Cuba's 63rd Revolution Day: Celebrating Revolutionary Triumph in a Year of Change
On July 26th,1953, Fidel Castro led an attack that set the Cuban revolution in motion. Though the attack ultimately failed and Castro didn’t assume leadership until January 1st, 1959, the day became a symbol of the revolutionary spirit—the unreserved resolve to challenge a rejected regime—even if that revolutionary spirit did not lead to immediate success. The Cuban people and its communist government celebrate that symbol every year on Revolution Day.
Revolution Day is celebrated throughout the country with patriotic speeches, the ever-present black and red Revolution Day flags sporting the “July 26” tribute, parades, and musical performances. Though Fidel and Raul Castro once gave the impassioned speeches Revolution Day is known for, the speech-making duties have since been ceded to other important political figures in Cuba.
Revolution Day in a Time of Change
The tone of Revolution Day has changed somewhat in recent years as sociopolitical reform has slowly seeped through Cuba—most notably with de-frosting relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Speeches often implore the Cuban people to abide by the slogan of “Order, Discipline, and Rigor,” and to retain socialist values in the face of the limited free market and humanitarian reforms being introduced.
That being said, the theme of Revolution Day always comes down to the revolution—and the principles it instilled so thoroughly. Army General Raul Castro Ruz delivered a speech at the National Assembly of People’s Power on July 8th in preparation of this year’s Revolution Day, and asked the Cuban people to act “with much optimism and confidence in the present and future of the revolution.” In Cuba, the revolution may have begun on July 26th,1953, but the revolution is still very much today.
This year’s celebrations are hosted in Sancti Spíritus—a colonial city that rivals Trinidad as a Cuban cultural tour de force—with the primary speech being given by 2nd Party Secretary Josè Ramón Machado Ventura.
Finding the Cuban Revolutionary Trail
The Cuban Revolution may be celebrated wildly and loudly throughout the island country, but it retains a sense of self-conscious intrigue for Cuba’s visitors. While revolutionary rhetoric and symbols are slathered on billboards and memorialized through many a plaza, there are several monuments and sites of interest directly related to Fidel Castro’s revolution that any visitor or history-buff will want to make sure are on their Cuban trip itinerary.
Guests of ROW Adventures on our Cuba Unbound tours can see multiple Revolution Day sites on Cuba Eastern Kayak Tour, which visits the Moncada Barracks and the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba. Our National Parks of Cuba Tour takes guests to Santa Clara and includes a trip to the Mausoleo del Che Guevara.
But whether you’re traveling with Cuba Unbound or going on a solo adventure, seeing the sites of the revolution is always a thrilling look into Cuba’s evocative history.
Here are the main highlights of Cuba’s revolutionary trail, starting of course with the Moncada Barracks, without which there would be no Revolution Day:
MONCADA BARRACKS IN SANTIAGO DE CUBA
The Moncada Barracks are central to Revolution Day, as Fidel Castro and his fellow rebels attacked the military barracks on July 26th in the hopes of overthrowing Fulgencio Batista by seizing its armory. Though the attack was unsuccessful—leading to the death of many of the rebels while many others, including the Castro brothers, were forced to flee into the Sierra Maestra mountains—it became a symbol of the rebel movement. Castro even dubbed the rebellion, “The July 26th Movement.”
Visitors to the barracks today, which we visit on our Eastern Cuba Kayak Tour, can still see the bullet holes that struck the concrete walls, and the somewhat macabre museum focuses on the main rebel movements taken throughout the 1950s.
GRANJITA SIBONEY IN SANTIAGO DE CUBA
This modest red-and-white farmhouse lies on the road to Santiago de Cuba. At 5:15 on July 26th, 26 cars left the farmhouse and headed to the Moncada Barracks to foment revolution. To this day, the house preserves many of the authentic details, such as the room where two compañeras involved in the attack stayed and the well where weapons were hidden prior to the attack. Related documents, photos, and personal affects are also kept within Granjita Siboney.
THE CEMENTERIO SANTA IFIGENIA IN SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Santiago de Cuba’s Cementerio Santa Ifgenia houses the remains of many of Cuba’s most renowned military personnel including the rebel martyrs who passed in the 1953 Moncada Barracks assault and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, known as the father of Cuban independence. That being said, it’s most famous for housing José Martí’s mausoleum.
PLAZA DE REVOLUCIÓN IN SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Castro delivered fervent speeches in Santiago de Cuba’s Plaza de la Revolución, and the Pope also delivered mass there on his 1998 visit to Cuba. As always, the plaza has also served as the grounds for many protests.
MUSEO HOLOGRAFIA IN SANTIAGO DE CUBA
This museum is visually appealing. Located underground, it features holograms that depict images of the revolution and other significant Cuban generals.
MUSEUM OF THE CLANDESTINE STRUGGLE IN SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Housed in 19th century police headquarters, the museum commemorates the attack led by Frank Pais and other rebels in 1958. The building had to be restored as Pais had burned it down, but it now depicts another angle of the movement against Batista, info regarding Santiago de Cuba’s role in revolutionary history, and the residents’ roles in the revolution.
COMANDANCIA DE LA PLATA IN GRAN PARQUE NACIONAL SIERRA MAESTRA
Comandancia de la Plata is a camp founded by Castro in 1958 after hiding out, baseless, in the Sierra Maestra for a year. The camp is remote and well camouflaged by the thick forest surrounding the mountain ridge where the camp was based; Batista’s forces were never able to discover the hideout.
Comandancia de la Plata holds 16 wooded buildings, Casa de Fidel with seven escape routes placed throughout the house, a museum, hospital buildings, and a pathway leading to the Radio Rebelde radio-communications center from which the rebels aired broadcasts.
MAUSOLEO DEL CHE GUEVARA IN SANTA CLARA
The monument commemorates Che Guevara, who assisted in the rebellion and led the attack on Santa Clara that ultimately left the city in Castro’s hands and paved the way to Batista’s hasty departure from Cuba.
The monument also serves as a mausoleum and museum, though the leading feature is the towering statue of Che. The mausoleum contains the remains of Che and a fraction of his guerillas recovered from Bolivia in 1997. The remains are guarded by an eternal flame lit by Castro. The neighboring museum displays ephemera such as guns, letters, photographs of Che, and even medical equipment.
FIDEL CASTRO’S BIRTHPLACE IN BIRÁN
The name kind of says it all on this one. 500 miles east of Havana lies the small town of Birán, and history-buffs can visit the stilted yellow, wooden mansion where Castro grew up.