Celia Sanchez (1920-1980)
As part of the build up to International Women’s Day Celebrations on the 8th of March the YCL will be publishing articles highlighting and remembering the remarkable and exemplary role played by women in the international communist & working class movement. YCLers are encouraged to support and participate in celebrations locally to bring the message of International Women’s Day into our workplaces, colleges and schools, and communities.
Here YCL General Secretary Zoe Hennessy take the time to pay tribute to Celia Sanchez, an often overlooked heroine of the Cuban Revolution.
The Cuban Revolution is often painted as being lead by exclusively male soldiers and strategists. After all it is true that all 82 revolutionaries on the Granma were male, as are the legends; the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. However, there was an all female combat unit engaged in revolutionary warfare, and one of Castro’s most important advisors was a woman, Celia Sanchez.
Sanchez was born in 1920 in Media Luna, Oriente province Cuba. Being the daughter of a doctor, and acting as his assistant and secretary, she witnessed the poverty and inequality in Cuba first hand. She had been an active member of the democratic Orthodox Party, which was swept aside with Batista’s American backed coup in 1952. Despite the strict and violent control of dissent by Batista’s army, she founded the 26th of July Movement in her province and went on to pick the spot for the Granma to land undetected. She organised transport to take the revolutionaries up into the mountains, and fought alongside them in the Sierra Maestra. She spent months gaining the trust of peasants and ensuring that locals would allow revolutionaries to pass through and stay on their land. Sanchez, alongside Frank Pais, assembled the first combat squad on Cuban soil, and worked tirelessly to organise reinforcements in Cuba once the Granma had landed.
After victory she remained an important part of the revolutionary Cuban government, and served in the Department of Services of the Council of State. She remained a close adviser to Castro until her death of lung cancer in 1980. Together they adopted and raised children whose parents had been killed in the revolutionary struggle, it was truly a revolutionary partnership. She was an inspirational example of the important role women must play in the working class movement; her bravery and commitment to the Cuban people should be celebrated by women and men alike.