Revolutionary Leader Celia Sánchez Remains in the Hearts of the Cuban People
Alejandra Garcia, Orinoco Tribune, May 17, 2023 —
Every year around this time, Cuba remembers Celia Sánchez Manduley the “native flower” of the Cuban Revolution, as Celia Sánchez Manduley was lovingly known. This May 9, the first woman who joined the Revolutionary Army in the late 1950s with a rifle in her arms would have turned 103 years old.
Those who knew her say that Sánchez’s most outstanding characteristic was her kindness. Her humble clothing and the decision to drive around in a small jeep without an escort made it difficult to envision her as a heroine of the Republic of Cuba and one of the key figures of the Cuban Revolution.
Sánchez was born in Isabel Central, a humble village in the eastern part of the country. At an early age, she would accompany her father, Dr. Manuel Sánchez Silveira, on his medical visits to rural families in the area, to whom he offered medicine without charging them a cent. From that experience she developed a sympathy for the poor and dispossessed forgotten by successive governments during the years of the republic.
The lessons passed on to her by her patriotic, generous, and sincere father forged her personality and the courage that characterized her throughout her life. She was one of the most outstanding leaders of the clandestine struggle in the east of the country against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Her intelligence, organizational, and executive skills gradually made her the link between the Rebel Army up in the highlands and those undercover in the plains.
Sánchez organized the clandestine network of farmers that provided food and supplies to the guerrillas led by Fidel Castro after the landing of the Granma yacht in the southeastern part of the island on December 2, 1956.
Sánchez also guided New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews to Fidel, who was in the Sierra Maestra. On February 24, 1957, the publication of the interview that the journalist made with the guerrilla leader destroyed Batista’s claims that the Commander-in-Chief had died, and brought Fidel’s image to an international stage.
On April 23, 1957, she left for the Sierra Maestra mountains and joined the Rebel Army because she was in grave danger in the city, making her the first woman combatant in the revolutionary army.
“The harsh conditions of life, the endless treks, the rain, and the little food did not diminish her courage,” researchers Eugenio Suarez Perez Perez and Acela Caner Roman recalled in an article published in Granma. “Many believed Celia would not withstand such adverse conditions because of her apparently fragile physical constitution. However, her determination and fortitude made the combatants change their opinion, and she gained a prominent place in the guerrilla struggle.”
On September 4, 1958, she became one of the founders of the Mariana Grajales women’s battalion, which operated in La Plata area, Sierra Maestra, in support of the guerrilla. This fact proved that Cuban women could also serve as guerrilla fighters in the combat units against the military forces of Batista’s tyranny.
After the triumph of the Revolution, on January 1, 1959, she dedicated herself to creating social works and collecting and organizing all the information concerning the guerrilla struggle to preserve the historical memory.
“Celia was a very independent woman and knew how to do everything,” said Eugenia Palomares, Celia’s goddaughter, in an interview with the Tribuna de La Habana newspaper. “I remember that she slept very little, [and] had a lot of work, with meetings as early as 5:00 in the morning. She was always attentive to the problems of the people and a very busy woman with many responsibilities. But she always had a moment to take care of me and three other children, who came from vulnerable families.”
103 years after her birth, and more than 40 years after her death, Celia lives on in the hearts of those who knew her and those, like me, who have heard about her story for their entire lives.
“To say Celia is to say Cuba, Homeland, Revolution, and Fidel. Women like Celia are not only honored by talking about them, but by being like them, as Fidel urged,” the late Dr. Armando Hart once said.