José Antonio Echeverría Bianchi.
He was born in Cárdenas, province of Matanzas, on July 16th, 1932. There, he made his first studies. When he graduated bachelor in Sciences, he travelled to Havana and enrolled in the Architecture carrier in the year 1950- 1951.
When he was born, Cuba was going through a crisis and the radicalization of the bourgeoisie. In the 1933 uprising, as a way to withdraw with dictator Machado, there was a merger of particular elements of the ideal training of the country: a democratic nationalism, its connection with the local traditions of socialism, the merger between the middle classes and popular sectors which result in the University Reform, and the pressure exerted by youth in the political activities. All this turned into a remarkable political antecedent in our history whose results will be borne in the middle of the 50s. It was also considered the highest level that student demonstrations could reach in Latin- America.
It is important to make clear that Echeverría was not a Marxist- Leninist activist. He was a revolutionary fighter and a student and political leader of our Cuban people. A man characterized by the moment he was living. His thought contributed to the political philosophy of the revolutionary student movement at that time.
In his fighting strategy, he considered the unity as the asset to his actions. He searched for the unity of the student movement, the revolutionary forces, the unity between the latter and the masses, and the unity with the progressive forces of Latin- America and some other parts of the world. As long as the struggle developed, all the factors mentioned before, were brought them to fruition.
The worsening of the political contradictions since March, 10th 1952, and above all, the new revolutionary stage of July, 26th 1953, let the university rebelliousness to look for their organization, continuance, and objectives in order to develop a revolution. José Antonio would be the person who embodied with higher force the student struggle by turning the Havana University into a center of popular resistance.
Echeverría learned how to place the glorious flag of the Cuban students on Fidel’s hands as leader of the University Student Federation, FEU (by its Spanish acronym). This was carried out in a full- confidence agreement sealed with the Letter of Mexico. It was undersigned in 1956, in the Aztec country when both leaders agreed to develop their plans of armed struggle individually but with the required coordination to overthrow the tyranny.
The events of March 13th, 1957 were led by a student group. They had planned to storm the Presidential Palace and the National Radio Station. These events failed. Among the elements that brought about this failure were the lack of knowledge about the fighting scene, the enemy superiority regarding quantity and armaments, and the casualties that there were from the very beginning however we can point out that the main cause was the no working of the support.
According to some testimonies gathered, although many revolutionaries were closed to the Presidential Palace and next to the truck that had the guns, they did not enter since there was not any signal.
That day, the 24 year- old José Antonio Echeverría after having delivered a few words in the Radio Station, he fell down in the middle of the shooting. He died due to the shots of Batista’s policy. The student leader died in a bravery gesture. It had an impact on the popular conscience that is why this fact it is known in our history as one of the most momentous ones.
Since he was a farsighted man, in his political will he wrote: ¨If we fall down, our blood will show the freedom path. Being successful our actions or not, it will cause a shock which will allow us to step forward on the triumph path¨.
José Antonio Echeverría turned the FEU into a leading organization. Many people who kept working underground or that joined to the different guerrilla fronts up to the triumph of the Revolution got out from this organization.
In 1959, new pages would be written by the Cuban youth in order to back the revolutionary process and to strengthen socialism. In 1961, more than a hundred thousand students joined to the Literacy Campaign. The University students would keep collaborating in every crusade led to improve the country’s conditions at that time.
Some of his partners talk about him.
Julio A García Oliveras.
José A Echeverría as a young man lived life to the full regardless of the time he devoted to the Revolution. He was a 24 year-old man. He was joyful and he liked drinking beer and listening to Benny Moré. He practiced football among other sports. He was a good looking man, middle height, and well built that is why girls considered him very attractive. Taking into consideration that I was his partner for a long time, I think we can not idealize him and forget his human and natural side of his youth.
José A Echeverría trascended at that time as a great revolutionary. I strongly believe it is the right time to make clear his political thought. We can not see him as if he were a robot fighting against the police.
In the political circle, José Antonio like Fidel and some other of his partners fought tireless from the coup d’état of March 10th, 1952. They intended to restore lawfulness and rescue the 1940 Constitution.
During the 50´s, he introduced the Cuban Revolution term in his speeches (…) He also made reference to the economic planning and to the role that architects played in Cuba based on the social needs of the country.
He spoke about the imperialism and delivered a speech against the dictatorships of America. The other side of his thought was attached to the way he performed as a leader. He was unitary, insurrectionary, and consistent.
Rolando Bezos Secades:
¨ I was not only his advisor but also his friend, his roommate in the boarding house located at 411, 25 street, between J and K, Vedado. We used to say that he was exceptionally good. He never ordered something to us that he would even be able to accomplish¨.
¨He achieved to establish close relations between the workers and the FEU due to his personal characteristics. For instance, they sent the students to all the provinces to contact with the working class leaders in order to carry out the sugar strike in 1955. I also remember a letter sent to Osmel Francis de los Reyes from Guantanamo; one of the paragraphs reads as follows:
You who have worked to the full and are close to the Naval Base problem (Cuba’s territory occupied by the United States against our country’s will) know the matter better than anybody else. Any suggestions that you make or any attitudes that you adopt it will be supported by us and buddy let the secretary of the Workers Union of the Base and other partners know about it.
José Antonio was not only a university student but also a revolutionary with great influence on the nation. To tell the truth, the University was not only a natural reserve of culture but also a site where a political and a nationalist approach were fostered. In 1955, he was at the top of his leadership. Then, he decided to fulfill the commitments taken with the chief of the Revolution who had gotten out of prison and would leave to the Aztec land to prepare the definite victory.
¨José Antonio had a special gift to talk and to be able of being understood by everybody. He helped organize University students at that time. He contributed to prepare the Congress which was celebrated in the FEU office in the University. He always made a call to join us in the fight against the tyranny. We even participated in the sugar strike. I remember being accompanied by him to the parades¨.
Everybody talks about ¨the fat¨ as if he were going to go down the staircases headed for San Lázaro…they remember a phrase he used to say: ¨ I can not stand up since I have flat feet¨.
Meaningful events per year.
The University. (1952)
The next year after he got in the Architecture school, the coup d’état headed by Fulgencio Batista was carried out. Students were the only fairly organized social forces who put up resistance against the dictator. This fact became the University of Havana in the principal scene of fight. Carlos Príos, the President of the Republic at that time, received a commission of the FEU in the Presidential Palace and asked for weapons in order to organize the resistance. The head of the state promised to send them however these ones never got to the appointed place. Meanwhile, a group of students including José Antonio Echeverría were stood to the both sides of the staircases. They installed a loudspeaker system through which they started announcing the coup d’état. They encouraged people to come out on a general strike. A police siege was raised after six days; they failed to accomplish the youth surrender. Batista intended to calm down the spirits by issuing a release wherein he stated his respect for the University autonomy. He also offered bribes like to set up a professor and student’s government which could undertake some improvements and to hand in ten million pesos in order to build a university campus. Yet, the proposal was rejected.
Four days after the strike, the FEU issued a communiqué which was to the rise of the revolutionary traditions of the University. By means of it, they made a call to the people to fight against the dictatorship. This political pronouncement, along with Fidel’s manifesto: ¨ No Revolution but snatch¨ was considered as the clearer appeal to oppose the rising tyranny.
In this communiqué, students from the University of Havana stated: ¨we are again the leaders of the national conscience¨. ¨The dramatic circumstances, which our homeland is passing through, compel us to carry out risky duties. We have not measured the magnitude of the consequences. We are willing to fulfill the duties with serenity, responsibility, and strength. The University keeps being a stronghold of the Cuban dignity¨.
We fought against the coup d’état of March 10th since it destroyed what was considered as an asset to the Republic in the development stage: the 1940 Constitution.
During the first days of the students strike, it was agreed to run a campaign to back the Constitution of 1940 which was one of the most progressive ones of Latin America at that time. The main idea of it was to open books for citizens to sign supporting the legislative body which had been violated and by means of it, mobilizing the people against Batista. Hundreds of university students from Havana went to all parts of the country in order to achieve that objective and they were backed by the students of every locality.
José Antonio Echeverría was a student of second year of architecture, the vice-president of his school, a substitute member of the FEU, and an outstanding leader of a renewal student group that came up in his faculty. He intended to join the student movement to give them posts. He strongly believed that it was important to focus the work in the University in order to win the management of the FEU. Later, he would spread the movement to other students sectors. He was convinced that for the students of the rest of the country, the University of Havana represented the revolutionary traditions of the 30´s and the struggle against Machado. He was also clear that only with weapons Machado would be defeated. Therefore, he decided to set up small armed groups.
In the late 1952, he started setting up groups of 20 or 30 students for the uprising. He entrusted the organization of them to his closer partners. He was trying to form a detachment of around a hundred or a hundred and fifty men.
On November 26th, a day before of the remembrance day of the martyrs assassinated by the Spain colonialism in 1871, one of the groups decided to throw themselves to the stadium of Cerro during a baseball game and in front of twenty thousand spectators. They showed a banner ordering the people to go to the act that was going to be carried out in the University. Immediately, henchmen started to stop students violently. José Antonio was among these students. Anyway, they could achieve their objective: to call the attention and to show rebelliousness.
It started unrest. On January10th, day of Julio Antonio Mella´s anniversary (a student leader and a founder of the Cuban Communist Party, PCC (by its Spanish abbreviation), assassinated in Mexico by orders of Machado), the students celebrated a brief act and erected a small pedestrian in front of the University staircases with his bust on it.
Four days after, it was smeared. Immediately, the university students answered to that terrible desecration by means of demonstrations. The next morning, the area close to the University became battle field between students and the police.
Students from different schools began heading for the Cadenas square (in the University). They were crowded together in the staircases and in the streets next to it. Thousands of students set up an agitated mass that yelled abuse at Batista. They defended from the army aggression with stones and everything that were at the reach of their hands. This event was a landmark in our history.
A powerful demonstration was established by the students. The students march went out from San Lázaro Street to the executed Medicine students Mausoleum. The police tried to halt them. Yells like ¨ down with Batista¨ and ¨down with the dictatorship¨ rang. When there were some kilometers left to get to Prado Street and to achieve the final goal, a big barrier of repressive forces blocked the way. Several rows of police and soldiers with long weapons, pursuer cars, and flusher bombs stood in the students’ way.
The advance of the demonstration, consisted of revolutionary students like Echeverría, Chomón, Carbó and Marcelo Fernández, charged at the police wall who firstly went back giving hits with their weapons. The students did not stop fighting to get to the final objective. During the clash, Rubén Batista Rubio was shot dead. He was the first student martyr against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
The students along with an anonymous group composed by 1200 men were at the forefront of the remembrance acts of January 28th (birth of José Martí, our National Hero). The anonymous group worked for an unknown organization up to that moment which would be noticed by its discipline and the fighting spirit. Finally, it was known that they were working with Fidel.
In Havana, the University organizes a torches demonstration as part of a tribute paid to the apostle. Students from Pinar del Río also participated in it. During the first hours of the night, hundreds of students and people from the town got to the University zone to be part of a big mass to march at 11:30 with a huge flag while in front of the Capitol, the official act sponsored by Batista was being held.
During the march, some other groups would join like a column with 500 young people roughly. They were behind Fidel yelling: Revolution.
On July 26th, 1953, it was carried out the attack to the Moncada Barracksin Santiago de Cuba. It was headed by Fidel. It was regarded as a failed but instructive event. The majority of men had been trained in the University. When the leaders of the FEU knew about that event, it was difficult to help them since it was Sunday, a day off the University activities. Besides, the repressive forces besieged the University. They stated that they would fulfill with Batista’s ideals: the withdrawal of the constitutional rights and the criticism by the press. It made impossible to develop any political event against the regime. The repressive forces kept the same attitudes during the whole year.
This date left a deep mark among the Havana students. This event affected mainly José Antonio. His joined bonds of friendship with Renato Guitart who died in that event left him an indelible impression. His revolutionary conviction became stronger and from that moment on, he recognized Fidel as the precursor of the fight against Batista. In the next months, this led him to develop a campaign for the freedom of the Moncada combatantsand to pay tribute to the dead heroes.
From that moment on, José Antonio put forward a radical change of the leadership of the University movement since there were clear contradictions. He was firstly President of the Students Association of Architecture and then, he hoped for thepresidency of the FEU.
In his program, he stated the main steps of the fight in the University. Regarding his faculty, he proposed to fight in favor of the construction of new buildings since this one was located in the Engineering faculty. He demanded for a change in the syllabus to adjust the new trends of the specialties and he included just one national aspect: the student opposition to Batista’s regime. It is important to highlight that José Antonio, influenced by Mella´s thought, was convinced that a change in the political system was needed to establish reforms in the academic system.
The tension in the University reached a high level. Politicians and traitors of the student movement threatened to close the University. The elections were promoted to appoint the executive of the FEU. The elections were held on February 22nd, 1954. At the beginning, there was a tie between José Antonio and Greig. Finally, everybody decided to support the President of Teaching as president of the FEU and the 21 year-old José Antonio was elected Secretary General.
On March 5th, the FEU published a manifesto where they made clear the student management attitudes. In the manifesto, it was made an analysis of the crisis of the countryand it was ratified the students opposition to the coup d’état of March 10th. Later, he organized a demonstration against the regime which marked the combatant style of the future actions.
In the middle of the celebration of a carnival, on March 28th, Echeverria and a group of men decided to make a demonstration against the regime by passing in front of the presidential platform. They used a dump truck adorned with leaves and they disguised. The driver did not know about the main objectives they pursued. The driver, who was excited with the beverage, got off the truck in every stop he made to dance in the street. Thus, they got to the platform where Marta Fernandez, Batista’s wife, was stood. Without hesitating, the students showed a banner with phrases against the dictatorship and they yelled revolutionary slogans. The impact was devastating. After a few seconds of surprise, they were detained and carried to Prince Castle. The trial was put off many times what led to a hunger strike. For this reason, a protest was organized in the University to support the detainees. They were set free at the end of April.
Echeverría followed some lines of action in this stage as a student leader.
_ To keep the University open as the foundation of the fight taking into account the growing development of the student actions.
_ To promote the call of the 3rd Congress of Secondary Students.
_ To organize an act in the University staircases to protest against the invasion of Castillo de Armas from Honduras to the Arbenz´ regime in Guatemala and to make a call to the Cubans to join the Guatemalans to fight against the invasion. Later, it was declared a student strike. The police got into the medicine school searching for weapons and thus, violating the University autonomy.
In September, the enrollment for the new academic year 1945-1955 was opened. On September 30th, in a remembrance act to Rafael Trejo, the first martyr who was assassinated by the tyranny, it was announced publicly that José Antonio would be the President of the FEU. The before president had resigned in order to finish his studies.
On October 9th, the FEU published a declaration in which showed to be against the farce of the elections. The elections seemed to encourage some sectors. Echeverría resorted to the political conscience of the people in order to carry out a popular demonstration against the elections.
The FEU´s call to reject the elections had an impact on the mass. It contributed to make fail Batista’s maneuvers to legalize his regime. The main cause of that, was the withdrawal of Ramón Grau San Martín; Batista´s only opponent.
From the jail, Fidel’s thought was remembered. In October, it started to be circulated in the Isle: ¨The history will release me.¨ Tens of thousands of copies were handed out in the country.
On December 18th, the newspapers published the student protest against the dictatorship project about splitting the isle in two in order to make easier the passage of the American ships to Panama. It was announced a national forum to ¨defend the homeland prestige¨. It would be held on January 17th and 18th. The canal was a threat for the sovereignty of the country regarding the American economic interests.
This debate was held in the University of Havana what became a protest against the Batista’s regime. This event took place under the slogan: In defense of the sovereignty and the National integrity.¨
The student mass threw against the repressive forces on February 13th. They claimed for the freedom of the political detainees making special emphasis on Fidel and the combatants of the Moncada barracks. The students faced body to body against the police. José Antonio, who was heading a demonstration in San Lazaro Street, was seriously injured on the head. There were a lot of casualties among the injured and the detainees. The FEU protested for the serious injuries that José Antonio received. This event had a great effect on the students. All the newspapers published the information about the events.
When Batista presided over the government on February 24th due to the farce elections of November 1954, Echeverria made clear his revolutionary position: ¨The students and the youth are alone in this way. The abandonment and the inertia of the leading classes of the country have put a weight on our shoulders however, we are not overwhelmed. We believe that the union between the students and the youth with the working class, farmers, and professionals will strengthen our revolutionary ideals. They are the essence of our nationality.¨
In another statement he made, he said: ¨ only the energy of the national action, which tends to become real the postulates of the Cuban Revolution, will be able to put aside this sad stage of our Republican history…..¨
At the beginning of March, the elections were held in the Architecture School where José Antonio took the chair again. In the other University schools, the students, who followed with discipline and enthusiasm the insurrectional line drawn by José Antonio, were mobilized to guarantee the triumph of the candidates. On April 19th, José Antonio was elected again President of the FEU.
Among the most important speeches of Echeverria on the occasion of his re-election, apart from his rejection of the regime, were his efforts to ¨increase the university cultural heritage in the people through the creation of the popular University Rafael Trejo and to carry out a big literacy campaign for all the country.¨
At that time, José Antonio was a loved and respectful leader by the students, not only in the university but also in the rest of the country. Students and leaders from High schools and other institutes went to the University to meet with José Antonio. The fight against Batista became stronger. Students from other institutes undertook the call of the University of Havana.
On May 8th, it was organized a student demonstration in remembrance of Antonio Guiteras death, in the province of Matanzas. A great amount of students, heading by José Antonio and Fructuoso Rodríguez, moved to the place the act was going to be held. In that meeting, José Antonio delivered a passionate speech without the interference of the police. However, at night the repressive forces intended to avoid another act that was going to take place in the institute of the Higher education.
After a strong discussion with the police chief, José Antonio punched him. This caused the reaction of the bodyguard. Echeverria was injured on the head and all his body was bruised. He was detained in those conditions.
The police aggression and the prison, to which Antonio was subdued, provoked a strong answer in the University. The police besieged the University while other demonstrations were being held in Havana, Matanzas, and other parts of the country. After that, the detainees were set free. The University gave a great reception to José Antonio.
On May 15th, the combatants detained in the Pines Isle were set free. Fidel in a conference press offered in the hotel of that municipality said: The only who has opposed to the pacific solutions is the regime. The only way out that I can see for the Cuban Revolution is to call immediately general elections. About the constituent assembly, I think it is another maneuver of the regime to elect Batista by means of an invented opposition. This would be another embarrassing November 1st. It can not be forgotten that Cubans love peace but even more the freedom.¨
Although Fidel already had a planning fighting strategy, he believed that the most important thing at that moment was to prove the people that there was not any political or peaceful solution for the Cuba’s situation. The public opinion had to realize that if the country was forced to choose the non-peaceful way, it was not the revolutionaries´ fault but the regime’s.
In the Havana train station, the FEU´s leaders along with Jose Antonio, Fructuoso, and Anillo were waiting for the combatants who had been set free. The people gave a warm welcome to them. The student leaders exchanged ideas about the Cuba’s situation.
After several events headed by the students, on July 9th the repressive forces charged at the University violating its autonomy. Echeverria was detained.
On that days, the students leader announced the acts that would be held in commemoration of July 26th anniversary. He attached much importance to them. On that date, the police besieged the University with large contingent. Haydee Santamaria, who participated in the storming of the Moncada, spoke in the Martyrs´ hall. Echeverria also gave a speech after her. When the act was over, the students got out from the hall and they faced the police. Echeverria was arrested once more as well as Anillo, Nuiry, and Machadito.
The amnesty granted by Batista, increased the political parties efforts in order to achieve a commitment. In July, it was founded the Republics Friends Society (SAR), by its Spanish acronym. It was passed by all the politicians at the head of the state. It rushed to declare to the press that there was any possibility of restoring the democratic order. This organization looked for a solution through the elections. They hoped to enlarge all the states posts by voting for in just one day.
Batista by doing a smart trick accomplished that Carlos Príos were back. It brought about the failure of the Montreal Agreement. Its followers and a part of the orthodox leaders had engaged to overthrow the regime though they had not done anything for years. On the other hand, the dictator authorized the making of political speeches to the leaders of the opposition.
While this was happening, a lot of revolutionary combatants gathered with Fidel in order to set up the July 26th Movement. They had to leave to the exile since it was being threatened by the dictatorship. They were in exile preparing and training the guerrilla army that later traveled to Cuba in the ¨Granma¨ yacht. Once here, they started fighting in the Maestra Mountain. On October 30th, Fidel denounced the Batista’s maneuvers in a massive ceremony in New York. The FEU decided to participate in a demonstration searching for the same objectives. Echeverria as President of it, demanded for being given the floor. In his speech broadcasted by radio, he stated:
¨…. The University Student Federation, who has been at the head of the people’s fight for the rescue of the democratic institutions what has been proved by our martyrs, detainees, and our several exiles, was also the first one that suggested the citizens the bases for a National solution. When on March 1st we claimed for a solution, the regime answered with the charade of November 1st. Today, before a new petition for general elections, the regime asks for ridiculous partial elections.
¨… Before this people who hates the mean elections called by the dictator, I demand not to accept the participation in the elections of the presidents of the political parties. This fact would mean the surrender of this people who is met here, today…. We keep saying that only a deep change in our political, economic, and social reality can be the solution for the ills afflicting our homeland. Our pressing problem is to overthrow the usurper Fulgencio Batista and to set up a democratic government. After that, we will have to develop a revolutionary work that would be able of solving the problems of unemployment, farmers without earth, exploited workers, and the youth obliged to live by begging. Cuba is urged by a true Revolution that removes the hard layer of the colonialism.¨
Echeverria said some words of our apostle: ¨ Peoples´ rights are not begged, they are snatched. They are not achieved with tears but with blood.¨
He was supported by yells of Revolution! His speech was a decisive hit for the politicians.