Some might think that on January 1st, 1959, when Batista fled Cuba, Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries immediately took control of the country. Many newsreels show Castro coming into Havana as part of that moment, sort of all blended together. But Batista leaving so suddenly actually created a power vacuum - until alliances shifted, and control was consolidated.
Castro himself was on the far eastern end of the island in Santiago de Cuba, hundreds of miles from Havana. In an overnight speech to a massive crowd he declared that the people had “elected” Judge Manuel Urrutia as provisional president. Urrutia was just a figurehead. Fidel Castro was the conquering hero, and eventually controlled everything. No real election ever took place - then or since.
From Santiago, Castro slowly worked his way west - delayed by long speeches and cheering crowds excited to see him for the first time.
He finally made it to Havana on January 8th, his triumph complete. He arrived in a long column of tanks and jeeps, surrounded by thousands of jubilant Cubans, with cameras from around the world capturing his every movement and word.
Coming into Havana was like something out of this world. Everybody was in the streets. Everybody was welcoming them. Everybody was happy that Batista was no longer there, and that they had taken over.
—- Georgie Brooks, Voices From Cuba
Just the mere fact of seeing tanks rolling down the street for me made the day magical. And, then seeing the indentations that the tank treads had made on the street. And, me thinking, 'those will stay there forever to mark this occasion.' I held out my hand to catch bullets that the rebels were shooting up into the air as the parade came through. This is how stupid kids are about these things. I don’t know. I had no idea. Neither did most of the people standing there, waving their little Cuban flags, that, um, what was happening was a change for the worse.
— Carlos Eire, Voices From Cuba
Do you remember the day when Castro and his band of bearded revolutionaries came into Havana on January 8th, 1959? If so, please share your story in the comments below!
This blog is part of a series leading up to the release of the documentary film Voices From Cuba, directed by Thomas Miller, and narrated by Andy Garcia - coming in 2019. Would you like to learn more about the film and how you can see it? Stay in touch here, and we’ll keep you posted!