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      Celebrating 70 Years Of Cuba's Moncada Day
      A Historical Reflection

      By Tamara Hansen

      As I sat down to reflect on 70 years since Cuba’s Moncada Day, I decided to once again read Haydée Santamaria’s personal reflections from the events of July 26, 1953, in the book, “Moncada: Memories of the attack that launched the Cuban Revolution” (Lyle Smart Inc, 1980). Cuba’s Moncada Day out of Cuba is often remembered and discussed as a defeat, a failure, a loss, a setback, etc. However, it is completely opposite!

      Haydée Santamaría, a central leader of the Cuban Revolution and participant in the Moncada Day rebellion – who lost her fiancée and brother during the brutal torture by the Batista Dictatorship following their capture – expresses, “When I am asked how I felt after I knew that the attack on Moncada had failed, I reply, ‘You may not believe this is the truth, but I tell you sincerely, it is: I never considered the attack on Moncada a failure.’”

      How does one have such faith in the possibility of change and building a better world in the face of so much personal loss? This is the inspiring true story of Cuba’s Moncada Day – where a working-class defeat was indeed turned into a great victory.

      What is Cuba’s Moncada Day?

      In the early morning of July 26, 1953, a group of about 120 young revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro organized an attack on the cruel U.S.- backed Batista dictatorship’s Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrison in Bayamo. Their goal was to take the garrisons which would allow them to gather weapons and begin the struggle to overthrow the U.S. puppet dictator, Batista.

      In the city of Santiago de Cuba, Fidel led a group to attack the Moncada army garrison, Abel Santamaría (the brother of Haydée) occupied the civilian Hospital to attend to the wounded, while Raúl Castro led the occupation of the Palace of Justice. Two women, Haydée Santamaría and Melba Hernández, helped tend to the wounded in the civilian Hospital. The action was short-lived, as the rebels were discovered early, and some of their men were diverted from the route to the garrison.

      Almost all of the rebels were captured in the days following July 26. As their plan had been so well coordinated, the Batista regime was convinced these rebels were professionally trained by its political opponents, and it tortured many of the young revolutionaries to death, looking for answers that did not exist.

      Fidel Castro, Abel Santamaría, Haydée Santamaría, and Melba Hernandez were all imprisoned. When Fidel was put on trial, he gave a famous speech where he condemned the corruption of the Batista dictatorship and proclaimed, “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me”.

      In that speech, he explained in detail the hardship and despicable torture suffered by his comrades in jail. He said, “Throughout their torturing of our comrades, the Army offered them the chance to save their lives by betraying their ideology and falsely declaring that Carlos Prío [Cuba’s ex-President and political rival of Batista] had given them money. When they indignantly rejected that proposition, the Army continued with its horrible tortures. They crushed their testicles and tore out their eyes. But no one yielded. No complaint was heard, nor a favor asked.”

      Fidel continues, “Frustrated by the valor of the men, they tried to break the spirit of our women. With a bleeding eye in their hands, a sergeant and several other men went to the cell where our comrades Melba Hernández and Haydée Santamaría were held. Addressing the latter and showing her the eye, they said: ‘This eye belonged to your brother. If you will not tell us what he refused to say, we will tear out the other.’ She, who loved her valiant brother above all things, replied full of dignity: ‘If you tore out an eye and he did not speak, neither will I.’ Later they came back and burned their arms with lit cigarettes until, at last, filled with spite, they told the young Haydée Santamaría: ‘You no longer have a fiancé because we have killed him too.’ But still imperturbable, she answered: ‘He is not dead because to die for one’s country is to live forever.’ Never had the heroism and the dignity of Cuban womanhood reached such heights.”

      Despite his moving speech, Fidel knew the verdict before the trial began in a thar show trial. He was condemned to 15 years in prison. Haydée Santamaría and Melba Hernández were soon released and continued their clandestine work against the Batista regime. They printed thousands of copies of Fidel Castro’s “History will absolve me” speech and set out to distribute it across the country. In 1955, there was an amnesty declared for political prisoners, and Fidel Castro and other Moncada fighters were released. Shortly after, he and other revolutionaries left for Mexico to regroup under the banner of the newly formed “July 26th Movement,” named after the assault on the Moncada. It was in Mexico that Fidel met another important young revolutionary named Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

      Throughout this time, others in Cuba in the July 26th Movement carried out clandestine actions and continued working to educate the people of Cuba on their revolutionary objectives. In December 1956, the Granma yacht brought Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Juan Almeida Bosque, Camilo Cienfuegos, and others back to Cuba to begin a new uprising in the Sierra Maestra mountains. This fight was full of hardships, challenges, commitment, and dedication to their cause – and was victorious when the dictator Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba on New Year’s Eve of 1958. The revolutionary was declared victorious on January 1, 1959.

      Visiting Moncada

      In 2018 on the Calixto Garcia Brigade, I visited the old Moncada army garrison. Part of it is now a museum, and another part is a school. Standing in one of the rooms where so many of the young fighters were tortured to death, you wonder if they could have felt what was to come. That 70 years later, this would be a building full of children studying, working, playing, and preparing themselves for life. It is a powerful and hopeful feeling while also being very bitter-sweet.

      Reflecting on the aspirations of the Moncada fighters, Haydée Santamaria expresses in her memoir, “I am not going to say that we went to Moncada to make a socialist revolution. It is not so. We went there with the idea of making a change, so that better men might govern and so that men would not steal, but not exactly to make that change. Once there, I felt the change to be urgent. […] We knew little about profound changes; we could not determine what the change would be when it came but we knew that Fidel would determine what it would be like, and that we would make it what our people wanted it to be.”

      This July 26, 2023, Cubans and international revolutionaries from around the world celebrate the 70th anniversary of Cuba’s Moncada Day. Hundreds of thousands have gathered outside the former Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba. Together they listened to honoured guests and came together in celebration of this working class defeat, which the revolutionary people of Cuba have turned into an absolute triumph. Over the last 70 years – under the leadership of Comandante Fidel Castro, then Comandante Raul Castro, and today President Miguel Díaz-Canel – the Cuban people continue to make the Cuban revolution what they want it to be.

      Revolutionary Cuba today

      Today the Cuban Revolution is an important example for the world of what is possible with socialism. Throughout over six decades of revolution, Cuba has pushed forward to become a world leader in health care, education, music, sports, and sustainability, among other disciplines. This is in spite of Cuba being a so-called ‘third-world’ or developing country under a criminal U.S. economic blockade that has lasted over 60 years.

      The revolutionary people of Cuba are consistently working to improve their society through their work in mass organizations, such as the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC), the Cuban Central Trade Union (CTC), and the Committees of the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). Each of these institutions is working to include those who are traditionally marginalized in societies around the world under capitalism: workers, youth, elders, women, people with disabilities, people of colour, and the LGBTQAI+ community. Cuba is not perfect, but the government and society are working handin-hand towards important goals, such as integrating all of those traditionally marginalized people into dynamic politics, culture, and life on the island. Overcoming this is not an easy task and not something that could be accomplished in just 64 years of revolution. But the progress made and the government and institutional support of that progress is not only revolutionary but truly impressive.

      As we celebrate 70 years of the Cuban revolution, let’s go back once more to the words of Haydée Santamaria, “With every passing year, the event becomes greater, because the Revolution grows greater. The more this nation accomplishes, the greater Moncada will be. And so every day it will be harder to talk about Moncada. There is this to say: when I am asked how I felt after I knew that the attack on Moncada had failed, I reply, “You may not believe this is the truth, but I tell you sincerely, it is: I never considered the attack on Moncada a failure.”

      ¡Viva la Revolución! ¡Viva Cuba!
      Long live the Revolution! Long live Cuba!

      Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01

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