tracing the revolution: Cuartel Moncada

On 8 January 1959, Castro and his compañeros blazed through the streets of Havana, bringing the Cuban Revolution to a euphoric finale. But their trail can still be seen today, mapped spatially throughout the island nation. Che Guevara’s face gazes out from dozens of murals, immortally spray-painted over the urban landscape. Plazas, monuments and museums abound in each of Cuba’s cities. The revolution lives on, as resilient as the island that staged it over half a century ago.

Revolutionaries entering Havana, 1959. Image: Latin American Studies

Revolutionaries entering Havana, 1959. Image: latinamericanstudies.org

I would like to explore the most iconic spots that commemorate 1959. (Disclaimer: I have not actually been to Cuba yet. It’s a learning curve. Any recommendations/corrections very welcome)

Here is the first…

#1. Cuartel Moncada

1953: Dissent is smouldering in the countryside. After a successful military coup in 1952, Fulgencio Batista is safely back in power as Cuba’s internationally recognised leader, and the country is propelled into another term of corruption, inequality and devastating poverty for the vast majority. A charismatic young lawyer named Fidel Castro, robbed of his chance of power when the elections were conveniently cancelled by the Batista regime, seizes his chance. Mustering the support of about 140 like-minded rebels, they decided there was only one way forward: revolution.

Cuartel Moncada, 2013. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Cancillería Ecuador

Cuartel Moncada, 2013. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Cancillería Ecuador

But their first attempt, an attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago on 26 July, failed miserably. A series of unfortunate events left the rebels exposed to Batista’s forces, who outnumbered them ten to one. About six rebels died in combat and 55 were later executed by Batista’s forces. Those who escaped, including Castro, were soon caught and imprisoned.

And yet this putsch would be considered the true beginning of the revolution, its date giving the name to their burgeoning cause: el movimiento 26 de julio, M-26-7. It endures at this historic site. The art deco building was converted to a school in 1961, and a museum commemorating the botched attack was inaugurated in 1967. Well worth an explore during a day in Santiago! The museum is full of documents, photographs, some rather gruesome artefacts and other exciting memorabilia to enthral any revolutionary aficionados.

A logical start to exploring Cuba’s twentieth-century history. More information at Lonely Planet and lots of useful reviews on TripAdvisor.


more to follow…

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