M-26-7

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

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