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Cuban Revolution
Part of the Cold War
Date July 26, 1953 - January 1, 1959
Location Cuba
Result 26th of July Movement victory
Overthrow of Batista regime
Beginning of Castro regime
M-26-7.svg 26th of July Movement Cuba Batista government
M-26-7.svg Fidel Castro
M-26-7.svg Che Guevara
M-26-7.svg Raúl Castro
M-26-7.svg Camilo Cienfuegos
M-26-7.svg Huber Matos
Cuba Fulgencio Batista
Cuban Revolution
Attack on Moncada Barracks
"History Will Absolve Me" speech
Granma boat landing
Operation Verano
Battle of La Plata
Battle of Las Mercedes
Battle of Yaguajay
Battle of Santa Clara
General articles
26th of July Movement
Radio Rebelde
Fulgencio Batista
Fidel Castro - Che Guevara
Raúl Castro - Camilo Cienfuegos
Frank País - Huber Matos
Celia Sánchez - William Morgan
Carlos Franqui - Vilma Espín
Norberto Collado Abreu

Manuel Urrutia

The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt that led to the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista of Cuba on January 1, 1959 by the 26th of July Movement led by Fidel Castro.[1]

The "Cuban Revolution" also refers to the ongoing implementation of social and economic programs by the new government.



The Cuban revolution began [2] when the poorly armed Cuban rebels attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago and the barracks in Bayamo on 26 July 1953.[3] The exact number of rebels killed is debatable, however in his autobiography, Fidel Castro claims that five were killed in the fighting, and an additional fifty-six were killed later by the Batista regime.[4] Among the dead was Abel Santamaría, second-in-command of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, who was imprisoned, tortured, and executed the same day of the attack.[5] 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 to 15 years in the presidio modelo prison, located on Isla de Pinos; 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. Batista was persuaded to include the Castro brothers in this release in part by Fidel's Jesuit childhood teachers.[6]

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.[7]

December 1956 to mid-1958

"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."

U.S. President John F. Kennedy, interview with Jean Daniel, October 24 1963 [8]

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 practice sailing runs.[9] 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 their trek began, they were attacked by Batista's army. Most of the Granma participants were killed in this attack, but a small number escaped. While the exact number is in dispute, it is agreed that 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.[10] The group of survivors included Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raúl Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos. The survivors were separated, alone or in small groups, and wandered through the mountains, looking for each other. Eventually, the men would find one another with the help of peasant sympathizers and would form the core leadership of the guerrilla army. Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria, sister of Abel Santamaria, were two women revolutionaries that assisted Fidel Castro in the mountains.

On March 13, 1957, a distinct group of revolutionaries – the student anticommunist Revolutionary Directorate (RD; Directorio Revolucionario) – stormed the Presidential Palace, 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 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 Commandantes of the 13 of March Movement, centered in the Escambray Mountains of Las Villas Province).[11]

The United States imposed an embargo on the government and recalled its ambassador, weakening the government's mandate further.[12] Batista's support was limited to communists (PSP) and even they began to pull their long-term support in mid-1958.[13]

Raúl Castro (left), with his arm around second-in-command, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, in their Sierra de Cristal Mountain stronghold in Oriente Province Cuba, 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 País, Ramos Latour, Huber Matos, and many others, staged successful attacks on small Batista garrisons. Che Guevara and Raúl 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. These also provided direct military support to Castro's main forces by protecting supply lines and sharing intelligence. Ultimately, the mountains came under Castro's control.

In addition to armed resistance, Batista's regime was also undermined by a pirate radio station called Rebel Radio (Radio Rebelde), created 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 and Cuban exile now living in Puerto Rico.

During this time, Castro's forces were quite small, 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 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. The Cuban air force rapidly deteriorated as planes could not be repaired without parts from the United States.

Batista forces finally responded with an attack on the mountains called Operation Verano (the rebels called it "la Ofensiva"). Some 12,000 soldiers (half of which were untrained recruits) were sent into the mountains. In a series of small skirmishes, the Cuban army was defeated by Castro's determined soldiers. In 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 effectively ending Operation Verano in failure for the Batista government.

Mid-1958 to January 1959

"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, guerrilla commander, 1958[14]
Map Showing Key Locations in the Sierra Maestra during the Cuban Revolution, 1958.

On August 21, 1958, after the defeat of the Batista "ofensiva", Castro's forces began their own 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 new weapons captured during the ofensiva and smuggled in by plane, Castro's forces won a series of 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 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 the 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").

Map of Cuba showing the location of the arrival of the rebels on the Granma yacht in late 1956 and the rebels' stronghold in the Sierra Maestra. The map also shows Guevara and Cienfuegos's route towards Havana via Las Villas Province in December 1958.

The next day (the 31st), the Battle of Santa Clara was 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 city of Cienfuegos on January 1 and 2, during, and in, the wake of Batista's departure.[15] 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 for president, Manuel Urrutia Lleó took office on the 3rd.[16]

Post-1959: After the revolution

"Our revolution is endangering all American possessions in Latin America. We are telling these countries to make their own revolution."
Che Guevara, October 1962 [17]

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."[18]

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 Raúl Castro after capturing Santiago. For his part in 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 to be dismissed from the army and police without prosecution, and some high-ranking officials in the ancien régime were exiled as military attachés.[19]

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.[20]

According to geographer and Cuban Comandante Antonio Núñez Jiménez, 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 in to 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 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 counter-revolutionary activity." Local CDRs were also tasked with keeping a detailed record of each neighborhood’s inhabitant’s spending habits, level of contact with foreigners, their work and education history, and any "suspicious" behavior.[21] One of the most widely persecuted groups were homosexuals, particularly homosexual men. Sex became a form of liberation and protest against the Castro government; Reinaldo Arenas, a famous Latin American writer, depicts such subjugation and protestation in his autobiography, "Antes Que Anochezca."

Cuba began expropriating land and private property under the auspices of the Agrarian Reform law of May 1959. Cuban lawyer Mario Lazo writes that farms of any size could be and were seized by the government. Land, businesses, and companies owned by upper and middle class Cubans were also nationalized, including the plantations owned by Fidel Castro's family. By the end of 1960, the revolutionary government had nationalized more than 25 billion dollars worth of private property owned by Cubans.[22] Cuba also nationalized all United States and other foreign-owned property in the nation on August 6, 1960. The United States, in turn, responded by freezing all Cuban assets in the United States, severing diplomatic ties,[23] and tightening the embargo on Cuba, which is still in place after 50 years.[24] In response to the acts of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for support. [25]

In July 1961, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (IRO) was formed by the merger of Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Revolutionary Movement, the People's Socialist Party (the old Communist Party) led by Blas Roca, and the Revolutionary Directorate March 13th led by Faure Chomón.[26] On March 26, 1962, the IRO became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution (PURSC) which, in turn, became the Communist Party of Cuba on October 3, 1965 with Castro as First Secretary.

Many attempts have been made by the United States to overthrow Cuba's government. One of the most notorious is the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the United States promised to never invade the island. Desperate but unsuccessful rebellions, known as the War Against the Bandits, continued until about 1965.


  1. ^ Audio: Cuba Marks 50 Years Since 'Triumphant Revolution' by Jason Beaubien, NPR All Things Considered, January 1 2009
  2. ^ July Penguin Books: 2007, p. 121
  3. ^
  4. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 133
  5. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 672
  6. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 174
  7. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 174
  8. ^ Spartacus Educational entry for Jean Daniel
  9. ^ Ramonet, Ignacio, ibid, p. 182
  10. ^ Thomas, Hugh (1998). Cuba or The Pursuit of Freedom (Updated Edition). New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80827-7. 
  11. ^ Faria (2002) Notes pp.40-41
  12. ^ Louis A. Pérez. Cuba and the United States. 
  13. ^ Timothy P. Wickham-Crowley. Guerrillas and revolution in Latin America. p. 189. 
  14. ^ The Life & Times of Che Guevara by David Sandison, 1996, Paragon, ISBN 0752517767 pg 41
  15. ^ Faria, Cuba in Revolution, 2002, pp.69
  16. ^ Thomas, Hugh, Cuba: The pursuit of freedom, pp. 691–3
  17. ^ Attack us at your Peril, Cocky Cuba Warns US, Henry Brandon, The Sunday Times, October 28 1962.
  18. ^ UPI, Year in Review,
  19. ^ Juan Clark Cuba: Mito y Realidad: Testimonio de un Pueblo (1992), Saeta Ediciones, Miami, pp. 53–70.
  20. ^ Faria (2002), op. cit. pp. 215–28.
  21. ^ Juan Clark Cuba: Mito y Realidad (1992), pp. 131–58.
  22. ^ Lazo, Mario, American Policy Failures in Cuba – Dagger in the Heart (1970) Twin Circle Publishing Co., New York, pp. 198-200, 204, Library of Congress Card Catalog Number:68-31632
  23. ^ Nash, Gary B., Julie Roy Jeffrey, John R. Howe, Peter J. Frederick, Allen F. Davis, Allan M. Winkler, Charlene Mires, and Carla Gardina Pestana. The American People, Concise Edition Creating a Nation and a Society, Combined Volume (6th Edition). New York: Longman, 2007.
  24. ^ Faria (2002), op.cit. p. 105.
  25. ^ Nash, Gary B., Julie Roy Jeffrey, John R. Howe, Peter J. Frederick, Allen F. Davis, Allan M. Winkler, Charlene Mires, and Carla Gardina Pestana. The American People, Concise Edition Creating a Nation and a Society, Combined Volume (6th Edition). New York: Longman, 2007.
  26. ^ "Kantor". Hacienda Pub. 

Further reading

  • Castro and the Cuban Revolution,  by Thomas M. Leonard, Greenwood Press, 1999, ISBN 031329979X
  • Cuban Revolution Reader: A Documentary History of Key Moments in Fidel Castro's Revolution,  by Julio García Luis, Ocean Press, 2008, ISBN 1920888896
  • Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution: A Marxist Appreciation,  by Joseph Hansen, Pathfinder Press, 1994, ISBN 0873485599
  • Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution,  by T. J. English, William Morrow, 2008, ISBN 0061147710
  • Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground,  by Julia E. Sweig, Harvard University Press, 2004, ISBN 0674016122
  • Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution,  by Thomas C. Wright, Praeger Paperback, 2000, ISBN 0275967069
  • The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy,  by Marifeli Perez-Stable, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0195127498
  • The Cuban Revolution: Past, Present and Future Perspectives,  by Geraldine Lievesley, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, ISBN 0333968530
  • The Cuban Revolution: Years of Promise,  by Teo A. Babun, University Press of Florida, 2005, ISBN 0813028604
  • The Moncada Attack: Birth of the Cuban Revolution,  by Antonio Rafael De LA Cova, University of South Carolina Press, 2007, ISBN 1570036721
  • The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered,  by Samuel Farber, The University of North Carolina Press, 2006, ISBN 0807856738
  • The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution,  by Jules R. Benjamin, Princeton University Press, 1992, ISBN 0691025363

External links

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