Backbone of the underground
Nancy Stout, with a Foreword by Alice Walker, One Day in December – Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution, Monthly Review Press, 2013, 472 pages, hardback ISBN 9781583673171, £28.95
Celia Sánchez was Fidel Castro’s right-hand woman. She was the daughter of a country doctor, something of a radical himself, a single woman dutifully devoted to looking after daddy and doing good works with a Catholic organisation. It was a superb cover for her underground work. She was in on the Cuban Revolution from the very beginning. Her handler was a remarkable young man, Frank País (later murdered by Batista’s goons) who deserves to be as iconic as ‘Che’ Guevara. (But then so do many others, brave young women and men who were killed in the early days – because of the Cuban Revolution’s success and survival they tend to be forgotten).
Celia knew the coast well and was responsible for choosing suitable landing places for the revolutionaries leaving Mexico in their boat Granma and organising underground reception committees, which she did with what was her usual efficiency and competence. It was to no avail, of course. As all the world knows, the landing was a fiasco and of the 80 guerrillas on board, only about 16 survived to fight another day. But this is what makes One Day in December so interesting: it strongly emphasises the role of the underground, often overshadowed by the guerrilla campaign in the Sierra Maestra. It was difficult and dangerous work, but absolutely vital. When the cover of one of them was blown they went into hiding, where they were still in danger but useless for further work. Very often, they fled to the ‘safety’ of the Sierra Maestra where, at least, there were weapons, cover and company. Without the underground and the ‘Farmers’ Militia’, the guerrillas in the mountains could never have survived and when, in the end, they won, the fighters never forgot the debt they owed. (The ‘Farmers’ Militia’ were local farmers, wealthy landowners to peasants, who were anti-Batista and pro-Castro)…