Friday August 1st, 2014, 8:25 pm (EDT)

One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution reviewed by Helen Yaffe

One Day in December

Review: One day in December: Celia Sanchez and the Cuban Revolution by Nancy Stout

Monthly Review Press, New York, 2013, 457 pages. ISBN: 978-1-58367-317-1

Nancy Stout has treated the reader to an exhilarating biography of Celia Sanchez, recording her vital contribution to the revolutionary struggle and the socialist state in Cuba. This is long overdue. While many supporters of the Cuban Revolution will have heard about Celia and her close relationship with Fidel Castro, few will have understood or appreciated the role she played. Celia’s great political and revolutionary strength lay in her organisational capacity, as well as her sacrifice and commitment. As novelist Alice Walker says in her foreword, the book offers: ‘A clear vision of what balanced female leadership can be; and, even more to the point, what a truly egalitarian revolutionary leadership of female and male partners might look like.’

With the captivating power of a good novel, but based on ten years of archival research and interviews, Stout first introduces us to Celia’s comfortable life in Pilón, a small rural town in sugar-plantation country, on the Eastern-most coast of Cuba, in the mid-1950s. She assists her father, a progressive doctor, treating the poor as well as the rich. Celia is a ‘society girl’, elegantly dressed and made up, roaming around enjoying adventures with her friends. She is well known locally for her charitable work of distributing toys and other necessities to poor children and their families around this rural region. Behind the scenes, however, since the first seeds of resistance to Batista’s 1952-coup were sown, Celia is involved in clandestine mobilisations. Fidel Castro’s Movement for the 26 July (M26J) – named after the attack on Moncada Barracks on that date in 1953 – is the second endeavour that Celia has supported to free Cuba from dictatorship. This one was successful – in no small part thanks to Celia.

Working under the leadership of Frank Pais, the co-ordinator of the M26J’s urban wing, Celia was entrusted to put together a network of militants to receive, orientate and join the nascent guerrilla army which arrived on the Granma boat from Mexico in December 1956. Despite her meticulous organisation, the plans were scuppered because the Granma boat was delayed and arrived at the wrong location. Urban uprisings timed to coincide with the rebel’s arrival were begun and then called off. Celia felt huge responsibility for the safety of all those who had moved into their combat positions, because anyone suspected of opposing the dictatorship was dealt with ruthlessly. Some 20,000 people were murdered in the 1950s under Batista’s reign. The fear induced through the terrorisation of the population is clear in this biography. Not least through the story of how Celia escaped capture and interrogation by Batista police – dodging bullets as she ran away, and hiding out inside a thorny marabou grove until nightfall. Once in a safe-house, a doctor removed 13 thorns from Celia’s skull…

Read the entire review on the Revolutionary Communist Group website