1959. A spoiled triumph. Part 1
Updated: May 17, 2021
Fidel Castro, in command of the Rebel Army, led to the revolutionary triumph of 1959 in an armed conflict against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, in which the constitutional military forces of the Republic of Cuba faced each other, adding 80,000 air, sea troops. and land equipped and advised by the North American Military Mission in Cuba. (1) (2) (3)
The Cuban government's military forces were backed with men and equipment from the Military Assistance Program (MAP).
The MAP consisted of men trained in US military schools and state-of-the-art equipment provided by the US military.
We can get an idea of the relevance of MAP by reading the words of the US ambassador (Smith) in his telegram to the State Department on June 16, 1958, 2pm:
“...75 percent pilots in Cuban AF have received MAP training in US schools of one type or another and virtually all AF technicians and key support personnel, both officers and enlisted men, have received MAP training in US schools, as have Deputy Chief of AF and most unit commanders. Practically total combat power Cuban Navy is MAP supported. In Army percentage with [is] relatively small but individuals occupy key positions and are indispensable...” (4)
Without MAP, the Cuban army was nothing more than a disorganized and ineffective rabble, and that was what the Rebel army faced, because the use of MAP was prohibited by the US government to be used against the rebels due to that it violated the Mutual Defense Agreement (MDA); under which MAP was provided to the Cuban government. This is evidenced in the telegram sent by the Secretary of State himself (Dulles, John Foster) to the US embassy in Cuba, advising:
1. Disengage from combat activities (a) men trained specifically under MAP and (b) MAP-supplied equipment. Department emphasizes only MAP-trained men involved and that men trained by Missions not covered by this request. Re equipment it is quantities and types with which we are concerned rather than specific items previously furnished under MAP.
2. Reconstitute the MAP-supported unit with its equipment. Ambassador should also mention that compliance with MDA Agreement requires that MAP-supplied aircraft and MAP-trained aviation personnel, as well as assistance provided Cuban Navy, not be used for other than hemispheric defense purposes without prior U.S. agreement. (5)
And this is not all. Making the situation even more complex for Batista, or in its effect, simpler for Fidel, the State Department pressured the US government to sustain a blockade on the shipment of arms to Batista.
In June 1957 "20 armored cars" were ordered and paid for and promised to be delivered on the late date of 1958 between March and June. And even then, they never surrendered, forcing the Cuban government to buy weapons in other markets when it was too late. This is recorded in the minutes of a conversation on January 17, 1958:
“...Just prior to his departure Ambassador Smith was asked by the Foreign Minister3 regarding the status of 20 armored cars (described in Tab B).4 These cars were ordered in June 1957, and delivery was promised by the Department of Defense between March 4 and June 4, 1958...” (6)
In addition to the armored cars, there were at least 7 other paid orders for the acquisition of weapons. The same document reads:
“...In addition seven other Cuban requests to purchase arms in this country are pending, the current status of which is described...”
The refusal to send these weapons is evidenced by the telegram from the State Department to the US Embassy Cuba dated March 14, 1958:
“...Department has requested Customs to suspend export license for 1950 M–1 rifles for Cuban Army now in New York awaiting shipment…”
Cuban Foreign Minister Dr. Guell reported his dissatisfaction with the US Embassy in Havana. In a telegram dated March 16, 1958, the US Ambassador to Cuba (Smith) would write to the State Department:
“...Guell informed us night March 15:
-GOC greatly concerned over steps taken -If GOC had been forewarned that MAP equipment was to be held back, they would have purchased such equipment from other countries. -Present GOC equipment is obsolete and worn. As GOC is increasing size of army, it is especially anxious to receive rifles...”
The Rebel Army, with the help of the State Department, faced an army that was far from showing its best form and combat ability. Achieving the revolutionary triumph and the fall of Batista in a clear alignment with the interests of certain groups of power in the United States. Yes, the US government led to Batista's failure and Fidel's arrival to power.
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1 Ecured, Revolución Cubana: https://www.ecured.cu/Revoluci%C3%B3n_Cubana#Movimiento_revolucionario
2 Ecured, Ejército Rebelde: https://www.ecured.cu/Ej%C3%A9rcito_Rebelde
3 Ecured, Guerra de Liberación Nacional de Cuba (1956-1958): https://www.ecured.cu/Guerra_de_Liberaci%C3%B3n_Nacional_de_Cuba_(1956-1958)
4 Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/d65
5 Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Cuba: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/d64
6 Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom) to the Secretary of State: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/pg_8
7 Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Cuba: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/pg_60
8 Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/pg_61