Monday, July 13, 2009

1957: Granma Expeditionaries Trial

Cuba History Timeline Events
May 10-14, 1957
A trial was held at the Urgency Court of Santiago de Cuba for captured Granma expeditionaries and those charged in connection with the November 1956 Santiago uprising. The trial ended in forty rebels being sentenced to prison terms of one to eight years. Among those sentenced were twenty-two M-26-7 rebels who landed with the Granma expedition. The other 111 defendants in the mass trial were found not guilty and released.

Among the defendants found not guilty and released was Frank País, the M-26-7 leader for Oriente province. País had also been the organizer and leader of the Santiago uprising, which had been intended as a diversionary tactic to coincide with the Granma landing. País continued to serve as chief M-26-7 organizer upon his release.

One of the three Tribunal judges did not concur with the verdicts of his fellow magistrates. Judge Manuel Urrutia Lleó in a dissenting opinion argued that all defendants should have been acquitted, based on his unusual legal reasoning that violent insurrection was a constitutionally protected right. The absurdity of the claim, and the arrogance of a lower court judge offering such an extraordinary and unprecedented constitutional interpretation strongly suggested that Urrutia was far from impartial.

Six months later, Urrutia joined the Revolutionary Government-in-Exile, as designated Provisional President to take office upon revolutionary victory. By his own account, Urrutia asked M-26-7 to delay the announcement until he had “time to obtain my retirement benefits, as I did not want to be a financial burden on the revolution.” Batista’s government approved his retirement request the day after he was publicly named “Provisional President” by Castro in December. Five days later Urrutia flew to Miami in a self-imposed exile, where he zealously lobbied on behalf of the revolutionary opposition against Batista. His lobbying included visits to the US State Department to demand an arms embargo against Batista’s regime.

It is noteworthy that Urrutia’s actions demonstrate that the hated Batista regime operated courts in which jurists were independent, where opponents of the regime were free to travel in or out of the country, and where the income and property of opponents—even government salaries and pensions—were not seized by the government even for those publicly and actively engaged in efforts to violently overthrow the regime. This belies the revolutionaries’ claims that the regime was tyrannically repressive and—as they stridently and intransigently asserted foremost—could not be negotiated with.

In flagrant violation of constitutional provisions for presidential succession, Urrutia was appointed President by Castro when Batista fled Cuba. This would not be the first or last indication of Urrutia’s proclivity to the rule of men over the rule of law. His presidency was marked by arbitrariness and despotism, including rancorous pettiness and outlandish decrees to enact his aberrant legal views, settle old scores, and injure those who did not share his political views. Like many other initial Castro appointees to government posts in the new regime, Urrutia’s term in office was short-lived and ended ignominiously.

As Urrutia personally discovered in his brief six month presidency, unlike Batista Castro would not tolerate anything but absolute and zealous loyalty, nor allow anyone suspected of dissent to keep their jobs and property—let alone to receive government pensions. Instead, the Castro regime meted out imprisonment or death by firing squad to those who failed to live up to that expectation. In July 1959 Urrutia considered himself fortunate to have escaped from Cuba with his life, even at the cost of losing all he had—including his pension benefits.

Granma Rebels Trial Tribunal Cuba 1957 Francisco Mendieta, Granma Rebels Trial prosecutor Cuba 1957
Granma Rebels Trial Tribunal Cuba 1957. [(L to R) Judges Cutié, Urrutia, Segrera] (photo from Latin American Studies collection)Granma Trial prosecutor Cuba 1957 (photo from Latin American Studies collection)

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

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