Havana is deceptively calm in the 1950s video above. Urban opposition to Batista was growing. I mentioned this in an earlier post. Soon everyday life in the city would be disrupted on an everyday basis. The idea of a general strike preceded by direct action from the masses was a central tenet of the urban underground.
The main objective of what was to be a countrywide action was to create the kind of general confusion and chaos which would result in public violence.
While work stoppages and street fighting were going on throughout the cities of Cuba, Castro and his guerillas would move into the valleys, engage the regular troops, and occupy populated areas in the countryside. Once this was accomplished, a general uprising would be assured.
In order to assure maximum success, Havana was to be divided into various operational zones: Centro Havana; Regla; Guanabacoa; Vedado; and Miramar.
Miramar was to serve as the general headquarters for the insurgents.
Other bases were set up in Vedado, the middle-class neighborhood close to the center of Havana’s business section where many US backed hotels were located. In addition, the underground had use of 40 to 50 houses for communications, arms depots, and hideaways.
Religious institutions and leaders also had critical input in the strike preparations as they made plans to care for and hide militants as necessary. In fact, the pastor of Havana’s First Presbyterian Church was already active in the urban underground resistance. At the Dispensario Clinico of his church, bombs were manufactured, manifestos written, and enormous quantities of medicine were made available to urban cells and later to guerillas.
Two acts of sabotage were to take place: the first was to blow up the electric company in Havana. Second, since there were no arms on hand, the Youth Brigade was to attack an armory in Old Havana where weapons were stocked in unknown amounts. Some of these acquisitions would be given to the cadres, and the rest would be distributed at prearranged points throughout the capital.
The strike began on April 9. However, nothing went as planned.
Government forces were waiting and the urban underground was largely dismantled.
In the aftermath of the event, the few remaining urban cadres agreed to launch an all-out united offensive against the regime. The objective was to demoralize the authorities through psychological warfare.
“Operation Rescue” was the first action. It called for “rescuing” as many arms as possible from the hands of the authorities.
Policemen were ambushed in lonely alleys, disarmed, undressed and then turned loose.
When the police began to patrol the streets in groups of two or three, “Operation Pep-Rallies” was initiated. Underground agitators would attack the government in public places for a few minutes. Their retreat was then covered by other underground fighters who would divert the attention of the authorities by throwing Molotov cocktails or a handful of revolutionary leaflets.
The government countered these campaigns by increasing its secret police forces. Eventually the streets of the city were filled with blind beggars who were not blind, street vendors with no merchandise and a whole array of clumsy government spies.
When it was no longer possible to conduct these campaigns, the urban fighters reached people by radio. Radio stations were taken over, brief manifestos read to the nation, and news about the progress of the insurrection circulated before the police had a chance to arrive.
Cuban urban guerillas followed the maxims applied in Palestine during the 1940s and Algeria during the 1950s which purported that in cities guerillas must attack daily to create a climate in which government forces are kept off balance. Lacking expertise in urban counterinsurgency, the regime’s techniques were mostly crude demonstrations of terror.