January 1, 1959: The Beginning of a Betrayal? (Part 1)
January 1, 1959: The Beginning of a Betrayal? (Part 1) / Somos+, Jose Presol
Posted on January 3, 2016
Somos+, Jose M. Presol, 1 January 2016 — “The Revolution declares its
absolute and reverent respect for the constitution, which was given to
the people in 1940, and restores it as the official legal code. It
declares the only flag to be the tricolor with the lone star and carries
it forth as always, glorious and strong, into the heat of battle. And
there is no other anthem other than the Cuban national anthem,
recognized worldwide by the vibrant stanza, ’To die for the homeland is
to live.’ ”
These are not the words of a counterrevolutionary. They are not the
words of the current defenders (for how long?) of the current Cuban
government. They are not even the words of Dr. Fidel Castro. They are
the words of our own Martyrs of Moncado. And I say “our” because they
are ours; they long ago stopped being theirs. We are the revolutionaries
of today, fighting against an unjust dictatorship, just as they were the
revolutionaries of yesterday, fighting against another unjust dictatorship.
This was written by Raúl Gómez García and is excerpt from the so-called
“Manifesto from the Moncada Revolutionaries to the Nation.” It amounts
to a statement of conscience, assuming they had one, that has not been
The first revolutionaries to enter Havana on New Year’s Eve 1958 were
not the forces of the 26th of July Movement, a claim that is not
disputed when the subject comes up. The first to go in were men and
women of the Second National Escambray Front.
Nor were Camilo Cienfuegos nor Ché Guevara the ones who occupied the
Columbia or La Cabaña military barracks. It was a Ramón Barquín, a
native of the city of Cienfuegos and an army colonel, who took command
of those installations. He had been imprisoned on the Isle of Pines (now
the Isle of Youth) since 1956 for leading a rebellion of Los Puros (“the
pure”) against Batista. After he was liberated, he flew to Havana, where
he became de facto commander of the army and president of the republic.
However, he put aside any personal ambition and on Day 3 handed over
command to Cienfuegos on the orders of the acting president, Manuel
Urrutia Lleó. Colonel Barquín died in exile on March 3, 2008.
Speaking of Manuel Urrutia, he was a key figure in the trials of Frank
País and many other prisoners after the Santiago uprising, as well as
the trials of various men captured from the Granma expedition. They were
found innocent and released because, as Urrutia reasoned, the 1940
constitution recognized the right to take up arms against anyone holding
But it was not just in Havana where things were happening. Santiago de
Cuba had been taken by a column led by Huber Matos. The city was serving
as the provisional capital of the country and it was there on January 1
that Urrutia was sworn in as acting president based on previous
agreements made among the various anti-Batista organizations.
Urrutia began appointing a government, the first post revolutionary
government and one which did not include either Fidel or Raúl Castro, or
Ernesto Guevara, or any number of the future “great leaders.” Of its
nineteen members, which included Urrutia, eight held no government
positions at the times of their deaths in Cuba. Six died in exile, one
died in a traffic accident, one was shot, one committed suicide, one
died in office, and one still lives in Cuba, though in a low-level
It is quite striking how lethal being a member of that first government
turned out to be. Those who died in exile were the president (Manuel
Urrutia), the prime minister (José Miró Cardona), the minister of state
(Roberto Agramonte Pichardo) the minister of public works (Manuel
“Manolo” Ray Rivero), the minister of social welfare (Elena Mederos
Cabañas) and the minister of housing (Rufo López Fresquet). The one who
was shot was the minister of agriculture (Humberto Sori Marin).
And speaking of the 1940 Constitution, the fact that it outlawed the
death penalty did not stop one “gentleman” named Ernesto Guevara and
another named Raúl Castro from making good use of it in Havana and Santiago.
And speaking of manifestos once again, we might conclude with another
one: the “Manifesto to the People of Cuba,” published by Bohemia
magazine on July 26, 1957. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Cuba’s
“capitalist and bourgeois” press was allowed to publish manifestos by
those fighting in the mountains.). This manifesto — signed by Fidel
Castro, Raúl Chibás (who died in exile) and Felipe Pazos (who also died
in exile) — promised four things:
Restoration of the 1940 constitution.
Free and democratic elections after one year of provisional government.
Freedom for all political prisoners.
Absolute freedom of the press.
But since Fidel did not enter Havana on January 1 but rather on January
8, shall we wait a few days to discuss these four points?
Source: January 1, 1959: The Beginning of a Betrayal? (Part 1) / Somos+,
Jose Presol | Translating Cuba –