Politics and revolutions are often cyclical. Just ask those intrepid yet forgotten reporters who covered the Cuban Revolution of 1933 — will this generation’s photographers and correspondents be better remembered?
Elected in 1925 in Cuba was Gerardo Machado, who began his political career as a reformer determined to modernize his country, but ended up becoming a paternalistic dictator. But in August 1933, in a political watershed that’s seldom remembered today, Machado’s rule was rocked by a series of industrial strikes as rival factions fought in the streets of Havana.
Anticipating this, International News Photos’ manager Walter Howie had already dispatched their star photographer Sammy Schulman to Havana. On Saturday, August 12, Schulman and newsreelman Jimmy Pergola were walking along the Prado when they heard a burst of gunﬁre. They ran towards the action and found a dignified-looking old fellow lying on the pavement, mortally wounded. Schulman recognized him as Colonel Antonio Jiminez, head of the Cuban Porra, or secret police. He was President Machado’s strong arm, and the most hated man on the island because of his brutality to those who criticized the President.
Standing over him, Schulman recalled how he captured the moment above — the “spark” that fired the Cuban Revolution of 1933:
l cleared a little space in the crowd and made several pictures while he gasped his remaining breaths, at the same time asking what had happened. Jiminez had gone out for a stroll and had been followed by a number of youthful hecklers. To get rid of them, he whipped out his revolver and fired a few shots into the air. The kids scattered. As he fired again, a truckload of soldiers swung into the street. The truck stopped. A ragged soldier jumped out, backed Jiminez to a wall and shot him through the stomach. It blew him half apart.
People came running and, when they recognized the dying man as the much-hated Jiminez, went wild with joy. Someone called for a cheer for the soldier, who stood close by watching me work. A couple of wild-looking men picked up the hero and the clamorous mob went down the street to the Prado. I followed. The crowd pulled a statue off its pedestal and boosted the soldier in its place. He loved it, and struck statue-like poses while I banged away at him. Then someone yelled. ‘To the palace!‘ The soldiers jumped into their truck and led the mob. I ran along with them.”
After making a ﬂock of other shots with my Speed Graphic, I got back to the Havana Post, where INS had its office. Bill Hutchinson, bureau manager, had made arrangements with Miami to fly a special plane over to pick up my films. Hutch had a tip a mob was headed for the Post Building to burn it. I quickly went to the seaplane base, waited for the plane to arrive, give the pilot the exposed film, and told him to get out as fast as he could.”
Schulman’s photographic record of the revolution was considered one of the great visual reporting jobs in the newspaper business then. However, the turn of events would soon overshadow his work. Staring the next month, a loose coalition of radicals, students, intellectuals, and lower-rank soldiers tried to stage several coup attempts against the wobbly provisional government which survived until January 1934, when it was overthrown by an equally loose and unstable anti-government coalition of right-wingers supported by the United States. Leading them was a young sergeant named Fulgencio Batista.