Tuesday, July 28, 2009

1957: Taber’s Jungle Fighters in Cuba news

Cuba History Timeline Events
May 28, 1957
Feeling overshadowed by the Presidential Palace attack and the Bicameral Commission, Castro solicited US TV coverage.

Herbert Matthews put Mario Llerena (M-26-7 US public relations agent) in touch with CBS, which was eager for a Fidel interview. CBS producer Robert Taber with cameraman Wendell Hoffman journeyed to the Sierra on 23 April to film the documentary Rebels of the Sierra Maestra: The Story of Cuba's Jungle Fighters. Taber's film included interviews with three American runaways: Charles E. Ryan (19), Victor J. Buehlman (17), and Michael L. Garvey (15). Taber's footage was edited by Don Hewitt (later the creator of 60 Minutes). The half hour program was broadcast in the US on 19 May, repeating and strongly reinforcing the fallacious representations in Matthews’ coverage. In Taber's interview Castro denied any Communist relationship or associations.

Material from the interview with photographs also appeared in LIFE magazine. On May 27, LIFE published an illustrated article about Fidel and his anti-Batista movement, and a much longer Spanish version for Latin America appeared two days later in LIFE en Español. Some of these photos are now available in the LIFE Archives.

On 28 May, Bohemia, without any interference from the Batista government, published the print version of the interview and its pictures. Bohemia had to be reprint this issue twice, selling about four hundred thousand copies of the issue. About a million Cubans read this interview, almost 20% of the population.

In 1961 Taber dropped all pretense of objectivity, joining M-26-7 and writing an adulatory book about it, M-26: Biography of a revolution. As Time reported, Taber figured prominently in Communist Cuba's barrage of propaganda broadcasts at the start of Castro's regime. Taber also founded the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPFCC), characterized on the record of 1961 US Senate hearings about it as serving to glorify the Castro government and acting as its publicity agent. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee is best known through its infamous member Lee Harvey Oswald.

Taber interviews American rebels, Cuba 1957Taber interviews Castro, Cuba 1957
Robert Taber interviews American rebel recruits, 1957 (photo from Latin American Studies collection)Robert Taber interviews Fidel Castro (L), 1957 (photo from Latin American Studies collection)

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

Monday, July 27, 2009

1957: El Uvero Attack

Cuba History Timeline Events
May 28, 1957
M-26-7 Rebels reinforced by Frank Pais Militia overwhelmed a small Guardia Rural (State Police) post at El Uvero in a daylight attack, raising rebel morale and acquiring weapons and supplies. The rebels publicized this action as their first major military victory, and had success in getting some press reports describe the event as an attack on an Army post.

The attack on El Uvero was an operation similar to the La Plata attack. La Plata was also a small, isolated Guardia Rural post in the Sierra region. The El Uvero attack was different from earlier M-26-7 raids primarily in being conducted during daylight hours. Earlier rebel attacks had all been ambushes and surprise attacks during night while troopers were sleeping.

In Cuba, the Guardia Rural (Rural Guard) performed a police function roughly equivalent to State Police in the US. Its history went back to formation by the US Provisional Government in 1898 to provide law enforcement, replacing the constabulary that maintained order in rural areas during the Spanish colonial period: the Guardia Civil (Civil Guard). It was retained to serve this police function in the new Republic of Cuba, through legislative action (Ley de reorganización de la guardia rural del 18 de octubre de 1902).

The New York Times reporting on the El Uvero attack continued the practice of giving equal or greater attention to rumors (which would prove entirely unfounded) than to the facts of the El Uvero attack, and of the Corinthia landing at Cabonico which the same story revisited:

The battle took place at Ubero, on the south coast Oriente Province, about thirty-five miles from Santiago de Cuba. Fifteen rebels were killed and twenty-one wounded, the communiqué said. It stated that rebel forces had fled in groups into the mountains taking their wounded with them in four trucks. The Army said it was continuing to pursue the dispersed groups.

General Tabernilla denied a report circulating here that another group of insurgents had landed at Chivirico Beach near Santiago de Cuba. He also said the Army had no further encounters with the rebel group that landed on the north coast at Carbonico Bay last week and fled into the Sierra del Cristal. General Tabernilla said he considered the rebellion there to have been terminated.

The Army says twenty-seven insurgents landed, of whom five were captured, sixteen killed, leaving only six unaccounted for. Reports from Oriente Province, however, put the number of attackers near 150

Continuing in the same vein, that Times story reports charges that Castro is a Communist, but in a discrediting fashion :

While the Government consistently contends that Señor Castro is a Communist, adherents of the young rebel leader declare he is a deeply religious person. It is noted that he attended Belen College in Havana, which is conducted by Jesuits, and that his closest friend during school at graduation in 1945 was the Rev. Arturo Cherino, now serving with the Jesuit Order in Japan.

It is said that young Castro’s first trips into the Sierra Maestras were as a member of students groups taken there by Roman Catholic priests on camping trips as rewards for good scholarship.

It is recalled that in 1953, when Señor Castro led an attack on the Moncada military post of Santiago de Cuba in which 100 men were killed, his life was saved through the efforts of Archbishop Perez Serantes of Santiago

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

1957: Terrorist bombs blackout Havana

Cuba History Timeline Events
May 28, 1957
M-26-7 urban terrorists detonate an underground bomb that knocks out the city’s electrical power for more than 48 hours, effectively shutting down Havana, even as the terrorists continue car bombing and other terrorist attacks.

In a story dated 28 May, the New York Times reported:

In the Havana terrorism, electricity was cut off by the dynamiting of a gas and electric distribution center. The city’s suburbs were not affected.

A policeman, a woman and daughter and a 78-year-old man were injured.

According to the police, terrorists had rented a house and dug a tunnel under the street to reach the distribution center. Dirt from the tunnel was found in the kitchen of the house.

Most of the morning newspapers were just getting ready to go to press at the time of the explosion and failed to publish.

Telephones throughout the business district in Havana were put out of commission. An official of the telephone company said the emergency plant would be unable to carry the load and that within a few hours possibly all of Havana would be without service.

Big department stores, such as El Encanto and Fin De Siglo, which depend on electric power for air conditioning and lights did not open today.

The Cuban Electric company announced late today that damage was more extensive than first estimated and that possibly forty-eight hours would be required to repair it.

The downtown section of Havana was blacked out tonight as authorities strove to prevent further bombings and sabotage.

Automobile and pedestrian traffic ceased. All cafes, bars, night clubs and motion picture theatres in the section were closed.

Powerful searchlights at the Cabana fortress across the bay from Havana were turned on the city to aid the police in maintaining order.

In the Vedado residential section a bomb exploded at an intersection, damaging two automobiles parked near by and the home of Dr. Andres Morales del Castillo, Secretary to the President.

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

Monday, July 20, 2009

1957: Auténtico Corinthia Expedition

Cuba History Timeline Events
May 19, 1957
On or about 19 May, Corinthia, a small ship of US-registry, left Florida’s Biscayne Bay headed for Cuba on a Prío-financed revolutionary expedition. The expeditionary force, led by Calixto Sánchez White, aimed to open a second front against Batista in the Sierra Cristal. Before joining the expedition Sánchez had been a pilot for Cubana Airlines and the President of the Cuban Pilots Association (Asociación de Pilotos Aviadores Profesionales de Cuba, APAP/CTC).

The Corinthia invasion ended in most of the 27 Aunténtico expeditionaries killed by Batista forces soon after their landing on 23 May at Cabonico (near Mayarí in north Oriente). A Cabonico man spotted the invasion force and tipped off the State Police (Guardia Rural) barracks in Mayarí, which immediately dispatched men to engage the landing force, and notified other commands including the Army garrison in Holguin commanded by Col. Fermin Cowley. Batista’s intelligence services were well-informed about the plan, down to a full list of the expeditionaries whose names they released to the press in announcing the defeat of the landing force, accurately reporting the size of the expeditionary force and casualties.

Although it is settled that the landing force consisted of 27 men, over 50 years later many other details about the Corinthia expedition remain elusive, uncertain and contentious. Conflicts persist in reports concerning the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the expeditionaries. Confusion about the event details began at landing, as rebels circulated disinformation grossly exaggerating the size of the landing force and claiming that most had survived and had joined rebel fighters. Sympathetic press coverage suggested Castro’s disinformation had equal (or greater) credibility than the government public report on the incident. For example, the New York Times reported:

According to Cuban Army headquarters, Government troops [in Oriente] clashed for the first time with insurgents who had landed from a yacht last Friday.

Sixteen rebels were killed in the battle, an announcement said. [...]

The Batista Government said only twenty-seven rebels had landed from the eighty-foot yacht Corinthia in the secluded bay of Carbonico. The army reported five had been captured.

Reports from Oriente, however, put the number of attackers at 150. They have split up into groups of fifty each and are armed with rifles equipped with telescopic sights and with machine guns, according to the stories told by residents of the area who say they have seen them.

Calixto Sánchez White c1957 Calixto Sánchez White c1957

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

1957: US Ambassador Arthur Gardner recalled

Cuba History Timeline Events
May 14, 1957
Under pressure from Herbert Mathews and his allies in the US State Department “Fourth Floor”, American ambassador Arthur Gardner is recalled. Mathews incessantly accused him of being pro-Batista, creating problems for the Eisenhower administration's official neutrality posture. His replacement would be Earl E. T. Smith (appointed in June). Matthews opposed Smith’s appointment but his objections were without effect due to Smith’s personal friendship with President Eisenhower.

Amb Gardner Havana Embassy 1953 Ambassador Arthur Gardner (Center L), at Havana Embassy USMC function
(photo: Sgt. B. Seguin USMC)

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

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

1957: Rebel Urban Terror Campaign stepped up

Cuba History Timeline Events
May 5, 1957
In May Rebels step up their terror campaign bombing 18 businesses in a single night.
On 5 May, Bohemia publishes a story on the heightened urban terrorism with an extensive photo spread on the damage. Several grisly photographs from the coverage of that issue are available in the Latin American Studies collection: Bohemia photos of rebel bombings (5/05/57).

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

Monday, July 6, 2009

1957: Humboldt 7 Shootings

Cuba History Timeline Events
April 20, 1957
The police find four DR student leaders sought for their participation in the Presidential Palace and Radio Reloj attacks in their Havana hideout, apartment #201 at 7 Humboldt Street. All are killed by Col. Esteban Ventura Novo and his men. The event is called “The Humboldt 7 Massacre”. Contemporaneous news accounts reported that a weapons cache and bomb-making equipment were found at the Humboldt hideout.

The four decedents were Fructuoso Rodríguez (one of the DR founders, who took over FEU Presidency after José Antonio Echeverria's death), Joe Westbrook Rosales (also one of the founders of DR), José Machado Rodríguez, and Juan Pedro Carbó Serviá. Carbó was additionally sought by police for the assassination of Col. Antonio Blanco Rico, Chief of Batista's secret service. The deaths of the four effectively left the DR leaderless.

There is some indication that the Communists set up the DR survivors to eliminate revolutionary competitors, and it has been noted that their two confederates (Faure Chaumon and Raúl Díaz Argüelles) left the hideout shortly before the police arrived. In 1964 Castro’s revolutionary courts convicted Communist Marcos Rodríguez Alfonso, aka “Marquitos”, of tipping off the police to the Humboldt hideout, and he was executed by a revolutionary firing squad.

7 Humboldt St c1957DR Leaders, Mexico 1956
7 Humboldt St, Havana c1957. (photo: Bohemia) (L to R) Fructuoso Rodriguez, Joe Westbrook, Faure Chomon, Juan Nuity. Mexico City, 1956

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