26th of July Movement and Dynamism of Cuban Revolution
By Tamara Hansen
In the early morning hours of July 26th 1953, the darkness of night was just lifting on the town of Santiago de Cuba. Around 150 young rebels drove in a suspicious row of cars through part of town, however they went unnoticed because no one was yet awake.
They were driving with determination in their hearts and minds. Their goal? The Moncada army garrison. Their dream? To overtake the garrison and its cache of weapons and tools of repression used by the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and put that arsenal in the hands of the people to begin an uprising for their liberation.
This morning was the beginning of the end for US control and hegemony in Cuba, the beginning of the end of the reign of terror they puppeteered with their marionette Batista.
The attack was well planned, but a few unexpected incidents alerted the army of their invasion too quickly. After loosing some fighters and the onslaught of government soldiers, the rebels retreated. This initial attack failed, but we call it the beginning of the end because the vision shown by the rebels under the leadership of a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro (only 26 at the time) opened Cuba’s path towards revolution. Only six years after that fateful morning, this revolution and its ideas triumphed over the brutal dictatorship of Batista.
Cuba under Batista’s control
The need for the change represented by the July 26th attack was quite evident by the misery and poverty that plagued Cuba prior to the Cuban Revolution.
According to the CBC website, “He [Batista] opened the doors to large-scale gambling in Havana, to the point where the capital became known as the Latin Las Vegas. Cuba became a playground for the rich, most of whom were American. There was little tolerance for opposition to the government.”
The Yahoo! Education Encyclopedia continues, “In 1952 he [Batista] seized power through a coup. His second term as president was marked by brutal repression, which led to several uprisings, notably that of Fidel Castro. Pressed by the rebels and after a mock election (1958) had failed to calm the populace, Batista fled Cuba.”
In 1953, 90% of people in Cuba were illiterate or semi-literate, without even a 6th grade education level. One third of all homes in Cuba were classified as huts, while only 56% of homes had electricity. A 1953 employment census noted that 8.4% of the work force was unemployed. This 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%.
How could a country be changed from a situation of repression, poverty and ignorance to today when, Cuba has the most doctors per capita of any country in the world, with, according to the CIA World Factbook, a literacy rate of 99.8% and an unemployment rate of only 1.9%?
Formation of the 26th of July Movement
After their retreat, many of the revolutionaries were captured. Using torture, intimidation, duress and other inhumane tactics Batista’s army hunted and rounded up most of the young rebels. Fidel Castro, a young lawyer in training at the time, was also soon captured.
Fidel was lucky to make it to his trial date. Many of his fellow combatants were tortured to death in Batista’s prisons. At his trial, Fidel represented himself. His trial was marked by a poignant speech where he condemned his guards, the judge and all others working for the court for their involvement in the brutal and corrupt government.
“Sentence me. It doesn’t matter.” He said with conviction, “History will absolve me.”
Fidel Castro was shortly thereafter found “Guilty” and sentenced to 15 years in jail.
This would not last long; as members of the urban underground quickly began distributing clandestine copies of Fidel’s speech. This talk shook the disgruntled and oppressed people of Cuba. Popular pressure grew across the country demanding the release of all political prisoners, including Fidel Castro. Batista was required to release the heroic rebels after only two years.
Many of the committed rebels fled quickly to Mexico where they created ‘the 26th of July Movement’ and planned a new attack against the Batista regime. In 1956, Fidel and other leaders of the 26th of July Movement returned to Cuba from Mexico and began a campaign to defeat the government of Batista. Two years later, in December 1958, Ernesto Ché Guevara, a leader along with Fidel in the 26th of July Movement, led an attack in Santa Clara against an armoured train Batista planned to send across the country to reinforce his lowering troop morale and crippled army. However, their convoy was interrupted when Ché and his follow revolutionaries derailed the train and triumphantly persuaded the troops and their leader to surrender. Batista fled Cuba shortly thereafter.
Where has the 26th of July Movement taken Cuba?
And here we are today, 54 years after the initial attack on July 26th 1953! What does Cuba have to show for it?
Health: In 1959, life expectancy in Cuba was 45 years. Today, according to the CIA World Factbook, life expectancy in Cuba is 77 years. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is also the lowest in Latin America at 6.04%. Cuba has the most doctors per capita of any country in the world.
Education: In 2006 Cuba marked 45 years of free education. Cuban news agency Prensa Latina reported last year, “On June 6, 1961, the revolutionary government decreed the Teaching Nationalization Law. Two months after defeating the US invasion of Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs), the country ended the education system that served a privileged minority and brought real democracy to teaching.” Illiteracy was wiped out just two years after the revolution began, and today the literacy rate sits at 99.8%, which according to the United Nations is full literacy.
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.
Internationalism: Cuba, since triumph of revolution in 1959, has constantly championed a revolutionary internationalist program in its foreign policy. Cuba has helped dozens of countries in this planet through material, health, education, technology, and even military assistance. Thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses, technicians, and educators are serving to improve lives of millions of people. Cuban military assistance in Africa helped many African countries in their struggle for self-determination. With the help of the Cuban revolutionary armed forces, the Angolan army defeated for good the South African army, which not only gained complete sovereignty for Angola but caused the collapse of Apartheid in South Africa and brought the freedom of Nelson Mandela.
All of these achievements happened while revolutionary Cuba has been for more than 45 years under severe US blockade and constant US and other imperialist attacks and sabotage. Because of these important 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.
The Battle of Ideas: a better world is possible!
Since the triumph of the revolution Cuba has been under pressure from the Government of the United States, because of lost stakes and profit when Cuba nationalized its industries and kicked many US companies out of Cuba. The US government has been seeking ways to defeat the Cuban revolution and return it to the hands of profit-makers and private companies. They have done this through the immoral and illegal blockade imposed on Cuba, the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion, and the more recent creation of the ‘Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba,’ a commission under the US Department of State.
In order to combat these dark forces from interrupting the immense gains Cuba has made for poor and working people Cuba has created a campaign called, “The Battle of Ideas”. This began when Elian González was kidnapped by his mother from his father in order to take him with her to the United States. When Elián’s mother died on a raft between Cuba and Miami he was taken in by family members living in the US. Elián’s father and the Cuban government fought a long and difficult battle to get Elián back. Using education, organization and mass mobilizations Cuba pressured the Government of the United States to do what was just, both legally and morally, which was to return Elián to his father.
This was a major victory for Cuba against the United States, a country that is constantly slandering Cuba and making false accusations towards Cuba as a pretext to uphold its internationally exposed and condemned blockade against the island.
Some of the projects initiated by the Battle of Ideas were recently outlined in an article by the The Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau. They explained a presentation given by Otto Rivero, a member of the Cuban Council of Ministers who is coordinating the campaign, “Success in the Battle of Ideas, the reporters were told, can be tallied by thousands of projects that have been accomplished in institutions across Cuban society. Among these are the restoration of 84 hospitals, the expansion of 498 small medical clinics and the installation of 155 high-tech medical machines. Dozens of run-down schools have been rebuilt, while 34,877 new social workers have been trained to aid the population. All levels of education have been reorganized with a focus on information technology, and university classrooms have been moved into Havana's suburbs and cities around the island. Every child now gets computer instruction from the age of 6, along with English language classes beginning in the third grade. The Battle of Ideas even extends to the effort to train the next generation of Cuban Olympic champions, along with the opening of youth video clubs, in which more than 20,000 young people have created short movies and video presentations.”
This project encompasses a huge variety of projects to advance and polarize Cuba and the world. It is deepening the differences between where the interests of the US government lie, which is in re-privatizing Cuba and widening the divide between rich and poor, and the Cuban people’s interests, which is having access to health, housing, jobs and education. In short, it is a battle between the ideas of Capitalism vs. Socialism.
Fidel: Revolutionary Leadership Example!
More importantly than all of the statistics is that the path of the revolutionaries of July 26th 1953, the path of hope, social justice and prosperity for all poor and oppressed people in Cuba, has not been abandoned- nor will it ever be.
On July 31st 2006, Fidel Castro announced that he was going for surgery and would be stepping down temporarily from his posts as President of the Council of State and President of the Council of Ministers. Since that time he has not made any public appearances, however he has begun publishing, “Reflections by the Commander-in-Chief,” articles with his perspective on what is happening in Cuba and around the world.
With titles such as, “NOBODY WANTS TO TAKE THE BULL BY THE HORNS”, “THE TRAGEDY THREATENING OUR SPECIES”, “BUSH EXPECTS EVERYTHING TO BE SOLVED WITH A BANG”, “NEEDING AFFECTION”, “CUBA’S SELF-CRITICISM”, and “THE BRAIN DRAIN” we can see that 54 years after leading the attack on the Moncada army garrison, and one year after going in for serious surgery, Fidel is still ready to fight.
Fifty-four years ago it was time for the Cuban revolutionaries to show their fellow Cubans and Latin Americans an alternative to repressive US-style imperialism. Today, that alternative has been realised and surpassed in Cuba. Today more than ever, the gains of the Cuban revolution are being felt around Latin America. With the revolutionary leadership in Venezuela, and progressive governments being elected in many different Latin American countries, they are joining Cuba towards a better future. There are many battles that still need to be fought, but it is clear that Latin Americans are marching forward to a better future!
Viva Fidel! Viva Cuba!
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