It happened in March 1957, after three in the afternoon. The Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was drinking coffee in his office when several screams and gunfire shots shook the then Presidential Palace.
50 young men under the command of Carlos Gutiérrez Menoyo entered the headquarters of the government in two cars and a truck belonging to the company “Fast Delivery”, with the intention to kill the person who, since the 1952 coup d’état, was running the country in a corrupt and repressive manner.
This is confirmed by historical research and the accounts of the survivors of the armed action, that was given the name code Casa de los Tres Kilos (The house of the three kilos).
– Batista, where are you? – yelled the young men who knocked down the first guard posts on Colón street and climbed up to the second floor of the Palace (now the Museum of the Revolution) in different groups.
It was Wednesday 13th and the lack of knowledge about the interior of the building caused confusion and even though, at first, they managed to make the garrison of the government fall back, this formed a barricade on the third floor in order to shoot with machine guns the attackers.
Nevertheless, the young men got to the office where Batista’s coffee was there still, but the adrenaline, the shootings and the excitement made them miss the secret door covered by a red velvet curtain that the dictator used seconds before to run away to the third floor.
There was no objective, the commando troops that were supposed to take over the surrounding buildings did not arrive, the ammunition was scarce.
Therefore, they retreated before the arrival of the reinforcements from the Columbia Military Camp.
Menoyo was shot by a machine gun and bled to death in front of his comrades; Juan Pedro Carbó Serviá lost his glasses and laid motionless, and José Machado (Machadito) destroyed the caliber 30 located on the fourth floor. Both escaped, along with a few others.
Cosme Varas, head of the Palace garrison, managed to protect Batista, while a few kilometeres away, in the Vedado district, another action, parallel to this attack, unfolded.
A group under the command of 24-year-old student José Antonio Echeverría, leader of the Directorio Revolucionario (the Revolutionary Directory), seized the Radio Reloj station to raise awareness of what was happening at the Palace and incite a rally at the University of Havana.
“People of Cuba! Dictator Fulgencio Batista has just been executed. In his own burrow at the Presidential Palace, the people of Cuba went to settle the score”, said the young man before the transmission was interrupted.
The attack of the government building and the takeover of Radio Reloj were designed by the Directorio Revolucionario (the Revolutionary Directory) as part of the armed campaign they wanted to carry out in the city.
Months before, in 1956, Echeverría and the leader of the 26th of July Movement, Fidel Castro, signed the Charter of Mexico to work together and overthrow the tyranny.
At the time of the events of 13 March 1957, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution was already at the forefront of the guerrilla war in Sierra Maestra.
Echeverría managed to get out of the radio station but was shot dead minutes later during a confrontation with a police car near the university entrance.
Batista unleashed a manhunt for the survivors and a month after the attack, the police located, surrounded and killed four participants (including Machadito and Carbó Serviá) in the Humboldt 7 building, located also in Vedado.
Survivors such as Faure Chomón, Otto Hernández and Luis Goicoechea narrated these events to future generations. These events that are part of the history of emancipation and illustrate the tradition of struggles of the university students of the island. (PL)