Fidel Castro

September 30, 1957 – Havana Gunfire Threatens Batista Loyalist

Members of Batista’s Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM) security forces

On September 30, 1957, violence struck close to home for Cuba’s embattled President Fulgencio Batista as the New York Times reported that Luis Manuel Martinez, a leader in President Fulgencio Batista’s Progressive party youth movement, was the target of a shooting incident in downtown Havana.  Unidentified assailants opened fire on a crowded street, killing a merchant named Sixto Careiro and wounding Martinez and two unnamed victims – a woman and a youth.  The youth was arrested when a revolver was found in his possession.

Martinez worked as an assistant editor of the newspaper Tiempo, owned by Batista supporter Senator Rolando Masferrer.  According to the Times, he was one of the most active propagandists of the current regime.

Batista, in an NBC interview with Martin Agronsky broadcast on the day of the shooting, reaffirmed for the American viewing audience that he would honor the provisions of Cuba’s constitution by stepping down the following summer, when free elections would be held.

Image Credit: Jim Hale/Arlequin’s World

September 14, 1957 – Cuban President Fulgencio Batista Faces Internal Opposition

Batista’s army executes a rebel.

On September 14, 1957, the New York Times reported that Cuban President Fulgencio Batista had recently suppressed a revolt in the town of Cienfuegos in which officers and personnel of his own Navy had taken sides with Fidel Castro against his regime.  The previous day, Batista had announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection the following June (he was constitutionally forbidden to succeed himself) but that the suspension of civil liberties would be renewed for another 45 days.

The Cienfuegos revolt, crushed by Army tanks and aircraft, had been instigated by no more than 100 men, Batista claimed, including “a few dissident, illicit men in the Navy”.  According to the Times article there were three sources of opposition to Batista: Fidel Castro’s M-26-7 movement; adherents of former President Carlos Prio Socarras, who was deposed by Batista in 1952; and a group of Opposition parties.

On this day, the Times reported that the island “was an armed camp”.  Citizens were fearful of a breakdown of authority resulting in a state of chaos; merchants were losing business, tourism was down, businesses wanted to close but were not being permitted to do so by the government.  Soldiers patrolled the streets, rounding up opposition figures, and the jails were full of people accused of revolutionary activities.  Citizens had little faith in Batista’s government, but also little confidence that change could be achieved through peaceful means at the ballot box.  The Times concluded that “despite the bloody revolt, the terrorism and other efforts of the Opposition to force President Batista out of office, he will undoubtedly continue to control the island as long as his Army, the most powerful branch of the armed forces, remains loyal to him.”

Image Credit: Imagno – Museo de la Revolucion, La Habana, Cuba

September 1, 1957 – Gloria Maria Milagrosa Fajardo Garcia Born in Havana, Cuba

Embed from Getty ImagesGloria Estefan, with her husband Emilio, at the 2014 Tony Awards

On September 1, 1957, a baby girl entered the politically charged world of Havana, Cuba.  Her father, Jose Fajardo, was a Cuban soldier and bodyguard to embattled President Fulgencio Batista.  Her mother, also named Gloria, was the granddaughter of emigres from Asturias and Logrono, Spain.  Baby Gloria was still very young when her family was forced to flee Cuba during Castro’s revolution, landing first in Lafayette, Indiana, then settling in Miami, Florida.   Jose joined the United States military, served in Viet Nam, and eventually revisited Cuba as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion.  Gloria attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Miami, and graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in psychology, minoring in French.  During her college years, Gloria worked at the Miami International Airport in the customs department as an English/Spanish/French translator.  She was approached by the CIA during this time as a possible employee, due to her language skills.

In 1976, Gloria met Emilio Estefan of the Miami Sound Machine and they married in 1978.  Gloria joined Emilio’s band and during the mid-1980s the Sound Machine produced several Top-10 hits and released an album that went multi-platinum.  In 1988, the band’s name was changed to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine; in 1989, the band’s name was dropped and Gloria was credited as a solo artist with the Sound Machine as her backup.

In 1990, Gloria suffered a fractured spine when a semi-truck struck her tour bus.  Two titanium rods were implanted near her spinal column and she recovered completely after a year of intensive physical therapy.  She later formed the Gloria Estefan Foundation to help others with spinal cord injuries.

Over the years, Gloria Estefan has continued to record chart-topping hits, performed at the 1995 and 1999  Super Bowls and 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, toured the United States and the world, appeared in movies and on television, written children’s books, and become a restaurant and hotel owner.  Her awards include seven Grammys, the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the Hispanic Heritage Award, the 1993 National Music Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A musical based on Gloria and Emilio’s life story premiered on Broadway at New York City’s Marquis Theatre in October of 2015. On Your Feet! shares the story “of two people who – through an unwavering dedication to one another and their pursuit of the American dream – showcased their talent, their music, and their heritage to the world.”

August 22, 1957 – Two Americans Tried in Cuban Court

Who was Russell Masker?

On August 22, 1957, two American men were put on trial in Cuba for carrying unlicensed arms, resisting arrest, and attempting to join the resistance movement of Fidel Castro.  The proceedings were held in the Urgency Court in Santiago, created in the 1930s to try terrorists.  Russell F. Masker and Thomas M. Miller of Miami, Florida had been arrested on August 9th in the town of San Luis, about thirty miles from Santiago in Cuba’s southeastern Oriente Province, the locus of Castro’s M-26-7 activities.  Masker and Miller denied the charges, asserting they had come to Cuba as tourists, had carried no weapons and had not resisted arrest.  The New York Times reported that the Urgency Court could sentence the Americans to as much as five years in prison, with no guaranteed right of appeal.

Little is known about Russell Masker and Thomas Miller, either before or after their arrest and trial.  Russell Masker makes an intriguing appearance in a Cuban Secret Service (G-2 MINFAR) document dated January 12, 1961.  In a report to the secret service department chief, Commander Ramiro Valdes Menedez, about “yanki” (United States) mercenary camps in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Florida, the following statement appears on page 25:

“Last November 22, the ‘Diario de las Americas’ reported the death of North American Russell F. Masker, victim of a stray shot from Cuban Rolando Martinez Capaneria during military instruction in a camp located in ‘Cayo Sin Nombre’, thirty miles from Cayo Hueso [Key West].”

The American-led Bay of Pigs Invasion against the Castro regime took place in April of 1961.  Whose side was Masker on?

July 26, 1957 – M-26-7 Flags Fly Over Havana on Fourth Anniversary

On July 26, 1957, the red and black flag of Fidel Castro’s M-26-7 movement flew over the rooftops of Havana, marking the fourth anniversary of his failed attack on Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953.  Castro adopted the name Movimiento 26, de Julio (M-26-7) for his organization, formed in 1955 by a group of 82 exiled revolutionaries including, among others, himself, his brother Raul, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Castro threatened open revolt against President Fulgencio Batista and his army forces on this anniversary.  R. Hart Phillips of the New York Times reported that Castro’s underground publications had predicted violence across the island of Cuba and that Castro and his followers would drink champagne in the Presidential Palace before the day was over.  People were urged to stay indoors.

From the radio tower of the Pan American Airways building, to the top of the nearly completed Hilton Hotel, to the government’s Mercedes Hospital, and elsewhere in the heart of Havana, M-26-7 flags announced that Castro was a force to be reckoned with.  Over the next few days, reports filtered in from the provinces of bombings, sabotage of power lines, and fires ignited by flaming  bottles of gasoline.  Batista’s days were numbered.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

July 12, 1957 – Castro Releases the Sierra Maestra Manifesto

Comandancia_de_la_Plata_Sierra_Maestra_Cuba_03_anagoria

Comandancia de la Plata Sierra Maestra – Castro’s rebel hideout in the Sierra Maestra mountains near Santo Domingo

On July 12, 1957, Castro issued the Sierra Maestra Manifesto, named for the mountain refuge of his M-26-7 front.  Countering the recommendations of The Manifesto of the Five created by a coalition of five other opposition groups hostile to Batista, Castro argued against negotiation or political compromise with the current regime.  He agreed that it was time for all opposition to Batista to unite; their disunity had been fostered and exploited by the regime’s tyranny and deceptions.  He stated clearly that, contrary to the assertions of the Manifesto of the Five, revolutionary violence would not lead to totalitarianism or revenge.  In fact, he asserted, there was no hope for honest elections if the rebels forces were taken out of the picture.

Castro maintained that the Sierra Maestra rebels wanted “free elections, a democratic regime, a constitutional government.  It is because they deprived us of those rights that we have fought since March 10.  We are here because we want them more than anyone else. . . .  We are fighting for the beautiful ideal of a free, democratic, and just Cuba.”  The manifesto spelled out eight points which included calls for: free elections; an impartial provisional government; Batista’s resignation; a unified civic-revolutionary front (all opposition parties working together); no international mediation in Cuba’s affairs; no military junta to rule Cuba; an apolitical military establishment; immediate freedom for political, civil, and military prisoners; freedom of information, the press, and guarantees of individual rights; suppression of embezzlement; creation of career civil service; free elections within labor unions; campaigns against illiteracy and civic rights education for all; agrarian reform; stabilization of the currency; and job creation.

Two points needed emphasis, Castro declared.  First, a provisional leader must be named who was capable of uniting Cuba behind the “ideal of freedom”, who would meet the conditions of “impartiality, integrity, capability, and decency” and, second, all civic organizations must back this leader to avoid partisan compromise and ensure “absolutely clean and impartial elections.”

Castro also maintained that revolution was not inevitable; the crisis in Cuba could be averted by following his manifesto’s agenda.  “We hope,” he concluded, “that our appeal will be heard and that a real solution will halt the spilling of Cuban blood and will bring an era of peace and freedom.”

Image Credit: Anagoria/Wikimedia Creative Commons

July 8, 1957 – Plan for New, Revolutionary Cuban Government Reported by New York Times

Eduardo Chibas

1948 Presidential election poster for candidate Eduardo Chibas

On July 8, 1957, an article by New York Times reporter R. Hart Phillips disclosed plans by Fidel Castro and other leaders opposed to President Fulgencio Batista to form a revolutionary Cuban regime.  The “Cuban Government Under Arms”, a name recalling Carlos Manuel de Cepedes’s 1868 struggle against Spanish rule, would be a coalition headed by Raul Chibas, brother of the late Eduardo Chibas, founder of the Partido Ortodoxo, of which Castro had been an early member.  The party had hoped to take control of Cuba’s corrupt government in 1952 elections, but Batista’s coup usurped power before the elections could be held.  At that time, the opposition splintered into various groups.  Announcement of the formation of a coalition government was welcome news to citizens hopeful for an end to Batista’s unpopular reign.

Emblema_del_Partido_Ortodoxo

Emblem of the Partido Ortodoxos

At this time, Castro and his forces were still in the mountains of Oriente, Cuba’s easternmost province, near Santiago de Cuba, which was a center of support for Castro’s M-26-7 .  Several opposition leaders, sons of earlier figures in Cuba’s resistance to Batista, were reported to have joined him there.  Formation of the new government was said to be dependent on an insurgent attack to secure Santiago.  Batista had been pouring troops into Santiago de Cuba for weeks.  The New York Times reporter believed “it is apparent that some dramatic move is in the works”.

Images Credit: ecured.cu