Even for hot-tempered Cuba, 1956 has been a violent year. In October the two top policemen of the country were shot dead (and ten suspects mowed down by the cops). Earlier, a plan to assassinate President Fulgencio Batista was nipped, a provincial garrison was assaulted (eleven dead), an army plot was unmasked and 13 officers jailed. But what was supposed to be the main uprising was still to come. Last week it began.
The leader was a well-born, well-to-do daredevil of 29, named Fidel Castro. As chief of a 1953 uprising in eastern Santiago de Cuba, the island's No. 2 city, Lawyer Castro had been jailed, amnestied, exiled. In Mexico this year he pulled together a ragtag force, dubbed it the July 26 Movement (for the date of the Santiago attack), drilled it at a ranch near Mexico City. Last month Castro, crying "Liberty or death in 1956," called on Strongman Batista to step down and form a national unity government or face revolution. In Havana Castro's followers painted "This is the year" on walls.
Just before dawn one day last week, the revolt got under way--again in Santiago. Machine gunners, in olive-drab uniforms with black-and-red armbands marked "26 de Julio," fired on police headquarters. At the same time they tossed grenades and gasoline bombs on the building from a nearby rooftop and burned it down, while ammunition popped inside. For a time the attackers roamed the area freely, looting a hardware store for weapons. At other towns--Holguín, Guantánamo, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara--other Castro men rebelled.
Troops from Santiago's Moncada barracks quickly regained control of the deserted streets for the government as the rebels melted away without a stand. Next day they were back, sharpshooting from rooftops. Batista sent planes and 400 more troops, and arrested known opponents of his government by the hundreds.
By early this week most of the shooting had died down (dead so far: 13). But the government believed that Castro was somewhere on the island, and Mexico City news reports indicated that Castro's irregulars might be heading for Yucatan, a mere 130 miles from Cuba. Batista declared modified martial law in Pinar del Rio, the indicated beachhead if Castro planned a small-boat invasion.