Celia Sánchez Manduley was born on May 9th 1920 in a town called Media Luna, which now is in the province of Granma (named after the famous boat which was used by the revolutionaries in 1956 to cross from Mexico to Cuba).
Celia was an archivist, Cuban revolutionary, politician, landscaper and the left-hand woman of Fidel, as well as being an inspiration. Celia played a pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution and afterwards in the administration of the revolutionary government. She was one of the founders of the 26th of July Movement with Frank País - another very important member of the revolution. Travellers will see the flag of the 26th of July Movement as they travel around Cuba.
Around the world, Che Guevara is a household name, but Celia is little known outside of Cuba. Discovering the Cuban Revolution through Celia’s life is both interesting and informative.
Celia and Fidel worked together before they met, exchanging covert messages with details of work to be completed. Once they had met it seems that they were inseparable. When I’ve asked Cubans if there was any romantic relationship between Celia and Fidel they say, “we all know they were very close” and smile and shrug their shoulders. As a Cuban friend once told me, nobody knows the truth but them. Celia and Fidel lived together in Habana and also adopted children in the early 1960s.
Celia was responsible for coordinating the South West coastal region of Cuba for the Granma landing and for arranging reinforcements once the revolutionaries had landed. She was truly courageous and served as a messenger, organised the installation of a telephone system across the Sierra Maestra and took part in radio broadcasting. She was one of the first women to assemble and join a combat squad, fighting with rebels deep in the Sierra Maestra and living at “Comandante la Plata" - the HQ of the revolution.
She collected documents that would later form the official archives of the Revolution and afterwards worked on many projects that enriched the lives of Cubans. These included architectural and design projects in Habana, such as the Coppelia ice cream parlour and Lenin Park. Celia was the driving force behind Cuba’s most profitable exported cigar - the famous Cohiba!
To find out more about Celia and the Cuban Revolution, I highly recommend Nancy Stout’s book, “One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution”, which involved ten years of original research to complete. The author was initially barred from the official archives but in an unexpected twist was granted access by Fidel Castro himself.
Read Alice Walker’s foreword from the book here. Alice Walker is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Colour Purple for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. For More details see http://monthlyreview.org/2013/02/01/celia-sanchez-and-the-cuban-revolution