CubaBrief: Cuba’s Dueling Legacies: July 26, 1953 and May 10, 2002. Moms traumatized over children’s harsh jail sentences

July 26, 1953 is a day celebrated by the communist dictatorship in Cuba. It was on that day that Cubans killed Cubans in a failed attempt to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista with an attack on the Moncada military Barracks.

A group of Cubans led by Fidel Castro assaulted the barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Approximately, 18 government officials were killed and 28 wounded in the attack. 27 rebels were killed and 11 wounded. 51 of the surviving 99 rebels were placed on trial. Fidel Castro turned himself in after seeking guarantees for his safety and was also put on trial.

At his trial Castro praised the old republic, and the democracy that had existed prior to March 10, 1952. The future Cuban despot expressed outrage at the Batista regime’s repression against his fellow assailants. “The unprecedented moral degradation our nation is suffering is expressed beyond the power of words in that mother’s sobs of grief before the cowardly insolence of the very man who murdered her son.”

Sixty nine years later and other mothers sob with grief at the murders of their sons and daughters, and the jailing of their children. The difference is that in 1953 Mr. Castro and his supporters assaulted a military barracks and killed scores of soldiers.

Jonathan Torres, Emiyoslan Román, Brandon David and Rowland Jesús Castillo, jailed Cuban minors.

Today in Cuba hundreds are jailed for peacefully protesting and calling for an end to dictatorship. Scores of children have been imprisoned, and their mothers are traumatized.

BBC News in their July 24, 2022 article “Cuba protests: Mothers’ trauma over harsh jail sentences” recognize that agents of the dictatorship killed Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, but fail to mention that there were others killed during the !!J protests.

Christian Díaz, age 24, disappeared after joining the protests. Relatives on July 12, 2021 reported him missing to the Revolutionary National Police ( PNR) in Cárdenas.PNR told his father that Christian was jailed in Matanzas. On August 5, 2021 officials informed his family he’d drowned in the sea and was buried in a mass grave. His family is convinced he was beaten to death. It is known that there are others, but families of the dead have been terrorized into silence.

Cubans who speak out against the dictatorship abroad learn that their families on the island are targeted.

Heidys Sancho said to First Coast News that after she demonstrated in Jacksonville, Florida for freedom in Cuba, the dictatorship retaliated against her family in Cuba. “That was a big problem for my family in Cuba because they start knocking in their doors and say, ‘Hey, what is your daughter doing?'” she said.

An authoritarian dictatorship was replaced with a totalitarian despotism after six years of guerilla warfare and terrorism. Seventy years have passed since democracy ended in Cuba.

Cuba’s democratic tradition today is found in the opposition, and in initiatives like the Varela Project that mobilized tens of thousands of Cubans to non-violently petition the Castro regime for democratic change.

Political opponents of Fidel Castro (L-R) Elizardo Sanchez, Feliz Pitaluga and Osvaldo Paya, speak with the media after meeting with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter May 16, 2002 in Havana, Getty Images.

On May 10, 2002 three members of the Christian Liberation Movement turned in the first 11,020 Varela Project signatures. The Cuban dictatorship’s response was more repression, jailings of petition organizers in March 2003, and the extrajudicial killings of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012.

The bloody events of July 26, 1953 are not cause for celebration, but the civic courage demonstrated on May 10, 2002 should be a national holiday in a future democratic Cuba.

BBC News, July 24, 2022

Cuba protests: Mothers’ trauma over harsh jail sentences

By Will Grant
Cuba correspondent, BBC News

Thousands of Cubans joined last year’s rare anti-government protests

When thousands of Cubans took to the streets a year ago, the only person to lose their life was killed in La Güinera, a poor and predominantly black neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital, Havana.

Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, a young black man, was shot by police during the unprecedented anti-government uprising.

After riot police quashed the nationwide protests, around 100 of the 700 people to receive prison sentences also came from the same impoverished area. Many residents, particularly relatives of those who were convicted, believe the state made an example of La Güinera to deter future demonstrations.

“Here in La Güinera, there wasn’t any vandalism,” says Elizabeth León Martínez, showing mobile phone footage from outside her house which she says backs up her version of events – that the police stormed into the neighbourhood, arresting people at random.

“No-one destroyed patrol cars or broke up stores. Here, there was a response to the police who threw stones and fired shots. All those kids did was run,” she says.

Among the hundreds picked up that day were three of her children. At their subsequent trial, they received between six and eight years for sedition – inciting people to rebel against the state.

“Everything [in the trial] was so false. There were 22 kids being tried at the same time. It was like a show, a montage, like theatre. I’m still traumatised by what I saw there,” Elizabeth says. “Justice in Cuba doesn’t work.”

Elizabeth’s home in La Güinera is like many others; built from plastic sheeting, corrugated iron, breezeblocks and wood

Living conditions in La Güinera are some of the most precarious in Havana. Many residents live in what is known in Cuba as casas de llega y pon – homes built from plastic sheeting, corrugated iron, breezeblocks, wood or whatever is at hand.

Elizabeth lives in one such place, her barefoot grandchildren playing amid scrap metal and rubbish. Already struggling, she must now survive with three fewer incomes to the household as well as looking after their children.

Furthermore, as prison food is near-inedible in Cuba, she must bring each one a food parcel every week to live on behind bars.

“Filling one bag is tough at the moment,” she says of the widespread food shortages and rising inflation, “filling three is almost impossible”.

The government says many of those who protested last July had been incited to by anti-Castro voices from Washington and Florida. The state claims the jail sentences meted out, which were as long as 25 years in some cases, were proportionate to the supposed crimes.

But international human rights groups and the relatives from La Güinera strongly disagree.

Wilber Aguilar is under such scrutiny from Cuban state security, we had to meet in a park on the other side of Havana.

His son, Walnier Luis, has learning difficulties. Yet in what Wilber says was a sham trial, in which only government witnesses were allowed to testify, his son’s condition was not taken into account. Walnier was given 12 years behind bars.

“He was convicted of sedition,” says Wilber, incredulous. “How can you imagine that a young black man from La Güinera who barely graduated the ninth grade at a special school could be guilty of sedition? It’s all just one big lie.”

As we drove around the unpaved roads of La Güinera, I met more family members of convicted young people. Mostly mothers, all of them spoke in low-profile locations to avoid the attention of the authorities.

Mothers whose children were convicted and jailed over the July 2021 protests

In each case, they told a similar story: their children had been picked up at random for either peacefully protesting or just filming the event with their phones.

Migdalia Gutiérrez says her son did not even attend the protest, but was mistakenly identified, convicted and then sentenced to 20 years solely on the basis of a grainy photograph of the day.

Catholic youth leader Leonardo Fernández, who lives in the coastal town of Alamar, was also arrested last July for protesting outside the state-run television channel. But he received just six months of house arrest and is convinced the families of La Güinera, whom he supports with donations, were treated more harshly than most.

“It’s sad to see 20-year prison terms being handed down to 19-year-old kids. There are cases in which the sentences exceed the length of the convicted person’s life. It’s a human tragedy, and one which the international community needs to sit up and take notice of.”

In other nations, the families might have been able to create a formal 11 July mothers’ group, but in Cuba’s tightly controlled police state, such non-sanctioned organisations are illegal.

“We’ve tried to organise but they always stop us,” Migdalia says. “We were going to have a meeting of the affected mothers but somehow the state security found out and visited us one by one.”

“We don’t belong to any group,” she insists, fighting back tears, “we’re just fighting for our children’s freedom.”

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter, July 26, 2022

Cuba’s Dueling Legacies: July 26, 1953 and May 10, 2002

Moncada vs Varela

Bodies from July 26 Moncada Assault. MCL turns in Project Varela petitions

Today, the Castro regime, its fellow travelers and agents of influence will continue the lie that something positive occurred on July 26, 1953.  The only way that they can accomplish this exercise is by rewriting and omitting history. Here is some of what they won’t tell you.

July 26, 1953 was a tragic day when Cubans killed Cubans in a failed attempt to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista with an attack on the Moncada Barracks.

In the early morning hours of July 26, 1953 a group of Cubans led by Fidel Castro assaulted the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Approximately, 18 government officials were killed and 28 wounded in the attack. 27 rebels were killed and 11 wounded. 51 of the surviving 99 rebels were placed on trial. Fidel Castro turned himself in after seeking guarantees for his safety and was also put on trial.

Aftermath of the July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks

This attack turned Fidel Castro into a national figure. He would go on to name his movement, the July 26th Movement.  

Between 1902 and 1952 with moments of great glory and great shame the Cuban Republic transited through 17 democratically elected presidents. One of them, Gerardo Machado elected in 1925, despite constitutional prohibitions, he had the constitution modified and ran for re-election in 1928. He became a despot, and was removed from office by force in 1933. This led to a return to democracy.

Cuban presidents from 1902 to 1952, and dictator Batista 1952-1959.

Tragically, this democratic republic was brought to an end on March 10, 1952 by Fulgencio Batista. Batista was a military man who had entered the presidency in free and fair elections in 1940 ( in coalition with the communist party) and left office in 1944. He returned to Cuba under the presidency of Cuba’s last democratically elected president, Carlos Prio and within days of the next presidential elections, when Batista saw that he could not win at the ballot box, carried out a successful coup against the democratic order that had existed from 1902 – 1952.

Fidel Castro during his trial on October 16, 1953 addressed the court in what became known as the “History Will Absolve Me” speech:

“Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom.” …”Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, radio and television debates and forums of public meetings. The whole nation pulsated with enthusiasm.”

The promise made by the July 26th Movement was to restore the preexisting democratic order along with reforms. The Castro brothers ended a seven year authoritarian dictatorship, and replaced it with a communist dictatorship that has ruled over Cuba for 63 years and counting. 

#TheyAreContinuity #TheyAreDictators ( #SomosContinuidad #SonDictadores)

The Castro dictatorship was not a break from Batista but a continuity into more profound tyranny that continues to kill Cubans

Contrast this with what Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) did. In the midst of a totalitarian dictatorship were all media are controlled by the government along with economic life they managed to lead a movement that persuaded more than 35,000 Cubans to identify themselves, demand democratic reforms, and the restoration of human rights knowing that the Varela Project petition they were signing could lead to losing their jobs, having their children denied access to higher education and in the worse case prison.

On 5/10/02, MCL members delivered 11,020 Varela Project signatures to the National Assembly. (Jose Goitia/AP)

The images of the movement, unlike the Castro regime’s are nonviolent and inclusive and focus on liberation and reconciliation not violence and killing. They do not seek to destroy or slander anyone but to free a people.

Coordinators of the Varela Project

Oswaldo and his movement rejected hatred and violence. They never killed anyone and offered a path to a nonviolent democratic transition.

Oswaldo’s nonviolent legacy has continued beyond him and is a positive tradition for Cuba. His nonviolent struggle followed two of the basic principles outlined by nonviolence practitioner Michael N. Nagler: “We are not against other people, only what they are doing. Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence.”

Oswaldo Payá receives the Sakharov Prize in Strasbourg, France in 2002

In December 2002, thanks to lobbying and pressure from Spain, Oswaldo Payá was able to travel to Strasbourg, France to receive the European Union’s Sakharov Prize and address the chamber where he outlined the movement’s position to an international audience.

The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: “You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.

Sixty nine years after the tragic events of July 26, 1953 the Castro regime celebrates this shedding of blood between Cubans as “the victory of ideas,” but in reality it was the triumph of brute violence and terror in the short term by Batista’s forces on that day and in 1959 by Castro’s forces. 

In Cuba the government has turned it into a day of drinking, parties, parades, speeches and the colors red and black prominently displayed.  This all occurs with prominent military displays and propaganda images worshiping violent revolution.

There are two traditions battling for control in Cuba.

One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime, based on violence and the destruction of the other has dominated Cuba’s political discourse for half a century. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity; the only acceptable ideas are the dictatorship’s.
The second tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using nonviolent means, who founded companies with a social conscience such as Bacardi that contributed to the common good until forced out of their homeland, and of the democrats who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 are still there in Cuba’s nonviolent civic resistance movement.

These civic activists were courteous, and respected the dignity of all Cubans. Some were feminists who obtained the right of Cuban women to vote in the old Republic and went on to defend the rights of poor women to a decent education and better opportunities. 

They nonviolently resisted the imposition of Castro’s totalitarian regime and either went into exile, prison, were killed, or despite great odds are still struggling for Cuban freedom on the streets of Cuba today.

Ten years after the July 22, 2012 murders of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante and it remains clear that the future belongs to the nonviolent resistance. The dictatorship may have killed two of its great nonviolent leaders, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, but in doing so exposed its own brutal nature and undermined itself.

What a post-Castro Cuba will look like can already be intimated. 

Castroism will be relegated to a sad and cautionary chapter in Cuban history that it deserves to be.

May 10, 2002 will be a day of celebration in Cuba commemorating the day that the first 11,020 signatures of the Varela Project were presented to the National Assembly demanding human rights and democratic reforms.

“Down with the dictatorship – Homeland and Life” Cuba, July 11, 2021

July 11, 2021 will also be a day of celebration for the day that tens of thousands of Cubans peacefully gathered across the island demanding freedom and an end to dictatorship.

International Human Rights Day will once again become a day to celebrate and observe human rights in Cuba and not a day of repression. The Cuban Republic’s human rights tradition and the role it played in the drafting and passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 will be restored and celebrated in Cuba. 

Finally, the phrase “Patria o Muerte” will be rejected, and “Patria, Libertad y Vida” embraced.

First Coast News, July 26, 2022


Jacksonville woman’s mother, 82-year-old grandmother flee Cuba

Heidys Sancho says after she protested in Jacksonville for freedom in Cuba, her family in Cuba was retaliated against. They fled the country.

By Renata Di Gregorio

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — This time last year the hashtag “SOS Cuba” could be seen drawn on car windows in Jacksonville and a demonstration even shut down part of I-95.

The ‘freedom for Cuba’ protests were echoing the largest anti-government protests in Cuba since the 1959 revolution. But what has changed since then?

The U.S. is now seeing a spike in Cuban migrants. At least 140,000 Cubans have fled to the U.S. from October to May, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data. Two of those people were Heidys Sancho’s mother and grandmother.

“Nothing good happen in Cuba since that day,” said Heidys Sancho.

‘That day’ Sancho is talking about is when Cubans took to the streets in protest last July. Sancho was standing with them in a protest in Jacksonville. Now, she says something she told First Coast News last year that is still true.

“They no have medicine,” Sancho said. “They no have food, they no have freedom.”

Sancho knows this because her mother and grandmother just fled Cuba to Nicaragua, crossing three other countries too, to get to the U.S. last month.

“Even my grandma with 82 years old, she put her life literally in risk,” Sancho said. “With 82 years old, leave a country and come over four countries and cross a river, just for be free, just for have some rights. That is incredible.”

They sold everything, using the money to escape. Sancho says after she protested in Jacksonville for freedom in Cuba, the government retaliated against her family in Cuba.

“That was a big problem for my family in Cuba because they start knocking in their doors and say, ‘Hey, what is your daughter doing?'” she said.

In Cuba, nearly 500 people have reportedly been convicted and sentenced in connection to the protests, which human rights organizations call intimidation by the Cuban government.

“I hope something change,” Sancho said. “Nothing’s gonna happen if the Cubans no have help from outside.”

Sancho says she is less hopeful than she was last year, but still feels a lot of determination.

In other parts of Florida, there have been protests over the lack of change in Cuba in the past year.

From the archives

Cuban Studies Institute, July 26, 2018

This Day in Cuban History – July 26, 1953. The Moncada Attack

By Pedro Roig*

The Moncada Attack for Fidel Castro, the essence and purpose of his clandestine “movement” was power, therefore the mandatory rules to achieve total control was violence, terror and death. These were the dominant forces driving Castro’s criminal obsession with supreme authority of the government.

From the moment Fulgencio Batista became a military dictator, Castro knew that the doors for a violent revolution were open and did not waste any time forging what members simply called “the movement.” It was to be a disciplined vanguard, willing to obey Castro’s command. The members were committed to the ultimate sacrifice and behaved like monastic soldiers. To die a hero’s death was a welcome outcome. Castro was a persuasive communicator; his discourse was to remain always an apocalyptic call to death. “Patria o Muerte” (Fatherland or Death).

The movement was organized in small, self-sufficient cells. Secrecy was mandatory. Most members came from the ranks of the “Ortodoxo” youth. Castro’s trusted inner circle was small and included his brother Raul, the Leninist sympathizer Abel Santamaría, a Pontiac car dealer, his sister Haydee, Antonio López (Ñico), Jesús Montané, Renato Guitart and Pedro Miret. By the time of the Moncada assault, the movement had over 250 hard-core members, mostly from Pinar del Rio and Havana. They had raised $15,000 for weapons and materials to carry on the attack.

The Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba was the base for the Antonio Maceo regiment, with over 1,000 men. Castro targeted this army base believing that his small force of around 130 men and 2 women (the exact number of men remains impossible to verify) could take the fortress by surprise. The attack was to take place at dawn on July 26, the last day of Santiago’s Carnival. Castro was counting on the fact that the soldiers should have been sound sleep after three days of drinking and dancing. This immensely popular carnival was a radiant delight of joy, a syncretism festivity where Catholic saints and African deities came together at the sound of the “Conga” drums and Santiago exploded in a memorable festival of rum and music.

The military equipment of Castro’s poorly trained groups where a myriad of different arms, small caliber rifles, shotguns, some Winchester rifles, a machine gun and pistols. Their goal was to assault a force ten times larger and with better weapons. For security reasons, most of Castro’s men were not aware that their final destination was the Moncada barracks and went to Santiago believing they were on a training exercise at a farm rented by Renato Guitart on the road to Siboney Beach, about 10 miles east of the city. Guitart belonged to Santiago’s close-knit bourgeoisie family and was the only “Santiaguero” in Castro’s assault group.

On the eve of the attack Castro told them: “We will attack at dawn…when the guards are only half awake and the officers are still sleeping off their drunkenness. It will be a surprise attack and should not last more than ten minutes.” For a moment, there was complete silence. The specter of death had entered the room. For many, this was to be their last supper.

The details of the attack have been well researched by several scholars, therefore we will touch on some issues to illustrate the bloody disaster.

At around 5:00 a.m. they boarded several cars, divided in assault groups with specific objectives. The first major setback came early when one of the largest groups got lost on their way to the Moncada. They never accomplished their task.

Fidel Castro’s main group reached gate #3, at the Moncada. Wearing army uniforms, some men jumped from the first car shouting “Attention… The general is coming.” It worked. The sentries were captured, and their weapons taken but suddenly another unexpected misfortune hit them when a roving patrol discovered the intruders and the shooting began.

At first the soldiers were bewildered since the attackers were wearing army uniforms. In the confusion some soldiers began shooting at each other, but after the initial rush the garrison mounted a successful response and repelled the attack.

The repression was brutal. From the assault group nine died in the fight and 56 were hunted down and murdered by orders from the Moncada’s commander Colonel Alberto del Rio Chaviano. The army suffered 22 deaths. Fidel Castro fled to the Siboney’s farm and with a small group hide near the mountains of “La Gran Piedra.”

On August 1, Castro and two companions were captured by a small patrol led by lieutenant Pedro Sarría. Some of the soldiers called for Castro and his men’s immediate execution, but Sarría recognized one of the prisoners as a fellow Mason and spared their lives. This fateful event was immediately followed by the arrival at the mountain site of the highly respected Archbishop of Santiago, Enrique Pérez Serantes, who had secured from Batista the guarantee of Castro’s life. The enraged soldiers insisted on killing Castro on the spot but were controlled by the Archbishop’s intervention.

After the Moncada, Castro survived as a prominent revolutionary leader, the intolerant inquisitor of ideological indoctrination, the vindicator of a totalitarian value-system, based on loyalty and obedience to the “Maximo Leader.” A case of bad luck for the Cuban nation.


* Pedro Roig is an attorney and historian that has written several books, including the Death of a Dream: A History of Cuba. He is a veteran of the Brigade 2506.