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