Remembering the Cuban Revolution

  • The Moncada barracks which Fidel Castro tried to take on circa 1953 in Santiago de Cuba.
  • Following an unsuccessful uprising against dictator Fulgencio Batista the dead bodies of shot insurgents lie on the grounds of the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. The attack on the Moncada barracks, which left 54 people dead, was the start of a long lasting civil war on the island of Cuba, which ended with the overthrow of the Batista regime.
  • Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro relaxing at a sugar plantation near Havana, surrounded by children, in 1955.
  • Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro observes as a member of his guerrilla army tests his shotgun in Sierra Maestro, Cuba, circa 1955.
  • Citizens of Havana speaking out after a student revolution in March, 1957.
  • A view of a bullet-ridden window after a student revolution in March, 1957.
  • President of Cuba Fulgencio Batista giving a speech on a balcony during a political demonstration to counteract student revolution in April, 1957.
  • Crowds carrying placards during political demonstration in July, 1957.
  • Cuban guerrilla leader and future dictator Fidel Castro and associates cheer and raise their weapons and fists in the air in Cuba, 1957.
  • Cuban guerrilla leader Fidel Castro does some reading while at his rebel base in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountains in 1957.
  • Caged prisoners accused of being Communist rebels in Havana, Cuba in April, 1958.
  • Argentine politician and soldier Ernesto “Che” Guevara relaxes with other members of Fidel Castro’s rebel army after capturing the Garrison town of Fomento, Cuba on Dec. 30, 1958
  • Major Ernesto Guevara participating in the Santa-Clara battle against the troops of Dictator Batista in 1958.
  • In this Jan. 8, 1959 file photo, Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro speaks to supporters at the Batista military base “Columbia” now known as Ciudad Libertad. The Cuban revolution triumphed on Jan. 1, 1959 after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country and Fidel Castro and his band of rebels descended from the island’s eastern mountains, where they waged a guerrilla war against government troops. 
  • New Year’s Day in Havana, 1959, confusion is rampant as Castro sympathizers come out into the streets with whatever weapons available. In Havana, looting and destruction followed the news of President Batista’s flight to the Dominican Republic. Armed civilians and soldiers attempt to stop the pillaging and restore law and order.
  • Havana, Cuba, Jan. 1, 1959. Fulgencio Batista has fled and there is confusion in the streets, and Fidel Castro’s sympathizers come out with small arms.
  • Castro’s supporters in a makeshift office in Havana in 1959 waiting for the arrival of their leader. They now control the city and try to keep law and order in the streets.
  • Fidel Castro is interviewed in Santa Clara, Cuba, 1959.
  • Sympathizers of Fidel Castro form ad hoc militias and secure whatever buildings they can, New Year’s Day, 1959.
  • Fidel Castro sympathizers round up some of Batista’s former secret police on New Year’s Day, 1959.
  • Rebel leader Fidel Castro during his victorious march to Havana on Jan. 1, 1959.
  • Cubans wait for Fidel Castro in Havana, 1959.
  • Fidel Castro’s revolutionary troops with captured tanks ride into the city of Santa Clara, previously liberated by fellow revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, 1959.
  • A mother is reunited on New Year’s Day, 1959 with her son who was guerilla fighter in the Cuban revolution.
  • Rebels carrying the Cuban flag on Jan. 1, 1959.
  • The citizens of Havana go wild with joy as they greet Fidel Castro’s revolutionary army on their arrival in the city.
  • Rebel leader Fidel Castro being cheered by a village crowd on his victorious march to Havana on Jan. 1, 1959.
  • On a stop, Castro lifts a young admirer in Cuba in 1959.
  • Commander of the Cuban Revolution Camilo Cienfuegos, center, with his parents, smiles at an undisclosed site in Cuba, 1959.
  • First days following Castro’s arrival in Havana in January 1959, Cuba.
  • These residents of Ybor City, Tampa’s heavily Cuban-American area, gather on steps of the Cuban club after learning that Cuba’s President Fulgencio Batista fled Havana, Jan. 1, 1959. A parade and other celebrations were planned, but police clamped down on any demonstrations. 
  • Rebel troops wave up to apartments where people cheered and threw flowers as they arrived in Havana, Jan. 3, 1959.
  • Supporters of rebel leader Fidel Castro carry a painting of their hero as they march down the coastal highway, the Malecon, in a parade in Jan. 1959.
  • Fidel Castro next to Osvaldo Dorticós with Che Guevara at a 1959 parade in Havana.
  • In this Dec. 14, 1964 file photo, Cuba’s Ernesto “Che” Guevara, smoking a cigar and in uniform, leans against a wall in the spectator’s gallery in the United Nations Security Council chamber as he listens to speech by U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Adlai Stevenson. Cuba had no seat in the Security Council and Guevara had to stand as there were no more chairs for spectators. 
  • Fidel Castro stands amidst a crowd of farmers as he explains his plan to distribute 7,500,000 acres of land which he claims was stolen from the nation by big landholders among peasants in Oriente Province, the cradle of the revolution, March 20, 1959. 

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Sixty-two years ago on July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro united a rebel force with systematized plans to overthrow the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro, then a young lawyer and activist, had joined the highest ranks of the reformist Cuban People’s Party and was slated for candidacy as the party’s delegate in the House of Representatives. He had long accused Batista of corruption and tyranny, and petitioned for his expulsion. 

When legal means proved futile, Castro led 160 guerrilla fighters in laying siege to the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba. He failed to ignite a popular uprising. Instead, the majority of the rebels were killed and Castro arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. When a 1955 political amnesty freed Castro and his brother Raúl, the two fled to Mexico where, among other Cuban exiles, they organized the 26th of July Movement — marking the beginning of the campaign that would finally oust Batista.

Less than a year later, Castro and his 82 men boarded the Granma yacht — built to accommodate a maximum of 25 people — in Mexico, landing on Cuba’s eastern coast on Dec. 2, 1956. All but 12 fighters were either killed or captured. Among those who evaded both and retreated into the Sierra Maestra mountains were Fidel and Raúl Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos — who would later become one of the movement’s top commandantes — and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

The guerrilla war pack amassed revolutionary volunteers as it pushed across the island, winning a series of victories over Batista’s armed forces. While Batista resorted to “brutal methods” to keep cities under control, Guevara and Raúl Castro executed supporters of the Batista regime in the mountains. A poorly armed extension of Castro’s movement, los escopeteros, or the gunsmiths, held captured terrain against Batista’s troops, served as informants to the guerrillas and protected their supply lines through the foothills and plains of el Oriente Province. With their help, the 26th of July movement was able to capture the Sierra Maestra in its entirety.

Though guerrilla fighters at the time remained fewer than 200, they continuously forced the Cuban army, comprised of over 35,000 soldiers, to retreat. By March 1958, U.S.-Cuban relations were changing drastically, contributing significantly to the unrelenting defeat of Batista’s forces. On March 14 of that year, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower imposed an arms embargo on the island. American support was swiftly shifting away from Batista and, without being able to get American parts for repairs, the Cuban air force started to break down.

In one of his final attempts to regain control over the mountains, Batista organized Operation Verano, also known as la ofensiva — the offensive — sending 12,000 troops to combat Castro.

The operation led to historical battles, and on Aug. 21, 1958, Castro’s rebels launched their own offensive, splitting off into columns of fighters lead by Castro, Guevara and Cienfuegos. The columns won ground in Yaguajay and Santa Clara, and Batista fled Cuba for the Dominican Republic on Jan. 1, 1959. The next day, a military commander ordered his troops not to fight in the city of Santiago de Cuba. The 26th of July movement had triumphed, and the rebel columns set out on a victory march to the island capital of Havana — where Fidel Castro finally arrived on Jan. 8, 1959.

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