A brief history of the revolution which gave us Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
|The new year of 1959 had just been entered into as Fidel Castro’s army marched into the capital of Cuba victorious in defeating the regime of former President Fulgencio Batista. Apart of this army, was a guerrilla fighter called Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. What led up to this revolution and subsequent take-over of power in the South American country, is the subject of my talk today.
Ruben Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar was born on January 16th, 1901, to parents who owned and ran a sugar plantation in the Oriente province in Cuba – which homes the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay. On September 4th, 1933 Batista took over the Cuban Government in an uprising later known as the ‘Revolt of the Sergeants’. The coup ousted the popular and patriotic Gerardo Machado from Presidency. Batista, while not President of Cuba was the most powerful figure in the Government as self-appointed Chief of Military. This signaled the beginning of government affairs being directly handled by the army.
While Cuba went through an array of Presidents through the years of 1934 and 1940, the only man with any real power was Batista. The reason for Batista’s authority over others was his popularity with the US government, which recognised his respect for their interests socially and economically. While being in a position of authority for a while, his first official Presidency came in 1940. Trading with the United States increased immediately and in stark contrast to Machado he made sure America was happy, before concerning himself over the Cuban population. However, four years later, Batista’s main-rival Grau San Martin retained power and Batista was forced to relinquish control of Cuba.
Eight years after losing the Presidency, Batista returned to power, in an election that also included a young lawyer called Fidel Castro. Once again Batista immediately
attempted to appease the US government, by making Cuba a profitable place for American businesses. Everyone was happy it would seem, apart from Cubans themselves, who had had their constitutional rights suspended by Batista and their-so-called democratic country run by a government that people were afraid of. At that time in Cuba only 2-3% of the population had running water and 43% were illiterate. This according to Castro’s army was the reason for an act to be known as the Cuban Revolution.
On July 26th, 1953 a group of a hundred to two-hundred revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro stormed the Moncada Army Barracks, the headquarters for Batista’s military in the South of Cuba. The attack failed, and many rebels were killed. Castro and his brother Raul fled to mountains near-by; however they were captured and put on trial. During one hearing Castro made a famous 4-hour speech where he spoke about the amount of unemployment and levels of illiteracy in Cuba. He ended his speech with a firm message to the Batista government;
“I warn you I am just the beginning! ...I know that the regime will try to suppress the truth by all possible means... Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”
Castro claimed that he had been locked in solitary confinement for the duration of the 3 months he had been on trial. He was sentenced to 15 years for his participation in the attack of the Army Barracks. Less than 2 years later he was released and as was planned while in prison moved to Mexico to re-evaluate.
While Castro plotted in Mexico, Cubans were themselves beginning to rebel against Batista. However, this only prompted the President to instigate harsher penalties and more forceful defense.
In Guatemala, Mexico at the same time, was Ernesto Guevara who was introduced to Castro and a circle of revolutionaries by Hilda Gadea Acosta – whom he would later marry. Guevara was given the nickname ‘Che’ after the Argentine’s frequent use of the word as an affectionate greeting. Soon after meeting, Castro and Guevara saw similarities in their views on the unjust ruling of Cuba by the Batista government. Together with other exiles from Cuba, they planned the July 26th Movement, named after the failed Moncada attacks. At first, only intended to be the medic in the group, he was found out to being the best guerrilla fighter and quickly swapped his first-aid kit for a gun.
On November 25th, 1956 Castro, Guevara and 80 other men set sail from Mexico to Cuba on a small and rusty yacht. They were ambushed from the moment they stepped on Cuban land, and were betrayed by one person in the group who had given information of the attack to the enemy. Only around 20 men made it through and regrouped in the Sierra Maestra mountains – the same mountains that Castro had fled to after the failed July 26th attacks. Many people living in the countryside took care of the surviving men for many weeks, while they prepared to take down the government. Castro ordered Che to take a group of men through the mountains, while doing this they continued to defeat government-sent army’s by using guerilla warfare tactics and slowly occupying many towns on their road to the capital. Finally, at 2am on January 1st 1959 upon hearing the news of the impending invasion of Castro’s guerrilla fighters, Fulgencio Batista and his family and friends fled from Cuba, and left Havana wide open to be taken control of.
Victorious, on January 8th 1959 Fidel Castro’s army rolled into Havana and changed Cuba forever.