The Cuban Revolution probably spawned some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. For a short time, back in the early years of the 1960s, against the backdrop of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara held centre stage whilst the world held its breathe and waited. Nearly six decades later and those days are long gone, but the images still remain and Cuba, Castro and Che continue to be a poignant reminder of a world that once stood on the brink of social change and cold war paranoia.
This coming Thursday is the 59th anniversary of Cuba’s Celebration of the National Rebellion, one of the most important dates on the revolutionary calendar. It commemorates the day in 1953 when Fidel Castro led a small group of rebels against the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The attack itself was an unmitigated failure and led to the arrest, imprisonment and torture of Fidel and a number of his revolutionary compatriots. For many Cubans though, it marked the beginning of the country’s long road towards revolution and reform. It actually took another six years before the cigar smoking images of Fidel and Che were to become emblazoned across the world media, but such was the importance of the date, that the army that eventually overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista became known as the 26 July Movement (M-26-7) and today this auspicious day is celebrated throughout the country with three days of festivities and rallies.
A showcase for Cuban national pride, it is a dazzling mix of patriotic fervour and carnival, with the country’s towns and cities being adorned with political banners and official graffiti. It is not unusual for crowds of 100,000 or more to hit the streets of Havana, the flag waving, dancing and live music adding to the carnival atmosphere. Meanwhile, at the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, where it all began, the names of the martyrs of the revolution are read out to an accompanying fusillade of gunfire and singing.
There are few countries in the world that can combine politics and partying with such relish, but the Cubans have a style and a passion all of their own. Here, revolution and rumba go hand in hand.