People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

September 01,2013

60th Anniversary of Moncada Barracks
Yohannan Chemarapally

THE people of Latin America and the Caribbean observed the 60th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953. The attack on the military barracks, situated in Cuba’s second largest city, Santiago de Cuba, signalled the beginning of the Cuban Revolution. Though the attack ultimately ended in a temporary military failure, the “July 26 Movement,” as the assault by the revolutionary forces came to be called, became a defining moment in contemporary Cuban history. Fidel Castro who led the assault along with many of his comrades was captured while 70 young men fighting alongside Fidel were either killed or tortured to death during and after the abortive bid to overrun the barracks.


The Moncada Barracks was the second biggest military base in the country and was crucial to the military control of southern Cuba. The country was at the time being governed by a venal authoritarian regime.

The goal of the revolutionaries sixty years ago was to capture the military base along with the weaponry to spark a countrywide uprising so that Cuba’s sovereignty could be regained once again. For the first half of the twentieth century the country was being virtually run as an outpost of the US. Havana had become the preferred watering hole of the American mafia and Hollywood glitterati.

Fidel, along with the captured fighters, was put on trial. Fidel, a trained lawyer gave his stirring “History Will Absolve Me” speech that further generated nation wide support for his cause. In his defence, Fidel comprehensively outlined the factors that motivated the youthful band of revolutionaries, representing the working class and the peasantry, to launch their audacious attack on the heavily fortified military barracks. The revolutionaries were all given lengthy prison terms. Fidel was given a lengthy 15 year sentence and was sent to the infamous prison in the Isle of Pines.

All those involved on the assault on Moncada were, however, released in 1955 after the government of Fulgencio Batista gave a general amnesty to all political prisoners in 1955. The government had caved in to pressure from the streets as there were nationwide protests demanding the release of Fidel and his comrades. The rest is history. Fidel and a close band of comrades, including his brother Raul, went to Mexico in the same year to secretly prepare the blueprint for the revolution that would eventually fructify a few years later.

Latin American revolutionaries like Ernesto Che Guevara were deeply swayed by the July 26 movement and the four hour speech that Fidel had delivered in his defence during the court proceedings. Che joined forces with Fidel in Mexico in 1955 where they began successfully organising for a renewed effort to overthrow the Batista regime through armed struggle. That struggle began in earnest in 1956, ending in the liberation of Cuba on January 1, 1959.


Many leaders from Latin America were present at Santiago de Cuba to mark the 60th anniversary of the attack on Moncada Barracks. President Raul Castro, who had participated in the guerrilla attack, addressed the Cuban people on the occasion. The citizens of Santiago, recovering from the after-effects of one of the worst tropical storms that hit their city late last year, packed the site that commemorated the events of July 26, 1953. There was a giant banner depicting Fidel with a clenched fist, hanging from the barracks. Fidel, who is now 86, was not present on the occasion. He is rarely seen in public these days but is reportedly leading an active life, writing and meeting visiting leaders and intellectuals from all over the world.

The years have gone by but this continues to be a revolution of young people as we were on July 26, 1956,” Raul Castro said in his speech. The Cuban leader lauded the positive changes that have occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean since the success of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. He observed that it took the Sandinistas in Nicaragua twenty more years to achieve their revolution but since then the revolutionary pace has quickened. Venezuela followed with its own revolution through the ballot box and a “pink revolution” swept the continent in its wake in the last decade. The presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua were in attendance at Santiago to mark the historic occasion. Many of the Latin American countries that were not represented by their heads of state, chose to send their foreign minister.

Despite attempts to divide us, to continue sacking our countries, the process of integration within Latin America and the Caribbean is unstoppable,” Raul affirmed in his speech. The Cuban president was lavish in his praise for the departed Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez. “Hugo Chavez was an outstanding pupil of the heroes of Latin American and Caribbean revolutions,” he said. Chavez’s successor as president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, speaking on the occasion, said that the assault on the Moncada Barracks was the beginning of “the fight against the clutches of the empire.” He went on to add that the creation of regional groupings like CELAC and ALBA, which are free from American meddling, is because of the revolution ushered in by the people of Cuba. “Thanks to the people of Cuba, Latin America is what it is today,” the Venezuelan president said.

The president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, said that all revolutionaries should draw lessons from the events that had taken place 60 years ago. “Basically there is no defeat. Only those who stop fighting suffer defeat,” President Mujica told the assembled crowd. Mujica as a young man had participated in the revolutionary struggle in Uruguay in the 1970s and had suffered torture and imprisonment. The Cuban Revolution had given Latin American countries “more confidence,” he said. “This was a revolution of dignity. It gave us dreams.” The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, asserted that the Cuban Revolution “is the mother of anti-imperialist revolutions in Latin America and the world.” He said that revolutionary leaders like Fidel and Chavez were an inspiration to the new leaders in the region and “strengthened the democratic revolution in Bolivia.” Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, echoed similar sentiment saying that the Cuban Revolution was a source of inspiration “for our Americas and the world, lighting the inextinguishable flame of revolution.”


The Cuban president, in his speech, focussed quite a bit on domestic affairs. He emphasised the commitment of the Revolution for “an orderly and gradual transfer of power” to a new generation. At the same time he warned that the success of the revolution would only be guaranteed if there is a commitment “to preserve the unity of all Cubans.” Raul, in his speech, said that the “historic generation is giving way to the new one, with tranquillity and serene confidence, based on the preparation and competence to keep the flags of the revolution and socialism flying high.”

Raul Castro had announced in February that he would be demitting office in five years time and had appointed 52 year old Miguel Diaz-Canal as the first vice president. This makes Diaz-Canal the front runner to take over the presidency. The Cuban leader had also said that he would get the constitution amended to limit top officials to two five-year terms in office. Raul had stated at the time that the announcement regarding Diaz-Canal marked a moment of “historical transcendence” at a time when Cuba is moving towards “a new leadership generation.” Diaz-Canal is an electrical engineer by training and was a former education minister.

Raul had announced wide ranging reforms to the socialist system in 2011, drastically trimming the humongous state bureaucracy in the process. Cubans are now allowed to own land and engage in private enterprise in many sectors, albeit under strict state supervision. Raul has been quick to rebut charges that he was in any way giving up the socialist principles that have guided the revolution. The Cuban president had pledged that there would be no “shock therapies” like the kind that occurred in East European countries as they abandoned socialism. The Cuban president said that the ongoing reforms could make “Cuba less egalitarian, but more just.” In a speech to the National Assembly, Raul asserted that he was “not elected president to restore capitalism in Cuba.” His job, he had emphasised, was “to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.”

In another recent speech, which has been widely appreciated by Cubans, Raul lamented the loss of revolutionary values among the people, especially the younger generation. In a speech in the National Assembly in the third week of July, Raul lambasted his countrymen for indulging in activities inimical to the well being of the revolution. The demeanours Raul mentioned ranged from illegal activities like petty corruption and “social indiscipline” like littering garbage and urinating in public places. “When I meditate on these regrettable displays, it makes me think that despite the undeniable educational achievements made by the Revolution --- we are a society ever more educated, but not necessarily more enlightened,” the Cuban president observed in his speech. He also delved on “the corrosive effect” of official corruption on Cuban society. He emphasised that “corruption” poses the biggest threat to the Cuban Revolution.