The Spirit Of Moncada: Fidel Castro's
Rise To Power, 1953 - 1959
SUBJECT AREA Foreign Policy
Author: BOCKMAN, Larry James, Major, U.S.
Title: The Spirit of Moncada: Fidel Castro's
Rise to Power, 1953-1959
Publisher: Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Date: 1 April 1984
Since his overthrow of President Batista in 1959, the
degree of influence that Fidel Castro has exercised over
worldwide political and military events has been astounding.
His reach has far exceeded the borders of the tiny island
nation he rules. Not infrequently, great and emerging
nations alike have altered their most diligent strategies in
response to the Cuban leader's interpretation of the world
order. How did an obscure, middle-class lawyer with no
military training first rise to such prominence? The object
of this study is to discover the answer to that question.
The essay opens with a brief discussion of Cuba's
geographic, demographic and historic heritages. This is
followed by a section that outlines the major economic,
social, political and military factors which forced the
climate for Castro's insurrection. The main body of the
study follows with an examination of the insurrection
itself. Included are detailed historical events, strategies
and tactics, beginning with Castro's background and
proceeding through his emergence at the head of the Cuban
government. Both sides of the conflict are presented, where
appropriate, to maintain balance. The final section of the
paper contains an analysis of the major elements leading to
Castro's victory. These encompass, among others: the role
of the United States, Castro's guerrilla warfare
philosophy, Batista's counter-guerrilla tactics, and the
This study relied heavily upon previously published
documents and books concerning various aspects of Castro's
background and rise to power. Particularly useful were
those works written through eyewitness accounts of the
actual events addressed in the paper.
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR
The Spirit of Moncada:
Fidel Castro's Rise to Power, 1953-1959
Major Larry James Bockman, USMC
2 April 1984
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of people for
their professional assistance, guidance, morale support and
encouragement. They have my sincere appreciation. Of the
many, I would like to single-out for special thanks
Lieutenant Colonels Donald F. Bittner and James F. Foster.
Their editorial and conceptual assistance plus personal
encouragement assisted me over several obstacles.
I would especially like to acknowledge my debt to the
staff of Breckinridge Library, and particularly Ms. Mary
Porter, the Reference Librarian. Her capable and efficient
assistance in securing books and documents was superb.
Likewise, I would like to thank Ms. Pam Lohman for
cheerfully and expertly typing this manuscript, and for
never being discouraged by revisions or deadlines.
Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Karen. Without
her editorial assistance, moral support and encouragement, I
would not have completed this project.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Background 4
2. Inducing Factors to Revolution 18
3. Castro's Insurrection 32
The Sergeant and the attorney 32
Movimiento 26 de Julio 47
Sierra Maestra 55
Total War 75
Batista's Departure 94
4. Castro's Revolution 102
At Long Last; Victory 103
The Communist State 106
5. Analyses and Conclusion 112
Buerrilla Warfare a la Castro 113
Internal Defense 119
Neutralization of the United States 124
El Caudillo 128
In the early 1950's there were many Cubans who believed
that their country was in the midst of a gradual revolution
that had begun as early as 1930. Political and economic
upheaval and social rebellion had become commonplace and
expected throughout Cuban society. Most viewed this process
as disruptive, but nonetheless necessary if Cuba was ever to
attain constitutionality and honest government. Among those
Cubans was Fidel Castro, a young lawyer just entering
practice. Having earned an early reputation as a champion
of the oppressed and underprivileged, Castro was anxious to
use his political skills to harness and guide the Cuban
revolutionary spirit. The spirit was crushed, however, when
Fulgencio Batista seized control of the Cuban government in
1952. The insurrection which Castro orchestrated between
1953 and 1959 wad designed to revitalize the interrupted
Cuban revolution and install Fidel Castro as its epicenter.
The purpose of this essay is to examine the Cuban
Onsurgency of 1953-1959, focusing on Fidel Castro's role.
The premise of this effort is that the detailed examination
of Castro's rise to power and Batista's attempts to stop him
can increase our understanding of the evolution of
insurgencies and the difficulties associated with countering
them. The study's objective is to achieve that
understanding by discovering how Castro won, or perhaps more
importantly, why Batista lost.
The scope of the study is limited primarily to events
occurring on the island of Cuba between 1953 and 1959. No
attempt is made to consider other worldly events unless
there is some direct relationship. Likewise, recent Cuban
history beyond Castro's consolidation of power in 1959 is
omitted. Finally, discussions and comparisons of various
revolutionary warfare ideologies are left to another time
and place. The terms insurrection, revolution, rebellion
and their derivatives are used interchangeably throughout.
The paper is organized into five chapters following the
introduction. Maps are provided at the end, just prior to
the bibliography. Chapter I provides a brief background
study of Cuba's geography, people and history. Keying on
the background established in Chapter I, Chapter II distills
and investigates the economic, social, political and
military factors which fueled Cuba's revolutionary fervor
and ultimately led to Fidel Castro's insurrection. Chapters
III and IV give a detailed account of the rebellion and
Castro's consoldation of power, spanning the years 1953-
1959. in general, analysis and conclusions are withheld
until the final chapter.
Much has been written about Fidel Castro and his
revolution. The sources that were available for this study
seemed to fall into two general categories: those works
written by individuals with personal experience in the
revolution and those works written by scholars who
researched the revolution, generally through the works of
those who had personal experience. The result of this
phenomenon is that unbiased sources which address Castro or
his revolution are rare.
I used two techniques to counter this bias. First, I
generally discounted or ignored those sources which tended
to be the most biased (i.e., newspaper accounts and
periodicals*), and concentrated on published books and
research studies. This approach was only partially
successful because the majority of the books available on
Castro or his revolution were written by journalists.
Further, those books not written by journalists often list
newspaper accounts as sources. Second, I developed the
habit of cross-checking every source, consciously seeking
either the opposite viewpoint or commonality for each
section of the study. Where appropriate, I have tried to
present both sides.
In retrospect, I must admit that it is extremely
difficult to remain impartial where Castro is concerned.
The man was, and still is, a hero to millions of people.
Through the course of my research I developed a grudging
admiration for him. While I have attempted to keep this
paper as dispassionate as possible, I am sure that some of
that admiration has filtered through.
*Journalists were notoriously pro-Castro during this period.
CHAPTER I: BACKGROUND
To properly understand Fidel Castro and the
insurrection which he led, one must first grasp the essence
of Cuba itself. These initial pages will provide a brief
overview of the major geographic, demographic and historic
factors which have influenced Cuba and its people from the
earliest Spanish explorers until Fulgencio Batista's 1952
Cuba, situated approximately 90 miles from the southern
coast of Florida, is actually an archipelago of more than
1600 keys and small islands clustered around Cuba proper
(see Map #1). The island is 745 miles long, and 25 to 120
miles at its narrowest and widest points. It boasts
excellent harbors, although only Havana has ever been
Cuba enjoys a moderately warm climate with temperatures
varying little more than 10-15 degrees between its summer
and winter months. The two seasons are differentiated from
each other mainly by the level of rainfall, with the rainy
season running from May through October. The stable climate
is marred only by the island's vulnerability to passing
The unusually varied terrain is about 40% mountainous.
The Sierra Maestra and smaller parallel ranges dominate the
eastern provinces of Oriente and Camaguey. Cuba's highest
mountain, Pico Turquino (over 6,500 feet), is located in the
Sierra Maestra range. In Las Villas province, in the
central part of the island, the Trinidad and Sancti-Spiritus
ranges form the so-called Escambray. Lesser ranges are
located in western Cuba. The island has no major lakes or
rivers. Only eight percent of the land is forested.
Cuba's most precious natural resource is probably her
land. A red soil, ideal for sugarcane, is prevalent in
Matanzas and Camaguey provinces. Mineral resources found in
sufficient quantities to mine include: iron, copper,
nickel, chromite, manganese, tungsten and asphalt. Since
Cuba lacks fossil fuel, its industrial prospects are
limited without reliance upon heavy imports.*
Roughly the size of the state of Pennsylvania, Cuba
supported a population of roughly 5,830,000 or 132 people
per square mile in 1953. With a growth rate of 2.5 percent,
the population had increased to an estimated 6,700,000 by
1960. There were only three other Latin American countries
with comparable or higher population densities.
*A favorable offshore geological structure may contain large
oil and natural gas reserves.
In 1953, the population of Cuba was estimated to be 30
percent white (mainly Creole), 20 percent mestizo (racially
mixed), 49 percent black and one percent oriental. While a
certain degree of racial discrimination and segregation was
practiced in Cuba prior to the 1950's, race generally did
not play a major causative role in any of the Cuban
insurrections. Race, as an issue, was largely overshadowed
by the existing class system. The upper-class, which was
almost exclusively white, excluded nonwhites from its
schools and clubs. Upper-middle-class whites generally
avoided any type of contact with nonwhites except as in
employer-employee relationships. Nonwhites were usually
underrepresented in most professional clubs. Usually the
only way nonwhites could gain any social prestige was
through memberships in nonwhite societies, labor unions, or
the Communist Party. Except for one incident in 1911, there
were no serious racial incidents in Cuba by 1953. 3/
Cuba was discovered and claimed for Spain by
Christopher Columbus during his first voyage on October 26,
1492. Quickly settled under the guidance of its first
governor, Diego Velasquez, the isle demonstrated a great
deal of commerical promise until the mid-16th century.
During this period considerable gold was found and farming
was developed. After 1550, however, the island's internal
development began to falter. Cuba's strategic location
guarding the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico became far more
important than its commerical value. She simply could not
compete with the vast riches being envisioned and discovered
further to the west. Consequently, Cuba became the
political and military focal point for the Spanish
exploration, conquest and colonization of the Caribbean
Basin and North America. All Spanish convoys converged on
Havana before dispersing throughout the Gulf or massing for
the dangerous voyage back to Spain.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries Cuba maintained
her role as the epicenter of Spain's New World interests.
The large Spanish population supported an effective militia,
and the island was well garrisoned as a major military base.
Subsidies from Mexico helped cover this expense as well as
other costs connected with administration of the colony. As
far as the European inhabitants of the island were
concerned, with the possible exception of periodic foreign
and pirate attacks, life during this period was good.
During the early part of the 19th century, when most of
the other Spanish colonies in South and Central America had
risen in revolt, Cuba remained loyal. Her largely middle-
class population was highly educated, prosperous and almost
totally Spanish or Creole (Spaniards born in the New World).
While slavery was present and becoming increasingly
prevalent with the growth of the sugar cane industry, the
large peasant class and/or slave population associated with
insurrections in the other Spanish colonies did not exist.
Moreover, administration of the island had been relatively
liberal and quite benign since the French Bourbons had
ascended to the Spanish throne in 1700.
This era ended when Ferdinand VII was restored as King
of Spain in 1814. Ferdinand's abandonment of the previous
Bourbon policies quickly stimulated unrest, and the Cuban
government became further centralized and militarized. In
1825, the governor was given extensive repressive powers
based on a state of siege that existed following several
Initiating a tendency that dogged them through every
insurrection until Castro, Cubans in the mid-19th century
were slow to revolt largely because they could not agree
upon objectives. The desire to preserve slavery, the
possiblity of increased trade, and pure intellectual ties
led some to favor annexation to the United States. The U.S.
Civil War dampened those sentiments, leaving most Creoles
(the main source of dissatisfaction) to favor either
autonomy, including reforms, within the Spanish Empire, or
full independence. When it bacame clear in the 1860's that
Spain was unwilling to let autonomy be a viable option,
independence became the only realistic revolutionary course.
The first major Cuban revolt against Spain began in
1868 and lasted for a decade. This has become known as the
Ten Year's War. Led by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the Cuban
revolutionaires won control over half the island before
finally being defeated. The United States played a major
role in support of the rebellion by providing the rebels
with arms, supplies and a base for propaganda.* While the
Pact of Zanjon, which ended the Ten Year's War, guaranteed
that Spain would relax restrictions and improve conditions,
Creole unrest remained. Small revolts in 1879-1880, 1884
and 1885 also failed. Cuban sugar exports were
significantly reduced in 1894 when an increase in the U.S.
tariff on sugar was announced. The resulting depression in
the island's economy only served to deepen revolutionary
In 1895, a political coalition, led by Jose Marti,
renewed the insurrection. Interventionist sentiment and the
mysterious sinking of the American battleship Maine in
Havana's harbor on February 15, 1898, drew the United States
into the Cuban struggle against Spain. The ensuing Spanish-
American War marked the beginning of a close, though uneven,
relationship between Cuba and the United States that was to
continue until Castro's rise to power some 60 years later.
With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, Cuba
was placed under the protection of the United States.
Minimizing the contributions of the Cuban insurrectionists
in the war with Spain, Washington initially refused to
recognize the rebel government, preferring instead to occupy
and Americanize the island. American occupation continued
*During the succeeding decades, the United States was to
repeat these roles many times.
from 1898-1902 with only marginal success. Although an
impressive public school system was initiated and health
care standards were enforced, the local population was
largely unsupportive of the U.S. presence. Recognizing the
long-range futility of American control of the island, the
United States initiated steps in June 1960, to establish a
democratic government. Local elections for municipal
offices were held under the protection of U.S. officials.
in September of that same year, 31 delegates were elected to
a Cuban Constitutional Convention that drafted the Cuban
Constitution of 1901. However, the United States decided
not to completely abandon Cuba. With the Congressional
passage of the Platt Amendment in March 1901, the United
States guaranteed itself the right to intervene in Cuban
affairs whenever appropriate. 5/ Fearing an otherwise
indefinite occupation, the Cuban Constitutional Convention
reluctantly agreed to adopt the amendment as part of its
Constitution of 1901. On May 20, 1902, the American
occupation ended, and Tomas Estrada Palma, the first elected
president of the new republic, took office. It was a day of
national happiness tempered by concern that Cuba had not
seen the last of U.S. interference.
President Estrada Palma was honest and relatively
effective. However, the discovery of his underhanded
efforts to obtain a second term by inviting the United
States to dispose of his political rivals led to a rebellion
in 1906. Ironically, while Washington was not initially
inclined to intervene based upon Estrada Palma's request,
the outbreak of the rebellion forced a quick response.
American Marines were dispatched to the island. This newest
U.S. intervention, which lasted from 1906-1909, was heavily
criticized by Cubans. From this time until 1933, Cuban
Presidents and their political parties (Liberals and
Conservatives) alternated in power without substantive
changes in policy.* Both parties looked to the Platt
Amendment as a potential way to avoid political defeat by
obtaining U.S. military, economic or diplomatic
intervention. The overall impact of Washington's
protectionist role is best summarized in the following
As successor to Spain, as the overseer of the
island's affairs, the United States unwittingly
perpetuated the Cubans' lack of political
responsibility. Cubans enjoyed the assurance that
the United States would intervene to protect them
from foreign entanglement or to solve their
domestic difficulties, but the situation only
encouraged their irresponsible and indolent
attitude toward their own affairs and was not
conducive to responsible self-government. 6/
Of the several Cuban presidents in office from 1902-
1933, Gerardo Machado (Liberal, 1924-1933) was by far the
worst. His reliance on unscrupulous and often brutal
tactics to remain in power, coupled with the worldwide sugar
market collapse of 1930, aroused broad, popular opposition.
As Cuba again teetered on the brink of insurrection, U.S.
pressure forced Machado from office in 1933. That August,
*Of the six elections held between 1908 and 1933, each of
the parties won three.
Carlos Manuel de Cespedes was appointed by the U.S. and the
Cuban army to succeed Machado. His appointment was short-
Revolutionary student groups loosely confederated into
an organization called the Directorio, had strongly
supported reform through Machado's ouster. To them,
Cespedes' regime represented an attempt to slow down the
reformist movement that had been gathering momentum since
the 1920's. Considering Cespedes merely a stooge of the
United States, the Directorio, supported by several minority
groups, was relentless in its opposition to the new
president. Meanwhile, new unrest within the enlisted ranks
of the Cuban army began to erode Cespedes' influence from
another direction. Unhappy with both a proposed reduction
in pay and an order restricting their promotions, the lower
echelons of the army inivited representatives of the
Directorio to meet with them at Camp Columbia in Havana on
September 4, 1933. By the time the students arrived,
enlisted members of the garrison at Camp Columbia had staged
the so called "Sergeant's Revolt" and taken command. That
same night, Cespedes handed over the Presidency to a five-
member commission comprised of students and enlisted members
of the Cuban army.
The revolt of 1933 has been called the "thwarted
revolution" because Cubans looked for, but failed to
achieve, a rapid solution to economic and political
problems. Their hopes resided in a new and younger group of
leaders who believed, not unlike Franklin Roosevelt, that
government must take a major role in reform. At the same
time they also blamed Cuba's economic problems on the United
States. Despite the problems and short duration, the 1933
revolution had a profound impact on subsequent Cuban
development and events. University students had experienced
political power and had stimulated an awareness among
themselves and the general population of the need, and
possibility, of rapid and drastic change. In addition, the
revolution weakened U.S. domination of the Cuban economy and
created opportunities for several sectors previously
excluded from gaining a bigger share of the national wealth.
Of perhaps the greatest importance was the fact that for the
first time the Cuban army became a viable force in the
governing of Cuba, and an obscure Sergeant by the name of
Fulgencio Batista Y Zaldivar, leader of the Sergeant's
Revolt, emerged as the self-appointed Chief of the armed
Forces and architect of Cuba's future for many years.
Of mixed racial ancestry (Caucasian, Negro and Chinese)
and lower-class origin, Batista ruled Cuba from behind the
scenes from 1934 to 1940. Acting through a succession of
presidents that he personally appointed, Batista managed to
secure Washington's agreement to the revocation of the Platt
Amendment in 1934. He also supported the drafting of a
liberal constitution in 1940, but never saw its precepts
enforced while he was in office.
The Constitution of 1940 was in many respects the
embodiment of the aspirations of the 1933 revolt. For the
first time Cuba had a constitution that reflected Cuban
ideals and philosophy, rather than that of a foreign power.
The president would serve only one term of four years. He
could be reelected, but only after remaining out of office
for eight years. Many civil liberties and social welfare
provisions were defined at great length, and the government
would play a strong role in social and economic development.
Workers were guaranteed paid vacations, minimum wages and
job tenure, with Cuban nationals favored over foreigners in
the establishment of new industries. The autonomy of the
University of Havana received full sanction, thus fulfilling
one of the oldest student demands.
Batista was the first president elected under the new
constitution. Supported by a coalition of political
parties, including the Communists, he assumed office in
1940. His administration (1940-1944) coincided with World
War II, with Cuba declaring war on the Axis powers in 1941.
Setting aside the 1940 constitution before it had even been
executed, Batista declared martial law.
Although Batista held wartime powers, his stewardship
fell short of dictatorial. He maintained the support of the
landed classes by guaranteeing tax concessions, and actively
sought the backing of labor. He particularly catered to the
left, allowing the communists relative freedom of action in
return for their support. Although not particularly popular
among the poor and some segments of the working class
because of the war taxes he imposed, Batista's initial term
as president brought a degree of solidarity and calm to Cuba
that had not been experienced in decades.
In 1944 and 1948, Batista permitted free elections,
remaining discreetly in the background while Ramon Grau San
Martin (1944-1948) and Carlos Prior Socarras (1948-1952)
sought to fulfill the promises of 1933 and the Constitution
of 1940. Unfortunately, neither of these Presidents -- both
members of the Autentico (conservative) Party -- was able to
completely remove the ubiquitous political corruption or
solve Cuba's most serious economic problems. The sometimes
stormy eight year period reached a perverse climax when
Eduardo "Eddy" Chibas, demagogic leader of the opposition
Ortodoxo (liberal) Party, committed suicide while conducting
a weekly radio broadcast in 1951. This act was interpreted
by many Cubans as a gesture of revulsion at the deplorable
conditions that he had long criticized. Despite the
turmoil, Cubans had reason to hope that free elections were
moving their country toward democratic stability. Batista
shattered those hopes, however, on March 10, 1952, when he
executed a coup to prevent the approaching presidential
Batista had been precluded from running for reelection
in either 1944 or 1948 by the Cuban Constitution. Contrary
to his reputation, he smugly awaited the 1952 election. in
the interim, he occupied himself by manipulating Cuban
politics from behind the scenes and managing his business
interests in Florida. When he began campaigning for
reelection in 1952, however, Batista found that much of his
old political support had eroded. Many Cubans still feared
him, recalling his ruthless handling of political enemies
and dissidents during the 1930's. As it became apparent
that his candidacy had little chance of success, Batista
called upon the one element of Cuban society that he still
controlled -- the arms. Confronted with the spector of a
military coup, elected officials decided to flee rather than
fight, leaving Batista unopposed. When the shock of this
unexpected takeover subsided, all political elements began
to search for a way to return to constitutional democracy,
but the two main political parties (Autentico and Ortodoxo)
splintered, because their leaders could not agree on whether
or not to organize armed resistance or negotiate with
Batista for elections. Once again the Cuban stage was set
Chapter I: Background
1/ Priscilla A. Clapp, The Control of Local Conflict:
Case Studies: Volume II (Latin America), (Washington, D.C.:
ACDA, 1969), pp. 71-73.
2/ Wyatt MacGaffey and Clifford R. Barnett. Cuba: Its
People, Its Society, Its Culture, (New Haven: HRAF Press,
1962), pp. 1835.
3/ Lowry Nelson. Rural Cuba, (Minneapolis: U. of
Minnesota Press, 1950), p. 158.
4/ Unless otherwise noted, this historical survey is
based on the following three sources: John Edwin Fagg,
Cuba, Haiti & The Dominica Republic (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice Hall, Inc., 1965), pp. 1-111; Hudson Strode, The
Pageant of Cuba (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas,
1934), pp. 3-342; and Jaime Suchlicki, Cuba From Columbus to
Castro (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974), pp. 3-
5/ Strode, op. cit., pp. 343-344. The complete text of
the Amendment is cited. The Platt Amendment also gave the
United States the right to establish naval bases.
Quantanamo Naval Base, acquired in 1903, is a direct result.
6/ Jaime Suchlicki,op. cit., p. 105.
CHAPTER II: INDUCING FACTORS TO REVOLUTION
Virtually all popular revolutions have had their roots
in economic, social, political or military gievances. Cuba
was no exception. Chapter I offered a general overview of
historic conditions leading to Batista's 1952 coup. From
those conditions, Chapter II will isolate and explore the
factors which set the stage for Castro's insurrection.
Foreign Control of the Economy. As noted in Chapter I,
Spanish administration of Cuba in the 18th and early 19th
centuries had been relatively liberal. Economic reform
measures instituted during the same period launched Cuba
into rapid economic expansion with new sugar markets both in
Europe and North America. Cuban economic prosperity ended,
however, when Ferdinand VII assumed the Spanish throne and
established restrictive trade measures and heavy taxation,
all designed to protect Spanish goods from foreign
competition. The brunt of these restrictions fell mainly on
Cuban landowners. Moreover, Ferdinand's return heralded the
resurgence of Spanish control over the Cuban economy, thus
creating another source of irritation to Cuban landowners.
The combination of these two circumstances eventually drove
the landowners to ally themselves with middle-class groups
in support of a Cuban independence movement in the 1890's.
One consequence of this movement was the Spanish-American
Following the Spanish-American War, Cuba's economic
base remained primarily in agriculture, with sugar the
largest cash crop. Commerce maintained a distant second
place, while manufacturing and food processing were
virtually nonexistent. With the United States emerging from
the war as both Cuba's protector and primary trade partner,
Washington was under considerable pressure from American
business groups to annex the island purely for economic
reasons. Although the U.S. government resisted these
urgings, the fact that Cuba represented an excellent capital
outlet for American investors certainly could not be
ignored. Consequently, as U.S. investments in Cuba
increased in the early 1900's, the United States
increasingly became a stabilizing force in Cuban affairs, as
much for the protection of American lives and business
interests as for strategic considerations.
The controversial Platt Amendment became the political
solution to America's duel economic and strategic concerns
in Cuba. As U.S. investments rose from $205 million in 1911
to $919 million in 1929, American businessmen often sought
the implementation of the amendment for the protection of
their interests. 2/ Indeed, most of the military
interventions by the United States in Cuba during this
period arose from concerns that American economic interests
were being threatened.
American investments in Cuba began to decline sharply
following the 1929 stock market crash. Cuban prosperity of
the 1920's was dashed by the world-wide financial crisis
that followed. In an effort to stabilize Cuba's economy and
rekindle American investments, Washington and Cuba signed a
trade agreement in 1934. This agreement reduced U.S.
tariffs and sugar quotas, and guaranteed Cuba higher than
world market prices for its sugar crop.
Between 1935 and 1959, Cuban-American economic ties
remained relatively stable. American commitments totaled
approximately $713 million by 1954, and between $800 million
and $1 billion by 1958. 3/ The United States, as a market
for sugar and a source of imports, continued to carry much
influence in Cuba. In 1955, for example, the U.S. purchased
73.4 percent of Cuba's total exports, while Cuba obtained
68.9 percent of her imports from the United States. 4/ At
that time, sugar and sugar by-products accounted for 79.8
percent of Cuba's exports. 5/ American business interests
by the mid-1950's controlled over half of Cuba's public
railroads, about 40 percent of her sugar production and over
90 percent of her utilities (telephone and electric). 6/
Cuba's efforts to institute tariffs to protect her fledgling
non-sugar industries were generally unsuccessful because
Cuban producers, attempting to establish themselves in these
areas, were never able to compete with the quality of
American-made goods. In summation, it is significant to
note that while Cuban-American economic ties brought obvious
prosperity to limited segments of the island's population,
they did so only at the expense of Cuba's national potential
and economic independence.
Land Reform. During the early colonial period, 'Spain
awarded large land tracts (haciendas) to certain colonists.
Spain later attempted to reverse this trend in the late 18th
and early 19th centuries by subdividing some of the
haciendas into small tracts and selling them in odd sized
parcels. Most were purchased by business groups, some
remained in the hands of large landholders and a few were
bought by small-scale farmers.
Unfortunately, economic and technological factors of
the time worked to countermand this first attempt at
agrarian reform. During the same period, the sugar industry
began its rapid expansion into a position of extreme
dominance in the Cuban economy. The application of
steampower plus other technological advances, both increased
the efficiency of sugar production and opened new markets.
The Cuban sugar industry received its greatest boost in the
late 19th century when a precipitous drop in steel prices
made the construction of railroads on the island financially
feasible. Until then, the antiquated means of transporting
sugar cane had limited mill size and production. Railroads
greatly increased the territory that an individual mill
could support. This breakthrough convinced most sugar
corporations that the way to increase profits was to assume
control over all aspects of sugar production, from the field
through the mill. Accordingly, throughout the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, these corporations launched major
efforts to acquire their own land. Small sugar cane farmers
were largely eliminated in this process. Those that
resisted were either coerced to sell or bludgeoned with he
Cuban legal system until hey acquiesced. As a result,
although sugar production increased markedly between 1877
and 1915, the number of mills decreased from 1,190 to 170.
Meanwhile, the sugar corporations and large landowners
increased their control of Cuba's agricultural land to over
76 percent. 7/
Throughout the 1920's, and particularly during the
Depression, various Cuban political groups agitated for
agrarian reform. Their demands concentrated primarily on
greater government control over the sugar corporations and
redistribution of the large estates among the landless.
These very issues were among the major causative factors
leading to the 1933 Revolution and the ouster of President
Machado. A series of sugar control acts enacted during the
mid and late 1930's followed, but the politically powerful
landowners and sugar corporations saw little actual loss of
control. A provision in the 1940 Cuban Constitution
designed to fragment the large estates was equally
ineffective since it was never enforced. President Batista
and his successors valued the support of the wealthy land-
owners too much to alienate them by executing this
particular law. Agrarian reform remained a major issue into
the 1950's when Fidel Castro used the simple appeal that
those who farmed the land should own it. However, Castro's
position on agricultural reform did not gain him significant
support from the Cuban peasants until the end of his revolt.
Many peasants never had an opportunity to hear his ideas
until the later phases of the conflict, and those that did
usually did not understand them because they were couched in
such heavy revolutionary rhetoric. Nevertheless, Castro
continued to propagandize the evils of Batista's
agricultural policies throughout the revolt, using his own
reformist ideas as part of his revolutionary platform.
Unemployment. Because of Cuba's one crop economy,
thousands of Cubans faced several months of unemployment
every year. Potential full employment existed only 4 to 6
months of the year when sugar was being harvested and
brought to the mills. The spector of a bad harvest or low
world demand for sugar only served to compound the problem.
Sugar workers, unable to find other work during the off-
season, were reduced to living on credit or asking for
handouts to survive. This situation was more severe in the
rural areas where alternate jobs were not available.
Moreover, rural workers frequently migrated to the cities in
search of employment, where they helped worsen the situation
in urban areas. They often settled in city slums, usually
becoming a source of political unrest and agitation. U.S.
Department of Commerce figures indicate that 400,000 -
450,000 workers (over 20 percent of the work force) were
unemployed during the 1952 off-season. At the peak of the
1953 harvest, 174,000, or eight percent, were still looking
for work. 8/
Labor fared very badly during the late 1920's and early
1930's when Cuba's economy was in the doldrums. Government
attempts to stabilize the economy often eliminated the few
existing worker protections. Labor unions were illegal, and
labor organizers were often prosecuted and imprisoned.
Conditions became so intolerable by 1933 that many workers
struck against the government, helping to overthrow
President Machado. Batista eventually checked the
revolutionary tendency of the labor movement by legalizing
labor unions and promising concessions to their
Urban labor conditions improved dramatically under
Batista's tutelage, as many social and labor measures
(minimum wage, vacations, bonuses, working hours, medical
benefits) were incorporated into the 1940 Constitution.
However, labor conditions for rural workers remained largely
unchanged as the unemployment situation was not
realistically addressed. Ironically, the advent of labor
unions and their often excessive demands tended to lead many
companies into bankruptcy and stymie the growth of others.
Obviously, such instances only served to deepen the
Class System. Not unlike most countries emerging from
colonial rule, Cuba had a fairly well entrenched class
system, loosely defined by economic stature. The upper-
class consisted of the landed and moneyed class, owners of
businesses and plantations, remnants of the old elite or
self-made individuals who had amassed their wealth through a
combination of business and politics. At the opposite end
of the spectrum was the lower-class, most who made their
living in the fields and factories of the country.
Professionals, small merchants, army officers and government
workers occupied the levels between the above extremes, and
generally comprised the middle-class.
Upward mobility from the lower-class, especially the
rural lower-class, was difficult at best. The period 1933-
1959 saw some improvement in the lot of urban workers
because of the aforementioned labor movements. In isolated
instances, industrial workers or their offspring were able
to move into the lower-middle-class through education
opportunities. Interestingly, social conditions during the
1956-1959 insurrection against Batista were considerably
better than they had ever been. General worldwide
prosperity, plus the demands of the Korean War, kept Cuba's
sugar exports high. During this same period wage earners
were receiving the biggest share of the national income they
had ever experienced, 65 percent between 1950 and 1954. Per
capita income, while not high by U.S. standards, averaged
$312 per year, ranking as one of the highest in Latin
America at the time. 10/ Consequently, while Cuba was
certainly no economic paradise, it is not surprising that
the insurrection garnered little support from the well-
organized, politically-influential labor unions and the
industrial workers they represented.
Middle-class intellectuals, on the other hand, unhappy
with their economic position and frustrated by their
inability to breach the political power held by the upper-
class, were a frequent source of revolutionary spirit in
Cuba.* In Cuba, upward mobility was marked by education;
lower-class and lower-middle-class aspirations were fueled
by it. A good education leading to a degree as a lawyer,
doctor or teacher was virtually the only way an individual
could hope to improve his economic position. Paradoxically,
the undiversified nature of the Cuban economy often forced
these newly trained, middle-class professionals to settle
for occupations far below the levels for which they were
qualified. This under-employment was a constant source of
frustration for individuals so afflicted; it not only cost
them wealth, but more importantly, deprived them of the
*This is not unique to Cuba. For example, the American,
French, and Russian revolutions all had their roots in the
prestige they thought they deserved. Inevitably, these
professionals were frequently dissatisfied with their
society and often sought to change it, usually through some
sort of revolutionary movement. Thus, every Cuban
insurrection from the mid-1800's onward was lead by
individuals and segments from the middle-class who had the
intellectual ability, education, and skills to provide the
appropriate organization, leadership, articulation of goals,
The impracticality of many of the idealistic programs
espoused by the middle-class doomed most of their movements
to failure even before they had started. Their general lack
of ability to institute those programs on which they had
risen to power only seemed to hasten the return of other,
more oppressive forms of government. The frustration and
disillusionment resulting from their failures usually laid
the ground work for future movements. Understandably, the
cyclical nature of these revolutions and counter-revolutions
tended to destabilize and fragment Cuban politics from the
1860's to 1959.
Urbanization. The rapid expansion of the sugar
corporations in the early 1900's gave tremendous impetus to
urban growth. As small landowners and tenant farmers were
*Even Castro's organization, which purported to have strong
rural roots, actually had very little active support from
the rural lower-class until the last days of the
insurrection. It was, in fact, composed almost totally of
members of the middle-class.
displaced by land appropriation schemes and mill
modernizations, they began to seek other jobs and higher
wages in the cities. Thus, by 1953, residents of Cuban
cities and bateyes (small communities established near sugar
mills) accounted for 57% of the total population. 11/
Disappointed by what they found upon arrival in the cities,
these new urban migrants formed the core of the labor
movement that ousted President Machado in 1933. The new
government established by Batista took a much greater
interest in their plight. Legislation was passed that
offered these new urbanities more security than they had had
previously in either the city or the country. As a result,
the guarantees provided a stabilizing force in the Cuban
society; urban workers generally supported the incumbent
government, as evidenced by their refusal to join the called
general strikes against Batista in the mid-1950's. Thus,
contrary to classic Marxist theory, the rural Cubans who
elected not to move toward urbanization were the most
susceptible to Castro's appeals. This occurred for one
basic reason: the rural poor generally did not benefit from
the economic improvements their city brethren had won.
Latin American constitutions have often been filled
with idealistic goals which in reality were too difficult to
attain. The Cuban Constitutions of 1901 and 1940, and
subsequent revisions of the electorial codes, were no
exceptions. All were written in such a way as to allow wide
popular participation in the electorial process. However,
political realities such as "personalismo" (personality
cults), jealous rivalries, unlawful political pressure, and
occasional applications of force, kept Cuba's political
process in constant turmoil. Political parties not in power
were suspicous of the incumbent's promises and intentions;
ruling and opposition parties, usually loyal to leaders
rather than ideals, frequently splintered; and alliances
between political groups for purely practical reasons
(usually political survival) seldom endured. 12/
The government of Cuba, sustaining the Spanish
tradition, was rarely free of graft between 1902 and 1959.
Its primary function as a means by which politicians could
achieve wealth and status understandably made incumbents
reluctant to reform the system which perpetuated their own
longevity and interests. Consequently, even Cuba's most
elementary economic and social problems were seldom
addressed, and constitutional processes and provisions were
usually bypassed or ignored. With this type of political
climate engrained in Cuban society, it is not dificult to
understand how Batista was twice able to easily grab power.
Since their inception following independence in 1902,
the Cuban armed forces, to include the police, were
organized to control internal disorders rather than fight
major battles or wars. It is not an exaggeration to say
that whoever controlled the military, controlled the
government. When Batista seized power in 1933, for example,
he owed his success to the armed forces. In turn, they
eventually owed their wealth, position and privileges to
him. Batista never forgot his military roots and
continually nurtured the support of the military even after
he left office in 1944. Although Presidents Grau San Martin
and Prio Socarras each altered the composition of the high
command to install men more loyal to themselves, no serious
effort was made to undermine the basic military structure or
budgetary support that Batista had carefully built.
Consequently, when Batista decided to stage his 1952 coup,
Cuba's armed forces were quick to help reestablish their
By the mid-1950's the Cuban armed forces had become a
class unto themselves. They were superior in numbers and
weapons to any opposition force. 13/ They influenced every
segment of Cuban society and were more powerful than any
political party. Over time they had grown to represent
everything that was repressive about Batista's government,
because they were the enforcers of his policies and purges.
Castro eventually came to realize that this symbiotic
relationship between Batista and his armed forces made
political, social or economic change impossible unless one
resorted to violence.
Chapter II: Inducing Factors to Revolution
1/ Unless otherwise noted, material on the economic
background of Cuba is from: Robert F. Smith. The United
States and Cuba: Business and Diplomacy, 1917-1960, (New
York: Bookmen Associated, 1960).
2/ Foreign Area Studies Division, Special Warfare Area
Handbook for Cuba, (Washington, D.C.: SORO, 1961), p. 503.
3/ Ibid., p. 37.
4/ Smith, op. cit., p. 166.
5/ U.S. Department of Commerce. Investment in Cuba:
Basic Information for United States Businessmen, (Washing-
ton, D.C.: GPO, 1956), p. 139.
6/ Ibid., p. 10.
7/ Smith, op. cit., p. 175.
8/ Department of Commerce, op. cit., p. 23.
9/ Lowry Nelson, Rural Cuba, (Minneapolis: U. of
Minnesota Press, 1950), pp. 88-92.
10/ Department of Commerce, op. cit., p. 184.
11/ Ibid., p. 178.
12/ Foreign Area Studies Division, op. cit., p. 356.
13/ Adrian H. Jones and Andrew R. Molnar. Internal
Defense Against Insurgency: Six Cases, (Washington, D.C.:
SSRI, The American University, 1966), p. 69. By the late
1950's, Cuba's armed forces, to include police and para-
military, numbered between 30,000 and 40,000 men. They were
considered to be well-armed, at least in relation to their
traditional role. Their equipment included tanks and half-
tracks, both of which were periodically used against
Castro's insurgents. The Cuban Air Force had about 65
aircraft, including both fighters and bombers.
CHAPTER III: CASTRO'S INSURRECTION
Castro's insurrection began in July 1953 with his
attack on the Moncada Fortress in Oriente Province, and
ended in January 1959 when President Batista was forced to
leave the country. During the intervening years, Fidel
Castro planned, organized and executed a guerrilla war that
brought about the defeat of one of the largest and best and
well-equipped armed forces in Latin America. Chapter III
provides a chronological account of that period beginning
with brief biographical sketches of the two primary
The Sergeant and the Attorney
In the tradition of the Spanish, Cubans have long
sought to choose their leaders based on the cults of
"personalismo" (personality) or "caudillo" (charismatic
leader). Perhaps the two finest examples of that tradition
are the two Cubans who shaped Cuba's destiny from 1933 to
the present: Fulgencio Batista Y Zaldivar and Fidel Castro
Ruz. A better understanding of their power struggle during
the 1950's can be acquired if background on their origin is
The two men facing each other in the Cuban ring
were completely different both physically and
mentally. Batista was fifty-two and Castro twenty-
seven when the attack on the Moncada took place.
The President was short, with an olive complexion
and mestizo features, while his opponent was tall,
athletic and fair skinned. Batista was an
ordinary soldier, though he promoted himself from
sergeant to general. Castro was a lawyer, more
interested in social causes than in bourgeois
litigation. The President had been born in
Oriente, like Castro, but while Batista came from
a very humble home, the rebel had been born into a
comfortably-off landowning family. 1/
Batista. 2/ The son of Belisario and Carmela Batista,
Fulgencio Batista was born in the sugar town of Banes in
early 1901. His parents were peasants and descendants of
the Bany Indians of Oriente province. His father had been a
sergeant in the Cuban Army of Liberation and fought against
the Spanish during the Spanish American War. Belisario
Batista began work in the early 1900's for the United Fruit
Company as a cane cutter, and Fulgencio learned from his
father the rigors of dawn to dusk work in the fields.
Intent on receiving an education, Fulgencio attended both
public night school and a day school ("Los Amigos") run by
American Quaker missionaries. At night school he learned to
read and write Spanish; at Los Amigos he mastered speaking
and writing English. By the time he was 20, Batista had
held jobs as a cane-cutter, wood cutter, store attendant,
planter, carpenter and railroad brakeman. In classical
Marxist terms, his class origins made him an excellent
prospect to become a communist revolutionary.
At age 20, Batista enlisted in the army to gain
experience and see the world. He was initially assigned to
the Fourth Infantry Division based at Camp Columbia in
Havana. At first, he planned to use his free time to train
as an attorney, but discovered that he had to have a high
school diploma. Undaunted, he enrolled in the San Mario
academy night school to become a speedtypist and
stenographer. In 1923, Batista passed his examination for
corporal and in 1926, that for sergeant. Upon promotion to
sergeant he was assigned as a recorder to the Councils of
War of the Cuban War Department. While there, he discovered
and quickly assimilated the arts of political power and
class privilege. Educated in the full range of the human
condition in the Cuba of the early 1900's as few men were,
Batista saw his chance for power and influence after the
ouster of President Machado. Without hesitation, he led
soldiers, corporals and sergeants in a revolt against their
military superiors. Batista's mutiny was supported
throughout the armed forces. Corrupt officers made its
success inevitable. On September 4, 1933, Batista was
turned overnight into a Colonel, and Chief of the Cuban
As Chief of the Cuban Armed Forces, Batista soon
realized the power of his position. President Machado had
resigned as had his U.S. appointed successor, President
Cespedes. The five member commission that ruled the country
(of which Batista was a member) was having a very difficult
time reestablishing the government. After several weeks of
watching the new government struggle, Batista finally seized
upon the situation, used his military position to ensure
success and assumed de facto control of the government.
He believed that Cuba had discarded its colonial status only
to become a pawn of foreign capitalism. Advocating sweeping
social, economic and political reforms, he tried to build
the Cuba the 1898 revolution had envisioned. The Cuban
Constitution of 1940 reflected most of Batista's ideas,
although, like the previous Cuban Constitution of 1902; it
was more idealistic than practical. Elected president in
1940, Batista never really had a chance to enact the
constitution he supported. War time powers temporarily set
aside constitutional guarantees until 1944, when his term
ended. Consequently, most of the long awaited reforms
sought during the 1933 revolution had to wait until 1945 to
be instituted. While the 1940-1944 period was not
particularly oppressive from economic and social viewpoints,
a considerable amount of political division arose about what
was best for Cuba. Through it all, Batista emerged
remarkably unscathed. He had become an inspiration to the
poor because of his humble beginnings and "bootstraps" rise
to power, and an idol to his soldiers because he had lifted
them from poverty through rapid promotions, increased
salaries and benefits, and no modicum of class privilege.
In 1952, Batista knew that his chances for reelection
were poor; he was generally not attuned with Cuban politics
after having spent several years living in the United States
managing his business interests, and was running seriously
behind in the polls. However, he also knew that his strong-
man image could easily frighten the incumbent government as
well as gain the unconditional support of the regular army.
Batista correctly guessed that wealthy businessmen, peasants
and workers would not be threatened by any coup he led.
With little fanfare, Fulgencio Batista entered Camp
Columbia, the principal garrison of Havana, on March 10,
1952. in less than 12 hours he had deposed President Prio
Socarras and assumed control of the government; not a shot
was fired. He swept aside the prevailing political parties
since none was led by anyone who had the political seniority
or wherewithall to oppose him. Yet, for all his political
astuteness, Batista made one mistake; he underestimated the
mental frame of mind of a generation of young, middle-class
Cubans who were tired of political cynicism and ready for a
fresh revolutionary start.
Batista has stated that he returned to politics and
staged the 1952 coup because he was the only Cuban leader
who could restore the country to the path directed by the
1946 Constitution. This altruistic rationale is arguable
for two reasons. First, Batista's support for the 1940
Constitution was always closely aligned with some sort of
political gain that helped solidify his power. World War II
conviently precluded him from ever having to make good his
support. Second, Batista's actions following his 1952 coup
were generally not those of a man interested in promoting
the general welfare of his constituents. While he had
numerous opportunities to install some of the political and
land reforms that the Constitution guaranteed, he instead
chose to provide the country with cronyism, repression and
corruption. The idealism that Batista espoused in the
1930's was replaced by personal aggradizement in the 1950's.
Ironically, while he had been viewed by many as a caudillo
(charismatic leader) in 1933, he was seen as just another
usurper in 1952.
Castro. Fidel Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1927,
in Biran, Oriente province, about 40 miles form Batista's
birthplace. 3/ His father, Angel Castro Y Argiz, was a
Galician who had come to Cuba as a soldier with the Spanish
army in 1898. Upon demobilization, Angel Castro elected to
stay on the island, subsequently working for the United
Fruit Company that also employed Belisario Batista. Unlike
Belisario, Angel became an overseer for United Fruit and in
1920, sold the company a strategic piece of land, for which
he was handsomely paid. That sale maked the beginning of
Angel Castro's prosperity and eventual movement into the
upper-middle-class. In Fidel Castro's own words:
I was born into a family of landowners in
comfortable circumstances. We were considered
rich and treated as such. I was brought up with
all the privileges attendant to a son in such a
family. Everyone lavished attention on me,
flattered, and treated me differently from the
other boys we played with when we were children.
These other children went barefoot while we wore
shoes; they were often hungry; at our house, there
was always a squabble at the table to get us to
By his first marriage, Angel had two children, Lidia
and Pedro Emilio. Following the death of his first wife, he
married his house servant, Lina Ruz Gonzales, by whom
fathered seven more: Angela, Agustina, Ramon, Fidel, Raul,
Ernma and Juana. Fidel and those born before him were
actually illegitimate as Angel did not marry Lina until
sometime after Fidel's birth. 5/ Of Fidel's eight brothers
and sisters, only Raul, who linked his fate to Fidel from
the beginning, was to play an important part in Cuban
At age seven, Fidel began his primary education at the
Colegio La Salle, a Jesuit school in Santiago de Cuba. He
later attended the Colegio Dolores, also a Jesuit
institution, from which he graduated in 1942. That same
year, at age sixteen, Fidel enrolled at the Colegio Belen in
Havana, the most exclusive Jesuit school in the country. At
Belen his best subjects were Agriculture, Spanish and
History. In 1944, he was voted "the best school
athlete." 6/ Fidel graduated the next year. In his school
yearbook it was noted:
1942-1945. Fidel distinguished himself always in
all subjects related to letters. His record was
one of excellence, he was a true athlete, always
defending with bravery and pride the flag of the
school. He has known how to win the admiration of
all. He will make law his career and we do not
doubt that he will fill with brilliant pages the
book of his life. He has good timber and the
actor in him will not be lacking. 7/
A prophetic description indeed, but wrong on one count;
revolution and the leaderhip of Cuba, instead of law, would
become Fidel's vocation
Castro entered the University of Havana in the autumn
of 1945. As his school yearbook had predicated, he chose
law as his course of study. Of Fidel's early university
career Theodore Draper observed:
Fidel Castro was a classic case of the self-made
rich man's son in a relatively poor country for
whom the university was less an institution of
learning or a professional-training school than a
nursery of hothouse revolutionaries. He chose a
field of study in which the standards were
notoriously low, the pressure to study minimal,
and his future profession already overcrowded.
Since he did not have any real needs to satisfy in
the school, did not respect his teachers, and
could get by on his wits and retentive memory, he
was easily tempted to get his more meaningful and
exciting experiences in extra-school political
Starting a political career while still a young man was
somewhat of a Cuban tradition, so Fidel was not particularly
unique. Perhaps what did make him standout, however, was
the intensity with which he pursued political goals. In
From all indications, I was born to be a
politician, to be a revolutionary. When I was
eighteen, I was, politically speaking, illiterate.
Since I didn't come from a family of politicians
or grow up in a political atmosphere, it would
have been impossible for me to carry out a
revolutionary role, or an important revolutionary
apprenticeship, in a relatively brief time, had I
not had a special calling.
When I entered the university, I had no
political background whatsoever. Until then I was
basically interested in other things, for
instance, sports, trips to the countryside -- all
kinds of outlets that provided an outlet for my
unbounded natural energy. I think that is where
my energy, my fighting spirit, was channeled in
At the university, I had the feeling that a new
field was opening for me. I started thinking
about my country's political problems -- almost
without being conscious of it. I spontaneously
started to feel a certain concern, an interest in
social and political questions. 9/
Only two years after he first enrolled at the
University, Fidel became involved in with an attempted coup
d'etat. In 1947, he joined a group of revolutionaries who
were planning the overthrow of the Dominican Republic's
dictator, General Rafael L. Trujillo. The exiled Dominican,
General Juan Rodriquez, was paying the expenses, and the
invasion had the tacit support of Cuba's President Ramon
Grau San Martin. While final preparations were being made
in Oriente Province, the Dominican delegate to a meeting of
the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Pan-American Union
in Petropolis, Brazil, accused the Cuban government of
mounting an invasion of his country. Documentation of his
accusation clearly showed that the security of the plan had
been broken. Grau San Martin, embarrassed that these covert
plans had been discovered, ordered the Cuban Navy to
intercept the would-be expeditionaries. The Navy did manage
to apprehend the group at sea, but Fidel was able to escape
by swimming to shore with a tommy-gun slung round his neck.
This setback, like others Castro was to experience in the
future, only seemed to inspire Fidel with more political
The planned coup was really nothing more than a
personality shift. While Trujillo's regime was extremely
repressive, Rodriquez did not offer much of an alternative.
Grau San Martin, as a democratic reformist, apparently
supported the coup because of its potential for change.
Although little is known about Castro's reasons for joining
the expedition, he evidently did so out of a sense of
adventure. At the University he quickly acquired the
reputation of a rabble-rouser. He frequently spoke out
against repression, communism and dictatorships. Fidel
already saw himself as the champion of the oppressed; the
Dominican Republic expedition was an extension of that
fervor. His participation was particularly significant
because it marked the first time that he became actively
involved in a revolutionary cause.
Castro returned to the University. However, less than
a year after the abortive attempt to overthrow Trujillo, he
was on the way to Bogota, Colombia, as a delegate to the
Anti-Colonist, Anti-Imperialist, Student Congress that was
assembling to demonstrate at the 9th Conference of the Pan-
American Union.* On the opening day of the conference, the
popular Colombian Liberal Party leader, Jorge Gaitan, was
murdered while on his way to make a speech. His
assassination enraged liberal student groups who quickly
began to take violent actions against Gaitan's enemies. With
the Pan-American Conference in disarray and the Colombian
*The Student Congress was sponsored by Colombian liberal
leaders (non-communists) who wanted to see less American
influence in Latin America.
capital on the verge of total anarchy, Colombia's President
called the waring factions together and secured an agreement
to end the fighting. Student groups were accused of
instigating the disruption, so Castro and his delegation
were forced to take refuge in the Cuban embassy. They were
later smuggled out and returned to Cuba aboard an aircraft
that was transporting cattle. Castro's role in the
"Bogotazo," as the riot became known, has apparently never
been clearly defined, other than to say that it matched his
previous pattern of supporting liberal causes.
After his return to the University, Castro married
fellow-student, Mirtha Diaz Balart. They then had a son,
Fidelito, born in 1949. Fidel became President of the
Association of Law Students that same year and eventually
graduated with a law degree in 1950.
Following graduation, Fidel established a law
partnership with two other attorneys. However, his
proclivity to accept cases with social or political
notoriety brought him little monetary reward, although they
did gain him considerable publicity. Meanwhile, Castro was
attracted by the anti-government corruption platform of
Eduardo "Eddy" Chibas and his Ortodoxo Party. Fidel joined
the Party and shortly afterwards became a Congressional
candidate for one of the Havana districts in the approaching
1952 elections. He was precluded from ever actually
standing for the June 1st election by Batista's March 10th
Immediately following Batista's coup, activists in
Havana began to plan his ouster, Fidel Castro among them.
He first appealed to the Court of Constitutional Guarantees
on the ground that the dictator was violating the 1940
Constitution. A few days later he petitioned the Emergency
Court of Havana on the same grounds, noting that Batista had
so undermined and violated the Cuban Constitution that he
was liable to serve over 100 years in prison. Only the
Court of Constitutional Guarantees responded, rejecting
Castro's petition by noting that "revolution is the fount of
law" and that since Batista had regained power by
revolutionary means, he could not be considered an
unconstitutional President. 10/
As a "former" radical student organizer and
Congressional candidate, Castro was under periodic
government surveillance. Nevertheless, frustrated by
Batista's coup and his fruitless legal attempts to
countermand it, Fidel joined with Abel Santamaria Cuadrado
to form a loose revolutionary organization of approximately
200 students.* Their first priority was to get weapons.
Over the course of the next few months they purchased
shotguns and .22 caliber semi-automatic rifles at various
armories. At the same time, they began planning and
training for a raid on one of the regular army's garrisons.
*Santamaria was an accountant employed by General Motors
(Pontiac) of Cuba and assistant editor of El Acusador, a
Their plan was to seize the type and number of heavy weapons
and ammunition they would need to carry-out an effective
After months of preparation, Castro and Santamaria
decided to attack the military garrisons of Santiago and
Bayamo in Oriente province. Moncada Fortress in Santiago
was to be the main target, with the attack on the army post
in Bayamo a diversion. Fidel did not intend to occupy
Moncada, only to seize the weapons and ammunition in the
armory, and withdraw. Ninety-five rebels were allotted to
the task. Armed only with shotguns and .22 caliber rifles,
and dressed in Khaki uniforms to blend with the regular
forces, Castro's men relied heavily upon surprise. Once
they had established control over the two garrisons, Fidel
hoped the regular troops would join the anti-Batista
movement. He planned to distribute the weapons to the
revolutionary supporters that he envisioned were everywhere,
thus presenting Batista with a fait d' accompli.
The attack led by Fidel Castro on the Moncada
Barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953, has
a similar significance for the Cuban Revolution as
the fall of the Bastille eventually had for the
French Revolution. In both cases, their signifi-
cance was symbolic, not practical, and they were
made important by the events that came after. 12/
At 5:15 a.m. on July 26, 1953, the attempt to seize
Moncada Fortress began. After staging at a farm just
outside Santiago, Castro's advance force surprised the
sentries at one of the gates and entered the fort
undetected. Unfortunately, the main body of the force was
not so lucky. Because of poor reconnaissance, the majority
of the rebels were unfamiliar with either the layout of the
fort or the streets of Santiago. Approaching in small
groups or in cars, several lost their way without even
reaching the fort. Castro's car accidently came face-to-
face with an army patrol; the firefight that resulted
alerted the rest of the barracks. The one group that did
penetrate the fort found themselves occupying the barber
shop rather than the armory.
Realizing that futher attack was hopeless, Fidel
ordered a withdrawal. Remarkably, until this point, only
seven rebels had become casualties, against some 50
soldiers. In the military pursuit that followed, however,
approximately 70 rebels were killed (including Abel
Santamaria), with most of the casualties occurring after
they had surrendered. The small group that had attempted to
capture Bayamo were equally unsuccessful. Over half of the
group of 27 rebels who were captured, were shot. Fidel, his
brother Raul, and a few others managed to escape to the
Sierra Maestra Mountains. They were eventually captured
there, but not harmed because of the compassion of
Lieutenant Pedro Manuel Sarria who knew Fidel from their
university days. In the subsequent trials, Castro and the
other survivors were sentenced to prison on the Isle of
Pines for terms ranging from six months to 15 years. During
the trial, Fidel spoke in his own defense for five hours,
voicing a general program of reform. He concluded his
I have reached the end of my defense, but I
will not do what all lawyers do, asking freedom
for the accused. I cannot ask that, when my
companions are already suffering in the
ignominious prison of the Isle of Pines. Send me
to join them and to share their fate. It is
understandable that men of honor should be dead or
prisoners in a Republic whose President is a
criminal and a thief ...
As for me, I know that prison will be harder
for me than it ever has been for anybody, filled
with threats, ruin and cowardly deeds of rage, but
I do not fear it, as I do not fear the fury of the
wretched tyrant who snuffed out the lives of
seventy brothers of mine. Condemn me. It does
not matter. History will absolve me. 13/
Following the trials and flushed by his victory,
Batista restored constitutional guarantees and lifted
censorship. For the first time, the Cuban people were able
to hear the uncensored version of what had happened at
Moncada and the accusations of Fidel Castro at the trials.
As a result, Castro became somewhat of a martyr among the
anti-Batista forces. Batista, meanwhile, ordered new
elections for November 1, 1954, offering himself as a
candidate with his own election platform. The main
opposition candidate was former president Ramon Grau San
Martin. Initially subsidized and encouraged by Batista,
Grau San Martin became convinced that Batista had no
intention of holding fair elections. Forty-eight hours
before the election he withdrew his candidacy, leaving
Batista virtually unopposed. Batista won easily, and on
February 24, 1955, began a new four-year term-of-office as
Movimiento 26 de Julion (26th of July Movement)
Isle of Pines. The convicted survivors of Moncada,
among them Fidel and Raul Castro, were imprisoned on the
Isle of Pines in October 1953. The Moncada group resolved
to continue their revolutionary plotting while incarcerated,
and reorganize and train in Mexico upon their release.
Moncada, they reasoned, had made them national heros, and
martyrs; to give up short of victory would shame those who
had already died.
Shortly after his arrival, Fidel organized a school in
which he was the sole instructor. He found a willing group
of students among the veterans of Moncada and the uneducated
peasants who were being held prisoner. Fidel's classes
ranged from history to philosophy, encompassing contemporary
politics and social issues along the way. He even taught
weapons training (without weapons). The school passed the
time and gave him an excellent opportunity to keep the
revolutionary spark alive and plan for the future.
Schools of this sort were not uncommon at the Isle of
Pines because the prison was used primarily for political
prisoners. The prison was considered to be a "minimum
security" installation; prisoners were often left to their
own devices. However, Castro's school stirred such strong
revolutionary fervor among the inmates that it was
eventually closed down, and Fidel was placed in solitary
Meanwhile, with Batista's position again assured after
the 1955 elections, several political leaders demanded the
release of political prisoners. Batista at first turned a
deaf ear. However, once approved by the Cuban House of
Representatives, Batista relented and granted amnesty to all
political prisoners on May 13, 1955.* Two days later, Fidel
Castro and the other survivors of Moncada were released.
The Moncada veterans were greeted by their families and
friends at the prison gates, and welcomed throughout the
Isle of Pines. ** A warm reception followed at the railway
station when they arrived in Havana.
Everyone wanted to see and hear Fidel Castro.
Both the radio and television services were after
him and flattering offers ... 16/
It was not long, however, before Castro was reinforced in
his conviction that he would never unseat Batista if he
remained in Cuba.*** Every attempt he made to address the
people at organized rallies, on television or on the radio
*He justified his decision on the grounds that these men no
longer posed a threat to his power following the elections.
**Fidel's wife and son were not present. She and Fidel had
become estranged several years before, partially because
Fidel could not support her in the upper-middle-class style
with which she was accustomed, and partially because her
brother was a close friend and confident of Batista.
***Castro had actually made the decision to leave Cuba while
still in prison.
was thwarted. Finally, the combination of government
suppression and his uncertain leadership position within the
Ortodoxo Party induced Fidel to leave for Mexico in July
1955, thus implementing the plan he had formulated in
prison. 17/ In a letter to a friend just prior to his
departure, Castro observed:
I am packing for my departure from Cuba, but I
have had to borrow money even to pay for my
passport. After all, it is not a millionaire who
is leaving, only a Cuban who has given and will go
on giving everything to his country. All doors to
a peaceful political struggle have been closed to
me. Like Marti,* I think the time has come to
seize our rights instead of asking for them, to
grab instead of beg for them. Cuban patience has
I will live somewhere in the Carribean. There
is no going back possible in this kind of journey,
and if I return, it will be with tyranny beheaded
at my feet. 18/
Exiled in Mexico. Raul Castro and most of the other
Moncada rebels were waiting for Fidel in Mexico when he
arrived.** They had gone ahead after their release from
prison, and were already engaged in preparations to invade
Cuba from Mexico. Not long after his arrival in Mexico,
Fidel solicited and secured the services of two men who were
to prove invaluable: Ernesto "Che"*** Guevara and "Colonel"
*Jose Marti: Cuban liberator and national hero. Died in
1895 while fighting to free Cuba from Spain's domination.
Primary influence, from Cuban perspective, behind Spanish-
American War. Reagan adminstration plans to establish
"Radio Marte" broadcasts to Cuba, named in his honor.
**A few remained behind to establish underground activities
in Cuba and prepare for Castro's return.
***Nickname given Guevara by the Cubans while they were
training in Mexico. It means "mate."
Alberto Bayo. Both would be lieutenants to Castro in the
Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Ernesto Guevara was born in
Cordoba, Argentina, in 1928. The son of an architect-
engineer, he was raised as a firm member of the middle-class
in Buenos Aires. As a youth, Guevara showed himself to be a
carefree, unconventional and tireless boy. Only his asthma,
which was to plague him throughout life, slowed him down.
Early-on he displayed a deep interest and concern for the
plight of the common Argentinian, often preferring the
company of members of the lower-classes to those of his own
socio-economic level. Contiguously, he began to develop a
deep and unabiding hatred of the upper-classes in Latin
America. Guevara entered medical school in 1947,
graduating in March 1953. Following graduation, he left
Argentina to visit parts of South and Central America. He
first heard of Castro and his raid on Moncada while in Costa
Rica. By early 1954, Guevara had become involved in an
unsuccessful countercoup attempt in Guatamala. A marked
man, he took refuge in Mexico; a few months later, he met
Fidel Castro and decided to join his movement. 19/
Alberto Bayo. Alberto Bayo was a former acquaintance
of Fidel's who was in exile from Spain. Bayo was born in
Cuba in 1892, but had migrated to Spain. He studied
military tactics at the Spanish Infantry Academy, and fought
as a member of the Spanish army for eleven years in Spanish
Morocco. Having also seen extensive service as a Loyalist
during the Spanish Civil War, Bayo was generally regarded to
be an expert on guerrilla warfare. Castro considered him to
be the ideal person to train an expeditionary force for the
return to Cuba. 20/
Castro's Revolutionary Platform. The first documented
evidence of Castro's revolutionary platform is contained in
the transcript of the trial which followed his ill-fated
attack on the Moncada Fortress. Addressing the court in his
own defense, Castro set forth the problems his revolution
aimed to solve: land, housing, industrialization,
unemployment, education and health, as well as the
restoration of public liberties and political democracy.
Although Castro delivered his speech in private, his
followers later published it in full and widely distributed
it. The document was entitled History Will Absolve Me. It
contained the text of Castro's speech at the trial and
listed the five basic revolutionary laws upon which Castro
planned to rebuild Cuba once Batista was defeated:
1. Assumption of all legislative, judicial and
executive authority by the Revolution itself,
pending elections, subject to the Constitution of
2. Land for the landless, through the
expropriation of idle lands, and through the
transfer of legal title from big owners, renters
and landlords to all sharecroppers, tenants and
squatters occupying fewer than 165 acres -- the
former owners to be recompensed by the state.
3. Inauguration of a profit-sharing system
under which workers employed by large industrial,
commerical and mining companies would receive 30%
of the profits of such enterprises.
4. Establishment of minimum cane production
quotas to be assigned to small cane planters
supplying a given sugar mill, and the assignment
of 55% of the proceeds of the crop to the planter,
against 45% to the mill.
5. Confiscation of all property gained through
political malfeasance or in any other illict
manner under all past regimes. 21/
Over the course of his insurrection, virtually all of
Castro's speeches and proclamations referred to these
revolutionary laws. Their real beauty was their
adaptability. Castro frequently altered their priority,
percentages and/or scope to suit his audience and strategy.
Depending upon how the laws were presented or explained,
they had almost universal appeal. Castro's incessant
manipulation of these laws was not without its drawbacks,
however; the average Cuban often found it difficult to
understand just what Castro's rebellion was about. This was
particularly true of the peasants. In fact, Castro's own
followers sometimes had problems staying abreast of their
Prelude to Invasion. Between late 1955 and early 1956,
Castro amassed the nucleus of an invasion force -- veterans
of the Moncada attack as well as other recruits from the
United States, Cuba and various Latin American countries.
after their initial organization in Mexico City, a ranch was
leased outside the city in order to engage in more
extensive, and private, maneuvers. While his force was
training, Castro traveled extensively throughout the United
States, attempting to raise financial and moral support for
his cause from exiled Cubans and American sympathizers. By
the time he returned to Cuba, he had established some 62
Cuban "patriotic clubs," raised approximately $50,000 in
cash and received pledges for considerably more. 22/
In late 1955, Castro's movement absorbed the Accion
Nacional Revolucionaria (ANR) led by Frank Isaac Pais. The
ANR had been a small clandestine organization operating out
of Oriente Province. Castro planned to use Pais and his
followers to support his landing in Cuba, now planned for
July 1956. In March 1956, Castro broke officially with the
Ortodoxo Party, establishing the Movimiento 26 de Julio
(26th of July Movement of M-26-7) as an independent
revolutionary movement dedicated to the overthrow of
Batista.* By then, M-26-7 had gained an initial, but firm
foothold in Oriente Province, thanks to the momentum being
built by Frank Pais.
Castro wanted to coordinate his invasion with an island-
wide revolt against Batista to gain maximum effect. In the
summer of 1956, he met with Jose Antonio Echeverria and
Ricardo Corpion, representatives of the Directorio
*The title of the movement was derived from the date of the
attack on the Moncada Fortress. Castro considered that
attack the beginning and inspiration of his rebellion.
Revolucionario (DR), a student organization also advocating
Batista's ouster.* After listening to Castro's plans for
the invasion of Cuba and overthrow of Batista, the DR
representatives agreed to sign a pact with Castro and the M-
26-7, stipulating that the two groups would coordinate their
future actions. This very important alliance, which became
known as the Mexico Pact, succeeded in uniting for common
purpose two of the most highly organized factions opposing
Castro had never tried to conceal his activities in
Mexico. Consequently, Batista was probably aware of the
time and place of the planned invasion well ahead of time.
The Mexican police and Cuban Intelligence agency (SIM) kept
close tabs on Castro's activities at the ranch outside
Mexico City; Mexican authorities also raided it several
times, each time confiscating rather sizeable caches of
arms. Castro's attempts to purchase a boat large enough to
get his group to Cuba met with similar "success." In
September 1956, he placed a down-payment of $5,000 on an ex-
U.S. Navy crashboat; when Washington checked with the Cuban
Embassy about the validity of the purchase, Batista's
*M-26-7, ANR and DR were not the only revolutionary groups
operating in Cuba at the time. Several other organizations
such as the Organizacion Autentica (OA), Federation of
University Students (FEU) and many others were active
against the government: publishing underground newspapers,
gathering arms, and engaging in sabotage and other terrorist
government interceded and convinced Washington to cancel the
sale. By the end of the month, Castro found himself the
leader of a highly trained and organized insurrectionist
group, but without weapons or the means to get to Cuba.
After considerable difficulty, Fidel managed to secure both
a boat and arms for his men. The boat was the yacht Granma,
designed to carry ten passengers. Castro intended to load
her with 82 men plus their weapons, ammunition and food.
Finally, on November 25, 1956, after a delay of several
months, Fidel Castro and 81 other members of M-26-7
departed Mexico for Cuba.
Sierra Maestra 23/
Fidel Returns. Castro had allowed six days for the
trip. He was expected to arrive on November 30th which
would coincide with a general, island-wide uprising led by
Frank Pais and the M-26-7 Santiago group. However, the
expedition encountered problems. Most of the 82 men were
seasick and the Granma experienced severe engine problems
caused by the overloading.
As planned, Frank Pais and the M-26-7 went into action
on November 30th. Pais had planned to stage a general show-
of-force throughout Oriente province and in isolated
locations across the island. Pais's plan called for
coordinated attacks on Santiago's National Police
headquarters and the maritime police station, while keeping
the Moncada Fortress under bombardment with 81mm mortars.
Castro and Pais assumed that the general population would
join in the revolt as soon as the attacks began. Once the
police stations had been captured, arms and ammunition would
then be distributed to the population, and a full scale
attack would be launched against Moncada.
Pais began the operation with 86 armed men; he counted
heavily upon surprise.* Unfortunately, he lost this element
almost immediately when one of his men was captured on the
way to man a mortar position. The police, thus alerted,
barracaded themselves in their headquarters and fought off
all attempts by the rebels to breach their positions. In
addition, Batista wasted no time in flying in
reinforcements. By nightfall, Pais could see the futility
of his position. Unaware of Castro's plight, he canceled
the attack and withdrew with his men, fading back into the
With the exception of a few isolated incidents
elsewhere in Oriente province, the general revolt throughout
the island did not occur. Lack of arms, poor organization
and limited information on Castro's intentions and timetable
were the major problems. However, the events of November
30th were not without successes. Some arms and ammuntion
were captured and later turned over to Castro, manpower was
preserved to fight another day, and the weaknesses in the
*By November 1956, the Moncada garrison had been reinforced,
and now totalled some 2,000 soldiers.
M-26-7 organization were rather graphically displayed.*
Castro heard of the Santigo uprising -- and its failure
-- while still at sea. He had been unable to report his
position and problems and thus delay the revolt, because he
had only a radio receiver and no transmitter. Undaunted by
the setback Santiago represented, he decided to forge ahead
with the landing.
The original plan had been for Fidel and his men to
land near Niquero on November 30th (see Map #2). He was to
join forces with approximately 100 men under Crescencio
Perez, seize Niquero and Manzanillo, and then proceed (via
Bayamo) to join Pais's group in Santiago.** Unfortunately,
the Granma's problems and the failure of the Santiago attack
placed the whole plan in jeopardy.
On December 2nd, Castro's group finally came ashore
near the town of Belic, several miles east and south of
their intended landing. The yacht was so overloaded that it
could not actually beach. Since there were no piers, the
men were forced to unload her in water up to their chests.
Their debarkation proved to be particularly difficult, not
only because of the depth of the water, but because they
landed in a swamp and were spotted almost immediately by
*Only three members of M-26-7 were killed during the
**Perez was a sort of bandit-patriarch of the Sierra
Maestra. Convinced by Pais to join M-26-7, he later became
one of Castro's most trusted lieutenants.
alert sea and air patrols. 24/ Unable to make contact with
Perez's group, under fire from the Cuban Air Force and
pursued by the Cuban Army, Fidel decided to abandon his
original plan and converge on the jungle-covered and
precipitious Sierra Maestra Mountains, a bandit haven not
under government control.* Thus began an arduous inland
march with Batista's forces in trace.
On December 5th, the army cornered Castro's troops and
almost decimated them with artillery fire and air
attacks. 25/ At that point, Fidel elected to split his
force into smaller groups in the hope that they would be
more likely to break through the encircling army. This
maneuver was probably what saved some of them. Fidel's own
group, which by now only numbered three men, was forced to
hide for five days in a cane field without food or water.
Other groups were not so lucky. Some were overrun
completely; all who surrendered were executed. 26/ About
this time, word was circulated by the Cuban government that
Castro and his entire group had been killed. This popularly
held belief, repeatedly reinforced by government propaganda,
was not disproven until the New York Times published an
interview between Castro and Herbert Matthews in February,
*Perez's group had been in place, but Castro's delayed
arrival plus heavy army patrols had caused him to withdraw.
The Rebellion Begins. Shortly before Christmas, Castro
and 11 survivors of the Granma expedition, including Raul
Castro and "Che" Guevara, assembled at Pico Turquino, the
highest mountain in the Sierra Maestra range. The outlook
was not good. The almost total loss of their provisions and
ammunition placed them at the mercy of the local
inhabitants: However, as usual, Fidel's confidence was
unshakeable. Upon reaching the mountains, he is reported to
have asked a peasant: "Are we already in the Sierra
Maestra?" When he heard that the answer was "yes," he
concluded, "Then the revolution has triumphed." 28/
Castro might have been overly optimistic. For days he
and his small group travelled continuously throughout the
mountains, fearing capture by government forces, although
the Cuban Army made no real attempt to find them. They
slept on the ground and stayed alive by eating roots.
Eventually, Fidel and his men located Crescencio Perez, the
man they had planned to link-up with at Niquero. Perez
helped the rebels obtain food from the peasants, and lent
material support in the way of arms and ammunition.
Castro's position soon improved to the point where he felt
comfortable enough to launch his first attack against a
Attack on La Plata. On January 16, 1957, Castro and 17
of his followers attacked a small army outpost of 18
soldiers at la Plata. 29/ The tactics used were the same
that would be repeated throughout the next 20 months, with
essentially the same degree of success. A daylight
reconnaissance was made of the objective, the activities of
the soldiers were noted, and approach and retirement routes
were plotted. Early the next morning, the surprise attack
began. Seven soldiers were killed or wounded, and the
position was seized. Precious weapons, ammunition, food and
equipment were confiscated and taken back to the mountains,
while Castro and his men, anticipating that the Army would
attempt to pursue them, took up positions at a prepared
ambush site. Later that morning, an army patrol stumbled
into the ambush and was virtually annihilated.
Incidents like this, coupled with Herbert Matthews' New
York Times interview the following month, forced Batista to
take Castro seriously; the Army committed more troops to
Oriente Province, and a reward of 100,000 pesos was placed
on Castro's head. However, Batista's response had little
impact upon the rebels. Castro's alliance with the local
population, fostered by his respectful treatment of them,
gave him an intelligence network the Cuban Army found
impossible to defeat. Castro was kept constantly aware of
the army's intentions and position, while the government
forces were continually misled and misinformed as to
Palace Attack. Castro and the M-26-7 were not alone in
opposing Batista. Several groups across the island, some
aligned with Castro and others not, were in open rebellion
against the government. One of these groups, the Directorio
Revolucionario (DR), was composed of a group of students
from the University of Havana. Allied with the M-26-7
through the Mexico Pact, the DR had been quite active in
Havana for several months. On March 13, 1957, they staged
an attack against the Presidential Palace in Havana using
"fidelista" tactics. The attack took everyone by surprise
and would have been successful in killing or capturing
Batista except that, by chance, the President had left his
first-floor office and gone to his second-floor apartment
because of a headache. Twenty-five members of the DR were
killed during the fight, and the whole operation was
generally acknowledged to be the work of Castro. In what
was quickly becoming one of his favorite tactics in response
to rebel attacks, Batista ordered the arrest of all known
rebels and rebel sympathizers in the Havana area. Those
that were found were executed. While this
counter-revolutionary technique was somewhat successful in
eliminating unwanted opposition, it tended to alienate the
population. In conducting these purges, the army and police
were not usually discriminatory in their selection of
targets. "Body count" frequently became more important than
eliminating known rebels.
Organization for Guerrilla Warfare. By mid-April,
Castro had acquired more than 50 volunteers from Santiago
and other parts of the island; he now formed the first of an
eventual 24 "columns' ranging in size from 100 to 150
rebels. The majority of these volunteers, and those joining
in the following months, were middle-class students,
merchants or professionals being hunted by Batista's police.
Nevertheless, Castro generally would not accept volunteers
who arrived without arms; he simply could not afford to feed
them. He would turn them away, promising to let them join
his group if they came back armed. To obtain arms, would-be
"fidelistas" looked for the opportunity to relieve Batista's
soldiers of weapons and ammunition.
Eventually, more guns came, sometimes from
underground supporters, sometimes flown in from
overseas, but most (about 85 percent) directly
from the enemy itself. In the beginning, the
rebels dared make forays against only the most
isolated of the army outposts, and even then a
rifle was so valuable that if a rebel abandoned
one during a battle, he had to go back unarmed to
retrieve it. As Castro used to tell his men, We
are not fighting for prisoners. We are fighting
for weapons.' 30/
Recruits who were allowed to stay were put through a lengthy
period of political, physical and military training
patterned after that conducted in Mexico. The training was
purposely difficult; Castro wanted only the toughest and
most dedicated to remain.
Fidel kept his column constantly moving throughout the
Sierra Maestra, seldom stopping for more than 24 hours.
Even though the rebels ate but once a day, adequate food
stores were a constant problem. A tiny tin of fruit
cocktail was considered a great luxury. To maintain
discipline, strict rules were enforced; food was never taken
from a peasant without permission and payment, and a rebel
officer was never to eat a larger portion than his men. A
person could be shot if merely suspected of being an
informer. Alcohol was forbidden, and sex was discouraged
unless the couple consented to be married. Fidel shared the
mountain hardhips with his followers, often out-distancing
them in an effort to set the example. His ability to march
for hours without stopping earned him the nickname "El
Caballo" -- The Horse.
Despite such spartan conditions, Castro's group
continued to grow. Sleeping on the ground gave way to
hammocks, and later, more permanent camps with "Bohios"
(huts), kitchens and hospitals. 31/ As Fidel's stability in
the Sierra maestra grew, so did his intelligence system.
Warning networks were established using the well-treated
farmers and mountain people as spies.
Beards. At this point, it is worth noting the origin
of the famous rebel beard. Initially, Castro and his
followers grew beards for the very practical reason that
they had no razors and little soap or fresh water for
shaving. As the rebellion continued, however, the beards
took on important meaning. In time, they became so
conspicuous and so representative of Castro's movement that
beards became the major distinguishing feature between
rebels and ordinary citizens. Unless the bodies were
bearded, photos of "rebels" killed by the army fooled no
Beards became such a symbol of rebellion that a
Batista soldier on leave who had allowed his beard
to grow was machine-gunned and killed from a
police car in the middle of Santiago, having been
taken for a rebel. 32/
Later, as part of a planned general strike, Fidel intended
to infiltrate the towns with members of his rebel force.
Wishing to make a good impression on the population, he
considered having these men shave off their beards. He was
finally convinced otherwise by Enrique Meneses, a newspaper
photographer, when Meneses pointed out that "Any photographs
in existence anywhere in the world at the time would lose
their news-value if the rebels shaved off their beards." 33/
Eventually, following Castro's victory, everyone, except
Fidel and a few others, was ordered to shave. It seemed
that some individuals, who had never even been near the
Sierra Maestra, were wearing beards, attempting to
capitalize on the implication.
El Uvero. With reinforcements and added firepower,
Castro began to expand his base of operations. On May 28th
he led a band of 80 guerrillas against the military garrison
of El Uvero (see Map #3). El Uvero, located on the seacoast
at the foot of the Sierra Maestra, was isolated and manned
by only 53 soldiers. The garrison presented an ideal target
for Castro's limited forces and assets. Using the
"fidelista" tactics described earlier, Castro's group took
the outpost by surprise when they approached the garrison in
the early morning hours. The fighting, though intensive,
was over in about 20 minutes. The army regulars sustained
14 dead and 19 wounded, and Castro's forces lost six killed
and nine wounded. The rebels then confiscated the
garrison's arms, ammunition and supplies. The battle was
Castro's first significant victory, proving that, given the
right conditions, regular army forces would be soundly
defeated. In Guevara's words:
... we now had the key to the secret of how to
beat the enemy. This battle sealed the fate of
every garrison located far enough from large
concentrations of troops, and every small army
post was soon dismantled. 34/
The psychological value of the victory cannot be
overemphasized; it brought to fruition months of hardship
and training, and, like an elixir, immeasureably bolstered
dedication to the struggle.
Batista Reacts. Faced with the increased irritation of
incidents involving Castro, Batista decided to alter his
strategy of ignoring Castro to one of containment. After El
Uvero, the army abandoned its forays into the Sierra
Maestra, gradually withdrawing from isolated outposts that
were not vital. Castro's small force was left free to roam
the mountains, but was kept from operating in the open
plains. The Army declared, and attempted to enforce, a
"deadzone" between the mountains and the plains to prevent
Castro's forces from venturing beyond the mountains or
communicating with urban organizations. Castro, in turn,
carefully avoided openly meeting government forces.
Meanwhile, the Cuban Air Force carried out a program of
saturation bombing on suspected guerrilla strongholds.
Following the El Uvero attack, government censorship
was again imposed, and the Presidential elections that had
been scheduled for November 1, 1957, were postponed until
June 1, 1958. Coincidently, Batista's counter-terrorist
measures against the civilian population were increased,
especially in Oriente Province. Generally, these amounted
to the loss of all civil liberties and the institution of
martial law. Illegal searches and seizures, torture and
outright murder became commonplace. 35/ Batista's soldiers
would stop at nothing to present the impression that they
were in control of the situation. Frequently, when
frustrated by their inability to gain information or capture
rebels, soldiers would summarily execute civilians, claiming
that they were either guerrillas or rebel sympathizers.
The Sierra Maestra Manifesto. Despite calls for
negotiations between the government and the rebels by the
Institutions Civicas (IC), a loose federation of civic and
professional associations, President Batista was
unrelenting. Castro, on the other hand, joined by Raul
Chibas and Felipe Pazos,* responded to the IC by issuing a
proclamation which they called the "Sierra Maestra
Manifesto." Although not detailed, it became one of the
basic rhetorical documents for the M-26-7 Movement.
*Key members of the Resistencia Civica, another
revolutionary organization aligned with the M-26-7.
Although it was drafted on July 12, 1957, it was not seen in
print until it was published in the Bohemia newspaper in
Havana on July 28th. In addition to rejecting Batista's
election plan, the Manifesto called for:
1. A Civic Revolutionary Front with a common strategy
for the struggle.
2. A provisional government, headed by a neutral
leader selected by the civic association.
3. Free elections within one year of the establishment
of the provisional government.
4. Reforms in the areas of political freedom, civil
service, civil and individual rights, agriculture, labor
unions and industry.
5. An end to arms shipments from the United States to
6. Depoliticalization of the armed forces and
abolition of military juntas. 36/
The "Sierra Maestra Manifesto" was doubly important because
it set a more neutral tone on the subject of reforms than
some of Castro's earlier bellicose statements released
through newspapermen such as Herbert Matthews, and gave
political substance to the revolution by outlining specific
organizational structure and goals for the proposed
Death of Frank Pais. While Castro was busy conducting
rural guerrilla warfare from the mountains, Frank Pais was
active in establishing urban organizations throughout the
island. With the death of Jose Antonio Echeverria during
the unsuccessful Palace Attack, Pais was left alone to carry
on the M-26-7 movement in the cities and towns. By the
summer of 1957, Pais' tremendous organizational skills had
begun to show progress throughout Oriente, even down to
remote village levels. While Castro's activities seemed
confined to the areas immediately surrounding the Sierra
Maestra, Pais was spreading his influence far and wide.
As his reputation as a M-26-7 organizer grew, Pais came
under increasing pressure from Batista's forces in Santiago,
his base of operations. Finally, in July 1957, an all-out
manhunt for his capture was launched by the Santiago police.
As the net tightened, Pais knew he would have to leave
the city. Since exile was out of the question, he chose to
join Castro in the mountains. As he prepared to leave, the
house in which he was hiding he was surreptitiously
surrounded by police. As Pais walked out of the house, he
was gunned down.
The death of Frank Pais marked a turning point in the
internal organization of the M-26-7. With no firm
leadership evident elsewhere, the heart of the movement
gradually centered in the rural campaign being waged from
the Sierra Maestra. For the next several months, the urban
arm of the M-26-7 was assigned one specific role: to
support and sustain Fidel Castro's guerrillas. The deaths
of Echeverria and Pais had eliminated two of the three
genuine leaders of the Cuban insurrection; only Castro
remained. Equally important, two potential challenges to
Castro's post-revolutionary leadership were eliminated.
The Cienfuegos Uprising. On September 5, 1957, the
most serious and ambitious attack to date against Batista's
regime was launched by a group of young naval officers in
the coastal town of Cienfuegos in Las Villas province. The
navy was traditionally not as pro-Batista as the army. A
large number of naval officers were frustrated by Batista's
propensity to appoint men who had not graduated from the
Mariel Naval Academy to the highest ranks of the naval
service. Rear Admiral Rodriquez Calderon, Chief of the
Cuban Navy, was such a man. He was thoroughly despised by
young naval officers.
The uprising was to be a coordinated effort among
youthful elements of the Cuban Navy stationed at Cayo Loco
Naval Base in Cienfuegos and M-26-7 activists positioned in
Havana and Santiago. Originally scheduled for May 28th, the
plan called for an island-wide revolt, to consist of two
phases. In the first phase, a navy frigate would shell the
Presidential Palace in Havana, while, simultaneously, navy
pilots would bomb Camp Columbia. M-26-7 urban cadres would
then capture the Havana radio stations and call for a
general strike. The second phase would center around
uprisings at all navy bases beginning with Cayo Loco. When
the May 28th plan was compromised by an informer, the revolt
was rescheduled for September 5th to coincide with the
Army's celebration of the 1933 "Sergeant's Revolt."
On September 5th the plan was again postponed because
of another breach of security, but for some reason -- either
poor communications or stubborn determination -- the second
phase of the Cienfuegos operation went into effect at the
appointed hour. Although the rebels initially succeeded,
Batista responded with brutal force; aircraft, tanks and
troops were rushed to Cienfuegos to crush the uprising. The
ensuing battle left more than 300 dead. 37/ A handful of
the rebels escaped to the Escambray Mountains where they
continued to wage war against the government.
It is unclear exactly what the naval officers
associated with the Cienfuegos uprising hoped to gain.
Evidence indicates that they were highly influenced by
elements of the M-26-7 who had infilitrated their ranks.
Apparently, the M-26-7 viewed these disgruntled naval
officers as a good source of revolutionary fervor and
planned to use their dissatisfaction with Batista as a
foundation for an island-wide revolt. The naval officers
themselves had no stated goals other than to return control
of the navy to graduates of the Cuban Naval Academy.
Cienfuegos was certainly a military victory for
Batista, but not a political one. For the first time,
members of Cuba's Armed Forces had united against him.
Never again could he depend upon their unified support, the
bedrock of his regime. Officers of all three branches had
been implicated; not even the Cuban Army had remained
faithful. Perhaps even more significant, not since
Batista's own revolt in 1933, had military and civilians
united to oppose a Cuban President.
Pact of Miami. Members of the major revolutionary
factions opposing Batista met in Miami during December 1957,
to attempt to unify their efforts. This particular meeting
was significant because it was composed of representatives
of virtually all of the anti-Batista organizations operating
within Cuba or in exile. After some debate, a number of
members of the revolutionary groups, including
representatives of the M-26-7, signed a pact signifying
solidarity and co-equal status in the struggle against
Batista. Provisions of the pact called for the creation of
a provisional government and closely resembled those of the
earlier "Sierra Maestra Manifesto."
When Castro heard of the pact, he was enragad.* In a
letter to the conference he wrote: "... while leaders of
other organizations are living abroad carrying on imaginary
revolutions, the leaders of the M-26-7 are in Cuba, making a
real revolution." 38/ What really upset Fidel was that the
pact left the M-26-7 on equal footing with the other
organizations, although the M-26-7 and the DR had carried
the full load of the insurrection. While the DR was
*Castro's representatives had signed the pact, apparently
misunderstanding their leader's position, a phenomenon not
uncommon at the time because Castro frequently shifted or
"expanded" his ideology to suit the occasion.
apparently ready to grant equal status to the other groups,
Fidel was not. Castro denounced the pact and reinterated
his position on Cuba's future as offered by the "Sierra
Maestra Manifesto." In addition, he offered his own
candidate, Manuel Urrutia Lleo, for the post of Provisional
Castro's rejection of the Pact of Miami had major
repercussions. First, Fidel demonstrated within his own
movement that he would not be the pawn of politicians.
Second, he established the M-26-7 as a clearly independent
movement, never again to be confused with other
organizations. Third, he demonstrated his preeminence among
the other opposition groups; and finally, it portended that
any future attempts at unity would be fruitless without
prior consultation with Castro.
The Second Front. The end of 1957, and the early part
of 1958, saw a sort of unofficial cease-fire. Both sides
used the period to consolidate their positions and prepare
for future operations. Batista increased his forces and
prepared them for mountain warfare. This was done primarily
in response to Castro's ill-advised scheme to disrupt the
island's single-crop economy. Late in the fall of 1957,
just as the sugar crops were to be harvested, Castro's
followers began burning the cane fields hoping to bring
economic disparity to the government. Understandably,
farmers and local merchants -- many of whom were ardent
supporters of Castro -- began to complain to the rebel
leader. Belatedly realizing that the harvest was the major
source of livelihood for his supporters as well as the
government, Castro rescinded his order, thus preserving his
popular support. Enough of the sabotage was carried-out,
however, to gain Batista's attention. Recognizing the
potential seriousness of that kind of action if it were to
be repeated on a large scale, the President resolved to end
Castro's rebellion the following year. This decision proved
to be the beginning of Batista's downfall.
Castro, meanwhile, was engaging in a program to
paralyze the rail and road networks near the Sierra Maestra.
Gradually he was expanding his control beyond the mountains
to other parts of Oriente province. By the beginning of
1958, no vehicles, trains or military patrols could move at
night in the Manzanillo-Bayamo area without being ambushed.
On January 25, 1958, President Batista restored
constitutional guarantees everywhere on the island except
Oriente province. Under increasing pressure from the United
States, he called for free elections, promising to turn over
the government to his elected successor. However, he
retained the right to control the armed forces. Earl Smith,
the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba at the time, reported that
Castro indicated, at least unofficially, his willingness to
accept general lections provided that Batista would
withdraw his troops (without their equipment) from Oriente
province. 39/* The Papal Nuncio of Cuba, representing the
Catholic Church, even attempted to bring the two sides
together.** While Batista professed interest, Castro
rejected these overtures, saying that the committee
appointed by the church was pro-Batista and therefore not
acting for the benefit of the Cuban people. 40/
In early March, Raul Castro led a small column out of
the Sierra Maestra northeastward toward the Sierra Cristal
Mountains with the goal of opening a second front in Oriente
province. On March 12th, Raul established the Second Front
"Frank Pais," and Fidel issued a 21-point manifesto
announcing its opening and declaring that total war would
begin against Batista on April 1, 1958. 41/ Batista
responded by airlifting more government troops into Oriente
to reinforce the 5,000 already there. In addition,
constitutional guarantees were again suspended throughout
the island, and elections were postponed from June 1st to
November 3rd. On March 14th, the U.S. government announced
its intention to cease the shipment of arms to Cuba. 42/
*The sincerity of Castro's overture is suspect since it
violates his "Sierra Maestra Manifesto." Evidence indicates
that he planned to use Ambassador Smith for leverage in
an attempt to buy time and maneuvering room.
**The Papal Nuncio more likely represented the Church
hierarchy and wealthy patrons only, since most young cubans
advocated the overthrow of Batista, although not necessarily
in accordance with Castro's plan.
Castro's forces made important advances in the early
spring of 1958, prior to April 9th. Besides Raul's second
front, there were four other separate guerrilla forces at
work in Oriente, keeping the whole province in an almost
constant state of turmoil. Uprisings were also reported in
Camaguey and Pinar del Rio provinces and the Escambray
Total War 44/
General Strike: April 9th, 1958. As promised in his
March 12th manifesto, Castro called for an island-wide
general strike to commence on April 9th, 1958. As
originally conceived, the strike was to bring the country to
a standstill; however, contrary to statements claiming
otherwise, the M-26-7 did not yet have the level of urban
revolutionary organization, leadership and popular support
necessary to make it successful. Batista ordered his 7,000
man National Police force to brutalize strikers wherever
they were found; furthermore, the head of Cuba's labor
unions promised that anyone who struck would lose their job
forever. Needless to say, the strike was a dismal failure
and acute embarrassment for Castro. At this stage of the
revolt the majority of the Cuban people simply did not have
the confidence to risk their livelihoods, and perhaps lives,
for Fidel Castro's dreams. His revolutionary platform was
neither well known nor understood. Not surprisingly, after
April 9th, Castro placed increased emphasis on the military
solution as the principal means of removing Batista from
power. Less stringent measures virtually disappeared from
Batista's Summer Offensive. Meanwhile, interpreting
the strike's failure as a sign of Castro's vulnerability,
Batista surged forward with his plan to mount a summer
offensive against the rebel's forces in the Sierra Maestra.
General Eulogio Cantillo was appointed to head the campaign,
and in early May he presented his plan to Batista and the
Basically, Cantillo's strategy called for a 24
battalion attack against Castro's stronghold in the Sierra
Maestra. He planned to establish a blockade around the
mountains to isolate the guerrillas from potential supplies,
arms and men. Once the blockade was in place, Cantillo
envisioned that the army would attack the rebels from the
north and northeast with 14 battalions while holding 10 in
reserve. Faced with such overwhelming odds, Castro would
have no choice but to withdraw to the west into the plains
north of Santiago, or risk being driven into the sea.
Cantillo reasoned that if Castro's forces could be forced
into open terrain, they could be easily eliminated.
Batista approved Cantillo's basic plan, but feared that
such large numbers committed to one operation would leave
other areas of the country dangerously exposed. Instead,
Cantillo was given 14 battalions (roughly 12,000 men), of
whom approximately 7,000 were new peasant recruits who had
responded to Batista's recent recruiting drive. The latter
were poorly trained, and generally unreliable.* Cantillo
was dissatisfied with the number and quality of troops he
had been given for the offensive, and argued strenuously
with Batista for more forces. The President remained firm,
however, claiming that he could not afford to shift troops
who were guarding private farms and sugar mills. Still
disgruntled and now pessimistic, General Cantillo
nevertheless proceeded with his plans. **
The government's offensive was still in the planning
stages when Batista made his first error. In early May the
President had installed General Cantillo to replace General
Alberto del Rio Chaviano as the head of army forces in
Oriente province. Chaviano had frequently shown himself to
be incompetent in trying to deal with the rebels, and
Batista did not trust him. However, Chaviano had a strong
ally in his father-in-law, General Francisco Tabernilla,
Sr., the Chief of Staff of the Cuban Army. Tabernilla
convinced Batista to reappoint Chaviano to Oriente province.
The President acquiesced and ordered the province to be
*The vast majority of these peasants had joined purely for
economic reasons. The Army offered steady employment while
farming did not.
**Cantillo's concern stemmed primarily from his belief that
Castro's forces numbered between 1,000 and 2,000 veteran
guerrilla fighters. The number was actually much closer to
split; Chaviano was given command of the eastern sector with
the Central Highway as the dividing line between the two
generals' spheres of influence. Cantillo was furious
because the reappointment represented a political rather
than a military decision. Cantillo's fears were not
unfounded a Chaviano was in charge of the sector in which
Raul Castro's guerrillas operated, but made no attempt to
engage them. Worse yet, he frequently interfered with, or
failed to support, Cantillo's efforts in the western sector.
Finally, Chaviano undermined Cantillo's campaign by
frequently complaining to Tabernilla that General Cantillo's
ineffectiveness was causing the government to lose control
of Oriente province. As a result, Tabernilla was often slow
to extend much needed logistical support to Cantillo's
forces, assuming that the supplies and ammunition would only
All of this military intrigue and infighting only
served to highlight Batista's inability to conduct an
effective military operation. For years the President had
played one officer against another, until none of them were
capable of leading any serious military operation. Since
enlisted troops and junior officers were aware of this
impotency among their commanders, discipline and morale was
at an ebb before the summer offensive began.
By the middle of June 1958, General Cantillo was
completing his plans. Rather than blocking with his poorer
troops and using his better units to drive Castro's
guerrillas onto the plains, Cantillo's tactics amounted to a
series of piecemeal attacks.* Castro's strategy was by now
standard; bleed and exhaust the enemy until the time as ripe
for counterattack. He relied heavily upon minefields and
ambushes to protect his flanks. His main tactic was to
allow the army to move forward, extending its lines, then
hit the advanced guard and fall back. The maneuver was to
be repeated as many times as possible. In the event the
army penetrated deep enough to threaten the guerrilla's base-
camp, Castro's forces prepared an extensive trench and
bunker network designed to hold the enemy back from the
vital areas. If necessary, this network would be manned by
Guevara's column, allowing Castro to freely move the
remaining columns along interior lines to the weakest point,
counterattacking when the opportunity arose. However, this
close-in defense was never necessary.
Cantillo launched his initial attack with two
battalions moving out from the Estrada Palma Sugar Mill at
the base of Sierra Maestra on June 28, 1958 (see May #4).
The force relied upon a single road as its axis-of-advance.
Flank security was poor. Less than four miles from the
mill, forces under the command of "Che" Guevara attacked the
vanguard battalion. Thrown into disarray, the battalion
stopped while armored cars were brought up to clear the
battalion's flanks. As the armored cars deployed, they ran
*It's hard to say whether there tactics grew from ineptness
or caution. Considering Cantillo's reverence for his enemy,
it was probably the latter.
directly into minefields the rebels had placed on either
side of the road. Several of the cars were destroyed. As
the Cuban soldiers panicked and attempted to retreat,
Guevara's sharpshooter's opened fire and killed several.
The situation totally degenerated when the second battalion
failed to come to the relief of the first. As both
battalions began to withdraw, the guerrillas moved forward,
covering the flanks of the retreating column. The
sharpshooters now caused heavy casualties on the routed
soldiers. In total, the regular army suffered 86 casualties
compared to only three for the rebels. Guevara's forces
captured some 65 weapons and 18,000 rounds of ammunition.
General Cantillo's plan to force Castro's rebels onto
the western plains was not working. Castro's position was
too strong to be taken with a single point thrust, so
Cantillo devised a daring plan that featured an amphibious
landing at La Plata, a coastal town south of Castro's
Turquino Peak base camp. Cantillo envisioned a pincer
movement with a single battalion landing at La Plata, a two
company landing a little further to the west and a
simultaneous assault by another battalion from the north and
east. If the plan worked, Castro's base on the western
slope of Turquino Peak would be surrounded on three sides.
The guerrillas would be forced to stand and fight against
overwhelming odds, or withdraw to the plains where they were
On July 11, 1958, Battalion No. 18, commanded by Major
Jose Quevedo Perez, a former student colleague of Castro's
at Havana University, landed about ten kilometers southeast
of Turquino Peak at the mouth of the La Plata River.
Quevedo's troops, most of whom had never experienced combat,
moved cautiously inland, expecting an ambush at any minute.
Alerted by his intelligence network that the landing had
occurred, Castro did not disappoint them. In the classic
fashion of the Cuban Army, Quevedo's soldiers blundered
into Castro's ambush. Working rapidly and moving
constantly, the rebels fragmented and then surrounded the
battalion in a matter of minutes.
Observing the battle from a helicopter, General
Cantillo decided that while Castro was busy beseiging
Battalion No. 18, he might be vulnerable to a flanking/
surprise attack. Consequently, Cantillo ordered the planned
second landing of two companies to the west of La Plata.
Again, Castro's intelligence paid-off; he had been warned to
expect this tactic. In response, the guerrilla leader had
emplaced two .50 caliber machine-gun sites overlooking the
beach intended for the second landing. The vicious grazing-
fire that these positions produced forced the lightly-armed
landing-barges to turn back. Cantillo ultimately had to
land the two companies behind Battalion No. 18 at La Plata.
His amphibious plan in obvious jeopardy, General Cantillo
shifted his emphasis to Battalion No. 17 which was
attempting to bring pressure on Castro's position from the
north and east.
Meanwhile, upon learning that the leader of the army
forces was his former classmate, Castro repeatedly called
upon Quevedo to surrender and join the revolution. Each
time Quevedo declined, and the fighting continued. Quevedo
believed that reinforcements would eventually arrive and
simply would not capitulate even though his position was
increasingly untenable. What Quevedo did not know was that
Battalion No. 17 had met determined fighting against
Guevara's column, and had withdrawn. General Cantillo,
acknowledging that the operation was another failure, now
looked for another strategy. Disheartened and exhausted,
Quevedo finally surrendered his command on July 21st. In
all, his force had suffered 41 killed and 30 wounded.
Castro's rebels had but three deaths, yet managed to capture
241 prisoners, 249 assorted weapons including bazookas,
machine guns and mortars and 31,000 rounds of ammunition.
By the end of July, Cantillo's confidence in the Army's
ability to defeat Castro was rapidly waning. In a
confidential report to Batista, he described the rebels in
... (they) can tolerate staying for days at the
same place, without moving, eating or drinking
Furthermore, he still believed he was facing a force of
between 1,000-2,000 rebels.*
*Cantillo's overestimation can partially be contributed to
faulty intelligence. However, the primary reason stems from
the fact that he refused to believe that a force of only 300
men could be so effective.
Cantillo's assessment of his own troops in the same
report was far different. He cited low morale and
discipline, plus a lack of weapons. One of the main
problems effecting morale was the troops':
... awareness that there is no strong penalty
against those who surrender or betray their unit,
and that falling prisoner to the enemy ends all
their problems, has sapped the will to fight
through the ranks ... . The number of self-
inflicted wounds is extraordinarily high. It is
necessary to punish troops refusing to advance and
to occupy their positions. 45/
A review of the record reveals that Cantillo's forces
suffered considerably more than low morale and weapons'
shortages. His forces lacked tactical knowledge in military
operations in general, and counterguerrilla operations in
particular. In addition, lack of command unity above the
battalion level (except for Cantillo himself), and the
refusal of many of his officers to fight, contributed to the
generally poor performance of his units. With these
problems weighing heavily upon his mind, Cantillo decided to
make one more attempt to defeat Castro.
The General's new strategy was based on a venture
designed to capitalize on the tactical situation remaining
from his last plan. Battalion No. 17 was still stranded in
the mountains following their abortive attempt to relieve
Quevedo's battalion. Cantillo planned to trick Castro into
pursuing Battalion No. 17 as it withdrew, pulling the rebel
leader into an ambush by making him think that the regular
army was in full retreat.
Cantillo's plan consisted of developing a triangular
perimeter around the town of Las Mercedes, located to the
north of the Sierra Maestra. To preclude any chance of
escape should the rebels take the bait, Cantillo also
stationed several companies on the flanks of the retreating
battalion. The General hoped that the rebels would pursue
Battalion No. 17 in its retreat from the mountains until it
became impossible for them to escape the army's
encirclement. Cantillo's plan depended upon Castro's
probable ambition to defeat a second battalion within a one
month period. He correctly guessed that Fidel would want to
take advantage of his newly acquired firepower and the
apparent demoralization of the retreating troops.
Cantillo read Castro perfectly. Overly anxious to
score a major offensive victory and sustain the momentum of
his insurrection, Fidel was ripe for this kind of ruse. It
played not only to his sense of drama, but his ego.
Las Mercedes. The Battle of Las Mercedes began on July
29, 1958. Just as General Cantillo had hoped, the
opportunity to defeat another army battalion was too much
for Castro to ignore. As Battalion No. 17 began to retreat,
Fidel ordered the complete mobilization of his Sierra
Maestra columns. With uncharacteristic abandon, the rebel
leader plunged his forces headlong into Cantillo's trap.
On the first day of the battle, about half of Castro's
forces positioned themselves along Battalion No. 17's
withdrawal route, while the rest of the rebels kept pressure
on the battalion's rear-guard. In classic "fidelista"
style, the rebels opened up on the battalion's advance-guard
as soon as it entered the ambush site. The rebels quickly
dispatched 32 soldiers before realizing that they themselves
were in an ambush, and Battalion No. 17's advance unit had
been the bait. As regular army forces began to close on the
ambush site, Major Rene ("Daniel") Ramos Latour, commander
of the guerrilla forces now engaged, attempted to withdraw
his column while calling to Castro for reinforcements.
Fidel responded by moving to the aid of his beleagured
column, only to move within the encirclement himself.
Seizing upon the situation, General Cantillo moved to take
the unique opportunity of engaging the guerrillas on the
plains by ordering three battalions from the Estrada Palma
post into position against the rebels. In addition, the
General further increased his forces by committing another
1,500 troops from Bayamo and Manzanillo garrisons.
Toward the end of the day, Castro finally realized his
precarious position. He sent word to "Che" Guevara,
describing his serious situation. Guevara, probably the
best of the guerrilla leaders from a tactical viewpoint, had
the ability to see the whole battlefield in any given
encounter. After receiving Castro's report, he quickly
deduced Cantillo's plan. "Che" realized that Castro could
be saved from disaster only if Cantillo's reinforcements
could be delayed. Without hesitation, Guevara and his
forces attacked the reinforcing column as they moved into
position near Cubanacao, inflicting serious casualties and
capturing some 50 prisoners. This action caused a brief
impasse in the fighting, during which Castro was able to
withdraw some of his troops and consolidate the rest into
better defensive positions.
July 31st, despite Guevara's brilliant action, found
Castro still entrapped. By now, the guerrilla forces had
suffered some 70 rebels killed. The price of Fidel's
vainglory had become quite high. Still, General Cantillo
did not press his advantage. He as yet believed that
Castro's forces numbered much higher than was actually the
case. In addition, his great respect for the guerrilla
fighter's tenacity made him naturally cautious. He seemed
to be waiting until he was absolutely sure of victory before
he proceeded with the action.
Early on August 1st, Castro sent a messenger to General
Cantillo asking for a ceasefire and negotiations.
Castro, the politician, would try to salvage the situation
that Fidel, the guerrilla leader, had caused. Cantillo
agreed and sent forth negotiators. In a letter to Cantillo
on a page from his personal notebook, Castro wrote: "It is
necessary to open a dialogue so that we can put an end to
the conflict." 46/ Upon receipt of the letter and after
consultation with his advisors, Cantillo decided that the
letter was important enough to warrant Batista's attention.
Batista was puzzled as to Castro's intentions. The
President was convinced that, despite his losses at Las
Mercedes, Castro had the ability to carry on the guerrilla
war almost indefinitely. Batista sensed that Castro was
only delaying, but on Cantillo's insistence, he decided to
appoint a government negotiator and personal representative
to return with Cantillo to talk to Castro.
Batista's analysis of Castro's scheme was accurate,
although neither the President nor Cantillo guessed the
extent of Castro's peril. Fidel kept the discussions going
until August 8th, by which time he had managed to remove his
forces from Cantillo's grasp. After the negotiations
failed, Cantillo and Batista found that they had no one left
with whom to resume the battle. The impact of this debacle
upon the morale of the Cuban army was devastating. The
majority of the junior officers who had fought so hard over
the preceding weeks were disgusted that Cantillo had even
stooped to negotiate. Moreover, Castro's masterful maneuver
had come at just the juncture when the regular army, after
having fought well for the first time in the campaign,
seemed to have all the advantages.
In later years Castro frequently claimed Las Mercedes
as a military victory for the M-26-7. While the results may
be viewed as a political success, the fact is that Las
Mercedes almost resulted in a disaster for his movement and
in Fidel's capture by the government forces. Ultimately,
Las Mercedes was particularly significant in two respects:
it marked the final phase of Batista's unsuccessful summer
offensive, and established General Cantillo as a point of
contact between Fidel Castro and Fulgencio Batista. While
the former result faded in comparison to the events that
followed, the latter was to be a portentous occurrence.
The Last Campaign 47/. As Batista's summer offensive
ended, the regular army forces withdrew to their major
garrisons, allowing Castro to commence his own offensive.
On August 21st, Fidel summoned two of his most respected
lieutenants, "Che" Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. In their
presence he signed the general order that ultimately sealed
Batista's fate. Guevara and Cienfuegos were to depart the
Sierra Maestra between August 24th and August 30th, each at
the head of his own column.* He assigned them one primary
mission: to march to Las Villas province, more than 600
kilometers to the east: Once there, Guevara was to organize
the rebel groups in the Escambray Mountains under the M-26-7
Movement and begin Third Front operations against the
government in accordance with Castro's plan to cut the
island in half Cienfuegos, meanwhile, would organize M-26-7
elements in northern Las Villas, and then press-on with his
own column to open a fourth front in the mountains of Cuba's
eastern most province, Pinar del Rio. In order to reach
*The Second Column, under Cienfuegos, numbered about 60 and
the Eight Column, under Guevara, about 150.
these eastern provinces, however, the guerrilla columns had
to transit Camaguey province.
The M-26-7 movement was essentially nonexistent in
Camaguey province; crossing was therefore a problem. The
open, flat terrain and limited vegetation the province
offered was not conducive to the brand of rural mountainous
operations Castro's guerrillas were accustomed to waging.
Further, since the majority of the island's agricultural
effort was centered in Camaguey, the province was relatively
prosperous, and the populus was generally unsupportive of
To counter the obvious treat of crossing this
unfamiliar and unfriendly terrain, arrangements were made to
bribe the army commander of Camaguey to guarantee the safe
passage of the two columns. Unfortunately, the commander's
defection was discovered, and the columns encountered
disjointed, but often heavy, resistance from Batista's air
and ground forces. Almost immediately upon entering
Camaguey province, Guevara and Cienfuegos were forced to
separate their columns; they were never able to reunite
until after they reached Las Villas.
Once the rebels were detected, the army mobilized its
forces and carefully laid a series of ambushes and blockades
across the province. Incensed that the guerrillas would be
so bold, the army's byword became:
They shall not pass! We shall serve the corpses
of their chiefs on a silver platter, because they
have had the audacity to think that they can
conduct a military parade throughout Camaguey. 48/
Largely because of the attitude suggested in this
quote, the progress of Guevara's and Cienfuegos's columns
was extremely slow. Often they would have to wait for days,
without food or water, before the way was clear to move. As
always, they were forced to traverse the most impassable
terrain possible, to avoid the army's roadlocks and
ambushes. The author of the above quote, Colonel Suarez
Suquet of the Camaguey Rural Guards Regiment, took it upon
his command to zero in on Guevara's column. However, "Che"
had years of experience in this type of movement behind him,
and managed to frustrate every ambush and blockade effort
that Suarez devised. By the first part of October,
Guevara's column had woven its way through Camaguey,
avoiding major confrontation with government forces. On
October 12th, Guevara led his force across the Jatibonico
River into Las Villas province after being surreptitiously
escorted through Suarez's final blockade by an informer. By
October 15th, "Che" was installed in the Escambray
Mountains. Guevara's tactical skill and patience had again
Camilo Cienfuegos arrived in northern Las Villas
province a few days before Guevara was established in the
Escambray. While government forces were busy trying to
capture "Che," the Second Column had managed to slip through
relatively unscathed. On October 14th, Castro wrote to
There are no words with which to express the
joy, the pride and the admiration that I feel for
you and your men. What you have done is enough to
win you a place in the history of Cuba and of
great military exploits.
Don't continue your advance until you get
further orders. Wait for Che in Las Villas and
stay with him. The politico-revolutionary
situation there is complicated and it is essential
for you to remain in the province long enough to
help stabilize it solidly. 49/
Cienfuegos was not to venture westward until the rebels had
been able to recover physically, and until the conflict
intensified in the areas already under Castro's influence.
While Guevara and Cienfuegos were moving to establish
the Third Front in Las Villas, the Castro brothers were
solidifying their control over Oriente. By mid-October
their forces, now numbering about 2,000, were operating
freely throughout the province. Castro's strategy for the
next weeks centered on the capital cities of Oriente and Las
Villas provinces: Santiago and Santa Clara, respectively.
His plan called for the Third Front to capture Santa Clara,
thus severing the western half of the island from Havana,
and leaving the way open for Fidel and Raul to capture
Santiago and its military garrison at Moncada. Using the
arms that would be captured in these operations, the rebels
could then move on Camaguey. Once the western half of the
island was secured, Castro planned to proceed with his plans
to establish the Fourth Front in Pinar del Rio province.
Santa Clara. The conquest of Santa Clara was left to
the combined forces of Guevara and Cienfuegos. Together,
their columns had swollen to about 1,000 guerrilla fighters
by the first part of December. "Che" was given overall
command for the approaching battle.
Santa Clara, geographically in the center of Las Villas
province, is surrounded by four strategically located towns
that form a kind of man-made barrier around the provincial
capital. Guevara's plan was to attack all four towns
simultaneously. Cienfuegos and his guerrillas were to
operate north of the city while Guevara's forces attacked
from the south. To preclude the possibility of
reinforcements, Guevara also planned to blockade major
resupply routes to the east (from Havana) and west (from
Camaguey). Finally, Guevara planned the capture of the orts
of Caibarien, to the north, and Cienfuegos, to the south, to
complete Santa Clara's isolation. With the isolation of the
capital and capture of the four towns surrounding Santa
Clara, including their garrisons, the rebels then would
attempt to capture the city.
The battle for Santa Clara began on December 14th when
Guevara's columns attacked the town of Fomento, southeast of
Santa Clara. The Fomento garrison capitulated, without
serious resistance, on the 17th. Leaving a small rear
guard, the rebels pressed on to the town of Remedios the
To the north, Camilo Cienfuegos advanced with little
opposition until he reached the town of Yaguajay.
Yaguajay's garrison was defended by a relatively small group
of regulars (250) under the command of Captain Abon Ly, a
Cuban of Chinese ancestry. Convinced that reinforcements
would be sent from Santa Clara, Ly put up a determined
defense of his post. Repeatedly, the guerrillas attempted o
overpower Ly and his men, but each time they failed. By
December 26th, Cienfuegos had become quite frustrated; it
seemed that Ly could not be overpowered, nor could he be
convinced to surrender. In desparation, Cienfuegos began to
use a homemade "tank" against Ly's position. The "tank" was
actually a large tractor encased in iron plates with a .50
caliber machine gun mounted on top. It, too, proved
unsuccessful. Finally, on December 30th, Ly, out of
ammunition, surrendered his garrison. Cienfuegos, one of
the most gallant of the rebel officers, allowed Captain Ly
to retain his weapon and accepted his honorable surrender.
On December 27th, following the uncontested surrender
of the port cities of Caibarien and Cienfuegos, Guevara met
with his officers to study the plan for the final attack on
Santa Clara. On December 30th, with Cienfuegos's success at
Yaguajay, the way was now open to the capital. The early
morning hours of December 31st found Guevara's combined
forces converging from all directions on the city. By mid-
afternoon the battle was over. Having little heart for
combat, most of the city's 6,500 regular troops and police
surrendered without a fight.
Meanwhile, in Oriente province, Fidel Castro and his
rebel army continued their general offensive toward the
Santiago. From December 23rd to December 26th the offensive
in Oriente had cost the rebels 26 dead and over 50 wounded,
but the Army had sustained over 600 casualties. 50/ On
December 30th, the town of Maffo fell to Fidel after 20 days
of seige. The way was now clear to the capital of Oriente,
and the battle for Santiago could begin.
Batista's Departure 51/
By the end of December, 1958, Castro's forces
controlled virtually all of Las Villas and Oriente
provinces, and Camaguey province from its geographical
center westward to Oriente. In Havana, events of the last
days of December were beginning to affect the morale of
Batista and his high ranking officers. The Chief of Staff
of the Cuban Armed Forces, General Tabernilla, Sr. was
actively pursuing a plan to remove Batista and install a
civilian or military junta in his place. Tabernilla
approached U.S. ambassador Earl Smith asking for American
support for the junta, but Smith replied that he could only
discuss such a solution with Batista himself.* Tabernilla
next turned to other members of the general staff. After
consultation, they decided that General Cantillo should once
again negotiate a settlement with Castro based upon
Tabernilla's plan for a junta to succeed the President.
*In point of fact, Washington had been trying for some time
to remove Batista from power, while preventing Castro from
Cantillo flew to Oriente to meet with Castro on
December 28th and explain the Chief of Staff's proposal.
Castro rejected Cantillo's overture out-of-hand because it
included Batista's escape. Castro wanted the President
arrested and brought to trial for crimes against the Cuban
people.* Castro also opposed the junta, preferring (he
said) a return to constitutional guarantees and democracy.
As a counter-proposal, Castro suggested that he and Cantillo
join their forces and carry out a joint operation against
Batista starting with the capture of Santiago and sweeping
eastward across the island to Havana. Under Castro's plan,
the army would support the insurrection unconditionally,
back the president appointed by the revolutionary
organizations and accept whatever decisions were made as to
the military's future. 52/ Cantillo would not promise
outright support for Castro, but closed the meeting saying
that he would return to Havana and consider the proposal.
He promised he would send word to Castro prior to December
31st, Fidel's deadline for the attack on Santiago.
Upon his return to Havana, Cantillo was summoned to the
Presidential Palace by Batista. The President chastised his
Chief of Operations for negotiating with Castro without his
approval. Cantillo explained that he was under orders from
Tabernilla and thought that Batista had approved his
*Castro did not consider Batista's coup d'etat to be a
legitimate revolution as had been ruled by the Court of
Constitutional Guarantees in 1952. He instead believed that
Batista had violated Cuban law and should be punished.
mission. Calling Tabernilla a traitor, Batista asked for
Cantillo's support until the President could devise a plan
himself. Cantillo agreed.
Late on December 31st, after the word of Santa Clara's
fall had reached the capital, Cantillo met with Batista
again. The President explained his plan of succession to
the General. He said that he would be leaving in a few
hours, and that Cantillo should assume control of the armed
forces. In addition, Batista proposed that a civilian junta
be organized with individuals not involved with the
government, and that the senior member of the Supreme Court
assume the presidency in accordance with Article 149 of the
Cuban Constitution. Unhesitatingly, Cantillo agreed to
follow the President's plan.
In the early morning hours of January 1, 1959,
President Batista released a message to the Cuban people.
He stated that, upon the advice of his generals and to avoid
further bloodshed he was leaving the country. At 2:10
A.M. Batista boarded a DC-4 bound for the Dominican Republic
with members of his family and those "Batistianos" who knew
they could expect no mercy from the rebels. In Cuba, all
was lost for Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro had triumphed.
Chapter III: Castro's Insurrection
1/ Enrique Meneses, Fidel Castro (New York: Taplinger
Publishing Company, 1966), p. 29.
2/ The material on Batista is based primarily on:
Edmund A. Chester, A Sergeant Named Batista (New York:
Henry Holt and Company, 1954).
3/ Unless otherwise noted, the principal sources for
the background on Castro are: Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro
(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1959, pp. 14-25;
Herbert L. Matthews, Fidel Castro (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1969), pp. 17-62; and Meneses, op. cit., pp. 29-
4/ Ramon L. Bonachea and Marta San Martin, The Cuban
Insurrection: 1952-1959, (New Brunswick: Transaction
Books, 1974), p. 10. A birth year for Fidel Castro of 1926
is the popularly accepted year used by most of Castro's
biographers. However, Bonachea and San Martin cite
convincing evidence, in the form of a certifying letter from
Castro's mother, that attests to Fidel's birthyear as 1927.
5/ Carlos Franqui, Diary of the Cuban Revolution, (New
York: Viking Press, 1976), pp. 1-2. Extracted from an
interview taken by Franqui.
6/ This fact is noted by all three of the above
principal sources cited in note 3, although Meneses explains
that only Castro's detractors make this accusation.
7/ Matthews, op. cit., p. 21.
8/ Dubois, op. cit., p. 15.
9/ Theodore Draper, Castroism: Theory and Practice
(New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1965), p. 114.
10/ Franqui, op. cit., p. 1.
11/ Meneses, op. cit., p. 38.
12/ The principal sources for this account of the
assault on the Moncada Barracks are: Franqui, op. cit., pp.
43-64; Meneses, op. cit., pp. 37-40; Bonachea, et. al., op.
cit., pp. 17-28; Matthews, op. cit., pp. 63-77; and Dubois,
op. cit., pp. 30-83.
13/ Matthews, op. cit., p. 63. In his conclusion to
his defense, Castro argued that he had the right to rebel
against tyranny as was guaranteed by article 40 of the 1940
Constitution. Judge Manual Urrutia, during the 1957 trial
of some of the Granma prisoners, used the same reasoning in
his refusal to condemn the accused to death. Urrutia's
decision ended his career as a judge and caused his exile,
but laid the groundwork for Fidel to chose him, in 1958, as
the future President of Cuba. (Matthews, pp. 75-76).
14/ Dubois, op. cit., pp. 84-137; and Bonachea, et.
al., op. cit., pp. 34-79.
15/ Meneses, op. cit., p. 39.
16/ Ibid, p. 40.
17/ Wyatt Mac Gaffey and Clifford R. Barnett, Cuba:
Its People, Its Society, Its Culture (New Haven: ARAF
Press, 1962), p. 235. Although Castro continued to express
loyalty to the Ortodoxo Party, he failed to gain the level
of Party leadership he had anticipated upon his release from
prison. according to Meneses, op. cit., p. 42, indications
were that the Ortodoxo Party had split, and Castro had
followed the more revolutionary faction. Apparently the
more conservative (and largest) element of the Party did not
agree with Fidel's advocation of violence to overthrow
18/ Franqui, op. cit., p. 90.
19/ Martin Ebon, Chea The Making of a Legend (New
York: Universe Books, 1969), pp. 7-35.
20/ Meneses, op.cit., p. 41.
21/ Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me (New York:
Lyle Stuart, 1961), pp. 35-36. This publication is said to
be a reprint of the pamphlet that was circulated following
the Moncada trial.
22/ Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., p. 65.
23/ Unless otherwise noted, the principal sources for
the Sierra Maestra phase of Castro's revolution are:
Dubois, op. cit., pp. 139-324; Bonachea, et. al., pp. 79-
197; and Matthews, op. cit., pp. 93-125.
24/ Ernesto Guevara, Reminiscences of the Cuban
Revolutionary War, (New York: Grove Press, 1968), p. 41.
25/Fulgencio Batista, Cuba Betrayed, (New York:
Vantage, 1962), p. 51. In his own account of this period,
Batista implies that his artillery attacked Castro's forces
as soon as they landed, inflicting significant casualties.
His account is vague, however, and disagrees with all other
sources which place the attack several days later.
26/ More than anything else, this practice by the Cuban
Army of executing prisoners caused the rebels, in future
battles, to fight to the death.
27/ R. Hart Phillips, Cuba: Island of Paradox (New
York: McDowell, Obolensky, n.d.), pp. 289-291. Hart and
others indicate that the Matthew's interview was a
significant turning point in Castro's insurrection. Prior
to its release, many Cubans believed Castro to be dead.
After the interview was published, fighters with food and
weapons began to stream into the Sierra Maestra seeking to
28/ John Dorschner and Roberto Fabricio, The Winds of
December (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980), p.
29/ Batista, op. cit., p. 51. Batista chose to ignore
any activity by Castro or his men until after Matthews'
article appeared in February, calling this attack the "act
30/ As soon as the Cuban Army pressure against the
rebels relaxed, Guevara abandoned Castro's technique of
roaming the mountains, and remaining constantly on the move.
Throughout the major portion of the rebellion "Che"
maintained a base camp in a valley near Pico Turquino. He
established a hospital, armament workshop, tailor's shop,
bakery and newspaper.
32/ Meneses, op. cit., pp. 56-57.
33/ Ibid., p. 57.
34/ Ernesto Guevara, Episodes of the Revolutionary War
(New York: International Publishers, 1968), p. 69.
35/ Ray Brenman, Castro, Cuba and Justice (New York:
Doubleday and Co., 1959), pp. 20-21. Not all of Batista's
measures were as harsh. More subtle reprisals such as
neglect of public schools, garbage collection and street
repairs were also used.
36/ Manuel Urrutia Lleo, Fidel Castro & Company, Inc.
(New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), pp. 3-4.
37/ Earl E.T. Smith, The Fourth Floor (New York
Random House, 1962), p. 31.
38/ Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., p. 166.
39/ Smith, op. cit., p. 71.
40/ Ibid., pp. 74-76.
41/ Robert Taber, M-26: Biography of a Revolution (New
York: Lyle Stuart, 1961), p. 30.
42/ Batista opponents had been petitioning the U.S.
State Department for sometime to stop the flow of arms to
Batista. In addition, there was considerable disagreement
within Congress concerning the same subject. As a point of
information, U.S. arms shipments to Cuba had actually
stopped several months before the official announcement.
Only Batista's insistence upon delivery of some 20 armored
cars he had previously been promised brought the issue to a
climax. See Urrutia, op cit., pp. 17-18 and Smith, op.
43/ Guevara, op cit., p. 124. At least two unasso-
ciated groups were known to be operating in the Escambray in
early 1958. One, built on the remnants of the Cienfuegos
disaster, and the other comprised of the survivors of the
1957 palace attack.
44/ Unless otherwise cited, the principal source is
Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., pp. 198-317.
45/ Bonachea, et. al., ibid., pa 248.
46/ Ibid., p. 257.
47/ The principal sources for the discussion of the
final campaign area Dubois, op. cit., pp. 302-351;
Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., pp. 266-301; Matthews, op.
cit., pp. 127-130; and Dorschner, et. al., op. cit., pp. 81-
48/ Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., p. 273. Extracted
from a confidential set of instructions issued by Colonel
Suarez Suquet, commander of the Camaguey Rural Guards
49/ Franqui, op. cit., p. 416.
50/ Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., p. 299.
51/ The principal sources for the climax of Castro's
rebellion are: Meneses, op. cit., pp. 85-86; Bonachea, et.
al., op. cit., pp. 302-317; and Franqui, op. cit., pp. 481-
52/ Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., p. 307.
CHAPTER IV: CASTRO'S REVOLUTION 1/
Cuba's new government was essentially stillborn. When
General Cantillo informed Supreme Court Magistrate Carlos
Manuel Piedra, a septuagenarian, that he was the new
president, Piedra is reported to have said, "Now what do we
do, General?" 2/ Cantillo suggested that they call together
some advisors and attempt to form a government.
Before dawn on January 1st, Cantillo, Piedra and
several handpicked civilians met to discuss the situation.
All of those present represented the passing of an
era; and, confronting a desperate situation (they)
launched into long, rhetorical discourses. While
the speakers reminisced about the 1933 Revolution,
World War II and Batista's regime ... , Cantillo
observed that, 'the whole structure of the armed
forces was falling apart while the old men
discussed irrelevancies.' 3/
At mid-day, Cantillo suggested that the group move to
officially install Piedra as president by gaining the
approval of the Supreme Court: However, the Court refused
to legitimize Piedra, citing the legal principle that
Batista's resignation was the result of a victorious
revolution and not the normal course of events; therefore,
the revolution was the font of law, leaving the insurgents
in the position of organizaing their own government. Once
learning of the Courts decision, Piedra told Cantillo that
he could not serve as president without his fellow jurists'
acceptance. When the news of Cantillo's failure to form a
government reached the M-26-7 urban underground, they moved
to take control of Havana's streets, government buildings
and police precincts. By the end of the day, the
underground controlled most of the city.
At Long Last; Victory
Castro did not learn of Batista's departure until about
9:00 AM on January 1st. Hearing too of Cantillo's attempts
to form a civilian or military junta, Fidel knew he had no
time to waste in consolidating his position. Consequently,
he immediately ordered "Che" Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos
to proceed to Havana to consolidate M-26-7 control of the
capital. Immediately thereafter, he delivered a dramatic
radio address to the Cuban people, alerting them to
Batista's departure and Cantillo's unlawful attempts to take
over the government. In the same speech, he warned the
workers to be prepared for a general strike to counteract
Cantillo's scheme. Finally, Castro ordered his forces to
immediately march on Santiago.
News of the events in Havana also reached Santiago
early on January 1st. The city was under regular army
control, and a battle seemed inevitable. As the guerrilla
army approached the city, Castro released a communique to
the Santiago garrison: the army was to surrender before
6:00 PM, or his guerrilla forces would take the city by
assault. The commander of the regular forces, Colonel Rego
Rubido, flew by helicopter to see Castro. Acknowledging
that in light of the events in the capital further bloodshed
was useless, Rubido agreed to allow Castro to enter Santiago
de Cuba unopposed. In turn, to placate Rubido's officers
and troops as well as to ensure their neutrality, Fidel
appointed Rubido commander-in-chief of the revolutionary
army in Santiago. The city fell into Castro's hands on
January 2, 1959.
At 1:30 AM that same morning, Castro made his first
speech to a large crowd. He spoke from the wall of the same
Moncada Fortress where the M-26-7 Movement has begun five
and one-half years before. Fidel Castro had fulfilled his
promise to liberate Cuba.
He had started with 200 men who were reduced to
seventy; seventy who, with another twelve, made up
the eighty-two who disembarked at Belic; eighty-
two, of whom twelve remained at the end of the
first week in the Sierra; twelve, who in twenty-
five months had wiped out an army of 30,000
Fidel Castro was to go through many emotional
moments on his journey along the length of the
island to the Presidential Palace in Havana, but
perhaps none was so significant, so full of drama,
as when he spoke at Moncada on that morning of the
2nd January 1959. Next to him stood the new
President of Cuba, Manuel Urrutia Lleo, and on his
other side Monsignor Enrique Perez Serantes,
Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, the man who had
not only baptized Fidel Castro, but also saved his
life when Batista wanted to eliminate him after
the unsuccessful attack on Moncada. 4/
Castro began his long march to Havana on January 2,
1959. The progress of the march was tediously slow, but
Fidel was in no hurry. President Urrutia had been sent
ahead to install the government, and Guevara and Cienfuegos
were establishing control over the capital. As for Castro,
he had accepted the position of Representative of the Rebel
Army. Behind this modest front, however, Castro had a well-
conceived plan. He wanted to project his personality over
the people and insure their support for the revolutionary
changes he envisioned. He knew that a slow and triumphant
march across the length of Cuba would set the island aflame
with fervor. Through every town he passed Castro was
greeted with wild enthusiasm. Old ladies blessed and prayed
for him, and young women tried to get close enough to touch
him. Fidel had become larger than life; all past
"caudillos" paled before him.
Meanwhile, General Cantillo was making a last-ditch
attempt to consolidate his position. He reasoned,
correctly, that a personal attempt to mobilize the army
would fail. He needed to find someone who was both dynamic
and anti-Batista. Cantillo concluded that only Colonel
Ramond Barquin fit both of those requirements and ordered
his release from the Isle of Pines.* Upon Barquin's arrival
at Camp Columbia in Havana, Cantillo informed him of the
situation. He suggested the Barquin attempt to organize the
army in order to present a cohesive front to the guerrilla
forces when they arrived. Barquin agreed and demonstrated
his good faith by having Cantillo arrested.
*Colonel Barquin had led an abortive coup attempt against
Batista known as the "Conspiracy of the Pure" in late 1955.
He was imprisoned for his efforts.
With Cantillo out of the way, Barquin proceeded to
consolidate his position. He planned to play a moderating
role between the regular army and the revolutionary forces
by demonstrating his neutrality and calling for compromise.
Barquin soon came to the same conclusion Cantillo had
reached, however; the insurgents were in no mood for
compromise and any resistance would only cause unnecessary
bloodshed, probably including his own. Consequently, with
little ceremony, Barquin delivered command of the Havana
garrison to Camilo Cienfuegos. The total victory of the
insurrection was now guaranteed. The last bastion of hope
was removed for those who wished to see Batista defeated,
but not by Castro.
The Communist State
Fidel Castro finally reached Havana on January 6th, the
day after the United States extended formal diplomatic
recognition to President Urrutia's government. 5/ Few
people paid much attention to anything Urrutia was engaged
in, however; Castro was the main attraction and everything
else was secondary.
As Castro, surrounded by guerrillas, entered
the capital, emotion reached incalculable heights.
Banners and flags hung from almost every building
in Havana. The national anthem was heard from
loud speakers all along the way, as was the M-26-7
battle hymn ... .
Castro stopped at the Presidential Palace to
pay his respects to Urrutia. He went to the
balcony, and addressed the thousands of people who
surrounded the building. An ovation that lasted
close to 15 minutes welcomed the Maximum Leader.*
Castro gave a short, but emotional speech. He
closed by raising his right hand, and lowering his
voice. The multitude quieted. In a dramatic
voice he asked Cubans to open a path for him to
walk through. He would show the world, he said,
how disciplined Cubans were. As he moved toward
the palace's exit, the people, as if enchanted,
opened a path for the Maximum Leader ... . This
act impressed everyone who saw the event. For
customarily emotional, undisciplined Cubans, it
was unprecedented. 6/
From the palace, Castro marched toward Camp Columbia
where he was scheduled to present a television address to
the nation. Upon arriving, he launched into an impassioned
oration that lasted for hours. Castro talked about the
republic and the revolution entering a new phase. He
denounced the cults of personality and ambition that might
endanger the revolution and cautioned the people against
accepting dictatorships. Toward the end of his speech,
several white doves were released as a symbol of peace. One
of the doves landed on Castro's shoulder causing the crowd
to fall into a deep silence. Many fell to their knees in
prayer, and a general sense of awe spread throughout the
throng and the nation. While Fidel spoke of the evils of
caudilloism, he was being simultaneously revered as the
"Savior of the Fatherland." His words were falling on deaf
ears. No one doubted on that day that Castro was a man
inspired with a mission, and that Cuba was on its way to
restoration of the 1940 Constitution and a return to
*English translation of "Maximo Lider," a title bestowed on
Castro by his followers.
In the days and weeks that followed, Castro appeared as
a man driven by euphoria. Sleeping only three hours a
night, he delivered speeches everywhere and anywhere there
was a crowd, no matter how small. As Castro governed from
his hotel, President Urrutia and his Prime Minister Jose
Miro Cardona looked on helplessly from the Presidential
Palace. Cardona finally became so frustrated with the
dichotomy between what the government ordered and what
Castro did, that on February 13th, he resigned, suggesting
that Castro take over as Prime Minister. Fidel promptly
obliged. With his brother Raul as head of the armed forces,
Fidel now began to assume control of the "official" destiny
As Castro became more enamored with his own fame, he
began to reject any criticism, no matter how constructive,
as anti-revolutionary. Any dialogue that questioned his
ideas became viewed both as a personal attack and an affront
to the M-26-7. It is significant to note that the only
people who seemed to sense this, and therefore did not argue
with him, were the members of the Cuban Communist Party.
While Castro went on expounding theoretical jibberish with
few, if any, practical ideas, the communists set about
quietly gaining control of the labor unions, press, radio
Castro's personal connection with the Cuban Communist
Party prior to the end of 1958 had been virtually nil,
although toward the end of the offensive, an uneasy alliance
had been struck: However, at the time, Castro was accepting
aide from almost every corner, thinking he could sort things
out later. Further, until Batista's fall seemed inevitable,
the communists had been strong supporters of his regime.
Batista had needed communist support to help keep control of
the workers and labor unions, and allowed them a relatively
free reign of Cuban politics as long as they did not present
an overt threat.
Castro was now faced with much the same situation. He
desparately needed someone to shadow his theoretical ideas,
and quietly place them into practice without detracting from
his image of being the "Maximum Leader." Behind the scenes,
Raul Castro and Che Guevara, both long established Marxists,
provided that practicality, aided by the Cuban
Communist Party. Fidel, perhaps at first unwittingly,
assisted them by continually denouncing any disruption of
his "plans" as anti-revolutionary.
On July 17, 1959, the Havana newspaper Revolucion
published a banner headline which read: "CASTRO
RESIGNS!" 7/ As expected, the country was deeply shaken.
Castro really had no intention of resigning. He was only
using the threat to consolidate his control over the
government by removing the last of the moderates, whom he
considered to be anti-revolutionary. By mid-morning of the
17th, when the people had been sufficiently aroused with
many protesting against his "resignation," Castro appeared
on television, announced his resignation and launched a
vicious attack against President Urrutia and other moderates
who were trying to derail the revolution. Since Urrutia had
often publically cautioned that the communists were becoming
too powerful, Castro accused the President of trying to
blackmail him with the communist menace.
Prior to the speech, Castro had been out of the public
eye for some time. The impact of his sudden reappearance,
coupled with his "resignation" and his accusations against
Urrutia was electric; the people clamored for the
President's resignation. That same night, Urrutia sought
protection in the Venezuelan Embassy. It had been his
resignation, not Castro's, that had been accepted by the
Revolutionary Cabinet. He was replaced by an obscure
communist named Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado. From July 17th
forward, Fidel Castro controlled the Cuban people while the
Cuban Communist Party controlled the country.
Chapter IV: Castro's Revolution
1/ Unless otherwise noted, the principal sources are:
Enrique Meneses, Fidel Castro (New York: Taplinger
Publishing Company, 1966), pp. 85-101; Ramon L. Bonachea and
Marta San Martin, The Cuban Insurrection: 1952-1959 (New
Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1974), pp. 313-331; John
Dorschner and Robert Fabricio, The Winds of December (New
York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980), pp. 251-494;
Manual Urrutia Lleo, Fidel Castro & Company, Inc., (New
York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), pp. 3-54; and Irving
Peter Pflaum, Tragic Island: How Communism Came to Cuba
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1961), pp. 1-
2/ Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., p. 313.
4/ Meneses, op. cit., p. 87.
5/ Earl E.T. Smith, The Fourth Floor (New York: Random
House, 1962), pp. 198-199.
6/ Bonachea, et. al., op. cit., p. 329.
7/ Meneses, op. cit., p. 97.
CHAPTER V: ANALYSES AND CONCLUSION
Fidel Castro won because he had a better plan, better
tactics and better organization; Fulgencio Batista lost
because he did not. Castro won because he had an idea whose
time had come; Batista lost because his idea was no longer
supportable. Castro won because he never quit; Batista lost
because he did.
In trying to discover the reasons for Fidel Castro's
success, these comparisons may seem superficial, but they
are not. Castro won because he developed and waged an
effective guerrilla war; Batista lost because he could not
mount a meaningful counter. Castro was successful because
he neutralized the impact of the United States; Batista
failed because he could not retain Washington's support.
Finally, Castro won because he made the Cuban people believe
in him; Batista lost because he could not hold their faith.
The remainder of this chapter will concentrate on an
analysis of the 1953-1959 Cuban Revolution with the
objective of determining why Castro won and Batista lost.
Four areas will be examined: Castro's guerrilla warfare
technique, Batista's counter-insurgency policies, the role
of the United States and the impact of ideology and
Guerrilla Warfare a la Castro
Prior to Fidel Castro, the traditional method of
removing Latin American leaders had been by "golpe de
estado" ("coup d'etat") or palace revolution. Generally, a
small military detachment would occupy government buildings
and the governmental leader and his associates would seek
asylum -- usually in a foreign embassy. Then, with little
ceremony, a new leader would proclaim himself in control of
the government. More than 30 Latin American leaders were
deposed by this technique between 1945 and 1955. 1/
Considering the inherent restrictions of a "golpe de
estado," these revolts, while abruptly ending the tenure of
political leaders and their followers, usually did not upset
the prevailing patterns of social, economic or military
If Fidel Castro's assault on the Moncada Fortress had
been successful, it is quite possible that Fulgencio Batista
would have been removed as President, thus establishing
Castro as the catalyst for a "golpe de estado." Since the
attack on the Moncada Fortress was unsuccessful, Castro
turned to a type of combat virtually unknown in Latin
America -- guerrilla warfare. Whatever his intensions,
Castro's commitment to this form of struggle implied a long
military campaign, sweeping social reforms and major
Revolutionary Doctrine. This is not to say that Castro
and his lieutenants did not know what they were doing. On
the contrary, several of the cadre of leaders that
surrounded Castro were quite familiar with the principles of
guerrilla tactics. Men such as "Che" Guevara and Alberto
Bayo had studied the guerrilla warfare doctrines of both Mao
Bayo, and especially Guevara, became quite adept at
altering established guerrilla tactical theory to suit
Cuba's social conditions and terrain. They recognized the
need to recruit young people who could endure the hardships
of guerrilla fighting. Considering Batista's repressive
practices, volunteers were easy to find. They quickly
learned that surprise, hit and run and other highly mobile
tactics were well suited to their small numbers and rural
surroundings. They discovered the role of deception and
became experts at setting ambushes. Perhaps most important,
they understood the value of intelligence and were quick to
establish an effective network throughout the island.
Still, guerrilla warfare is not solely a military
problem. Tactics, training, intelligence and strategy are
not enough. Military operations are only one component in
an overall system of insurgency. To be totally effective,
combat actions must be coordinated with political, economic,
social and psychological variables as well a Guerrilla
warfare, for example, would not have proved a sufficient
condition for success if other variables had not neutralized
the power of the United States. 2/ Castro understood this
symbiotic relationship and frequently demonstrated its
application through the coordinated use of propaganda, urban
underground activities and rural guerrilla attacks.
"Che" Guevara. Guevara's contribution to Castro's
success cannot be overemphasized. Teacher, tactician and
warrior, he knew the importance of the sanctuary that was
afforded by the Sierra Maestra and cautioned Castro not to
leave it until the time was right. Guevara recognized the
necessity of attention to detail, such as establishing
hospitals and schools for the rural people who supported the
guerrillas with food, shelter and intelligence. He and
Castro both insisted that the local people never be abused.
Food and supplies were never confiscated; the guerrillas
always paid. Guevara and Raul Castro implemented plans to
spread propaganda by radio and clandestine newspapers,
carefully explaining Fidel Castro's revolutionary platform
to thousands who previously had been unaware of what the
rebels were fighting for. 3/ If Castro was the heart of the
revolution, Guevara became its soul.
Urban Guerrilla Organizations. As mentioned previously
in the study, the Cuban Revolution was not the sole province
of Fidel Castro and his rural guerrillas. Several urban
organizations existed. Most were either directly under the
control of M-26-7 (and thus in coordination with Castro), or
nominally associated. These groups may have been the real
heros of the Cuban Revolution because they took the brunt of
any reprisals Batista's forces administered. Following
every act of revolutionary sabotage or terrorism and every
guerrilla success in the field, known members of the various
urban undergrounds were sought out, and, if caught,
executed. This counter-guerrilla technique proved highly
successful. As a result, urban guerrilla activity was
limited until the later months of the revolution; groups
became fragmented and coordination, either among the
numerous cadres or with Fidel Castro, became almost non-
existent. Nevertheless, urban guerrilla organizations kept
pressure on Batista until the end, providing Castro with
valuable intelligence and smoothing the way for his eventual
takeover of Havana and the island.
Role of the Middle-Class. The Cuban Insurrection has
often been publicized as a middle-class rebellion. This is
an arguable point. Castro spent a considerable amount of
time and rhetoric trying to convince the rural sugarmill
workers and peasants to join his movement. His ideas on
agricultural reform were based upon the precept of giving
land to the landless and were specifically intended to
attract rural lower-class subvention.
Initially, he was not very successful in gaining
peasant support beyond the immediate vicinity of the Sierra
Maestra. Government propaganda, poor communications from
Castro's headquarters and the factionalism of the
revolutionary groups made it virtually impossible for the
rural inhabitants to get a clear picture of what was
happening. It was not until after Batista's summer
offensive that rural support for the guerrillas became
prominent. By then, Castro had been so successful that
government anti-guerrilla propaganda was ineffectual. In
addition, by mid-1958, most of the major revolutionary grups
were either consolidated under Castro's control or
coordinating their efforts with his. Also, "Radio Rebelde,"
Castro's short-wave radio station, was broadcasting the
"revolutionary truth" throughout the island.
Castro's initial failure to generate widespread
interest among Cuba's rural poor held his rebellion in check
for several months because of manpower shortages. Perhaps
more importantly, it had the effect of giving the movement
the personnel characteristics which ultimately accounted for
its reputation as a middle-class revolt. The leaders of the
guerrilla columns and many of their troops had backgrounds
traceable to middle-class professions; the urban underground
organizations were almost exclusively middle-class; and most
of the financial support generated both at home and abroad
came from middle-class pockets. Further, Castro
deliberately did not antagonize Cuba's middle-class. In
fact, he was careful to cultivate their support and sympathy
by exploiting their hatred of Batista, promising free
elections and the return of civil liberties, and avoiding
social, economic and political statements which might
alienate them from his cause. Even after he gained power,
he transiently rewarded non-Communist, middle-class
supporters with offical governmental positions.
Ironically, the Cuban middle-class who had originally
supported Castro eventually swelled the ranks of the exiled.
Propaganda. In the hands of an expert, publicity can
be a powerful weapon. Information about guerrilla leaders
and their exploits, if handled properly, may serve to gain
sympathy, attract recruits and create doubts about the
effectiveness of the established government. The interviews
between Castro and Matthews not only accomplished these
objectives, but contradicted Batista's contentions that
Castro was dead.
Thanks to the efforts of Guevara, Castro learned the
value of propaganda. As the guerrillas became more
organized, Castro began to soften his statements for wider
appeal. In addition, he shifted emphasis away from broad
entreatment of the general population to specific
solicitation of the rural lower-class. Coincidently,
several revolutionary newspapers, bulletins and leaflets
began to appear throughout the country, each touting the
motives and successes of the revolution and the tyrantical
excesses of the government. However, the most influential
propaganda device used by Castro was "Radio Rebelde."
First operated in February 1958, the station became an
excellent tool by which Castro could personally reach the
masses. Every night, exaggerated news of guerrilla
victories and proclamations were broadcast throughout the
island. In great oratorical style, Castro exhorted Cubans
not to fear his revolution; denying Batista's charges that
he was a communist and that M-26-7 was a communist movement.
The broadcasts became so effective that Batista resorted to
jamming the transmissions and simulating rebel broadcasts
over the same frequency to counter the guerrilla
Summary. In the final anaylysis, Castro's brand of
guerrilla warfare did not depart dramatically from that of
Mao or Giap. He and Guevara merely modified their theories
to fit the Cuban scenerio. Neither was the middle-class
nature of the Cuban Revolution unique. As has been
previously pointed out, many revolutions, including the
American, French and Russian, had deep, middle-class roots.
What did set Castro's revolution apart, however, was its
departure from the more traditional forms of Latin American
insurrections. Events since 1959 have demonstrated that
that lesson has not been wasted elsewhere in the Caribbean
Some contend that Fidel Castro did not win, but rather,
that President Batista lost. There is in fact evidence to
support the contention that Batista never realized the
magnitude of Castro's insurgency. It appears that he
initially saw Castro as just another rival for political
power who, although popular, had no widespread base of
support among he Cuban population. Many of the decisions
Batista made during the insurrection suggest that he was
more concerned with maintaining the tenuous hold he had on
the country than eradicating Castro.
Internal Security Forces. 5/ Batista's counter-
guerrilla forces numbered as high as 40,000 men and were
composed of civilian police, paramilitary forces and
military forces. The National Cuban Police Force was built
around seven militarized divisions of approximately 1,000
men each. One division was assigned to each of Cuba's six
provinces, with a central division maintained in Havana.
The force was under the command of the Minister of Defense.
In addition to the National Police, the Department of
Interior and Justice also maintained police forces which
primarily handled undercover activites.
The Rural Guard Corps was a separate paramilitary force
operated under the direction of the Chief of Staff of the
Cuban Army. Its activities were much like that of a
national guard or reserve. It was frequently mobilized to
help control demonstrations or strikes and came into
extensive use in the latter stages of the revolution.
The actions of all these forces were closely
coordinated with regular army operations. While the
structure of Cuba's regular armed forces has already been
discussed, it is significant to note that all of Cuba's
internal security forces shared a common weakness:
inability to fight a protracted war, especially a counter-
guerrilla war. This condition was understandable
considering the historical nature of revolutions in Latin
America, and certainly not confined to Cuba. In the words
of Fidel Castro:
The Armies of Latin America are unnecessary if
it's a guestion of this part of the world lining
up against Russia. None of them is strong enough,
and if the occasion arises, the United States will
give us all the armaments we need. So, why do the
Armies exist? Very simple: to maintain
dictatorial regimes and let the United States sell
them the old arms they don't need anymore ....
The Army today, in Latin America, is an instrument
of oppression and a cause of disproportionate
expediture for countries whose economies cannot
afford it. 6/
Counter-Insurgency Policy. Batista's initial counter-
insurgency policy was denial. Until Castro's successful
attack upon the Ulbero garrison in May 1957, the
government's official policy was that no rebel forces
existed. Unofficially though, Batista had begun expanding
his armed forces soon after the Matthews interview.
Batista's approach to combating the insurgency soon formed
into two objectives. First to contain and then defeat the
guerrillas in the mountains, and second, to maintain law and
order in the cities.
The regular armed forces and the Rural Guard Corps were
given the primary responsiblity of combating the guerrillas
in the field. Their tactics were military oriented,
conventional and largely ineffective. The rebels seldom
defended the terrain over which they fought; they merely
withdrew. Consequently, traditional military tactics using
armor and aircraft were of limited value. Hand grenades and
machineguns proved to be the most useful weapons. 7/
Except for brief campaigns and forays, Batista's
military strategy was generally one of containment. This is
amazing when one considers the degree to which government
forces outnumbered the guerrillas, especially in the early
months of the conflict. In spite of their lack of training,
it is difficult to understand why several thousand well-
equipped soldiers could not have overrun the Sierra Maestra
and killed or captured a few dozen poorly-armed guerrillas.
In fact, just the opposite always seemed to happen. With
few exceptions, Batista's soldiers proved time and again
that they had no heart for fighting, and at the first sign
of trouble they usually ran. In general, their officers
were incapable of inspiring better performance.
Meanwhile, the National Police were given the function
of maintaining law and order within the urban areas. Unlike
the regular military, they initially dispatched their duties
with considerable effectiveness. Able to infiltrate many of
the urban guerrilla organizations, the National Police
conducted a mercilous campaign of counter-revolutionary
techniques that included indiscriminate arrests, torture and
murder. These countermeasures were so successful that urban
activities were severely curtailed through all but the last
months of the revolution. 8/
Insurgent countermeasures emphasizing terrorism were
not confined to the cities. Batista's military forces were
fond of torturing and summarily executing rebel prisoners,
in marked contrast to Castro's policy of returning
government prisoners unharmed. The same dissimilarity
applied to the treatment of civilian. While Castro's
troops were always courteous and honest in their dealings
with civilians, government forces were usually contemptuous
Torture and executions only made the rebels more
determined to fight to the death. Castro and the M-26-7
underground were quick to capitalize on the negative aspect
of Batista's terrorist-style countermeasures by ensuring
that accounts and photographs of the atrocities were widely
circulated. Chances are that Batista's decision to use
terrorism against the guerrillas and guerrilla sympathizers
probably cost him his job. It certainly cost him the
support of the Cuban people.
Summary. Batista's internal defense plan can be
summarized simply by saying that he really did not have one.
Initially, he refused to acknowledge the threat that Castro
imposed. Even after he apparently resolved to deal directly
with the rebel leader, he was unable to bring his military
might to bear on the greatly outnumbered guerrillas. The
only anti-guerrilla successes his forces experienced were
those spawned by terrorist activities far worse than
anything the rebels were carrying out. In the end, these
too proved ineffective.
In fairness to Batista, he was attempting to counter a
style of warfare that was totally unfamiliar to Latin
America and most of the world. Proven tactics were
generally unavailable. In addition, Batista was burdened
with trying to maintain control of an unstable political
situation of his own making. In effect, he was fighting a
war on two fronts and largely unequipped to deal with
either. Modern wisdom, in retrospect, would suggest that
the answers to both of his problems could have been found in
civil,not military measures. Had he chosen to conduct a
social, political and economic revolution of his own by
returning the country to the precepts of the 1940.
Constitution, Castro would not have had much of a foundation
on which to base his revolution. Instead, Batista chose
repression, martial law, terrorism and inept military
campaigns. Again in retrospect, it is not surprising that
Neutralization of the United States 9/
It is impossible to rank the various factors which lead
to Fidel Castro's rise to power. However, the
neutralization of the United States as an effective
supporter of Batista would have to be listed as a variable
of extreme importance. Despite his charisma, tactics and
popular appeal, Castro's quest may well have proved
fruitless if the power of the United States had been applied
to his downfall with unqualified vigor. As it happened,
however, the capabilities of the United States were applied
neither in Castro's direction nor away from it: American
power was neutralized. This moderation can be attributed to
three factors which greatly influenced U.S. policy toward
Batista's Negative Image. As the Cuban Revolution
intensified, a cluster of negative images became attached to
Batista. He was associated with repression and terrorism
and portrayed as a leader who profited from corruption.
Even Batista's supporters in the United States found
themselves compelled to apologize for the nature of his
regime. As a last resort, they appealed to Americans on the
grounds that, at the very least, Batista was
hostile to communism. However, the inclination of the
American press to take a dim view toward dictators
ultimately placed so much negative publicity on Batista that
Washington had no choice but to curb enthusiasm and
assistance toward the Cuban President. Ultimately, the
United States withdrew military support from the Batista
regime, thus hastening its demise.
Castro's Confused Image. Washington's frigidity toward
Batista did not mean that the United States embraced Castro.
Instead, American leaders became preoccupied with the
paradoxes of Castro's career. Was Castro a communist? Was
he a nationalist? Did he really plan to restore Cuba to
democratic ideals as he had promised? If he was not a
communist, why did he ally himself with such avowed
communists as his brother Raul and "Che" Guevara? If he was
a communist, why was he scorned by most of the communist
parties in Latin America, including the Cuban Communist
Party? If he was a communist, why did responsible
journalists such as Herbert Matthews portray him in such
Obsession with these questions presented a blurred
image of Castro. Unable to reconcile the numerous
contradictions in his background or rhetoric, the United
States became powerless to classify him as either friend or
foe. Without that distinction, Washington could not decide
whether to support his ascension or impede his progress.
Upon reflection, it is highly unlikely that the American
government would have been faced with this dilemma if Castro
had announced in the late 1950's -- as he did in 1961 --
that he was a confirmed Marxist-Leninist.
Policy Ambiguity. As suggested, the contradictory
image of Castro combined with the tarnished image of Batista
brought irresolution to America's Cuban policy. As a
result, the United States neither offered Castro the kind of
massive assistance that may have guaranteed reciprocal
obligations, nor continued to support Batista's regime with
economic and military sanctions which may have guaranteed
his survival. Although the United States never
diplomatically abandoned Batista, Washington's ambivalence
doomed American's Cuban policy and the Cuban President to
failure. Consequently, during most of the late 1950's,
America's power, which might have proved decisive to the
fate of Fidel Castro, was neutralized. Castro was allowed
to consolidate his power with little or no assistance from
the United States as American leaders failed to establish a
claim to the benefits due a friend, much less assert the
dominance of a militarily superior foe.
Summary. The objective of American foreign policy
toward Cuba during the 1950's was really no different then
it had been since the early 1930's. Through all of Cuba's
political turmoil since that time, Washington had always
placed itself on the side of stability. The United States
supported whichever Cuban leader demonstrated the greatest
ability to guarantee domestic, and thus economic and
military, tranquility. While Washington was not
particularly enamored with Batista's 1952 coup, it could not
ignore the fact that Batista was in an excellent position to
ensure the security of American interests on the island.
Even after Batista's regime began to show signs of failure,
American leaders were unwilling to totally desert the
foreign policy formula that had been so successful.
Consequently, they resorted to a sort of non-policy in the
hope that Batista would be deposed, but not by Castro.
Unfortunately, their decision proved wrong and the United
States was left out in the cold.
El Caudillo 10/
While the guerrilla movements of Asia and Africa share
many similarities with the Cuban Revolution, each also
incorporates diverse and unique elements. The fact that
Cuba is an island, for example, introduced special
geographic variables that had an impact upon the strategy,
tactics and patterns of logistical support for both
factions. Similarly, guerrilla leaders may often exhibit
charismatic qualities, yet Fidel Castro remains a distinct
individual with traits and characteristics which distinguish
him from other guerrilla leaders. In fact, it is the
uniqueness of Fidel Castro that may have been the overriding
factor which caused his revolution to succeed where several
others had failed.
Charismatic Leadership. That Fidel Castro qualifies as
a charismatic leader is hard to dispute. His political
style has always been colorful, extreme, flamboyant and
theatrical. He disdains established conventions and routine
procedures, and conspicuously departs from organizational
norms of behavior and appearance.
Castro instilled among his men an absolute certainty of
final victory. He was never -- even in the worst of times
-- pessimistic. For him, victory was always around the
corner, and one final push was all that was necessary to
attain what others had never reached. A mystique about his
capacity to overcome adversities surrounded him. He was a
man who inspired legends. Youthful, idealistic and
audacious, he emulated the great Cuban revolutionaries of
the past, thus capturing the imagination of the Cuban
Notwithstanding the above, it is difficult to
understand how one man can totally mesmerize an entire
population. Three special conditions which are applicable
to contemporary Cuba may hold the key. First, Third World
countries with large rural populations often show a
propensity to gravitate toward charismatic leaders. Many
features of the Cuban economy, despite the country's large
urban population, qualify Cuba as an underdeveloped country.
Second, traditionally, Latin American countries have
not formed their political conflicts along the lines of
political parties. Rather, most Latin American political
conflicts have assumed the form of struggles between two
strong leaders or "caudillos." Cuba's history abounds with
political movements built around personality cults of this
nature. Batista and Castro are the most recent examples.
The third, and last, condition involves the morale of
the guerrilla fighter. His ability to carry on under
adverse conditions is particularly dependent upon his
exalted view of his leader. Fidel Castro could evoke
intense emotional responses of faith and loyalty.
Summary. Castro's image was that of a romantic
fighter. He was a man who, true to the great traditions of
Cuban revolutionaires, would know how to die, fighting with
valor and dignity until the end. Most Cubans assumed that,
like those revolutionaries before him, Fidel would one day
be killed while fighting for their freedom. This fatalistic
view of the future of all great "caudillos" was what fueled
the mystique surrounding Castro.
However, Fidel Castro was a dedicated insurrectionist,
born for action and command, but definitely not martyrdom.
It was his uncompromising belief in his own destiny that
eventually raised him about the "caudillos" who had preceded
him and established him as "El Caudillo," the supreme
This study began with the premise that an examination
of the circumstances surrounding the Cuban Revolution could
broaden our professional understanding of the problems
associated with countering insurgencies. In so doing we
have explored the roots and causes of the Cuban Revolution
and traced its evolution. The factors behind Castro's
success and Batista's failure have, in retrospect, become
all too common in Latin America and elsewhere in the world.
The lessons learned from Cuba are the same as those that
have been learned and relearned from Malaysia, Vietnam and
Nicaragua the tenacity of the guerrilla fighter, the
inadequacy of conventional warfare in a guerrilla warfare
scenerio, the importance of civil measures, the complexity
of the guerrilla warfare process and the impotence of
Americn foreign policy to deal with most of the above.
In a very real sense, the United States has not
progressed very far in its capability to deal with
insurrections which affect our vital interests. In Vietnam,
for example, American disregard for the nonmilitary aspects
of guerrilla warfare eventually cost us victory. The United
States may, in fact, be doomed to relearn the lessons
associated with guerrilla warfare indefinitely unless we can
develop a more flexible policy which makes allowances for
social and economic solutions as well as military action.
Revolutionary ideas have traditionally been defeated only
when countermeasures have represented better ideas.
Chapter V: Analyses and Conclusion
1/ Merle Kling, "Cuba: A Case Study of Unconventional
Warfare," Military Review, December 1962, p. 12
2/ See succeeding section entitled "Neutralization of
the United States."
3/ These broadcasts/publications did not start until
late in the campaign, but are credited with influencing many
peasants and rural workers to join Castro in the last few
months of the conflict.
4/ Norman A. La Charite, Case Studies in Insurgency and
Revolutionary Warfare: Cuba 1953-1959 (Washington, D.C.:
SORO, The American University, 1963), p. 112.
5/ Andrian H. Jones and Andrew R. Molnar, Internal
Defense against Insurgency: Six Cases (Washington, D.C.:
SSRI, The American University, 1966), pp. 65-71.
6/ Enrique Meneses, Fidel Castro, (New York: Taplinger
Publishing Company, 1966), p. 58.
7/ La Charite op. cit., pp. 103-104.
8/ As further proof of their effectiveness, urban
guerrillas suffered 20 times as many casualties as their
9/ Priscilla A. Clapp, The Control of Local Conflict:
Case Studies, Cuban Insurgency (1952-1959) (Waltham,
Massachusetts: Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc., 1969), pp.
73-102; and Kling, op. cit., pp. 18-19.
10/ Ramon L. Bonachea and Marta San Martin, The Cuban
Insurrection: 1952-1959 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction
books, 1974), pp. 100-105; and Kling, op. cit., pp. 15-16.
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Books and Special Reports
Asprey, Robert B. War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in
History. 2 vols. Garden City: Doubleday & Company,
Inc., 1975. Brief synopsis of Castro's insurrection
in Volume II. Good overview of the rebellion.
Manages to pack a lot of information in just three
chapters. Index, bibliography, footnotes, maps.
Batista, Fulgencio. Cuba Betrayed a New York: Vantage
Press, 1962. Author*s own version of the collapse
of his regime. Blames international Communist
conspiracy for most of his problems. Very parochial.
Frequently conflicts with other published accounts
of historical events.
Bonachea, Ramon L. and San Martin, Marta. The Cuban
Insurrection: 1952-1959. New York Brunswick
Transaction Books, 1974a Superior account of the
Cuban Revolution. Very well researched and ex-
tensively documented. Became one of my principal
resource documents. Index, footnotes, bibliography,
Brennan, Ray. Castro, Cuba and Justice. New York
Doubleday, 1959. Newspaper correspondent offers
eye-witness account of Castro's rise to power from
1953-1959. Excellent account of Batista's counter-
insurgency methods. Index.
Chester, Edmund A. A Sergeant Named Batista. New York:
Henry Holt and company, 1954. Somewhat exhaustive,
though interesting biographical sketch of Fulgencio
Batista through 1953. Based upon personal inter-
views of Batista and his acquaintances. Seems
reasonably balanced and accurate. Aligns with
other sources. Written before Castro became an
issue of substance. Index.
Clapp, Priscilla A. The Control of Local Conflict: Case
Studies; Volume II (Latin America). Washington:
ACDA, 1969. The Cuban Insurgency (1952-1959) is
covered in pages 70-136. Includes an excellent
appendix on weapons analysis. Footnotes.
Dorschner, John and Fabricio, Roberto. The Winds of
December. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan,
1980. Superb and highly detailed account of the
last weeks of Castro's revolution from 26 Novem-
ber 1958 through 8 January 1959. Bibliography,
index, map, photos.
Draper, Theodore. Castroism: Theory and Practice.
New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1965.
Tracks the evolution of Castroism and shows how
it was applied during the early 1960's. Corre-
lates Cuban history and customs with Castro's
attempts to revolutionize Cuban agriculture and
economy. Interesting, but of little value to
the overall theme of this paper. Index.
Draper, Theodore. Castro's Revolution: Myths and
Realities. New York: Praeger, 1962. Good
background source. Presents strong evidence
that Cuban revolution was a middle-class revo-
lution with little peasant support until the
Dubois, Jules. Fidel Castro: Rebel, Liberator or
Dictator? Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959.
Excellent biography covering Castro's life
through 1959. Index, photos.
Ebon, Martin. Che: The Making of a Legend. New York:
Universe Books, 1969. Excellent biography of Che
Guevara. Chapters 1-6 were particularly useful
for this paper. Appendices, index, bibliography.
Estep, Raymond. The Latin American Nations Today.
Maxwell AFB: Air University, 1964. Covers major
Latin American developments which occurred bet-
ween 1950 and 1964. Pages 85-112 address Cuba.
Good section on Cuba's political party alignments
during the 1950's. Index, glossary, suggested
Fagg, John Edwin. Cuban Haiti & The Dominican Republic.
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965. Good
historical sketch on Cuba, pp. 9-111. Maps, bib-
Ferguson, J. Halcro. The Revolution of Latin America.
London: Thames and Hudson, 1963. Covers history
of Latin American revolutions from early 1920's -
1962 with a special section devoted to the Cuban
Revolution. Devoted more to the revolutionary
phenomenon itself rather than details. Good dis-
cussion of "Fidelismo" and its repercussions on
the rest of Latin America. Ferguson is a British
author and broadcaster on Latin American affairs.
Book had limited value for this paper.
Foreign Area Studies Division. Special Warfare Area
Handbook for Cuba. Washingtona SORO, 1961.
Presents social, economic, military background
information intended for use in planning for
psychological and unconventional warfare. Bib-
liography, maps, charts.
Franqui, Carlos, ed. Diary of the Cuban Revolution.
New York: Viking Press, 1980. As the title
suggests, the book contains numerous letters and
diary excerpts from the actual participants of
the Cuban Revolution including: Fidel Castro,
Che Guevara and the book's editor/author who was
the editor of an underground newspaper during the
conflict. Arranged chronologically. Contains a
brief biographical section on many of the lessor-
known revolutionaries. Valuable source. Index.
Guevara, Ernesto. Episodes of the Revolutionary War.
New York: International Publishers, 1968. A
collection of Guevara's articles describing the
revolution. Includes descriptions of several
Guevara, Ernesto, Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary
War. New York: Grove Press, 1968. Translated by
Victoria Ortiz. Compilation of 32 articles by
Guevara. Also includes 26 letters. First hand
account of several battles and the problems the
Harris, Richard. Death of a Revolutionary: Che Guevara's
Last Mission. New York; W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,
1976. Exhaustive account of Guevara's last years and
days. Good biographical section. Index, map.
Huberman, Leo and Sweezy, Paul M., eds. Regis Debrayy and
the Latin American Revolution. New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1968. Collection of essays written
by or about Regis Debray. Wide variation of theories
about Latin American revolutions, especially Cuba.
Jones, Adrian H., and Molnar, Andrew R. Internal Defense
Against Insurgency: Six Cases. Washington, D.C. a
SSRI, The American University, 1966. Briefly sketches
six post World War II insurgencies which occurred
between 1948 and 1965. Pages 59-72 address Cuba.
Good overview. Maps, footnotes, charts.
Juvenal, Michael P. United States Foreign Policy Towards
Cuba in This Decade. Carlisle Barracks: U.S. Army
War College, 1971. Contains some information on
United States-Cuban relations during the revolution,
but concentrates mainly upon the 1960's. Footnotes,
La Charite, Norman. Case Studies in Insurgency and Re-
volutionary Warfare: Cuba 1953 - 1959. Washington:
SORO, 1963. Somewhat redundant analysis of the
Cuban Revolution. Heavy emphasis on socioeconomic
factors. Index, bibliography, footnotes, map.
MacGaffey, Wyatt and Barnett, Clifford R. Cuba: Its
People, Its Society, Its Culture. New Haven: HRAF
Press, 1962. As the title suggests, a study of
Cuba prior to 1960 with heavy emphasis on social
and cultural conditions. Good demographic source.
Matthews, Herbert L. Fidel Castro. New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1969. Newspaperman's account of
Castro's rise to power. Based upon many personal
interviews. Seems strongly biased in favor of
Castro. Includes some biographical data on
Castro's early life. Index.
Matthews, Herbert L. The Cuban Story. New York: George
Brazillier, 1961. Largely a self-aggrandizing account
of the effects of the author's famous interview with
Castro in 1957. Contains some valuable insights
into the early stages of the insurrection. Index.
McRae, Michael S. The Cuban Issue Reevaluated. Maxwell
AFB: Air University, 1974. Investigates the rise
of the Castro regime and its relationships with the
United States, Soviet Union and the Organization of
American States. Excellent discussion of Castro's
evolution to communism. Footnotes, bibliography.
Meneses, Enrique. Fidel Castro. New York: Taplinger
Publishing Company, 1966. A Spanish reporter for
the Paris-Match writes of his experiences with
Castro and the Cuban Revolution. Chapters 1-8
deal specifically with the period covered by this
paper and were very useful for their insights into
Castro and his organization. Particularly signifi-
cant because it helped to give the European view of
the conflict. Index, maps, photos.
Miller, William R. The Dyamics of U.S.-Cuban Relations
and Their Eventuality. Maxwell AFB: Air University,
1976. Traces United States-Cuban relations through
the mid-1970's. Good background on United States
role during the revolution. Footnotes, biblio-
Mydans, Carl and Mydans, Shelley. The Violent Peace.
Kingsport: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1968. An excel-
lent treatment of selected wars since 1945. Pages
248-267 deal with the Cuban Revolution. Most of
the material is drawn from guotations by Sam
Halper, one of the several correspondents who
followed Castro around the Sierra Maestra moun-
tains, trying to get a story. Index, map, excel-
Nelson, Lowry. Rural Cuba. Minneapolis: The University
of Minnesota Press, 1950. Excellent source of in-
formation about Cubans socioeconomic status prior to
Castro's insurrection. Index.
Perez, Louis A. Jr. Army Politics in Cuba, 1898-1958.
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976.
Traces the creation of the Cuban Army from its
inception until Castro's take over. Insightful
historical analysis of role the army played during
various political revolutions during that period
and degree to which it came to dominate Cuban
politics and government. Rich in names and details.
Pflaum, Irving Peter. Tragic Island: How Communism
Came to Cuba. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall,
Inc., 1961. Newspaperman's account of Castro's
rise to power. The author traveled extensively
in Cuba in late 1958 and through much of 1960.
Excellent account of role U.S. played in Batista's
ouster and Castro's conversion to communism.
Phillips, R. Hart. Cuba: Island of Paradox. New York:
McDowell, Obolensky, u.d. Newspaper correspondent
gives her impressions of events in Cuba, primarily
between 1931 and 1960. Excellent "on-scene" accounts
of many events. Based largely upon interviews and
hearsay. Rambling style, but quite readable. Facts,
especially concerning dates and specific events, are
often wrong or obscure. Author seems biased in favor
of Castro. Not a good source from a research stand-
point except that it gives one a feel for the events
from an American's viewpoint. Some good guotations.
Smith, Earl E.T. The Fourth Floor: An Account of the
Castro Communist Revolution. New York: Random House,
1962. Former U.S. Ambassador to Cuba from 1957-59,
believes that U.S. policy was at least partially
responsible for Castro's victory. Discusses exten-
sively his efforts to stop the insurrection. Index.
Smith, Robert F. The United States and Cuba: Business
and Diplomacy, 1917-1960. New York: Bookmen
Association, 1960. Good background on U.S. business
and diplomatic involvement in Cuba from the Spanish-
American War until Castro's takeover. Index.
Strode, Hudson. The Pageant of Cuba. New York: Harrison
Smith and Robert Haas, 1934. Detailed history of
Cuba through Batista's initial rise to power in 1933.
Old photos, index, bibliography, map.
Suchlicki, Jaime. Cuba: From Columbus to Castro. New
York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974. Concise pre-
Castro history, but sketchy once Castro is intro-
duced. Index, bibliography, photos.
Taber, Robert. M-26 Biography of a Revolution. New York:
Lyle Stuart, 1961. Excellent journalist account of
Urrutia Lleo, Manuel. Fidel Castro & Company, Inc. New
York: Praeger, 1964. A former President of Cuba
1959-60, and Castro's choice to lead the government
following the revolution gives an account of his own
attempts to establish a government following Batista's
departure. Also describes Castro's coup d'etat which
deposed Urrutia. Index.
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Selected
Readings on Internal Defense: Cuba 1953-59. Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas: USACAGSC, 1970. Excepts from
selected books and articles covering the Cuban Revo-
U.S. Department of Commerce. Investment in Cuba: Basic
Information for United States Businessmen. Washington:
GPO, 1956. Contai.ns a wide variety of facts and
figures concerning Cuban commerce in the early 1950's.
Aaron, Harold R. "Why Batista Lost." Army Magazine,
September 1965, pp. 64-71. Succint account of the
Cuban Revolution. The author hypothesizes that Castro
won because he met no meaningful opposition.
Chapelle, Dickey. "How Castro Won." Marine Corps Gazette,
February 1960. Excellent first-hand account of
Castro's infrastructure and tactics. The author
spent several months in the field, interviewing
Castro and his men.
Guevara, Ernesto. "La Guerra de Guerrillas." Army Magazine,
March, April and May 1961: Guevara's ideas about
guerrilla warfare translated and condensed by Army
Magazine. Written in hindsight after Castro had
succeeded. Very specific, right down to weapons,
tactics, hygiene, role of women, logistics, etc.
Kling, Merle. "Cuba: A Case Study of Unconventional
Warfare. " Military Review, December 1962, pp. 11-22.
Brief overview, excellent handling of Castro's strategy.
Macaulay, Neill W. Jr. "Highway Ambush." Army Magazine,
August 1964, pp. 50-56. Detailed account of a guerrilla
attack in Pinar del Rio province during the latter
phases of the revolution.
St. George, Andrew. "A Visit With a Revolutionary." Coronet,
Vol. 43, no. 4 (whole no. 256, February 1958), pp. 74-
80. Journalist's view of Castro based upon personal
interviews. Heavily interspersed with Castro's quota-
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