Rebel Sierras and Lowlands: Petitioning the Mother of Cuba
The political instability of late 1950s Cuba occasioned many anguished appeals to the Virgin. As Fidel Castro’s rebels took up positions in the mountains of eastern Cuba to combat Batista’s army, El Cobre was the site of some skirmishes, damaging the Virgin’s shrine. Cuban political discord and civil war often transpired in the streets: the Batista regime alternately compelled, and then cancelled, carnival; urban guerillas fomented insurrection there; in reprisal, Batista’s police killed opponents and dumped their bodies in city streets and rural roadways; Archbishop Enrique Pérez Serantes decried the violence in Santiago’s now sinister, near-empty streets; the funeral procession of a fallen rebel attracted 60,000 outraged mourners into Santiago’s previously abandoned streets. Rebels seized control of Oriente’s Central Highway, proclaimed El Cobre “free territory,” and thanked the Virgin for their success. When President Batista fled the country, the rebels declared victory, and relieved Cubans spontaneously celebrated in the streets.