It was 60 years ago today, Fidel Castro taught the band to play…
Today is the 60th anniversary of the storming of the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, Cuba. It was led by a young lawyer who was not yet a barbudo…then. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?
That’s him on the left, being taken prisoner. He did a brief stint in jail, but on the stand in his own defence, he swore that history would absolve him, and it did. A few short years later, he was back…on a dilapidated yacht with a slightly misspelled name, sailing from Mexico with 81 men he’d recruited while in exile. 82 people on a boat designed to hold no more than 12. One of them was a certain young Argentine medical doctor, who would soon become world-famous by his nickname alone. After a disastrous landing at Las Coloradas, in which the whole operation was nearly ended before it had a chance to begin, the young rebel lawyer — now a revolutionary guerrilla commander — fought his way through the Sierra Maestra mountains of southern Cuba. His little guerrilla band dwindled horrifically; at one point they were down to fewer than a dozen. But since revolution had been slowly brewing in Cuba for decades, even before the lawyer was born, this unlikely bunch managed to accomplish the unthinkable, uniting the people behind them to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, the US-backed dictator of Cuba. On New Year’s Day, 1959, the rebel band rolled triumphantly into Havana…and power.
He’s still around. He was Chavecito’s first international friend and supporter, giving the latter a boost after he was released from jail, but not yet elected president of Venezuela. Today, Chavecito’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, and nine other Latin American and Caribbean presidents, came to Cuba to mark the anniversary of that failed uprising…an early parallel to Chavecito’s own failed military rebellion in 1992. And he’s still inspiring other leaders as well: Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Pepe Mujica in Uruguay. Pepe, too, was a rebel back in the day; he was a Tupamaro, an urban guerrilla, operating in the suburbs of Montevideo. And, like Fidel and Chavecito, he too was jailed for a time. (It’s becoming almost a prerequisite for some leftist LatAm leaders to have been jailed for subversion, isn’t it?)
The old barbudo is retired from the presidency now, but he still likes to write from time to time for the newspaper that bears the misspelled name of that old cabin cruiser he rode in on. And he’s still encouraging rebellion, even if he’s no longer in the business of actively fomenting it, like he once was. But his very existence is an ongoing rebellion. And his revolution has spread through Latin America, to the point where it is now unstoppable.
No wonder, then, that Carlos Puebla’s song says that “for us, it’s always the 26th”. It’s not just that for Cuba anymore.