Margarita Alarcón Perea
Two major battles were won in the year 1961 in Cuba: after less than a year out in the rural areas and mountainous zones, the literacy campaign concluded. Youngsters ranging in ages between 11 and 18 and adults came back to the capitol to inform the government and the rest of the Cuban population that the campaign had concluded successfully and that Cuba was territory free of illiteracy. The campaign was not without drama of course. From the beginning, counterrevolutionary groups flooded areas in the Escambray Mountains in Central Cuba and began their own campaign: if you accept a teacher into your household (hut) you die. Some turned the teachers away at first for fear of the reprisal but slowly the teachers were allowed in and reading and writing and basic math was taught to thousands who had never had a chance to go beyond scribbling an “X” on a sheet of paper.
Two young teachers were murdered in brutal acts of terrorization. Conrado Benitez was shy of turning 19 when he left his home and went off to the mountains to teach those less fortunate than himself.
Mercenary thugs sent in from Miami, Cubans who had previously fled the island after the Batista regime had fallen and others working with them inside the island began a persecution of these young teachers. Benitez was hung as an example to others to desist. More joined the ranks of the young teachers. Manuel Ascunse Domenech was 16 when he joined shortly after Conrado Benitez murder; he was the next to fall prey to the lunacy. Ascunse was stabbed 14 times before being hung along side a pupil who had stood by him till the end. More joined the ranks and more students began to show up at the impromptu classrooms at all hours, an even greater defense mechanism was established between educators and students.
The campaign was triumphant by December of 1961. Cuba was free of illiteracy and today not only has a 98.7% literacy rate but is championing an international campaign worldwide with its own method of teaching which enables peoples from the Guaraní to the Maori to learn to read and write in their own native tongues.
While the literacy campaign was getting off the ground and impromptu teachers were swarming the rural areas on the island another battle was in the making, a battle that would bring about a completely different and unexpected victory.
Cuban forces organized and trained in the US and military camps outside the US but commandeered by the CIA in Honduras and Puerto Rico were preparing to invade Cuba and over throw the new born revolutionary regime, but the primary goal was no secret: assassinate Fidel Castro, a feat the CIA and many Cuban Americans would turn into both a raison d’être and the longest running mangled flop in the history of subversive assaults on any one person in history. On April 15th of 1961 three separate civilian airstrips were bombed in Cuba. Before that there had been the burning of El Encanto in Havana as part of the preamble to this paramilitary attack. The April 15th attack prompted one of the most important and decisive speeches in the presence of a huge mass of Cuban population to be seen on the island since the La Coubre speech and gathering where the famous Ché Guevara photo was taken by Alberto Korda. On the day of the burial of the martyrs’ of the attacks on the airfields, Fidel Castro was given not only the opportunity but I would say the excuse to qualify the process and call things by their name. On the 16th of April of 1961 the Cuban Revolution in the voice of its most notable leader was baptized as by the humble, for the humble and of the humble; a democratic process of Socialism.
Seventy two hours later, on April 19th after days and nights of fighting, a little under 1200 mercenaries surrendered to the Revolutionary Socialist Regime on the island establishing what has since been considered to have been the first true triumph of any country in the hemisphere against US imperialism and what is considered to this day to have been the greatest military fiasco of the US in the region.
Two very different events in the same year served as catalysts towards the empowerment of the Cuban Revolution: a popular process aimed at teaching peoples of all works of life and the national defense of peoples who had already spent the better part of seven years at war and didn’t have anything to lose.
The literacy campaign was basically proof that the social platform on which the Cuban Revolution had been founded was for real, the victory over the failed Bay of Pigs invasion was proof that an armed people on the island were not going to give up on a process and a man who was not only at the forefront of the battle field but was also standing behind every word he had spoken and written to that day. Fidel Castro was not going to give up on his people and his ideas no matter what. To this day, he has proven this to be true.
Version en español publicado en Cubadebate.