The Moncada Barracks shortly after the July 26, 1953 attack. The barracks have been converted into a school and Museum of the Revolution where the bullet holes shown here can be seen to this day.
By ISAAC SANEY, National Spokesperson, Canadian Network On Cuba – plus three additional historical articles from Granma newspaper, Havana
(July 26) –Today, Cubans commemorate the heroic assault on the Moncada Barracks. Sixty-five years ago, on July 26, 1953, a group of courageous young men and women — led by Fidel Castro — attacked the Moncada Barracks in the city of Santiago de Cuba, and the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks in Bayamo, in an attempt to overthrow the U.S. supported puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista. As the island’s second largest military garrison, the Moncada Barracks was critical to Batista’s military control of southern Cuba. The goal was to seize the weapons and distribute them to the people and spark a national uprising that would not only overthrow the Batista dictatorship but also establish Cuba’s independence and sovereignty. This heroic act is annually commemorated all over Cuba as the beginning of the movement and struggle that laid the foundation of the Cuban Revolution.
Fidel Castro and other captured rebels arriving at the Santiago city jail, following his arrest after the failed coup at Moncada Barracks, Cuba, 26th July 1953.
The attacks were carried out by an organization that was created in 1952, under the leadership of Fidel Castro and Abel Santamaria, and comprised of young workers, students, artisans, peasants and landless farmers. It had around 1,500 members and affiliated itself with historic Cuban national liberation figures such as José Martí and Antonio Maceo. Around 120 youths were part of the attacks, approximately 70 of whom were killed, with many being tortured and executed after the attack. The survivors, including Fidel Castro, were subsequently put on trial and given lengthy prison sentences. Most, including Fidel Castro, were released after an amnesty in May 1955. This amnesty was the result of the mass mobilization of Cubans in support of the imprisoned rebels. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro, the July 26th Movement galvanized Cubans, ultimately leading to the victory of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959.
Above, Fidel Castro (centre) and other Moncada rebels released from prison, May 1955
While the Moncada attack failed in fulfilling its immediate objective, it was central to the Cuban people’s struggle for national affirmation and social emancipation. Cubans have always placed Moncada in a broad historical context, viewing it as a crucial link in the century-long striving of Cuba to free itself from Spanish colonial domination and U.S. tutelage, and then, establish authentic independence. At his trial Fidel Castro delivered a speech that eventually became the manifesto of the movement to overthrow the Batista tyranny. It was published as La Historia Me Absolvera (History Will Absolve Me) and laid out the national and social goals of the revolutionary movement that eventually triumphed on January 1, 1959. Today, the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes barracks, now a school and a museum, stand as concrete symbols of that successful struggle.
Though the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro is no longer physically present, Cuba continues along the path he blazed: unbending commitment to Justice, Dignity and Independence that has characterized Cuba since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Fidel’s living legacy continues in the work of the Cuban Revolution. As Cuba continues on the road of revolutionary renewal and continuity, Fidel’s example and fidelity to principle continue to inspire the Cuban people.
Canadian commemorations of Moncada Day are a reflection of the ties that exist between Cuba and Canada. Canadians admire the courageous and rebellious spirit embodied in Moncada; a spirit that today is so powerfully manifested in Cuba’s steadfastness against the efforts of the empire to destroy the island’s independence. Canadians irrespective of their political or ideological positions, stand in favour of building relations with Cuba based on mutual respect and equality, relations which uphold Cuba’s right to self-determination and sovereignty. Having traveled to Cuba in the hundreds of thousands and having witnessed Cuban reality for themselves, Canadians have come away with a profound respect and admiration for the Cuban people and their efforts to build and defend a society centred on independence, justice and human dignity.Since the Cuban people embarked on the road paved by Moncada, Cuba has refuted and continues to refute the colonialist mentality and practice of foisting on independent countries imperial arrangements and dictates that they resoundingly reject. The Cuban Revolution has refused to renounce its right to self-determination and the principles, principles forged in the crucible of Moncada.
In the years that have flashed by since Moncada, the Cuban people have shown what is possible to achieve when one defends genuine independence and self-determination. The example of Cuba assumes even greater significance as the 21st century unfolds, fraught with grave dangers that threaten the well being of the peoples of the world. In the midst of these profound challenges, Cuba refutes those who argue that relations among the world’s nations and peoples are – and can only be – determined by self-interest, the pursuit of power and wealth. As Cuba continues on the path of social justice, human dignity and international solidarity, the Cuban Revolution continues to be an inspiration to humanity. Cuba demonstrates that it is possible to build relations based on genuine solidarity and social love; it is a living example of the alternatives that permit people to realize their deepest aspirations, and that another better world is possible. History has given its judgment: vindicating Fidel and the Cuban Revolution!
Long Live the Martyrs of Moncada!
Long Live the Cuban Revolution!
(July 25) – The fact that the Cuban people were politically prepared and full of patriotic fervor in 1953 is made evident in the social composition of the revolutionary movement which the young attorney, Fidel Castro Ruz, was able to pull together in a short period of time following the military coup of March 10, 1952, carried out by Fulgencio Batista, and promptly recognized by the United States government, practically on the eve of general elections scheduled for June 1 that year.
The members of what would become a transforming, revolutionary movement recognized the critical moment in which they were living. They reflected the conception of the people that Fidel would later define in his defense statement following the Moncada assault known as “History will absolve me.”
The spark of a true revolution was lit among broad layers of Cuba society: campesinos, workers, modest professionals, unemployed youth, and those with precarious and seasonal jobs, drawn to the political program presented to the nation as the Moncada Manifesto. The insurgents were not only audacious. They understood and wanted to achieve more than a simple change of government.
The organization’s program was outlined by Fidel. A part came from the 1940 Constitution, abolished by Batista during the coup. This document, among other precepts, abolished the possession of vast areas of land, but laws to implement a land reform were never approved. Fidel’s proposal included as a fundamental point rejection of U.S. companies’ control, like that of the United Fruit Company, and others of all kinds, including those providing electricity and telephone services, as well as gasoline refineries.
Also among fundamental elements were the development of public education, a health care program within the reach of the entire people, and many other social demands that became a reality after the January 1, 1959, triumph of the Revolution, following the victory of the Rebel Army led by Fidel in the Sierra Maestra.
One antecedent is worth recalling, to better understand this silent organization of youth, ready to give their lives for the homeland. Throughout the decade, Cuba had seen a mass movement, described by many as “populist,” led by one unchallenged leader, Senator Eduardo Chibás, who advocated virtuous, honorable administration by the government as his political platform, which had as its symbol a broom, to sweep away all the evils inherited from a republic that was born lame, after the U.S. intervention at the end of a three-decade struggle for independence waged by Cubans since 1868, when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes launched the anti-colonial war, beginning by freeing slaves he held at La Demajagua plantation and inviting them to join the fight for Cuba’s freedom, as free men. A unique event in the history of the Americas.
In 1953, the youth who would become the 26th of July Movement stated in their Manifesto that they were assuming “the revolution of Céspedes, Agramonte, Maceo, and Martí; of Mella, and of Guiteras, of Trejo, and of Chibás», since “in the conscience of Cuba’s men lies the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.”
For different tactical reasons, the definitive victory was no won at other historical moments, but the composition of the revolutionary, insurgent group of 1953 was similar to that of the great wars 50 years earlier, before the crippled first republic.
Illiteracy was growing in the 1950s, since public education and healthcare were of little concern to the governments of the moment, but political culture, in the most advanced sense of the term, was developing rapidly in our society, thanks to the patriotic tradition.
This is evident when considering a few examples of the social origins of the July 26 insurgents killed, the majority murdered, and some survivors. This is a representative list. Since Fidel was able to recruit about 1,000, most of whom would later join the 26th of July Movement, play important roles, and become heroes and martyrs. They represent, as he said, the people of Cuba, when it comes to struggle, the social composition of the group is revealing.
The brothers Horacio and Wilfredo Matheu Orihuela, and Remberto Abad Alemán Rodríguez, bricklayers, cement mixers; Lázaro Hernández Arroyo, Pedro Véliz Hernández, Armando Mestre Martínez, Tomás Álvarez Breto, and Juan Almeida Bosque, bricklayers; Rafael Freyre and Hugo Camejo, textile workers; Flores Betancourt Rodríguez, worker in gem cutting shop; Pablo Agüero Guedes, assistant bricklayer; Emilio Hernández Cruz and Manuel Saiz Sánchez, carpenters; Armando del Valle López and Juan Domínguez, furniture builders, woodworkers; René Bedia, house painter.
Alfredo Concha Cinta, Manuel Isla Pérez, Marcos Martí Rodríguez, Carmelo Noa Gil, Manuel Rojo, Gerardo Antonio Álvarez, José Labrador, and Ismael Ricondo – all small framers or agricultural workers.
José Luís Tasende de las Muñecas (cell leader), and Vicente Vázquez, refrigeration mechanics; Juan Manuel Ameijeiras, Mario Martínez Ararás, drivers; Francisco Costa Velásquez, drivers assistant; Jacinto García Espinosa and Antonio Betancourt Flores, longshoremen; Virginio and Manuel Gómez, cooks (working at the Belén Jesuit preparatory school); José Ramón Martínez, leather tanner; José de Jesús Madera, laborer; Félix Rivero Vasallo, bartender; Pablo Cartas Rodríguez, restaurant worker; Andrés Valdés Fuentes, baker; Ángel Guerra García, sheetmetal worker; Pedro Marrero worked in a brewery; Víctor Escalona, shoemaker.
Abel Santamaría Cuadrado, employed in an important commercial office and a student, as was Boris Luís Santa Coloma, also a trade union leader; Julio Reyes, bank worker; Oscar Alcalde, owner of a pharmaceutical laboratory; Ramón Méndez Capote and Elpidio Sosa, traveling salesmen; Miguel Oramas, worker and photographer, like Fernando Chenart Piña; Raúl de Aguiar, student; Raúl Gómez García, teacher, poet, and trade union leader; Renato Guitart Rosell, shipping agent at his father’s company; Julio Trigo, student and traveling medicine salesman; Oscar Alberto Ortega, store clerk; Gildo Fleitas student and professor, as well as office worker; Guillermo Granados and Roberto Mederos Rodríguez, commerce workers; Rigoberto Cocho, electrical worker; Gregorio Careaga, mortuary worker; Ciro Redondo, employee, traveling salesman; Ramiro Valdés, employee, like Pepe (José) Suárez, principal cell leader in Artemisa. With a few exceptions, all were members of the Orthodox Party or youth group in their hometowns.
In this profile, brief but eloquent, gives some idea of the movement’s social composition. But the unemployed, or marginally employed, must also be added, including Osvaldo Socarrás and Humberto Valdés Casañas, who were day workers earning just enough to eat, as car parkers; or Giraldo Córdoba Cardín, who was trying to make a living as a boxer; Rolando San Román, occasional oyster saleman and José Testa Zaragoza, who sold flowers; and Antonio Ñico López, produce seller in a Havana market. Ñico López was saved, was exiled to Guatemala, and during the government of Jacobo Arbenz, the first of the revolutionaries to meet the young doctor Ernesto Che Guevara, who he later introduced to Fidel and Raúl. It was from Nico that Che learned the details of how the Moncada assault, and that on the garrison on Bayamo, were organized, July 26,1953.
Others who must be mentioned to complete the picture of “the people, when it comes to struggle,” as Fidel said during his trial: Pedro Miret, engineering student; Raúl Castro, student; Mario Muñoz, doctor; Haydée Santamaría, self-taught homemaker; Melba Hernández Rodríguez del Rey, practicing lawyer, as was Fidel Castro Ruz.
All – mentioned or not – were imbued with historical knowledge, from the independence days to the most contemporary. As was demonstrated during the Moncada trials, they knew, for example, about the importance of the sugar workers leader, Jesús Menéndez, who Abel especially admired, since he had worked in the former Constancia mill, in Villa Clara where the Santamaría family lived. Abel, Haydée’s brother, was the movement’s number two leader. He was captured during the assault, tortured horribly, and murdered in the Moncada Garrison.
(July 23) – Two rooms, one that served as a living-dining room and the other a bedroom, plus a tiny bathroom and kitchen, comprised apartment 603 in the building at 164 25th Street, between O and Infanta, in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado, where planning began for the armed actions that took place July 26, 1953.
On this date, assaulted by rebels were the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, in Bayamo, both in the east of the island, with the goal of capturing weapons to continue the struggle against the dictatorial government of Fulgencio Batista, who had cast the country into political, social, and economic chaos.
Abel Santamaría Cuadrado, one of the youth who joined the cause, lived in this apartment, and worked for a car agency. He rented it in January of 1952, since it was close to his workplace, and invited his sister Haydée to come live with him.
This is the story historian Seriozha Mora Candebat told us, at the Casa Abel Santamaría Museum. She has investigated the revolutionary ideas and conduct of the patriotic young man, born October 20, 1927, in the municipality of Encrucijada, Villa Clara province.
Abel moved to the capital in 1947, planning to become a professional. He won a competition to enroll in a commercial school and at the same time continued his studies to graduate from high school. He found work as an office assistant at Ariguanabo Textiles, and later at the Pontiac dealership, where he was responsible for the cash register and accounting. He joined the Orthodox Party, which could have won the elections, if this possibility had not been eliminated by Batista’s coup on March 10, 1952.
Abel Santamaría, like so many youth of the era, expressed his outrage in the face of such unconstitutional events, and it was enough for him to meet the young lawyer Fidel Castro – in Colon Cemetery – to seal his commitment to action.
It was May 1, 1952, when, after attending a commemoration for the Cuban revolutionary Carlos Rodríguez, who had played an outstanding role in the neocolonial republic’s years, the two met, becoming fast friends committed to social change in Cuba.
Over the following days, Fidel visited the apartment several times and organization of a movement began – later known as the July 26 Movement (M-26-7). On the basis of reflection, analysis, and different proposals during these meetings, it was agreed that it was necessary to take up arms to overthrow Batista, who had come to power using violence.
“Fidel appreciated the building’s privacy. Silence reigned here and the neighbors were quiet. Plus, it was a secure place, with two access doors, one onto 25th Street and another onto O, which facilitated meetings, contacts, and conspiring. Among those who came here frequently were Jesús Montané Oropesa, Melba Hernández, Raúl Martínez Arará, Ñico López, Boris Luis Santacoloma, Raúl Gómez García, and other youth from Pinar del Río and Artemisa, who would later sacrifice their lives in Santiago de Cuba,” the historian relates.
During a trip to Birán, the Castro family home in the eastern province of Holguín, Fidel and Abel discussed plans for the armed action. They decided on taking the military garrison in Santiago de Cuba, where the most important regiment in the eastern part of the country, with 909 armed troops, was housed. The rebel assailants were only 160, among them two women, Melba Hernández and Haydée Santamaría.
“The days prior to the assault, the Havana apartment was very quiet and meetings were reduced. Discretion was paramount, to trick the dictatorship’s intelligence agents. On July 7, Fidel sent Abel to Santiago. It was his responsibility to finalize details with Santiagan Renato Guitar, in the Villa Blanca house on the Siboney farm, from which they would depart to complete their military objectives the night of July 25, during the dawn hours of the 26th,” Seriozha Mora explained.
By this time, other meeting sites had been established in the capital, like Jovellar 107, the home of Melba Hernández; the Mi Tío bar at the intersection of Infanta and 23rd Street; a house in the municipality of Marianao; and most often used, the building at 910 11th Street, where Natalia Revuelta lived, a great collaborator who had instructions to disseminate news of the assault, once victory was won.
The night of July 24, 1953, Fidel locked the apartment on 25th Street and left to write history. After the assault failed, Abel Santamaría was held prisoner in Santiago’s Saturnino Lora Hospital. He was savagely tortured. They killed him, gouged out his eyes, and showed them to his sister Haydée, thinking they could make her talk. Within a few days, the dictatorship’s intelligence services raided the apartment on 25th, looking for evidence, but found nothing.
In August, Abel’s mother, Joaquina Cuadrado, and her sister Aida removed the siblings’ belongings from the apartment in Havana, so the owners could rent it to another family. After the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, Haydée Santamaría, by then director of the Casa de las Américas, recalled the days she lived with her brother in the apartment during conversations with artists and intellectuals, and the idea of making it a museum emerged.
On June 9, 1973, the apartment was inaugurated as an institution affiliated with the National Culture Council, later the Ministry of Culture. Given its place in Cuban history, the site was designated a National Monument in 1980, and is visited today by many persons interested in the history of the Moncada assault.
The Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba, during the revolutionary era | Granma Archive
On July 24, 1953 José Ramón Martínez Álvarez kissed his mother, saying he was going to the beach in Varadero. Like him, many other young men in Artemisa, southwest of Havana, said goodbye to their families and departed for Santiago de Cuba.
Fidel had given José Suárez Blanco (Pepe), a member of the Orthodox Party’s national leadership, the mission of establishing the July 26 Movement in Artemisa, where his years of work allowed him to pull together financial resources, recruit individuals, and begin to think about the program that would be implemented after the victory. It was Fidel himself who explained to this group, during a meeting in 1952, the most significant components of the radical change that was needed in Cuba, which would address issues such as land reform, industrialization, housing, unemployment, education, and healthcare.
As the movement was consolidated, the inevitable need for armed action became clear. Shooting practice on nearby farms was stepped up, meetings became more discreet, and weapons here stored in caves near the houses. Time went by and the work of the Artemisa group became better organized and more disciplined. Thus their participation in the Santiago assault was earned.
Some 28 young men from Artemisa, among them Comandante de la Revolución Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, left their hometown for the Moncada.
“We were just a handful, but we took the spirit of the people with us, inspired by Martí’s call not to look toward the side where one can live better, but toward the side where duty lies,” Ramiro Valdés said in 2014, when the anniversary of the historic assault was celebrated in the province.
The rebels left Havana via several different routes – some by train, others on the bus, and a few in cars. On the 25th, blending in among carnival-goers, they were taken in small groups to the Siboney farm.
Remembering the events of the 26th, Fidel said in an interview with Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet, for his book A hundred hours with Fidel, “In the end, a car rescued me. I don’t know how or why, a car was coming in my direction, reached where I was, and picked me up. It was a boy from Artemisa driving a car with several compañeros, me among them, and he rescued me… I’ve always wanted to talk with this man, to know how he got himself into the hellfire that was going on there.”
In the July 26th actions, 14 young men from Artemisa lost their lives. Others continued on the long road, participating in the Granma landing, and the struggle in the Sierra Maestra. They are all honored in Artemisa’s Martyrs Mausoleum.
Inaugurated July 16, 1977 and dedicated to the youth of the Centenary Generation from Artemisa, the memorial today demands an obligatory visit by all who want to understand the heroism offered by this city to the revolutionary cause.
The tombs holding the remains of those who fell, some of their belongings and photographs can be seen at the site, where also buried, since 2000, are rebels from the province who participated in the Moncada and died after the triumph of the Revolution.
Displayed at the entry to the Mausoleum is a heartfelt remark made by Fidel in his celebrated defense statement, known as History will absolve me, “My comrades, moreover, are not forgotten or dead. They are more alive today than ever, and their murderers must be horrified to see how the victorious specter of their ideas rises from their cadavers.”
In the dawn hours of July 26, at the Siboney farm outside Santiago de Cuba, the Moncada Manifesto, written by Raúl Gómez García, was read aloud. The national anthem sung, and the armed rebels departed in small groups to assault the Moncada Garrison, the courthouse, and the Saturnino Lora Hospital in the city of Santiago. At the same time, in Bayamo, another group moved on the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrison.
Before the attack, Fidel spoke to his comrades: “Within a few hours, you may win or be defeated, but in any event – listen carefully, compañeros – in any event, the movement will triumph. If we win tomorrow, that to which Marti aspired will be done sooner. If the opposite occurs, the effort will serve as an example to the people of Cuba, to take up the banner and continue forward. The people support us in Oriente and throughout the island. Youth of the Apostle’s Centenary! As in 68 and 95, here in Oriente we give the first shout of “Liberty or Death!” You already know the objectives of the plan. No doubt whatsoever, it is dangerous and everyone who departs with me tonight must do so entirely voluntarily. You still have time to decide. In any event, some will stay behind, because of the lack of weapons. Those who are determined to go, take a step forward. The idea is to not kill, but to do so only as the last resort.”
The 131 combatants, dressed in Batista army uniforms, were organized in three groups. The first directed its efforts toward the main building, the Moncada Garrison. The other two, led by Abel Santamaría and Raúl Castro, would attempt to take the hospital and the courthouse, respectively.
The operation began. Fidel, leading the first group, reached its destination as planned, but the unexpected arrival of a patrol car led to premature gunfire that alerted troops inside the garrison. Abel and Raúl reached their targets, but the enemy, with more men and weapons, was able to repel the attacks.
Something similar occurred in Bayamo. The plan there was that a city resident, who was well known by officers at the garrison, would accompany the head of the assault forces to the site and they would be let in. Once inside, the soldiers on watch would be disarmed and forced to open the gates for the rest of the rebel group. The plan did not go are foreseen, since the guide failed to appear, and an alternative strategy was attempted.
Thus the planned attacks of the day were not victorious, but they did achieve the objective of initiating a new stage in the revolutionary struggle against the pro-U.S. general, Fulgencio Batista.
These actions led by Fidel Castro Ruz showed the Cuban people that the armed struggle was the route to victory. Later came the Granma expeditionaries, who landed December 2, 1956, to open a guerilla front in the Sierra Maestra.
On January 1, 1959, the revolutionary insurrection would culminate with the defeat of the dictatorship, and the taking of political power. The former Moncada Garrison is now a school, the “Ciudad Escolar 26 de Julio”, and part of the building has been remodeled as a museum, to ensure that these feats are never forgotten.
(July 30) – At 20-some years of age, life is a dream. The future is to be discovered and goals set. It is not a time to think of death.The departure of a young person is all the more painful, in the face of so much hope cut short.
This was the sentiment that moved heroic Santiago that July 31, 1953, when the dictatorship was obliged to concede the streets to the indignant people bearing the bodies of Frank País García and Raúl Pujol.
“Frank País was one of those men who asserts himself upon the first encounter; his appearance was more or less what is seen in current photos, but his eyes had extraordinary depth,” Che said, describing him, when still practically a boy, Frank became head of action and sabotage for the July 26th Movement. He organized the November 30 uprising in the city to support the Granma landing, and ensured the survival of the guerillas in the Sierra with supplies.
Such were his merits that the day he and Raúl Pujol were killed was chosen as the date to honor the more than 20,000 Cubans who gave their lives in the struggle to overthrow Batista.
“What barbarity! They cowardly hunted him down in the streets… they have no idea of the intelligence, the character, the integrity they have murdered,” said Fidel at the time.