Fidel Castro became an international celebrity during the Cuban Revolutionary War when his guerrillas were featured in US newspapers. But before the beach landing with his brother Raul and Che Guevara at his side, Castro made an abortive attempt to start a war three years earlier.
On July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro’s 112-man guerrilla group attacked the Moncada army barracks, hoping to take the garrison by surprise, inflict heavy casualties, and inspire a mass rebellion across the island. However,. Castro’s group lacked up-to-date intelligence and the garrison happened to be on alert. 20 soldiers were killed while 61 insurgents were killed and 51 captured.
The Castro brothers’ spent two years in prison before the dictator Fulgencio Batista miscalculated and released them, thinking it would make him more popular. The brothers went into exile in Mexico where they went right back to planning a revolution, and they recruited Ernesto Guevara the Argentine along the way.
When they returned to Cuba in December of 1956, they joined a loose coalition of independent rebel militias like Reynol Garcia’s guerrilla band in Matanzas, Eloy Gutierrez Manoyo’s Second National Front of the Escambray, and Jose Antonio Echevarria’s Student Revolutionary Directorate. After the war, the Castro brothers would go on to claim credit for the war and minimize or erase the other groups’ contributions.
July 26, 1953 is widely considered to be the day the Cuban Revolution began. Today it’s a “patriotic” holiday in Cuba, with businesses shut down and a large military parade held in Havana which includes homages to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
Almost immediately after “liberation” in January 1959, the Castro brothers and Guevara quickly turned Cuba into a Marxist state, expropriating vast amounts of businesses and private property, and executing thousands more batistianos than what many Revolutionary War veterans thought was necessary.
Almost immediately, there was a split in the old alliances as several guerrilla groups who had fought against Batista went back to the mountains to fight against Castro. Also in 1959, Castro’s general Camilo Cienfuegos disappeared. His disappearance was written off as a plane crash but there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that Cienfuegos was murdered for voicing opposition to the Communist Party coming from out of nowhere and occupying numerous top posts in the government.
Most people don’t know about the Escambray Rebellion, Cuba’s real civil war, which began less than one year after “liberation” in 1959. In order to defeat around 2,000 guerrillas, most of them concentrated in and around the Escambray mountain range, the Cuban Communist Party-State drafted over 200,000 men into a National Revolutionary Militia. Led by approx. 400 Soviet advisors, these draftees were made to form multiple rings around rebel positions, and they used World War II-era human waves until the rebels were all captured or annihilated. Cuban government history books call this tragic period the “War Against the Bandits.”
The war lasted over six years. Along the course, hundreds of thousands of civilians from “rebel provinces” who had nothing to do with the conflict were forcibly displaced and relocated. This was done to cut of any kind of material support for the rebels that Castro himself had received from many of the same peasants a few years earlier.
Before the Escambray war was over, Casto had launched a proxy guerrilla war in Panama and had deployed a guerrilla force led by Che Guevara to intervene in the civil wars in Algeria and the Congo. In 1967, Castro launched a proxy guerrilla war in Venezuela and another proxy war in Bolivia, headed by Che Guevara. This was Guevara’s last military adventure. Castro would intervene in subsequent decades in Ethiopia, Angola, and Nicaragua.
In 2017, the first wave of a secret Cuban military intervention in Venezuela arrived. The Cuban government, now headed by Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz Canel, learned from the US military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and how unpopular intervention can make a government on the international stage. For that reason, the Cuban troops in Venezuela are disguised in the uniforms of the Venezuelan National Guard, National Police, and state police, and once again assisted by Russian military advisers. There are even Cubans leading the National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) who also participate in interrogating and torturing political prisoners.
Several participants in the April 30 uprising in Venezuela are libertarians. Furthermore, out of libertarian solidarity and opposition to the Cuban government’s complete disregard for human rights, many libertarians in Cuba have publicly protested against the Cuban invasion of Venezuela and have declared their support for Interim President Juan Guaido.
Image: an album cover for an LP made in the People’s Republic of China to commemorate the July 26 Movement and the Communist Revolution in Cuba. Image from Reddit.