Campesino Congress in Arms: the birth of the agrarian Revolution
On the morning of September 21, 1958 a transcendental event featuring over 200 delegates, was inaugurated
Author: Pedro Antonio García | email@example.com
september 21, 2016 17:09:54
Raúl Castro speaking during the First Campesino Congress in Arms, accompanied by Vilma Espín (seated behind him), Rebel soldiers and campesinos. Photo: Archive
Before 1959 Soledad de Mayarí Arriba was a place forgotten by those who governed in Cuba. A truck, in 1958, would have a difficulty accessing the area, and often need help to make its way out of the tricky terrain. A cock fighting ring and a bar with an adjacent dancehall were the only facilities there. Sick people would have to be carried on foot in hammocks to receive medical attention in La Prueba, located close to Alto Songo, some 40 kilometers away; some dying along the way.
When the Second Front, led by then Commander Raúl Castro Ruz, established itself in the region, the first Revolutionary Campesino Committees (CRC) were created, based on the experience of the Rebel Army in the Sierra Maestra, with a secretary as leader, and civil and military delegate. These committees, in addition to maintaining order in their respective areas, were responsible for gathering supplies and information for the guerillas. Expanding its activities, the directorate of the Second Front created the Agrarian Bureau, a body which would function as a link between the masses and Rebel Army military commanders.
On July 10, 1958, in Calabazas de Sagua, delegations from every municipality of the territory controlled by the Second Front elected a Regional Agrarian Committee, with the presidency falling to Pepe Ramírez, a veteran fighter against the excesses of land owners.
The Committee was responsible for organizing the different agricultural and proletariat associations in the zone.
Operating in the area, a small minority including members of the Batista regime, responding to the interests of landowners and a few merchants in the zone, launched a campaign to discredit the CRCs and above all their leaders, many of whom, like Pepe Ramírez were Communists. The campesino movement proposed to the General Command that a Congress be held, in which the people could freely resolve this problem and choose their preferred leaders. According to Raúl himself, in the lead up to the Congress, “84 agrarian committees brining together campesinos at the grass roots level had been established and six large meetings were held, some with over 1,000 participants[…] the danger represented by the criminal bombings and other risks associated with the war, were not sufficient obstacles to detract from the clarity and massive participation of these powerful demonstrations.”
Delegate elections were organized independently by the campesino movement. The Congress was first planned to be held in Calabazas de Sagua, however following the aerial bombings by the Batista regime, the site was changed to Soledad de Mayarí Arriba. On the morning of September 21, 1958, the transcendental event was inaugurated with the participation of over 200 delegates.
There, representing Cuban women were five females from the Sierra, elected by their grass roots associations, who ratified their decision to continue fighting alongside their husbands, sons and brothers. Also present were a group of agricultural workers, the majority from sugar mills.
Before Raúl, Vilma Espín and various leaders of the Second Front, Pepe Ramírez presented the Central Report to the Congress, giving a summary of activities undertaken by the CRCs since their creation, and providing a thorough explanation of the fundamental problems afflicting the country, with special emphasis on the miserable situation of campesinos. Condemnation of the exploitation to which rural workers were subjected, extortion by money lenders, demands for a just agricultural reform and better quality of life for campesions were expressed both during debates following the report, and in remarks made by participants.
Following the election of the Regional Agrarian Committee directorate, Comandante Raúl Castro Ruz, leader of the Second Front and responsible for making the closing remarks, described the Congress as memorable. “Currently, in this historic era we are living, there can be no Cuban Revolution without agrarian reform; and here, perhaps despite our own participation in the process, we are unaware of the magnitude of the act, because right now, today, the Agrarian Revolution is beginning, is emerging, and must form the basis of the true Cuban Revolution.”
He went on to highlight, “At this moment, the main objective of campesinos must be to build and sustain unity. Herein lies the key, if we want to triumph and secure our demands. Reactionary forces mobilizing against unity can be defeated if we remain united and vigilant.”