Tuesday, June 30, 2009

1957: Bicameral Commission

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 25, 1957
The attack on the Presidential Palace and its sequel of reprisals moved Anselmo Alliegro, Senator and President of Cuba’s Congress, to call for a negotiated political compromise. He appointed a Bicameral Commission and announced they were ready to engage in talks with representatives of the opposition to explore ways to overcome the national impasse—without preconditions. All political parties were invited to testify before the Commission or present their demands in writing. The Ortodoxos and Castro rejected the offer outright.

The motion to form the Bicameral Commission (Comisión Interparlamentaria de Conciliación Nacional) was introduced by Senator Eduardo Súarez Rivas (Autentico). The Joint Resolution forming the Commission was approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives on March 25 and 26, 1957.

The Bicameral Commission (also called Interparliamentary Commission) received testimony and submissions from a wide range of political leaders across Cuba’s political spectrum, both opposition leaders (including Carlos Márquez Sterling, Ramón Grau San Martin, Amalio Fiallo, Manuel Artime, Buesa, Guillermo Alonso Pujol, Millo Ochoa, Eduardo Súarez Rivas), and Batista supporters (Batistianos, including Anselmo Alliegro, Jorge García Montes, Santiago C. Rey, Andrés Rivero Agüero, and Rafaelito Díaz Balart).

After days of studying the demands and position papers submitted, the Commission announced that all the guarantees demanded by the opposition for clean, free and fair national elections had been granted. Many thought this was the breakthrough in the national crisis, but the Ortodoxos and Castro remained adamant in rejecting it—and issued death threats to those who supported the effort.

The key breakthrough agreements of the Bicameral Commission included split-ballot voting (voto libre y directo), a new census, application of the 1943 Electoral Code, and multi-party audit controls on vote counts and certification of election results. These negotiated concessions granted in full the five sine qua non conditions Carlos Márquez-Sterling had framed as preconditions for participation by the Ortodoxos in the 1954 elections. Split-ballot voting had been the greatest stumbling block to agreement in the spring 1954 negotiations for electoral process guarantees.

The National Committee of Cuban Civic Associations (strongly allied with Castro) opposed the Bicameral Commission’s activities which was a serious impediment to its success.

Batista-Domingo-Alliegro Apr-1958 Batista (L), Andres Domingo (C), and Anselmo Alliegro (R) April 1958
(photo: Joseph Scherschel/LIFE)

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

Monday, June 29, 2009

1957: Presidential Palace Attack

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 13, 1957
Revolutionary student groups FEU-DR attacked the presidential palace in an assassination attempt on Batista. Forty attackers were killed including José Antonio Echeverría (FEU leader) and Menelao Mora Morales (a former Autentico congressman).

The Presidential Palace was Cuba’s equivalent of the US White House, housing the government offices of the President and his administration, and also the residential quarters of the first family. It had served this function since its inauguration in 1920. The Orestes Ferrara site has a set of pictures of this beautiful building over the years.

On the afternoon of 13 March 1957. the FEU/DR attackers and their allies pulled up to the Presidential Palace in two automobiles and a delivery truck, where the attackers jumped out, opened fire on the guards at the entrance, and rushed the building to storm Batista’s office, which they found empty. Batista had gone to the family quarters on the third floor a few minutes earlier to check in his sick son. The attackers tried to reach those quarters, but the elevator being on the residential floor already there was no way for the attackers to get to the third floor. A gun battle of a few hours ensued. A few attackers escaped, but most were killed in the building.

As the palace battle was in progress, Echeverria and DR confederates armed with pistols and machine guns assaulted the CMQ 24 hour news station Radio Reloj and shouted into the microphones that Batista was dead, rebel forces were in control, and called for a national strike and uprising by the military. Only the beginning of the message aired, that Batista was dead and had been slain by the DR. Echeverria didn’t realize the microphone cut out after his first few words, apparently due to volume-limiting circuitry. The attackers then fled to the University in their cars. Enroute, Echeverría ran into a patrol car and opened fire on the police, who shot back killing him.

The failed attack provoked brutal reprisals. That evening Batista's police force launched one of the worst waves of repression and political violence Cuba experienced in the 50s. Some police squads, apparently of their own initiative, rousted opposition leaders not involved in the attack—including Carlos Márquez-Sterling. In the ensuing bloodbath one of the casualties was distinguished attorney and former senator Pelayo Cuervo Navarro, a prominent figure in the abstencionista opposition and leader of the Ortodoxo Party. Pelayo Cuervo was assassinated the night of March 13, as this new wave of violence surged.

The leadership of the DR was eliminated by losses in the attack and its aftermath.

Presidential Palace Cuba 1958CMQ control booth
Presidential Palace, Havana Cuba. April 1958 (photo: Joseph Scherschel/LIFE)Radio Reloj broadcasting control booth. 13-Mar 1957

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

Related post: The Batista Paradox

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

1957: Matthews Castro interview printed in Cuban press

Cuba History Timeline Events
March 3, 1957
Cuban news publications published Castro interview by Matthews, along with Castro's proposed political program for Cuba: Proclama de Santiago de Cuba.

Bohemia and a few national dailies without any interference from the regime published Mathews’ Castro interview. The weekly magazine quoted Castro as saying he “had no animosity against the United States. We are fighting for a democratic Cuba and the conclusion of the dictatorship.” It went on to quote Castro as adding that due to Batista’s censorship Cubans knew more about Algeria than about him, having never heard one word about him and his fight. Given Bohemia’s huge national readership and its long-standing coverage of Castro, the censorship claim was false on its face. In fact, the issue with this interview carried the publisher's proud banner of "Uncensored" ("Sin Censura").

Bohemia, an influential weekly magazine, had led the charge in publishing anti-Batista rants. Eschewing the efforts of the Electoralists/Constitutionalists to negotiate a peaceful resolution of Cuba's political crisis, Bohemia dedicated its influential pages to undermine those endeavors. Such reporting included Bohemia coverage of the 1953 Moncada Trial which glorified Castro, portraying him as a heroic fighter for democracy and liberty. Castro’s inflammatory and propagandistic writings were published by Bohemia regularly thereafter, including a rant against the SAR efforts (“Frente a Todos“ [Against All]) written during Castro’s self-imposed exile in Mexico.

So special a place was held by Bohemia as a Castro mouthpiece that in July 1959 when Bohemia was seized after its publisher (Miguel Angel Quevedo) fled, it continued to be published as a government publication, rather than shuttered as were all other seized newspapers and magazines.

Bohemia cover 3-Mar-1957Bohemia cover, March 3 1957

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

1957: Temporary Press Curbs end early

Cuba History Timeline Events
February 26, 1957
The order suspending constitutional guarantees for 45 days is revoked a few days before it was due to expire on March 1, 1957, ending temporary limitations on such rights as habeas corpus, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, free assembly and free speech during the period of suspension. Its curbs, particularly those on press reporting of terrorist and revolutionary activity were the subject of much attention, and consequently much pressure on the Batista regime. The temporary curbs were characterized in Matthews' Times story as "the strictest censorship ever imposed in Cuba."

The announcement of the early lifting of the press restrictions was made the next day after the New York Times started publishing the initial Matthews Castro Sierra interview as a series. This facilitated wide circulation of those Times stories in Cuba.

The Times story reporting on the restoration of rights acknowledged the rising tide of terrorism across the nation:
"The continuing terroristic campaign became island-wide shortly after the suppression by Government troops of a short-lived rebellion in Santiago de Cuba and the landing of the Castro expedition."

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

Monday, June 22, 2009

1957: Matthews NY Times interview Castro in Sierra

Cuba History Timeline Events
February 17, 1957

New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews asked the US Ambassador to Cuba, Arthur Gardner, to make arrangements so he could interview Fidel Castro in his Sierra Maestra camp, which Castro had solicited though Felipe Pazos. Amb. Gardner obliged, making pre-arrangements with Batista to ensure Matthews could travel in safety and without harassment to Castro’s camp.1 Batista himself approved the request.

On February 17 Frank País brought Matthews to the Sierra Maestra for an interview with Castro and the rebels. The interview, including pictures, was published in the Times as a three part series. It proved that Castro was not dead as the Batista government had claimed.

Mathews' report in the Times had an electrifying effect on Cuban public opinion, since he wrote of Castro “He has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to restore the Constitution, to hold elections." And reported Castro signified a “new democratic deal” for Cuba and was “anti-Communist... Hundreds of highly respected citizens are helping Señor Castro, [who is offering] a new deal for Cuba, radical, democratic and therefore anti-Communist."

Mathews’ report grossly exaggerated the size and strength of rebel forces, increasing Castro's prestige and credibility among Cubans, who began to see and support the Sierra rebels as a viable force to overthrow Batista. On his April 1959 US tour Castro publicly mocked Matthews, telling an audience at the Washington Press Club how he had conned Matthews into thinking he had many more men than he did.

Matthews' egregiously distorted and propagandistic reporting of Castro is the subject of a 2006 book by Anthony DePalma: The man who invented Fidel : Cuba, Castro, and Herbert L. Matthews of The New York Times. A review of that book by Ron Radosh comments on the role Matthews desired and played in Castro’s revolution: A Dictator’s Scribe. Another review of DePalma’s book summarizes key elements of the story that Matthews’ reporting obscured and distorted, and the magnitude of the deception: Fidel’s Favorite Propagandist.

One of the most enduring fictions of Matthews’ reporting is that his travel to the Sierra was a dangerous, frightening trip through jungle, evading government troops. The reality is that having personally approved Matthews’ trip, Batista had to take exceptional measures to ensure Matthews’ safety. It would have been his worst nightmare for Matthews’ to be harmed or killed, for which he would have undoubtedly been blamed. In part for fear that the rebels had planned this, Batista not only ordered that his forces not interfere with Matthews, but also had him shadowed by scouts to protect him from attackers if necessary. As it turned out, Castro wanted him as a propagandist not a casualty to blame on Batista. So for different reasons, both armed camps were vested in Matthews’ safe journey- no reporter ever made a less dangerous trip to a guerilla war zone.

1 Ambassador Gardner testified under oath on August 27, 1960 about making arrangements for the trip at Matthews' request before Senate Hearings. The transcripts of these hearings were published in Communist Threat to the U.S. Through the Caribbean US Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearings, Eighty-Sixth Congress, 2nd session, on Aug. 27, 30, 1960; Part 9. pp675-676. These proceedings are available on the web in multiple formats at the Internet Archive.

Herbert Matthews and Castro 1957Matthews (left) interviews Fidel Castro in Sierra Maestra, February 1957
(photo: H.L. Matthews Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University)

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

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Improved Google Book tools and functions

This week Google announced a number of improvements to Google Books making it easier for users to share and publish full view and partner book content. Improvements include easily embedding book pages from Google Books on blogs and sites, and providing direct links to specific book pages.

Other improvements include improved search within a book, and displaying more context around the search term, with images to navigate directly to the target book pages and sorting results by relevance. There is now a contents drop-down menu allowing direct navigation to specific chapters in books or articles in magazines.

Those interested in historical texts and research will especially value a plain text display now provided to make it easier to see and share public domain book content. Google Books continues to offer a pdf download option for books not under copyright protection in the reader’s jurisdiction. To see books that are full view, select “Full view only” in the “Books Showing” box at top left of the search results page.

The announcement post at the Google Book Search blog has more detail and examples of the new functions and enhancements.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

1957: Rebel Terrorism intensifies

Cuba History Timeline Events
January 21, 1957
Terrorist violence intensified in January and February, both in the cities and against sugar plantations. Time reported on the escalating terrorism:

"Three nights out of six. explosions ripped the Havana air at exactly 8:30 p.m.. leading thousands to conclude that they had better stay home evenings. Apparently by plan, several bomb setters touched off blasts within earshot of the tourist-packed Hotel Nacional. In the eastern province of Oriente. where a few score irregulars (who last month invaded Cuba under Rebel Leader Fidel Castro) were still fighting from hideouts in the Sierra Maestra range, four small army garrisons were attacked. In the resulting fighting, 28 soldiers and insurgents were reported killed. And every day saboteurs up and down the island set new fires in fields of ripened sugar cane, Cuba's main source of income."

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

Monday, June 15, 2009

1957: La Plata River Post Attack

Cuba History Timeline Events
January 17, 1957
In what he presents as his first military victory, Castro leads a surprise attack on a small Guardia Rural (State Police) outpost at the mouth of the La Plata river in the Sierra Maestra defended by a handful of rural guards. The captured defending troopers are executed on the spot by M-26-7 firing squads. Shortly after this skirmish Castro executed two of his scouts suspected of connections to Batista. He personally kills one of them tied to a tree. These are his first firing squad victims of the thousands more to come. Castro does not mind that the brutal executions are publicly reported since his objective was to terrorize his opponents and the nation at large.

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

1957: Constitutional Guarantees Suspended

Cuba History Timeline Events
January 15, 1957
The New York Times among others reported on the rising urban terrorism at the beginning of 1957 and resulting multiple civilian deaths and injuries, including car bombs:
"A campaign of terrorism is going on in Cuba, where news is subject to censorship. Cuba suspended constitutional guarantees Jan. 15 because of the terroristic campaign, which has been under way since an attempted rebellion in Oriente Province in December."

By Decree #78 (published January 15, 1957), constitutional guarantees were suspended for 45 days. This meant that by fiat enumerated articles of the constitutional Bill of Rights were temporarily without effect, resulting in the loss during the period of such protections as habeas corpus, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, free assembly and free speech.

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1957: New Year's Eve bombs terrorize Havana

Cuba History Timeline Events
January 1, 1957
The revolutionaries bring in the New Year with a savage escalation of urban terror, victimizing ordinary citizens and businesses. Several department stores were extensively damaged by eighteen bombs that revolutionary terrorists detonated in Havana in one night night. The New York Times reported two young women were seriously injured when a bomb exploded at the Tropicana night club at New Year's Eve festivities. The right arm of one was so badly shattered that it had to be amputated.

And the terror wave extended to the countryside. As Time reported the first week of 1957:
"Saboteurs were at work the length of the sugar-rich island. Buses were set on fire, power and telephone lines cut, store windows smashed, cars bombed, bridges burned. A train was derailed, and a railroad station burned down. In the Guantanamo power station, two bombs went off and plunged the big adjoining U.S. Navy base into darkness."

That Time article devoted most of its attention to the impact on Batista of the terrorism and the Ortodoxo and Auténtico criticism from a civil liberties viewpoint of Batista’s jailing and suspected killing of terrorists (acknowledging that some of these deaths may have been inflicted by the terrorists on one another).

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

1956: M-26-7 Set up Camp at Purial de Vicana

Cuba History Timeline Events
December 18, 1956
The Castro brothers and the other ten 26th of July Movement Granma expedition survivors established a ramshackle camp at Purial de Vicana in the Sierra Maestra. Fidel Castro begins to establish contacts with his followers in the rest of the country. He correctly assesses that his success depends on winning the propaganda battle rather than on combat with Batista’s armed forces. To that end he establishes a secret courier service to Havana.

Castro CampCastro Forces at Camp cDecember 1956. (photo: UPI)

(L to R): Guillermo Garcia, Ernesto "Ché" Guevara, Universo Sanchez,
Raul Castro (kneeling), Fidel Castro and Crescencio Perez (standing),
George Sotus and Juan Almeida, (seated)

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

Monday, June 1, 2009

1956: Granma expedition reaches Cuba

Cuba History Timeline Events
December 2, 1956
On 2 December, Granma lands, or more precisely, runs aground several miles from the intended landing in Oriente province. Twenty of the 82 who sailed from Mexico on the Granma had participated in the Moncada and Bayamo attacks. Landing is at Playa Las Coloradas near the town of Belic. Debarking was difficult due to the vessel’s severe overloading which prevented beaching—forcing the expeditionaries to unload in chest-high swamp water.

Castro and his expeditionary force were quickly spotted by Batista’s forces. About a third of the guerillas were killed or captured almost immediately, most in their first encounter with Batista’s troops on December 5, 1956 at Alegría de Pío.

Of the 82 who made the trip from Mexico, only 12-20 made it to the Sierra Maestra, including the Castro brothers, Ché Guevara (wounded and bleeding), and Camilo Cienfuegos. After the rout, the battered remaining expeditionaries encountered a local guide (Crescencio Pérez, a well-known fugitive from justice), who led them to the safety offered by the mountain caves in the intricate recesses of the Sierra Maestra. They set up camp in the Sierra a few days later as a base and prepared to wage guerrilla actions and terrorist attacks.

Batista troops enroute to Sierra Maestra 1956Granma yacht
Cuban Army troops enroute to Sierra Maestra. December 1956 (photo: Bettmann/CORBIS)Granma yacht

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