Moncada attack 60 years later: Batista’s errors and Fidel’s opportunism

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The Moncada Attacks sparked the beginning of the Cuban revolution.

Fidel Castro, Cuban rebel leader, poses with three unidentified women who joined the rebel forces as nurses. (AP-Photo)

July 26 marks the 60th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. This ill-fated attack marked the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, 1953-1959, and the beginning of Cuba’s current dictatorship under Fidel and Raul Castro.

Cuban President Raul Castro leads, in Santiago, Cuba, the act to mark the 60th anniversary of the attack to the Moncada Barracks, accompanied by heads of States of various nations, chiefly the member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of our America (ALBA).

Presidents Nicolas Maduro (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), and Jose Mujica (Uruguay), attended the commemoration of the historical event, reported Prensa Latina.

The multiple missed “opportunities” by Fulgencio Batista to keep Fidel Castro out of power gave way to the dictator’s rise.

The Cuban Revolution continues to be a polarizing subject between liberals and conservatives, Cuban exiles and Cubans who remain in the island and who view Castro as the savior of the Cuban people.

July 26 is the anniversary of the Moncada Barracks attack.

Cuba’s President Raul Castro, center, waves as he stands with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, left, and Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica after an event celebrating Revolution Day in Santiago, Cuba, Friday, July 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In 1952, Fulgencio Batista seized power in a military coup. He suspended the 1940 constitution (which he had instated when he was president of Cuba 1940-1944). He revoked political liberties, and his regime became increasingly corrupt and repressive.

At first, Fidel Castro tried to have Batista overthrown through the courts in accordance with the Cuban Constitution. But when legal means failed, Castro launched an armed revolt.

Moncada attack sparked the revolution

By most accounts the attack on the Moncada Barracks was a failure. A 26-year-old Fidel Castro led approximately 135 rebels into battle, but the caravan of cars got separated, some got lost and some did not even have weapons. The rebels were either killed, murdered or jailed. Batista’s regime was hardly bruised by the incident.

The surviving rebel suspects were sent to trial. At the trial, Castro, a lawyer, brought up the issue of the murdered rebel suspects by the military and spoke of the atrocities Batista’s regime was committing.

In order to try to avoid problems and save face, Moncada chief Col. Alberto del Rio Chaviano, separated Castro from the rest of the men, saying Castro was too ill to attend the trial of the rebels. So Castro got his own trial. And this was Batista’s first mistake (although this was not strictly Batista’s order).

During his trial, Castro gave his famous 4-hour speech: “History Will Absolve Me,” where in his defense, he attacked Batista’s “illegitimate” government. Now, instead of being just another youth agitator, Castro had separated himself from the crowd. He had been noticed. This was what Castro did right. And now he also had a name for his revolutionary movement: Movimiento 26 de Julio.

Castro and the rebels that were found guilty were sentenced to prison. But two years later, bowing to human rights groups and international pressure, Batista released all political prisoners — including Fidel Castro.

This was Batista’s second mistake and probably one he and other anti-Castro Cubans consider his worst, because Castro was not done fighting Batista.

Batista let Castro go after the Moncada Attack. That was a big mistake, that is how Fidel met "Che" Guevara.

From left to right are Fidel Castro; Osvaldo Dortico; Ernesto “Che” Guevara; Defense Minister Augusto Martinez-Sanchez; Ecology Minister Antonio Nunez-Jimenez; American William Morgan from Toledo, Ohio; and Spaniard Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo. (AP Photo)

What could have been a failed attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago, and nothing more, (had Batista simply executed the rebels or kept them in prison) history would have been different.

But instead, Batista gave Castro liberty, a name for his movement, and also sent him packing to Mexico where Castro became friends with a young Argentine: Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Also in Mexico, Castro and his men were trained by Alberto Bayo, a Cuban veteran of the Spanish Civil War.

In late November 1956, 82 members of the 26 de Julio Movement, including Castro and Guevara, left Mexico aboard the “Granma,” a yacht built to carry only 12 people. They landed seven days later in Oriente Province, Cuba, and within a week of the landing, Castro’s forces had been reduced to less than 20 men. And this was yet another mistake on Batista’s part.

Batista failed to pursue Castro and his men with everything he had at a moment when Castro was at his weakest. Instead, Castro did things right: he recruited, trained and prepared a guerrilla force in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra.

Up to that point, Castro’s military operations, the Moncada attack and the landing of the Granma had been catastrophic failures. Batista did not push when he should have. Then, in the summer of 1958, when Batista’s army launched operation Verano, Batista missed another opportunity.

During the battle of Las Mercedes, Batista’s army almost defeated Castro’s rebel army. But again, Batista made a major mistake. He gave Castro a temporary cease-fire allowing Castro and his men to escape.

Four months later, Batista was on a plane to the Dominican Republic and Fidel Castro was marching towards Havana. The rest, as they say, is history.

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