Saturday, March 13, 2021

Legacy of the March 13, 1957 assault on Batista's presidential palace in Havana, Cuba

"If you fight with violence, you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon and you may be a brave but dead hero."- Gene Sharp

Student leader José Antonio Echeverría (center)
Sixty four years ago today in the afternoon, a group of young men took up arms and charged into the presidential palace in Havana to assassinate the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and were all gunned down. Nearby at the same time in Radio Reloj not knowing that the assault had failed student leader José Antonio Echeverría declared the dictator dead only to be himself killed in a skirmish after leaving the radio station. It was described as the day that Cuba lost its future.

Over six decades later both sides in the ongoing struggle declare José Antonio Echeverría as one of their own. However, his democratic credentials and history as an elected student leader and practicing catholic would place him at odds with the Castro dictatorship.

Jose Antonio's sister Lucy Echeverría  on August 27, 2014 spoke at a panel discussion, "The Urban Insurrection Against Batista: The Life and Times of Jose Antonio Echeverria" at Florida International University about her brother's leadership at the University of Havana: "My brother held the presidency of the Federation of University Students (FEU) four times elected by overwhelmingly majorities. There the troubles began with Castro. As he never became president, he always kept that inside." 

Not mentioned in the Castro regime's official press is how the Echeverria family rejected the Castro regime's totalitarian turn to dictatorship and ended up in exile by 1961. According to Lucy, objects found in the Birthplace Museum of  José Antonio Echeverría in Cárdenas do not belong to her brother. She also explained how a televised tribute by the dictatorship in Cuba, had imposters play the supposed parents of the martyred leader, while the real ones were already exiled in the United States.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the "13 de Marzo" action to overthrow Fulgencio Batista by violent means ended with the deaths of many good and brave Cuban democrats, José Antonio among them, opening the way for Fidel Castro and in hindsight can be seen to have been a disastrous idea.

Michael Nagler, a long time peace scholar, presents the theorem as follows: Nonviolence sometimes “works” and always works, while by contrast, Violence sometimes “works” and never works.  Nagler offers a more detailed explanation.
The exercise of violence always has a destructive effect on human relationships even when, as sometimes happens, it accomplishes some short-term goal. The exercise of nonviolence, or Satyagraha, always brings people closer. This explains why Gandhi, after fifty years of experimentation in every walk of life, could declare that he “knew of no single case in which it had failed.” Where it seemed to fail he concluded that he or the other satyagrahis had in some way failed to live up to its steep challenge.  Taking the long view, he was able to declare that “There is no such thing as defeat in non-violence. The end of violence is surest defeat.”
Unfortunately, the "13 de Marzo" also has another and related significance in Cuban history. Twenty seven years ago this upcoming July 13, 1994 a tugboat named the "13 de Marzo", in honor of that violent anniversary, carrying Cuban families seeking to flee the Castro dictatorship, that replaced Fulgencio Batista in 1959, was attacked by agents of the current dictatorship and 37 were killed among them 10 children.

Victims of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre

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