The Cuban Revolution (Spanish: Revolución cubana) was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro's revolutionary 26th of July Movement and its allies against the military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began in July 1953, and continued sporadically until the rebels finally ousted Batista on 31 December 1958, replacing his government with a revolutionary socialist state. 26 July 1953 is celebrated in Cuba as the Day of the Revolution (Dia de la Revolución). The 26th of July Movement later reformed along communist lines, becoming the Communist Party in October 1965.
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
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|5,000+ combat-related deaths; unknown thousands of dissidents arrested and murdered by Batista's government; unknown number of people executed by the Rebel Army|
Part of a series on the
|History of Cuba|
|Governorate of Cuba (1511–1519)|
|Viceroyalty of New Spain (1535–1821)|
|Captaincy General of Cuba (1607–1898)|
|US Military Government (1898–1902)|
|Republic of Cuba (1902–1959)|
|Republic of Cuba (1959–)|
The Cuban Revolution had powerful domestic and international repercussions. In particular, it transformed Cuba's relationship with the United States, although efforts to improve diplomatic relations have gained momentum in recent years (see the Cuban thaw). In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, Castro's government began a program of nationalization, centralization of the press and political consolidation that transformed Cuba's economy and civil society. The revolution also heralded an era of Cuban intervention in foreign military conflicts, including the Angolan Civil War and the Nicaraguan Revolution. Several rebellions occurred the six years after 1959 among the impoverished peasantry, mainly in the Escambray mountains, which were repressed by the Revolutionary government.
In the decades following United States' invasion of Cuba in 1898, and formal independence from the U.S. on May 20, 1902, Cuba experienced a period of significant instability, enduring a number of revolts, coups and a period of U.S. military occupation. Fulgencio Batista, a former soldier who had served as the elected president of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, became president for the second time in 1952, after seizing power in a military coup and canceling the 1952 elections. Although Batista had been relatively progressive during his first term, in the 1950s he proved far more dictatorial and indifferent to popular concerns. While Cuba remained plagued by high unemployment and limited water infrastructure, Batista antagonized the population by forming lucrative links to organized crime and allowing American companies to dominate the Cuban economy, especially sugar-cane plantations and other local resources. Although the US armed and politically supported the Batista dictatorship, later US presidents recognized its corruption and the justifiability of removing it.
During his first term as President, Batista had not been supported by the Communist Party of Cuba,, and during his second term he became strongly anti-communist. Batista developed a rather weak security bridge as an attempt to silence political opponents. In the months following the March 1952 coup, Fidel Castro, then a young lawyer and activist, petitioned for the overthrow of Batista, whom he accused of corruption and tyranny. However, Castro's constitutional arguments were rejected by the Cuban courts. After deciding that the Cuban regime could not be replaced through legal means, Castro resolved to launch an armed revolution. To this end, he and his brother Raúl founded a paramilitary organization known as "The Movement", stockpiling weapons and recruiting around 1,200 followers from Havana's disgruntled working class by the end of 1952. Batista was known as a corrupt leader and constantly pampered himself with exotic foods and elegant women.
Attack on Moncada Barracks
Striking their first blow against the Batista government, Fidel and Raúl Castro gathered 69 Movement fighters and planned a multi-pronged attack on several military installations. On 26 July 1953, the rebels attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago and the barracks in Bayamo, only to be decisively defeated by government soldiers. It was hoped that the staged attack would spark a nationwide revolt against Batista's government. He had around 150 factory and farm workers. After an hour of fighting the rebel leader fled to the mountains. The exact number of rebels killed in the battle is debatable; however, in his autobiography, Fidel Castro claimed that nine were killed in the fighting, and an additional 56 were executed after being captured by the Batista government. Due to the government's large number of men, Hunt revised the number to be around 60 members taking the opportunity to flee to the mountains along with Castro. Among the dead was Abel Santamaría, Castro's second-in-command, who was imprisoned, tortured, and executed on the same day as the attack.
Imprisonment and emigration
Numerous key Movement revolutionaries, including the Castro brothers, were captured shortly afterwards. In a highly political trial, Fidel spoke for nearly four hours in his defense, ending with the words "Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me." Castro's defense was based on nationalism, the representation and beneficial programs for the non-elite Cubans, and his patriotism and justice for the Cuban community. Fidel was sentenced to 15 years in the Presidio Modelo prison, located on Isla de Pinos, while Raúl was sentenced to 13 years. However, in 1955, under broad political pressure, the Batista government freed all political prisoners in Cuba, including the Moncada attackers. Fidel's Jesuit childhood teachers succeeded in persuading Batista to include Fidel and Raúl in the release.
Soon, the Castro brothers joined with other exiles in Mexico to prepare for the overthrow of Batista, receiving training from Alberto Bayo, a leader of Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. In June 1955, Fidel met the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who joined his cause. Raul and Castro's chief advisor Ernesto aided the initiation of Batista's amnesty. The revolutionaries named themselves the "26th of July Movement", in reference to the date of their attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.
By late 1955, student riots and demonstrations became common, and unemployment became problematic as new graduates could not find jobs. These protests were dealt with increasing repression. All young people were seen as possible revolutionaries. Due to its continued opposition to the Cuban government and much protest activity taking place on its campus, the University of Havana was temporarily closed on November 30, 1956 (it did not reopen until 1959 under the first revolutionary government).
Attack on Domingo Goicuria barracks
While the Castro brothers and the other July 26 Movement guerrillas were training in Mexico and preparing for their amphibious deployment to Cuba, another revolutionary group followed the example of the Moncada Barracks assault. On 29 April 1956 at 12:50 PM during Sunday mass, an independent guerrilla group of around 100 rebels led by Reynol Garcia attacked the Domingo Goicuria army barracks in Matanzas province. The attack was repelled with ten rebels and three soldiers killed in the fighting, and one rebel summarily executed by the garrison commander. Florida International University historian Miguel A. Brito was in the nearby cathedral when the firefight began. He writes, "That day, the Cuban Revolution began for me and Matanzas."
The yacht Granma departed from Tuxpan, Veracruz, Mexico, on 25 November 1956, carrying the Castro brothers and 80 others including Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, even though the yacht was only designed to accommodate 12 people with a maximum of 25. The yacht arrived in Cuba on 2 December. The boat landed in Playa Las Coloradas, in the municipality of Niquero, arriving two days later than planned because the boat was heavily loaded, unlike during the practice sailing runs. 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 encounters with the Cuban army and escaped into the Sierra Maestra mountains.
The group of survivors included Fidel and Raúl Castro, Che Guevara 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. A number of female revolutionaries, including Celia Sanchez and Haydée Santamaría (the sister of Abel Santamaria), also assisted Fidel Castro's operations in the mountains.
Presidential palace attack
On 13 March 1957, a separate group of revolutionaries – the anticommunist Student Revolutionary Directorate (RD) (Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil, DRE), composed mostly of students – stormed the Presidential Palace in Havana, attempting to assassinate Batista and overthrow the government. The attack ended in utter failure. The RD's leader, student José Antonio Echeverría, died in a shootout with Batista's forces at the Havana radio station he had seized to spread the news of Batista's anticipated death. The handful of survivors included Dr. Humberto Castello (who later became the Inspector General in the Escambray), Rolando Cubela and Faure Chomon (both later Commandantes of the 13 March Movement, centered in the Escambray Mountains of Las Villas Province).
Strengthening insurgency and United States involvement
The United States supplied Cuba with planes, ships, tanks and other tech such as napalm, which was used against the rebels. This would eventually come to an end due to a later arms embargo in 1958.
According to Tad Szulc the United States began funding the 26th of July Movement around October or November of 1957 and ending around middle 1958. "No less than $50,000" would be delivered to key leaders of the 26th of July Movement. The purpose being to instill sympathies to the United States amongst the rebels in case the movement succeeded.
While Batista increased troop deployments to the Sierra Maestra region to crush the 26 July guerrillas, the Second National Front of the Escambray kept battalions of the Constitutional Army tied up in the Escambray Mountains region. The Second National Front was led by former Revolutionary Directorate member Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo and the "Yanqui Comandante" William Alexander Morgan. Gutiérrez Menoyo formed and headed the guerrilla band after news had broken out about Castro's landing in the Sierra Maestra, and José Antonio Echeverría had stormed the Havana Radio station. Though Morgan was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army, his recreating features from Army basic training made a critical difference in the Second National Front troops battle readiness.
Thereafter, the United States imposed an economic embargo on the Cuban government and recalled its ambassador, weakening the government's mandate further. Batista's support among Cubans began to fade, with former supporters either joining the revolutionaries or distancing themselves from Batista. Once Batista started making drastic decisions concerning Cuba's economy, he began to nationalize U.S oil refineries and other U.S properties. Nonetheless, the Mafia and U.S. businessmen maintained their support for the regime.
Batista's government often resorted to brutal methods to keep Cuba's cities under 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. Castro was joined by CIA connected Frank Sturgis who offered to train Castro's troops in guerrilla warfare. Castro accepted the offer, but he also had an immediate need for guns and ammunition, so Sturgis became a gunrunner. Sturgis purchased boatloads of weapons and ammunition from CIA weapons expert Samuel Cummings' International Armament Corporation in Alexandria, Virginia. Sturgis opened a training camp in the Sierra Maestra mountains, where he taught Che Guevara and other 26th of July Movement rebel soldiers guerrilla warfare.
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 Radio Rebelde ("Rebel Radio") was set up in February 1958, allowing Castro and his forces to broadcast their message nationwide within enemy territory. Castro's affiliation with the New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews created a front page-worthy report on anti-communist propaganda. 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 fewer than 200 men, while the Cuban army and police force had a manpower of around 37,000. Even so, 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, along with his own brother Raul. In a series of small skirmishes, Castro's determined guerrillas defeated the Cuban army. In the Battle of La Plata, which lasted from 11 to 21 July 1958, Castro's forces defeated a 500-man battalion, capturing 240 men while losing just three 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 the 8 August, Castro's entire army had escaped back into the mountains, and Operation Verano had effectively ended in failure for the Batista government...
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.
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 forces with several other resistance groups not under the command of Castro. 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".
Battle of Santa Clara and Batista's flight
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, and 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 by air 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.
Cuban General Eulogio Cantillo entered Havana's Presidential Palace, proclaimed the Supreme Court judge Carlos Piedra as the new President, and began appointing new members to Batista's old government.
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 initial choice of president, Manuel Urrutia Lleó, took office on 3 January.
I believe that there is no country in the world, including the African regions, 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 believe that we created, built and manufactured the Castro movement out of whole cloth and without realizing it. I believe that the accumulation of these mistakes has jeopardized all of Latin America. The great aim of the Alliance for Progress is to reverse this unfortunate policy. This is one of the most, if not the most, important problems in America foreign policy. I can assure you that I have understood the Cubans. 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 go even 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.
The Cuban Revolution was a crucial turning point in U.S.-Cuban relations. Although the United States government was initially willing to recognize Castro's new government, it soon came to fear that Communist insurgencies would spread through the nations of Latin America, as they had in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Castro's government resented the Americans for providing aid to Batista's government during the revolution. After the revolutionary government nationalized all U.S. property in Cuba in August 1960, the American Eisenhower administration froze all Cuban assets on American soil, severed diplomatic ties and tightened its embargo of Cuba. The Key West–Havana ferry shut down. In 1961, the U.S. government backed an armed counterrevolutionary assault on the Bay of Pigs with the aim of ousting Castro, but the counterrevolutionaries were swiftly defeated by the Cuban military. The U.S. Embargo against Cuba – the longest-lasting single foreign policy in American history – is still in force as of 2018, although it has undergone a partial loosening in recent years, only to be recently strengthened in 2017. The U.S. began efforts to normalize relations with Cuba in the mid-2010s, and formally reopened its embassy in Havana after over half a century in August 2015. The Trump administration has reversed much of the Cuban Thaw by severely restricting travel by US citizens to Cuba and tightening the US government's 59-year-old embargo against the country.
Castro's victory and post-revolutionary foreign policy had global repercussions as influenced by the expansion of the Soviet Union into Eastern Europe after the 1917 October Revolution. In line with his call for revolution in Latin America and beyond against imperial powers, laid out in his Declarations of Havana, Castro immediately sought to "export" his revolution to other countries in the Caribbean and beyond, sending weapons to Algerian rebels as early as 1960. In the following decades, Cuba became heavily involved in supporting Communist insurgencies and independence movements in many developing countries, sending military aid to insurgents in Ghana, Nicaragua, Yemen and Angola, among others. Castro's intervention in the Angolan Civil War in the 1970s and 1980s was particularly significant, involving as many as 60,000 Cuban soldiers.
Following the American embargo, the Soviet Union became Cuba's main ally. The two Communist countries quickly developed close military and intelligence ties, culminating in the stationing of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba in 1962, an act which triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cuba maintained close links to the Soviets until the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991. The end of Soviet economic aid and the loss of its trade partners in the Eastern Bloc led to an economic crisis and period of shortages known as the Special Period in Cuba.
The beliefs of Fidel Castro during the revolution have been the subject of much historical debate. Fidel Castro was openly ambiguous about his beliefs at the time. Some orthodox historians argue Castro was a communist from the beginning with a long term plan however others have argued he had no strong ideological loyalties. Leslie Dewart has stated that there is no evidence to suggest Castro was ever a communist agent. Levine and Papasotiriou believe Castro believed in little outside of a distaste for American imperialism. As evidence for his lack of communist leanings they note his friendly relations with the United States shortly after the revolution and him not joining the Cuban Communist Party during the beginning of his land reforms.
The importance of women's contributions to the Cuban Revolution is reflected in the very accomplishments that allowed the revolution to be successful, from the participation in the Moncada Barracks, to the Mariana Grajales all-women's platoon that served as Fidel Castro's personal security detail. Tete Puebla, second in command of the Mariana Grajales Platoon, has said:
Women in Cuba have always been on the front line of the struggle. At Moncada we had Yeye (Haydee Santamaria) and Melba (Hernandez). With the Granma (yacht) and November 30, we had Celia, Vilma, and many other compañeras. There were many women comrades who were tortured and murdered. From the beginning there were women in the Revolutionary Armed Forces. First they were simple soldiers, later sergeants. Those of us in the Mariana Grajales Platoon were the first officers. The ones who ended the war with officers' ranks stayed in the armed forces.
Before the Mariana Grajales Platoon was established, the revolutionary women of the Sierra Maestra were not organized for combat and primarily helped with cooking, mending clothes, and tending to the sick, frequently acting as couriers, as well as teaching guerrillas to read and write. Haydée Santamaría and Melba Hernandez were the only women who participated in the attack on the Moncada Barracks, afterward acting alongside Natalia Revuelta, and Lidia Castro (Fidel Castro's sister) to form alliances with anti-Batista organizations, as well as the assembly and distribution of "History Will Absolve Me". Celia Sanchez and Vilma Espin were leading strategists and highly skilled combatants who held essential roles throughout the revolution. Tete Puebla, founding member and second in command of the Mariana Grajales Platoon, said of Celia Sanchez, "When you speak of Celia, you've got to speak of Fidel, and vice versa. Celia's ideas touched almost everything in the Sierra.
In popular culture
- The Cuban Revolution, including Batista's resignation and flight into exile, plays a major role in the plot of the 1974 film The Godfather Part II.
- The 1983 movie, Scarface, follows a fictional character Tony Montana who emigrated to the United States during the Mariel boatlift of 1980.
- The 1987 video game Guevara, released in the United States as Guerrilla War, features Castro and Guevara fighting in the jungle against the forces of an unnamed dictator.
- The Cuban dissident and exile Reinaldo Arenas wrote about Castro's persecution of homosexuals in his 1992 autobiography Antes Que Anochezca, which became the basis for the 2000 film Before Night Falls.
- Steven Soderbergh's 2008 film Che, a two-part biopic about Che Guevara, depicts the rise of Castro's movement and Guevara's role in the Cuban Revolution.
- The 2010 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops features a level set in Havana in 1961, in which players must attempt to assassinate Castro. The level was condemned by the Cuban government.
- The 2013 strategic board game Cuba Libre by US wargaming publisher GMT Games puts players into the roles of the involved parties in the Revolution and lets them reenact the conflict alongside a randomized storyline of the key historical events.
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...the world knows about the Moncada attack in Oriente province that made Fidel Castro famous, but few have heard of the attack on the Goicuria Barracks in Matanzas on April 29, 1956. That event caught the young Bretos on a Sunday outing to mass at the cathedral with his Aunt Nena. He remembers the scene vividly: the staccato gun fire, the military fighter that roared by, the news that all the rebels had been killed, the photographs of the colonel in charge who smiled proudly over the corpses and of a prisoner being shot in cold blood, the latter image published in the Spanish edition of Life. "That day," Bretos writes, "the Cuban Revolution began for me and Matanzas."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cuban Revolution.|
- Fidel Castro. "What Cuba's Rebels Want" at Archive.today (archived 17 April 2009). The Nation via Internet Archive. 30 November 1957.
- "The Cuban Revolution (1952–1958)". Latin American Studies Organization.
- Michael Voss. "Reliving Cuba's Revolution". BBC. 29 December 2008.
- "The History of Socialist Revolution in Cuba (1953–1959)". World History Archives.
- Arthur Brice. "Memories of Boyhood in the Heat of the Cuban Revolution". CNN. 2009.
- "1959 – 2009: Celebrating 50 years of the Cuban Revolution". Cuba Solidarity Campaign.
- A film clip "Castro Triumphs. Havana Crowds Hail Success Of Revolt, 1959/01/05 (1959)" is available at the Internet Archive.