Cuba: Liberation Day

Cuba celebrates Liberation Day on 1 January every year. It actually qualifies as a liberation day (of sorts) on two counts.

First, at the tail end of the nineteenth century a series of independence wars between the Cubans and their Spanish colonial rulers culminated in the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which Spain was rapidly defeated. The Treaty of Paris which brought about peace between the two countries also saw Spain relinquish sovereignty over Cuba, effective as of 1 January 1899. Cuba became nominally independent three years later, although the United States retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations (and, incidentally, to establish a permanent lease of Guantanamo Bay).

Fast forward to the 1950s. Ex-President Fulgencio Batista—elected to office democratically in 1940 for four years—sought election again in 1952, but staged a coup with the support of a sympathetic army faction after it became clear he would lose the election. A counter-coup in 1956 failed.

At the end of that year a party of 82 led by Fidel Castro sailed to Cuba on the yacht Granma to set up an armed insurrection in the Sierra Maestra. Batista’s government failed to quash this rebellion and was increasingly harassed by the rebels, especially after the United States imposed an arms embargo from March 1958. On 1 January 1959, the day after the rebels defeated government forces at the city of Santa Clara, Batista fled into exile (first in the Dominican Republic, later in Portugal) and his forces capitulated shortly afterwards. It is this 1 January, rather than the 1899 date, which the present Cuban regime celebrates as its Liberation Day.

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