BY ENZO INFANTE
In February, Pathfinder Press released a new edition of Ernesto Che Guevara's Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War -
To promote this book, the Militant is running "Pages from Cuba's Revolutionary History." This series features articles by and about combatants of the July 26 Movement and the Rebel Army, which led the revolutionary war that overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and opened the socialist revolution in the Americas.
This week's installment is on Radio Rebelde, the Rebel Army's radio station, which exercised a powerful political role in the revolutionary victory.
Enzo Infante, author of this account, served as the July 26 Movement's provincial coordinator in Oriente, Camaguey, and Havana during the revolutionary war, and was a member of its National Directorate. He is currently a retired lieutenant colonel in Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).
The article was published in Verde Olivo, March 24, 1974. Translation is by the Militant.
BY ENZO INFANTE
During the second year of the war, the Rebel Army succeeded in establishing and developing a system of communications that enabled it to control and direct its military operations, so as to broadly disseminate war communiqués and to politically orient the people in the nation's drive for liberation against the Batista tyranny.
The rebel station, established at the general command post in the Sierra Maestra, constituted the center of a system that included transmitters in other war fronts, in Havana, and abroad. It complemented the telephone network set up in the liberated zones, or in the areas controlled by the rebels in the First, Second, or other battle fronts.
The first steps in founding Radio Rebelde were taken at the end of 1957.
On December 23, Ciro del Río, a combatant who had been in the field for several months in the Sierra Maestra, informed Ernesto Che Guevara, head of Column no. 4, of a proposal by Eduardo Fernández, a friend of his living in Bayamo who was a radio technician. Fernández believed it was possible to build a radio generating system that would serve the various rebel units as a vehicle for communication between each other, and a transmitter that would send abroad news of what was occurring in the Sierra Maestra. Following up on this idea, Che ordered del Río's friend to be contacted in Bayamo and brought to the Sierra.
On January 4, 1958, in the El Hombrito zone, Eduardo Fernández was able to present his ideas to Che. Understanding the enormous importance of bringing the project to fruition, Che promised to put him in contact with the July 26 Movement in the cities. This was done. Days later he was visited by some comrades who accompanied him to Santiago de Cuba to see René Ramos Latour. Together with Ramos Latour, they made arrangements to obtain the equipment for the generating plant, which was acquired in Havana and transported to Bayamo by the Movement. From there it was transported to the region of La Mesa, arriving between February 16 and 17.
As soon as the equipment was in his hands, Commander Ernesto Che Guevara decided to erect the generating plant in an abandoned house on Altos de Conrado. Installed there was a Collins transmitter, model 32B2, of low to medium power, from which they were able to get a 120- to 130-watt signal to the antenna; a 1 kilowatt gasoline-powered Jonand generator; a record player, and some light bulbs.
Che decided to name the station Radio Rebelde, and he created a team of combatants to attend to the operation of the plant and the preparation of programs. Luis Orlando Rodríguez was named director. Orestes Valera and Ricardo Martínez were editors and announcers. Eduardo Fernández was technician. Later on Olga Guevara, Violeta Casals, Jorge Enrique Mendoza, and Guillermo Pérez were added to the team.
Transmissions began on February 24, 1958, at five o'clock in the afternoon, broadcast from Altos de Conrado. The inaugural program went on the air to the strains of the Invasion Anthem, which was always its identification. It included reading the war communiqué on the second attack on Pino del Agua, a bulletin based on the actions carried out by Column no. 4, commentary on February 24, 1895(1), and the reasons for establishing the radio station. From that moment on, the revolutionary forces possessed a more powerful means to disseminate their ideas.
Little by little Radio Rebelde improved its transmissions, until it could be heard clearly both in Cuba and abroad.
Transfer of Radio Rebelde to the general command
The first intervention over Radio Rebelde by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro took place on April 15, 1958, a few days after the failed strike attempt.(2) After several days and nights without sleeping, Fidel had to leave the zone of operations of Column no. 1 to address "the public opinion of Cuba and the free peoples of Latin America" with a vibrant message of patriotism, full of confidence in the triumph of the revolutionary cause.
Transfer of Radio Rebelde to the general command
Two days later, on April 17, considering the strategic value of the radio station and the need to protect it from the enemy, which was preparing its military offensive against the Sierra Maestra,(3) Fidel ordered the transfer of the station to the region of La Plata, site of the rebel command's general command post. From there Radio Rebelde resumed its transmissions on May 1, beginning a new stage of its existence, in which it would function as an important center of military communications of all the armed rebel forces.
Radio Rebelde's center of military communications received and transmitted on a network that comprised some thirty transmitters located in Cuba and abroad, and a rudimentary but efficient telephone system set up in liberated territories. Its broadcasts included war communiques, military orders, and instructions to rebel heads and leaders of the Movement, laws and regulations, instructions to the civilian population, notices to the Red Cross to hand over wounded combatants and prisoners, among other things.
The transmissions became regularized at night at two times, from seven to nine o'clock on the 20 meter band, and from eight to ten on the 40 meter band, on short wave.
Communications of a military character were done through simple codes, but very often - particularly at the end of the war - they were read quite openly. General orders emanating from general headquarters were read in their entirety.
For communications with the Movement's delegations abroad, special codes were used, designed by Che, Fidel, and Luis Buch.
All this activity gave an impetus to the task of coding and decoding, which the comrades of Radio Rebelde also did. The station always based itself on the principle of the absolute truth of the information and the instructions it gave to the people. This enabled it to enjoy extraordinary authority and wide belief, going beyond national boundaries.
In Venezuela the commercial long-wave transmitters taped the programs originating over Radio Rebelde and transmitted them to Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and other countries, informing them of the course of the struggle in Cuba.
The enemy also paid attention to Radio Rebelde. At the Observation Post of the Communications Department of the Military Intelligence Service of the general staff of the tyranny's army, all transmissions of the rebel station - from July 1 to December 31, 1958 - were taped and transcribed.
The commander-in-chief used Radio Rebelde to personally address the people and issue instructions during decisive moments of the revolution: on April 15, after the strike; on August 18- 19, after the failure of the tyranny's great offensive against the Sierra Maestra; on October 25, to denounce the maneuver of Batista and the Yankee State Department with the aim of encouraging United States military intervention in Cuba's civil war; on November 12, to issue instructions to all heads of rebel fronts and columns and to the civilian population on the instructions for waging the final battle against the tyranny; on January 1, 1959, to denounce before the people the maneuvers for a coup sponsored by the Yankee embassy in Havana, and to issue a call for a revolutionary general strike.(4)
This last broadcast by the commander-in-chief was made from Palma Soriano, recently liberated, where the popular station had been installed.
Beginning with its founding by Commander Ernesto Guevara, Radio Rebelde had transmitted from Altos de Conrado, La Plata, La Miel (November-December), Charco Redondo (December), and Palma Soriano.
Radio Rebelde was used for the first time for special propaganda during the offensive by the tyranny against the Sierra. In the battle of Santo Domingo, loudspeakers were used for the first time to address the enemy troops. This method reached its highest level of efficiency during the battle of El Jigue. Later it was applied in Las Mercedes and in the capture of Maffo.
1. The Cuban War of Independence from Spain was launched on Feb. 24, 1895, with the "Grito de Baire" call to rebellion.
2. The July 26 Movement called a general strike on April 9, 1958. Lacking political preparation, the strike failed.
3. On May 25, 1958, Batista's army launched an offensive with 10,000 troops to "encircle and annihilate" the Rebel forces in the Sierra Maestra. The Rebel Army's defeat of the offensive by July was the military turning point in the war and allowed the rebels to go on the offensive.
4. Batista fled Cuba in the early morning of January 1, 1959.
With the encouragement of the State Department, power was ceded
to a military junta. The Rebel Army opposed the junta and issued
a call for a nationwide general strike. The junta collapsed the
following day and the Rebel Army took power.
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