Most of the holidays I research pose little or no official interest from our spy agencies. This one is a bit different. Today’s commemoration is a big day in Cuba. I had to tip-toe through a potential minefield to find the few sources that provide objective information about this holiday. After getting past a virus threat (US intel?) I pieced together today’s post.
The history of Cuba is a long and colorful one that I may outline for you in the future. Today, however, I’ll only sketch the beginnings of the current regime.
The seeds for revolution in Cuba were planted before 1940, when Fulgencio Batista first flexed his executive muscles in the island nation. Batista then served as President from 1940 until 1944. Batista made another bid for President in 1952, but it looked like his candidacy would fail. Batista rallied his supporters and took power in a coup d’état, overthrowing President Carlos Prio and halting the pending elections.
Meantime, waiting in the wings for the Congressional elections, was a young, charismatic attorney named Fidel Castro Ruz, who was favored to win the seat. Following the Batista coup d’état, the young Castro went into hiding because his reputation of opposition to other Cuban leaders would not be well received by the new regime. In fact, Batista soon began to arrest other “enemies of the state”.
The Batista regime soon gained favorable recognition from Cuba’s banking and business sector. International recognition came from other countries, especially the United States. The Batista government maintained its tentative hold on power due to the support of foreign Western nations. The dictator’s security forces needed to keep a close watch on the many groups that were plotting armed revolution over the junta. The Castro faction was only one among these groups.
The Batista coup only politicized Castro further. Following the cool-down period after the overthrow, Castro placed a legal challenge into the mix. He charged that the Cuban Constitution was ignored and violated in the change of government. The courts refused to take up his petition. Castro then realized other means would be necessary to bring about change. He began to plot his own armed revolt in secret.
Among the first recruits to the plot was Castro’s young brother, Raul. The loyal tagalong eagerly followed Fidel and provided real and moral support. The two brothers knew that men and weapons were necessary for a successful revolution. An attack on the Moncada barracks and armory, held the best promise for providing the means.
The plan targeted an attack date of July 26, 1953. The day was chosen because the day before would be the Carnaval de Cuba and the festival of St. James. It was deemed likely that a great number of soldiers would be missing or incapacitated from drunkeness or hung over. The base was located near the city of Santiago, one of the poorest areas of Cuba and the place where most of the civil unrest had been happening. Castro was betting that a takeover of the Moncada barracks would trigger a mass uprising that he would lead.
A nearby farm was rented to store contraband uniforms and weapons for the assault. The 160 guerillas were housed in rooms rented in Santiago in readiness for the attacks.
In the early morning hours of July 26th, the rebels were picked up and driven to the rented farm. They were issued the bogus uniforms and light rifles. Fidel Castro briefed his men and began the action. 27 insurgents were assigned to attack the small outpost near Bayamo and the remaining 138 set their sights on Moncada barracks.
The first vehicle made it through the main gates and the guards were disarmed. However, a routine, two-man patrol detected a problem, so the shooting began before the rebels had taken up their planned positions.
A general alarm was sounded on the base alerting the soldiers to defend the position. Heavy machine gun fire pinned down the rebels from the first vehicle. Half of the guerillas from the first vehicle had been killed when the rest were forced to retreat. Castro sensed that his plan was doomed, so he ordered a full retreat. Most of the rebels fled to Santiago and blended into the populace, including Fidel and Raul Castro. The same fate awaited the commando force at Bayamo.
Because 19 federales had been killed, the rest of the soldiers were in a vengeful mood. All the male rebel prisoners were brutally tortured and then murdered in cold blood. The nature of the brutality was leaked to the public at large and a scandal ensued for the Batista regime. It was because of this scandal that when the Castro brothers and the rest of the rebels were captured, they were jailed and not executed.
The Batista government conducted show trials of the rebels and encouraged civilians and journalists to attend. This move backfired because Fidel Castro used his trial as a venue to attack the government. Castro testified that he organized the attack in an attempt to remove the tyrannical Batista from power. Castro took responsibility for all of his actions and presented his case as a civic duty to restore legitimate democracy to Cuba. It was during the public portion of his trial that he spoke his famous sentence, “La historia me absolverá!” (History will absolve me!).
The Batista officials attempted to silence Castro by locking him down. The government claimed that Castro had become ill and was unable to appear on trial. However, Castro had news of his good health smuggled out to the general public. The rest of the trial was conducted in secret and Fidel Castro was sentenced to 15-years imprisonment.
In 1955, Batista bowed to international pressure to release his political prisoners. Following his release, Castro and his most loyal compadres travelled to Mexico to organize the Cuban Revolution. Castro gave his rebellion the name, Movimiento 26 de Julio (The 26th of July Movement) abbreviated as M-26-7. The rebels were dubbed the “Moncadistas”.
In Mexico, Castro was introduced to Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1956. The Moncadistas, now with Che Guevera, returned to Cuba to support the guerilla cells that were fighting across the Island. Following two years of guerilla activity, Fulgencio Batista finally fled Havana. On January 8, 1959 Fidel Castro and his Moncadistas marched into the capital, victorious.
Today, Día de Rebeldía Nacional, is a major holiday in the island nation. Cubans indulge in patriotic parades, speeches, festive concerts and street celebrations. Celebrants enjoy dressing up in costumes and listening and dancing to troupes of conga players. There is plenty of feasting and imbibing by the citizenry. The anniversary of the Movimiento 26 de Julio is in full swing.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that it is still a civil violation for US citizens to visit Cuba, however more than 60,000 still manage to get there illegally each year. There are a few, select Americans allowed to travel to Cuba legally. This writer is in no position to advise you about such arrangements.