Moncada Barracks - Attack On Moncada Barracks

Attack on Moncada Barracks
Part of the Cuban Revolution
Date July 26, 1953
Location Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Result Government victory; rebels forced into retreat
Batista government 26th of July Movement
Commanders and leaders
Col. Alberto del Rio Chaviano Fidel Castro
Raul Martinez Araras
400 men app. 135 men (additional 24 in Bayamo)
Casualties and losses
19 killed, 30 wounded 61 killed
app. 51 captured

On July 26, 1953, at 6:00, Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl led a group of approximately 135 rebels (with an additional 24 intending to take the barracks at Bayamo) in an attack on the second largest military Alberto del Rio Chaviano.

The group formed a sixteen-automobile caravan in order to give the appearance of being a delegation headed by a high-ranking officer sent from western Cuba. Their plan was that a first group of twenty men led by Abel Santamaría would take the civilian hospital at the rear of the barracks, a second group of five men led by Léster Rodríguez would take the Audiencia Building (Palacio de Justicia), and a third group of 90 men, led by Castro, would take the barracks, including the radio transmitter within it.

The attack began poorly. The caravan of automobiles became separated by the time it arrived at the barracks, and the car carrying the guerillas' heavy weapons got lost. Furthermore, many of the rebels who would have taken part in the attack were left behind for a lack of weapons. In Castro's autobiography, he claims that he drove his car into a group of soldiers at the gate who had realized an attack was in progress. The men in the cars behind him jumped out of their cars, believing they were inside the barracks, and the alarm was sounded before the barracks had been infiltrated. According to Castro, this was the fatal mistake in the operation. The net result of these events was the rebels being outnumbered more than 10 to 1.

Fifteen soldiers and three policemen were killed and 23 soldiers and five policemen wounded during the attack. Nine rebels were killed in combat and eleven wounded, four of them by friendly fire. (Castro recollects that five were killed in the fighting, and fifty-six were murdered later by the Batista regime.) Eighteen rebels captured in the Civil Hospital were immediately executed in the Moncada small-arms target range within two hours after the attack. Their corpses were strewn throughout the garrison to simulate death in combat. Thirty-four fleeing rebels captured during the next three days were murdered after admitting their participation. A handful of rebels, including Fidel Castro, escaped into the nearby countryside but were apprehended shortly thereafter.

The Santiago de Cuba Urgency Tribunal indicted 122 defendants in Case 37 of 1953 to stand trial for the July 26 insurrection. Fifty-one of the 99 rebel survivors who were captured were remanded for trial. Six indicted rebels remained hiding. The other 65 defendants implicated throughout the island were mostly political leaders and opposition activists not involved in the rebellion. Fifteen of them, including deposed President Carlos Prio Socarras, Aureliano Sanchez Arango, Jose Pardo Llada, and Communist leader Blas Roca, were underground or in exile and never went to court.

The trial in the Santiago de Cuba Palace of Justice began on Sept. 21, 1953 and ended on Oct. 6, 1953, after eleven sessions. The Cuban Civil Code of Justice, based on the Napoleonic Code practiced in Europe and Latin America, has the verdict determined by a panel of three judges rather than by a jury of peers as under "common law" in the U.S. and Great Britain. In accordance, after the accused heard the charges against them, they were called to testify on their own behalf. The defendants were represented by 24 attorneys. Fidel Castro assumed his own defense and lied under oath to avoid implicating rebels on trial. During the questioning of rebel witnesses, Castro raised accusations of the murder of prisoners by the military. In consequence, Moncada chief Col. Alberto del Rio Chaviano, impeded Castro from returning to court by claiming that he could not attend due to illness. The tribunal then separated Castro from the proceedings and granted him a separate trial. Nineteen rebels were found not guilty based on lack of evidence and their false testimony. Confessed leaders Raúl Castro, Oscar Alcalde, Pedro Miret, and Ernesto Tizol received 13-year prison sentences. Twenty other rebels received 10-year sentences. Rebels Manuel Lorenzo, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Orlando Cortez Gallardo, who refused to participate in the attack at the last moment, got 3-year sentences. Dr. Melba Hernandez Rodriguez del Rey and Haydee Santamaria were given seven-month sentences since it was never proven that they handled weapons.

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