The day that launched the Cuban Revolution

Wednesday, July 24, 1996 - 10:00

The day that launched the Cuban Revolution

By Jill Hickson

July 26 is the 43rd anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks by a small group of badly armed young Cuban revolutionaries, an attack which failed in its immediate aim but which is considered the day that launched the Cuban Revolution.

Fulgencio Batista, strongman of the "sergeants' revolt" of 1933, had ruled Cuba de facto for the greater part of the previous 20 years. He was running a slow third in presidential elections when he staged a military coup on March 10, 1952. As president, he operated as the steward of sugar barons, banks, gambling syndicates and the great corporate interests of North America.

He answered any opposition with assassination, breaking strikes with machine-gun fire, and using repression against the Cuban people to maintain the massive exploitation of sugar workers, farmers and women. Under Batista's rule, the people were becoming poorer while Cuba was being turned into a playground for the US rich.

While the traditional politicians cowered before the coup, Fidel Castro gathered a group of young men and women around him who were willing to participate in actions to restore democracy to Cuba. Their first act was to launch an armed attack on the second largest military garrison in the country, the Moncada barracks base of the Maceo Regiment in Santiago, eastern headquarters of the military dictatorship. Their immediate objective was the armoury and its store of weapons and ammunition. If they were successful, their plan was to head for the mountains to continue the fight.

The preparations for the attack on the barracks were carried out in total secrecy. In a country full of secret plots, it was one of the few popular ones, involving 1500 people, of whom none betrayed. Almost everyone was under 30, and the operation was financed from their own pockets. One person sold his job for $300, another sold his photographic equipment with which he made his living, another contributed three months' salary, another his life savings.

It was not the intention to engage the garrison in combat but with the advantage of surprise seize the barracks, take the arms they needed while calling the soldiers to desert tyranny and, with the control of the radio station nearby, call on the people to rise up against Batista. "We were convinced that it would be the spark that would loose a revolutionary tempest over the entire country", said Raul Castro, Fidel's brother.

On July 26, 1953, with the town celebrating a carnival, 125 men and women launched an attack on the barracks at 5.15am. The attack went badly wrong for the young revolutionaries. Half the forces, the better armed half, lost their way in the unfamiliar city streets and never made it to the battle. Most of them were later captured and killed. The half who made it there were unable to take the garrison and the order to withdraw was given. There were few lives lost in the battle itself; 95% of the casualties came from the army's brutality against captured revolutionaries. Fidel got away with about 18 others and fled into the mountains. They were captured a week later.

Those who were tortured and killed were prepared to lay down their lives for their country's freedom, to rid themselves of domination by the US and a brutal dictator whose sole aim was to protect the interests of the rich.

Three years later, Fidel led a small band from exile in Mexico, landing in Cuba from the Granma, and resumed the military struggle. Five years, five months and five days after the attack on the barracks, Batista was forced to flee Cuba, as the guerillas of the July 26 Movement entered Havana.

Today, the spirit of the revolution is still strong among the majority of the Cuban people despite the hardships imposed by the US blockade, by the collapse of their major trading partner, the Soviet Union, and by the US Helms-Burton Act, which seeks to restrict other countries from trading with Cuba.

The revolution has brought many gains to the population. Cuba is the only Latin American country with a free health and education system, a social security system which pays 60% of the normal wage and in which the people have a real say in the way the country is run.

The United States unremitting policy towards Cuba over the past 37 years has been to try to destroy the revolution. But the determination and revolutionary spirit shown by those young Cubans in the attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953 has now inspire a whole nation.

Today the Cuban people's determination to defend their revolution against the US is a strength for people all around the world fighting for justice and freedom. To mark this anniversary and to protest against the US blockade of Cuba, pickets and rallies are being held in most cities. Check the ad on page 13 for details.

From GLW issue 239