The Cuban Revolution


August 13, 2022

The Cuban Revolution (Spanish: La Revolución Cubana) was an armed revolution that led to the overthrow of the President of Cuba, General Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, on January 1, 1959 by the 26th of July Movement and other revolutionary movements. The Cuban Revolution is also used to refer to the ongoing realization of social and economic programs by the new government, including the shift to Marxist politics.

Before December 1956: The 26th of July Movement and the Moncada Barracks

The attack on the Moncada Barracks

The start of the revolution is usually considered to be July 26, 1953, when a poorly equipped group of 160 revolutionaries attacked the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba and the barracks in Bayamo. How many rebels were killed in the attack can of course be debated. In his biography, Fidel Castro claims that five were killed in the fighting, while fifty-six were later killed by the Batista regime. Among the dead was Abel Santamaría, second-in-command in the attack on Moncada, who was imprisoned, tortured and executed on the same day as the attack. The surviving rebels, among them Fidel and his brother Raúl Castro Ruz, were captured shortly after the attack. In the following political trial, Fidel Castro by speaking for almost four hours, ending with the words "Judge me, it doesn't matter. History will forgive me" ("La historia me absolverá"). Fidel was sentenced to almost 15 years in prison at the Presidio Modelo prison on Isla de Pinos, while Raúl was sentenced to 13.

In Mexico

In 1955, the Batista regime had to release all political prisoners in Cuba, including the Moncada attackers, after great political pressure. By Fidel's Jesuit teachers, and possibly also by personal acquaintances, Batista was persuaded to also release the Castro brothers. The Castro brothers joined forces with other exiles in Mexico to plan a revolution to overthrow Batista. They were trained by Alberto Bayo, who had led Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, and Fidel also met Ernest "Che" Guevara during this period, with whom he joined forces. In November 1956, the exiled Cubans returned to Cuba on the yacht Granma under Fidel's leadership. The arrival was to coincide with planned riots in the cities and a general strike, coordinated by the llano wing of the July 26 movement. It was expected that the regime would fall after a brief armed offensive.

December 1956 to summer 1958: Guerrilla war in the mountains

Sierra Maestra

Granma arrived in Cuba on December 2, 1956, two days later than expected. It was because the boat was heavily loaded, not as it had been during practice cruises. This dashed hopes of a concerted attack with the llano wing. Then the rebels from Granma began to move towards the Sierra Maestra mountains, a mountain range in southwestern Cuba. Three days after the journey began, they were attacked by Batista's soldiers. Most of the revolutionaries from Granma were killed in this attack, but a few escaped. The actual number is disputed, but it is agreed that no more than twenty of the original eighty-four men survived the first bloody clashes with the Cuban army and managed to escape to the Sierra Maestra mountains. Among them were Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and Camilio Cienfuegos. The survivors were scattered, either alone or in small groups, wandering the mountains looking for each other. Eventually they were reunited with the help of peasants who sympathized with the rebels, and came to form the core of the guerrilla army. Celia Sánchez and Haydée Santamaría, Abel Santamaría's sister, were two female revolutionaries who helped Fidel Castro in the mountains.

El Directorio Revolucionario

On March 13, 1957, another revolutionary group—the Students' Anti-Communist Revolutionary Directorate (Directorio Revoluciónario; RD)—stormed the presidential palace, attempting to assassinate Batista and overthrow the regime, but the attack was a complete failure. RD's leader, student José Antonio Ech