WI: 1957 Cuban Revolution

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by fashbasher, Nov 4, 2017.

  1. fashbasher Florida Man! Banned

    Mar 26, 2017
    Batista had been circling the drain for some time before Fidel took over, and in 1957 a non-communist group of students launched an attack on the presidential palace. What if their attack had been successful, resulting in a capitalist Cuban Revolution instead of a communist one? Assume Batista is either slain or forced to flee and José Antonio Echeverría survives.
    Alpha-King98760 likes this.
  2. ByzantineCaesar Secretary-General of URSAL

    Mar 22, 2010
    São Paulo, SP, Brasil
    I don't see why the US government would change its stance on Batista, so the end result is the same. The new Cuban regime is shunned by the White House and looks to the Soviet Union for assistance. As far as I know, Fidel Castro wasn't hostile to the United States until the United States made an enemy out of him and forced him to look east. I might be totally wrong though, so please anyone feel free to correct me because I'm genuinely curious.
  3. David T Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2007
    I'll recycle a post of mine from 2014:

    Jose Antonio Echeverria and the Revolutionary Directorate as an Alternative to Castro


    Part One--What If Batista assassinated--March 13, 1957

    Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement was by no means the only movement seeking to oust Fulgencio Batista from power in Cuba in the 1950's--but because it succeeded, it is the only one that most people know about today. In particular, relatively few people are aware of a group called the Revolutionary Directorate (DR) and how close it came to killing Batista on March 13, 1957. (My account of this event is based mostly on Hugh Thomas's *Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom* and Robert E. Quirk's *Fidel Castro*.)

    The founder of the DR was Jose Antonio Echeverria, an architecture student at the University of Havana, and leader of the FEU (Federation of University Students); he was a Catholic, and like his parents, a member of the Autentico party (the party that had ruled Cuba from 1944 until Batista's coup in 1952). In 1955 he had already been arrested for his role in violent anti-Batista student protests. In 1956 in Mexico he arrived at a "unity pact" with Castro but it was already evident that there were differences between them: Castro had apparently suggested an alliance with the Cuban Communists, Echeverria vigorously objected, "and the matter was dropped as was any suggestion that the Directorio should place itself under Castro's lead." (Hugh Thomas, *Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom*, p. 888) Castro would late bitterly criticize Echeverria and the DR for failing to take action in support of the *Granma* landing. The DR in turn was dismissive of Castro's slow guerrilla war in the mountains. They sought a quicker way to eliminate Batista.

    In early 1957 the DR came up with an idea even more dramatic than Castro's 1953 attack on the Moncada barracks: They would storm the presidential palace and kill Batista. Two well-armed groups would take part in this attack (one would be a back-up unit), a third group would seize the studios of Havana's most influential radio station, CMQ, and call on Cubans to take up arms. A fourth group would occupy the city's airport and prevent incoming and outgoing flights. The death of the president, they presumed, would be followed by an interim government under a joint civilian-military junta.

    At least so far as killing Batista was concerned, the plot *almost* worked. On the afternoon of March 13, heavily armed gunmen jumped from two automobiles and a truck, fired point-blank at the soldiers guarding the Palace, burst into the building, raced up the stairs, and entered Batista's second-floor office. Unfortunately for them, Batista had left it about a half hour earlier; he had taken the elevator to his living quarters, a story above, to check on his son, who was ailing that day. Also, he needed to change his clothes for a meeting with the Uruguayan ambassador. Otherwise he would have remained below as usual to work in his office...

    The first assault group panicked, searched the other rooms and hallways, but could discover no way to the third floor--the only access to it was by the elevator, and it was still up there. From the roof the guards raked the interior patio and the adjacent street with machine-gun fire, and the attackers began to withdraw. A few escaped, but most were killed inside the Palace. On the street, the shooting continued for hours.

    Meanwhile, a small group led by Echeverria had captured the radio station. Shouting into the microphone, Echeverria read a prepared comminique that the rebels had captured the Palace and killed Batista, called for a general strike, and asked for soldiers, sailors, and police officers to join the people in their battle with the dictatorship. Having carried out their mission, the small group headed back to the university where they planned to use the buildings as their headquarters for a new government. They did not realize that the attack on the Palace had failed. Nor did Echeverria realize that he had been talking into a dead microphone! (To protect the broadcasting equipment, automatic devices had been installed to cut off the microphone if anyone spoke into it too loudly, so Echeverria's shouting was self-defeating...) To make the group's luck still worse, Echeverria's car, as he neared the university, collided with a police car. Echeverria jumped out and fired his machine gun; the policeman returned fire, killing Echeverria almost instantly.

    The immediate consequence of the failed attack was massive repression by the regime. Several thousands of troops were brought into Havana; tanks surrounded the Palace; and during the night, the new head of the Ortodoxo party, Pelayo Cuervo Navarro, was killed, probably by the police, who thought the DR had planned to name him provisional president of the republic.

    A more long-term consequence: The most formidable rival to Castro for the leadership of the Revolution was eliminated. In *Fidel Castro*, Robert E. Quirk writes (p. 137): "Had the attack succeeded in eliminating Batista and setting up a government, there would have been no place for him [Castro] or for the July 26 movement." https://books.google.com/books?id=DmCrViAE2AsC&pg=PA137 Likewise, Tad Szulc writes (*Fidel: A Critical Portrait*, p. 417): "Had the attack succeeded, it would have left Fidel Castro in his mountains as a suddenly irrelevant factor in the revolutionary equation." The question is, Did it have any chance of success, even if Batista had been killed and Echeverria had not crashed into the police car? Castro was later to say that he had always rejected the idea of assassinating Batista, because that would simply result in a military junta taking his place. But it is possible that the military might have been willing to cooperate with the DR after Batista's death if there had been a massive public outpouring of support for the DR; after all, the DR, though it did have some radicals, was in general "anti-Communist, democratic, middle class, and basically Catholic" according to Hugh Thomas (p. 927) and it had ties to politicians of the old parties. It would not frighten the military as much as Castro would--and of course, in OTL, after Batista fled Cuba, military resistance to even Castro crumbled.

    (BTW, it is even possible that the attack had an anti-Castro as well as anti-Batista aspect. It is not clear just why the attack was timed for the day it took place, but it is interesting that it took place not long after Herbert Matthews' famous story which revealed that Fidel Castro was alive and well in Oriente province; this article immediately made Castro an international figure, and convinced many people in Cuba as elsewhere that Castro was winning, that Batista's days were numbered, etc. It is at least possible that one motive for the timing of the DR attack was to take power before it was anticipated that Castro would do so...)

    Part Two--Could the DR still come to power after the failed assassination attempt?

    The failure of the assault on the Presidential Palace led to the death of the DR's founder and leader, Jose Antonio Echeverria, thus eliminating the most formidable rival to Castro as leader of the Revolution. To make matters worse, four of its most important surviving militants were killed on April 19 in "The Crime at 7 Humboldt Street"--they had been betrayed to Batista's police by a young Communist. Nevertheless, the DR was not dead; new members were recruited to replace the ones who had been killed; the movement organized overseas, getting funds and arms from Miami and elsewhere; and, ultimately it became the only organization other than Castro's 26th of July Movement to mount successful guerrilla operations against Batista.

    The key decision made by the DR in late 1957 was to change its "strike at the top" strategy in favor of opening a guerrilla front in the Escambray Mountains. Not that the cities were to be entirely neglected. The DR's "Escambray Manifesto" of February 24, 1958 envisaged simultaneous urban and rural guerrilla warfare against Batista. It called for the restoration of the Constitution of 1940, and for social revolution, while attacking "those who only a few years ago supported the Nazis in the conquered lands of Europe," a direct reference to the Communists. As the manifesto circulated throughout the island, the Escambray guerrillas gained strength. As two historians (Ramon L. Bonachea and Marta San Martin) explain:

    "The Escambray Mountains were an excellent location for guerrilla warfare. The Trinidad-Sancti-Spiritus subregion of the mountain range was the second largest coffee-producing area on the island. The valleys surrounding Escambray produced good crops of rice, beans and vegetables, guaranteeing the guerrillas a constant supply of food. The large coffee plantations and cattle ranches also guaranteed a steady income through revolutionary taxes imposed during the campaign. The central Cuba location guaranteed that many urban fighters could reach the Escambray Mountains and participate in rural guerrilla warfare. To the southwest was the city of Cienfuegos, long a bastion of resistance to Batista. From Cienfuegos many young men joined the guerrillas, and intelligence reports about army movements were gathered there and sent to the Escambray. The various sugar mills in the province, the DR's previous involvement with the sugar workers in Las Villas province, and the militancy of DR urban cadres in cities and towns close to the mountains was a factor of great importance in the stabilization of the DR's guerrilla front.

    "The number of DR guerrillas increased steadily...By the beginning of the summer, the DR controlled the Escambray Mountains. As their power over the area grew, their eesponsibilities increased and the DR organized a civil administration..." http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/cuban-rebels/cuban-insurrection.htm

    By September 1958 approximately 800 guerrillas were operating in Escambray. Repression in the cities had driven many urban militants into the mountains, and it was easier to reach the Escambray Mountains than the Sierra Maestra or the Sierra Cristal. However, as Bonachea and San Martin note, Castro's forces, though smaller (300) had one great advantage over the Escambray fighters: unity of command. (Castro in fact deliberately limited the number of his guerrilla fighters to a manageable size. As Georgie Anne Geyer remarks, the last thing he wanted was to have large, uncontrolled numbers of fighters roaming the Sierra, far from his watchful eye.)

    Castro once said that "A revolution must have only one leader if it is to remain whole and not be defeated. One bad leader is better than twenty good ones." (Quoted in Carlos Franqui, *Dairy of the Cuban Revolution,* p. 105) What happened to the DR pretty much confirmed this. There was a conflict between Rolando Cubela and Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo over the right of leadership of the guerrillas. Furthermore, Menoyo thought that Faure Chomon, the national leader of the DR, who had returned to the mountains, was still too attached to the "strike at the top" philosophy. Menoyo opposed sending arms to the urban underground, claiming that all the arms were needed by the rural guerrillas.

    The executive committee of the DR sided with Chomon and Cubela against Menoyo. Chomon stayed in the mountains as the secretary general of the DR, and Rolando Cubela was recognized as the military leader of the DR. Menoyo announced that he was leaving the organization to create his own group of guerrilla fighters; Chomon denounced him as a traitor. Menoyo's "Segundo Frente Nacional del Escambray" had about 300 guerrillas. It attracted some interesting figures. One was the former US Marine William Morgan, known as the "Yanqui Comandante," who was to betray a Trujillo-led plot to overthrow Castro in 1959, lose his American citizenship, manage a frog farm in Cuba, and ultimately be executed by Castro for alleged ties with CIA-sponsored anti-Castro rebels. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/william-morgan.htm Another was Max Lesnik, who to say the least has been a controverial figure among Cuban exiles in Miami because of his personal friendship with Castro and opposition to the embargo. http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20071225/news/712250395

    Anyway, the division within the ranks of the Escambray guerrillas did not heal even when Che Guevara arrived in Las Villas province in October 1958. On October 22, 1958 Chomon met Guevara, who refused to take sides or get involved in the Chomon-Menoyo dispute. However, there soon was a clash between Guevara's and Menoyo's groups, with the result that in November Guevara and Chomon arrived at a "unity" pact for coordination of military operations between the DR and the 26th of July Movement.

    The DR meanwhile was not idle in the cities. When Batista finally fled the country at the end of 1958, DR militants occupied the University of Havana and the Presidential Palace. They stole weapons from military facilities. They demanded a share in the new government. But on January 8, when Castro arrived at Havana's Camp Columbia, he gave a brilliant speech which both literally and figuratively disarmed the DR once and for all. (It helped that as Castro began speaking, several white doves, which had been released as a peace gesture, began fluttering about, one even landing on Castro's shoulder while the other two perched just before him. As Georgie Anne Geyer writes, "Now the crowd really was mesmerized, as a kind of spiritual calm fell over the masses. Former Batista soldiers removed their caps, some putting their right hands over their hearts and standing at attention, while others fell to their knees in prayer. The Santeria faithful rubbed their Santeria beads. Finally the Cuban people had someone who would take care of them..." *Guerrilla Prince*, p. 207. Castro's enemies would later say that the doves were trained, that they were attracted by smell and had been fed lead pellets to make them roost so "magically." Theoretically this is possible, especially with tame doves, but there is no proof of it, and getting doves to roost on one man's shoulder in a huge crowd is at best an inexact science. In any event, to the crowd, it was a sublime event, and a heavenly affirmation of Fidel Castro's power. The conservative *Diario de la Marina* called the incident an "act of Providence.")

    The theme of the speech was "Armas, para que?"--arms, for what? Some excerpts:

    "Batista spoke of peace, spoke of order, but no one wanted that peace and that order. Away with him, because this would have been peace at the cost of subjection. We here want peace as it is: to the benefit of the people. Peace without dictatorship, without crime, without censorship, without repression. Perhaps this is the joy which is most keenly felt now. Perhaps this is the joy of the Cuban mothers, the mothers of soldiers or revolutionaries, the mothers of any citizens who are today aware that their sons are finally free of danger; thus the greatest crime which could be committed in Cuba today would be a crime against peace, and this no one would pardon -- it would be the plotting, by anyone against peace..."

    Who was committing this crime against Cuban mothers, this "plotting against peace?" Without mentioning names, Castro made it clear it was the DR:

    "I say all this because I want to ask the people a question the answer to which interests me greatly. Why are they amassing weapons secretly now? Why are they smuggling weapons in currently? I tell you that currently there are members of revolutionary organizations who are stockpiling weapons and smuggling them. All of the rebel army weapons are in the barracks, and no one has taken them home. They are in the barracks under lock and key! This is true in Pinar del Rio, just as it is in Havana, Matanzas, Camaguey and Oriente, because these weapons should now be in the barracks. And I will give you this warning: I am prepared to do whatever I have to do to resolve this problem with the help of public opinion, and I want to count on the strength of the people alone to safeguard the weapons. I suggest that these revolutionaries abandon the false positions into which they are slipping and get back in tune with the freedoms and peace of the people.

    "Arms for what? To fight against whom? Against the revolutionary government, which has popular support? Arms for what? To fight against the revolution? Is Urrutia [Castro's hand-picked president] the same as Batista? [Of course, the crowd shouted NO!] Now there is no censorship, the press is free and you can be sure that censorship will not be reestablished, ever. Today there is no torture, assassination or dictatorship. Today there is only happiness.

    "All of the leaders are organizing their trade union organizations, all of the rights of the citizens have been reestablished. Arms! What for? To blackmail the President of the Republic? To threaten peace? So that we can watch gangsterism and daily skirmishes flourish? [Note how Castro skillfully exploited the fears that the notorious gangsterism of the 1940s, which made the University of Havana a daily battleground, would recur.] Arms for what? Well, I say to you that two days ago, members of a certain organization [i.e., the DR] entered the San Antonio barracks, which was under the command of Camilo Cienfuegos and myself, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and took 500 machine guns and other weapons. [According to Tad Szulc there were shouts of "LET'S GET THEM!"] And I honestly hope that they have not decided to engage in any other provocation, because to violate what has been achieved like this is knavery. If they were seeking provocations, what they lacked was not guns but only men of the people to support them..."

    So the DR wasn't satisfied with Urrutia's government? There was a solution to that:

    "If the team of leaders the present government has does not prove worthy, the people have the right to oust them, not to approve them, I mean in elections, because when everyone knows that they are not worthy, this is the final recourse: elections. We have finished forever here with coups d'etat..."

    (I am relying on the version of the speech given at http://lanic.utexas.edu/project/castro/db/1959/19590109-1.html except that I translate armas as "arms" rather than "weapons" because the speech is generally called the "arms for what" speech. Incidentally, the speech is often cited by right-wing anti-gun-control activists, e.g., http://www.ammoland.com/2011/12/arms-for-what-we-have-the-answer/#axzz3N771pZui)

    The huge crowd exploded in tumultuous reaction: "Armas, para que?" "Arms, for what?" The angry cry echoed up and down the streets. From that very moment, the DR was doomed. It surrendered its weapons. Theoretically it continued to exist for a while as a political organization but it essentially disintegrated. Eventually it was to be united with the July 26th Movement and the Popular Socialist (Communist) Party to form what would ultimately be Cuba's new Communist Party--but while a few individuals from the DR like the ever-opportunistic Chomon got fairly important posts in the new party it was at the expense of not only abandoning the DR as an organization but its former (radical but anti-Communist) ideology.

    The lesson of all this is that what doomed the DR after March 13, 1957 was not so much that the attempt to kill Batista had failed but that Jose Antonio Echeverria was killed. With his death, and the further deaths of April 19, the DR was left with leadership that could not inspire the unity that Fidel Castro did among his own followers. Had the DR stayed united under a strong leader, its guerrilla forces in the Escambray mountains and its work in the cities would have made it a formidable claimant to power. As it was, the "arms for what" speech finished off the DR. At one point in his speech, Castro famously asked his comrade-in-arms Comandante Camilo Cienfuegos "Voy bien, Camilo?"--"Am I doing OK, Camilo?" "Vas bien, Fidel," Camilo replied--"You're doing fine, Fidel." Indeed, he was.