Tales from Atarés Castle

Tales from Atarés Castle

The construction of the Atarés castle, on Soto hill behind Havana bay began following the storming of Havana by the English in 1762.

The incident highlighted the need to protect and defend the roads between the city and outlying rural areas. Designed by the Belgian engineer Agustín Cramer, the castle was built between 1763 and 1767.

The cannons installed there however never saw action against a foreign invasion. During the General Gerardo Machado dictatorship of (1925-1933), Atarés was under the command of the notorious Captain Manuel Crespo Moreno.

It was the then headquarters of the Rural Guard’s Squadron 5, a well trained unit that escorted the President of the Republic.

Many rebels who fought Machado were tortured and murdered there, some were even buried within the castle walls.

On September 4, 1933, a sergeant named Batista staged a coup d’état against President Céspedes who had replaced Machado after his defeat on August 12, and stripped all armed forces officers of their ranks.

Shortly afterwards, a government that appointed Ramón Grau San Martín as President was formed. On the 8th and 9th of November that same year, during an uprising against Grau, 1 500 civilians, ex officials and active soldiers, led by Commander Ciro Leonard, took refuge in Atarés.

When, along with other positions held, the barracks on Dragones and San Ambrosio surrendered, Atarés became the insurgent’s last stronghold.

Leonard had rejected the idea of going to the Managua hills or to Jaruco, as his followers suggested. He preferred to wait in Atarés for 5 000 reinforcements, promised by a former senior official, that never arrived. He also believed that a US marine landing would relieve their situation.

But the army soon positioned itself in and around the fortress, intent on retaking control.

The infantry took up position and the cannons and the mortars, supported by the auxiliary artillery and batteries on the Patria and Cuba ships, heavily bombarded their enemy.

The insurgents located in Atarés responded to the intense fire.

At 2:00 p.m., the situation of those besieged had become desperate.

It is rumored that, on realizing that the US marines would never land, Commander Leonard took his own life.

By then the people in the castle and the civilians in particular had called for surrender.

At 3:00 p.m. many of them made the fatal error of running down the castle hill waving white scarves. They got caught in a crossfire that caused multiple casualties.

The besieged then asked for talks.

Finally, at 4:00 p.m., the army recovered the Atarés castle and brought the uprising to an end.