While the Cuban revolution has long been considered a rural revolution, there was also a strong urban component which was centered on student activities at the University of Havana in the Vedado section of the city.
Some student opposition — primarily consisting of a series of sporadic street demonstrations — began almost as soon as Batista took power in 1952. This activity continued until an opposition group known as the Directorio Revolucionario (DR) was created in September 1955.
The emergence of the DR constituted a serious threat to Batista because it was specifically organized to serve as an insurrectionary instrument.
Almost immediately, the group denounced calls for political settlement, proclaiming that the only road open to the people was that of violent struggle.
At first, street protests accelerated in an attempt to provoke police brutality and close down the university. As time passed, however, the DR became much more radicalized.
As the insurrection gained momentum, more and more people turned against Batista.
By late 1958 the majority of the population despised the regime.
Followers of the Afro-Cuban religion, santeria, had consistently supported Batista in rallies. Despite the marginalized position of most Cubans of color, they sent hundreds of hand-carved wooden heads depicting Batista to the palace with special “blessings” for the general.
In Guanabacoa, a traditional source of santeria, special masses were held for the general’s protection. However, by the second half of 1958, they determined that the president no longer had the protection of the saints and they begain to switch sides.
Even believers in santeria who had previously been supportive of the general were now re-evaluating their loyalties.
Although it had previously been asserted that even if “it was true that Batista had been assassinating youths, he did so against his own will and under the spell of bad spirits,” the faithful were now sure that
were he to continue on that path of total condemnation, all santeros (high priests) and spiritualists would have to withdraw their support from the dictator and recommend that their clients do the same. In due time, masses were also celebrated for the spiritual elevation of students murdered by Batista. Some santeros even decided that the caudillo’s mission was about to end and changed their loyalties to the insurgents.There were many believers in the ranks of the insurgents — men who visited the spiritual centers to be blessed and protected by their respective saints and by the good spirits. Dozens of white and blue beaded collars previously blessed by santeros were sent to the Sierra Maestra.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.