One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution

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Everyone expressed their pleasure at the prospect of a fitting English biography to a national hero. As with other important Cuban leaders, her letters to and from , documents, and other archive materials are kept in their own section, which understandably is not generally open given that it contains so much personal information.

It was towards the end of the seven months that I had a breakthrough. The request had finally reached Fidel, who decided to grant access on the basis that this was a serious attempt to write about someone who fought for decades alongside him and who is so important to Cuban history. Her life may broadly, but helpfully, be divided into three periods: her early life, her years as a leader of the revolutionary movement that toppled the hated Batista and two decades following the victory of the revolution 55 years ago.

And that meant to listen in order to assess. It also meant telling people they had to wait behind someone who required more urgent attention. It was these great principles that drove her into active participation in the movement founded by Fidel Castro, after already being involved in oppositionist circles.

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This resounding victory, Fidel hoped, would provoke Cubans to rise up against Batista and restore constitutional democracy. From the start, it was a fiasco. As his convoy of 15 cars approached the Moncada before dawn on July 26, it ran into two patrolmen. Fidel stopped his car and leapt out to deal with them, but this confused the other rebels, who mistook a military hospital for the Moncada and began firing wildly.

By the time they had regrouped, soldiers were everywhere. Fidel ordered a retreat, but most of his men surrendered.

The reaction of the army shocked Cubans. Many, in fact, had been gruesomely tortured. Fidel was captured in the countryside soon after, by a by-the-books officer who refused to hand his prisoner over to superiors who wanted to dispense summary justice. It was the first of countless lucky breaks in the story of the revolution. Nothing short of true revolution would change Cuba, he concluded, although the chances of his becoming personally involved seemed remote. It was a moment of over-confidence that the dictator would soon regret.

From exile in Mexico City, Fidel concocted a plan that seemed even more harebrained than the Moncada attack: to return to Cuba in a secret amphibious landing and begin an insurgency in the mountains. This article is a selection from the October issue of Smithsonian magazine. Travel in Cuba is never straightforward.

It was time to scramble for Plan B. We soon had a dozen local insiders scouring Cuba for any possible vehicle, with emails flying to expat acquaintances as far away as Toronto and Brussels.

Celia Sánchez, la flor más autóctona de la Revolución cubana

On this wild shore, the ocean hits the coast with terrifying force. Much of the route has been wrecked by hurricanes and landslides, becoming a bare expanse of slippery rocks that could only be traversed at five miles an hour. We were the only visitors that day, she admitted, directing us toward a sun-blasted concrete walkway that had been laid across the mangroves.

Local supporters who had planned to meet the boat when it landed gave up when it failed to appear on time. As government air patrols threatened them on December 2, Fidel ordered the pilot to head to shore before sunrise, unaware that he had chosen the most inhospitable spot on the entire Cuban coastline. At around a. The guerrillas were basically city slickers, and few had even seen mangroves.

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They sunk waist-deep into mud and struggled over abrasive roots. But the army had already gotten wind of their arrival, and three days later, on December 5, the rebels were caught in a surprise attack as they rested by a sugar-cane field. The official figure is that, of the 82 guerrillas, 21 were killed 2 in combat, 19 executed , 21 were taken prisoner and 19 gave up the fight. The 21 survivors were lost in the Sierra. Soldiers were swarming. Today, our stroll through the mangroves was decidedly less arduous, although the 1,meter path gives a vivid idea of the claustrophobia of the alien landscape.

Celia Sanchez — a crucial organiser of Cuba's revolution

It was a relief when the horizon opened up to the sparkling Caribbean. Fidel asked how many guns he had saved. His fantastical confidence was unbowed. As they settled into the Sierra Maestra, the urban intellectuals quickly realized they were now dependent on the campesinos for their very survival. Luckily, there was a built-in reservoir of support. Many in the Sierra had been evicted from their land by the Rural Guards and were virtual refugees, squatting in dirt-floor huts and subsisting by growing coffee and marijuana.

The romance with Fidel developed slowly over the following months, says biographer Stout. Young farmhands swelled the rebel ranks as soldiers. The campesinos also risked the savage reprisals of soldiers of the Rural Guard, who beat, raped or executed peasants they suspected of rebel sympathies.

One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution

Today, the Sierra is still a frayed cobweb of dirt roads that lead to a few official attractions—oddities like the Museum of the Heroic Campesino—but my accidental meetings are more vivid. The father had been an organizer for the sharecroppers in the area, and one day an assassin walked up and shot him in the face. People came from all around, friends, relatives, supporters. Of course, we had to kill a pig to feed them all at the funeral. He ran away to join the guerrillas to get out of his debts. For six months, Fidel and his battered band lay low, training for combat and scoring unusual propaganda points.

The first came when Batista told the press that Fidel had been killed after the landing, a claim the rebels were quickly able to disprove.

If he had not become a revolutionary, Fidel could have had a stellar career in advertising. A more concrete milestone came on May 28, , when the guerrillas, now numbering 80 men, attacked a military outpost in the drowsy coastal village of El Uvero. Elderly residents still like to recount the story of the attack in detail.

One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution - Nancy Stout - كتب Google

We had no idea! Then we realized it was Fidel. From that day on, we did what we could to help him. Their strategies were often improvised. By mid, the rebels had established Comandancia La Plata and a network of other refuges, and even the self-deluded Batista could not deny that the government was losing control of the Oriente. In summer, the dictator ordered 10, troops into the Sierra backed with air support, but after three tortuous months, the army withdrew in frustration.

When the rebels revealed how many civilians were being killed and mutilated by napalm bombing, the U. Congress ended U. The CIA even began feeling out contacts with Fidel.


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The mile dash was one of the most harrowing episodes of the campaign, as troops slogged through flat sugar country exposed to strafing aircraft. But by late December, Che had surrounded Santa Clara and cut the island in two. It was a stunning victory. Soon after the champagne corks popped, he was escaping with his cronies on a private plane loaded with gold bullion to the Dominican Republic.

He soon moved to Portugal, then under a military dictatorship, and died from a heart attack in Spain in Despite its revolutionary credentials, Santa Clara today is one of the most decrepit provincial outposts in Cuba. A strikingly ugly memorial has been erected by the carriages, with concrete obelisks placed at angles to evoke an explosion.

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