"This day in Cuban history" highlights the anniversary of every important date in Cuban history. The project is spearheaded by Dr. Graciella Cruz-Taura of Florida Atlantic University. Professor Cruz-Taura specializes in Cuban history and her publications include:‘Espejo de paciencia’ y Silvestre de Balboa en la historia de Cuba; El pensamiento histórico de José Martí; and Rehabilitating Education in Cuba: Assessment of Conditions and Policy Recommendations. Professor Cruz-Taura is a Senior Research Associate at the Cuban Studies Institute.
May 19, 1895
Cuban poet and freedom fighter Jose Marti was killed in a skirmish at Dos Rios during Cuba's War for Independence, in which he was instrumental in organizing and launch.
José Julián Martí y Pérez (1853-1895), Cuba’s greatest hero and most influential writer. Revolutionary, poet, journalist, and the principal organizer of the Independence War of 1895-1898, he was the apostle of Cuba’s independence. Born in Havana, January 28, of a Valencian father and “isleño” mother, he spent his early years as an eager student. His environment and teachers aroused in him a devotion to the cause of freedom. He enrolled at the Instituto de Segunda Enseñanza but was soon arrested for political reasons. After serving several months of hard labor, he was deported to Spain in January 1871. By then he was already receiving recognition as a writer. At the age of 15 he had composed several poems, and at 16 he published a newspaper, La Patria libre, and wrote a dramatic poem, Abdala. In Spain he resumed his studies and published an essay indicting Spanish oppression and the conditions in Cuban prisons, El Presidio político en Cuba. In 1874 he graduated in philosophy and law from the University of Zaragoza. After traveling in Europe, he worked as a journalist in Mexico, in 1875-1877, made a short visit to Cuba, and settled in Guatemala, teaching literature and philosophy. There he married Carmen Zayas Bazán, daughter of another Cuban exile and shortly afterward published his first book, Guatemala. Unhappy with life under Guatemala’s liberal but autocratic President Barrios, he returned to Cuba, December 1878, hoping that the Peace of Zanjón would have improved conditions there. The authorities, however, soon discovered his revolutionary activities and again deported him to Spain. He escaped to France, and them moved to the United States and Venezuela.
Read more about Jose Marti's life and the Cuban struggle for freedom here.
May 17, 1959
The National Institute for Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria -- INRA) was established May 17, 1959, to carry out the provisions of the 1959 agrarian reform law. It was given sweeping authority to organize the collective cultivation of land and to regulate all matters related to agricultural output, landholding, credit, and trade. Cuba was divided into 28 agrarian development zones, each to be governed by an INRA appointee. Except for several thousand small farms, all private land was confiscated and placed under INRA’s control.
After experimenting with different forms of socialist agriculture, including state-managed cooperatives, INRA eventually imposed identically organized state farms (granjas del pueblo), whose work force received wages rather than a share of profits. Several farms in the same region were made part of an agrupación, administered by a director and six-member advisory council. These directors reported to regional directors, subordinate to INRA organs in Havana. Such state farms remain the principal organizational structures in the agrarian sector. The agrarian reform law of 1963 restructured the INRA as a government ministry, which in 1974 was absorbed by the ministry of agriculture.
May 7, 1797
José Antonio Saco, born in Bayamo on May 7, 1797, is one of Cuba’s most influential writers of this period. Saco entered the San Carlos college-seminar where Felix Varela became his mentor and teacher.
A skeptic and pessimist, he differed from his teacher in the belief that Cuba was not yet ready to form an independent government. He also doubted that Spain would grant Cuba autonomy and permit it self-government under Spanish sovereignty, writing, “Those who wish Cuba to have a government like Canada’s are chasing a Chimera.”
Saco was a brilliant writer and polemicist, with a sober, concise style. He ran the Cuban Bimonthly Magazine through which he criticized the colonial regime’s economic, social and political actions while influencing the younger generation of creoles. The government punished him with banishment to Trinidad. Captain-General Miguel Tacón personally told Saco that “the banishment order was due to his enjoying too much influence over Havana’s youth.”
Saco traveled to Europe. He visited Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Portugal and finally France where he established residence in Paris. In 1845 he published his outstanding work "Supresion del trafico de esclavos en Cuba" which enraged slave owners in Cuba. Later in his life he also wrote several volumes of his "Historia de la esclavitud". In 1848 he published his ideas against Cuba’s annexation to the U.S. He stated: “Annexation…would eventually cause the destruction and disappearance of the Cuban nationality.” In another piece, he wrote, “It’s about closing my heart to all hope and becoming the executioner of my native land.”
In general, the Creole patrician class to which Saco belonged was conservative and pessimistic about the surrounding society’s high level of ignorance and illiteracy. Yet for all his skepticism about Cuban independence and autonomy, Saco contributed to the concept of Cuba as a separate state from Spain.
Nevertheless, the man whose brilliance helped forge national identity did not answer the call to independence of the Ten Years War. Throughout his life, Saco remained unflinching in his profound socio-political pessimism.
Saco died on September 26, 1879 at age 82 in Spain.
May 2, 1808
On May 2, 1808, there was a popular uprising in Madrid, Spain, against Napoleon Bonaparte’s imposition of his brother Jose as King of Spain.
The Spanish War of Independence was underway, with the Spaniards refusing to accept the French king. The Spanish American colonies became confused. Who was the lawful monarch? Who to obey? All they knew was that the Spanish monarchy had collapsed. Soon, most of the Spanish colonies in America declared their independence.
Three major factors kept Cuba in the Spanish fold: first, fear of a Haiti-style slave revolt that would threaten sugar production in Cuba; second, the close ties between the “sugar aristocracy” and the Spanish nobility; third, the island’s healthy economy.
The memory of thousands of refugees arriving from nearby Haiti had a great impact on Cuban society for most of the Nineteenth Century, as living testimony of the swift and bloody demise of the French plantation system in the once richest colony in America. The presence of Spanish troops in the island mitigated their fears.
Closely linked to the Spanish nobility, Cuba’s wealthy sugar creole, the sacarocracia, had created financial and political ties with the highest level of power in Spain. The wealthy creole included Gonzalo O’Farril, Charles IV’s Minister of War; the Count of Santa Cruz de Mompox, a business partner of the powerful Manuel Godoy; Vicente de Quesada y Arango, Marquis of Moncayo and Captain General of Andalucía and Castilla la Vieja; and the Marquis’ nephew, Andres Arango, second-in-command of the Spanish army at Bailen (site of the great victory over the French Imperial Forces). It was during this difficult struggle when Spain was fighting Napoleon’s army that the social elite in Cuba sent more than $200,000 to help in the war effort. Never again would the sugar aristocracy enjoy as much influence over Cuban affairs as between 1790 and 1834. After that, the army and the greedy generals became the dominant political force in Spain for the next 140 years, and in Cuba until 1898.
An unfortunate and painful period of Spanish history.
April 24, 1898
War between the United States and Spain, April 24-August 12, 1898. The Cuban independence struggle became an international issue in 1898 when the United States, angered by Spanish excesses and prodded by those who saw a possibility of acquiring greater influence in the island, threatened war if Spain did not relinquish its authority. When Spain refused, U.S. troops invaded Cuba and Puerto Rico and an expedition was sent against the Philippines.
The name “Spanish-American War” was bitterly resented, and in 1945 the Cuban Congress approved the substitution of Guerra Hispano-Cubano-Americana. In fact, however, the “República en armas” had taken part, in neither the declaration nor the formal conclusion of what was in fact a conflict between the United States and Spain. Although the Army of Liberation cooperated with the U.S. forces, its help was accepted only to the degree that this implied no recognition of the insurgency as a belligerent; Cuba had no say in the peace negotiations and did not become an independent state for another two years.
April 17, 1919
Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, President of Cuba, 1959-75, born in Cienfuegos on April 17, 1919, where he attended the Roman Catholic Instituto Champagnat primary school and the public high school. Politically active at an early age, he took part in the general strike of 1935. Graduating from the University of Havana law school in 1941, he retuned to practice in Cienfuegos, served as dean of the local bar association, and later as vice-president of the national bar association. He joined the Partido Socialista Popular (Cuba's Communist Party) A member of Movimiento de Resistencia Cíivica, he was briefly imprisoned following an abortive rising in Cienfuegos in 1957. On his release he joined the Movimiento Veintiseis de Julio, becoming its coordinator in Cienfuegos and supplying troops for Che Guevara in the Sierra Escambray. Rearrested in December 1958, he was soon released and fled to Mexico, returning after the Revolution of 1959 to become minister of justice. As such he was responsible for the Fundamental Law of 1959 to modify the Constitution of 1940.
Read more about this historical date here.
April 17, 1961
The Bay of Pigs ranks as one of the most disastrous seaborne landings of the 20thCentury. The roots of the military operation can be traced to January 1960, when the CIA began receiving hard evidence that Fidel Castro was passionately committed to establishing a Marxist state closely associated with the Soviet Union. In the context of the Cold War, this was highly disturbing news with the dangerous possibility of the USSR deploying its military in Cuba.
President Dwight Eisenhower warned, stating that “this nation will not tolerate the establishment of a Soviet satellite ninety miles from our shoe.” The Cuban dictator had to be overthrown. It is clearly evident that U.S. national security was the dominant factor in Washington’s planning and execution of what became the Bay of Pigs disaster.
Read more about this historic date here.
April 11, 1962
The Communist economic system established by Fidel Castro after the Revolution of 1959 created numerous supply problems while productivity decreased. When the accumulated reserves of the old regime had been exhausted and stocks were not replaced, stores shelves emptied. Years of scarcity followed the period of affluence. On April 11, 1962, rationing was introduced: a shock, as this had not been known even during the shortages of World War II. In the years following, declining worker productivity only accentuated the scarcities.
During the “Special Period” of the 1990s things became much more difficult. Ration entitlements often could not be honored, transportation faltered and electric power cuts became frequent, a particular inconvenience for dwellers in Soviet-style high-rise housing, unable to use elevators. The meager allocation provided through the ration cards were supplemented by widespread corruption, stealing from state enterprises, and a flourishing black market, conditions that still exist today.
A general strike called for by Fidel Castro on April 9, 1958, in the belief that Batista could be toppled in the same way that Machado in 1933 had been and encouraged by the impact of the widespread spontaneous strike of July 1957, that had followed the police shooting of Frank País. Only in eastern Cuba was the call widely heeded due to Batista’s brutal repression and in part because the Partido Socialista Popular (the Communist Party) regarded Castro as a maverick and refused to cooperate.
April 1, 1980
Following the entrance to the embassy of Peru by several thousand Cubans seeking political asylum, Fidel Castro on April 1, 1980, lifted restrictions on emigration and encouraged unhappy Cubans to leave the island. The port of Mariel was opened unilaterally for Cubans outside the island to come and collect relatives. Some 125,0000 Cubans were allowed to leave through the port for exile in the United States. The cost to the United States of receiving and resettling the Mariel refugees was over $250 million in the first year alone. It also turned out that the emigrants included 5,000 criminals and mentally ill persons released from the island asylums, and, it was later learnt, 2,000 Cuban agents.
Read more about this historic date here.
March 28, 1898
On March 28, 1898, the final report of the U.S. Court of Inquire from Cuba, on the tragic destruction of the cruiser Maine, was sent by President William McKinley to Congress. The Court placed the blame for the explosion “on a submarine mine.” The Court was unable to obtain evidence affixing the responsibility for the explosion on any individual or group of conspirators.
Read more about this historic date here.
March 28, 1927
On March 28, 1927, President Gerardo Machado majority in Congress extended for six more years Machado’s term in office. (La prórroga de poderes). A constitutional assembly notified the reform stating: “General Gerardo Machado y Morales because of his commitments and his antecedents as founder of the Republic, is faced with the inevitable obligation of accepting a new presidential term.”
Read more about this historic date here.
March 24, 1896
On March 24, 1896, led by General Emilio Núñez, one of the largest expeditions of the Cuban War of Independence landed at “Marabi,” near Baracoa, Oriente. It came aboard the steamship “Bermuda,” piloted by Captain Johnny O’Brian, a daring blockade runner, highly trusted by General Núñez, for his superb seamanship abilities and extraordinary courage.
The “Bermuda” brought 1,200 rifles, one Hotchkiss canon and nearly one million rounds of ammunitions, medical supply and military accessories. This was a huge successful operation for General Núñez as chief of the Department of Expeditions.
Read more about this historic date here.
Marquito Affair. The political trial in March 1964 of Marco Armando Rodríguez (“Marquito”) whom the Directorio Revolucionario had discovered to have revealed their leaders’ hideout to the police in 1957 leading to the assassination of several students. The trial, and especially Marquito’s testimony, shed light on the tactics of the Partido Socialista Popular (Cuba’s Communist Party) toward the student movement of 1955-57.
Read more about this historic date here.
March 13, 1957
On March 13, 1957, opponents of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista attempted to execute him at the Presidential Palace in Havana. Late in February, Jose Antonio Echeverría, Menelao Mora and Carlos Gutierrez Menoyo, assembled over one hundred men for a decisive blow to the head of the regime. Two generations, driven by a proud nationalism, had joined forces to find a way into constitutional legitimacy, honesty and civil rights. The “Directorio Revolucionario” a fiercely anti-communist organization, and a group of former “Auténticos” fully committed to armed rebellion, united their resources for the daring attack.
Read more about this historic date here.
March 13, 1957
On March 13, 1957, in one of the boldest actions of the anti-Batista rebellion, a group of forty men stormed the presidential palace in the center of Havana and almost succeeded in killing Batista. A rapid flight to one of the upper floors of the palace and opportune reinforcements saved his life. The Student Revolutionary Directorate, together with several Autentico leaders, planned to overthrow the government by assassinating Batista. Student leaders reasoned that such fast, decisive action would cause the regime to crumble and prevent unnecessary loss of life in a possible civil war.
Read more about this historic date here.
March 12, 1996
Helms-Burton Act – U.S. legislation introduced in 1995 by U.S. Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Dan Burton to decrease Cuba’s access to world trade, greatly augmenting the restrictions imposed by the Cuban Democracy Act, approved by the House 294 votes to 130 and by the Senate, 74-22. Its March 12, 1996 signing by President Clinton, as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, followed the downing of two unarmed Hermanos al Rescate light aircraft killing four Cuban-Americans (three U.S. citizens) over international waters. It was greeted with protests from Canada, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, and the European union at the provision that the former owners of properties confiscated after the Revolution of 1959 could use the US courts to seek compensation from foreign corporations trafficking with these properties in Cuba.
Read more about this historic date here.
March 10, 1952
Convinced that he could not win the elections scheduled for June 1952, Fulgencio Batista overthrew President Carlos Prío’s regime in a bloodless and masterfully executed coup d’état on March 10. The coup was almost entirely dependent on army backing and caught the Cuban population, as well as Prío and his followers, by surprise. Batista quickly consolidated his position by replacing dissenting army officers with his own loyal men, exiling or arresting key Prio supporters, and taking temporary control over the mass media. Prío himself sought asylum in the Mexican embassy and later left the country.
Read more about this historic date here.
March 8, 1896
On March 8, 1896, General Valeriano Weyler, Cuba's Spanish Governor, issued a military report announcing that the island's Western provinces were now under the Spanish army control and that the rebels were in full retreat. It read: “Our troops have chased the rebels, caught up and defeated them on the field. The remnants of their army are now thoroughly demoralized and retreating toward Oriente.”
The Weyler report was announced in haste and turned out to be false and dishonest. On March 14, General Antonio Maceo's forces took the offensive and attacked the port of Batabanó, in Havana province. Led by General Quintin Banderas’ infantry, they fought their way into the town's central plaza. The Spanish garrison was surprised and confused by the unexpected and furious advance of the infantry from Oriente, that had fought its way into the Western provinces. By midnight the Cuban soldiers left Batabanó with a large supply of weapons and food..
Read more about this historic date here.
February 26, 1898
By February 26, 1898, the biggest circulation duel between the New York powerful newspaper publishers, Joseph Pulitzer (The World) and William Randolph Hearst (The Journal) was in full swing. The Americans and their press closely watched events in Cuba. No foreign event had aroused and sustained the American public’s interest like the Cuban War for Independence. It came at a time when the young industrial nation had found a new mode of mass communication in the form of several daily newspapers engaged in a historic race for circulation, in which the public received a daily dose of exaggerated and distorted tales of sensationalist news that sold millions of copies to avid readers.
Moreover, most American sympathized with the Cubans’ quest for independence from a corrupt, often brutal colonial power. The press fueled the bloody stories and inflamed American public opinion against Spanish ruled in Cuba.
On February 26, The New York World insisted that Cuba must be free and reiterated its preference for war to a dishonorable peace. In its many editorials after the destruction of the Maine it repeated: “Peace, but free Cuba…The American people do not want war, but they do demand justice…Cuba, as the scene of a remorseless and barbarous war of extermination, is a constant reproach to our civilization.”
After de Maine disaster, the Journal wrote, “The warship Maine was split in two by an enemy secret infernal machine.” The New York press broke the one million mark in sales, fueling the nation’s anger. The public’s animosity toward Spain became so intense, it precluded any alternative to that of military conflict. Upon hearing that the Maine had blown up in Havana’s harbor, William R. Hearst put it succinctly to his paper’s editors: “this means war.” Before the Maine disaster the Journal averaged a little over 400,000 copies daily. Two days after the incident (February 17,) the Journal sold 1,025,624 copies and 1,036,140 the following day (February 18).
Many of the journalists were famous even before their Cuba assignment. Among them were novelist Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage (1895) (a Civil Wary story about a Union recruit’s psychological reaction to the suffering and fear of war); George Bronson Rea, a pro-Spanish journalist from the New York Herald; Richard Harding Davis, a gifted and powerful storyteller, handsome and witty Philadelphian, and popular member of the glamorous eastern seaboard society, who wrote for Hearst’s Journal and who years earlier, while living in Santiago de Cuba as a guest of reputed “Daiquiri” inventor Jennings Cox, wrote the novel Soldier of Fortune; Frederic Remington, the famous sculptor-painter of the American West noted for his cowboys, Indians and horses, who illustrated the Journal’s war stories; and Sylvester Scovel from Pulitzer’s World, who had the privilege of interviewing rebel Commander-in-Chief Maximo Gomez.
The Yellow press kept feeding heighten stories to American readers’ thirst for scandal and sensationalism. The demand for war against Spain kept growing until it became evident that President William McKinley could not check the public clamor for intervention or resist the call for war by millions of American citizens.
On March 6, McKinley met with the House Appropriation Committee leadership and requested $50 million. He told the congressmen “I must have money ready for war.” The Yellow press was showing its huge power and bias in the national political stage.
February 24, 1996
Hermanos al Rescate (Brothers to the Rescue), organized by Jose Basulto in 1991, with financial support from individual donors and several exile groups to fly over the Florida Strait to spot balseros so that the United States Coast Guard could find and rescue them. By May 1995, they had five planes, 35 volunteer pilots and a $1,200,000 annual budget from worldwide donations (including some from corporations such as American airlines) and had rescued 6,000 refugees.
Hermanos flew over Havana on January 9 and 13, 1996, to drop anti-Castro leaflets. When three Hermanos unarmed Cessna planes near Cuba, but still over international waters on February 24, Cuban air force Migs blew two of them out of the sky, killing the four occupants (three Cuban-American U.S. citizens and one Cuban-American resident), within sight of a tourist liner, creating an international incident and showing the brutality of the Castro regime. Despite strong United State pressure, the United Nations Security Council reaction was only a mild resolution of regret over the incident. Following this event, the U.S. signed into law the Helms-Burton Act codifying the U.S. embargo.
February 24, 1895
On February 24, 1895, Cubans restarted, with the Grito de Baire, the war for independence against Spain that began in 1868-1878. Marti’s pilgrimage throughout the Americas in the 1880’s and 1890’s helped to unite and organize the Cubans. With Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez, Marti worked tiressly toward the realization of Cuban independence. So well had they organized the anti-Spanish forces that their order for the uprising on February 24, assured the ultimate expulsion of Spain from the island.
The war, however, was not the fast and decisive struggle Marti had sought. It took his own life in 1895, dragged on for three more years, and eventually prompted the U.S. intervention (1899-1902) that he had feared.
February 17, 1957
At dawn on February 17, 1957, Herbert Matthews, The New York Timesjournalist, met with Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra. The meeting took place ten weeks after the “Granma” landing disaster (December 2, 1956). There were lingering doubts as to whether Castro was dead or alive. This meeting turned out to be one of Castro’s biggest propaganda achievements.
Matthews was 57 and in delicate health, with heart problems. He had reached the meeting place late on the 16, and the scouts gave him a blanket to lay down for the night and wait for Castro. At sunrise on the 17th, Castro appeared in an olive-green army fatigue and a long rifle with a sharpshooter’s telescopic lens. “We can pick them off at thousand yards with these guns.” Castro boasted to Matthews soon after greeting him.
Matthews came to this meeting with his own Marxist bias, and was immediately fascinated by Castro’s charismatic personality and his masterful showmanship. Matthew reported that the tall bearded leader had a well-armed guerrilla force of more than 500 men and women and was in full control of the Sierra Maestra. Castro easily won over the willing leftist journalist of The New York Times. With the most powerful newspaper in the United States as his propaganda outlet, Castro and his 30 fighters could reach the world.
On February 24, the first of three articles was published on the front page of The New York Times under the headline: “Cuban Rebel is Visited in Hideout.” The leading story read” “Fidel Castro, the rebel leader of Cuba’s youth, is alive and fighting hard and successfully in the rugged almost impenetrable fastness of the Sierra Maestra.”
In his historical article, Matthews told his readers that Castro was anti-communist, with strong democratic ideals, fighting for free elections and the Cuban constitution. Raptured by the young rebel’s performance, Matthews called Castro "the Cuban Robin Hood.”
Batista’s Minister of Defense denied the veracity of Matthew’s story. On the 28, the “Times” responded with a front-page photo of Castro and Matthews.
On the day of the story, Fidel Castro was barely surviving in the Sierra Maestra and only in control of a small area. But Mathews rescued the failed leader and turned him, like a thundering lightening, into an unconquerable Robin Hood. In one stroke, the awesome power of The New York Times had propelled Castro into the top leadership of Cuba’s revolution and a popular figure in the U.S., especially within the State Department. It was a masterful propaganda coup and a huge step in the tragic falsification of Castro’s ideology and his march to consolidate a totalitarian state.
February 15, 1898
On February 15, 1898, the U.S.S. Maine blew up and sank in Havana’s harbor killing 268 officers and sailors. The armored cruiser had come to protect American citizens after Spanish officers’ riots three weeks earlier.
In 1976, Admiral Hyman Rickover conducted an inquiry into the cause of the Maine’s demise. The result of his investigation, published in his bookHow the Battleship Maine was Destroyed, points to an accident caused by coal spontaneously igniting and the resulting fire spreading to the adjacent ammunition storage bunker, causing it to explode. The bituminous coal used by the American Navy was highly volatile and ignitable by accidental combustion. Before an after the Main disaster, several U.S. warships suffered from spontaneous fires in their coalbunkers, including the armored cruiser New York.
Another theory holds that a mine detonated under the ship’s keel blew up the forward part of the cruiser, sinking the ship.
Sigmund Rothchild was an eyewitness to the explosion. A passenger on the liner, City of Washington, anchored nearby; Rothchild was on deck facing the warship. “I looked around and I saw the bow of the Maine rise a little, go a little out of the water. It couldn’t be more than few seconds…then there came in the center of the ship a terrible mass of fire and explosion...the whole ship lifted out, I should judge about two feet. As she lifted out, the bow went right down.”
Some experts have reservations about Admiral Rickover’s theory, pointing to the large hole beneath the Maine’s hull, where the keel metal was folded sharply into an inverted V, with the apex thrusting upward, suggesting an external explosion. A few days after the disaster, Spain and the U.S. sent naval experts to determine its cause. The American team concluded that it had been an external explosion that detonated the magazine. The Spaniards coincided with Admiral Rickover conclusion, finding that the internal explosion was due to a tragic combustion of the volatile bituminous coal. By this time, the question of how it happened had become moot.
The American “yellow press” went into a frenzy of incendiary headlines and did not bother to seek a fair answer. They had already decided that Spain was guilty and war inevitable.
Still today a definite explanation of this terrible explosion remains elusive.
February 11, 1878
Paz (or Pacto) de Zanjón. Armistice signed February 11, 1878, to end the Ten Year’s War (1868-1878). It won neither Cuban independence nor the abolition of slavery, but it freed all slaves who had fought in the rebellion against Spain, and guaranteed an amnesty to rebel émigrés, and gave Cuba the same political rights as Puerto Rico, including that to elect deputies to the Cortes. Antonio Maceo and a few followers refused the terms and fought on, unsuccessfully, in the brief Guerra Chiquita.
February 10, 1896
Captain General Valeriano Weyler arrived in Havana and was welcomed by an enthusiastic pro-Spanish population. The new military governor was quick to realize the severity of the insurrection on the island. In an address to the crowd in front of the Governor’s Palace, Weyler said, “I shall not hesitate to punish with all the most rigorous sanctions those who in any way help the enemy cause… for the time being I shall disregard all political considerations. My mission is to end the war. I have come to uphold Spanish sovereignty …. as long as the war goes on. I will ignore all political distinctions. Only Spanish political ideas will be allowed. I condemn all other political factions and in my opinion, there are only two major political groups on the island. Those who are in favor of Spanish rule and the separatists…they can be easily told apart. There are those who love Spain, and those who fight against her.”
Read more about what Valeriano Weyler in Cuba here.
February 3, 1934
Article 38 of a new constitution extended the suffrage to Cuban women.
Cuban feminists had actively campaigned for the right to vote since the first days of the Republic. By the early 1920s, universal suffrage had become the unifying flagship issue among a full spectrum of social and political positions held by Cuban women’s associations throughout the island nation. This activism linked women to the political crisis and upheaval that culminated with the short-lived Revolution of 1933, during which President Ramón Grau San Martín announced (Decree 13 of 2 January 1934) that Cuban women would go to polls to elect the members of a constituent assembly. While Grau’s fall only two weeks later brought to a halt the revolutionary program, transitional governments immediately sought to claim its modernizing agenda, universal suffrage among them. Changes were incorporated in subsequent revisions to the Electoral Code, and Article 2 of the Constitution of 1940, which guaranteed equal rights.
Provisional President Carlos Mendieta approved Article 38 on 3 February 1934 granting Cuban women the right to vote as a part of a conciliatory package that sought to reduce the wide-ranging storm that characterized Grau’s revolutionary government. Ultimately, the history of women’s rights in Cuba stands out as a microcosm of Cuban social movements throughout the first decades of the twentieth century, an active component of a much-broader social, political, and revolutionary agenda.
January 28, 1879
Born in Puerto Principe (now Camagüey), January 28, Cardinal Manuel Arteaga studied theology and civil law from 1892 at the University of Caracas, Venezuela. After his 1904 ordination he became foreign curate at Cumaná and later Canon in the Cathedral of Guyana. In 1910 he represented the Archdiocese of Caracas at the Madrid Eucharistic Congress, contributing a report. Afterwards he returned to Camagüey as parish priest at the Iglesia de la Caridad. Later he became provisor and vicar general of the Archbishopric of Havana, and in 1941 succeeded to the see. In 1946 he was made a cardinal. Preferring diplomacy to opposition, he congratulated Fulgencio Batista on his seizing power in 1952 and was with him on ceremonial occasions. After the Revolution of 1959 and the subsequent reduction in church personnel, Cardinal Arteaga, old and feeble, tried to develop an accommodation with the regime, but he succeeded only in maintaining a much smaller and weaker institution on the island. From November 14, 1959 until his death on March 20, 1963, he was effectively in retirement.
January 28, 1853
Jose Martí, Cuba’s greatest hero and most influential writer. Revolutionary, poet, journalist, and the principal organizer of the Independence War of 1895-1898, he was the apostle of Cuba’s independence. Born in Havana, January 28, of a Valencian father and “isleño” mother, he spent his early years as an eager student. His environment and teachers aroused in him a devotion to the cause of freedom. He enrolled at the Instituto de Segunda Enseñanza but was soon arrested for political reasons. After serving several months of hard labor, he was deported to Spain in January 1874.
By then he was already receiving recognition as a writer. At the age of 15 he had composed several poems, and at 16 he published a newspaper, La Patria libre, and wrote a dramatic poem, Abdala. In Spain he resumed his studies and published an essay indicting Spanish oppression and the conditions in Cuban prisons, El Presidio político en Cuba.
In1874 he graduated in philosophy and law from the University of Saragossa. After traveling in Europe, he worked as a journalist in Mexico, in 1875-1877, made a short visit to Cuba, and settled in Guatemala, teaching literature and philosophy. There he married Carmen Zayas Bazán, daughter of another Cuban exile and shortly afterwards published his first book, Guatemala. Unhappy with life under Guatemala’s liberal but autocratic President Barrios, he retuned to Cuba, December 1878, hoping that the Peace of Zanjón would have improved conditions there. The authorities, however, soon discovered his revolutionary activities and again deported him to Spain. He escaped to France, and then moved to the United States and Venezuela.
Finally, in 1881 he made New York his home, although he continued traveling in Latin America and writing on its problems. Writing a regular column for La Opinión nacional of Caracas and La Nación of Buenos Aires, he won recognition throughout Hispanic America. Not only his articles, but also his poetry and prose, precursors of modernism, became popular. His poetry he reserved primarily for the expression of his innermost thoughts, his loves, and his increasing preoccupation with death. In 1882 his most significant poems recorded his tender feelings for his son and homeland, expressed in regular meter but in a style presaging modernismo, appeared in the collection Ismaelillo, named for his son. His best-known poems are his Versos sencillos (written about the same time but only published posthumously), which emphasize such themes as friendship, sincerity, love, justice, and freedom. Martí also won the hearts of many Latin American youngsters with his Edad de oro, a magazine especially devoted to children. His greatest contribution to Spanish American letters were his essays. Written in a highly personal style, the Modernistarenovation of language that characterized them marked the beginning of the new Hispanic American prose.
He realized very early that independence from Spain was the only solution for Cuba, and that this could only be achieved through a military victory obtained so rapidly as to preclude United States intervention. His fear of a military dictatorship after independence led to his 1884 break with Generals Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo. His withdrawal ended in 1887 and the three men then resumed working together, with Martí assuming political leadership. In 1892 he formed the Partido Revolucionario Cubano in New York and directed his efforts toward preparing a war against Spain. What distinguished Martí was his ability to organize and harmonize: His oratory inspired his listeners who admired his faith and sincerity, and his conviction in the ideas he was pursuing gained for him respect and loyalty. His writings were not mere rhetorical exercises, but moral teachings aimed at making a better human being. His importance transcended Cuba. Like Simón Bolívar, he thought in terms of a continent and advocated the unity of Latin America. When in 1895 he gave the order for the resumption of hostilities, he felt he could not remain behind in New York and landed in Cuba to lead the campaign. Shortly afterwards, on May 19, he was killed in a skirmish at Dos Rios.
January 24, 1898
On January 24, 1898, the USS Maine steamed into Havana’s Harbor, under the venerable watch of the Morro Castle and anchored close to the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII and the Ward line steamer City of Washington.
The USS Maine had been sent to protect American citizens in response to the U.S. Consul in Havana Fitzhug Lee request, who for several weeks had witnessed the violence led by Spanish army officers and merchants against the Cuban new autonomist government. On January 1, 1898, the Spanish autonomist government took office in Cuba with the formal investiture of José Maria Gálvez as Prime Minister. Angry mobs roamed the streets, chanting slogans and denouncing as traitors those in favor of autonomy and a negotiated settlement of the war in Cuba.
President William McKinley was shocked by the news that some Spanish army officers had led the riots and ordered the Department of the Navy to deploy a warship to Havana.
The first Sunday after its arrival, the Maine’s 52-year-old captain, Charles Sigsbee, joined Lee and a group of officers at the bullfights in Havana, where the famous matador Mazzantini (“El Torero”) performed before a roaring crowd. They were provided a ringside seat and a detachment of Spanish soldiers for protection, a wise decision given the crowd’s hostile anti-American attitude.
The Maine was an example of the rebirth of the U.S. Navy, that had been declining since the end of the Civil War (1865). In 1890, the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of four battleships, the Oregon, Indiana, Iowa and Massachusetts, and several cruisers. The ships were finished just in time for the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898. Without their heavy guns and thick armor, the U.S. Navy could not have waged an overwhelming swift war against Spain.
Three days after the Spanish riots that sent the Maine steaming into Havana, the American Ambassador in Madrid, Gen. Stewart L. Woodford, met with Queen Maria Cristina. She discussed enforcement of sweeping reforms in Cuba, insisting that her government was interested in a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Woodford told the Regent Queen that the recent riots were a disturbing situation. “The mutiny in Havana does not look as if Captain General Ramon Blanco can control his own army. If he cannot control his own army, how can he hope to crush the rebels? And besides, I hear every day of mutinies here in Madrid.” Maria Cristina replied, “I will crush any conspiracy in Spain. Upon this you may rely. I believe that my government will keep peace in Havana and reduce army officers to obedience. I want your President to keep America from helping the rebellion until the new plan of autonomy has had a fair chance.”
McKinley appeared willing to accept Maria Cristina’s request to give autonomy a “fair chance.” In his annual address to Congress a few weeks earlier, the President clearly stated the need to give Spain a “reasonable chance to realize its expectations….” On this issue Woodford informed the State Department, “the Spanish Minister of State is greatly gratified with the generous tenor of the President’s message, and today authorized me to express his gratification to my government….”
William McKinley was a cautious politician, naturally disinclined to make rash decisions. For a time it seemed likely that the Queen Regent would get her “fair chance.” But it was not to be. In less than 30 days, the United States and Spain were at war.
On February 15, 1898, a terrible explosion rocked Havana; the “Maine” had blown up and sank. The USS armored cruiser that on January 24 steamed into the Harbor as a response to the rioting in Cuba, was torn in half by the explosion. How it happened is still being debated, but the tragic destruction of the “Maine” became the spark for war.
January 22, 1896
On January 22, 1896, Antonio Maceo, at the head of the Cuban forces fighting for independence, reached Mantua, Pinar del Rio, successfully completing the invasion of the Western provinces. It was an extraordinary strategic victory. The war was now to be fought in the fields of Cuba’s most profitable sugar region.
The invasion, that began in Oriente at the historical “Mangos de Baragua” on October 22, 1895, took three months to reach the westernmost town. On November 29, 1895, Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez had joined their forces in Las Villas with about 2,600 men, mostly cavalry. At this time, Spain had deployed over 140,000 soldiers in Cuba.
In early December, Arsenio Martinez Campos, the Spanish captain general, began a tactical move to encircle and destroy the invasion forces. Several Spanish regiments approached the Cubans from various routes.
Concerned with their situation, Gomez and Maceo searched for a way out while engaged in a bloody rear-guard fight. On December 15, they found it, in the plains of Mal Tiempo near Cienfuegos. The 600-man Spanish force of Col. Narciso Rich, spotting the approaching rebels, began organizing for the battle. Riding at the head of the column, Maceo spotted the enemy force and quickly realized the need to attack before they could complete their deployment. He ordered his bugleman to sound a cavalry charge. The whole column sprang into action wielding machetes and rushed forward in a head-on-calvary charge.
When Gomez heard the bugles, he raced forward. The fight was brief but fierce. The Spaniards held on, but the horsemen pressed on with the attack and broke the Spaniards’ ranks. One eyewitness wrote: “In honor of the Spanish Army, I must declare that neither before nor after during the war I saw their soldiers lose their morale and break ranks.” The battle of Mal Tiempo was a decisive turn. The rebel forces had broken through and were now at the gates of Cuba’s sugar emporium. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the Spanish colonial system was shaken to its very foundation.
By the end of 1895 Gomez and Maceo conceived the most brilliant maneuver of the invasion, known as “the false retreat." The plan consisted in turning back to the east, to deceive the Spanish generals into thinking that the Cubans were retreating to Oriente. The move was a success, as Martinez Campos ordered most of his troops guarding the narrow plains between Havana and Matanzas to swiftly march to Las Villas and defeat the invasion forces before reaching their strongholds in Oriente.
But Gomez and Maceo turned direction again, moving west and entering Havana province where between January 2 and 7, 1896, their forces occupied a string of 11 towns, including Güira de Melena, almost without resistance. When the Cubans came as close as 12 miles from the capital, the colonial authorities panicked and issued orders to barricade Havana, out of fear of an imminent attack.
On January 7, Maceo and Gomez divided their forces at Hoyo Colorado on the border between Havana and Pinar del Rio provinces. Maceo took 1,560 men to Pinar del Rio, while Gomez stayed in Havana with a little more than 2,000.
News of the worsening situation was reaching Spain, and some newspapers were demanding Martinez Campos’ recall. El Heraldo de Madrid editorialized: “What is happening is truly inconceivable. It is incomprehensible how experienced generals….can be fooled in the way they are being fooled. It is beyond amazement… it is stupefying. This situation cannot be tolerated.”
The impact of the invasion was fully realized throughout Europe and the Americas. In Germany, the largest beet sugar producer in the world, the press reported: “Having devastated Matanzas, the rebels entered Havana and Pinar del Rio.. wherever they came, the harvest was burned in the fields, laborers who continued to work were fired upon, the railroads were destroyed, and telegraphic communication interrupted. Only a very small portion of the harvest of sugar cane can be saved. Of the 361 centrales (sugar mills) in Cuba, only 32 are working now. The rest have been forced to shut down, partly because the harvest is destroyed, partly for fear of attacks."
The Review of Reviews stated: “The Cuban insurgents, whose field of actions until recently had been confined to the eastern and central provinces have obtained under the remarkable leadership of Generals Gomez and Maceo, a great victory bringing the war into the province of Havana.. and the revolution has gained much new headway.”
The Diario de la Marina, recognized the seriousness of the Cuban invasion success. It wrote: “they have not only reached the west but, in doing so, have devastated the entire territory that is Cuba’s granary.” How could it have happened? “…the advancement of the rebel forces, is a motive for amazement.”
Spanish historian Fernando Gomez wrote: “..the invasion of the West extended the war throughout the island as if it were a huge trail of burning powder that is having a devastated effect upon the economy of Cuba. It completely wrecked the island sugar economy. The sugar harvest dropped from over 1 million tons in 1895 to only 225,000 tons in 1896.”
The successful invasion that reached Mantua on January 22, 1896 was a huge strategic victory… The political impact was so severe that placed the fragile stability of the Spanish monarchy in jeopardy and left in ruins the island economy.
The London magazine The Economist reported: “Spain was forced to go to the European market for the first time since the beginning of the war to obtain funds to finance it.”
Finally, the success of the invasion meant the defeat of Spain’s most respected general, Arsenio Martinez Campos. His last report to Madrid said: “I have failed. The responsibility is mine.” General Valeriano Weyler was to replace the vanquished but honorable military.
January 18, 1934: The Demised of the 1933 Revolution
On January 18, 1934, Colonel Carlos Mendieta, a distinguished veteran of the War of Independence (1895-1898) became Cuba’s provisional president. In the turbulent and confused political period that followed the fall of Gerardo Machado (August 1933), Mendieta was succeeding Carlos Hevia, who was President of Cuba from 5 p.m. on Monday, January 15, 1934, to 1:20 a.m. on Thursday, January 18, 1934.
Hevia was briefly replaced, for a few hours, by Carlos Marquez Sterling until the militaries led by Colonel Fulgencio Batista with the full support of the U.S. ambassador, decided to appoint Colonel Mendita. It had taken three days and tree provisional Presidents to replace the Grau-Guiteras 100 days social-democrat provisional government that by the end of 1933 was falling apart.
Grau had been aware of the growing opposition led by Colonel Mendieta; the U.S. Ambassador, the communists and the revolutionary gangs roaming the street. To complicate matters the Cuban economy remained caught in the grips of the devastating worldwide depression and Batista shifted loyalties in an attempt to enhance his power.
Since the fall of Machado and the brief provisional presidency of Cespedes, the U.S. had refused to recognize the “de facto” government of Grau. Colonel Batista support was fading as the officers of the new army, where looking more into their place in Cuba’s political future rather than falling with the Grau-Guiteras social democratic Revolution of 1933.
Batista and his allies began searching for a suitable presidential alternative, agreeable to Washington. In January 13, Batista met Grau and told him bluntly that the U.S. had refused to grant recognition to his government and that Colonel Mendieta could lead a new government with Washington recognition.
Soon thereafter, Grau went into exile and on January 18, the war veteran, Colonel Mendieta was appointed and became Batista’s surrogate president. On January 23, Washington extended a “formal and cordial recognition” to the new Cuban government. Like a recurrent malady the Cuban army was in control. The guns of the battleship “Wyoming” anchored at Havana’s harbor joyfully saluted the new government. The Grau revolution was over but despite the appearance of normalcy Cuba’s social and economic fabric had changed forever.
January 16, 1901
Rubén Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar (1901-1973). President of Cuba, 1940-44 and Dictator, 1952-1958. Born in Banes, Oriente province, January 16, the son of a sugar cane cutter, he spent his early years in poverty and attended a Quaker missionary school. After leaving school he worked as a tailor’s apprentice, cane-field laborer, grocery clerk, barber, and railroad worker before joining the army at age 20. The military afforded opportunity for rapid upward mobility. An ambitious and energetic young man, Batista studied at night and graduated from the National School of Journalism. In 1928 he was advanced to sergeant and assigned as stenographer at Camp Columbia in Havana. Leading the Sergeant’s revolt of September 1933 brought him prominence and power. Before the year’s end Batista had become a colonel and the army’s chief of staff. He became a general in 1941.
On January 14, 1934, the unique alliance between students and the military collapsed and Batista forced the new president, Ramón Grau San Martín, to resign, so ending the revolution begun with the overthrow of Gerardo Machado. Batista emerged as the arbiter of Cuba’s politics, particularly after he crushed the general strike of 1935. He participated in drafting the 1940 progressive constitution. He ruled through puppet presidents until 1940, when he was himself elected. Desiring to win popular support, he sponsored an impressive body of social welfare legislation. Public administration, public health, education, and public works improved. He established rural hospitals, secured minimum wage legislation, increased salaries for public and private employees, and started a program of rural schools under army control. The army received higher pay, pensions, better food, and modern medical care, thus ensuring its loyalty. Batista also legalized the Cuban Communist Party. On December 9, 1941, following the Pearl Harbor attack, he brought Cuba into World War II on the allied side, and in 1943 he established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. In 1944, he allowed free presidential elections. Grau San Martín was elected for a four-year term. After an extensive tour of Central and South America, Batista then settled at Daytona Beach, Florida, where he wrote the survey of his life and policies, Sombras de América (Mexico City: 1946). In 1948, while still living in Florida, he was elected senator for Santa Clara province. He returned to Cuba the same year, organized his own party, and announced his candidacy for the June 1952 presidential election. Aware, perhaps, that he had little chance of winning, he and a group of army officers overthrew President Carlos Prío Socarrás on March 10, 1952, suspended Congress and the Constitution, canceled the elections, and dissolved all political parties.
Opposition soon developed, led primarily by university students who rioted and demonstrated frequently, culminating in the abortive Moncada attack on July 26, 1953 led by Fidel Castro. Batista seemed bent on staying in power. In the rigged election of November 1954, he was “reelected” for a four-year term from February 24, 1955. Although Cuba was prosperous, he neglected social and economic problems. Corruption and graft reached unprecedented proportions. Calls for new elections were ignored, but as political compromise seemed less and less likely, particularly after the collapse of the Diálogo Cívico, the adherents of violence grew in number. Student activism increased. Fidel Castro returned from Mexico to begin a guerrilla war in the countryside. Other groups organized an urban underground. The 1957 Presidential Palace attack by students and followers of deposed President Prío nearly succeeded in killing Batista. His government met terrorism with counterterrorism. Political prisoners were tortured and murdered.
By 1958 there had developed a national revulsion against the dictator and his methods. Finally, defections from the army and U.S. opposition precipitated the collapse of the regime. On December 31, 1958, Batista turned the presidency over to Carlos M. Piedra y Piedra and in the early morning of New Year’s Day, 1959, he flew into exile in the Dominican Republic, and later to Madeira, where he wrote several books, including his apologies for his divisive role in Cuban politics, Cuba Betrayed, and The Growth and Decline of the Cuban Republic. Denied entry to the United States, he then moved to Madrid, where he died in 1973.
January 10, 1923
Federación Estudiantil Universitaria (F.E.U.), Cuba’s first organized Students’ Federation, created in late 1922 with Julio Mella as secretary and popular figurehead, in response to the corruption and incompetence of many professors at the University of Havana. Although its first important manifesto on January 10, 1923, concerned only university issues, it was regarded as a challenge to the Zayas government and from then on the students assumed a significant political role they would not abandon until the 1960s. it was outlawed by President Machado in 1925. Throughout World War II the FEU remained relatively quiet and supported the war effort. In July 1942, however, the FEU (reorganized following the reopening of the university in 1937) demanded that Batista form an honest, efficient war cabinet prior to the introduction of registration for military conscription. The students also turned against the Communists and Russia’s war posture, while denouncing the corruption and disorganization of the Batista administration. During the late 1940s the FEU degenerated into a stepping stone for political prominence, with the advent of gangsterismos: violent student action groups that preyed upon university faculty and administrators. The turmoil surrounding the organization climaxed in the 1948 assassination of Manolo Castro.
In the 1950s the FEU was the sole organization representing the University of Havana’s 17,000 students. Following Batista’s cuartelazo of 1952, it demanded restoration of the Constitution of 1940, return to civil government, and free elections. By 1955 it had become a vocal opponent of the Batista regime, calling for strikes to protest Batista’s refusal to call for elections. President Jose Antonio Echeverría and Vice-President Fructuoso Rodriguez concluded that efforts by third parties to mediate the struggle between the government and the student opposition were futile. In December 1955 they formed the clandestine Directorio Revolucionario. Later the Partido Socialista Popular sought an alliance with the FEU, which it hoped to dominate, but such an alliance was never achieved. On March 13, 1957, Echeverria and other FEU leaders participated in an attack on the Presidential Place in an attempt to kill Batista. The Palace attach was led by Autentico opponents. It failed, and Echeverría was killed after addressing the Cubans on a radio program. After the Humboldt events of 1957, in which several students were assassinated by Batista police, the FEU became virtually inactive until the Revolution of 1959, when student of the newly reopened University of Havana took provisional charge of the FEU and purged all pro-Batista faculty under the authority of newly formed University Reform Commission. Fidel Castro realized that, to mobilize and indoctrinate the students, control of the FEU was essential. He therefore advocated unity among the various student factions and successfully obtained the FEU leadership’s support by installing his brother Raul’s favorite, Rolando Cubela. The FEU remained a tool of the regime.
January 4, 1762
Spain sided with France against the United Kingdom in the Seven Year’s War. Britain declared war on Spain on January 4, 1762, and launched an Anglo-American expedition to capture Havana, the third largest city in the New World, and essential to Spanish transatlantic communications (and the supply of wealth from the Indies to Spain). On June 6, Lord Albemarle landed troops at Cojímar, while Sir George Pocock took the main fleet to Havana, which surrendered in mid-August, following a siege and a bloody assault on El Morro fort (gallantly defended by Luis de Velasco Isla). Britain failed to conquer the entire island and many Havana residents were able to flee into the interior with such goods as they could take with them. The city was returned to Spain in 1762, in exchange for Florida. The influence of the occupation on the city and on the development of the Cuban economy has long been regarded as decisive. For the first time, legal trade with all countries was allowed, including the ending of controls on the African salve trade, with increased importation and sale of slaves. Contraband ceased to be necessary. Cuban cigars became popular in England and in North America, stimulating tobacco production. Freemasonry and religious toleration were introduced. When the Spanish returned, they found it difficult to reestablish the old restrictions.
January 1, 1959
By the end of 1958 wholesale army desertion, growing popular unrest and violence and U.S. increasing opposition had made Fulgencio Batista’s position untenable. He resigned in the early hours of New Year’s Day and fled to the Dominican Republic. Within hours the regime collapsed and the guerrillas from the Sierra Maestra, led by Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara, entered Havana. Their leader Fidel Castro, chose to make his own triumphal entry into Santiago, delivering his victory speech there, and only arriving in the capital a week later.
Emphasizing his commitment to democracy and social reform and promising free elections, Castro denied he was a Communist, described the Revolution as humanistic, and promised a nationalist government that would respect private property and Cuba’s international obligations.
To consolidate his domestic support, he introduced several reforms. He confiscated wealth “illegally” acquired by Batista’s followers. He substantially reduced rents paid by house and apartment occupiers. And an agrarian reform was enacted, confiscating large holdings to supposedly create a nation of small farmers.
Throughout 1959 the radicalization of the Revolution took place, accompanied by the defection or purge of the more moderate leaders and their replacement by more extreme, and oftentimes Communist, militants. This was followed by massive confiscation of private property both domestic and foreign. The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 consolidated Castro’s power and effectively crushed the internal opposition. The regime was declared to be socialist. Economic centralization increased, private schools and the press fell under government control. This was accompanied by a nationwide literacy campaign and an increase of educational facilities. Sanitation, public health, and health care improved with the establishment of rural hospitals under state control. Religious institutions were suppressed, and foreign-born clergy expelled from Cuba.
By 1961 the Cuban Revolution had passed beyond mere reform and was embarking upon a drastic overturn of the existing order. What had begun as an armed protest against a military dictatorship now strove to abolish completely the traditional Cuban social system based on private property, democratic institutions, and constitutional guarantees of individual rights. Castro’s goal became the classic Marxist one of abolishing the traditional social classes in favor of the ultimate classless society where all are equal, with neither “exploiters” nor “exploited.” The Revolution changed the societal givens drastically when property was seized without compensation, claiming to offer in return state-provided social welfare. Those preferring economic (or political) liberty had to join the exodus abroad, although by now most of them had lost everything.
By mid-1961 all the groups that had fought Batista had been merged into the Organizaciones Revolucionarias Integradas, preparatory to the 1963 Partido Unido de la Revolucion Socialista, later transformed into the Partido Comunista de Cuba. By December 1961, Castro had openly espoused Communism and established close relations with the Soviet Union. In the countryside, the second of Castro’s agrarian reform laws in 1963 promoted government controlled cooperatives, which were gradually converted into granjas del pueblo, (state farms), worked by government employees. A new élite group emerged as the coterie around Fidel, whose strength derived from their sweeping political and economic power, the nomenklatura of the communist state apparatus.
On the 7th of December, Cubans commemorate a National Day of Mourning, a Memorial Day to honor those who died fighting for Cuban independence. The date was selected to particularly honor the death of General J. Antonio Maceo y Grajales, who was killed on December 7, 1896 at Punta Brava (22 miles SW of Havana), when he was close to completing the Western Campaign that took the Independence War of 1895 to the western regions of the island.
Antonio Maceo—popularly known as the Bronze Titan, an allusion to both his military genius and his skin color—is remembered for his unwavering allegiance to the cause of Cuban freedom since the Independence War of 1868, his opposition to an arranged peace agreement to end that war in 1878, his personal sacrifices during seventeen years in exile planning to re-confront imperial Spain on the battlefield, and his courage and military prowess amidst difficult circumstances.
Dr. Carlos Finlay was born on December 3, 1822 in Puerto Principe, Camagüey, of a Scott father and a French creole mother from Trinidad. Studied in France and graduated as a physician from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. In 1855, he opened his private practice specializing in yellow fever. He wrote forty articles on the disease. He worked in hospitals in Peru, Trinidad and France before settling in Cuba in 1870.
He espoused the idea that yellow fever was transmitted thru the bite of the mosquito Aedes. He explained his theory to the Washington International Sanitary Conference of 1881. During the U.S. occupation in Cuba in 1900, he was appointed by the U.S. Surgeon General to a Commission under Mayor Walter Reed to test his theory on U.S. army volunteers. After the establishment of the Cuban Republic in 1902, he was appointed public health chief, and the government created in his honor the Finlay Institute for Investigations in Tropical Medicine.
Dr. Finlay was nominated to the Nobel Prize in physiology and received the French Legion of Honor. He died in Havana in 1915. Cubans in the island celebrate on December 3, physician day in honor of Finlay.
On November 27th, 1871, the most pitiless act of injustice during the Wars of Cuban Independence took place: the execution of eight young Cubans, all medical students at the University of Havana. They were condemned without evidence, charged with desecrating the tomb of the editor of a newspaper published by the paramilitary Corps of Spanish Volunteers, who had died in Key West, Florida, during a duel at the hands of a Cuban exile whom he had provoked with his anti-Cuban articles.
The charges lacked sufficient merit, one of the eight students was not even physically in Havana on the day of the alleged crime. When a trial did not result in the punishment demanded by the Volunteers, a quickly held trial the next day ordered the eight executions as well as the confinement of thirty more students.