One afternoon in May 1963, Fidel Castro visited the daily Pravda during his significant first trip to the Soviet Union. On leaving he said: “I would like our daily to be like this, the official voice of the party.”
I believe those of us who accompanied him then were far from fully understanding his words. Three years later, in October 1965, we fully appreciated their meaning.
Ever since his student days and as a recent university graduate, Fidel Castro was a born communicator who used the media to denounce the official practice of appropriation, particularly in papers such as the daily Alerta, led by Ramón Vasconcelos which, despite inconsistencies, understood the exceptional civic values and patriotic and revolutionary spirit that always drove the young journalist: “Since the beginning of his government a voracious appetite for land took hold of Carlos Prío Socarrás)… An incredible and unprecedented case: the Prío family acquired in just one year, in a single municipality, 15 farms… in three years, in three municipalities, in a single province, a staggering 34 farms,” (Prío Socarrás was President of Cuba from 1948-1952). (1)
Fidel, undisputed leader of the triumphant Cuban Revolution, ever since the struggle in the Sierra Maestra, was the main and most inspiring host of relations with the mass media, both national and international.
At the dawn of January 1, 1959, three combative dailies represented the leading revolutionary organizations: Revolución, the official voice of the July 26 Movement, founded during the struggle against Batista and which from the beginning became the official voice of the revolutionary government; Hoy, the official voice of the People’s Socialist Party, which, representing Cuban communists had been closed down during the dictatorship; and Combate, the clandestine voice of the March 13 Revolutionary Directorate, organized by students, professionals and workers supportive of the Federation of University Students (FEU). In 1961 Combate had merged with two other evening newspapers.
Two years after that visit to Pravda, in October 1965, the Communist Party of Cuba was created and Hoy and Revolución merged to establish Granma, the official voice of the Party. The announcements were made during the historic evening in which Fidel broke the silence, after long months of uneasiness, revealing that Ernesto Guevara was no longer in Cuba and reading his moving farewell letter: “Other nations of the world summon my modest efforts.”
Fidel Castro in an animated conversation with workers at Granma. Photo: Valiente, Jorge
I think everyone present jumped up like victorious athletes when Fidel revealed the secret that had sparked all kinds of speculation about the disappearance of the heroic guerrilla fighter during those long months, which the media enemies of Cuba took advantage of. Certain dailies in the U.S. and other countries mistook their hopes for reality, claiming that Che had been politically annihilated in Cuba.
Speculation regarding his whereabouts continued even after the revelation of his farewell letter, read by the Comandante en Jefe in Havana’s Karl Marx Theater. The media went on to hypothesize as to where Che was, while acknowledging that both he and Fidel were among the most famous men in the world. However, the U.S. news agency UPI, which had not hesitated in claiming that Fidel was killed in the Sierra Maestra after disembarking in 1956, ten years later was more careful and limited itself to noting that: “in Daar es Salaam it was rumored that Che had passed through Tanzania.”
Among such significant events that day, the founding of the daily Granma almost went unnoticed. Later that night, Fidel conversed with Blas Roca and Faure Chomó, leaders of the People’s Socialist Party and the March 13 Revolutionary Directorate, respectively, as well as leaders of the new Communist Party of Cuba including Osvaldo Dorticós, Juan Almeida, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Ramiro Valdés, Armando Hart, and Isidoro Malmierca, the new editor of Granma.
They all then traveled to the headquarters of Hoy, led by Blas, on the corner of Prado and Teniente Rey streets, where Fidel spoke about the Cuban Revolution and the Venezuelan revolution. I barely had time to write, as quickly as possible, the first note on this important event, which I did not sign as was the custom, as I did not consider myself entitled to so great a distinction. I confess that this weighs on me today.
Almost immediately that night the first steps were taken to realize the relatively new task, such as the adoption of a banner for the name of the newspaper, a task assumed by the late caricaturist Horacio. It was a way of honoring the courageous fighters who landed on the Granma yacht alongside Fidel to secure the dream of freedom.
Those first steps were started by Malmierca and those of us who worked with Blas in Hoy, located on Prado Street, where the first edition was put together. The next day we moved to the Revolución building, in the Plaza of the same name, where we joined the other founders from this paper to begin the task of organizing the new daily, with both of the existing staffs.
On March 13, 1959, the second anniversary of the assault on the former Presidential Palace, I had first come into contact with the figure who most marked my life – Fidel Castro. I believe that Fidel and José Martí are the public figures who have most impacted Cuba’s history.
In fact the Hero of the Moncada assault revived in us the best of our historic ideals. His resolute courage that July 26, 1953, touched young students across the country. In particular those at the University of Havana who, led by José Antonio Echeverría, contributed so much to securing Fidel’s release.
However, the police thwarted the welcome on the steps of the university following his release, by cutting the power. They did the same during a planned interview at his sister Lidia’s house in Vedado and continued in this way until he was forced into exile.
Contacts multiplied until unity was achieved. In 1959, after some misunderstandings, that aspiration was consolidated for the first time, and the March 13, 1957, assault on the Presidential residence by the Revolutionary Directorate (armed wing of the FEU), which shook Havana, was commemorated. The revolutionary organization assigned me the task of presenting the speakers on the balcony of the Presidential Palace.
The assault stemmed from the commitment made by José Antonio Echeverría, FEU president and founder of the Directorate, to Fidel in the so-called “Letter from Mexico”, in which the leaders of the July 26 Movement and the Revolutionary Directorate, meeting in Mexico on August 30, 1956, coordinated plans regarding the armed struggle to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The courageous attack on the Presidential Palace that March 13, 1957, cost the lives of the militant student leader and several of his collaborators.
During the second anniversary commemoration, I presented Raúl Castro, Faure Chomón and other compañeros without problem, but when the then Cuban President Manuel Urrutia was set to speak, I was surprised as those gathered demanded to hear from Fidel.
I attempted to explain that the Comandante was scheduled to speak regarding the events that same night at the University. But the crowd refused to leave without hearing from Fidel.
The revolutionary combatant Osmel Francis strove to convince the crowd but they ignored him. Fidel then stepped forward, to please the crowd, and began speaking jokingly, defusing the situation as everyone laughed.
Together with Fidel, the then Comandante Huber Matos had appeared (2), who attempted to get his attention, insisting that this was a day of mourning. Fidel paid him no attention and Matos insisted such that it reminded me of the assemblies held at the university’s School of Law, when opponents of the candidature of student fighter René Anillo tried to divert his attention with malicious interruptions and we attempted to stop them.
Fidel continued speaking in the same tone, without even glancing at Matos, and as he concluded, he noted that he had began his speech that way as March 13 was not a mournful date, nor was July 26. He asked the crowd, “Do you think that October 10 is a day of mourning?” “No,” the people shouted back.
Fidel added emphatically that this was not a day of mourning, but rather a day of celebration as it was the beginning of the struggle for independence, and, since the revolutionary triumph, it was a day of celebration. He noted that both March 13 and July 26 were a cause for celebration and, raising the tone, stated that July 26 should be declared a national holiday. Thus Fidel turned the tirade launched by the later renegade into a cheerful proposal met with the most widespread support that anyone could dream of.
That day I witnessed Fidel grow. His calm faced with the attempted interruption convinced me. I already knew of his power, but I was unaware that he also monopolized the talents of Martí and Maceo. A truly exceptional leader.
(By Gabriel Molina Franchossiemail@example.com)