49. Editorial Note

On April 9 at 11 a.m., rebel forces in Cuba made an unsuccessful attempt to launch a general strike. Leaflets issued in the name of the 26th of July Movement calling for a strike were distributed in Havana. Some shots were fired in downtown Havana, and bus service and the telephone system were partially disrupted. During the day Ambassador Smith kept the Department of State informed of the situation by telephone. One conversation, which took place shortly before noon, was described in a memorandum of April 9 from Rubottom to Secretary of State Dulles. (Department of State, ARA Deputy Assistant Secretary Files: Lot 61 D 411, Cuba 1958) Another telephone conversation with Smith, which took place shortly before 5 p.m., was described by Wieland in a memorandum of April 9. (Ibid., CCA Files: Lot 70 D 149, Cuba Jan.-June 1958) Telegrams from the Embassy in Havana, as well as from the Consulate at Santiago de Cuba, reporting on the day's developments are ibid., Central Files, 837.062/4-958.

In telegram 676 sent at 6 p.m. that day, the Embassy reported that there was little visible evidence that the strike had been a success. All traffic appeared normal. Although some employees, particularly those in banks, had left their jobs, the Embassy stated that the walkout "has not as yet reached any significant proportion." A rebel attempt to seize an arms store in downtown Havana had been frustrated by police. While sabotage of electric conduits had blacked out most of old Havana and part of Vedado, the Embassy believed that service would be restored the next day. (Ibid.) The events surrounding the attempted strike were summarized in despatch 844 from Havana, April 21. (Ibid., 837.062/4-2158)

The reasons for the failure of the general strike were analyzed in despatch 898 from Havana, May 5. Based on information from a variety of sources, the Embassy concluded that the complete failure of the strike was due to the fact that the 26th of July Movement "made just about every error it could make, while the Government made none." The Embassy also noted that "the lack of strength and general ineptitude displayed in the attempt, as well as the comparative efficiency and determination of the police, surprised all observers." The Embassy gave the following reasons, not necessarily in order of importance, for the strike's failure:

"1. Prior announcement. Fidel Castro's bombastic announcement of 'all out war' against the regime after April 1-5 gave the Government ample time to prepare for the general strike. During the four weeks which elapsed from the issuance of Castro's March 12 Manifesto to the strike date, Batista moved swiftly and surely. He organized the police and army. He declared a state of national emergency and issued a series of stiff decree-laws aimed at dissuading labor and management, the civil service and the judiciary from lending their support to the strike effort. He also enlisted the complete backing of the directorate of the Confederation de Trabajadores Cubanos (CTC-Cuban Confederation of Labor).

" 2. Government determination. The Government was obviously seriously concerned, but also determined. There were some evidences of panic within the Government in the preceding days, but the military and police forces in general held firm and made what turned out to be adequate and efficient preparations. In Habana the police handled the entire affair, and needed no help from the army.

" 3. Lack of organization. Everyone in Habana seemed to know that the bank workers, transportation workers, public utility workers, and dock workers were the key to a successful strike. Some bank workers went home and stayed there. Most were back at work the following morning. One bus was burned, but there was little if any reduction in bus service. The Movement managed to put a bomb down a manhole on the Prado, in downtown Habana, which blew out a cable supplying electricity to a small section of the city and started a spectacular fire from a ruptured gas main. But conditions at the electrical plants remained normal. Telephone service became irregular for an hour or so, but by mid-afternoon was normal within the city. The dock workers simply did not participate in the attempt.

"It seems clear that at least some of the so-called 'action groups' in Habana were not given assignments, or were not told of the timing. Marcelo Salado, one of the principal action leaders, was killed by police who spotted him apparently peacefully going about his private business a half-hour after the strike attempt started. Caches of gasoline had been placed in some locations for use in attacking buses, but the men who were supposed to use it did not show up - they apparently got no word of the strike until too late.

"4. Inadequate communications. It seems incredible, but the Movement apparently relied almost exclusively on broadcasts from radio stations it expected to seize for communications with the various groups. What appear to have been rather half-hearted attempts were made to seize at least two stations. Both failed, though some people have reported hearing a few seconds of rebel broadcast from one station before it went off the air, to return with its normal program within a few minutes.

"It was said that the Movement and the Young Men's Group of Catholic Action had arranged for the strike to be signaled by continuous ringing of the church bells. This was done, and the Embassy has received one report that the police had learned of the plan and frustrated it - just how is not known.

"5. Poor timing. The Movement may not have been able to help this. But it is clear that the time of greatest tension and expectation among the people as a whole was reached around the middle of March. The strike attempt would have had greater chances of success if undertaken then. The peak of tension had been passed by the time the attempt was made.

"6. Poor planning. It seems probable that not all of the forces available to the '26th of July' Movement were committed to the attempt on April 9. In any Cuban revolutionary movement, a considerable number of faint-hearts appear at the moment of action, and undoubtedly many who had been counted on failed to show up. However, after taking that factor into consideration, it still looks as though a considerable portion of the available forces were not called out.

"A story was current on April 10 that the attempt was planned to coincide with a move by a number of younger army officers in Camp Columbia. According to this, the army group agreed to move if the disturbances started by the '26th of July' Movement reached such a level that the army was called out. The leaders of the Movement in Habana thereupon undertook a sort of token uprising, aimed at protecting most of their own forces while still alarming the Government sufficiently to cause the army to be called out. Their calculations were off, and the police handled the affair so promptly and efficiently that the army was not needed - thus frustrating any plans the group of rebellious officers may have had. The Embassy has no direct information concerning the existence of such a plot within the Army.

"7. Lack of support. Clearly, the people of Habana did not rally to the support of the attempt once it was launched. In addition, there was division among the various revolutionary groups. The attempt of April 9 appears to have been entirely a '26th of July' affair. There are conflicting stories about the reason for that. One version, current at the time of the attempt, was that the Movement was over-confident and arrogant, and rejected support from both the Directorio Revolucionario (DR-The Revolutionary Directorate, an action organization of students) and the Organization Autenfica (OA-Authentic Organization, the action organization of the revolutionary or Prio wing of the Autentico Party). This is in marked contrast to the March 12 manifesto, in which Castro and Faustino Perez specified that various revolutionary organizations would have tasks in the final moves against the Government. The Frente Obrero National (FON-National Workers' Front) was to be in charge of the labor sector. The Movirniento de Resistencia Civica (MRC-Civic Resistance Movement) was to handle the professional, commercial and industrial sectors. The Frente Estudiantil National (FEN-National Students' Front) was to handle the students' strike. These organizations are close to the '26th of July' Movement, and sometimes considered as branches of the Movement rather than separate entities. But in addition the Manifesto stated that the '26th of July' Movement and all other revolutionary organizations which support it would be responsible for armed action.

"Since April 9 a story has become current that both DR and OA sabotaged the attempt. This version is particularly prevalent among Cuban exile groups in the United States. In view of the divisions among the revolutionary groups and the selfish motivations of many of the leaders, this is entirely possible." (Ibid., 737.00/5-558)