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The Moncada Attack: Birth of the Cuban Revolution by Antonio Rafael de la Cova

Don Bohning
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

While de la Cova's book is the most definitive work to date on the events of July 26, 1953, and one that any Cubanologist would find of interest, its mind-numbing detail makes for tedious reading.

The Moncada Attack: Birth of the Cuban Revolution

Publisher: University of South Carolina
ISBN: 1570036721
Author: Antonio Rafael de la Cova
Price: $59.95
Length: 391
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-06

Few would dispute that the seminal events of July 26, 1953, provided the catalyst for Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba more than six years later. But it's doubtful if anyone has ever told, or will tell, the tale of those events and their aftermath in such detail as Antonio Rafael de la Cova, in this exhaustively researched chronicle.

It was on that day that 160 ragtag rebels under Castro's leadership simultaneously attacked two army posts in Eastern Cuba -- the Moncada Fortress in Santiago and a Rural Guard unit in Bayamo -- hoping to spark an island-wide uprising against President Fulgencio Batista.

Instead, they failed spectacularly. As de la Cova describes it, "The July 26 uprising was a botched, amateurish effort rather than a well-executed plan capable of mobilizing popular support and overthrowing a dictatorship. ... Fidel Castro's leadership was deficient due to his micromanagement."

Castro's brother, Raul, currently Cuba's acting president, was captured in the attack, in which he played a minor role. More than 50 other captured rebels were summarily executed. Castro escaped but surrendered a week later. Fifty-one of the 99 rebel survivors were indicted, put on trial, with several leaders found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Castro demanded, and was given, a separate trial in which he served as his own attorney.

As de la Cova recounts, "During the trial Fidel Castro began to achieve the prestige and stature that he had been unable to gain prior to and with the failed garrison attacks." A large part of that notoriety came with his two-hour defense statement that "later would be expanded and revised into a published pamphlet titled History Will Absolve Me, which became the manifesto of the Cuban Revolution." He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison on the Isle of Pines, served only 22 months as the result of an amnesty law approved by parliament and signed by Batista in May 1955.

A few weeks later, Castro went to Mexico, where he began organizing the Granma expedition that landed in Cuba's Oriente Province on Dec. 2, 1956, culminating in Castro's takeover after Batista fled the country on New Year's Day, 1959. Twenty of the 82 who sailed from Mexico on the Granma to begin the guerrilla campaign that toppled Batista had participated in the Moncada and Bayamo attacks.

While de la Cova's book is the most definitive work to date on the events of July 26, 1953, and one that any Cubanologist would find of interest, its mind-numbing detail makes for tedious reading. An example comes when de la Cova describes "the total weaponry used at Moncada consisted of forty 12- and 16-gauge shotguns, costing fifty-eight hundred pesos; thirty-five .22 caliber Mosberg and Remington rifles, bought for eight pesos each; sixty handguns of various models; twenty-four rifles of different caliber, including eight 1898 Krag-Jorgensen rifles, three 1892 .44 caliber Winchester sawed-off rifles, and a .30-caliber 1903 model Springfield rifle; a 30-caliber M1 Garand rifle with a folding metal stock; and a malfunctioning .45-caliber Browning submachine gun." It is only one of many such passages.

Also annoying is the practice of introducing individuals beginning with their age, i.e. "The Thirty-nine-year-old physician Dr. Mario Munoz Monroy. ... His thirty-one-year-old wife, Dinora Algarra Peralta served as his assistant. ..."

Let the reader be forewarned.

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