Marianas in combat

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

Tete Puebla and the Mariana Grajales Women’s Platoon in Cuba’s Revolutionary War 1956-58, edited by Mary-Alice Waters, Pathfinder 2003, £9

This lengthy interview with Tete Puebla, now a brigadier general in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, highlights the struggle of Cuban women before the revolution and provides a powerful insight into how they won the right to take part in combat and play a major role in Cuba’s revolutionary war.

Tete tells the story of how she and many other women joined with the rebel army as teachers and to help in the hospitals. Women were also responsible for transporting weaponry and other necessities, ‘Sometimes we’d pretend to be pregnant. Nobody would touch the belly of a pregnant woman. But what we were carrying were bullets, messages, dynamite, medicine and money.’

Fidel’s proposal to create a women’s platoon was initially opposed by the majority of his staff who asked why the women should have weapons when there was a shortage of arms amongst the men. Fidel’s reply to this was ‘they are better fighters, more disciplined’, and the platoon was formed. Tete describes what happened when these women first went into battle and won support from comrades who had previously opposed their presence on the battlefield.

After the fall of Batista’s regime, women began to organise themselves and took part in the building of a new society. They founded the Federation of Cuban Women in 1960 and took part in the campaign to eradicate illiteracy.

This book also contains a number of short speeches by Fidel on the issue of equality and women’s rights: ‘All the young women I see here with their dresses draped in the red and black colours of the July 26 movement, I ask you to learn how to handle weapons.’ And ‘A people whose women fight alongside men – that people is invincible’.

This book is a must for anyone who wishes to learn about the sexual equality that was born through the revolution. The formation of the women’s platoon represented a double liberation for women, who had been deeply oppressed before this time. The foundations on which the revolu-
tion was built, equality, the wishes of the people, and putting people before profit are still being built upon in Cuba today.
Heather Keating


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