War Against the Bandits

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The War Against the Bandits was a rebellion against the Communist government of Fidel Castro, mainly by peasants, small farmers and former landowners in the central provinces of Cuba and the Escambray Mountains.


The uprising began almost immediately after Castro's rise to power in 1959. It was led by former Castro supporters and small landowners disenchanted by his close ties to the Soviet Union and what they saw as his betrayal of the revolution's democratic ideals. The rural population (in Cuba these rural dwellers are commonly called Guajiros a culture that differs sociologically from European peasants see Guajiros and Jibaros in Neo-Taíno nations) violently resisted the government's nationalization of their land in Soviet-style collectivization. The guerrilla war lasted longer and involved far more rebels than had the original struggle against the Batista forces [1] The public Cuban government view is presented in [2]. The Escambray rebellion was finally crushed by the Cuban government's overwhelming Soviet-backed forces in 1965. Even pro-Castro sources admit:“Cuban casualties in the Escambray alone were nearly three times as great as at the Bay of Pigs” [3]

One notes that by equating these small farm holding Guajiros, to Kulaks, almost 30 years before radical Cuban marxist Antonio Guiteras Holmes (considered a prior model for Castro by the present Cuban government) had stated that he wished to avoid the conflict engendered by the formation of this Kulak/Guajiro class:

  • "Guiteras anunció que el reparto de 10 mil caballerías de tierra que pensaba realizar no se haría en calidad de propiedad, sino como usufructo, “para evitar la formación de la pequeña burguesía rural, los Kulaks, tan combatidos por la táctica soviética, que ensayarían granjas cooperativas,[2]

The insurgent Guajiro-rural farmers, aided by some former Batista forces, but also included followers of anti-communist William Alexander Morgan, a rebel Comandante in the war against Batista. [4]. Morgan himself was executed in 1961 long before resistance ended [5]. The CIA also provided very limited and often ineffective (e.g. wrong caliber ammunition) aid to the insurgents, and finally withdrew all support, ensuring their ultimate defeat. Some of the failures could be attributed to Castro’s “roll up” of CIA operatives in Cuba (Volkman, 1995). However, after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, US and CIA interest waned significantly. Castro's forces, on the other hand, were strongly supported by massive Soviet assistance.


The outnumbered rebels often fought to the death. Cuban forces used tactics that consisted of sweeps by long columns of ill-trained militia, which caused heavy government losses but ultimately won the war. Castro employed overwhelming force, at times consisting of 250,000 troops [6] (see Puebla). The insurgents sometimes defeated their opponents, but the attrition rate for the much smaller insurgent forces (at most 4,000 in total, Puebla) decided the war.

Defeat of the Insurgents

The insurgency was finally defeated by Cuba's use of overwhelming force, mass arrests, executions, and internal deportations to “closed” towns (labor camps) in the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio - an effective if brutal tactic used in South African in the Second Boer War, by the Spanish General Valeriano Weyeler during Cuba's War of Independence, and by the USSR in its battles with anti-communist guerillas.

In 1962, food rationing was introduced throughout the entire island. While some argue this was a response to the United States embargo against Cuba, the Cuban government stated this method of distribution control served to ensure each citizen a minimum intake of food, regardless of the person’s social and economical status, in line with standard socialist theory. Much of the rationed food was grown in Cuba in abundance prior to the revolution. In practice rationing provided state control over everyone's food supply allowing Cuba's government to withhold food from its opponents. Without the new government food ration cards, the remaining insurgents starved. Some of them surrendered, only to be immediately executed. Others fought on to the death. A few managed to escape [7]. The losses by Castro's forces are believed to be staggering, but there is little documentation available to determine the actual numbers. The ruthlessness with which the resistance was suppressed is well described in Franqui (1984, pp. 111–115).



Pro-Cuban government sources include:

  • Puebla, Teté (Brigadier General of the Cuban Armed Forces) 2003 Marianas in Combat: the Mariana Grajales Women's Platoon in Cuba's Revolutionary War 1956–58, New York Pathfinder (Paperback) ISBN 0-87348-957-8

Other sources include:

  • Encinosa, Enrique G. l989 El Escopetero Chapter in Escambray: La Guerra Olvidada Un Libro Historico De Los Combatientes Anticastristas En Cuba (1960–1966). Editorial SIBI, Miami
  • Fermoselle, Rafael 1992 Cuban leadership after Castro: Biographies of Cuba's top commanders North-South Center, University of Miami, Research Institute for Cuban Studies; 2nd ed (paperback) ISBN 0-935501-35-5
  • Franqui, Carlos 1984 (foreword by G. Cabrera Infante and translated by Alfred MacAdam from Spanish 1981 version) Family portrait with Fidel. 985 edition Random House First Vintage Books, New York. ISBN 0394726200
  • Priestland, Jane (editor) 2003 British Archives on Cuba: Cuba under Castro 1959–1962. Archival Publications International Limited, 2003, London ISBN 1-903008-20-4
  • Ros, Enrique 2006 El clandestinaje y la lucha armada contra castro/ The clandestinity and the arm(ed) fight against Castro (Cuba y sus Jueces) Ediciones Universal, Miami ISBN 1593880790
  • Volkman, Ernest 1995 Our man in Havana. Cuban double agents 1961–1987 in: Espionage: The Greatest Spy Operations of the Twentieth Century Wiley, New York ISBN 0-471-16157-8