The 60th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks will be celebrated in Santiago de Cuba on Friday.
By Isaac Risco*
HAVANA TIMES — This Friday, the old guard of the Cuban revolution returns to the place where it began to write its official history. Sixty years after a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks, the country’s leadership will gather in Santiago de Cuba to again celebrate what is considered the beginning of the revolutionary process that took Fidel Castro to power.
It is a symbolic location, chosen for a symbolic date: On July 26, 1953, Cuba’s eastern province of Santiago de Cuba became the setting for the first revolt of the movement that would topple Fulgencio Batista’s regime less than six years later.
In the midst of the economic reforms undertaken these past few years, the Castro government will take a break to celebrate the day with all the traditional symbolic rituals and enthusiasm it unfolds on dates of significance to the history of the revolution.
A number of heads of State from the region, most notably from the Left-leaning bloc, headed by Venezuela, are expected to attend the ceremonies planned for Cuba’s “National Rebellion Day”, to be held in the former Moncada Barrack headquarters and presided over by President Raul Castro.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, one of Havana’s closest allies, has already confirmed he will attend the ceremony.
“We’ll be in Santiago de Cuba, with Fidel, with Raul,” the Venezuelan president announced in Caracas some days ago. His Uruguayan counterpart, Jose Mujica, is expected to arrive to the island on Wednesday.
On his first official visit to Cuba since he came to office in 2010, Mujica will remain on the island until Sunday. In addition to participating in the 26th of July festivities in Santiago de Cuba, the former Uruguayan guerrilla will meet with Raul Castro in Havana today.
Cuban authorities have issued no information regarding 86-year-old Fidel Castro’s plans for the July 26 celebrations. Given the delicate state of his health since stepping down in 2006, it is considered unlikely that he will attend the festivities.
Six decades ago, the situation was rather different. In the early morning of July 26, around 80 attackers had set out to lead a surprise assault on 800 soldiers who slept at Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada Barracks. Their leader was a then beardless, idealistic 26-year-old lawyer named Fidel Castro.
Through a simultaneous assault on another military headquarters in the city of Bayamo and the taking of Santiago de Cuba’s Courts, the rebels hoped to unleash a popular uprising that would spread across the country and bring about Batista’s downfall.
The assault failed. Most of the assailants were killed and Fidel Castro sentenced to 15 years in prison. Two years later, he was pardoned and released. After living in exile in Mexico for a few years, he returned to the island at the end of 1956 to lead a guerrilla movement which finally forced Batista to flee, on January 1, 1959.
For decades, Fidel Castro also headed all 26th of July festivities, rotating to different cities. The former 86-year-old president, who became known for his marathon speeches, will likely not be present in Santiago de Cuba this year to share his oratory stamina with the public.
His brother Raul, 82, and rather more resistant to public appearances, is expected to deliver the day’s address to the nation.
“I wasn’t elected president to bring back capitalism,” Raul Castro declared in February, while addressing the Parliament to state that the current reform process will not undermine the island’s socialist model, which points to Cuba’s free public health and education systems as its main achievements.
“I was elected to defend, maintain and continue improving the socialist system, not to destroy it,” he underscored.
Under his presidency, Cuba has undertaken a series of reforms that introduce market mechanisms into the country and have put an end to a decades-old State monopoly over a number of sectors.
Since the younger of the Castro brothers came to power in 2006, the Cuban government has created more opportunities for private initiative. Today, there are nearly 430,000 so-called “self-employed” (private sector workers) on the island.
These changes, however, have also accentuated class differences across the country. In contrast to trades and areas requiring less qualifications (such as the food industry or transportation), professionals such as medical doctors are still not permitted to open private practices. A State sector job in Cuba pays an average monthly salary of US $ 20, at the current exchange rate.
Cuba’s opposition, on the other hand, continues to demand political reforms. Dissidents such as blogger Yoani Sanchez regularly demand “the decriminalization of political differences”, still to no avail. The Cuban Communist Party is still the only legal political organization on the island.
(*) Isaac Risco writes for the dpa news service.