Skip to comments.Many Miami Cubans Recall 1953 Attack
Posted on 07/26/2003 6:43:29 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
The Rev. Pedro Cartaya remembers July 26, 1953, as the day that changed his life. He was 16, a student at Colegio de Belen in Havana the alma mater of Fidel Castro.
It was a Sunday and he had just gotten home from the movies when he heard that Castro and a band of followers had attacked the second largest military stronghold of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The raid was daring and bold and unsuccessful. Castro didn't even go inside the barracks, running away instead after realizing his plan failed miserably. Most of his loyalists, though, were captured, then tortured some even to their death.
Still, the assault its purpose to arm Castro's insurrection was a tragic turning point: It built sentiment against Batista, who had taken power in a 1952 pre-election coup.
"More than anything, it was symbolic because he failed that day," said Cartaya, now 67. "But that was the first spark for what six years later became the Cuban Revolution."
The 50th anniversary of Castro's overthrow of Batista was to be celebrated in Cuba on Saturday, but it wasn't expected to draw much public response in Miami, where 650,000 Cuban-Americans live.
"It's an event remembered as the beginning of something that has been very tragic," said Ninoska Perez-Castellon, a Cuban-American activist and radio talk show host in Miami.
Cartaya certainly didn't foresee the day when his family and friend would flee for America's shores, when hatred for Castro would run so deep that the United States would stop all trade with Cuba.
"He passed the candy through our mouth, promising it was going to be sweet, but all we tasted was bitterness," said Cartaya, a teacher at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School.
Miami became the new home for most of Cuba's immigrants, who transformed it with their language, food, music and religious traditions. Politics in America also was changed.
Indeed, many Cubans in Miami are unashamedly passionate about U.S.-Cuba policy, which at times has set some Cubans at odds with other groups in the community, for instance during the international custody battle over shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez.
While Cuban exiles battled to keep the child with his relatives in Miami, many other Americans supported efforts to have the child returned to his father in Cuba. Elian returned with his father to the communist island in mid-2000.
Huber Matos has called Miami home for nearly 25 years. Before that, he spent 20 years in a Cuban prison, the punishment for changing his mind about Castro's regime.
"The attack on Moncada (Batista's military stronghold) had a certain heroism, Matos said of a young Castro, "People applauded him."
Matos had helped Castro built his 26th of July Movement named after the raid into the revolution.
Today, Matos is an aging remnant of the Cuban revolution and a symbol of its consequences. Castro had fled to Mexico when he was released from prison after serving 15 months for the Moncada attack. Matos joined the revolution in 1958 when Castro returned.
Matos left his rice plantation and teaching job and traveled to Costa Rica to obtain weapons and ammunition for Castro and his band of idealists and mercenaries.
But he and Castro clashed on occasions, including the day they met March 30, 1958. Matos wanted to fight, but Castro ordered him to gather more weapons. Matos was tired of Batista's repression and wanted to join in what he thought was a movement with democratic principles.
Matos eventually made commander and remained loyal to Castro until October 1959. Disillusioned by what he calls "the communist conspiracy" and a lack of democratic progress, Matos resigned from Castro's government. He was arrested and sent to prison.
Matos, now 84, wrote a book about his experiences and currently is a member of Cuba Independiente and Democratica, an anti-Castro exile group.
"The revolution didn't have to become a catastrophe," Matos said. "If (Castro) would have brought reforms within the democratic framework, Cuba would have been a great country."