CubaBrief: Seven things to read and watch on the 70th anniversary of the Moncada Attack to get the facts of what actually happened, and avoid propaganda

Seven things to read and watch on the 70th anniversary of the military assault that sparked six years of domestic terrorism in Cuba and 64 years and counting of dictatorship.

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.”

The official version put out by the Cuban government about the July 26, 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks is not what happened. No mention is made about how Fidel Castro lied about his true intentions, because he knew that if he had told Cubans that he was a communist he would never have been accepted by either the Cuban people or Washington. On December 2, 1961 he explained his reasoning,“If we had paused to tell the people that we were Marxist-Leninists while we were on Pico Turquino and not yet strong, it is possible that we would never have been able to descend to the plains.”

On March 26, 1964, before the trial of the alleged informant of the Humbolt Seven Martyrs, Fidel Castro explained that truth had to be useful: ”I conceive the truth based on a just and noble end, and that is when the truth is really true. If it does not serve a fair, noble and positive end, the truth, as an abstract entity, a philosophical category, in my opinion, does not exist.” The accused in the trial Marcos Armando Rodríguez Alfonso was unable to present witnesses in his defense, and Cuban revolutionary Jorge Valls Arango spent 20 years in prison for wanting to testify on Rodríguez Alfonso’s behalf. Marcos Armando Rodríguez Alfonso was found guilty and executed by firing squad. 

This concept of “truth” is not original to Fidel Castro, but taken from Lenin. On October 2, 1920, the first leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, stated in a speech to Russian communist youth: “The class struggle is continuing and it is our task to subordinate all interests to that struggle. Our communist morality is also subordinated to that task. We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the working people around the proletariat, which is building up a new, communist society.”  This is at the heart of communist morality, the ends justify the means, a profound immorality and a pillar of international communism. It also leads to the doctrine of the “big lie.” According to Lenin, “To speak the truth is a petit-bourgeois habit. To lie, on the contrary, is often justified by the lie’s aim.”  This entry will seek to remain true to the facts.

1. The Moncada Attack

Antonio Rafael De la Cova talked about his book The Moncada Attack: Birth of the Cuban Revolution, published by the University of South Carolina Press. He described Fidel Castro’s failed attack on the Cuban Army on July 26, 1953, saying that Raul and Fidel Castro led a party of 160 people in assaults on two Cuban army posts. They were turned back by the army and defeated, and the author contended that Fidel Castro used the skirmish for his own propaganda purposes and that the events of July 26 put in motion Castro’s ascension to power. After his presentation the author responded to a few audience members’ questions. Above is the C-Span video, and below is local coverage on the book presentation.

2. What Fidel Castro said about Cuba’s democratic republic (1902 – 1952) that the regime now down plays.

Fidel Castro mugshot after July 26, 1953 Moncada Barracks attack.

Castro said at his trial on October 16, 1953 that later 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 26 Movement was to restore the pre-existing democratic order along with reforms. The Castro revolution ended a seven year authoritarian dictatorship, and replaced it with a communist dictatorship that has ruled over Cuba for 64 years and counting.  The Castro dictatorship was not a break from Batista but a continuity into more profound tyranny that continues to kill Cubans and has already, at a conservative estimate, killed tens of thousands .

3. Castro’s movement in the 1950s engaged in terrorism against Cubans

Throughout the 1950s., Castro’s July 26th Movement carried out multiple bombings that terrorized and killed Cuban civilians. Several of them were planned by Raul Castro, who is considered by some as ‘the father’ of contemporary skyjacking. On November 1, 1958, he orchestrated a skyjacking that killed 17 civilians. Terrorism is an essential component of Castroism. The Castro regime took power believing that they had achieved their victory through guerrilla warfare and terrorism, not their successfully lobbying of the U.S. government to place an arms embargo on Batista in March 1958. Terrorism is a core part of Castroism that views it as a valid tactic by the Castro dictatorship to further its goals. The Tricontinental Conference was held in Havana in 1966, and the Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (OSPAAL) was created to sponsor and support guerilla and terrorist groups around the world.

4. Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins (2006)

German documentary filmmakers Florian Borchmeyer and Matthias Hentschler in 2006 explored the ruins left by Castroism. and the Cubans living in them. Prior to 1959 there were pockets of poverty in Cuba, especially in the country side, but there was a country with a large and growing middle class. This ended with the arrival of communism, and is reflected in this documentary.

5. The novels of Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Guillermo Cabrera Infante is a member of the Latin American Boom writers’ generation, which includes his contemporary Gabriel García Márquez. Tres tristes tigres, Vista del amanecer en el trópico, and La Habana para un infante difunto are among his most appreciated works. He influenced Puerto Rican and Cuban writers like Luis Rafael Sánchez (La guaracha del Macho Camacho) and Fernando Velázquez Medina (La ultima rumba en La Habana).

Under the pen name Guillermo Can, he co-wrote the script for Richard C. Sarafian’s 1971 cult film Vanishing Point. In 1997, King Juan Carlos of Spain bestowed upon him the Premio Cervantes.

His works are a much needed read to understand the past 70 years of Cuban history.

6. The poetry of Jorge Valls Arango and Angel Cuadra

Jorge Valls, a poet, writer, and former Cuban prisoner of conscience who had unjustly spent 20 years and 40 days in a Cuban prison. He’d fought against two dictatorships and in favor of human rights and dignity and paid a heavy price for being a free man with a conscience.   He explained what happened below.

Like Mr. Castro, I wanted a radical change in Cuban society, but I also knew that authority would never become legitimate unless the pure power of violence was submitted to reason, and strict respect for individual rights was guaranteed.

Without civil rights, the best intentions turn into a trap, and societies become prisons and asylums. There is a danger that we become as alienated and as fierce as the evil we think we are fighting.

That is what happened in Cuba under the Castro regime. In 1964, I was convicted of “conspiracy against the state,” because I testified against the Castro government in a political trial, and I spent 20 years and 40 days in jail. I don’t regret my time there, because I was defending this essential respectability of the human person.

If you read one book of poetry then make it Jorge Valls’s Donde Estoy No Hay Luz Y Esta Enrejado/Where I Am, There’s No Light.

Ángel Cuadra was a Cuban lawyer, writer, poet, and actor who in 1967 was sentenced to 15 years in prison and in February 1977 Amnesty International highlighted his case and recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. He was paroled for four months in 1976, but returned to prison to serve out his sentence after a book of his poems were published in the United States, reported Amnesty International in 1981. Ángel Cuadra completed his 15 year prison sentence in 1982 and was exiled from Cuba. Would highly recommend Esa Tristeza Que Nos Inunda (1985) and La voz inevitable/ The inevitable voice .

7. Watch Nobody Listened – Nadie Escuchaba (1987)

In 1987 the documentary “Nobody Listened” made by filmmakers Néstor Almendros and Jorge Ulla gave an overview of the end of the Batista regime, and the first three decades of the Castro regime.