Celia Esther Sánchez Manduley was born in the sugar town of Media Luna, in the house that in 1913 Dr. Manuel Sánchez Silveira bought when she married Acacia Manduley and where her nine children were born. There Celia lived with her family for 20 years. In 1940 she moved to Pilón with her father where she spent another almost 16 years, until the landing of the expeditionaries of the Granma yacht led by Fidel took place on December 2nd, 1956.
Her mother died when she was young. With her father, Manuel Sánchez Silveira, rural doctor, educated man and committed to the liberal Orthodox Party, he had his first approach to politics.
She was his assistant and saw the effect of poverty on his patients. Since childhood she was influenced by the thought of José Martí and from a young age she was linked to the popular struggle.
She joined the Eduardo Chibás Orthodox Party, but after the coup d’etat of March 10th, 1952, she became involved with several organizations of insurrectionary profile. She was one of the first women to wield weapons. Her main role in that war played in the preparation of the landing of Granma in the province of Oriente, where she worked hard in the city of Manzanillo. At the request of Manuel Echevarría, on his trip to Mexico, Fidel Castro said:
«… if that woman is as you say, where she is better is in Manzanillo, because there she will be more useful …»
In Manzanillo, together with Frank País, she organized the peasants in the area to offer support to the expeditionaries.
In the July 26 Movement she never held managerial positions, although she assumed relevant tasks. With her name of war, Norma, she became a fundamental figure in the days of the preparations for the Granma expedition and the beginning of the guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra.
By guidelines of the Movement organized a network of peasant collaborators in the vicinity of where the expedition directed by Fidel Castro should disembark, which was fundamental for the continuity of the struggle. She sent the first armed detachment to the Sierra from El Marabuzal, in Manzanillo.
In 1957, in Batista Cuba, Sánchez was the most wanted woman in the country. On March 19th, she went up to the Sierra Maestra and joined the Rebel Army as a combatant. She was the main promoter of the creation of the female squad «Mariana Grajales». In the most difficult times of the guerrillas, in February 1957 she went to meet her in the company of Frank País, Faustino Pérez and other members of the National Directorate of the July 26 Movement to coordinate support from the plain and coordinate the arrival via Habana-Manzanillo of the New York Times journalist, Herbert Matthews, until Fidel’s presence in the Sierra Maestra.
The publication of the interview that the journalist made to the guerrilla leader would ruin the Batista propaganda based on the supposed death of Fidel. At the end of April she would go back to the Sierra leading the American journalist Bob Taber, who wished to interview the leader.
On May 28th, 1957 Celia participated for the first time in the combat, it was in El Uvero, as a member of the squad of the command, becoming the first woman who occupied the position of combatant in the ranks of the Rebel Army. A few days after that action Fidel sent her back to the plain with important parcels, this was the stage of greatest danger, because the persecution against her was added to the betrayal of an Granma expeditionary, who betrayed many of the Movement’s collaborators.
Until mid-1957 Celia had used, in addition to Norma, the pseudonyms of Lilian, Carmen and Caridad. On July 18th of that year, in a message from Frank to the Sierra, Celia’s new war name appeared: however, Norma’s pseudonym was so rooted that she continued to call it that in subsequent missives.
In a letter sent by the guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra to Frank País, they patented Celia’s vital role during the war when they wrote: “As for the Sierra, when the history of this revolutionary stage is written, on the cover they will have to appear two names: David and Norma. ”
On September 4th, 1958 in the Sierra Maestra, after a seven-hour meeting between Fidel and his General Staff and promoted by Celia, the Mariana Grajales squad was created in La Plata, formed by women who had the decision to join as combatants, known like the Marianas, of which Brigadier General Teté Puebla was the second boss.
When the Revolution triumphed, she participated in relevant activities and the most significant works undertaken after the triumph on January 1st 1959.
On March 23rd, 1962, she was appointed secretary of the Council of Ministers of Cuba and, subsequently, was Minister of the Presidency. When she died he was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, secretary of the State Council and deputy of the parliament for the municipality of Manzanillo in the province of Granma.
She died of lung cancer in Havana on January 11th, 1980.
But Celia lives as an indigenous flower that grows with every triumph, challenge and solidarity gesture.
Her example of a woman, Cuban, fighter, martiana, faithful and communist walks in eternity.