CUBAN REVOLUTION HISTORY

The Cuban Revolution refers to the revolution that led to the overthrow of General Fulgencio Batista's regime on January 1, 1959 by the 26th of July Movement and other revolutionary elements within the country. The Cuban Revolution also refers to the ongoing implementation of social and economic programs by the new government since the overthrow of the Batista government, including the implementation of Marxist policies.

The starting point of the Cuban Revolution is generally accepted to be July 26, 1953, the date on which a group of about one hundred poorly armed guerrillas attacked the Moncada Barracks. Many of them were killed in the battles after the attack. The survivors, among them Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl Castro Ruz, were captured shortly afterwards. In a highly political trial, Fidel Castro spoke for nearly four hours in his defense, ending with the words; "Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me." Fidel Castro was sentenced 15 years in the presidio modelo prison, located on Isla de Pinos; Raúl was sentenced to 13 years. In 1955, due to pressure from civil leaders, the general opposition, and the Jesuits who had helped educate Fidel Castro, and perhaps because he had known the Castro brothers in their youth, Batista freed all political prisoners, including the Moncada attackers. The Castro brothers went into exile in Mexico, where they gathered more exiled Cubans to fight in the Cuban revolution for the overthrow of Batista. During that period, Castro also met Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who joined their forces. They were trained by Alberto Bayo, a former military leader of the failed "loyalists" in the Spanish Civil War. The group trained in Mexico under the leadership of Fidel Castro and returned to Cuba in November 1956, on a small yacht named Granma. They hoped their landing in Eastern Cuba would coincide with planned uprisings in the cities and a general strike, coordinated by the llano wing of the 26th of July Movement. It was their intention to launch an armed offensive and swiftly topple the Batista government.

The Granma arrived in Cuba on 2 December 1956. It was delayed en route to Cuba, arriving late and at a location further east than was planned. 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. Shortly after their trek began, they were attacked by men from the army. Most of the Granma participants were killed in this attack, but a small number, between ten and two dozen, escaped. The survivors were separated from one another, and alone or in small groups, wandered through the mountains, looking for other survivors. Eventually, this small group of persons, would find one another with the help of peasant sympathizers. This small group of people, which included Fidel Castro, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Juan José Pàjaro, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Raúl Castro would form the core leadership of the guerrilla army. There was another group of revolutionaries, who carried out the most dramatic act of the Revolution since the Moncada Barracks attack of 1953. This second group of revolutionaries were members of the decidedly anticommunist, Student Revolutionary Directorate (RD; Directorio Revolucionario), who in plain daylight and in the middle of Havana traffic stormed the Presidential Palace in an attempt to decapitate the government from the top-- i.e., to assassinate President Fulgencio Batista-- on March 13, 1957. But it was the RD that was virtually decapitated after this suicidal attack. Jose Antonio Echeverria, student leader of the group, died of gun-shot wounds fighting Batista's forces after seizing a Havana radio station to broadcast the anticipated news of the success of the operation and the death of the dictator.


From 1956 through the middle of 1958, Castro, with the aid of Frank País, Ramos Latour, Huber Matos, and many others, staged successful attacks on small Batista garrisons in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Batista forces tried bloody repression to retain control and the cities in Cuba remained under Batista's control until the end. Che Guevara and Raúl Castro helped consolidate political control in the mountains through executions of suspected Batista Loyalists and potential rivals to Castro. The irregular poorly armed escopeteros harassed the Batista forces through the foot hills and the plains of Oriente Province; in addition these much maligned forces provided Castro's main forces with moderate military support, intelligence, and protected supply lines. Thus Castro achieved military control of these mountains. During this time, Castro's forces were quite small, at times 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, they were the ones who retreated from the fight. The Cuban military was remarkably ineffective. A growing problem for the Batista forces was an arms embargo imposed on the Cuban government by the United States government on March 14, 1958. Some 12,000 soldiers (more than half new, untrained recruits) attacked into the mountains. In a series of small-scale fights, the Cuban army was defeated by Castro's determined fighters. In one battle (the Battle of La Plata) which lasted from July 11 till July 21, Castro's forces defeated an entire battalion, capturing 240 men, while losing just 3 of their own. The tide nearly turned on July 29 when Castro's small army (some 300 men) was almost destroyed at the Battle of Las Mercedes. With his forces pinned down by superior numbers, Castro asked for, and was granted, a temporary cease-fire (August 1st). Over the next seven days, while fruitless negotiations took place, Castro's forces gradually escaped from the trap. By August 8th, Castro's entire army had escaped back into the mountains. Operation Verano had been a failure for the Batista government.

On August 21, 1958, after the defeat of the Batista "ofensiva", Castro's forces began their offensive. There were four fronts in the "Oriente" province (now divided into Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Guantánamo and Holguín) directed by Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Juan Almeida Bosque. Descending from the mountains, with weapons captured during the ofensiva and smuggled in by plane, Castro's forces won a series of victories. The major Castro victory at Guisa, and the succeeding capture of several towns (Maffo, Contramaestre, Central Oriente, etc.) consolidated victory on the Cauto plains. Meanwhile, three columns under the command of ‘Che’ Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and Jaime Vega proceeded westward toward the provincial capital of Santa Clara. Jaime Vega's column was ambushed and destroyed. The surviving two columns reached the central provinces, where they joined efforts with several other resistance groups not under the command of Castro. According to Faria, when Che Guevara's column passed through his native province of Las Villas, specifically through the Escambray Mountains-- i.e.,where the anticommunist Revolutionary Directorate forces (13 of March Movement) had been fighting Batista's army for many months-- friction developed between the two groups of rebels. Che's 26th of July Movement troops were found to be heavily infiltrated by communists, such as the polemicist Armando Acosta and the more dangerous Comandante Felix Torres. But the combined rebel army continued the offensive and Cienfuegos won a key victory in the Battle of Yaguajay on December 30, 1958 (earning him the nickname "The Hero of Yaguajay").

The next day (the 31st), in a scene of great confusion, the city of Santa Clara was captured by 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 January 1, 1959. Comandante William Alexander Morgan, for his part and leading RD rebel forces, continued fighting and captured the great city of Cienfuegos on January 1 and 2, during, and in, the wake of Batistas departure. Castro learned of Batista's flight in the morning and immediately started negotiations to take over Santiago de Cuba. On January 2nd, 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 January 8th after a long victory march, his choice of President, Manuel Urrutia Lleó taking up office on the 3rd.

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