?” Uziel then said: “I am from the 26th of July Movement and we are going to kidnap him”. After the surprise and with a gun to his side, the champion said, “Let’s go.
Some, perhaps from the protection team to the champion, moved suspiciously and Manolo’s voice echoed in the room: “If anyone moves again, I’ll shoot and there won’t be one left alive”. Uziel, without hesitation for a second, kept Fangio under gunfire and went out with him through the door of Virtudes Street. He then put the champion in the first car and started fast.
The hero’s eyes shine when he remembers his sentence: “We’ll be stationed here, and in five minutes nobody will leave, because nobody will die. And no one dared to leave.
The retreat took place in perfect organization, everyone went to the wagons stationed. This is what Arnol Rodríguez, who has already disappeared, tells us in the book quoted:
Immediately the three cars started moving along Virtudes Street. Oscar’s, the Black Monk, accompanied by his wife Blanquita, who was the closest to the hotel’s door, was the first one to start, although the car immediately got in front, driven by Primitivo Aguilera (El Pibe), accompanied by Manuel Uziel and Reinaldo Rodriguez, was a green Plymouth, the third a grey Buick with Carlos García (Cara Pálida) at the helm, occupied by Ángel Payá, Manolo Núñez and Ángel Luis Guiú (William).
According to Manolo, Oscar Lucero’s return was the last one. There was only one obstacle, other than the kidnapping. The second one hit another and Carlos Garcia, the driver, had to go to the police station to testify. At Manolo’s initiative, they withdrew in time.
I immediately reacted: “Pale Face, you have to go with the man to the barracks because of the accident, give me your gun”. They left with the policeman, who never suspected the action, everything flowed normally. We walked along the path we were coming from and then Oscar Lucero’s car and his wife Blanquita picked us up and took us to the first place where they took Fangio: the house of Uziel.
Once at the station, the officer on duty asked them to agree among themselves, as the coup had been simple. Pale Face proposed to pay the man and everything was just as if nothing happened.
The authorities were afraid that the great champion would suffer some injury and even death, because the whole world would fall on them. They could not imagine one of the orientations: “Take care, no one should be hurt or killed, but first you, before Fangio, must protect the life of the champion at all costs…”
When I read the book of marras, I understood that in the things of life, chance plays a determining role. Maybe everything would have been pitiful. Let’s see how Arnol narrated a tragicomic anecdote in the definitive home of the New Vedado, which hosted the champion:
A few houses nearby, on the same block, lived a Tropicana dancer who was called the Mamboleta, a lover of Batista’s politician and ruler Rafael Díaz Balart. This motivated that at every moment, cars of the repressive forces parked almost in front of him, and it was the case that when Haydeé Santamaría Cuadrado and Armando Hart Dávalos, who was distracted, left the house, he went to one of those cars and only Haydeé’s quick reaction could prevent him from taking it. 
The outcome is known. Fangio felt at home and befriended his captors, who went out of their way to pay attention. The race took place without him and was one of the most cruel, as it skewed the lives of several fans, when a car at full speed lost control and was over the spectators. The great champion saw the accident on television and decided not to compete again.
That night of February 24, another command was created, now with the difficult and risky mission of returning Fangio.
Faustino’s order had been categorical: Well, come on, you yourself, Arnol, are responsible for the delivery. I don’t have to tell you anything else. Go in Emmita’s car and have Flavia (Berta Fernández Cuervo) accompany you. Only a few glasses were added to his usual clothing.
It was all just a matter of asking for it. At the proposal of the Argentine Embassy, the return was made in an apartment located at Calle 12, No. 20, 11th floor, between 1st and 3rd floor, El Vedado, in the home of Mario Zaballe, military attaché of that Embassy, who was outside the country.
That’s how Arnol remembered it:
After the doorbell rang, they opened the access door to the inside, we waited for the elevator and, once inside, we dialed the 11th floor. We penetrated and saw three lords of very serious countenances. Fangio immediately, changing his face and almost smiling, broke the ice, saying, “These are my kind kidnappers, my kidnapping friends.
The culmination of one of the best prepared actions, with a popular and international connotation, as the press around the world turned to the kidnapping of the great champion, who ended up a friend of the revolutionaries because of the attention he received.
After 1959, Manolo Núñez, whom on October 17, 2017 we had as a guest at the Peña of the Scientific Veterinary Council of Pinar del Río, would obtain military degrees and fulfilled risky tasks in the Escambray Cleanup. Among other actions, he was in charge of taking the twelve Malagones to Ciudad Libertad, to place them under the command of Commander Camilo Cienfuegos.
The champion would visit Cuba in 1981 and met with the highest authorities, including his captors.
1] Manolo Núñez: Scientific Veterinary Council of Pinar del Río, October 17, 2017.
2] Arnol Rodriguez: Operation Fangio. Editorial Ciencias Sociales. Havana, pp. 31 and 32.
3] Manolo Núñez: Idem.
4] Arnol Rodriguez: Ob. Cit. p. 36.