01 December 2019
afp / getty images
afp / getty images

ON 2 DECEMBER 1956, Fidel Castro—seen here victoriously entering the Cuban capital of Havana two years later—landed at Playa de las Coloradas, in eastern Cuba, with 81 other members of the 26 July Movement. They had travelled from the Mexican city of Tuxpan on a rickety Second World War US-navy boat called Granma, repurposed to accommodate 12 people.

The 26 July Movement was named after the date of the unsuccessful 1953 raid on the Moncada Barracks, in Santiago de Cuba, by 160 rebels led by Castro. Their aim had been to secure weapons for an insurrection against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who had come to power in a coup the previous year. After their defeat, 30 rebels, including Castro, spent 22 months in prison. In 1955, they were released after the Cuban Congress passed an amnesty bill.

Following his release, Castro travelled to Mexico. He gathered a cadre of Cuban exiles into the 26 July Movement and began training in guerrilla warfare. He also travelled to the United States to solicit funds and bought the Granma, through a Mexican intermediary. Despite repairs on the boat still being incomplete, they had to flee Tuxpan at 2 am on 25 November 1956 because they heard rumours that the local police was planning to arrest them.