Cuban Revolution

Cuban Revolution
Cuban Revolution
Date 26 July 1953 – 1 January 1959
Location Cuba
Result 26 July Movement victory
26 July Movement Cuba Batista regime
Commanders and leaders
Fidel Castro
Che Guevara
Raúl Castro
Camilo Cienfuegos
Juan Almeida Bosque
Raul Martinez Araras
Ramos Latour
Rene Latour
Rolando Cubela
Roberto Rodriguez
Cuba Fulgencio Batista
Cuba Eulogio Cantillo
Cuba Jose Quevedo
Cuba Alberto del Rio Chaviano
Cuba Joaquin Casillas
Cuba Cornelio Rojas
Cuba Fernandez Suero
Cuba Candido Hernandez
Cuba Alfredo Abon Lee
Cuba Alberto del Rio Chaviano

The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement against the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista between 1953 and 1959. Batista was finally ousted on 1 January 1959, and was replaced by a revolutionary government led by Castro. This government later reformed along communist lines, becoming the present Communist Party of Cuba.[1]



The first phase of the Cuban Revolution began[2] when well-armed rebels attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago and the barracks in Bayamo on 26 July 1953.[3] The exact number of rebels killed in the battle is debatable; however, in his autobiography, Fidel Castro claimed that five were killed in the fighting, and an additional fifty-six were killed later by the Batista regime.[4] Among the dead was Abel Santamaría, second-in-command of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, who was imprisoned, tortured, and executed on the same day as the attack.[5] The survivors, among them Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl Castro Ruz, were captured shortly afterwards. In a highly political trial, Fidel Castro spoke for nearly four hours in his defense, ending with the words; "Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me." Fidel Castro was sentenced to 15 years in the Presidio Modelo prison, located on Isla de Pinos, while Raúl was sentenced to 13 years.

In 1955, under broad political pressure, the Batista regime freed all political prisoners in Cuba – including the Moncada attackers. Batista was persuaded to include the Castro brothers in this release in part by Fidel's Jesuit childhood teachers.[6]

Thereafter, the Castro brothers joined with other exiles in Mexico to prepare a revolution to overthrow Batista, receiving training from Alberto Bayo, a leader of Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. During this period, Fidel met and joined forces with the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.[7]

December 1956 to mid-1958

"I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear."

U.S. President John F. Kennedy, interview with Jean Daniel, 24 October 1963[8]

Cuban Revolution
Attack on Moncada Barracks
"History Will Absolve Me" speech
Granma boat landing
Operation Verano
Battle of La Plata
Battle of Las Mercedes
Battle of Yaguajay
Battle of Santa Clara
General articles
26th of July Movement
Radio Rebelde
Fulgencio Batista
Fidel Castro - Che Guevara
Raúl Castro - Camilo Cienfuegos
Frank País - Huber Matos
Celia Sánchez - William Morgan
Carlos Franqui - Vilma Espín
Norberto Collado Abreu

Manuel Urrutia

The yacht Granma arrived in Cuba on 2 December 1956, carrying the Castro brothers and 80 other members of the 26th of July Movement. It arrived two days later than planned because the boat was heavily loaded, unlike during the practice sailing runs.[9] This dashed any hopes for a coordinated attack with the llano wing of the movement. After arriving and exiting the ship, the band of rebels began to make their way into the Sierra Maestra mountains, a range in southeastern Cuba. Three days after the trek began, Batista's army attacked and killed most of the Granma participants - while the exact number is disputed, no more than twenty of the original eighty-two men survived the initial bloody encounters with the Cuban army and escaped into the Sierra Maestra mountains.[10] The group of survivors included Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raúl Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos. The dispersed survivors, alone or in small groups, wandered through the mountains, looking for each other. Eventually, the men would link up again – with the help of peasant sympathizers – and would form the core leadership of the guerrilla army. Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria (the sister of Abel Santamaria) were among the female revolutionaries who assisted Fidel Castro in the mountains.

On 13 March 1957, a separate group of revolutionaries – the anticommunist Revolutionary Directorate (RD; Directorio Revolucionario), composed mostly of students – stormed the Presidential Palace in Havana, attempting to assassinate Batista and decapitate the regime. The attack was suicidal. The RD's leader, student Jose Antonio Echeverria, died in a shootout with Batista's forces at the Havana radio station he had seized to spread the news of Batista's death. The handful of survivors included Dr. Humberto Castello (who later became the Inspector General in the Escambray), and Rolando Cubela and Faure Chomon (later Commandantes of the 13 March Movement, centered in the Escambray Mountains of Las Villas Province).[11]

Thereafter, the United States imposed an economic embargo on the Cuban government and recalled its ambassador, weakening the government's mandate further.[12] Batista's support among Cubans began to fade, former supporters either joining the revolutionaries or distancing themselves from Batista. The Mafia and US businessmen continued their support.[13]

Raúl Castro (left), with his arm around his second-in-command, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, in their Sierra de Cristal mountain stronghold in Oriente Province, Cuba, in 1958.

The regime resorted to often brutal methods to keep Cuba's cities under government control. However, in the Sierra Maestra mountains, Castro, aided by Frank País, Ramos Latour, Huber Matos, and many others, staged successful attacks on small garrisons of Batista's troops. Che Guevara and Raúl Castro helped Fidel to consolidate his political control in the mountains, often through execution of suspected Batista loyalists or other rivals of Castro's.[citation needed] In addition, poorly armed irregulars known as escopeteros harassed Batista's forces in the foothills and plains of Oriente Province. The escopeteros also provided direct military support to Castro's main forces by protecting supply lines and by sharing intelligence. Ultimately, the mountains came under Castro's control.

In addition to armed resistance, the rebels sought to use propaganda to their advantage. A pirate radio station called Rebel Radio (Radio Rebelde) was set up in February 1958. Castro and his forces broadcast their message nationwide within enemy territory. The radio broadcasts were made possible by Carlos Franqui, a previous acquaintance of Castro who subsequently became a Cuban exile in Puerto Rico.

During this time, Castro's forces remained quite small in numbers, sometimes less than 200 men, while the Cuban army and police force numbered between 30,000 and 40,000 in strength. Yet, nearly every time the Cuban military fought against the revolutionaries, the army was forced to retreat. An arms embargo – imposed on the Cuban government by the United States on 14 March 1958 – contributed significantly to the weakness of Batista's forces. The Cuban air force rapidly deteriorated: it could not repair its airplanes without importing parts from the United States.

Batista finally responded to Castro's efforts with an attack on the mountains called Operation Verano, known to the rebels as la Ofensiva. The army sent some 12,000 soldiers, half of them untrained recruits, into the mountains. In a series of small skirmishes, Castro's determined guerrillas defeated the Cuban army. In the Battle of La Plata, which lasted from 11 July to 21 July 1958, Castro's forces defeated an entire battalion, capturing 240 men while losing just 3 of their own. However, the tide nearly turned on 29 July 1958, when Batista's troops almost destroyed Castro's small army of some 300 men at the Battle of Las Mercedes. With his forces pinned down by superior numbers, Castro asked for, and received, a temporary cease-fire on 1 August. Over the next seven days, while fruitless negotiations took place, Castro's forces gradually escaped from the trap. By 8 August, Castro's entire army had escaped back into the mountains, and Operation Verano had effectively ended in failure for the Batista government.

Mid-1958 to January 1959

""The enemy soldier in the Cuban example which at present concerns us, is the junior partner of the dictator; he is the man who gets the last crumb left by a long line of profiteers that begins in Wall Street and ends with him. He is disposed to defend his privileges, but he is disposed to defend them only to the degree that they are important to him. His salary and his pension are worth some suffering and some dangers, but they are never worth his life. If the price of maintaining them will cost it, he is better off giving them up; that is to say, withdrawing from the face of the guerrilla danger."
— Che Guevara, guerrilla commander, 1958[14]
Map showing key locations in the Sierra Maestra during the Cuban Revolution, 1958

On 21 August 1958, after the defeat of Batista's ofensiva, Castro's forces began their own offensive. In the "Oriente" province (in the area of the present-day provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Guantánamo and Holguín) Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Juan Almeida Bosque directed attacks on four fronts. Descending from the mountains with new weapons captured during the ofensiva and smuggled in by plane, Castro's forces won a series of initial victories. Castro's major victory at Guisa, and the successful capture of several towns including Maffo, Contramaestre, and Central Oriente, brought the Cauto plains under his control.

Meanwhile, three rebel columns, under the command of Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and Jaime Vega, proceeded westward toward Santa Clara, the capital of Villa Clara Province. Batista's forces ambushed and destroyed Jaime Vega's column, but the surviving two columns reached the central provinces, where they joined efforts with several other resistance groups not under the command of Castro. According to Faria, when Che Guevara's column passed through the province of Las Villas, and specifically through the Escambray Mountains – where the anticommunist Revolutionary Directorate forces (who became known as the 13 March Movement) had been fighting Batista's army for many months – friction developed between the two groups of rebels. Nonetheless, the combined rebel army continued the offensive, and Cienfuegos won a key victory in the Battle of Yaguajay on 30 December 1958, earning him the nickname "The Hero of Yaguajay".

Map of Cuba showing the location of the arrival of the rebels on the Granma in late 1956, and the rebels' stronghold in the Sierra Maestra. The map also shows Guevara and Cienfuegos's route towards Havana via Las Villas Province in December 1958.

On 31 December 1958, the Battle of Santa Clara took place in a scene of great confusion. The city of Santa Clara fell to the combined forces of Che Guevara, Cienfuegos, Revolutionary Directorate (RD) rebels led by Comandantes Rolando Cubela, Juan ("El Mejicano") Abrahantes, and William Alexander Morgan. News of these defeats caused Batista to panic. He fled Cuba for the Dominican Republic just hours later on 1 January 1959. Comandante William Alexander Morgan, leading RD rebel forces, continued fighting as Batista departed, and had captured the city of Cienfuegos by 2 January.[15] Castro learned of Batista's flight in the morning and immediately started negotiations to take over Santiago de Cuba. On 2 January, the military commander in the city, Colonel Rubido, ordered his soldiers not to fight, and Castro's forces took over the city. The forces of Guevara and Cienfuegos entered Havana at about the same time. They had met no opposition on their journey from Santa Clara to Cuba's capital. Castro himself arrived in Havana on 8 January after a long victory march. His choice for president, Manuel Urrutia Lleó, took office on the 3rd.[16]

Post-1959: After the revolution

A memorial service march in Havana, held on 5 May 1960 for victims of the La Coubre explosion. Fidel Castro is visible on the far left, while Che Guevara is in the centre of the photograph.
"Our revolution is endangering all American possessions in Latin America. We are telling these countries to make their own revolution."
— Che Guevara, October 1962[17]

Castro later travelled to the United States to explain his revolution. He said, "I know what the world thinks of us, we are Communists, and of course I have said very clearly that we are not Communists; very clearly."[18]

Hundreds of suspected Batista-era agents, policemen and soldiers were put on public trial for human rights abuses and war crimes, including murder and torture. Most of those convicted in revolutionary tribunals of political crimes were executed by firing squad, and the rest received long prison sentences. One of the most notorious examples of revolutionary justice was the execution of over 70 captured Batista regime soldiers, directed by Raúl Castro after the capture of Santiago. For his part in Havana, Che Guevara was appointed supreme prosecutor in La Cabaña Fortress. This was part of a large-scale attempt by Fidel Castro to cleanse the security forces of Batista loyalists and potential opponents of the new revolutionary regime. Others were fortunate enough to be dismissed from the army and police without prosecution, and some high-ranking officials in the ancien régime were exiled as military attachés.[19]

In 1961, after the US-backed Bay of Pigs Invasion, the new Cuban government nationalized all property held by religious organizations, including the dominant Roman Catholic Church. Hundreds of members of the church, including a bishop, were permanently expelled from the nation, with the new Cuban government being declared officially atheist. Faria describes how the education of children changed as Cuba officially became an atheist state: private schools were banned and the progressively socialist state assumed greater responsibility for children.[20]

According to geographer and Cuban Comandante Antonio Núñez Jiménez, 75% of Cuba’s best arable land was owned by foreign individuals or foreign (mostly U.S.) companies at the time of the revolution. One of the first policies of the newly formed Cuban government was eliminating illiteracy and implementing land reforms. Land reform efforts helped to raise living standards by subdividing larger holdings into cooperatives. Comandante Sori Marin, nominally in charge of land reform, objected and fled, but was eventually executed. Many other non-Marxist, anti-Batista rebel leaders were forced into exile, purged in executions, or eliminated in failed uprisings such as that of the Beaton brothers.[citation needed]

Shortly after taking power, Castro also created a Revolutionary militia to expand his power base among the former rebels and the supportive population. Castro also initiated Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or CDRs in late September 1960. Government informants became rampant within the population. CDRs were tasked with keeping "vigilance against counter-revolutionary activity." Local CDRs were also tasked with keeping a detailed record of each neighborhood’s inhabitants' spending habits, level of contact with foreigners, work and education history, and any "suspicious" behavior.[21] One of the persecuted groups were homosexual men.[22] The Cuban dissident and exile Reinaldo Arenas wrote about such persecution in his autobiography, Antes Que Anochezca, the basis for the film Before Night Falls.

In February 1959, the Ministry for the Recovery of Misappropriated Assets (Ministerio de Recuperación de Bienes Malversados) was created. Cuba began expropriating land and private property under the auspices of the Agrarian Reform Law of 17 May 1959. Cuban lawyer Mario Lazo writes that farms of any size could be and were seized by the government. Land, businesses, and companies owned by upper- and middle-class Cubans were also nationalized, including the plantations owned by Fidel Castro's family. By the end of 1960, the revolutionary government had nationalized more than $25 billion worth of private property owned by Cubans.[23] Cuba also nationalized all foreign-owned property, particularly American holdings, in the nation on 6 August 1960. The United States, in turn, responded by freezing all Cuban assets in the United States, severing diplomatic ties,[24] and tightening the embargo on Cuba, which is still in place as of 2011.[25] In response to the acts of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for support.[26]

"The greatest threat presented by Castro’s Cuba is as an example to other Latin American states which are beset by poverty, corruption, feudalism, and plutocratic exploitation ... his influence in Latin America might be overwhelming and irresistible if, with Soviet help, he could establish in Cuba a Communist utopia."

Walter Lippmann, Newsweek, 27 April 1964[27]

In July 1961, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (IRO) was formed by the merger of Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, the People's Socialist Party led by Blas Roca, and the Revolutionary Directorate of 13 March led by Faure Chomón.[28] On 26 March 1962, the IRO became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution (PURSC) which, in turn, became the Communist Party of Cuba on 3 October 1965, with Castro as First Secretary.

In the wake of the revolution, thousands of disaffected anti-Batista rebels, former Batista supporters, and campesinos (Cuban peasants) fled to Cuba's Las Villas province, where an anticommunist underground had been forming since early 1960. Operating out of the Escambray mountain range, these counterrevolutionary rebels, also known as Alzados, made a number of desperate yet unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the Cuban government, including the abortive, United States-backed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961. In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the United States promised not to invade Cuba in the future; in compliance with this agreement, the U.S. withdrew all support from the Alzados, effectively crippling the resource-starved resistance. This violent conflict lasted until about 1965, and has been branded the War Against the Bandits by the Castro regime. It is alternately known as the Escambray Rebellion.

See also


  1. ^ Audio: Cuba Marks 50 Years Since 'Triumphant Revolution' by Jason Beaubien, NPR All Things Considered, 1 January 2009
  2. ^ July Penguin Books: 2007, p. 121
  3. ^
  4. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 133
  5. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 672
  6. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 174
  7. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 174
  8. ^ Spartacus Educational entry for Jean Daniel
  9. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 182
  10. ^ Thomas, Hugh (1998). Cuba or The Pursuit of Freedom (Updated Edition). New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80827-7. 
  11. ^ Faria (2002) Notes pp.40–41
  12. ^ Louis A. Pérez. Cuba and the United States. 
  13. ^ English, T.J. (2008) Havana nocturne : how the mob owned Cuba-- and then lost It to the revolution
  14. ^ The Life & Times of Che Guevara by David Sandison, 1996, Paragon, ISBN 0-7525-1776-7 pg 41
  15. ^ Faria, Cuba in Revolution, 2002, pp.69
  16. ^ Thomas, Hugh, Cuba: The pursuit of freedom, pp. 691–3
  17. ^ Attack us at your Peril, Cocky Cuba Warns US, Henry Brandon, The Sunday Times, 28 October 1962.
  18. ^ UPI, Year in Review,
  19. ^ Juan Clark Cuba: Mito y Realidad: Testimonio de un Pueblo (1992), Saeta Ediciones, Miami, pp. 53–70.
  20. ^ Faria (2002), op. cit. pp. 215–28.
  21. ^ Juan Clark Cuba: Mito y Realidad (1992), pp. 131–58.
  22. ^ Young, Allen (1982). Gays under the Cuban revolution. Grey Fox Press. ISBN 0912516615. 
  23. ^ Lazo, Mario, American Policy Failures in Cuba – Dagger in the Heart (1970) Twin Circle Publishing Co., New York, pp. 198–200, 204, Library of Congress Card Catalog Number:68-31632
  24. ^ Nash, Gary B., Julie Roy Jeffrey, John R. Howe, Peter J. Frederick, Allen F. Davis, Allan M. Winkler, Charlene Mires, and Carla Gardina Pestana. The American People, Concise Edition Creating a Nation and a Society, Combined Volume (6th Edition). New York: Longman, 2007.
  25. ^ Faria (2002), op.cit. p. 105.
  26. ^ Nash, Gary B., Julie Roy Jeffrey, John R. Howe, Peter J. Frederick, Allen F. Davis, Allan M. Winkler, Charlene Mires, and Carla Gardina Pestana. The American People, Concise Edition Creating a Nation and a Society, Combined Volume (6th Edition). New York: Longman, 2007.
  27. ^ "Cuba Once More", by Walter Lippmann, Newsweek magazine, 27 April 1964, pg 23
  28. ^ Faria, Miguel (2002-06-14). "Interview With Dr. Miguel Faria (Part I) by Myles Kantor". Hacienda Publishing. Retrieved 2002-06-14. 

Further reading

  • Castro and the Cuban Revolution,  by Thomas M. Leonard, Greenwood Press, 1999, ISBN 0-313-29979-X
  • Cuban Revolution Reader: A Documentary History of Key Moments in Fidel Castro's Revolution,  by Julio García Luis, Ocean Press, 2008, ISBN 1-920888-89-6
  • Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution: A Marxist Appreciation,  by Joseph Hansen, Pathfinder Press, 1994, ISBN 0-87348-559-9
  • Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution,  by T. J. English, William Morrow, 2008, ISBN 0-06-114771-0
  • Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground,  by Julia E. Sweig, Harvard University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-674-01612-2
  • Cuba in Revolution - Escape from a Lost Paradise,  by Miguel A. Faria, Hacienda Publishing, 2002, ISBN 0964107732
  • Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution,  by Thomas C. Wright, Praeger Paperback, 2000, ISBN 0-275-96706-9
  • The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy,  by Marifeli Perez-Stable, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-19-512749-8
  • The Cuban Revolution: Past, Present and Future Perspectives,  by Geraldine Lievesley, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, ISBN 0-333-96853-0
  • The Cuban Revolution: Years of Promise,  by Teo A. Babun, University Press of Florida, 2005, ISBN 0-8130-2860-4
  • The Moncada Attack: Birth of the Cuban Revolution,  by Antonio Rafael De LA Cova, University of South Carolina Press, 2007, ISBN 1-57003-672-1
  • The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered,  by Samuel Farber, The University of North Carolina Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8078-5673-8
  • The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution,  by Jules R. Benjamin, Princeton University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-691-02536-3

External links

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