Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A page of history: 2 January 1959

On the morning of Friday, Jan. 2, 1959, Americans who purchased The New York Times learned about a significant news event. "Batista and regime flee Cuba," said a headline atop Page One. "Castro moving to take power; Mobs riot and loot in Havana."

Subheads said: "Army halts fire," and "Rebels seize Santiago and Santa Clara, march on capital."

Here is that important story, the way it was received in the United States on that day.


The New York Times

Havana, Friday, Jan. 2 -- Fulgencio Batista resigned as President of rebellion-torn Cuba yesterday and fled to exile in the Dominican Republic. The rebel forces of Fidel Castro moved swiftly to seize power throughout the island.

Dr. Manuel Urrutia, Senor Castro's own choice, appeared likely early this morning to become the provisional President. Col. Ramon Barquin, who had been imprisoned for conspiring against the Batista Government, was brought here by military plane from the Isle Pines penitentiary and named chief of the joint staffs.

Colonel Barquin immediately sent out a call to Senor Castro to come to the capital with Dr. Urrutia and set up a new Government. The rebel leader and his forces had entered Santiago de Cuba late yesterday and had taken over the Moncado army post without firing a shot. About 5,000 soldiers there surrendered.

Key Cities Captured

Truckloads of soldiers moved into Havana last night to maintain order in conjunction with militia of Senor Castro's 26th of July Movement, who were also patrolling the streets armed with machine guns and rifles.

The rebel forces forged ahead throughout the island. While some insurgents spread out from Santa Clara, capital of Las Villas Province, which they had seized Wednesday, other groups announced the capture of Camaguey.

General Batista led an exodus from Cuba that has reached a total of perhaps 400 persons fleeing by ship and plane to the United States and the Dominican Republic. They included key political and military leaders and their families.

Piedra Is Rejected

Calling his military chiefs together early yesterday at Camp Columbia, army headquarters, General Batista, strong man of Cuban politics for most of the period since 1933, declared he was resigning "to prevent further bloodshed."

He left behind a junta headed by Gen. Eulogio Cantillo, recently the commander in Oriente province, the center of the Castro revolt. The junta immediately designated Dr. Carlos Piedra, the oldest judge of the Supreme Court, as provisional President in accordance with the Constitution of 1940.

General Cantillo took over as chief of staff of the army. Dr. Gustavo Pelayo was designated Premier.

But Senor Castro declared that his insurgents would remain on a "war footing" and refused to accept the designation of Justice Piedra as provisional President. The Supreme Court refused to administer the oath of office to the Justice.

The rebel leader called a general strike for today in protest against the Piedra regime. He demanded that Dr. Urrutia, former judge of the Urgency Court of Santiago de Cuba, be installed as the provisional President, as he had proposed a year ago.

The Cane Planters Association of Cuba, speaking for the island's pivotal sugar industry, last night issued a statement supporting Senor Castro and his movement.

General Cantillo, as army chief, issued a cease-fire order to troops throughout the island. Political prisoners were being freed in Havana and the interior. Yesterday afternoon several hundred in Principe Fortress in Havana were released.

Restaurants Barricaded

Since it was New Year's Day, commerce and industry were halted. Restaurants, cafes and grocery stores closed their doors as rioting began. Mobs broke windows and looted some stores. The police fired on the mobs and a number of persons have been killed and wounded.

A mob set fire to the plant of El Tiempo, a newspaper owned by Senator Rolando Masferrer. Senator Masferrer, an intimate friend of General Batista, had a private army of some 2,000 operating in Oriente Province. They were accused by the inhabitants of many killings and tortures. The office of Dr. Rafael Guas Inclan, elected Mayor of Havana in November, was burned.

As the news of the fall of the Government spread early yesterday, the public poured into the streets.

The black and red flag of the 26th of July Movement, headed by Senor Castro, appeared on automobiles and buildings. Cars raced through the streets with horns blowing.

Mob Destroys Gambling Casino

Firing broke out near the docks, but details were not immediately available. A mob destroyed the new gambling casino in the Plaza Hotel.

Amleto Battisti, owner of the Sevilla Biltmore Hotel and its casino and a Representative in Congress, took refuge in the Uruguayan Embassy.

Armed young rebels seized the radio stations. Broadcasts called on the people to remain calm and orderly.

Crowds also attacked the Banco de la Construccion in the Central Plaza.

Latin-American embassies were crowded with officials who had taken political asylum. Hundreds of others were hiding in the city.

In the afternoon the National Association of Newspapermen declared a strike until the situation was clarified. But several Havana newspapers had published extra editions.

Cruise Ships Leave Port

United States Ambassador Earl E. T. Smith warned American citizens to take "appropriate precautions." Two big cruise ships with many American tourists aboard, in Havana harbor for the New Year's holiday, left yesterday.

Many tourists were stranded here by the swift fall of the Government. Plane service was curtailed for a time and ships arriving at Havana were unable to dock owing to the strike. The United States Embassy said it was trying to arrange transportation for a large number of tourists and some students who had asked its assistance.

Later, it was announced that it was arranging for a ship to come from Key West today to pick up stranded citizens.

City Almost Deserted

Restaurants and other establishments that closed during the rioting did not open because personnel heeded the strike call. However, most hotels supplied their guests with meals.

The resistance movement told the public that the strike would not include telephones, broadcasting and power services.

At night Havana was almost a deserted city, the inhabitants remaining in their homes. Only a few automobiles moved on the streets. The mobs had disappeared.

In the luxurious Miramar residential section, a few of the homes of high officials were looted, including that of the chief of the national police, Pilar Garcia, who fled in the morning.

No Patrolmen Seen on Street

No policemen on foot were seen patroling the streets of Havana. Some patrol cars drove about. The lack of display of force was in startling contrast with the number of armed forces that patrolled the city and guarded strategic points heretofore.

Later last night, troops and militiamen took over the task of guarding the city.

Eusebio Mujal, secretary general of the Confederation of Cuban Workers, sought asylum in the Argentine Embassy. Senor Mujal and his labor leaders strongly supported the Batista regime.

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