Relations between Cuba and the United States are known to be tense, but one of our books covers a lesser known part of the conflict. An Air War with Cuba: The United States Radio Campaign Against Castro by Daniel C. Walsh is a history of the American propaganda campaign against Castro in Cuba, with details on the stations that were started in Cuba to create pro-American sentiment.
An excerpt from the introduction:
“This is Radio Rebelde, voice of the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement and the Rebel Army, transmitting from Free Territory of Cuba in the Sierra Maestra.” The words crackled through the Caribbean darkness on February 24, 1958, and accelerated the downfall of the Cuban government. Radio Rebelde was Rebel Radio, the child of outlaws who had grown tired of Cuban leaders who maintained the island’s subservient relationship with its northern neighbor the United States.
After gaining independence from Spain in 1902, Cuba had essentially become a protectorate of the United States. Businesses viewed the island as a source of resources and cheap labor and the U.S. government extended its military presence by maintaining Guantanamo Naval Base on Cuba’s southeastern coast. In 1933, military stenographer Fulgencio Batista led a coup to seize control of the Cuban government. Batista protected U.S. interests on the island and provided stable leadership, something the country desperately lacked.
The 1933 coup launched Cuba’s “Period of Puppet Presidents” during which Batista was not the official leader of the country but indirectly maintained power. After being elected as Cuba’s president in 1940 and completing his term, Batista left the island in 1944 only to launch another campaign for president eight years later. When he trailed two other candidates, Batista staged another coup on March 10, 1952, to seize control of the government. He spoke on the radio shortly afterward to inform the population that the transfer of power was necessary to save Cuba from an extended government by the standing president, Carlos Prío Socarrás.
The 1952 coup canceled that year’s elections, hindering the political ambitions of a young lawyer named Fidel Castro. Although Castro was never officially nominated, he felt that Batista’s coup had sidetracked what would have been a promising political career for him. He retaliated on July 26, 1953, by leading a group of fewer than 160 rebels in an assault on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Castro planned to capture the facility’s radio station, issue a call for Cubans to take action Batista, and then arm dissidents with weapons seized from the garrison. The mission failed. Castro’s forces were uncoordinated and lacked the weapons and personnel to overtake the soldiers. Of the 100 plus group of attackers, 61 were killed in the initial assault. Others were captured and tortured before being put to death.
Castro was captured and put on trial, during which he gave an eloquent defense; he did not apologize and felt sympathy only for the rebels lost their lives. As he closed, Castro seemed prepared for any fate:
I know that imprisonment will be harder for me than it has ever been for anyone, filled with cowardly threats and hideous cruelty. But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.