July 26 1953: Attack on the Moncada Garrison in Cuba
"The begining of a path that has never been abandonned"
By Tamara Hansen
"Neither weapons, nor experience, nor fortuitous factors accompanied that first effort, which signified the beginning of a path that has never been abandoned. The path opened the conquest of power for the revolutionary people. And that essential characteristic of our Revolution: the confidence of the people in themselves, the faith of the people in their cause, the conviction that no difficulty, however great, would prevent victory. That no road, however difficult would make us incapable of continuing until the end...To remember the moments of adversity is good, to remember the time when the present reality was no more than a dream is good, to remember the sacrifice the victories have cost is good because the memories teach us, tell us, that nothing is easy on the path of the peoples.”
- Cuban Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro Ruz (July 26th 1967)
July 26th 1953 is not about a victory or a defeat during the battle at the Moncada army garrison. The importance of this day is the vision presented to the Cuban people, showing the necessity and the character of the upcoming Cuban revolution. July 26th 1953 was about a revolutionary vision, from a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro, who along with his compañeros opened Cuba’s path towards revolution which was triumphantly pushed into existence 6 years later changing the historical process in all of Latin America, the West, and as we understand today – the World.
Cuba in 1953: Repression, poverty and ignorance
In March 1952 the Cuban dictator Batista led a coup just prior to elections seizing power for himself with the support of the United States. According to Jerry A. Sierra a free-lance journalist from Cuba, “Batista opened the way for large-scale gambling in Havana, and he reorganized the Cuban state so that he and his political appointees could harvest the nation's riches...Under Batista, Cuba became profitable for American business and organized crime. Havana became the "Latin Las Vegas," a playground of choice for wealthy gamblers, and very little was said about democracy, or the rights of the average Cuban. Opposition was swiftly and violently crushed, and many began to fear the new government.”
In 1953, 90% of people in Cuba were illiterate or semi-literate, without even a 6th grade education level. At the same time only 3.2% of the school-aged population over the age of 10 were enrolled in junior or senior high school. One third of all homes in Cuba were classified as huts, while only 56% of homes had electricity.
An employment census taken for the year 1953 showed that 8.4% of the work force was unemployed. This shameful unemployment rate does not even give the full picture of the poverty facing Cubans as the census was taken during the height of the sugar harvest when unemployment was at its lowest. It is estimated that real unemployment throughout the year was closer to 30%.
In 2003, looking back on situation in Cuba 50 years before Fidel Castro said, “Ignorance has been the most powerful and fearsome weapon of the exploiters throughout all of history.”
How could a country be changed from a situation of repression, poverty and ignorance to a country with the most doctors per capita in the world, with a literacy rate of 97% and an unemployment rate of only 1.9%?
Was it the will of one man? Was it the will of 150 rebellious young people? Or was it the will of millions of poor and oppressed people across Cuba who were tired of a system and government that did not represent their interests?
What changed on July 26th 1953?
On July 26th 1953 the first major battle against the repressive Batista regime took place when a group of approximately 150 organized rebellious young people lead by Fidel Castro (who at that time was only 26) took up arms to attack the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes garrison in Bayamo.
This attack was planned in order to seize arms from the oppressive Batista regime and to trigger a vast popular insurrection against the government. Who were these rebels? Students, workers, artists, teachers and many others who had sold and mortgaged their possessions to raise $15,000 in order to buy military uniforms and guns.
Despite their preparation, their attempt to take the two garrisons failed and most were imprisoned. In the introduction to the book ‘the Twelve,’ Tana de Gamez wrote, “Half of the rebels died, not in combat, but under torture. Their captors were eager to pin the blame for the aborted insurrection on some high official or foreign instigator. The irate tyranny could not conceive that the near-defeat it suffered had been inflicted by a group of ill-equipped youthful civilians with no ties whatsoever to disgruntled politicians, army chiefs, or an exotic ideology. There simply was nothing to confess to, and the truth was too compromising for the government, too indicative of oppression and discontent to be admitted.” Those who survived the torture were brought to trial.
At his trial, the young revolutionary Fidel Castro, who was also a lawyer in training, represented himself- giving a groundbreaking speech that condemned his captors for working together with the inhuman and corrupt dictatorship. At the end of his speech he simply and fore-tellingly stated, “Sentence me. It doesn’t matter. History will absolve me.”
Despite the moving speech, Fidel Castro along with his other compañeros were found “Guilty” and sentenced to anywhere from 5-15 years. However, two years after they were found guilty, the truth about what happened on July 26th, along with the text of Fidel Castro’s courtroom speech spread throughout Cuba. With that, momentum grew to release Castro and other political prisoners of the Batista regime. Under pressure, the dictator was forced to release them. From there Fidel and others left to Mexico where they would re-group to form ‘the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement’ and plot a new attack against the Batista regime.
July 26th 1953 gained significance because it showed people throughout Cuba that the revolutionaries were not doublespeaking politicians. They were motivated and driven to take action against the brutal Batista government. This gave people confidence in their leadership and inspired more Cubans to get involved in the fight for Cuba’s liberation and for justice.
In 1956, Fidel Castro and other leaders of the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement returned to Cuba from Mexico and began a campaign to defeat the government of Batista. Three years later, on January 1st 1959, after many fights and battles ending in both losses and victories the cruel dictator Batista fled Cuba. The revolutionaries had won!
This is where the dreams and aspirations of the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement needed to be implemented and quickly become a reality, to re-affirm with the people of Cuba that the revolution had not been fought in vain, but for specific goals and ideals. Most importantly that the path that the revolutionaries had shown to the Cuban people on July 26th 1953, the path of hope, social justice and prosperity for all poor and oppressed people in Cuba, had not been abandoned- nor would it ever be.
How the Ideals of July 26th are being upheld in Cuba today
Health: Today, the Cuban constitution guarantees access to medical care and citizens receive free healthcare from dental and major surgery to regular check-ups, everything is covered. Cuba has one doctor for every 156 citizens, that is the most doctors per capita of any country in the world. In 1959, life expectancy in Cuba was 45 years. Today, even according to the CIA world fact book, life expectancy in Cuba is 77 years. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is also the lowest in Latin America at 6.22%.
With “Operation Miracle,” Cuban doctors have performed 250,000 free eye operations returning sight to many blind or partially blind people in Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. The goal of this operation is to cure all of the estimated 5 million blind people in Latin America. The Cuban government has even offered free eye surgery to 100,000 people living in the US, no response yet from the US government.
Education: This year on June 6th, Cuba celebrated 45 years of free education. According to Cuban newswire Prensa Latina, “On June 6, 1961, the revolutionary government decreed the Teaching Nationalization Law. Two months after defeating the US invasion of Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs), the country ended the education system that served a privileged minority and brought real democracy to teaching.”
Since the triumph of the revolution 69 of the army garrisons formerly controlled by the Batista dictatorship were converted into schools and classrooms for over 40,000 students. Along with that, more than 10,000 classrooms have been created, because of these new classrooms 90% of people aged 9-12 are able to go to school.
Most importantly, free education in Cuba does not only mean at the primary and secondary level, but university degrees and PhD’s as well!
Jobs: In May 2005 the minimum wage in Cuba went up from 100 to 225 pesos benefiting over 1.6 million workers which accounts for 54% of state employees. In July 2005 wages rose in the healthcare and education sectors, which benefited over 850,000 workers. These actions, as well as raises in social assistance and social security benefited 4.4 million people, which accounted for 30.9% of the population.
At the same time Cuba has worked hard to provide jobs for all Cubans and today, according to the CIA world fact book Cuba’s unemployment rate sits at only 1.9%.
Because of these amazing strides being made in Cuba for universal access to social programs and the gains made by the revolution for students, workers, women, people of colour and other oppressed groups, July 26th continues to be a day of great celebration and renewal of hope for gains to be made in the near and far futures.
According to journalist Onelio Castillo Corderi, the most important thing about these celebrations was that they “emphasized the will of this portion of land [Cuba] to defend the glory they have reached, that is preserving the beautiful everyday feats that astonish the world.” And defending these feats is becoming more important as the years go on. Because the gains made by the Cuban revolution do not exist in a vacuum.
US Attacks on Cuba
While the Cuban revolution overthrew the dictator Batista it also redistributed land owned by US companies, and nationalized many industries previously monopolized by US companies. This aggravated the US and has led to numerous attempts to overthrow the Cuban revolution: from bombing and military invasion, to media smear campaigns and spreading lies about Cuba. These attacks have all either been led or covertly funded by the US government- among them the most long lasting campaign has been the US economic blockade against Cuba.
Basically since the revolution triumphed the United States has maintained a cruel, illegal, and genocidal blockade against Cuba. Limiting access to food, medicine, teaching equipment and technology the blockade has caused immense hardship for the Cuban people. In fact the blockade has cost Cuba over $82Billion in the last 45 years.
By George W. Bush’s own admission the blockade exists because, “trade with the country enables a tyrant to stay in power.” Even if we were to agree that Fidel is a tyrant, since when is this the US trade policy? Executive Director at Americans for Humanitarian Trade, George Fernandez, pointed out in 1999 that, "The U.S. embargo on Cuba is the single most restrictive policy of its kind. Even Iraq [under sanctions] is able to buy food and medicine from U.S. sources...As a Cuban American, I speak for the vast majority of us who do not think the U.S. should be in the business of denying basic sustenance to families and children in Cuba."
Recently, on July 5th 2006, the US State Department’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba released a new report which lines up the US’ immediate plan of action following the death or incapacitation of Fidel Castro. According to the Miami Herald, “[The report] calls for the creation of a two-year $80 million ”Cuba Fund for a Democratic Future.” The money is to “increase support for Cuban civil society, expand international awareness, break the regime's information blockade, and continue developing assistance initiatives to help Cuban civil society realize a democratic transition.” After the initial two years, the commission recommends adding at least $20 million annually to the fund “until the dictatorship ceases to exist.””
What is the US so afraid of?
What frightens the strongest military in the world? What frightens the strongest capitalist ruling class in the world? What makes them so unwilling to trade with Cuba, a little third-world island only 90 miles away?
The power of ideas. This is what makes the United States so weak in the knees.
For over 45 years the US government has done everything in its power to isolate Cuba from the rest of the world. From yelling accusations of ‘human rights abuses’ to ‘dictator’ to ‘outpost of tyranny’ to ‘state sponsor of terror’ the United States has accused Cuba of horrendous crimes. But in return Cuba has reached out to the rest of the world, offering to send 1,500 doctors to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, sending 3,500 doctors free of charge to Pakistan, using its exemplary literacy campaign to teach people across Latin America how to read.
For this Cuba has won the respect of many governments around the world, and the admiration of millions oppressed people around the world. This respect can be seen with the United Nations voting to condemn the US blockade on Cuba in November 2005 for the 14th consecutive year, and Cuba’s recent election the United Nations Human Rights Council, where Cuba elected by 70% of the UN member nations (135 votes in favour).
However, the United States is not really afraid of Cuba’s advances in the United Nations. What frightens the US is the possibility that the ideas represented in that battle on July 26th 1953 will spread to other countries. That seeing the gains Cuba has made since kicking the United States out of their country, will inspire other countries to do the same.
The US blockade on Cuba and all other US attacks on Cuba are meant to prevent the spread of the Cuba’s largest strength, its ideas. But like the powerful sound of Cuban music, Cuba’s ideas are traveling the world over and no blockade can ever stop them.
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA)
“Wise grandfather, Fidel; Father, Hugo; I am the son of you both”
- Evo Morales, President of Bolivia
On April 29th 2006 the presidents of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia came together to affirm their commitment to the Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of Our America (ALBA). In their agreement the countries agreed to fund programs to eradicate illiteracy; for each country to attempt to hold at least 51% of all bi-national or tri-national companies in their countries; to organize joint cultural projects; educational exchanges; strengthen communication infrastructure in all three countries; and to share scientific and technical know-how in order to promote economic and social development.
Unfortunately for the US, it has nothing to offer the people of Latin America- promises of freedom of speech, democracy, or improved economy have all been disproved by years of US-backed dictators from: Batista to Pinochet or US-backed coup d’etats: from Venezuela to Haiti.
In 2005, in his yearly July 26th address, Cuban president Fidel Castro stated, “The agreement between the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Republic of Cuba, signed in accordance with the principles of ALBA, means a considerable step forward on the way to unity and the true integration of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean...Because of these noble, constructive and peaceful efforts, the imperialist government is accusing Venezuela and Cuba, Chávez and Castro, of destabilizing and subverting other countries in the region. Faced with such accusations against Venezuela and Cuba, and if President Chávez agreed, a day like today would be most opportune to reply: Condemn us, it doesn’t matter, history will absolve us!”
Fifty-three years ago, on July 26th 1953, it was time for the Cuban revolutionaries to show their fellow Cubans an alternative to the repressive dictator Batista. Today, that alternative has been realised and surpassed by the gains made by the Cuban revolution.
Today, in the year 2006, it is time for ALBA to show all of Latin America an alternative to the neo-liberal policies of the US and their puppet governments throughout Latin America. Tomorrow, that alternative will be realised and surpassed if we continue to struggle- Until Victory, Always! We will win!
¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!
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