Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1958: Castro ups attacks on US interests

Cuba History Timeline Events
September 30, 1958
In parallel with the insurgency activities to prevent elections, Castro intensified his attacks on US interests as a protection blackmail scheme—demanding a "revolutionary tax" to forestall attacks. A memo prepared by the US Department of State Officer in Charge of Cuban Affairs (Terrence Leonhardy) described this Castro terror and blackmail campaign against US interests.

A related State Department document summarized US property losses to Castro's rebels from January to September 1958 totalling more than two million dollars. The author, William Arthur Wieland (Director of the Office of Caribbean and Mexican Affairs), suggested in his memo that the information be relayed selectively to US journalists to provide facts for them to include in their stories if they wished. The senior US State Department official receiving the memo, Roy Rubottom (Assistant Secretary for Latin American Affairs), responded with this comment:

"I do not expect the U.S. press will find this information very newsworthy."

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

1958: Castro-Communist Party agreement

Cuba History Timeline Events
July 20 - August 10, 1958
In the spring and summer of 1958 Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, representative of the Cuban Communist Party (PSP) and editor of the Moscow-aligned Communist newspaper Hoy [Today], met with Raúl and Fidel Castro in the Sierra, where they finalized a negotiated agreement by mid-August 1958. Rodríguez had served Batista as a cabinet minister in the 40s.

After the Pact of Caracas was signed the PSP shifted its mixed allegiance in entirety to Castro's M-26-7 but covertly, it was not until December 1958 that the Cuban Communist Party officially endorsed Castro and his rebels, in their publication La solución que conviene a Cuba; algunas verdades que deben conocerse [The Right Solution for Cuba: some truths that ought to be known].

Carlos Rafael RodríguezCarlos Rafael Rodríguez
(photo: AIN/Cuba)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

1958: Pact of Caracas

Cuba History Timeline Events
July 20, 1958
Although the electoralist-constitutionalist opposition had succeeded in reaching agreements in which Batista publicly announced agreement to step down at the end of his term, and to hold elections in 1958 supervised by international observers from the UN and OAS, the revolutionary opposition persisted in choosing violence rather than political negotiation and elections to end Cuba’s political crisis. The hatred of the revolutionaries was so deep it was not enough for them that Batista leave Cuba and a new president be freely elected—no solution was acceptable to them that did not include imprisoning or killing Batista. Their mantra was "Hay que castigar a Batista" [Batista must be punished], and this goal trumped all for them.

The Miami armchair revolutionaries had rejected Carlos Márquez-Sterling’s invitation to join in a national coalition to challenge the regime in the November elections, instead reaffirming their commitment to revolutionary violence in the Pact of Miami—which Castro had contemptuously repudiated.

In July, the Miami revolutionary and abstentionist factions making up the Liberation Junta and Castro’s representatives met in Caracas, Venezuela, to reaffirm and officially ratify the Liberation Junta assent to Castro demands in his repudiation of the Pact of Miami.

At the Caracas meeting the Liberation Junta strengthened their alliance with Castro’s M-26-7 through new joint initiatives in their war against Batista’s regime. On July 20 they jointly signed a manifesto called the Pact of Caracas. The text of the agreement had been broadcast the day before on Radio Rebelde as the words of Fidel Castro. Unlike the Pact of Miami, this document named Fidel Castro Commander in Chief of the revolutionary opposition to Batista.

All revolutionary factions were now under Castro’s control. In signing the Pact of Caracas,the Miami Junta revolutionaries for all intents and purposes abdicated their leadership to favor Castro. They did so even though many of these leaders knew—but chose not to make public—that there was a significant and growing Communist presence in the Sierras, and mounting evidence that the Communists had reached an agreement with Fidel Castro, and Communist leader Carlos Rafael Rodríguez had visited Raúl Castro in the Sierra.

Before adjourning the meeting the Pact signatories also agreed to oppose and undermine the 1958 elections, pledging critical and needed support to Castro's aim of opposing any political solution to the crisis. To that end Dr. Miró Cardona was commissioned to travel to Washington and inform the State Department they rejected the elections because “the candidates had submitted to the tyrannical regime of Batista.”

The signers of the Pact of Caracas were Fidel Castro, 26th of July Movement; Carlos Prío Socarrás, Organización Auténtica; E. Rodríguez Loeche, Revolutionary Directorate; David Salvador, Orlando Blanco, Pascasio Lineras, Lauro Blanco, José M. Aguilera, Ángel Cofiño, Workers Union; Manuel A. de Varona, Auténtico Revolutionary Party; Lincoln Rodón, Democratic Party; José Puente y Omar Fernández, University Students Federation; Capt. Gabino Rodríguez Villaverde, former Army officer; Justo Carrillo Hernández, Montecristi Group; Angel María Santos Buch, Civic Resistance Movement; José Miró Cardona, Coordinator-Secretary General.

At the meeting the request to have the signatories ratify Castro’s designated Provisional President, Manuel Urrutia Lleó. However, the Revolutionary Directorate and Montecristi Group representatives opposed the request, urging that this be taken up at the next meeting to be held in Miami. At the Miami meeting (11 August) José Miró Cardona was unanimously elected as Coordinator of the Civic Revolutionary Front (Pact of Caracas signatories), and Urrutia was ratified as Provisional President by majority vote (opposed by the Revolutionary Directorate).

The Pacto de Caracas text was published and distributed in Cuba in September 1958.

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cuba 1952-1959 on Blog Talk Radio (12/17)

Manuel Márquez-Sterling will appear on Cuba Companioni's Blog Talk Radio program Conversa Cuba Companioni Thursday 17-Dec at 7:00PM ET. He will talk with hosts Roberto Companioni and John O'Donnell-Rosales about his new book Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power. The show audio is also available via iTunes podcast.

Cuba 1952-1959 on Cuba Companioni on Blog Talk Radio

1958: Battle of La Plata (El Jigüe)

Cuba History Timeline Events
July 11-21, 1958
On July 11, 1958, the Battle of La Plata (also called Battle of Jigüe) was launched by Batista forces as part of Operation Verano, a campaign to end the Castro rebellion. The battle plan created by General Eulogio Cantillo called for a direct attack on Castro's base in the Sierra Maestra featuring a coordinated amphibious assault from sea by Battalion 18, led by Major Jose Quevedo Pérez. Although the landing was successful. Castro forces quickly surrounded the assault battalion, ending with the humiliating surrender of the battalion and the loss of about 500 Cuban army troops. Quevedo (a Castro school chum) and a few other officers joined Castro’s rebels soon after the surrender.The scale of the defeat demoralized Batista’s armed forces, and provided the rebels supplies, military equipment, a morale boost and a propaganda victory.

An August 1958 Time report summarized Castro's comeback and the gains of the revolutionaries:

Five months ago many Cubans thought that Rebel Chief Fidel Castro was through. His much-touted "total war" against President Fulgencio Batista was a total failure; the general strike in Havana that started literally with a bang ended with a whimper as local leaders went into hiding, shrilly blaming one another for the fiasco. That was early April. Last week reports sifting through heavy censorship indicated that Castro had made a notable comeback. Despite the rebels' continued grandstanding and disorganization, the swelling tide of popular discontent had carried them back to a position of strength.

Cuban Rebel Fronts July 1958 Rebel Fronts summer 58: Fidel (Sierra Maestra) & Raul Castro (Sierra Cristal),
Oriente province, Cuba. (illustration: LIFE July 21 1958)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

1958: Castro Rebels take US Hostages

Cuba History Timeline Events
June 26, 1958
In June Soviet advisor Nikolai Leonov counseled that Raúl Castro’s new front in the Sierra Cristal begin kidnapping American servicemen and civilians working in Cuba to drive the United States to withdraw from the Cuban conflict. On 22 June Raúl Castro issued Military Order #30 directing the kidnapping of American Citizens.

Ushering in the era of kidnapping as a tool for political terrorism, on 26 June Raúl Castro’s rebels kidnapped ten Americans and two Canadians from the property of Moa Bay Mining Company (an American company) on the north coast of Oriente Province. The next day rebels took hostage 24 US servicemen on leave from the United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay. This incident brought total kidnapped hostages to 50 (47 US and 3 Canadian citizens).

US Ambassador Smith and his staff determined the kidnappings had the following objectives:
  1. Obtain worldwide publicity
  2. Regain M-26-7 prestige lost by general strike call failure
  3. Force Batista's Air Force to stop bombing rebel holds
  4. Gain public recognition from the US
Two tactical objectives the kidnapping achieved for Castro forces can be discerned from contemporaneous reporting in Time: Batista declaring a ceasefire for negotiations, forcing a reduction in Operation Verano air raids; the rebels used the lulls to regroup and fly in arms.

The hostage taking caused significant US backlash, including unfavorable public reaction, and US consideration to re-establishing military support to Batista and deploying US forces to free the hostages. Ultimately, the hostages were released without any US concessions. They were released in very small groups, extracting the maximum press attention.

US Hostage negotiations, Cuba 7/58Raul Castro US Hostages July 1958
US Hostage negotiations, Sierra Cristal, Cuba July 1958. (L to R) Park Wollam (back to camera) US Consul Santiago, 'Deborah' (Vilma Espin), Raul Castro (standing), Castro aide, US vice-consul Robert Wiecha. (photo: George Skadding/LIFE)US Hostages captured by Raul Castro in June 1958. (L to R) Edwin H Cordes, Moa Bay Co. geologist; Roman Cecilia, Frederick Snare construction firm engineer; AF Smith, JG Ford, United Fruit Co; Eugene Pfleider, Moa Bay Co; HF Sparks, United Fruit; Harold Kristjanson (Canadian), assistant construction boss for Moa Bay Mining; John H Schissler, Moa Bay construction superintendent. (photo: George Skadding/LIFE)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

1958: Operation Verano offensive

Cuba History Timeline Events
May 24, 1958
On May 24, 1958, Batista initiated the first and only major military offensive against Castro’s rebels in the Sierras: Operación Verano [Operation Summer], dubbed La Ofensiva [The Offensive] by the rebels. The operation was intended to find and eliminate Castro forces. The military force applied was considerable, though much smaller than is commonly reported: six battalions with air and naval support by the commands of Generals Eulogio Cantillo and Alberto del Rio Chaviano. Six battalions accounted for about a quarter of Batista’s total troops. Batista wanted the bulk of troops to remain assigned to protecting sugar mills and fields growing sugar and coffee from increasing rebel attacks.

Operation Verano primarily engaged four battalions, those led by Col. Ángel Sánchez Mosquera (11th Bat), Maj. Eugenio Menéndez Martínez (22nd Bat), Maj. Suárez Zoulet (19th Bat), and Maj. Jose Quevedo Pérez (18th Bat).

Operation Verano was ill-managed by an army whose ranks were increasingly demoralized, disaffected and plagued by internal conflict. Despite achieving initial success, the operation ended three months later in complete failure. Its engagements resulted in significant defeats, surrenders, losses and desertions for Batista forces. Notable battles included Merino, El Jigüe (La Plata), Santo Domingo, Las Vegas de Jibacoa, and the final battle of the campaign, Las Mercedes.

The rebel forces’ defense to this offensive provided a real military victory for Castro, and an even greater propaganda victory. In addition to increasing terrorist and guerrilla raid operations, Castro’s defense had three major elements: (a) military engagements in the Sierra; (b) new kidnapping and terror operations to bring pressure on the US; and (c) pressure through the US press and State Department, denouncing the Batista offensive for using US-supplied weapons (delivered before the arms embargo) and demanding that the US take action against Batista.

Some insight into these Castro campaigns and their context is found in contemporaneous US press reports in Time and a Homer Bigart story in the New York Times, and in a then confidential letter from US Consul Park Wollam to the US Department of State Officer in Charge of Cuban Affairs (Terrence Leonhardy). Bigart and Wollam were Castro sympathizers whose accounts consistently reveal a marked pro-Castro bias.

A US State Department memorandum written about a week after the start of Operation Verano gives a glimpse of how successful Castro's propaganda initiatives were in engaging State Department, press, and congressional Castro sympathizers to apply pressure to constrain Batista from effectively using military assets. The State Department's Bureau of Inter-American Affairs ("ARA") took the position that Batista was violating MAP (Military Assistance Program) rules in deploying any US-supplied arms or US-trained troops because these were only to be used in fighting Communism—and they argued Castro’s forces were not communist. US military chiefs notably Admiral Burke saw the folly of the State Department’s arguments, and so indicated at a Department of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting.

Rebel tactics during Operation Verano included effective use of homemade bombs and landmines (what would today be called IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices) to inflict casualties on Batista's forces. This was a new application of rebel experience in explosives previously concentrated on urban terrorism and industrial sabotage.

The element of Castro's three-pronged strategy that drew the most attention during Operation Verano turned out to be the least successful tactically: kidnapping US hostages to force US concessions. But even this achieved substantial gains in advancing Castro's propaganda objectives.

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

M Marquez-Sterling Plymouth presentation video

Plymouth State University's Lamson Library and Learning Commons has published the video of Manuel Márquez-Sterling's presentation at the November 3 announcement of his new book, Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power.

The presentation is available as a five part series in standard and high definition (HD) video on the Lamson Library's Channel at YouTube:

Links to the individual parts:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cuba 1952-1959 on Blog Talk Radio (11/19)

Manuel Márquez-Sterling will appear on Cubanology's Blog Talk Radio program Speak Your Mind Thursday 19-Nov at 9:00PM ET. He will talk with hosts Jose Reyes and Roberto Companioni about his new book Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power and answer audience call-in questions. The show audio is also available via iTunes podcast.

The following program notes are from the program announcement post at Cubanology Biweekly:

About the Author:
Manuel Márquez-Sterling, born in Havana, has lived in the US since 1960. He is Professor Emeritus of History at Plymouth State University. His publications include Historia de la Isla de Cuba (co-authored with his father, Carlos Márquez-Sterling), and Carlos Márquez-Sterling: Memorias de un Estadista.

Before becoming a historian he studied law at the University of Havana in the 50s, where at graduation he received the Ricardo Dolz Arango National Law Award, the top University of Havana law student prize. His law practice in Cuba included serving as Public Defender and arguing a constitutional law case before Cuba’s Supreme Court. As a lawyer in 50s Cuba and the son of the architect of Cuba’s 1940 Constitution, the author addresses the legal and constitutional aspects of the revolutionary period from an expert perspective.

About the Book:

This book unearths a lost world to reveal the undiscovered Cuba during the critical seven years of the Cuban revolution. It brings to light long-buried fragments of history and masterfully pieces them together to lay bare how Castro really came to power. It is a book that could be written only by someone who was there, by an eyewitness with an insider’s view of behind the scenes happenings and intrigues, by someone who knew the now historical figures who fought the battles that ended in the establishment of the Castros’ totalitarian regime.

The book gives the reader a revealing look at the Cuba of the 50s, that shatters many widely-held misconceptions, including myths about Castro and his revolution assiduously crafted by Castro and his sympathizers over the last fifty years.

As this book reveals, the problems that plagued Cuba over 1952-1958 were political, not socio-economic. These problems were solvable by political means, and would have been but for Castro. It is commonly but mistakenly believed that in 1950s Cuba there were only two political forces: Batista and Castro. But as this book details, in reality there were three: Batista and his supporters, a revolutionary opposition advocating violently overthrowing Batista (of which Castro’s movement was a part), and an Electoralist/Constitutionalist opposition advocating solutions using ballots rather than bullets. The Electoralists represented the vast majority of Cubans who wanted to resolve the political crisis in a way that preserved Cuba’s 1940 Constitution and its democratic freedoms.

The author’s father, Carlos Márquez-Sterling, a prominent leader of the Electoralist/Constitutionalist opposition, was a presidential candidate in 1958 (
Cuba's last elections). he also played varied roles of substance in Cuban history, including leadership roles in the Ortodoxo party, Speaker of the House, Secretary of Education and Labor, and architect of the 1940 Constitution as President of the Cuban Constitutional Convention.

The struggle leading to the Old Republic’s collapse and Castro’s rise was mirrored in the struggle between Carlos Márquez-Sterling and Fidel Castro in establishing a government to replace Batista’s. Márquez-Sterling fighting for elections, Castro opposing them. The 1958 Cuban presidential elections drew an astonishingly large turnout—despite extreme violence including Castro’s threat to gun down anyone who went to the polls to vote. Márquez-Sterling received a decisive majority of votes cast, but to the surprise of leading political analysts of the day, the Batista government abetted electoral fraud and declared his chosen candidate the winner and new President. Márquez -Sterling’s margin of victory was large enough that the electoral fraud was obvious to everyone. This became the precipitating event to Batista’s departure. The US informed Batista that it would not accept the fraudulent electoral result and pressured him to leave Cuba- ushering in Castro’s regime.

Cuba 1952-1959 on 'Speak Your Mind' on Blog Talk Radio

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Visitor Map change

Regular readers will notice a change of Visitor Map in the sidebar. We have phased out the old map in favor of a new one from which we think is better across the board. Its maps are richer and afford more display options, and it's updated continuously rather than old map which was updated no more frequently than daily.

Though we think this is an improvement, the switch does come at the price of not integrating historical visit data, reinitializing logs to midday on 10 Nov 2009. For those interested in archived visitor data, below is the last map generated with old system which maps visitors to the blog from 9 Nov 2008 to 29 Oct 2009:

Cuba 1952-1959 Blog Visitors 11/9/08 - 10/29/09

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cuba 1952-1959 Book Presentation in NY

Manuel Márquez-Sterling will make a presentation at the New York launch event for his new book, Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power. The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session and a book signing. The event is sponsored by the Cuban Cultural Center of New York. It will be held on November 20, 2009 at Columbia University’s Casa Hispánica, 612 West 116th Street, NY. The program begins at 6:00 pm.

For reservations and event information please contact the Cuban Cultural Center by e-mail at:

11/15 UPDATE: The Cuban Cultural Center of New York reports that all available seats for the book presentation on Friday, Nov. 20 have been reserved, and so they have closed reservations for the event.

The following summary is from the New York Cuban Cultural Center event announcement:

the cuban cultural center of new york presents
Manuel Márquez-Sterling's
CUBA 1952-1959:
The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power

A discerning eyewitness account of the key events leading to the triumph of the Cuban revolution and the demise of the Cuban Republic in 1959, as well as a rich and comprehensive historical perspective of the last fifty years that only recent revelations have made possible. A must-read for all those interested in knowing the reality of Cuba’s political, economic, social and cultural conditions at the time of Castro’s rise to power and the catastrophic effects of his ensuing rule. With lucid prose and incisive analysis, the author lays bare long-held popular misconceptions about Cuba and its history and debunks much of the mythology perpetuated by the apologists for a totalitarian regime that has subjugated the Cuban people for over half a century. This book will serve as an invaluable introduction to those unfamiliar with Cuban history, as well as a necessary tool for scholars who wish to acquire an objective perspective and better envision a transition to democracy on the island.

Manuel Márquez-Sterling is heir to a distinguished line of Cuban diplomats, statesmen and journalists. A graduate of Havana University Law School, he has written several books on Cuban history, as well as novels and plays. He is Professor Emeritus of History at Plymouth State University and lives in New Hampshire.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cuba 1952-1959 Book Announcement

Manuel Márquez-Sterling's new book, Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power, was formally announced at Plymouth State University on November 3rd, 2009.

The announcement was made during a presentation at the university's Lamson Library. Honored guests in attendance included Plymouth State University President Sara Jayne Steen. After being introduced to an overflow standing-room only audience by Professor Peng-Khuan Chong, Chair of the Social Sciences Department, Professor Márquez-Sterling opened his talk by observing the day was the 51st anniversary of Cuba's last elections, in which his father Carlos was a presidential candidate. His talk focused on those elections, which proved to be Cuba's last chance at a peaceful constitutional solution to the country's long political impasse. Castro and his revolutionaries had assiduously worked to prevent these elections, including death threats against the candidates and voters who showed up at polling places.

It has long been acknowledged by all except die-hard Batista supporters that Carlos Márquez-Sterling won the 1958 election but was deprived of victory by electoral fraud. Prof. Marquez-Sterling recounted the recent disclosure by Batista's military chief detailing the elaborate plan to perpetrate the fraud and declare the candidate suported by Batista the winner. This chicanery was the event that finally brought down the old Cuban Republic and brought Castro to power. The US informed Batista that it would not accept the obviously fraudulent electoral result and pressured him to leave Cuba, precipitating Batista's flight on New Year's eve and Castro's consequent seizure of power.

Prof. Márquez-Sterling also spoke about another historic fraud—the claims that Castro's revolution resulted in improved Cuban living conditions, education and health care. He presented facts and figures from his new book demonstrating that Cuba today is but the ruins of an advanced and prosperous pre-Castro Cuba which had a large and growing middle class, excellent health care and education, and one of the highest standards of living in the region.

The book gives the reader a revealing look at the Cuba of the 50s, debunking many widely-held misconceptions, including myths about Castro and his revolution assiduously crafted by Castro and his sympathizers over the last fifty years. Among those myths is that the Cuban Revolution was a military battle between the forces of Batista and Castro. Another is that Cuba was a backward nation plagued by socio-economic problems which Castro’s revolution overcame to achieve great gains in quality of life.

The author chronicles Castro’s real innovation: amalgamating political gangsterism, terrorism, and propaganda to impose totalitarian rule under the false flag of democratic liberation. The history in this book is a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy when subjected to the kinds of stresses that plagued Cuba in the 50s. Those lessons have been made particularly relevant as a new wave of totalitarians inspired by Castro have adopted and extended his methods to create a particularly grave threat to democracies. Their gambit is to take Castro’s model one step further, seeking electoral victories to be subversively used to implement “constitutional reforms” that transmute constitutional democracies into totalitarian regimes. These “reforms” are achieved and consolidated through political gangsterism and electoral fraud. The success of such neototalitarian electoral coups is already evident in several Latin American countries.

The book incorporates illuminating material from diverse sources. These include recent publications and Spanish-language works not readily accessible to English-speaking readers. As the author mentioned in his (Spanish language) column announcing the book, making this material available in English was one of his major goals.

The book also incorporates extensive annotations and a bibliography for readers who want to further explore the enlightening revelations in this book. These references provide readers a guide to navigate to the accurate materials about the old Cuban Republic that the Castro regime has endeavored to obscure and distort for fifty years.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cuba 1952-1959 on NH Radio

Brian Tilton interviewed Manuel Marquez-Sterling about his new book, Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power. Courtesy of Brian Tilton, we are pleased to present the interview audio (15:51) from the program Bulldog Live! which airs weekday afternoons 1-3 pm on WTPL 107.7 FM "The Pulse" in New Hampshire and on web at

This program note is from the Bulldog Live! site’s Stories, Topics & Links to Recent Guests:

November 2, 2009

Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro’s Rise to Power

The book will be formally announced in a presentation by Prof. Márquez-Sterling at Plymouth State University, where he is teaching a course on that period of Cuban History this semester. The presentation will be held at the the Lamson Library and Learning Commons, 3:00 pm on Tuesday November 3, 2009. All in the Plymouth community are welcome to attend.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Upcoming Cuba 1952-1959 Book Announcement 

We’re thrilled to report the upcoming announcement of Manuel Márquez-Sterling’s new book, Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro’s Rise to Power.

The book will be formally announced in a presentation by Prof. Márquez-Sterling at Plymouth State University, where he is teaching a course on that period of Cuban History this semester. The presentation will be held at the the Lamson Library and Learning Commons, 3:00pm on Tuesday November 3, 2009. All in the Plymouth community are welcome to attend.

For information about the the event contact Anne Lebreche at Lamson Library and Learning Commons via e-mail to

We’ve added links to our sidebar to browse or purchase the new book at Amazon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

1958: Castro General Strike Fails

Cuba History Timeline Events
April 9, 1958
Castro picked the tenth anniversary of the Bogotazo as the day for the strike that would be “the final blow against the dictatorship” of Batista. Castro’s call for his much-vaunted general strike by all Cuban workers was universally ignored, a very visible failure demonstrating Castro and M-26-7 support by Cubans (and particularly Cuban workers) was much smaller than claimed by Castro and reported by his allies. Even his press sympathizers had to acknowledge the total failure of the much heralded “final blow” that would bring down Batista.

US Embassy analysis of strike failure has been gathered and published by de la Cova. The US analysts concluded that the major causes were poor planning and organization by M-26-7 and lack of Castro support by the Cuban people and the trade unions.

Cuba’s labor movement was not merely unsupportive of Castro or his strike call, they were staunch opponents and strong Batista supporters. Union chief Eusebio Mujal (an ex-communist turned strongly anti-communist) was a staunch Batista ally and supporter. Cuba’s trade unions and leadership remained one of the strongest anti-Communist/anti-Castro blocks until the Castro regime purged their leadership and brought them under state control.

Castro’s first attempt at explaining the failure was to claim its failure was a result of threatened deadly force by the “brutal tyrant Batista” against strikers. This explanation was not convincing, since everyone was aware Castro had threatened workers who didn’t strike with death. Moreover, police force could not have prevailed against a clear majority of workers. The next explanation, which endured, was that it was the fault of the Strike Coordinator chosen by Castro himself, Faustino Pérez. Early M-26-7 communiques denounced Pérez as a “traitor” for bungling strike plans, command and control. A contemporaneous Time story is interesting in including both explanations. In the evolving explanations for the failure, a week later Castro also attacked Prio for “living in luxury in Miami" while the rebels fought on bravely, despite severe shortages of military supplies and food.

By the end of the month it was apparent that the failure was a major setback with deep impact for Castro and M-26-7. As Time reported:

There was no doubt that the rebels were hurt, and they showed it. From the chief himself came a summons to his six top provincial lieutenants to head back to the Sierra Maestra, presumably for an agonizing reappraisal. The total failure of Castro's touted "total war" had highlighted 1) his weakness in practical organizing ability, and 2) the movement's lack of a social program to attract Cuba's labor and its Negroes (25% of the total population, some 40% of Oriente's). Said a wealthy, aging Havana rebel last week: "From now on, if Castro wants our money he'll have to take our advice along with it. The days of blind Fidelismo are over."

Faustino Perez 1959M-26-7 Gas Bombing Havana 9apr1958
Faustino Pérez, Havana 1959 (photo: Joseph Scherschel/LIFE)Rebel fire bombing, Prado Park Havana 9 April 1958 (photo: Bettmann/CORBIS)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Monday, October 19, 2009

1958: Congress declares State of Emergency

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 31, 1958
In response to the escalating terrorism and the M-26-7 “Total War” initiative, the Batista government invoked constitutional provisions that gave congress the authority to declare a national state of emergency giving the executive exceptional temporary powers. The congress, at the request of the Council of Ministers, passed special legislation declaring a “State of National Emergency” granting Batista extraordinary powers for a forty-five day period.

The law was publicly announced in Cuba’s Gaceta Oficial de la República on April 1, 1958. This act gave the President broad emergency powers including including the right to impose martial law, govern by decree, and use troops against strikers. These provisions effectively remained in force until the end of the Batista regime, renewed by passing extensions. These were enacted on 17 May (Special Act #2, State of National Emergency), 23 July (Decree 2418), 7 September (Decree 3023), and 22 October (Decree 3548), all published in Gaceta Oficial.

Contemporaneous coverage in the NY Times reflected the increasing and ever bolder attacks of the rebels as they prepared for their impending total victory on April 9 when they unleashed their “ultimate weapon”- the General Strike that would paralyze the island with military and terrorist support from the revolutionaries. This coverage acknowledged that the union leadership (CTC) had decided not to support the strike. The NY Times coverage in reporting the increased intensity and scope of rebel attacks, prepared its readers for the impending triumph of Castro in April:

Cuba is waiting anxiously for the “total war” that Fidel Castro, rebel leader, has threatened to start in Oriente Province today against the Government of President Fulgencio Batista.

Military action by the rebels is scheduled to be accompanied by a Cuba revolutionary strike as a supreme effort to overthrow the Batista regime

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

1958: Elections Postponed to November

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 26, 1958
Revolutionary violence against presidential candidates and their supporters achieved its aim, scuttling the June elections. Two March proceedings resulted in a five month postponement.

The Supreme Electoral Court granted the request for postponement sought by all political parties in a joint action citing the violence preventing orderly campaigning or voting. In a parallel effort, at the request of the Cabinet, the Congress passed a law on March 26 adjusting the electoral code, statutorily establishing the new date for elections as November 3, 1958.

A confidential telegram to the US State Department from Ambassador Smith about the situation summarizes a conversation he had with the Prime Minister, Gonzalo Güell y Morales de los Ríos. This reported that the Batista government had honored opposition candidates’ requests to postpone the election. This telegram also mentions that Güell believed that constitutional guarantees had been restored too soon and were exploited by the revolutionaries to increase violence to a level that jeopardized preservation of law and order. Amb. Smith noted:

Guell continued, "It is true and unfortunate that police at times are over-zealous—I am against any sort of violence—I am against dictatorship—I believe in democracy. Batista would like a democratic policy. If Castro succeeds, Cuba will have a real dictatorship. With Castro's Communistic projected program, situation in Cuba will be worse than in any other Latin American country—and that includes Guatemala".

Guell continued, "No matter who is elected in the coming elections, Castro will continue to fight. We must weaken Castro to make him play ball. Castro will not accept military junta or any government that is not 'stained' for him. All you have to do is read Castro's platform (22 points) and his letter to junta in Florida and then draw your own conclusions. Batista wants to leave power on February 24, 1959, and leave a government headed by a president elected by the people, whether the candidate be from the government party or the opposition party. Batista wants to guarantee a normal and democratic development of the country

US Amb Smith 1958Gonzalo Guell-Batista apr1958
US Ambassador to Cuba Earl ET Smith, Havana 1958 (photo: Lester Cole/CORBIS)Prime Minister Gonzalo Güell (R) and Batista, 1958 (photo: Joseph Scherschel/LIFE)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Monday, October 12, 2009

1958: Revolutionary Ides of March

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 15, 1958
Mid-March was a time of jubilation for the revolutionaries, and a bleak month for Batista—and the electoralist-constitutionalist opposition.

Castro's strategy was paying off. His terror campaigns backed Batista into a corner where he increasingly had to choose between restricting civil rights (particularly detention and interrogation of terror suspects) or letting the country slide into chaos. And simultaneously, regardless of the course Batista chose, the same climate of terror would preclude the possibility of conducting political campaigns or holding the scheduled elections. And the long in planning General Strike threatened to paralyze the island.

Confident that his victory in April was inevitable, Castro tightened cooperation with Cuba’s Communist Party (PSP) even as he rebuffed and distanced himself from the Church and its peace initiative. He engaged the Cuban Communist Party in his grand strike plan, and they pledged their support in March.

Multiple Castro initiatives converged this month to severely impair Batista’s capacity to maintain the climate conducive to free elections negotiated with the electoralists as their sine qua non conditions for participating in elections. These subversive initiatives included:
  • Greatly increased terrorism, aiming at destroying the economy (Sugar harvest focus)
  • Opening Sierra Cristal Front which would focus on new forms of terror, and terror against US citizens and interests
  • Enrollment of members of the judiciary in publicly opposing the government
  • Enrollment of the “non-partisan” Civic Associations Organization in calling for Batista’s resignation and supporting M-26-7 proposals
  • Success in lobbying US (through press, congressional, and State Department sympathizers) to impose arms embargo on Cuban government, progressively withdrawing support from Batista
  • Impeding the scheduled June elections
Preventing elections was the most important strategic element to M-26-7. They correctly understood that the regime was still strong to endure much longer, and that if they prevented honest elections they would checkmate both Batista and the electoralists. By preventing elections they would shorten the life of the government and weaken their political opponents.

Tactics against political rivals included intimidation of opponents and aggressive efforts to discredit them by painting those who sought elections as Batistianos (Batista supporters), and even claiming that they were receiving payoffs from the government.

The March successes of Castro’s tactics brought joy to the revolutionaries and sorrow to the constitutionalists. Carlos Márquez-Sterling response was “This is what we wanted to avoid at all costs. Our work has just become much more difficult.”

For the electoralist-constitutionalist opposition to Batista, the already enormous challenge of crafting and achieving a political solution threatened to become insurmountable as the national political climate was poisoned to the point that violence threatened to become the only way to settle differences. And the damage done to Cuba’s democratic institutions left them increasingly vulnerable to being overrun by a totalitarian tyrant.

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

1958: Civic Associations Organization letter

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 14, 1958
Concerned with the worsening political situation, US Ambassador Smith met with Raúl Velasco Guzmán, chairman of Cuba’s Civic Associations Organization (Conjunto de Instituciones Cívicas de Cuba). He urged Velasco to recommend that his members publicly support the June elections, and tell them that Batista had agreed to having US, UN, or OAS observers supervise the elections if the civic associations requested it.

With apparent reluctance Velasco said he would call for a meeting of his association to discuss Amb. Smith's request. He never did. Two days later, Velasco sent Smith an open letter listing more than 40 civic associations as signatories (but without signatures). This public letter from the Civic Associations Organization which implicitly rejected Smith’s call did not even mention Batista’s offer for election monitoring by international observers. The public letter from the Civic Associations Organization called on Batista to resign and implicitly supported Castro’s demands.

Smith doubted Velasco's good faith and his claimed "non-partisanship". The revelations of history confirm his doubts. It was later revealed that Velasco was a loyal and trusted closeted Castro supporter, and M-26-7's first choice to be Provisional President on the fall of Batista. Unknown to Smith, the "non-partisan" Velasco had been offered the revolutionary government Provisional Presidency a few months before, prior to its being offered to Urrutia.

Raúl Velasco and Che Guevara- Havana Cuba 13jan59 Raúl Velasco (2nd from R) and Che Guevara (2nd from L). Havana, Cuba 1959

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Monday, October 5, 2009

1958: US Support Ends; Cuba Embargo imposed

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 14, 1958
US Ambassador Smith noted a critical turning point, writing in his book The Fourth Floor:

“March 12, 1958 is an important date in Cuban history. After that date it was no longer possible to engender any support in the [US] State Department for the Batista government. It was on March 12 that Batista found it necessary to renew the suspension of constitutional guarantees and to reimpose censorship of the press.”

The ambassador summarized how this turn of events shifted power in the US State Department:

“For months I had used every means of persuasion to convince Batista to restore constitutional guarantees in the island. Overruling the advice of his confidants he complied and did so on January 25. The Department, believing this to be a big step in the right direction, assumed a waiting attitude. As I mentioned before they agreed to renew delivery instructions for twenty armored cars, which had been on order for some time.

Now, after approximately seven weeks, the strong man was forced to clamp down again because of the stepped-up activities of the terrorists. The waiting attitude ended. The Rightist-dictator-haters and the pro-Castro elements, whose estimate of the situation was that Batista could only control through strong-arm methods, were back in charge.”

The ambassador’s assessment of support having ended for the government of Cuba was publicly visible in the imposition on March 14 of an arms embargo, halting all armament and other military shipments to Batista’s government, even enforcing the embargo by intercepting ships enroute to turn them back to US ports. The embargo strictures even extended to forbidding the use of earlier supplied US armaments to suppress domestic rebellion.

The Eisenhower administration cited its reasons for the embargo as not wanting US-supplied weapons to be used in a civil war. The persistent lobbying of Castro and his revolutionary allies for a US embargo achieved their intended result. While the State Department enforced the embargo on Batista, with American tacit consent Castro continued to receive armaments and military supplies.

At this time the ambassador came to appreciate more fully how correct Assistant Secretary of State Robert C. Hill was in confiding when he accepted the post that Smith would be presiding over Batista’s demise since the US had already decided Batista had to go.

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

1958: Total War Manifesto, Rights Suspended

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 12, 1958
Since the restoration of constitutional rights in January, the Batista government had faced a difficult challenge in trading off the political costs of restricting civil rights against the ability to maintain order in the face of rapidly increasing terrorist activity. As one NY Times story reported, the aim of the ever-emboldening rebel guerrilla raids and urban terror campaigns was to force Batista to suspend the Bill of Rights and prevent the scheduled elections from taking place:

[...] the sabotage and terroristic campaign of revolutionary elements that seek to prevent elections set for June 1.

The rebels apparently hope to create such chaos that the Government will be forced to suspend constitutional guarantees, thus making the elections impossible

Batista's balancing challenge greatly increased in March, when Castro’s revolutionaries went all out in their terror campaigns, believing that their victory was imminent and prepared to deliver what they believed would be the fatal blow to the regime: a national strike. Castro published a Total War on Tyranny Manifesto with a call to strike and announcing that he would triumph in April. This Manifesto repeated the false claims of military attacks against rural civilians.

The manifesto called all of the labor force and students throughout the island to a general strike, which would be backed my military support from Castro’s rebel army. The manifesto forbade travel of any type in Oriente province from April 1, and announced that rebels would fire without warning on any vehicles that violated Castro’s no traffic order. It also decreed that all payments to the government must cease, and that anyone who made any payments to the government including taxes or fees would be considered an unpatriotic traitor guilty of a counter-revolutionary act. Those working in government administrative positions or in the courts were ordered to resign. And those in the military were warned that they would be judged as criminals, unless they deserted and/or joined the rebel army. The manifesto ended by calling for the people to support Castro’s “campaign of extermination against all those who serve the tyranny with weapons”, declaring that from April 5 in a Total War “The people will find it necessary to annihilate them wherever they may be, as the worst enemies of their freedom and happiness.”

The nefarious Herbert Matthews of the NY Times lobbied Cuban leaders to support Castro's Total War Manifesto (also called the 22-point Manifesto). In that lobbying Matthews solicited labor leader Eusebio Mujal, Secretary General of CTC to support Castro’s strike call. Matthews solicitation calls for Castro also included an uninvited visit to Carlos Márquez-Sterling.

On March 12, Batista suspended constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties again, and named Army Colonel Pilar García the new Chief of Police.

Col. Pilar Garcia c1958Rebel bombing of gas main, Havana 1958
Col. Pilar Garcia c1958Rebel bombing of gas main, Havana 1958 (photo: Joseph Scherschel/LIFE)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1958: Judiciary challenges to Batista

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 11, 1958
In March Batista faced judiciary affronts. As part of Castro’s subversive campaign, M-26-7 had been endeavoring to enlist judges to make pronouncements from the bench against the regime. These efforts targeted judges who were anti-Batista and inclined to judicial activism, such as Enrique Hart Ramirez, father of two sons actively involved in Castro terrorist activities (Armando Hart Dávalos, then in jail, and Enrique Hart Dávalos, the M-26-7 Chief of Terrorist Operations [Jefe de Acción y Sabotaje] for Matanzas province–who died a month later when a bomb he was making exploded). Armando Hart came out of the Communist closet in 1959 to join Castro’s first Council of Ministers, and subsequently held several high ranking positions including Politburo and Communist Party leadership posts.

A group of judges made public a March 6 letter criticizing the state of Cuban justice which accused the Batista government of at once of interfering with judges carrying out their duties (particularly in unresponsiveness to habeas corpus), and failing to prevent or capture the rebel terrorists planting bombs and perpetrating other violence in courtrooms and against judges. Enrique Hart Ramirez was one of the signers.

In early March a special judge, José Francisco Alabau Trelles, exasperated with the unresponsiveness to his order to release a terror suspect, petitioned the Supreme Court to file criminal charges against Rear Admiral José Manuel Rodriguez Hernández, Chief of Staff of the Cuban Navy, for torture (by Julio Laurent Rodriguez, Chief of Naval Intelligence) of Dionisio San Román and other conspirators in the Cienfuegos Cayo Loco uprising. At the same time, Alabau instituted proceedings against police Colonel Esteban Ventura Novo, infamous for his brutal treatment and use of torture in interrogation of terrorist suspects. Alabau went further on 11 March, indicting Ventura Novo and Laurent for murder of revolutionary terror suspects, and ordering that the two officials be held without bail. The Minister of Justice quashed Alabau's indictments before referring the charges to military courts, but the political damage to Batista of having two of his officials branded as murderers by a sitting judge was very great.

Alabau was a tragic figure, sorely wanting in judicial temperament. Castro rewarded him with an appointment to the Supreme Court of his revolutionary government in 1959, but he soon fell out of favor and had to flee into exile. There he attempted to foist an extraordinary hoax, claiming he had led military forces of the "Unitary Invasion Movement" that landed in Cuba and fought a battle against Castro forces in Guayabal (Camagüey province) that had inflicted dozens of casualties on Castro’s armed forces. It was soon apparent that there was no truth to his fantastic claims and that the photographs Alabau provided as evidence were fraudulent.

It is ironic, in considering the judges’ letter highlighting grievance over habeas corpus responsiveness, that one of Castro’s first acts on establishing his revolutionary government in January 1959 was to abolish
habeas corpus, as his revolutionary tribunals went into high gear.

With hindsight, we see the judiciary affronts to Batista reveal that in pre-Castro Cuba there was an independent judicial branch, whose members represented a diversity of political opinion including Batista opponents—even some who succumbed to judicial activism and overt political public statements and actions. And that in those days there was a free press to report such events. Within two years of Castro’s rise to power and the revolutionary change his advocates urged, an independent judiciary, diversity of political views and a free press were but a memory of Cuba’s republican past.

Enrique Hart Dávalos c1958Esteban Ventura Novo 1958
Enrique Hart Dávalos(second from right) Col. Esteban Ventura Novo 1958 (photo: Joseph Scherschel/LIFE)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Monday, September 28, 2009

1958: Bishops’ Harmony Commission

Cuba History Timeline Events
February 28, 1958
On 28-Feb The Cuban National Episcopate of the Catholic Church undertaking a peace initiative, issued an exhortation for a peaceful resolution of the national crisis: "Pro Peace" (En favor de la paz). As coverage in the New York Times acknowledged, at that time 1958 election plans were still progressing despite concerted efforts by Castro to derail them, including intimidation of candidates and potential candidates.

On 6 March Church bishops appointed a Concord Commission (Comision de la Concordia) popularly known as the Harmony Commission, and visited Batista advocating the formation of an “Unity Government”. The commission was composed of former President Grau San Martín, Raúl de Cárdenas (former Vice President), Gustavo Cuervo Rubio (former Vice President), Víctor Pedroso (President of the National Association of Cuban Banks), and Pastor González (a priest).

The church put its full weight behind this initiative, through its highest officials, the signers of the exhortation: Cardinal Manuel Arteaga, (Archbishop of Havana); Enrique Pérez Serantes (Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba); Eduardo Martínez y Dalmau (Bishop of Cienfuegos); Alberto Martín Villaverde (Bishop of Matanzas); Evelio Díaz Cía (Bishop of Pinar del Rio); Carlos Riu Anglés (Bishop of Camagüey); and Alfredo Müller y San Martín (Auxiliary Bishop of Havana).

In response to the requests of the Commission, Batista agreed to reorganize his cabinet with elements favorable to negotiating a political compromise, and appointed Dr. Emilio Núñez-Portuondo (his ambassador to the United Nations) as Prime Minister to preside over future negotiations. Batista also granted the commission permission to visit Castro in the Sierra.

Castro categorically rejected the bishops’ proposal, and refused to receive their designated representatives declaring he would execute on the spot any of them who traveled to the Sierra. The commission disbanded shortly thereafter.

The bishops were nonplussed at Castro’s response, believing their proposals had been helpful to him. They did not grasp that Castro was not interested in negotiated compromise or elections–that in fact it was his goal to prevent elections at any cost. A consular cable to the US State Department summarizing discussion of Amb. Smith with Batista about the failure of the Harmony Commission includes Batista’s continuing willingness to have US, UN or OAS observers to monitor the elections.

The commission’s work was lampooned by an editorial in the satirical weekly Zig-Zag for failing to engage “the most decisive elements–the insurgents: the FEU, M-26-7 and the Auténtico abstentionistas." That editorial was accompanied by this cartoon:

Castro and M-26-7 rebels at camp 1958 En El Patio De La Cubanidad (Valdés Díaz/Zig-Zag)

The cartoon, titled "In the Garden of Cubanness" (En El Patio De La Cubanidad), has Ramón Grau San Martín saying "We are all friends, why not say it? Cubanness is Love!" (Amigos todos, por qué no decirlo, la Cubanidad es amor).

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cuba 1950s LIFE on Google Books

1950s Cuba LIFE Magazine coverage on Google Books

Google announced this week that LIFE Magazine is now available on Google Books. Google Books has partnered with Life Inc. to digitize LIFE Magazine's entire run as a weekly: over 1,860 issues, covering the years from 1936 to 1972. Readers of this blog and others interested in Cuba history 1952-1959 will find this a useful resource, particularly for photographs of the period.

Castro on LIFE Cover Jan 1959DR attack damage Radio Reloj CMQ
Fidel Castro on LIFE Cover, Havana, Cuba. January 1959 (photo: Andrew St. George/LIFE)Damages caused by DR attack on CMQ Radio Reloj, Havana, Cuba. March 1957 (photo: Grey Villet/LIFE)

These new capabilities build on Google work to publish the LIFE magazine photo archives on the web mentioned in earlier post. Visit Google Books to browse through all available issues of LIFE. Check out the new Thumbnail View to see the layout of all the pages in the magazine.

Links below retrieve 1950’s Cuba LIFE articles of special interest to Cuba 1952-1959 history.

The announcement from Google Boksearch has some directions and search tips.

Related Cuba 1952-1959 posts:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

1958: Raúl Castro Opens Sierra Cristal Front

Cuba History Timeline Events
February 27, 1958
At the end of February, Fidel Castro commissioned his brother Raúl to open up a second Oriente front (“Frank Paîs Front”) in northeastern Cuba’s Sierra Cristal, promoting him (along with Juan Almeida and Camilo Cienfuegos) to the rank of Commander. Raúl arrived in the Sierra Cristal on 11 March with 50-80 men (“Column 6”), establishing his headquarters in Mayarí Arriba. The area covered by this front was substantial, initially stretching from Mayarí to Baracoa but soon extending to cover a triangle between Guantanamo, Baracoa and Mayari. Initially burning sugar cane fields was his main activity, but by the summer the front's efforts included attacks on the US naval base at Guantanamo and Americans in Cuba.

Raul Castro 1958Raul Castro & Che, Sierra Cristal 1958
Raul Castro in Sierra, April 1958. (photo: Andrew St. George/AP/AFP/Getty Images-LIFE archive) Raúl Castro (L) and Che Guevara, Sierra de Cristal, Cuba 1958 (photo: Andrew St. George/AP)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

Monday, September 21, 2009

1958: Radio Rebelde broadcasts begin

Cuba History Timeline Events
February 24, 1958
Exploiting constitutional guarantees of the restored Bill of Rights, M-26-7 rebels begin pirate radio broadcasts from mobile transmitters in the Sierra and supporters’ homes. In the time search warrants can be obtained, the rebels could move transmitters and evade capture.

Angel Pérez Vidal announced the start of Radio Rebelde broadcasts in an M-26-7 press conference primarily focussed on lobbying for a US Cuban embargo on Batista, and publicizing claims that Castro’s campaign to destroy the sugar crop was a great success that had already destroyed two million tons of sugar (almost a third of annual production). These claims were disputed by industry sources, who said rebel claims of damages were about ten times larger than actual damages.

The first Radio Rebelde broadcast (20 minutes) aired on February 24, 1958 from Alto de Conrado in the Sierra, powered by a portable electric generator. It featured Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Subsequent broadcasts began with what would become its signature station identification: “Radio Rebelde here, the voice of the Sierra Maestra, transmitting throughout all Cuba on the 20 meter band at 5 and 9 pm daily…” It also broadcast at 8 and 10 pm on the 40 meter band.

Luis Orlando Rodríguez initially served as Radio Rebelde director of broadcasting, but in a few months those duties were taken over by newspaperman Carlos Franqui, along with other propaganda and public relations responsibilities. Programming included news, revolutionary speeches, anti-Batista rants, musical interludes, and messages from rebels in the mountains to their families. Radio Rebelde also served as a military communication channel, mostly using coded messages, but occasionally transmitting in the clear to engage audiences in the excitement of the revolution through a vicarious sense of participation.

The technical director and founder of Radio Rebelde was Cuban ham (amateur) radio operator Eduardo Fernández. In addition to obtaining and maintaining the equipment, he also selected an initial Alto de Conrado site suitable for broadcasting on the 20 meter band. Fernández would later aid the revolutionary government to bring Cuban amateur radio under state control, precluding future rebel radio stations. Luis Orlando Rodríguez also came out of the Communist closet after 1959, and was appointed to the Council of Ministers.

The Radio Rebelde network eventually grew to 32 satellite stations dispersed throughout Cuba. Satellite stations produced feeds for the main station where daily broadcasts were assembled and transmitted from hub station and relayed satellite relays. The development, growth and sophistication of the network was aided by the US Consul in Santiago de Cuba, Park F. Wollam, one of Castro’s staunchest advocates in the US State Department. Through the efforts of Wollam and others at the consulate, parts and equipment for Radio Rebelde were secretly brought into Cuba and delivered to the rebels in the Sierra.

The viability and success of Radio Rebelde was made possible by the advanced and widespread use of telecommunications in Cuba in 1958. This provided an ample supply of radio equipment and operators, and a population where everyone had a radio. Contrary to Castro’s claims of pre-revolutionary backwardness, 1950s Cuba was far ahead of the region in technology adoption, including telecommunications.

Radio broadcasts on the island started in 1922 and expanded rapidly. By 1957 Cuba had 169 radios per 1,000 people–more than Japan and more than all Latin American countries except Uruguay. In 1957 Cuba had 160 radio stations–more than any other country in Latin America– ranking eighth in the world in number of radio stations, far ahead of all Latin American countries and more than double the number in Austria, France and the United Kingdom.

Barry Mishkind’s Broadcast Archive has a brief article on the History of Cuban Broadcasting by Manuel Alvarez.

Raul Castro Radio Rebelde 1958Radio Rebelde Station 1958
Raúl Castro broadcasting on Radio Rebelde, 1958. (photo: Latin American Studies collection)A Radio Rebelde station in 1958, Oriente Province, Cuba (photo: Latin American Studies collection)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline