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|History of Cuba|
|Captaincy General of Cuba|
|Cuban War of Independence|
|United States Protectorate|
|Republic of Cuba (1902–1959)|
The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement and its allies against the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began in July 1953, and finally ousted Batista on 1 January 1959, replacing his regime with Castro's revolutionary government. Castro's government later reformed along communist lines, becoming the present Communist Party of Cuba in October 1965.
In 1952, Fidel Castro, a young lawyer and activist, petitioned for the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista, whom he accused of corruption and tyranny. However, Castro's arguments were rejected by the Cuban courts. After deciding that the Batista regime could not be overthrown through legal means, Castro gathered a force of armed rebels, and attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago and the barracks in Bayamo on 26 July 1953. The exact number of rebels killed in the battle is debatable; however, in his autobiography, Castro claimed that nine were killed in the fighting, and an additional 56 were killed later by the Batista regime. Among the dead was Abel Santamaría, Castro's second-in-command, who was imprisoned, tortured, and executed on the same day as the attack.
The survivors, including Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl Castro Ruz, were captured shortly afterwards. In a highly political trial, Fidel spoke for nearly four hours in his defense, ending with the words; "Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me." Fidel was sentenced to 15 years in the Presidio Modelo prison, located on Isla de Pinos, while Raúl was sentenced to 13 years.
In 1955, under broad political pressure, the Batista regime freed all political prisoners in Cuba – including the Moncada attackers. Fidel's Jesuit childhood teachers succeeded in persuading Batista to include Fidel and Raúl in the release.
Soon, the Castro brothers joined with other exiles in Mexico to prepare for the overthrow of Batista, receiving training from Alberto Bayo, a leader of Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. In June 1955, Fidel met the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who joined his cause. The revolutionaries named themselves the "26th of July Movement", in reference to the date of their attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.
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"I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear."
The yacht Granma arrived in Cuba on 2 December 1956, carrying the Castro brothers and 80 other members of the 26th of July Movement. It landed on Playa Las Coloradas, in the municipality of Niquero, arriving two days later than planned because the boat was heavily loaded, unlike during the practice 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 – while the exact number is disputed, no more than twenty of the original eighty-two men survived the initial bloody encounters with the Cuban army and escaped into the Sierra Maestra mountains.
The group of survivors included Fidel and Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. The dispersed survivors, alone or in small groups, wandered through the mountains, looking for each other. Eventually, the men would link up again – with the help of peasant sympathizers – and would form the core leadership of the guerrilla army. Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria (the sister of Abel Santamaria) were among the female revolutionaries who assisted Fidel Castro in the mountains.
On 13 March 1957, a separate group of revolutionaries – the anticommunist Revolutionary Directorate (RD; Directorio Revolucionario), composed mostly of students – stormed the Presidential Palace in Havana, attempting to assassinate Batista and decapitate the regime. The attack ended in utter failure. 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 (who later became the Inspector General in the Escambray), and Rolando Cubela and Faure Chomon (later Commandantes of the 13 March Movement, centered in the Escambray Mountains of Las Villas Province).
Thereafter, the United States imposed an economic embargo on the Cuban government and recalled its ambassador, weakening the government's mandate further. Batista's support among Cubans began to fade, with former supporters either joining the revolutionaries or distancing themselves from Batista. The Mafia and US businessmen continued their support.
The regime resorted to often brutal methods to keep Cuba's cities under government control. However, in the Sierra Maestra mountains, Castro, aided by Frank País, Ramos Latour, Huber Matos, and many others, staged successful attacks on small garrisons of Batista's troops. Che Guevara and Raúl Castro helped Fidel to consolidate his political control in the mountains, often through execution of suspected Batista loyalists or other rivals of Castro's. In addition, poorly armed irregulars known as escopeteros harassed Batista's 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, the rebels sought to use propaganda to their advantage. A pirate radio station called Radio Rebelde ("Rebel Radio") was set up in February 1958, allowing Castro and his forces to broadcast their message nationwide 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 fewer than 200 men, while the Cuban army and police force numbered between 30,000 and 40,000 in strength. Yet, nearly every time the Cuban military fought against the revolutionaries, the army was forced to retreat. An arms embargo – imposed on the Cuban government by the United States on 14 March 1958 – contributed significantly to the weakness of Batista's forces. The Cuban air force rapidly deteriorated: it could not repair its airplanes without importing parts from the United States.
Batista finally responded to Castro's efforts with an attack on the mountains called Operation Verano, known to the rebels as la Ofensiva. The army sent some 12,000 soldiers, half of them untrained recruits, into the mountains. In a series of small skirmishes, Castro's determined guerrillas defeated the Cuban army. In the Battle of La Plata, which lasted from 11 July to 21 July 1958, Castro's forces defeated an entire battalion, capturing 240 men while losing just three of their own.
However, the tide nearly turned on 29 July 1958, when Batista's troops almost destroyed Castro's small army of some 300 men at the Battle of Las Mercedes. With his forces pinned down by superior numbers, Castro asked for, and received, a temporary cease-fire on 1 August. Over the next seven days, while fruitless negotiations took place, Castro's forces gradually escaped from the trap. By 8 August, Castro's entire army had escaped back into the mountains, and Operation Verano had effectively ended in failure for the Batista government.
"The enemy soldier in the Cuban example which at present concerns us, is the junior partner of the dictator; he is the man who gets the last crumb left by a long line of profiteers that begins in Wall Street and ends with him. He is disposed to defend his privileges, but he is disposed to defend them only to the degree that they are important to him. His salary and his pension are worth some suffering and some dangers, but they are never worth his life. If the price of maintaining them will cost it, he is better off giving them up; that is to say, withdrawing from the face of the guerrilla danger."— Che Guevara, 1958
On 21 August 1958, after the defeat of Batista's Ofensiva, Castro's forces began their own offensive. In the Oriente province (in the area of the present-day provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Guantánamo and Holguín), Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Juan Almeida Bosque directed attacks on four fronts. Descending from the mountains with new weapons captured during the Ofensiva and smuggled in by plane, Castro's forces won a series of initial victories. Castro's major victory at Guisa, and the successful capture of several towns including Maffo, Contramaestre, and Central Oriente, brought the Cauto plains under his control.
Meanwhile, three rebel columns, under the command of Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and Jaime Vega, proceeded westward toward Santa Clara, the capital of Villa Clara Province. Batista's forces ambushed and destroyed Jaime Vega's column, but the surviving two columns reached the central provinces, where they joined efforts with several other resistance groups not under the command of Castro. When Che Guevara's column passed through the province of Las Villas, and specifically through the Escambray Mountains – where the anticommunist Revolutionary Directorate forces (who became known as the 13 March Movement) had been fighting Batista's army for many months – friction developed between the two groups of rebels. Nonetheless, the combined rebel army continued the offensive, and Cienfuegos won a key victory in the Battle of Yaguajay on 30 December 1958, earning him the nickname "The Hero of Yaguajay".
On 31 December 1958, the Battle of Santa Clara took place in a scene of great confusion. The city of Santa Clara fell to the combined forces of Che Guevara, Cienfuegos, Revolutionary Directorate (RD) rebels led by Comandantes Rolando Cubela, Juan ("El Mejicano") Abrahantes, and William Alexander Morgan. News of these defeats caused Batista to panic. He fled Cuba for the Dominican Republic just hours later on 1 January 1959. Comandante William Alexander Morgan, leading RD rebel forces, continued fighting as Batista departed, and had captured the city of Cienfuegos by 2 January.
Castro learned of Batista's flight in the morning and immediately started negotiations to take over Santiago de Cuba. On 2 January, the military commander in the city, Colonel Rubido, ordered his soldiers not to fight, and Castro's forces took over the city. The forces of Guevara and Cienfuegos entered Havana at about the same time. They had met no opposition on their journey from Santa Clara to Cuba's capital. Castro himself arrived in Havana on 8 January after a long victory march. His initial choice of president, Manuel Urrutia Lleó, took office on January 3.
"Our revolution is endangering all American possessions in Latin America. We are telling these countries to make their own revolution."
— Che Guevara, October 1962
In 1959, Castro travelled to the United States 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 Batista-era agents, policemen and soldiers were put on public trial for human rights abuses, war crimes, murder and torture. Most of the people accused were convicted by revolutionary tribunals of political crimes, and were executed by firing squad; others persons received long sentences of imprisonment. A notable example of revolutionary justice was after the capture of Santiago, Raul Castro directed the execution of more than seventy Batista POWs.
For his part in taking Havana, Che Guevara was appointed supreme prosecutor in La Cabaña 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 enough to be dismissed from the army and police without prosecution, and some high-ranking officials in the ancien régime were exiled as military attachés.
During its first decade in power, the Communist government introduced a wide range of progressive social reforms. Laws were introduced to provide equality for black Cubans and greater rights for women, while there were attempts to improve communications, medical facilities, health, housing, and education. In addition, there were touring cinemas, art exhibitions, concerts, and theatres. By the end of the 1960s, all Cuban children were receiving some education (compared with less than half before 1959), unemployment and corruption were reduced, and great improvements were made in hygiene and sanitation.
According to geographer and Cuban Comandante Antonio Núñez Jiménez, 75% of Cuba’s best arable land was owned by foreign individuals or foreign (mostly American) companies at the time of the revolution. One of the first policies of 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, who was nominally in charge of land reform, objected and fled, but was eventually executed when he returned to Cuba with arms and explosives, intending to overthrow the Castro government. 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 supportive population. Castro also created the informant Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) in late September 1960. CDRs were tasked with keeping "vigilance against counter-revolutionary activity", with local CDRs keeping a detailed record of each neighborhood’s inhabitants' spending habits, level of contact with foreigners, work and education history, and any "suspicious" behavior. Among the increasingly persecuted groups were homosexual men. The Cuban dissident and exile Reinaldo Arenas wrote about such persecution in his autobiography, Antes Que Anochezca, the basis for the film Before Night Falls.
In February 1959, the Ministry for the Recovery of Misappropriated Assets (Ministerio de Recuperación de Bienes Malversados) was created. Cuba began expropriating land and private property under the auspices of the Agrarian Reform Law of 17 May 1959. Farms of any size could be and were seized by the government, while land, businesses, and companies owned by upper- and middle-class Cubans were nationalized (notably, including the plantations owned by Fidel Castro's family). By the end of 1960, the revolutionary government had nationalized more than $25 billion worth of private property owned by Cubans.
The Castro regime formally nationalized all foreign-owned property, particularly American holdings, in the nation on 6 August 1960. The United States responded by freezing all Cuban assets on American soil, severing diplomatic ties, and tightening its embargo on Cuba, which is still in place as of 2013. In response to the acts of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for support.
In 1961, the Cuban government nationalized all property held by religious organizations, including the dominant Roman Catholic Church. Hundreds of members of the church, including a bishop, were permanently expelled from the nation, with the new Cuban government being declared officially atheist. Education also saw significant changes – private schools were banned and the progressively socialist state assumed greater responsibility for children.
In July 1961, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (IRO) was formed by the merger of Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, the People's Socialist Party led by Blas Roca, and the Revolutionary Directorate of 13 March led by Faure Chomón. On 26 March 1962, the IRO became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution (PURSC) which, in turn, became the Communist Party of Cuba on 3 October 1965, with Castro as First Secretary.
In the wake of the revolution, thousands of disaffected anti-Batista rebels, former Batista supporters, and campesinos (peasants) fled to Cuba's Las Villas province, where an anticommunist underground had been forming since early 1960. Operating out of the Escambray mountain range, these counterrevolutionary rebels, also known as Alzados, made a number of unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the Cuban government, including the abortive, United States-backed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961.
In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the United States promised not to invade Cuba in the future; in compliance with this agreement, the U.S. withdrew all support from the Alzados, effectively crippling the resource-starved resistance. The counterrevolutionary conflict lasted until about 1965, and has been branded the War Against the Bandits by the Castro regime. It is also known as the Escambray Rebellion.
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