Cuba’s Triumph of the Revolution Day

January 1

Just like the child born on Christmas, Cuba gets the short end of the stick when it comes to celebrating its “Triumph of the Revolution”. That’s because on January 1 the rest of the world is busy celebrating New Year’s. To the Cubans, the world is celebrating with them. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This small island 90 miles to the south of Florida has been the focal point of the struggle between capitalism and socialism in the Western hemisphere for half a century.

On this day in 1959, U.S.-backed President Fulgencia Batista fled the country after his troops faced a disastrous defeat at the hands of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s and Camilo Cienfuegos’s rag-tag guerrilla armies. This allowed former baseball player and enemy-of-the-state Fidel Castro to assume power of the country, a position he held onto with an iron grip until February 2008. Suffering from an undisclosed illness, Castro turned power over to his brother, Raul Castro. By that time Fidel Castro had become one of the longest reigning rulers in the history of the Western hemisphere.

Cuba has spent the past 50 years defying world expectations. First in 1959, and again in the 1990s, when its sugar-daddy—the Soviet Union—collapsed. But Cuba outlived its supporter, and subsisted without its aid.

That’s not to say the country has flourished economically, or that its one-party government permits basic freedoms. But its people–at home and abroad–understand how to live each day.

It’s illegal for United States citizens to visit Cuba, part of the economic embargo the U.S. has placed on Cuba for over 4 decades. But many Americans do visit the island via other countries. Cuban officials just know not to stamp their passports.

Day of National Rebelliousness – Cuba

July 26

Today’s holiday—National Rebelliousness Day—is interwoven with yesterday’s holiday, Día de Santiago, or the Feast Day of St. James, though the inciting incidents took place in separate hemispheres nearly two millennia apart.

In the wee hours of July 26, 1953, as the town of Santiago de Cuba recovered from the previous day’s Santiago (St. James) festivities, Fidel and Raul Castro led about 120 rebels in an attack on the Cuban military’s second largest barracks.

The attack failed almost before it began. The Moncada Barracks soldiers sounded the alarm before Castro’s men could gain access to the compound, losing any hope of surprise. Castro’s rebels were heavily outnumbered (sources say between 4:1 and 10:1) but fought on.

Fidel Castro in Washington DC, 1959

The rebels suffered over 60 casualties, though Castro later stated that only a handful died in the battle, and that the others were executed by the Batista regime after the battle ended.

Castro was imprisoned with several of the other survivors, but a popular support movement successfully lobbied for their release. The attack on the Moncada Barracks marked the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, and henceforth, Castro’s coalition against the Fulgencio Batista regime was known as the 26th of July Movement.

Flag of the July 26th movement

Today, Cubans celebrate El Día de la Rebeldía Nacional with three days of fiestas, music, dancing and parades.