Santa Clara, Key Battleground of Cuba’s Revolution

A statue of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Santa ClaraA statue of revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Santa Clara | Photo: Reuters

As Fidel Castro’s ashes travel through the iconic Cuban city of Santa Clara, teleSUR takes a look at what makes the city so important to Cuba’s revolutionary history.

When Fidel Castro victoriously entered the city of Havana almost 57 years ago to thousands of supporters flooding the streets, the revolution’s success came in part thanks to the military triumph of Santa Clara 11 days earlier, led heroically by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his troops.

The Battle of Santa Clara put an end to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista on Dec. 31, 1958. As a result of the battle, Batista was forced to flee Cuba and he flew to Spain, where his fascist counterpart Francisco Franco welcomed him and his immense fortune — estimated at about US$300 million.

The fighting led by Che took place in Santa Clara, a quiet city about 270 kilometers away from the Cuban capital of Havana. From the Sierra Maestra, Fidel sent one of his most trusted leaders to take over the city: Che Guevara, who led the No. 8 Ciro Redondo Invading Column as a commander.

Victory was far from guaranteed. Batista had sent strong back-up to Santa Clara and Che’s troops were outnumbered by almost one to 10, or 300 revolutionaries compared to 2,500 soldiers, 10 tanks and an armored train loyal to the Batista regime.

But thanks to the support of Santa Clara’s local population, and likely defectors from Batista’s regime, Che’s troops managed to neutralize the armored train with Molotov cocktails, allowing them to seize a great number of weapons.

At the same time, Santa Clara’s residents built up barricades in order to restrain the circulation of soldiers in the city, which would help the assault of Che’s troops. In the weeks preceding the attack, Santa Clara’s police had reportedly tortured many of the city’s residents who were suspected of supporting the rebels.

The battle would prove the definitive turning point in Cuba’s revolutionary struggle and was huge in boosting the morale of its supporters.

If 300 under-equipped rebels could take over a whole garrison backed up with an armored train filled with soldiers, then Batista’s days in power were surely over. Indeed, within 12 hours of the city’s capture, he’d fled Cuba and the Revolution had claimed victory.

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