HAVANA TIMES — “The 26th is the happiest day in our History”; this is what the repetitive chorus of an old song says, which was aired on the Cuban TV new’s programs, in the days leading up to the 26th July celebrations, the day of National Rebellion.
This date commemorates the attack on two Batista army barracks, back in 1953, by a group of young people who were led by Fidel Castro and Abel Santamaria. The date gave the name to a whole movement – civilian and armed – whose revolutionary forces expelled the dictator Batista from the country on January 1st 1959.
The symbol “M-26-7” (The July 26th Movement) is still used even today, as a sign of commitment to the ideas and especially people’s loyalty to Fidel Castro. The annual celebrations on the 26th are perhaps the largest of all the government’s memorial days. There’s a 3-day national holiday, which symbolically marks the beginning of the Cuban summer and it coincides with Santiago de Cuba’s traditional carnival, which takes place around Santa Ana’s day.
The attackers of the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba deliberately chose the day of carnival in 1953 for their attack: they assumed that if everyone in Santiago was already out on the street, this would facilitate their plans for creating an uprising.
However the rebellious forces were defeated in their attack. Dozens of young people died in the fight itself, or were later murdered by henchmen once were they were caught.
Some of them, including Fidel himself, managed to get away, but they were taken prisoner a few days later.
It’s difficult to explain how a day on which so many people died could be “the happiest day in our history.” There’s a story of a foreigner who once asked a Cuban why he was so happy, and the Cuban answered: the Moncada barracks were attacked on this day and a lot of revolutionaries died.
And why is that happy? – the foreigner asked again – clearly, it’s because the attack was a great success: after so many people died, I’m sure a few of them were able to get their strength back and that’s how they were able to continue fighting for the Revolution?
– No, that didn’t happen either. The attack failed, and Batista’s dictatorship killed many of those who survived the original fight.
The foreigner was amazed – again – at just how unfathomable us Cubans are. This amazement most probably differed from what he’d experienced before, due to its infamous macabre tone.
Maybe it’s worth looking at the disrespect the “happiest day in our history” implies…
The Cuba we dream about would have other popular celebrations. I wouldn’t want our most important celebrations to be January 1st (the uprising’s victory in 1959) or May 20th (the day of our weighed down “independence” in 1902).
I’d like it to be October 10th. The day when church bells called from the freedom of (a few) slaves in 1868. This also has a macabre aspect. However, it wasn’t a victory, or a defeat, or a tragic day for its dead. It was simply a conflicting date, where if not everything, at least something of today’s Cuba began.
October 10th was celebrated by Marti and his colleagues, all over the world, before the new independence war began.
And Cuba today is also synonymous with contradiction. It’s better this way, instead of a celebration that wrongly tries to override death.