Massacres during Batista’s Dictatorship

Elio Delgado Legon

Stop the killing of our sons and daughters.

HAVANA TIMES — Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship lasted from March 10, 1952 until December 31, 1958, a time period during which over 20,000 people were killed. The majority were murdered by the police or the Cuban rural guard, normally after having been tortured in the most horrible way a human being could imagine.

On many occasions, these murders fell under the category of “massacres” because it wasn’t only one person to be killed but several at a time, after having been caught in night raids.

The first event of this kind that I can remember took place during the Christmas celebrations in the old Oriente province, when 23 young revolutionaries were killed in a blood orgy between the 23rd and 26th December 1956. They were taken from their homes, tortured and then killed after which they were dumped on highways, in fields, under a bridge, left hanging from a tree… which the dictatorship cynically baptized “Operation Christmas Present” and which the Cuban people named “Bloody Christmas”.

On November 23, 1957, Colonel Fermin Cowley Gallegos, the man behind the Bloody Christmas and the mass killing of expeditionaries on board the Corinthia yacht, paid for his crimes when he was executed in Holguin city by members of the July 26th Revolutionary Movement.

This hitman’s death touched the regime, and a few hours later, dozens of soldiers in tanks and trucks stopped hundreds of citizens to “interrogate them” using the cruelest of tortures. The criminals took their revenge and in a new blood orgy they killed six young revolutionary members of the 26th July Movement on December 9th.

Another massacre, which just remembering it almost 60 years later still makes me sick in the stomach and angry, is the one known as the “Cabañas Massacre”, which took place in the town of the same name in Pinar del Rio.

It all began as an act of revenge for a guerrilla attack that took place around November 16, 1958. An article published recently by the Cuban News Agency describes the events as the following:

“The first ones killed were young farmers Bernardino and Jose Isabel Miranda, two brothers who lived near San Claudio, who were suspicious to Batista’s hitmen for the simple fact that they were walking at the place where the attack took place, heading towards the fields to work, very early in the morning.

“That same day, at night, they were taken from their home, brutally beaten and then hanged along the highway, where they were left hanging as a lesson and warning about what would happen over the following days.

“In the afternoon of the 18th, another young man, Gonzalo Rivero, who suffered from a mental illness, paid dearly for his curiosity: a large group of “helmets” who were getting off a truck, started beating and kicking him, they took him towards the mountains where he was killed, alongside Octavio Campos, Regino Ramos and Jose Benito Diaz, who came out to defend the mentally disabled man.

“In the late morning of November 19th, a jeep loaded with soldiers, went from door to door and to workplaces, looking for alleged guerrilla collaborators and enemies of the regime. They took them to the Cuban Rural Guard’s barracks, they stripped them of their belongings and gave them a beating that lasted almost 12 hours, to then go on and kill them and bury them in the Guasimal farm. 

“In the early hours of November 20, 1958, Batista’s henchmen mercilessly killed Domingo Alvarez, Modesto Trujillo, Francisco Rodriguez, Isidoro Roque, Roberto Nodarse and Marcos Antonio Lafa; as well as two other detainees who weren’t from Cabanas but were being held prisoner in the barracks and ended up with the same fate.

“The tragic story goes that Marcos Antonio Lafa had his shoes taken away from him and was made to walk barefoot on rocks and thorns, and that when his feet were destroyed, and aware of the fact that death would be his fate, he refused to carry on walking and asked them to kill him there and then.

“Francisco Rodriguez was a courageous member of the July 26th Movement. The soldiers knew about his proven manhood and so when when they realized that he wouldn’t inform on his colleagues, in spite of the terrible torture they submitted him to, they castrated him and then – for the executioners who were there’s “fun” – they tied his genitals to his neck, just before they hung him like they did to the rest. 

“The nightmare that began in Cabanas on November 17, 1958 which lasted until December 31 of the same year, would only come to an end when the Revolution triumphed on January 1,1959.”

This is the story which we should never forget.

Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

20 thoughts on “Massacres during Batista’s Dictatorship

  • November 13, 2020 at 4:45 am

    Those who say Batista only killed rebels are flat out lying. My grandmother had NOTHING to do with the communists…she was raped and mudered by Batista’s corrupt soldiers. This happened throughout Cuba during the years of the profit-seeking rapacious USA-backed tyrant, Batista. Castro rightfully put this devil and his followers into graves. Damn the pseudo Cubans who demonize him for his revolutionary overthrow of colonialism. They are whites. Stay off the island….it doesnt belong to you.

  • March 10, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    Remember most of the cubans that batista s government executed were 26 of july movement that was fidel rebels today they would be classified as a terrorist group they put over 100 bombs all over cuba killing thousands and blaming the batista s. Government there is nothing nothing nothing good about castro the only thing he knows is how to do is steal,kill an jailed innocent people I was born in cuba I lived through that nightmare for 40 yrs my education was not free I had to work in fields cutting sugarcane for free and when I received my college degree i was not paid what I was worth fidel castro all his life was a low life like hitler ,stalin and Mao

  • December 17, 2019 at 5:34 am

    We lived on O’farrill st. in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood a block and half from the intersection of O’farril and Goicuria where a two story apartment building was located. It was on a night of November 1958 when a gun battle took place between Batista security forces and revolutionariesl
    Perhaps the police attempted a search and or arrest of the occupants of one of the apartments. The shooting lasted into the morning. My father, mother, sister, brother and I spent the night on the floor away from the windows. The shooting was intermittent and we could hear commands like, ” alto o disparo”, yelled by the police. We came out to look after the shooting stopped and I remember an olive green 55 Olds belonging to the SIM on the corner of O’farrill and Juan Delgado and could see a people on the corner of Goicuria and O’farrill . We later learned that a pregnant woman was taken prisoner by the police.

    In the first Bohemia Magazine published after the fall of Batista there was an article about the incident including a picture of the woman, a slender petite woman in her twenties . The article claimed that when she was taken prisoner the neighbors yelled,” don’t kill her”. She was taken prisoner. We later heard that three men that were in the apartment were executed by the police including one that was wounded.


  • October 9, 2019 at 5:46 am

    I was a child during Batista’s rule, born in 1948 left Cuba in 1962. I question the 20,000 killed under Batista but without a doubt repression was cruel and there were many murders. In57 or 58 I saw two dead bodies in La Vibora neighborhood where we lived they were on the sidewalk next to the MiniMax grocery store that faced Mayia Rodriguez next to the Monaco movie theater. There was a policeman guarding the bodies as to display them. According to my father the victim’s shoes were almost off their feet and scoffed in back possibly as a result of dragging .
    On another occasion we were driving on the road from Havana to Batabano just past our farm outside Managua at approximately the 17th kilometer of the hwy. My father got out of the car and told us to stay in the car. Upon returning to the car he was upset so we drove back to Managua to the Rural Guard station and my dad complained to the commander whom he knew the commander said that somebody from Havana had done it. It was a group of young people 4-6 of them that had been hung from some trees between our farm and the one next to it. Ed Brouwer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *