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.

16 thoughts on “Massacres during Batista’s Dictatorship

  • January 26, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Elio, recounting the horrible acts of inhumanity which took place during the Batista dictatorship will never justify the Castro repression. Cubans should not be asked to make a false binary decision. If not Castro, then Batista. This is not the reality available for Cubans. There is a third choice. Freedom.

    • January 28, 2017 at 12:32 pm

      The power elite fear freedom more than anything else. One day Moses, their worse fears will be realized.

  • January 26, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I am not here to defend Batista, but something about the alleged number of Cubans his forces are said to have killed does not add up. To kill twenty thousand people is a big job, takes a great deal of manpower and leaves a large number or corpses behind. These is simply no evidence to support the assertion that Batista killed 20,000 Cubans.

    The population of Cuba in 1052 was about 6 million. By 1959, the population had grown to 6.9 million. 20,000 victims would represent 1 out of every 300 Cubans. Who were these people? What were their names? Certainly, many victims can and have been named, as several are in Elio’s article above. But these identified victims fall far short of 20 thousand. These alleged victims could not have been Castro’s rebels, which never numbered more than 200 fighters for the early years, and even in last year of fight, Castro only mustered some 300 rebels. Certainly, if Batista had been willing and capable of murdering 20,000 people, he never would have lost the fight to stay in power. He fled from Cuba after a few small battles which cost a few dozen lives on either side

    The historian R.J. Rommel has researched and documented all of the “democides” of the 20th century. His database documents Batista’s victims within a range of 1000 (low estimate) to 20,000 (high estimate, based on reports but no evidence) and settles on a middle range of 2000 victims.

    Just to put things into perspective: for the estimates of Cuban victims of the Castro dictatorship, Rommel places a low estimate of 35,000 killed, a high estimate of 141,000 and a middle range of 75,000 victims.

    • January 27, 2017 at 6:31 am

      Just to add a bit of balance:
      The Historian you mention (Rommel) was a big supporter and advocate of the ‘War of Terror’ (or ‘War on Terror’ – whichever way round it was) and the US/UK invasion of Iraq a decade or so ago.
      So therefore an academic who picks and chooses which abuses to support??

      • January 29, 2017 at 7:07 am

        In his research, Rommel recorded the killings by any and all governments, including those carried out by the US. His work is rigorous and objective.

          • February 1, 2017 at 10:02 am

            The numbers cited by R.J. Rommel include the summary executions in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution, subsequent executions of political prisoners, the anti-Castro Cuban casualties the Bay of Pigs (to be sure, the US gov’t shares responsibility for those deaths) , those Cubans killed in the Escambray Rebellion (estimated at over 3000), those Cubans shot while trying to flee the island, atrocities like the 131 de Marzo tugboat incident, and many other crimes you Castro apologists chose to ignore.

            I don’t know if his numbers include the tens of thousands of Cubans who have drowned trying to escape from the island. Nor if the thousands of Cuban soldiers who died in Castro’s African wars in Angola & Ethiopia are in the count, but they should be.

            Communism kills.

          • February 3, 2017 at 1:45 am

            It seems clear that you are desperately trying to dredge up enough numbers to justify yours and Mr Rommel’s absurd assertions.
            It is clearly one eyed nonsense.
            As is the bizarre comment you finish with.
            Political ideologies do not kill.
            Any more than religions do.
            People kill.

        • January 31, 2017 at 6:03 pm

          I always aim to be objective.
          And I would admit to perhaps falling short of total objectivity on occasions.
          But suggesting that The Revolution or ‘dictatorship’ (as you subjectively put it) has been responsible for tens of thousands of killings is clearly not objective.
          It’s a blatant absurdity.
          Obviously some people can be suckered by such blatant absurdities.
          You might wish to do a bit more research.

    • September 9, 2018 at 5:34 am

      His name is Rummel, not Rommel, and I looked up the book on democide. Castro is not even listed. The reason is that Castro, while bringing widespread education, rent reform and healthcare to Cubans, also was dictatorial, but no mass killer. He was criticized for imprisoning many political dissidents, but hte killings he implemented were of hundreds of Batista’s torturers and murderers after show trials. The Cuban public, who had been terrorized by the Batistas, supported the executions. There is no evidence to support your claim about deaths under Castro.

  • January 26, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    I can understand Mr. Delgado’s cynicism, but it does not justify replacing one dictatorship with another that’s done a fair amount of its own killing and jailing in the name of the Revolution. It’s time to embrace democracy in Cuba and give every Cuban an opportunity to improve his or her standard of living in a free society. Cubans are worthy of this and are tired of repression, fear, and lack of opportunity and they will continue to leave the island in search of better conditions.

  • January 27, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    It does not justify 50 years of repression. It is a false choice that it is present misery or Batista type regime. Cuba has the potential to be so much more.

    • January 31, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Not so fast. The Revolution, despite other shortcomings, freed the Cuban people from terror in 1959 and has continued since. In the meantime, in the 60’s, 70’s 80’s 90’s, in the rest of Latin America, this continued. It still exists to an extent in certain countries. Had power been in the hands of Capitalists, it is extremely doubtful that Cuba would have remained death-squad free.

  • February 15, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    El hombre ha dominado al hombre para perjuicio suyo – Bilbla
    Cuando hay hombres imperfecto, hay injusticia. A pesar de las diferencias políticas, el sistema dominado por los estados unidos no ha ayudado al mundo a desarrollar, sino ha esparcido pobreza.
    Man dominates man to his injury.

  • January 4, 2019 at 10:58 pm

    I like the Cuban presidency under president Tomas Estrada Palma, my father is an economist he argue many times with the fact we were the first country in Latin America kind of argument, why we lost it? For those who believe Repression assume one form only, that isn’t the truth, Under Batista Repression was there, many were killed and that is The Problem When the Democracy stops working for all?


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