Jesus Montane Oropesa, 1923-1999

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Jesús Montané Oropesa, 1923-1999

By Neville Spencer

Cuban revolutionary Jesús Montané, a member of the central committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, died of a respiratory disease on May 7. He was one of the few survivors of the July 26, 1953, attack on the Moncada army garrison — the event now celebrated as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

Originally an accountant, Montané was one of a group of young radical members of the Orthodox Party, led by Abel Santamaría, which was pressing the party to take a stronger stance against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Batista seized power in a military coup in March 1952.

This group soon joined with another opposed to the dictatorship and led by Fidel Castro. Their first action was the armed attack by 160 combatants on two army garrisons. One was Moncada, the main garrison in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second largest city.

In military terms, the action was a disaster. Sixty-one combatants were killed, either during the attack or after their capture. Santamaría was tortured to death.

But in political terms, the action raised the consciousness of the population, which was eventually to be the basis on which a successful revolutionary movement was built.

Montané was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. He spent his time in the Isle of Pines prison along with 25 other survivors of the Moncada attack, including Fidel and Raúl Castro. Their time in prison was spent educating themselves in revolutionary theory and preparing to return to the struggle.

That preparation sharpened their understanding of the role that the organisation they had been trying to build (an organisation which was small compared to the mass of the population) should play in relation to workers and peasants. They absorbed and adapted the lessons of previous revolutionaries such as Marx, Lenin and José Martí, the leader of the Cuban struggle against Spanish colonialism.

Speaking at a conference on theory held in Havana some years after the revolution, Montané summed up the role they needed to play. "It is true", he said, "that the Latin American and Caribbean revolutionary movement has been significantly enriched over the last 25 years, and this heritage contains useful lessons of great value that no fighter in our countries can ignore. Notwithstanding, we believe that nothing could be less Marxist than to elevate today's revolutionary experiences into prescriptions for all future situations.

"We are sure of one thing, however: the advance of the people's processes on this continent and the development of their potential will be largely dependent on the subjective factor — the ability of revolutionary vanguards and their leaders. The importance of this ideological element is steadily increasing.

"As always, those who learn from others and think for themselves will lead the struggle. Those who do not lack determination and courage will deserve to be in the vanguard. Those who demonstrate the ability to judge situations, mobilise the people, win them over, advance along the path of unity, select the most effective methods of struggle for every stage and carry out a correct strategy by means of equally correct tactical measures will deserve to be leaders."

The opportunity to return to revolutionary struggle came when popular pressure forced Batista to grant an amnesty for the prisoners in May 1955. With other released prisoners, Montané formed the July 26 Movement and became a member of its national directorate, assigned to taking care of the organisation's finances.

Soon after, the movement's leaders decided it was too dangerous to reorganise themselves in Cuba and left for Mexico to prepare the renewed armed struggle.

A force of 81 returned aboard the yacht Granma on November 25, 1956. The plan was to build a guerilla army based in the mountainous Sierra Maestra region, but again the revolutionaries suffered what appeared to be a devastating blow: they were ambushed by the army and only a handful made it to the Sierra Maestra.

Montané was one of those captured. He was sentenced to six years in prison on the Isle of Pines.

Despite this blow, the July 26 Movement was able to grow from its meagre nucleus. Popular sentiment against the dictatorship grew as the guerillas launched their armed struggle. With the backing of popular organisations and a general strike against the government, the revolution was victorious, taking power on January 1, 1959.

Montané was released from prison immediately and for the next 40 years played a leading part in the revolutionary government. His roles have included governor of the Isle of Pines, director of prisons, sub-director of the National Institute of the Tourist Industry and minister of communications.

With the establishment of the people's power system of governmental institutions in 1976, he was elected as a deputy to the national assembly and had been a member ever since.