CUBAN REVOLUTION (1953-1959) | Essay for CSS and PMS
CUBAN REVOLUTION (1953-1959) | Essay for CSS and PMS
The Cuban Revolution was a successful armed revolt by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement that overthrew the U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959.
There were several key events in Cuba’s history which affected the Cuban revolution. The main catalysts for the revolution are Cuba’s separation from Spanish rule in 1898, the American interest and influence on Cuba (1783 to the 1950s), the rise of the Batista regime into government (1940 to 1959), Castro’s fight and overall succession in 1959 and the involvement of the Cold War on Cuba (1960 to 1991).
The Cuban revolution began when poorly armed rebels attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago and the barracks in Bayamo on 26 July 1953. The exact number of rebels killed is debatable, however, in his autobiography, Fidel Castro claims that five were killed in the fighting, and sn additional fifty-six were killed later by the Batista regime. Among the dead was Abel Santamaria, second-in-command of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, who was imprisoned, tortured, and executed the same day of the attack. The survivors, among them Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro Ruz, were captured shortly afterwards. Fidel Castro was sentenced to 15 years in the Presidio Modelo prison, located on Isla de Pinos; Raul was sentenced to 13 years.
In 1955, under broad political pressure, the Batista regime freed all political prisoners in Cuba – including the Moncada attackers. Batista was persuaded to include the Castro brothers in this release in part by Fidel’s Jesuit childhood teachers.
The Castro brothers joined with other exiles in Mexico to prepare a revolution to overthrow Batista, receiving training from Alberto Bayo, a leader of Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. Fidel met and joined forces with Ernesto Che Guevara during this period
The Granma arrived in Cuba on 2 December 1956. It arrived in Cuba two days later than planned because the boat was heavily loaded, unlike during the practise 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, but a small number escaped. While the exact number is in dispute, no more than twenty of the original eighty-two men survived the initial bloody encounters with the Cuban army and succeeded in fleeing to the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The group of survivors included Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raul Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos.
On 13 March 1957, a separate group of revolutionaries – U1e student anti-communist Revolutionary Directorate – stormed the Presidential Palace in Havana, attempting to assassinate Batista and decapitate the regime. The attack was suicidal. The RD’s leader, student Jose Antonio Echeverria, died in a shootout with Batista’s forces at the Havana radio station he had seized to spread the news of Batista’s death. The handful of survivors included Dr Humberto Castello (later Inspector General in the Escambray), and Rolando Cubela and Faure Chomon (later Commandants of the 13 March Movement, centred in the Escambray Mountains of Las Villas Province).
The United States imposed an embargo on the Cuban government and recalled its ambassador, weakening the government’s mandate further. Batista’s support was limited to communists (PSP) and even they began to pull their long-term support in mid-1958.
The regime resorted to often lethal methods to keep Cuba’s cities under Batista’s control. But in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, Castro, aided by Frank Pais, Ramos Latour, Huber Matos, and many others, staged successful attacks on small garrisons of Batista’s troops. Che Guevara and Raul Castro helped Fidel to consolidate political control in the mountains, often through execution of suspected Batista loyalists or other Castro rivals. In addition, poorly armed irregulars known as escopeteros harassed the Batista 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, Batista’s regime also confronted a pirate radio station called Rebel Radio (Radio Rebelde), set up in February 1958. Castro and his forces broadcast their message to everyone from within enemy territory. 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 less than 200 men, while the Cuban army and police force numbered between 30,000 and 40,000 in strength. Yet nearly every time the army fought against the revolutionaries, the army was forced to retreat. The Cuban military proved remarkably ineffective. An arms embargo – imposed on the Cuban government by the United States government on 14 March 1958 – caused increasing problems for the Batista Castro went to the United States later on to explain his revolution. He said, “I know what the world thinks of us, we are Communists, and of course I have said very clearly that we are not Communists; very clearly.
Hundreds of suspected Batista-era agents, policemen and soldiers were put on public trial for human rights abuses and war crimes, including murder and torture. Most of those convicted in revolutionary tribunals of political crimes were executed by firing squad, and the rest received long prison sentences. One of the most notorious examples of revolutionary justice was the execution of over 70 captured Batista regime soldiers, directed by Raul Castro after capturing Santiago. For his part in Havana, Che Guevara was appointed supreme prosecutor in La Cabafta Fortress. This was part of a large-scale attempt by Fidel Castro to cleanse the security forces of Batista loyalists and potential opponents of the new revolutionary regime. Others were fortunate to be dismissed from the army and police without prosecution, and some high-ranking officials in the ancien regime were exiled as military attaches.
In 1961, after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the new Cuban government also nationalized all property held by religious organizations including the Roman Catholic Church. Hundreds of members of the church, including a bishop, were permanently expelled from the nation, with the new Cuban government being officially atheist. Faria describes how the education of children changed as Cuba became officially an atheist state: private schools were banned and the progressively socialist state assumed greater responsibility for children.
According to geographer and Cuban Comandante Antonio Nunez Jimenez, 75% of Cuba’s best arable land was owned by foreign individuals or foreign (mostly U.S.) companies. One of the first policies by the newly formed Cuban government was eliminating illiteracy and implementing land reforms. Land reform efforts helped to raise living standards by subdividing larger holdings into cooperatives. Comandante Sori Marin, nominally in charge of land reform, objected and fled, but was eventually executed. Many other non-Marxist, anti-Batista rebel leaders were forced into exile, purged in executions, or eliminated in failed uprisings such as that of the Beaton brothers.
Shortly after taking power, Castro also created a Revolutionary militia to expand his power base among the former rebels and the support population. Castro also initiated Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or CDRs in late September 1960. Informants became rampant within the population. CDRs were tasked with keeping “vigilance against the counter-revolutionary activity.” Local CDRs were also tasked with keeping a detailed record of each neighbourhood’s inhabitant’s spending habits, level of contact with foreigners, their work and education history, and any “suspicious” behaviour.
By the end of 1960, the revolutionary government had nationalized more than 25 billion dollars worth of private property owned by Cubans. Cuba also nationalized all United States and other foreign-owned property in the nation on 6 August 1960. The United States, in turn, responded by freezing all Cuban assets in the United States, severing diplomatic ties, and tightening the embargo on Cuba, which is still in place after 50 years. In response to the acts of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for support.
Many attempts have been made by the United States to overthrow Cuba’s government. One of the most notorious is the previously mentioned Bay of Pigs lnvasi9n of 1961, which ended in failure. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of I 962, the United States promised to never invade the island. Desperate but unsuccessful rebellions, known as the War against the Bandits, continued until about 1965.