68th Anniversary of Moncada Attack, July 26, 1953

July 26 marks one of the most important dates celebrated in Cuba, Moncada Day or the National Day of Rebellion. It was on July 26, 1953 that revolutionary youth led by Fidel Castro launched their courageous attack on the Batista dictatorship which led to the ultimate liberation of Cuba on January 1, 1959. To this day, this bold action symbolizes the revolutionary spirit and audacity of the Cuban people. The following three articles on its significance are provided by the editorial team of the The Marxist-Leninist (TML) and originally published on July 26, 2021.

• Stand with the Cuban People and Their Revolution!
• Fidel: “Moncada Taught Us to Turn Setbacks into Victories”
• An Event That Changed the Course of History – Granma

Stand with the Cuban People and Their Revolution!

The central Moncada Day celebration in 2018 at the former Moncada Barracks, now the July 26 Historical Museum.

July 26 marks one of the most important dates celebrated in Cuba, Moncada Day or the National Day of Rebellion. Sixty-eight years ago on that day, revolutionary youth led by Fidel Castro launched an attack on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and Bayamo respectively, two of the main garrisons of the reactionary dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Moncada in particular was the regime’s military stronghold in the south of Cuba, the second largest barracks in the country and a symbol of its power. 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. The attacks were carried out by an organization that was created in 1952, under the leadership of Fidel Castro.

Of the 120 or so youth who were part of the attacks, approximately 70 were killed and many others were later tortured and executed. The survivors, including Fidel Castro, were subsequently put on trial and sentenced to long prison terms. At his trial, with great prescience, Fidel Castro delivered his famous speech “History Will Absolve Me” which laid out the national and social goals of the revolutionary movement that eventually triumphed over the dictatorship on January 1, 1959.

Most of the Moncada fighters, including Fidel Castro, were released after they won amnesty in May 1955 due to the broad mobilization of support from the Cuban people for the aims of the action. They would later regroup in Mexico, joined by Che Guevara and others, returning to continue the armed struggle a year and a half later.

Above, Raúl Castro (far left), Fidel Castro (centre) and other Moncada combatants are released from prison, May 1955.

This audacious action became the rallying cry for the fight of the youth of Cuba for a bright future for themselves and the nation. It played a decisive role in galvanizing the struggle of the Cuban people to affirm their sovereignty, ultimately leading to the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The action also stirred the revolutionary spirit of the peoples of the world.

To this day, this bold action on July 26, 1953 symbolizes the revolutionary spirit and audacity of the Cuban people. It symbolizes their recognition of their right to decide their own fate free from foreign interference or domination. It is this same spirit of defiance that has enabled Cuba to not only withstand the genocidal blockade by the U.S. imperialists, but to consolidate the Revolution and provide for the well-being of its people and broaden its internationalist assistance to the peoples of the world despite all the difficulties.

The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) sends its revolutionary greetings to the Cuban leadership and people and expresses its profound appreciation for the spirit with which Cuba stands on its own two feet and holds its head high. This spirit is indomitable because it upholds a just cause which, moreover, it shares in common with the peoples of the entire world.

CPC(M-L) salutes the achievements of the Cuban Revolution and the ongoing work of the Cuban people and their Communist Party to renovate socialism so that it stays true to its aims under the present circumstances. CPC(M-L) calls on the working class and people to step up support for revolutionary Cuba. This is all the more crucial amidst intensified U.S. sanctions, disinformation and interference aimed at counterrevolution under the guise of high ideals. As the Cuban people affirm their human rights and selflessly provide so much assistance to the peoples of the world to do the same, the barbarity of the U.S. imperialists and their allies is such that they are using the conditions of the global pandemic to attack all those countries and peoples who are standing up for their right to be. Such base inhumanity must be utterly rejected.

To affirm Cuba’s right to pursue an independent path is to contribute to affirming our own right and that of the entire world to do the same.

Viva Cuba!
Long Live the Cuban Revolution!
End the Blockade Now!

Fidel Castro: “Moncada Taught Us to Turn Setbacks into Victories”

The following article was provided by the editorial team of the website Fidel Soldado de las Ideas and originally published by Cubadebate on July 20, 2020.

Fidel Castro during the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Assault on the Moncada Barracks held in Santiago de Cuba, July 26, 2003.

[On July 26] the beginning of a struggle will be commemorated. “It was not the end, but the beginning,” Fidel Castro once said. July 26 is and will remain one of the most important pages in Cuban history. Under Fidel’s leadership, the assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes barracks removed the foundations of Batista’s dictatorship.

That day, when everyone was ready, the “Moncada Manifesto,” written by the young poet Raúl Gómez García under the guidance of Fidel, was read out. Gómez García read his poem “We Are Already in Combat” and Fidel directed this brief appeal to everyone:

“Comrades: In a few hours you will be victorious or defeated, but regardless of the outcome — listen well, comrades — this movement will triumph. If we win tomorrow, what Martí aspired to will be fulfilled sooner. If the opposite happens, our action will nevertheless set an example for the Cuban people, to take up the banner and press on.”

Victory would come a few years later with the Bearded Ones, when, led by Fidel, they descended victoriously from the Sierra Maestra on January 1, 1959.

Cubadebate and the website Fidel Soldado de las Ideas are proposing that you walk the path of this historical date today, through the speeches that the Commander in Chief gave on several occasions on July 26.

Fidel Castro, Santiago de Cuba, July 26, 2003.

Just when the Revolution triumphed, Fidel expressed at a peasant gathering, on July 26, 1959:

“On seeing it today, on seeing how high we have raised our flag, I felt so happy that I saw at that moment all the sacrifices we have made, and all the sacrifices we will have to make in the future, rewarded.”

A year later, remembering this same day, in the Mercedes foothills of the Sierra Maestra, he recalled:

“[…] July 26 and Sierra Maestra; they are two names that must weigh very deeply in the hearts of each of us.”

“And so, that 26th of July was for us a moment that when a struggle seemed to end, when an effort to begin the battle for the liberation of our people seemed to end, it was not the end but the beginning.”

“But it was not always like that, and by contrast, the memories of that first 26th came to our minds, that afternoon when everything was bitter and painful, when the pain of our comrades who had died and the pain of the defeat that forced the country to wait weighed on our spirits, its limits impossible to imagine at that moment.

“And our people is one of those peoples that has never trembled in front of sacrifice, one of those peoples that has never trembled at the price it was forced to pay for its dignity and its freedom; a people that has never trembled nor will it ever tremble before the price it has to pay for its happiness.”

Fidel speaking to the people of Santiago, July 26, 1967.

On the 30th anniversary, in Santiago de Cuba, on July 26, 1983, the Commander said:

“One thing remains the same as on July 26, 1953: we have the same faith in the destiny of the country, the same confidence in the virtues of our people, the same certainty of victory, the same capacity to dream of all that will be tomorrow’s reality, on top of the already realized dreams of yesterday.”

On July 26, 1987 he would also speak about the new times, the revolution and the decision to rectify:

“To rectify meant on July 26, 1953, to fight to erase the old, to open a channel, to make a revolution, to create a new life; it means that today as well. Rectify has a really broad meaning, and I am actually satisfied, stimulated by what I see, the results that I see, even though we know that we are still far from all our possibilities, that there are many more possibilities ahead.”

In more recent times, after several years of the revolution being in power, in 1998, in the central event for the 45th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes barracks, carried out in Santiago de Cuba, he acknowledged:

“We believe that we have fulfilled our duty, a whole generation, having fought without pause nor rest for 45 years since that July 26, 1953, standing firm in our trenches, in our principles, with the same ideas that inspired us that day.”

“We support Fidel!” Havana, July 26, 1959.

On the significance of the date, in the celebration of its 49th anniversary, in 2002, in Ciego de Ávila, he recognized:

“[…] what are they this July 26th? An indestructible path that unites the thought, the heroism and the will to fight of the inextinguishable bastion, whose independence Martí wanted so as to prevent and that did prevent the powerful and expansionist neighbour to the north from expanding into the Antilles and falling with that added strength on our lands in America.”

Fidel in Pinar del Río, July 26, 1976

He recalled on the 50th anniversary of the assaults the validity of revolutionary ideas and their effect on the people:

“The Moncada Program was fulfilled and overfulfilled. For a long time now we have been pursuing much higher and more unimaginable dreams. Today, great battles are being fought on the field of ideas and we are facing problems associated with the world situation, perhaps the most critical that humanity has ever experienced.”

“I wish to assure you of something similar to what I said before the spurious court that judged and condemned me for the struggle we began five decades ago today, but this time I will not be the one to say it; it is something affirmed and foreseen by a people that carried out a profound, transcendent and historic Revolution, and knew how to defend it: Condemn me, it doesn’t matter! The peoples will have the last word!

Speech in the Open Tribune in commemoration of the 47th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953, in the Provisional Square of the Revolution in Pinar del Río, August 5, 2000.
On the 11th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada and Carlos M. de Céspedes barracks held in the city of Santiago de Cuba where the people were responding to the anti-Cuba manoeuvres adopted the day before by the Organization of American States.

(Cubadebate, July 20, 2020. Translated from original Spanish by TML. Photos: Estudios Revolución/Fidel Soldado de las Ideas, L. Lockwood)

An Event That Changed the Course of History

– Granma –

On July 26, 1953, the assault on the Moncada Garrison in Santiago opened a new stage in Cuba’s national liberation struggle, which concluded with the triumph of the Revolution January 1, 1959

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 neighbourhood of Vedado, where planning began for the armed actions that took place July 26, 1953.

On this date, the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes barracks in Bayamo, both in the east of the island, were assaulted by rebels 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.

The young Fidel Castro Ruz and Abel Santamaría Cuadrado, leaders of the incipient revolutionary movement.

Abel Santamaría Cuadrado, one of the youth who joined the cause, lived in this apartment, and worked for a car dealership. 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 neo-colonial 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 neighbours 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.

Fidel with Ñico López, Abel Santamaría and José Luis Tassende at Finca Santa Elena, in Los Palos, where they did target practice before going to the attack on the Moncada Barracks. Kneeling from left to right: Ernesto Tizol and Billy Gascón. This historic photo is displayed at the Casa Abel Santamaría museum in Havana.

“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.

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 health care.

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 where 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 assault.

“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 Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba at the time of the revolutionary struggles.

The rebels left Havana via several different routes — some by train, others on the bus, and a few in cars. On July 25, blending in among carnival-goers, they were taken in small groups to the Siboney farm.

Remembering the events of July 26, Fidel said in an interview with Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet, for his book One 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.

Artemisa’s Martyrs Mausoleum

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 defence 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 spectre 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 Martí 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 with Fidel leading the first group. It 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 as 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 guerrilla 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.

(Granma, July 23, 2018. Photos: Granma, H. Lister. Edited for grammar and style by TML.)

* * *

The Canadian Network on Cuba informs that a petition to the Government of Canada against the U.S. Economic Blockade of Cuba and on Canada-Cuba Relations is now open for signatures. See here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Americas, History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s