The intention of the assault on the Moncada military garrison in Santiago de Cuba of July 26, 1953 was to seize weapons for the launching of a guerrilla struggle in the mountains. The assault failed, and 70 of the 126 assailants were killed, 95% of them murdered after capture by Batista’s solders in a four-day period following the assault. But in spite of its failure as a military action, the attack galvanized the people, and it marked the beginning of a new stage in the Cuban Revolution (see “Moncada: a great and heroic act” 9/2/2014).
In a manifesto released three days before the assault, Fidel called upon the people to “continue the unfinished revolution that Céspedes initiated in 1869, Martí continued in 1895, and Guiteras and Chibás made current in the republican epoch” (quoted in Vitier 2006:181). The revolution, he maintained, was the revolution of Céspedes, Agramonte, Maceo, Martí, Mella, Guiteras, and Chibás. Accordingly, Fidel understood the revolution to be entering a “new period of war” within a single revolution that had evolved through different stages (quoted in Vitier 2006:181).
Following the failed assault, Fidel himself was able to regroup with 18 followers, and they proceeded to the mountains to attempt to continue the struggle. As the army pursued them, Fidel divided them into smaller groups. He and two of his companions were surprised in their sleep at dawn on August 1, and they were arrested. A trial en masse of more than 100 persons, most of whom had not been involved in the attack, began on September 21, and journalists from all over the island were present. On the first day, Fidel testified for two hours, responding to the questions of the prosecutor and twenty defense attorneys. Saying that he had nothing to hide, he described the financing of the attack, showing that it was not financed by ex-President Prío, as Batista had alleged in a radio broadcast of July 27. And he testified to the non-involvement of those who were falsely accused. After his testimony, Fidel, a lawyer by profession, was given permission to sit among the counsel for the defense rather than in the prisoner’s dock. During the second session of the trial, on September 22, Fidel cross-examined witnesses in a form that exposed the murderous conduct of the army in the days following the attack. After the second session of the trial, he was barred from the trial, placed in solitary confinement without access to books. Following the completion of the trial of his comrades and their sentencing to prison on the Isle of Pines, Fidel was brought to trial in a separate procedure that was held in a hospital rather than in the Palace of Justice, and which was not open to the public. He was permitted to address the court, and his address of October 16 was delivered from memory. A written version of the address was smuggled out of his prison cell, and it subsequently was distributed clandestinely. Fidel concluded the address by saying, “History Will Absolve Me,” and the underground document became known by that phrase (Castro 2014).
In his October 16 address to the tribunal, Fidel described the organization and the carrying out of the assault, its intentions, the reasons for its failure, and his capture (Castro 2014:15-21). He condemned the soldiers who had tortured and murdered captured revolutionaries, maintaining that they had degraded the uniform of the army (2014:22-24, 50-51, 56-61). He harshly criticized the career of Batista and his deceitful message to the people on July 27 (2014:44-49). He praised the courage and heroism of the young insurrectionists who had carried out the attack (2014:42, 51-52, 61-62).
Fidel argued that the assault of the Moncada garrison was legal. He maintained that in early 1952, although the people were not satisfied with government officials, they had the power to elect new officials, and they were in the process of doing so. They were engaged actively and enthusiastically in public debates in anticipation of elections. The Batista coup of March 10, 1952 ended this process. Fidel referred to the writ that he had submitted to the Court on March 12, maintaining that the coup was a criminal act that violated several laws of the Social Defense Code, and asking that Batista and his seventeen accomplices be sentenced to 108 years of imprisonment, in accordance with the Social Defense Code. But, he notes, the Court took no action, and the criminal strides up and down the country like a great lord. The assault on the Moncada garrison, he maintained, was an attempt “to overthrow an illegal regime and to restore the legitimate Constitution” (2014:62-66).
Fidel notes that Batista established the so-called “Constitutional Statutes” to function as a replacement to the 1940 Constitution, and in this Batista was supported by the Court of Social and Constitutional Rights, which was established by the 1940 Constitution. But, Fidel argues, said Court violated the Constitutional article that established it, and thus its ruling is not valid or constitutional. Fidel maintained that the 1940 Constitution remains in force, including Article 40, which affirms the right of insurrection against tyranny (2014:67, 72-76).
And the Batista regime, he maintains, is tyrannical. It has eliminated civil liberties and suffrage, and it has uprooted democratic institutions. In “using tanks and soldiers to take over the Presidential Palace, the national treasury, and other governmental offices, and aiming guns at the heart of the people,” Batista has established “Might makes right” as the supreme law of the land. As soon as it took power, the regime engaged in repression against popular organizations, cultural institutions, and journalists, including arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture, and murder. Furthermore, the regime has placed in top positions the most corrupt members of the traditional political parties. The previous regime was guilty of plunder of the public treasury and disrespect for human life, but the Batista regime has increased pillage tenfold, and disrespect for human life a hundredfold. It has served the great financial interests, and it has redistributed loot to the Batista clique (2014:67-70).
Fidel proceeds to remind the tribunal that the right of the people to revolt against tyranny was recognized by the theocratic monarchies of Ancient China, the city-states of Greece, and Republican Rome, and it was affirmed by the philosophers of Ancient India. In the Middle Ages, the right of the people to violently overthrow a tyrant was confirmed by John Salisbury, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther. In the early modern era, it was sustained by the Spanish Jesuit Juan Mariana, the Scottish reformers John Knox and John Poynet, and the German jurist John Althus. The right of the people to overthrow despotic kings was the foundation of the English Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution of 1775, and the French Revolution of 1789, and it was affirmed by John Milton, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine, the US Declaration of Independence, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. Fidel provided succinct summaries or quotations from these mentioned sources, with the most extensive quotation being from the US Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 (2014:71, 77-82).
Fidel expresses the patriotism of the young people who assaulted the Moncada garrison.
We are Cubans and to be Cuban implies a duty, not to fulfill that duty is a crime, is treason. We are proud of the history of our country; we learned it in school and have grown up hearing of liberty, justice, and human rights. We were taught from an early age to venerate the glorious example of our heroes and martyrs. Céspedes, Agramonte, Maceo, Gomez and Martí were the first names engraved in our minds; we were taught that Maceo had said that one does not beg for liberty but takes it with the blade of a machete. . . . We were taught to cherish and defend the beloved flag of the lone star, and to sing every afternoon our National Anthem, whose verses say that to live in chains is to live submerged in an affront and dishonor, and to die for the country is to live. All this we learned and will never forget (2014:83-84; 2007:68-69).
Fidel concludes not by asking for freedom. He requests to be sent to the prison on the Isle of Pines, where he would be able to join his comrades and share their fate. “It is understandable,” he proclaimed, “that honest men should be dead or in prison in a Republic where the President is a criminal and a thief. . . . Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me” (2014:83-84; 2007:69-70).
Fidel was sentenced to imprisonment for fifteen years on the Isle of Pines. He and his companions were released on May 15, 1955, as a result of a popular amnesty campaign.
An English translation of “History will absolve me” can be found in Fidel Castro Reader (Deutschmann and Shnookal 2007).
Castro, Fidel. 2007. “La historia me absolverá” in Fidel Castro: Selección de documentos, entrevistas y artículos (1952-56). La Habana: Editora Política.
__________. 2014. History Will Absolve Me: Speech at the Court of Appeals of Santiago de Cuba, October 16, 1953. La Habana: Editora Política.
Deutschmann, David and Deborah Shnookal, Eds. 2007. Fidel Castro Reader. Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Press.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, neocolonial republic, Fidel, Moncada