"To die for the country is to live forever" is the phrase inmortalizing a woman who took up arms to fight the U.S.-backed dictatorship led by Fulgencio Batista.
On Dec. 30, Cubans celebrate the birthday of Haydee Santamaria, a woman whose life was marked by episodes of intense revolutionary struggle. Among them is her participation in the assault on the Moncada Barracks, a milestone in the revolutionary war.
Santamaria was born in 1922 in Las Villas province, where she got involved with social causes from her early youth. Besides being editor of the underground newspapers "They Are The Same" and "The Accuser", she and her brother Abel joined the armed resistance to the U.S.-backed dictatorship that took power in 1952.
A year later, Santamaria formed part of the guerrilla operation that took Santiago City's Moncada Barracks by storm on July 28. Although this revolutionary action failed and its participants were captured, Latin America and the world knew about the July 26 Movement (M26) and its decision to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
During the brutal torture to which Haydee was subjected, the military was unable to obtain information about the members of the revolutionary movement and their actions. "To die for the country is to live for ever," became her phrase recalling what happened in that episode.
To force her to speak, the torturers showed Santamaria her brother's eyes and her boyfriend's genitalia. This grotesque act of intimidation, however, did not break her revolutionary strength. “Abel will always be with us. Mama, Cuba exists and Fidel is alive to build the Cuba that Abel wanted,” she wrote from prison.
“The heroism and dignity of the Cuban woman was never in such a high place,” Fidel Castro said in tribute to Haydee during the trial to which he and his comrades were subjected due to the Moncada barracks assault.
She overcame the grief over the loss of her loved ones. Years later, Haydee was in charge of obtaining weapons and resources for the guerrilla struggle in Sierra Maestra, where she was present fighting alongside other heroines such as Celia Sanchez and Vilma Espin.
After the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Santamaria directed the Casa de las Americas, the cultural institution created by Cuba to make visible the work of Latin American intellectuals. Haydee Santamaria kept her revolutionary commitment intact until her death in 1980.