Myth Making in the Cuban Revolution

Myth making is the basse in which the strategy and tactics of the propagandist is made. The base of an irrational constructio best expressed in the infamous words by Goebbels that “ a lie, repeated enough time becomes a truth”; myth making prepares the mental attitude and perceptions that are going to shape behavior and action.In the case of the Cuban Revolution, myth making start from the year 1953. That year Fidel Castro and a group of fighters attacked the Cuartel Moncada garrison in Santiago de Cuba. Most of the attackers were killed or imprisoned, including Castro himself, but to the eyes of future generations the armed assault was made into the first symbolic victory of the Revolution.

Whether fact or fiction or both there are a series of events that are narrated in history classes across the public school system and that are related to the Cuartel Moncada barracks. The story goes that Fidel Castro hid the weapons for the assault inside a water mill in the backyard of a house in the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba. Uniforms were sewn hand by hand  by the same woman who owned that house and the first M-26-7 flag was made. The flag sport red and black colors of which the first thought that comes to mind about their meaning is red for communism and black for death. But digging a little deeper we could establish that the combination of those colors represent the Afro-Cuban deity Eleggua, the little child who has the power to open or close the roads. The numbers refer to the date of the Cuartel Moncada assault, executed on July 26. The attack catalyzed the birth of the 26 of July movement, the motor force of the Cuban Revolution.

After the attack to the garrison Fidel, Raul and other participants went sent to maximun security prison named Presidio Modelo in the Island of Pines, a few miles off the South-West coast of Cuba. While there Fidel wrote La Historia Me Absolvera -History will Absolve Me – in which he laid down the rational for armed struggle and the defense of his case. La Historia me Abslovera is for the Cuban Revolution what Mein Kampf was for the Third Reich. A description of the objectibe conditions that justified armed rebellion such as poverty, corruption, inequality, nepotism and dictatorship, followed by a calling to duty based upon the legacy of the 19th C. Cuban fighter for Independence against Spain.  Prominent among them national heroe Jose Marti. There is a famous picture of a twenty something Fidel Castro in front of a Jose Marti portrait has been circulated ever since. The myth that Fidel came to complete the struggles of Jose Marti for independence are alluded to with this picture.

In 1898 Jose Marti, after 15 years of exile, landed in the South-East coast of Cuba with other freedom fighters to join the struggle against Spain. Fidel Castgro also landed in the same part of the island along another 82 expedicionaries. They came form Mexico in the yate Gramma, a yacht purchased while in Mexico. I wonder if the name of the boat that took the fighters to land on December 2nd of 1956 has also a symbolic meaning.

Three days after Fidel, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and others arrived in Cuba from Mexico, Batista’s troops encountered them and killed most of them after a heavy fight. Legend goes that only 12 men were left. It is no clear if that number is extqact or if it was made of; but the symbolism of the numkber 12 is obvious. After gathering what was left of the troop Fidel told them that “12 men were enough to make the Revolution”. The 12 apostles and Jesus starting the gospel that changed the history of the world. Fidel and his peers proselytized the gospel of the Revolution around the mountains of Sierra Maestra: Free land to the campesinos –peasants-; free education; free health care; no more terratenientes –landowners-, the land belong to those who work it-, etc. Peasants and people they were encountering qlong the way and others that joined the movement coming form the cities make the troop swell to the  number of thousands and the first battles started to be won.

Another myth of the armed struggle include the fall of Santa Clara. School texts tells that Batista sent a blindado train full with armed soldiers and fire arms machines to the town of Santa Clara, in the middle of the island, to contain the advance of the  troops commanded by Che Guevara. Some accounts, those that come form Cuban exile circles tell that the troops in the train has surrounded before arriving since they didn’t want to fight, but Che, since he wanted to score a political point, oreder to open fire on the train anyway and found a way even to make it derailed form the rail, setting up on fire with Molotov cocktails. Whatever the facts are, whether Batista’s soldier’s surrounded before the fight started of if there was tru fight, the fall of Santa Clara became a hallmark victory of the revolutionaries. Pictures of the deralided scoched train were circulated as well as a picture of Che Guevara with a broken arm in a cast and a sling. Picture making and distribution has been one of the biggest propaganda successes of the Cuban revolutionaries and the success and enduranc e of the Cuban revolution owes as much to photography as to anything else. The images of the young, bearded, Jesus like men coming down from he mountains has exerted an un-paralleled fascination on public imagination for decades, influencing scores of political. social, artistic and intellectual movements along the way, from the 1960’s hippies to the Beatles, the image of the bearded young man in fatigues is one of our 20th C. favorite icons.



About renelio

Cuban-American Visual Artist. Media, Culture and Communications Analyst.
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