There are always winners and losers in any struggle for power. The very different scenes in Havana and Miami at the news of Fidel’s death in November are perfect testament to this – an outpouring of grief and gratitude in Cuba, unbridled joy in Florida.
I have read many accounts of the revolution and the regime that followed and my view is that Fidel was infinitely better for the Cuban people than the corrupt, brutal, mafia riddled regime of Batista.
If you want an excellent potted history of Cuba you should download for free the eminently readable ‘The History of Cuba in 50 Events’ by Henry Freeman from Amazon.
The first strike of revolution took place on 26th July 1953. Batista had cancelled the democratic elections in which Fidel was a leading candidate. Disaffected with the leadership of the regime who were more interested in lining their own pockets than enriching their people, Fidel plotted revolution.
The hopefully decisive plan was a three-pronged attack on Cuba’s second city Santiago. The 26th July was chosen as it was the day after Santiago’s riotous carnival, when it was hoped soldiers would be hungover and drowsy.
The plans all went awry when two of the Moncada attack parties got lost en-route, leaving one group high and dry at the barracks, where they had aimed to defeat Batista’s men and steal all the munitions before fleeing back to the mountains.
Left without the necessary back up they were soon overwhelmed by Batista’s troops. Others who had stormed the military hospital were also rounded up and brought to the barracks for ‘justice’. This group included Abel Santamaria, who was pretty much Fidel’s number two at the time.
All of the captured were horribly tortured before being murdered.
Pictures of those who died now on display at the Moncada Barracks museum
The rest realised that all was lost and fled. These included Fidel & Raul Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos.
The fugitives were soon rounded up however and imprisoned. There were actually orders to kill Fidel, but the commanding officer refused to carry out the orders proclaiming “you can’t kill ideas”.
It was the end of his military career, but little did he know then how significant his actions would be for the history of Cuba, The Americas and the whole world.
At Fidel’s trial he uttered the famous line “history will absolve me”, during his defence.
In 1955 Batista called a so called free election. To prove that he was democratic (as if) he released all political prisoners. The failed revolutionaries seized the chance to flee to Mexico to save their bacon.
Whilst there the Castros met Ernesto Guevara. The wheels of history were turning. They plotted revolution, using the doctrine of 19th century Cuba revolutionary and father of Free Cuba, Jose Marti. Marti stated “control the Sierra Maestra mountain range (near Santiago) and you control Cuba.”
Famous Cuban revolutionaries adorning buildings in Baracoa
In December 1956, 82 revolutionaries set sail in a small boat called ‘Granma’. The boat is now on display in the mighty fine revolution museum in Havana.
The museum, the Granma and other exhibits – the caricatures are headed up ‘The Cretins of Cuban History!’
The group were now called the 26th July movement in honour of their comrades who had fallen in Moncada. They landed near Santiago, but were ambushed and seventy of their number killed.
The twelve that remained (remarkably the majority of the leaders) eventually set up guérilla camps in the Sierra Maestra. There they recruited partisans to the cause and won several skirmishes against Batista’s army.
In addition to armed resistance, the rebels sought to use propaganda to their advantage. A pirate radio station called Radio Rebelde was set up in February 1958, allowing Castro and his forces to broadcast their message nationwide.
In late ’58 their plans were put into action. Fidel led the assault on Santiago de Cuba. Batista sent a train from Havana filled with troops and heavy munitions to repel the attack.
The rebels received intelligence of the armoured train and Che led a battalion of men to Santa Clara to try and intercept the deadly cargo.
Armed with rifles and Molotov cocktails and using a bulldozer, the revolutionaries managed to badly damage and derail the train, a decisive act in the power struggle.
Batista soon realised that his game was up and he fled to the Dominican Republic.
On 1st January 1959 Fidel Castro pronounced victory from the balcony of a municipal building on Santiago’s main square to a massed throng of wildly happy Cubans. His speech lasted around two hours. Nobody in the crowd left until it was over.
Fidel and his band of sisters and brothers then drove a victorious cavalcade to Havana to set out their plans for Cuba’s future.
The rest (The Bay of Pigs CIA sponsored failed uprising, the Cuban Missile Crisis that so nearly led to a nuclear exchange between The States and Soviet Union, the trade embargo between the US and Cuba, education & health reforms in Cuba, its totalitarian government etc.) is history with much more still in the making……..