Tag Archives: fidel castro

tracing the revolution: #2 Comandancia de la Plata

‘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.

Casa de Medina, Comandancia de la Plata. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Anagoria 2012

Casa de Medina, Comandancia de la Plata. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Anagoria 2012

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.

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…