Sunday, July 5, 2009

Another rebel anniversary is this month

The Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba

The 56th anniversary of the failed Moncada assault is July 26, so you can be sure that Cuban officials will be arranging museum tours for journalists.
These pictures from July 2008 give you an idea what visitors can see at the old Moncada barracks, now a museum.

Octavio Ambruster Torres

Octavio Ambruster Torres, who described himself as a journalist and museum specialist, was the guide last year.
He said 76 rebels took part in the July 26, 1953, attack on the barracks in Santiago de Cuba, the country's second-largest city. Another 23 insurgents took control of a civilian hospital and six went to the Palace of Justice.
That adds up to 105 rebels. Twenty-four more fighters never made it to Moncada because Fidel Castro's vehicle crashed. According to one story, rebels in vehicles behind Castro's car mistakenly thought they had reached the barracks and got out of their vehicles and began firing.
Castro has written that he drove his car into soldiers at Moncada's gate because they realized an attack was underway, Wikipedia says. Castro escaped into the countryside after the attack, but was captured.

Batista's men beat rebels with these crude but effective weapons, Ambruster said.
The attack marked the beginning of the Cuban revolution, aimed at toppling the government of a U.S.-backed leader named Fulgencio Batista.

A cell at Moncada

I've seen conflicting information on the number of people killed in the assault - from five to nine rebels and as many as 18 police officers and soldiers, various accounts say.
What's certain is that Batista's men summarily executed dozens of men - 61 by one account - after the attack.
Since then, old age has taken many of the other Moncada survivors. Only about 25 Moncada fighters remained as of last July, Ambruster said.

A graphic showing where rebels were killed.
Some 60,000 to 70,000 Cubans and 45,000 foreigners visit the museum every year, Ambruster said.
Workers knocked down the walls of the barracks in 1960 and the building was rebuilt. In 1974, Moncada was declared a Cuban national monument.

Rebels killed in the attack

Castro's followers finally drove Batista from power on Jan. 1, 1959. More than five decades later, Castro's brother Raul has taken over as president. But Ambruster said he had no fear of the future.

The revolution "could last 100 years or more," he said.

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