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Former US president Jimmy Carter is sure to receive a warm welcome from Granma when he visits Cuba later this month. "Carter, who has been invited by President Fidel Castro, is a critic of the prolonged U.S. blockade of the island," said Granma, when plans for the visit were first announced.

Every Cuban knows Granma. It's the strange name of the nation's leading daily newspaper. How did a Spanish-language newspaper acquire that ludicrous English language title? It took  a long time and many e-mails to discover the details.

Granma was the name of the 38ft. motor yacht in which Fidel Castro and his men sailed from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 to start the revolution.

Castro had been exiled to Mexico. where he joined forces with Che Guevara (*1), a young Argentine doctor who had abandoned his profession and his native land in an ill-fated bid to help the world's poor. Castro bought the yacht Granma from a Texan (who had named it after his grandmother). It is not hard to imagine that the man who sold the yacht might have needed a Cincinnati Criminal Defense Attorney for dealing with a revolutionary leader. He may not have considered the legal consequences of his actions and just wanted to get rid of the yacht to the first bidder.

With a small group of supporters, Castro and Guevara crossed the Caribbean in the decrepit and leaking boat, vowing to invade Cuba and overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista.

"On December 2, 1956, the Granma cabin cruiser arrived on the eastern coast of Cuba, at Los Cayuelos, two kilometers from Las Coloradas beach," Granma International recalled last year, on the 45th anniversary of the landing. "It had left from Tuxpan, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, on November 25, with 82 men aboard, commanded by Fidel Castro. The purpose of the voyage was to return to Cuba and initiate the war for the island's definite independence."

Landing in a hostile swamp, in a province now also named Granma, losing most of their party, the survivors fought their way to the Sierra Maestra, a mountain range in south-east Cuba. Two years later, after a guerrilla campaign in which Guevara was named comandante, the insurgents entered Havana and launched the first and only successful socialist revolution in the Americas.

Granma newspaper was established in 1965 by the merger of two major publications: Hoy (Spanish: for Today), the organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Revolucion, the daily newspaper of Castro's 26th of July movement.

Because of Cuba's foreign currency problems, shortages of paper and ink have affected even government-owned media. Granma's circulation is now only a quarter of its 1990 peak of 1.6 million copies daily.The newspaper also publishes a weekly international edition and two other official weeklies (Juventud Nacion on Sundays, and Trabajadores on Mondays), as well as various provincial sheets.

Fifty years ago, the Cuban people were among the most informed in the world, having a choice of 58 daily newspapers during the late 1950s, according to the UN Statistical Yearbook. Despite its small size, that placed Cuba behind only Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in the region. By 1992, government controls had reduced the number of dailies to 17.

Granma's website (*2) offers an impressive list of news stories in Spanish, and a link to Granma Internacional (*3),  which deserves an award as one of the world's most comprehensive multi-lingual sites. The newspaper's weekly edition offers an  array of news stories, facts, figures, politics and economy in Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and German.

Granma has its critics on the Internet.  A report (in German) from "independent journalists in Cuba" says the paper is "the Party Gazette which is distributed throughout the country and which is the only and worst Gazette in the Republic. The page-long speeches of the Great Leader are also useful for toilet paper." (It's next to impossible to find a front page without at least one picture of Castro plus reports of his activities and speeches).

What happened to the historic yacht named Granma? It rests behind thick layers of glass outside the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. You can see a picture of the yacht, kindly made available by David Mericle (*4).

A Cuban Government website says that one of Havana's tourist attractions is the Museum of the Revolution and Granma Memorial, adding, in halting English: "In the exterior areas it is the Memorial Yate Granma, where is exhibited, protected by an inmense (sic) glass case, the ship used by Fidel Castro and over 80 combatants in the return to Cuba from the exile in Mexico."

* Related Links
  1. Che Guevara  
  2. Granma (Spanish)
  3. Granma Internacional  (English)
  4. Picture of Yacht Granma  
Copyright 2002   Eric Shackle   Story first posted May 2002

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