Front Door to Cuba Front Door to Cuban History

Frank País
and the Underground Movement
in the cities

An excerpt from Terrence Cannon’s book:
REVOLUTIONARY CUBA
Thomas Y. Crowell, New York
© 1981 by Terrence Cannon

Most accounts of the Cuban Revolution logically focus on the guerrillas in the mountains. Little written about even today is the struggle that took place in the plains, the broad movement against Batista that unfolded in the major cities and towns of Cuba, a movement that was both open and clandestine. It was in the cities that the outcome of the revolution would, in great part, be determined. There, in every organization, plans were debated, actions carried out; in the labor unions, where the Communists were organizing “fighting committees” in the universities and high schools, where the Revolutionary Directorate and the M-26-7 had influence, even in the professional and business organizations of the middle and upper classes.

The underground movement against Batista was everywhere, but nowhere was it stronger than in Santiago, the home of Frank País. Shortly after the attack on the Moncada garrison in 1953, País had begun talking with students and young working people, men and women he knew personally, drawing them around him in an embryonic revolutionary group.

“Frank had a tremendous presence,” one of those who joined the underground said. “He had a sense of the movement we were living through. HE created respect by the way he acted. Even though he was disciplined, he had a real human personality. He was one of us, a youth.”

País asked each person to organize a cell, to prepare a list of their friend and close associates, people they could trust. There were both blacks and whites among those selected. Some worked; others were in school. Their average age was seventeen.

They prepared carefully, finding, repairing, and hiding weapons, participating in mass demonstrations against the dictatorship, raising money, collecting medical supplies. They published a little mimeographed bulletin which sold for ten cents, reporting news and criticizing the government, countering the censorship with which Batista periodically blanketed the island.

In the summer of 1955, País’ organization merged with the July 26 Movement of Fidel. Frank became the leader of the new organization in Oriente province.

Up to this moment neither the police in Santiago nor the members of the group themselves knew the extent of the organization frank had so painstakingly built. Then one day in early 1956 each cell was given the order to paint the name of the movement and slogans against the tyranny on all the walls and buildings in their neighborhood.

The next morning, the army, the police, and the people of Santiago awoke to the magnitude of the resistance. Every block in the city was covered with writing splashed in paint; “Down with Batista! M-26-7.” No one had been arrested.

Toward the end of that year, the movement began to prepare the armed uprising that would cover Fidel’s landing and entrance into the mountains.

M-26-7 uniforms were sewn by women who worked in the garment factories, working from a list of the sizes of each man in the cell, sewing at night in their homes. Those who cut the patterns did not know those who sewed them. Those who sewed were not told their final destination or the names of those who picked them up. The movement in Santiago by that time counted on about three hundred members, one hundred and fifty of who had participated in the failed November 30 uprising. Hundreds more were close collaborators.

December 1956 was a cruel month. In retreat, after the uprising had been crushed, people would spontaneously go to the house of the family to express their indignation and support. Sometimes they would intercede when the police were trying to make an arrest.

The movement was soon able to use factories rather than homes to hide arms and sew uniforms.

After the November uprising, the police were given the power to enter homes and to arrest at will. Some became notorious for their treatment of prisoners, tearing the names of sympathizers out of them in police-station basements. They entered restaurants, eating without paying, killing rivals in love and business, raping women with no fear of investigation.

The movement organized to strike back, assassinating some of the worst torturers, taking reprisals against the police whenever a revolutionary was killed. These retaliatory measures made the M-26-7 even more popular.


Related:
Battle of Jigüe, from Terrence Cannon's: Revolutionary Cuba | Contents: Before the Revolution | Che Guevara Timeline | The landing of the Granma | Cuba in the 1950s | Cuba in the 1960s

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