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Cienfuegos, Camilo (1931–1959)

Cienfuegos, Camilo (1931–1959)

Camilo Cienfuegos (b. 1931; d. October 1959), Cuban revolutionary and chief of staff of the rebel army. Born to a poor family in the Layanó district of Havana, Camilo Cienfuegos nevertheless had a happy childhood. He managed to secure an eighth-grade education while selling shoes to support his family, and he displayed his social conscience at an early age, collecting money in 1937 to aid the orphans of the Spanish Civil War. Cienfuegos's father resisted formal education for his children, preferring instead that Camilo and his older brother Osmany receive private lessons from an old Communist acquaintance. Nevertheless, Camilo was drawn to more social forms of activity and joined the anti-Fascist student paper Lídice in 1945. He was a handsome, popular, and athletic young man with red hair and a quick laugh. In 1947 Cienfuegos won the national pelota championships and was the pride of his family.

After ending his formal education for good, Cienfuegos worked at odd jobs in Havana and took up sculpting. The on-air suicide of political activist and radio personality Eddy Chibás in 1951 prompted Cienfuegos to leave Cuba for the United States, where he hoped to make his fortune. In 1955 he was back in Cuba and participating in demonstrations against Batista and the police on behalf of Fidel Castro's Twenty-Sixth of July Movement. With his forceful personality, Camilo Cienfuegos quickly caught Castro's eye, and he joined the exile group in Mexico that was preparing for an invasion of Cuba. He was one of the eighty-one men who set out with Fidel Castro in November 1956 on the Granma to start a revolution.

After the initial landing, Cienfuegos became one of the comandantes of the rebel forces. He appears to have been an avowed Marxist at a time when the revolutionaries had not yet declared an official ideology; in his districts Cienfuegos set up schools that taught literacy and socialist doctrine.

After the rebels' victory on 1 January 1959, Cienfuegos was appointed chief of staff of the armed forces and became the second most popular figure of the revolution after Castro himself. He disappeared mysteriously on a solo flight from Camagüey to Havana in October 1959; no trace of the wreckage was ever found, and the disappearance remains controversial.

See alsoCuba, Revolutions: Cuban Revolutionxml .


Ernesto "Che" Guevara, José Martí, Antonio Guiteras, Antonio Maceo, Camilo Cienfuegos (1977).

William Gálvez, Camilo, señor de la vanguardia (1979); Carlos Franquí, Diary of the Cuban Revolution, translated by Georgette Felix et al. (1980).

Tad Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Batista Moreno, René. Camilo en Las Villas. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 2001.

Franqui, Carlos. Camilo Cienfuegos. La Habana: Editorial Gente Nueva, 2004.

Gálvez, William. Camilo Cienfuegos. La Habana: Editora Política, 1998.

                                             Karen Racine

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