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History, Cuban Revolution

Herbert Matthews, Sierra Maestra, Jose Antonio Echeverria, central Cuba, mountain sanctuary

Unrest continued in Cuba. In mid-1956 Batista faced dissension within the military as several officers conspired to overthrow him and reinstate liberal, democratic politicians. The leaders were court-martialed and jailed. On March 13, 1957, the Revolutionary Directorate attacked the presidential palace, intending to assassinate Batista. The president barely escaped as the rebels shot their way onto the grounds. Jose Antonio Echeverria, the directorate’s leader, was gunned down and the rest of his men were captured, killed, or forced into hiding.

Meanwhile Castro had been raising funds, acquiring weapons, and training a small band of guerrillas in Mexico. On November 29, 1956, Castro and about 80 men crammed themselves into a small fishing vessel, the Granma, and set out to invade Cuba. All did not go as planned, however. Bad weather delayed their arrival, and the rebels landed 30 miles south of the point where weapons and reinforcements awaited them. As they waded ashore, Batista’s army ambushed them, and only a handful of men escaped. They formed a small guerrilla army in the Sierra Maestra, the mountains of southeast Cuba.

From his base in the mountains, Castro organized raids on military installations to acquire weapons and worked closely with the rural population to build a base of support. He invited Herbert Matthews, a New York Times correspondent, to the Sierra Maestra to report on the 26th of July Movement. Matthews’ reports brought international attention to Castro’s movement. New recruits joined him, and urban guerrilla groups, such as the Civic Resistance group, founded in 1957, became auxiliaries of the 26th of July Movement.

Well into 1958, U.S. State Department officials misread the Cuban population’s profound dissatisfaction with Batista, as U.S. diplomatic dispatches from Havana indicated that Batista had the opposition under control. Eventually, as Batista’s dictatorial tendencies grew and the extent of opposition to his regime became apparent, the alliance between the United States and Batista weakened. The United States discussed with Batista the possibility of working with the moderate opposition and scheduling free elections. Batista refused. The United States considered an armed intervention, but instead decided to force Batista to resign by withholding arms shipments. Meanwhile, the opposition was unifying around Castro. In March 1958, 45 civic organizations signed an open letter supporting Castro’s guerrillas.

Conditions deteriorated for Batista during the following months. On April 9, 1958, a general strike to protest the Batista government did not paralyze the country, but it did throw doubt on Batista’s ability to govern. In April and May Batista failed to suppress two major rebel offensives. In May Batista began an assault on Castro’s stronghold in the Sierra Maestra. In July more than 10,000 government soldiers failed to dislodge Castro’s men during the Battle of Jigue. In late August the rebel army moved out of its mountain sanctuary onto the plains.

The rebels made steady advances throughout the remainder of the year. In November government troops lost control of the central highway into Santiago. In December rebel forces won a bloody battle for control of Santa Clara, a city in central Cuba. Batista understood that his downfall was imminent. After his annual New Year’s Eve party, he and his closest advisers secretly boarded a plane for the Dominican Republic.

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