La Coubre Explosion

La Coubre Explosion

A year after the liberation of Cuba, Castro’s new Communist regime suffered a major catastrophe. In order to strengthen his capacity to defend against an expected invasion of Cuba by the US, Castro purchased 76 tons of military supplies from European weapons merchants. The materiel including artillery shells, grenades and ammunition was loaded aboard the 4,300 ton French cargo ship La Coubre, in Antwerp, Belgium.

At 3.08 pm on March 4, 1960 while the munitions were being unloaded onto the wharf in the port of Havana an explosion ripped through stern of La Coubre. Che Guevara, who at the time was attending a meeting in the INRA (Institute of Agrarian Reform) Building, rushed to the port and assisted in treating the wounded. Forty-eight minutes after the first blast a second explosion wounded and killed more sailors and dockworkers as well as emergency personnel.  The count of casualties included between 75 and 100 killed and around 200 wounded.

Che-Guevara---La-Coubre-ExplosionThe next day a memorial service was held before a quickly erected stage on 23rd street in Havana. Fidel Castro on the elevated platform spoke at length to the crowd of mourners. He claimed that the United States was responsible for the explosion. This, of course, was vehemently denied by American officials. Castro’s contention of American involvement is supported by recent research which has revealed the fact that the State Department File which should contain data on communication between Washington and the US mission in Havana is blank for the period February 18 to March 12, 1960.

Che-Guevara-Marching-with-Fidel-CastroCastro was accompanied on the makeshift platform by his closest comrades. Among them was Che Guevara. At one point in the ceremony Che moved from the background and approached the front of the stage. His picture was taken Alberto Korda for the Cuban newspaper Revolución.

Two foreign notables were in attendance at the memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion. They were the French leftist intellectuals Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who were visiting Cuba at the invitation of Fidel. Korda took three pictures of them listening to Fidel’s speech.

Che-Guevara-Korda-Pictures-from-MarchSome of Castro’s comrades in the revolution claimed that the American born Comandante William Alexander Morgan, who had fought alongside Che at Santa Clara, was responsible for the explosion aboard La Coubre. They said that he was working as an agent of the CIA. This rumor arose because Morgan was vociferous in his belief that the Castro’s new government would not be communist but eventually evolve into a capitalist democracy. He was arrested in October 1960, charged with counter-revolutionary activities and executed.

Among anti-Castro writers it is commonly held that the explosions on La Coubre were accidental. The safe way to handle a munitions ship would have been to anchor it in the harbor and transport the cargo to shore in smaller boats.

Che-Guevara-La-CoubreLa Coubre was taken to dry-dock in Havana and repaired. It rejoined the cargo fleet of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique and remained in service until 1972.


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