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Cubans are well known to enjoy a good party and this July sees special festivities across the island. On 26 July Cubans will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the ill-fated military uprising, led by the young lawyer Fidel Castro which, despite ending in disaster, marked the beginning of the end of the Batista dictatorship. A group of Cuban musicians, artists and photographers living in Britain are bringing the party to London on Saturday 20 July.

Cuban cultural party, 20 July

In March 1952, Fulgencio Batista carried out a coup, one month before elections were due to be held, to seize control of Cuba for the second time. Fidel Castro, who was among the frustrated electoral candidates, saw the democratic path to change closed and set up a clandestine network of activists to carry out a military uprising. On 26 July 1953, 135 rebels attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba while another 40 hit at the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Barracks in Bayamo. Their plan was to take control of the military installations and distribute armaments to the Cuban people to spark a revolution.

The attack was foiled and most of the rebels were killed, captured and tortured to death. Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul were among those who survived and were sent to prison on an island off the mainland of Cuba. Nonetheless, the attack inspired a population tyrannized by the dictatorship to rise up. Support for the prisoners forced Batista to release them in two years later. In December 1956, Fidel returned to Cuba from exile in Mexico with his nascent Rebel Army on the Granma boat. They set up camp in the Sierra Maestra mountains, supplied with soldiers and arms by the urban underground movement, and just two years later they were on the march to Havana. Batista fled the island and the Revolution was victorious on 1 January 1959.

The 26 July became the ‘day of national rebellion’ and was declared a holiday. The first public event to commemorate Moncada Day was on 26 July 1959 when hundreds of thousands of peasants travelled to Havana gathering in Revolution Square to declare their support for the revolutionary government’s first agrarian reform. Since then, it has become a tradition in Cuba celebrate the day with cultural and political activities. In many neighbourhoods in Cuba, a big stew is cooked up on the streets and shared by local residents.

The event in London this Saturday is organised by several different British-based Cuban groups, including the Cuban embassy, and the solidarity group Rock around the Blockade, which since 1995 has campaigned in support of Cuba and against the US blockade. Daniel, a Cuban living in London, said ‘the event will give Cubans in Britain the chance to feel at home, despite being far away from our families and neighbours, and to show Londoners how we celebrate back home.’

In addition to top Cuban musicians, artists and photographers will be the famous Cuban mojitos (free for the first 40 people!), plus snacks, kids games, face-painting, salsa classes, and a raffle. Entry is free for everyone. An updated list of performers can be found at:

The event takes place on Saturday 20 July, 1-5pm at Bolivar Hall, 54 Grafton Way, N1T 5DL, near Warren Street tube station.

Helen Yaffe.