The Struggle Against the Dictator,
We have proven that in Cuba it is not only men who fight. Women also fight.
Fidel Castro ( January 1, 1959)
I believe it takes a great effort to be violent, to go to war. But one has to be violent and to go to war when there is good reason. And what you cannot lose in the face of it all is sensibility. You must keep the same human qualities you had before you started killing. It is painful to kill, but if it is necessary, you must do it.
Haydée & Santamaría ( 1967)1
The most familiar images of the anti-Batista insurrection arc of men: male university students demonstrating in the streets, young guerrilleros in tattered fatigues in the Sierra, the bearded heroes Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos riding triumphantly on tanks into Havana.
This image does not acknowledge the powerful role women played in the rebellion. Without them, Castro never would have succeeded. Years later anthropologist Natalia Bolivar, herself a former member of the underground, observed that women's role had never been fully acknowledged. 2 Even in subsequent Communist party publications the role of women continued to be slighted. 3
At one level women played their traditional role as helpers--raising money, giving shelter, teaching, nursing. As couriers they exploited the stereotypical image of women as innocent and incompetent and were thus able to foil the dictator's police. But women also played more central roles, occupying key positions in the urban underground and in the Sierra. Women lawyers represented imprisoned revolutionaries. Women