On the eve of “National Rebelliousness Day” (July 26), all of Cuba is again preparing to cover itself with red and black flags that bear the number “26” in white. Some of these banners carry not only that number, but the complete abbreviation of the movement that led the revolutionary 1959 victory: M-26-7 (short for the 26th of July Movement).
On July 26, 1953, when brave young Cubans assaulted two army barracks of the Batista dictatorship, that flag still did not exist, nor had the movement taken its name. The colors and the abbreviation arose much later after an indispensable regrouping of the revolutionary forces, because the assault failed militarily.
Even though the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) possesses its own flag (red), the Cuban revolution is traditionally symbolized by the colors of the M-26-7 movement. This can be seen during patriotic celebrations, when more of these are held up – along with the national flag.
The waving of these colors is a re-enactment of what happened during the days following the fleeing of Batista in the pre-dawn hours of New Year’s Day 1959, when all of Cuba painted itself red and black.
But not everything is so simple.
According to revolutionary Cuban researcher Fernando Martinez Heredia, at the moment of the 1959 victory, 17 revolutionary organizations existed in the country (seventeen!).
Most of them later disappeared, almost always merging with larger ones (though others joined the anti-communist opposition). Three groups —the M-26-7 along with the communist pro-USSR Popular Socialist Party and the March 13 Directorio Revolucionario (DR-13)— merged to form what is now the Communist Party of Cuba.
It always surprises me that almost no one remembers the flag of the Directorio Revolucionario. This group was basically the student organization that on March 13, 1957 (a date remembered by heart by all Cubans school children in their History of Cuba classes) conducted an assault on Presidential Palace with the aim of killing the dictator.
The objective of the action was not achieved, but the youth of the Directorio Revolucionario formed one of the most formidable columns of the nascent revolution. One of the commanders of the organization, Faure Chomon, occupied important positions in the PCC after the victory in 1959.
The guerillas fighters of the DR-13 wore their own armband on their olive-green uniforms, with colors different from those of the M-26-7.
March 13 continues to be commemorated with student marches and re-broadcasts of the historic 1957 speech in which Jose Antonio Echeverria (the president of the Federation of University Students and the founder of the Directorio Revolucionario) announced the expected death of the dictator, minutes before he himself fell in combat with the Batistian police force. But the flags of the organization that led those actions are not carried out into the streets today.
The absence of this flag, in comparison to the unfolding the red and black of July 26, is remarkable. Such an absence goes unnoticed by many people because it is not common knowledge that the DR-13 also had a flag. Some people don’t even know that the organization was distinct from the M-26-7. Not even Wikipedia shows the flag of the Directorio.
A few days ago, I walked up to a sales counter of a Revolutionary Art Bazaar that was full of M-27-26 flags. I asked the salesperson if they had a flag of the March 13 Directorio.
“No,” she responded, herself surprised.
“Has it been a while since they’ve delivered any,” I asked.
“I’ve never seen one,” she replied.