Cuban Revolution: The Voyage of the Granma by Christopher Minster

In November 1956, 82 Cuban rebels piled onto the small yacht Granma and set sail for Cuba to touch off the Cuban Revolution. The yacht, designed for only 12 passengers and supposedly with a maximum capacity of 25, also had to carry fuel for a week as well as food and weapons for the soldiers. Miraculously, the Granma made it to Cuba on December 2 and the Cuban rebels (including Fidel and Raul Castro, Ernesto “Ché” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos) disembarked to start the revolution.

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Background:

In 1953, Fidel Castro had led an assault on the federal barracks at Moncada, near Santiago. The attack was a failure and Castro was sent to jail. The attackers were released in 1955 by Dictator Fulgencio Batista, however, who was bowing to international pressure to release political prisoners. Castro and many of the others went to Mexico to plan the next step of the revolution. In Mexico, Castro found many Cuban exiles who wanted to see the end of the Batista regime. They began to organize the “26th of July Movement” named after the date of the Moncada assault.
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Organization:

In Mexico, the rebels collected arms and received training. Fidel and Raúl Castro also met two men who would play key roles in the revolution: Argentine physician Ernesto “Ché” Guevara and Cuban exile Camilo Cienfuegos. The Mexican government, suspicious of the activities of the movement, detained some of them for a while, but eventually left them alone. The group had some money, provided by former Cuban president Carlos Prío. When the group was ready, they contacted their comrades back in Cuba and told them to cause distractions on November 30, the day they would arrive.

The Granma:

Castro still had the problem of how to get the men to Cuba. At first he tried to purchase a used military transport, but was unable to locate one. Desperate, he purchased the yacht Granma for $18,000 of Prío’s money through a Mexican agent. The Granma, supposedly named for the grandmother of its first owner (an American), was run down, its two diesel engines in need of repair. The 13 meter (about 43 feet) yacht was designed for 12 passengers and could only fit about 20 comfortably. Castro docked the yacht in Tuxpan, on the Mexican coast.
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The Voyage:

At the end of November, Castro heard rumors that the Mexican police were planning to arrest the Cubans and possibly turn them over to Batista. Even though repairs to the Granma were not completed, he knew they had to go. On the night of November 25, the boat was loaded down with food, weapons and fuel, and 82 Cuban rebels came on board. Another fifty or so remained behind, as there was no room for them. The boat departed silently, so as not to alert Mexican authorities. Once it was in international waters, the men on board began loudly singing the Cuban national anthem.

Rough Waters:

The 1,200 mile sea voyage was utterly miserable. Food had to be rationed, and there was no room for anyone to rest. The engines were in poor repair and required constant attention. As the Granma passed Yucatan, it began taking on water, and the men had to bail until the bilge pumps were repaired: for a while it looked as if the boat would surely sink. Seas were rough and many of the men were seasick. Guevara, a doctor, could tend to the men but he had no seasickness remedies. One man fell overboard at night and they spent an hour searching for him before he was rescued: this used up fuel they could not spare.

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Arrival in Cuba:

Castro had estimated the trip would take five days, and communicated to his people in Cuba that they would arrive on November 30th. The Granma was slowed by engine trouble and excess weight, however, and didn’t arrive until December 2nd. The rebels in Cuba did their part, attacking government and military installations on the 30th, but Castro and the others did not arrive. They reached Cuba on December 2nd, but it was during broad daylight and the Cuban Air Force was flying patrols looking for them. They also missed their intended landing spot by about 15 miles.

images (1) The Rest of the Story:

All 82 rebels reached Cuba, and Castro decided to head for the mountains of the Sierra Maestra where he could regroup and contact sympathizers in Havana and elsewhere. In the afternoon of December 5th, they were located by a large army patrol and attacked by surprise. The rebels were immediately scattered, and over the next few days most of them were killed or captured: less than 20 made it to the Sierra Maestra with Castro.

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The handful of rebels who survived the Granma trip and ensuing massacre became Castro’s inner circle, men he could trust, and he built his movement around them. By the end of 1958, Castro was ready to make his move: the despised Batista was driven out and the revolutionaries marched into Havana in triumph.

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The Granma itself was retired with honor. After the triumph of the revolution, it was brought to Havana harbor. Later it was preserved and put on display.

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Today, the Granma is a sacred symbol of the Revolution. The province where it landed was divided, creating the new Granma Province. The official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party is called Granma. The spot where it landed was made into the Landing of the Granma National Park, and it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although more for marine life than historical value. Every year, Cuban schoolchildren board a replica of the Granma and re-trace its voyage from the coast of Mexico to Cuba.

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Si Homero hubiera vislumbrado la dimensión de la hazaña de los expedicionarios del Granma, supiera que su Odisea tiene paralelos en la historia, en cuanto a las vicisitudes y riesgos de una travesía-con riesgo de muerte- para una tripulación decidida a emprender el camino hacia la victoria.

Tal concepto esta plasmado en el documental La odisea del Granma, realizado por Mundo Latino, que constituye una reconstrucción histórica de aquella acción que marcó el inicio de las luchas guerrilleras que materializaron una sucesión de sacrificios y retos a la valentía y al coraje.

En aquel viaje, inspirado por el noble fin de alcanzar la total independencia de la Patria, sus tripulantes redoblaron la decisión de vencer o morir que siempre ha marcado la batalla de aquellos héroes que se arriesgaron o inmolaron por la victoria definitiva.

El 25 de noviembre partió el yate Granma desde la ensenada de Tuxpan, en el puerto de Veracruz, donde hoy está anclada una reproducción que representa un emblema de orgullo para los vecinos del lugar.

UNA BATALLA CONTRA EL MAR EMBRAVECIDO

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Varios factores incidieron en la tardanza de la llegada a las costas cubanas del yate que zarpó de tierras veracruzanas el 25 de noviembre de 1956. Los 82 hombres a bordo, unidos al peso de las armas y las roturas del motor obstaculizaron el avance de la embarcación, a lo cual se unieron momentos de mal tiempo.

En la madrugada del primero de diciembre, el Granma se acercó a la zona escogida para su desembarco. Sin escatimar esfuerzos, Roque y Mejía, piloto y timonel, alternaban ambas tareas, mientras oteaban el horizonte y buscaban inútilmente el faro de Cabo Cruz. images

En su lucha contra aquellos vientos tempestuosos Roque cayó al mar, ante el embate de una ola gigantesca. A pesar de un tiempo que retaba a los marinos más avezados, el coraje se impuso, cuando Fidel ordenó detener la marcha y rescatar al combatiente. Una hora más tarde divisaron las luces. Llegaron a las boyas por el canal de Niquero y, para su sorpresa, su actual ubicación no coincidía con la carta náutica, por lo cual se vieron precisados a cambiar el rumbo.

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Al llegar el atardecer de ese día, Fidel informó que de un momento a otro desembarcarían y dio a conocer la estructura militar que existiría a partir de ese momento en los combatientes, lo cual conformaba la génesis del Ejército Rebelde, que iría a la Sierra Maestra a luchar con las armas en la mano contra la tiranía batistiana.

Es por ello que, al llegar a tierra, no encontraron el respaldo de los insurrectos cubanos. Estaba previsto que les ayudaran a avanzar en aquel terreno inhóspito para ascender hacia las montañas, donde establecerían los campamentos del Ejército Rebelde, pero no fue posible debido a los dos días de tardanza en su llegada por los múltiples inconvenientes que caracterizaron el viaje.

En la tarde del primero de diciembre, Fidel informó que se dirigirían a la costa para desembarcar. En una punta de mangle nombrada Los Cayuelos encalló el Granma, lo cual obligó a adelantar el desembarco para las 6:50 a.m. del 2 de diciembre de 1956.

Fue difícil, pues tuvieron que atravesar más de un kilómetro de tupidos manglares y grandes pantanos, transportando cargas pesadas y venciendo el agotamiento.

granma_daily_tee_shirts-rce9fc53206134e8995075c6fdd805223_vj7sb_324 Era muy difícil avanzar hacia las montañas, sus zapatos se destruían porque el fango ablandaba y hacía pedazos las suelas, lo cual obligó a la mayoría a andar descalzos por vez primera en sus vidas.

Antes de bajar el pelotón de la retaguardia, cruzaron cerca una lancha de cabotaje y un barco arenero. Surgió entonces otra dificultad, a primera vista invencible. Por falta de petróleo, el yate no pudo regresar a las costas de Caimán Brac, como era la idea inicial de Fidel.

ASCENSO HACIA LA VICTORIA

En aquellos momentos, la voluntad no flaqueó y se crecieron a pesar de no saber en qué lugar se encontraban. Por ello, prefirieron esperar a que llegaran refuerzos, si es que se encontraban en Cuba.

La verdad les llegó con el campesino Ángel Pérez Rosabal, quien les confirmó que estaban en el territorio nacional. Su ascenso a las montañas de la Sierra Maestra dio continuidad a la lucha contra la más cruel tiranía de toda la Historia de Cuba.
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Los constantes triunfos contra los soldados batistianos, llamados despectivamente por el pueblo “casquitos”, unidos a la estrategia de la lucha clandestina, convirtió en victoria aquel batallas titánico que culminó con el Triunfo de la Revolución Cubana. No hay cubano que no detenga su paso al contemplar el Yate Granma en el memorial que lleva su nombre, y que constituye el tesoro más precisado del Museo de la Revolución.

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