The July 26th Movement and the Gains of the Cuban Revolution

Today marks the 55th anniversary of the historic attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks in Cuba.

On July 26, 1953, the Cuban revolutionary forces launched two attacks against the Batista Regime, one against the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and the other against the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks in the city of Bayamo. The Moncada Barracks was the military centre of the Batista regime in the south and its second largest and most powerful garrison. Since the 1959 triumph of the revolution in Cuba, this day has been commemorated with the participation of millions of Cubans, and celebrations are held in a city chosen for its social and economic gains that year. In marking this anniversary, the Cuban people are reaffirming their determination to uphold their right to live free of foreign interference and to create a socialist society.

The attacks were executed by a new organization that was created in the mid-1952, under the leadership of Fidel Castro and Abel Santamaría. It was a clandestine revolutionary organization, as yet unnamed, made up of young workers, students, employed persons, artisans, campesinos from different parts of the island, etc. It had around 1,500 members and the organization affiliated itself with previous revolutionary Cuban figures such as Eduardo Chibás and José Martí. About 120 youths were part of these attacks, approximately 70 of whom were massacred during or after the event. Others, including Fidel, were subsequently arrested, tortured, tried and/or executed. Many, including Fidel, were released after an amnesty in May 1955. This amnesty was the result of the mass mobilization of Cubans in support of the imprisoned rebels. For example, starting in 1955, mothers of some prisoners and other Cuban women organized a campaign to free the imprisoned rebels. Civil society, including editors, intellectuals and even political leaders, issued a public appeal demanding “liberty for the political prisoners.” That year, the Cuban Congress passed a bill granting general amnesty to political prisoners. After being signed by Batista, the imprisoned rebels were freed.

In response to the attacks, Batista’s regime escalated its repression of the progressive forces as never before, launching mass arrests of any deemed suspicious, imposing extensive censorship and suspending constitutional rights, and so on. In other words, the reaction of the Batista regime was to immediately and viciously criminalize the youth for their aspirations for a better world. They were attacked as violent, troublemakers and slandered, just as the youth today fighting for another world are attacked. Batista’s regime knew very well that though the forces were defeated, it would inspire the Cuban youth and revolutionaries, all those who wanted a new Cuba, to see the possibility of it, to think bravely and defiantly.

It is also important to put these events in a broader historical context for Cuba. For centuries, the Cuban people fought for their liberation from the yoke of colonialism. This history showcases many amazing fighters and leaders still venerated in Cuba and around the world today such as Jose Marti. As the 1800s came to a close, the revolutionary Cuban forces were ever nearing their dream of liberation and dignity. A Republic was established through these efforts. Yet the U.S., the new rising Empire, would not stand for this. Through aggressive policies and coups d’état , the Batista regime was brought into power with its unprecedented servility to the U.S. and its interests, undermining the Republic and its Constitution. In this context emerged what is called the Centenary Generation, the generation led by Fidel Castro, synthesizing 50 years of struggle against servile U.S. governments in Cuba. At that time, the youth were at the forefront of the struggle, and the University of Havana became one of the centers of opposition to the government. Thus, the July 26 attacks were a continuation of a long history of struggle in Cuba, and were a link in a long chain that led to the 1959 Revolution.

Though the battle was lost that day, it made it possible for the war to be won, to liberate Cuba from U.S. dictate and establish a people’s government. Thus, the significance is that of taking a stand. The Cuban people planted their flag and said to all those willing, here is the battle, here is where to follow. Today, the Barracks are now a school and the Museum of the Revolution. The date on which the attack took place, July 26, 1953, was adopted as the name of the revolutionary July 26th Movement which eventually took power in 1959. When Fidel was arrested after the attacks, he defended himself in the court. His four-hour defense was recorded by the court and became the platform for the July 26th Movement. I would like to quote some passages of his defense entitled “History Will Absolve Me”:

“… Fundamental matters of principle are being debated here, the right of men to be free is on trial, the very foundations of our existence as a civilized and democratic nation are in the balance. (…)

“Why were we sure of the people’s support? When we speak of the people we are not talking about those who live in comfort, the conservative elements of the nation, who welcome any repressive regime, any dictatorship, any despotism, prostrating themselves before the masters of the moment until they grind their foreheads into the ground. When we speak of struggle and we mention the people we mean the vast unredeemed masses, those to whom everyone makes promises and who are deceived by all; we mean the people who yearn for a better, more dignified and more just nation; who are moved by ancestral aspirations to justice, for they have suffered injustice and mockery generation after generation; those who long for great and wise changes in all aspects of their life; people who, to attain those changes, are ready to give even the very last breath they have when they believe in something or in someone, especially when they believe in themselves. The first condition of sincerity and good faith in any endeavor is to do precisely what nobody else ever does, that is, to speak with absolute clarity, without fear. The demagogues and professional politicians who manage to perform the miracle of being right about everything and of pleasing everyone are, necessarily, deceiving everyone about everything. The revolutionaries must proclaim their ideas courageously, define their principles and express their intentions so that no one is deceived, neither friend nor foe. (…)

“But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”

Thus, we see that to commemorate today is to uphold the gains made by the Cuban people, in liberating their society from imperial control and establishing a socialist system with universal healthcare, education etc.

The Moncada Garrison, now the 26 of July School Campus

July 26th historical
> July 26th video presentation (Spanish with English sub-titles)
> Fidel Castro Archive
> Che Guevara Archive
> Informative compendium dedicated to the 55 anniversary of Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. [Spanish – (download; zipped, PDF)]

July 26th in the news
> Santiago to Make Cuba Shudder Again
> The major success that was unknown to the world
> Fiesta in Santiago de Cuba
> July 26 School Complex: Real Heritage of Cuban History
> July 26: National Rebelliousness Day in Cuba
> Moncada assault remembered in the Siboney Farm Museum

With thanks to Hamilton (Can.) Friendship Association with Cuba