‘Condemn me if you will’, Castro famously said in a speech during his trial, ‘History will absolve me’. The fact that he was given a trial at all is testament to the influence he already wielded. Batista was anxious not to fuel the growing unrest across the country. Castro was given a mouthpiece to publicly lay out his cause: to correct the poor quality of life suffered by the vast majority of the population, to introduce universal education, and to instigate agrarian, governmental and economic reform. His words would become deeply ingrained in Cuban history.
Castro was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on the Isle of Pines (now Isla de la Juventud, or the Isle of Youth), but he was released less than two years later, under an amnesty to celebrate Mother’s Day in May 1955. In exile in Mexico, where he met Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the movement crystallised, money was raised, and support and resources were gathered.
But it took another unsuccessful rising at Playa las Coloradas in December 1956 for the survivors to realise that more time and support within Cuba was necessary. So they based themselves in the mountains at La Plata, deep in the Sierra Maestra. It’s a two-mile uphill hike to the rebel headquarters, a breathtaking setting hidden away in dense cloud forest.
The command station – Castro’s bedroom, the kitchen, and the radio-communications building where their message was broadcast – forms part of a small museum which is left exactly as the revolutionaries experienced it. You can also visit the hospital buildings – far below to protect the rest of the rebels from the cries of the injured – and see the ever-enduring farm of the Medina family, whose assistance was crucial for the rebels.
How do you get to this remote hideaway that thwarted Batista’s forces? The base is Villa Santo Domingo, near Bartolomé Maso. The trip to the Comandancia de la Plata costs CUC$33, guide compulsory. Photography also costs an extra CUC$5. More information and (very very positive!) reviews on TripAdvisor.