The moment I learned of the Batista regime’s fall
Raúl recalls speaking to Batista’s troops in Santiago de Cuba, on orders from Fidel, to arrange their surrender
Raúl Castro Ruzjanuary 4, 2021 09:01:44
Raúl enters the Moncada Garrison, with only his escort, to talk with Coronel Rego Rubido, chief officer of the dictatorship’s troops in Santiago de Cuba.
Photo: Granma Archives
Fidel had predicted that the Moncada Garrison would surrender its forces during the first days of January, 1959. I had been inside the fort in 1953, as a prisoner, along with other compañeros who attacked the Moncada. Fidel had been taken directly to the Santiago de Cuba Vivac.
The story goes like this. I was at the Soledad sugar mill, now called the El Salvador, when I heard about the fall of Batista regime. At the time I was organizing the attack on the city of Guantánamo, on orders from Fidel. As soon as we began to hear the first news coming from the Dominican Republic, I left to find Fidel and we were able to meet between San Luis and Palma Soriano. Together we went to the foothills located to the north of Santiago de Cuba, to a place known as El Escandel. From there, contact was established with a group representing the troops in Santiago de Cuba, which included some 5,000 men. This delegation was headed by the base commander, Coronel Rego Rubido. Fidel ordered that all the officers be brought to El Escandel, and if I remember correctly, Rego Rubido proposed that the revolutionary command speak with the officers first, and I offered to do that.
Two officers from the Rebel Army accompanied me to Santiago de Cuba, and we arrived in the afternoon. The people were in the streets. The army, although defeated, still had its weapons. We entered through the Moncada’s main door, the same door through which they led me after being detained in 1953, under the threatening eyes and insults of officers and soldiers. In the command building, I greeted two or three guerilla officers from the Third Front who were already there, and who, via a different route, led by Comandante René de los Santos, had reached the Moncada before me.
I was taken to the Regiment Chief’s office, where I had also been interrogated in 1953, on that occasion by General Díaz Tamayo. There, in the office, I spoke to the officers, standing on top of the Regiment Chief’s desk. I noticed that hanging on the wall, within my reach, was a portrait of General Tabernilla, head of the Army, and another of Batista.
When I finished by words to the officers and communicated Fidel’s decision that I was to take them to El Escandel to talk with him, I yanked the portrait of General Tabernilla from the wall and handed it to Coronel Rego Rubido, who accepted it hesitantly, not knowing what to do, unaware of my purpose. I then immediately pulled down Batista’s portrait, and holding it over my head before the officers, shouted, Viva la Revolución, as I threw the dictator’s likeness to the ground. All the Army and Navy officers and the main Police chiefs were there, and in unison let out a thundering cry of Viva la Revolución, in response to mine. The officer at my side atop the desk, still holding the portrait of Tabernilla in his hands, stood looking at me, still not knowing what to do. That was when I asked him, “What’s the matter, old man?” He finally understood and threw the portrait of his former general to the ground, too.
Immediately following the applause, the officers insisted that I speak to the troops who had gathered, upset and without leadership, in the Moncada’s main square. I went to the balcony. I didn’t have a microphone. After some applause, it quieted down and I began to speak.
First as a tenuous murmur and quickly becoming a shout, more like a generalized chant, they yelled, “Gerolan, gerolan, gerolan!” The shouting surprised me and I asked a Batista army officer at my side what gerolan was. He said he didn’t know, so I asked another one, while the rhythmic demand for gerolan continued. Finally, one of the officers approached me and explained, “Comandante, Gerolan is the name of a restorative medication for old people, and this is what the soldiers call the overtime, the bonus, they are paid on campaign.” The uproar was about the fact that they had not been paid for months, since the bonus had simply been stolen by some officers in the leadership of the troops.
“There will be gerolan for everyone tomorrow,” I told them, and the troops applauded my words deliriously. I was finally able to conclude my message to the defeated army.
As Raúl looked out to the horizon, he said, “Gentlemen, it is something tremendous to see the fall of a regime.”
Note: This testimony was published in the book El pueblo cubano, in the collection by Antonio Núñez Jiménez entitled La naturaleza y el hombre.
THE BATISTA DICTATORSHIP’S LEGACY
When the Revolution triumphed January 1, 1959, Cuba’s condition was abysmal, ranking among the poorest countries in Latin America and the world. This is the “inheritance” left by the Batista dictatorship:
85% of small farmers paid rent and lived under the perennial threat of eviction from their plots.
51.5% of the working age population, in 1953, had jobs. Three years later, the situation was worse.
85% of rural homes had no running water.
90% of rural homes had no electricity.
65% of the country’s doctors were in the capital, serving only 22% of the population.
2,026 trained nurses were available in 1959.
60 children died for every 1,000 live births.
62% of the hospital beds were in Havana.
58 years was the average life expectancy.
8% of the rural population had access to free medical care.
Access to state hospitals was only possible on the recommendation of a political figure, who demanded in return the votes of the patient’s and his or her entire family.
45% of children between the ages of six and 14 did not attend school. In public schools, of every 100 children who enrolled, only six reached the sixth grade.
500,000 children without schools.
23.6% of the population over ten years of age was illiterate and more than 1,000,000 who could not read or write.
Secondary and higher education was reserved for a minority.
Tens of thousands of children were forced to work to alleviate hunger in their homes.
Secondary education was available to only half of the school-age population.