In this letter to the IBMT, Cuban historian Dr Victor Pina Tabío recounts the experiences of those Cubans who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain, placing them within a long and heroic tradition of internationalism. This piece was originally published in the IBMT magazine ¡No Pasarán! 1-2020.
A response to this piece, with recollections of the Cuban veterans from IBMT Trustee Pauline Fraser, will appear in the next issue of ¡No Pasarán! which members will recieve in early September. Ensure you don’t miss the next issue by renewing here.
Poster by the Agrupación de Veteranos Internacionalistas Cubanos en España 1936-1939 – the Cuban veterans’ association – for the 50th anniversary of the creation of the International Brigades.
In your issue of 2019-3 there is a photo supposedly of Alberto Bayo in the Sierra Maestra with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. All the information that I have is that Alberto Bayo Giroud (Camagüey, Cuba, 27 March 1892 – Havana, 4 August 1967), who in Mexico instructed Fidel and his comrades in guerrilla warfare tactics and techniques, came back to Cuba from Mexico only after the triumph of the 1 January 1959 Cuban Revolution.
There is false information on the internet saying that Bayo, a former officer in the Spanish Republican army, was one of the combatants that sailed from Mexico with Castro on board the Granma in 1956. He wanted to do so, but he was already 64 years old and it was decided that he should stay in Mexico.
After he returned to Cuba, Bayo received the military rank of ‘Comandante’ of the Cuban armed forces, the highest rank in Cuba then. In April 1959, after his return, he sent an open message to Spaniards explaining the important example of unity of the different revolutionary forces in Cuba in securing victory and the necessity of real unity of all the different Spanish forces in the fight to obtain victory against Francoism.
In your same report on Cuban volunteers in the Spanish Civil War I am quoted as saying that some of them could also be defined as Spanish as they had Spanish parents or had been born before Cuban independence from Spain in 1898.
One of the reasons for the positive influence in the big response of Cuban volunteers in defence of the Spanish Republic was the historical ties that existed then due to the close relations of Cuba and Spain and the large number of Spaniards who for different reasons were then living in Cuba.
In Cuba, we consider as Cuban all those who were born in our territory. For example, the parents of José Martí Pérez, the most important Cuban national hero, were both Spaniards (father from Valencia and mother from the Canary Isles), and he was born in Havana in 1853 and died in Cuba in combat against Spain in 1895, when Cuba was technically a province of Spain. Martí is always considered a Cuban who dedicated his life fighting for the independence of Cuba.
Most of the Cuban internationalists who fought in defence of the Spanish Republic were born in Cuba after the independence of our country from Spain, and most of them were in their 20s and 30s.
One of the volunteers who went from Cuba, Federico Chao, later explained in a video interview that, as one of the members of the armed group that the Communist Party of Cuba had in those years, he wanted to go to fight in defence of the Spanish Republic. But the head of that organisation and of the committee responsible for sending the volunteers to Spain, Ramón Nicolau, for a long time didn’t authorise him on the grounds that his presence in Cuba was more important. Chao insisted, however, and found a Spaniard, by family name Huerta, in the eastern province of Cuba who had a coffee plantation. The Spaniard sold his property and with the money of the sale paid for the trip to Spain by himself, Chao and 11 other Cubans. Huerta, who was killed in Spain, was always considered to be a Spaniard, while the other 12 were Cubans.
We Cubans are proud of the positive response and number of participants in the defence of the Spanish Republic. One of the Cuban fighters who gave his life in the Spanish Civil War, Pablo de la Torriente Brau, said: ‘Para nosotros hoy el concepto de la patria es universal’ (For us today the concept of a homeland is universal).
The heroic example of internationalism shown by those fighters for the Spanish Republic has been present in the 60 years of the Cuban Revolution:
• In education, helping to eliminate illiteracy in many countries and training citizens from various developing countries in different specialities.
• In medicine, with thousands of Cuban doctors and other medical specialists helping in dozens of countries and training doctors and other medics (including some from poor communities in the US) at the Cuban Latin American School of Medicine and with the only condition being that after graduating they serve the poorer people in their respective countries.
• In helping different countries that suffered hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
• In the military field, with hundreds of thousands of Cuban soldiers participating in the struggle against South Africa and apartheid and in the liberation of African countries such as Namibia and Angola.
Posted on 9 August 2020.