Echeverria had accomplished what Fidel Castro had failed to do in Mexico. He had put together a coalition of several groups with the avowed purpose of "striking at the top." In early January 1957 he was joined by two older men, Carlos Gutierrez Menoyo and Menelao Mora Morales. A Spaniard who had fought on the side of the Republic in the 1930s and with the French army of Philippe Leclerc against the Nazis in World War II, Gutierrez moved to Cuba and took part in the aborted Confites expedition. Mora Morales was a former Autentico congressman, a onetime president of a bus company in Havana. Both had gained prominence as opponents of the Batista Regime. With Echeverria they prepared meticulous plans to assure the success of the attack. For more than a month a confederate who worked at the palace observed and recorded the president's daily schedule - when he came from Camp Colombia, whom he saw, when he left. They selected as their targets Batista's office and the studios of Havana's most influential radio station, CMQ, which was the center for the Radio Reloj network. Two well-armed groups took part in the attack, one with fifty men led by Gutierrez, the other twice as large, headed by Ignacio Gonzalez, who would provide backup support. In a tightly coordinated strike the FEU leader, with a small party, would seize control of the station's microphones and call on all Cubans to take up arms against the dictator. A fourth group was detailed to occupy the city's airport and halt all incoming and departing flights. The death of the president, they presumed, would be followed by an interim government under a joint civilian-military junta. In their planning they did not think it necessary, or wise, to take the July 26 movement into account.
At three o'clock on the afternoon of March 13, 1957, the traffic was heavy on the streets that bounded Cuba's presidential palace. It was much like any other weekday. Tourists crowded the sidewalks, and business was brisk in Sloppy Joe's bar, a hangout for visiting and resident Americans. Soldiers guarded the entrances to the palace. Batista did not like to take chances. Inside the building, in his second floor office, he had just finished his lunch with the minister of defense and had taken the elevator to his living quarters, a level above. He wanted to check on his son, who was sick that day. (Batista had remarried and now had a second, younger family.) And he needed to change his clothes for a meeting with the Uruguayan ambassador. Otherwise, he would have remained below to work as usual in his office. At 3:24 two automobiles and a red delivery truck that carried the first assault group stopped near the Colon Street entrance. The guards paid no attention . A minute later the men jumped from the vehicles, carrying rifles, automatic weapons, and hand grenades. Firing point-blank at the soldiers, they burst into the building and raced up the stairs. One of them Luis Goicoechea, remembered later: "It was just like in the movies." In Batista's office they found only the remains of his lunch and two coffee cups. In a panic they searched the other rooms and the hallways but could discover no way to the third floor. The elevator, the sole access to that area, was still up there. From the roof the guards raked the interior patio and adjacent streets with machine gun fire, and the frustrated attackers began to withdraw. A few escaped, but most were killed inside the palace. In the streets, as motorists hid under their cars, the shooting continued for hours. One American tourist on the balcony of the Hotel Parkview, two blocks away, died when he was struck by a stray bullet.
Meanwhile, Echeverria, brandishing a light machine gun, had captured the radio station. At 3:27, as arranged, he and his men took over the studios and control rooms. At that time CMQ was connected with other outlets in Western Cuba. Shouting into the microphone, Echeverria read a prepared communique, informing the Cuban people that rebel forces had occupied the palace, and that the president was dead and Tabernilla under arrest. Echeverria concluded with a call for a general strike. He asked the soldiers, sailors, and police officers to join the people in their battle against the dictatorship. Hurriedly, the small group, having carried out their mission, left the station to drive back to the safety of the university. They planned to use the buildings on the hill as their headquarters for a new government. They did not know that the attack on the palace had failed. Nor did Echeverria realize that he had been talking into a dead microphone. To protect the broadcasting equipment, automatic devices had been installed to cut off the microphone if anyone spoke too loudly. The FEU leader, in his eagerness to further the cause of the revolution, had defeated himself. The fates decreed worse for Echeverria and the movement he headed. By chance, as he neared the university, his car collided with a patrolling police vehicle. He jumped out, firing his machine gun. The officers returned his fire, killing him almost instantly. Fidel Castro must have been relieved that the plot had failed. Thereafter no new student leader appeared who could deal with him as an equal. Had the attack succeeded in eliminating Batista and setting up a government, there would have been no place for him or for the July 26 movement. He condemned the venture as a "useless spilling of blood."
During that year Rodriguez met Garcia Buchaca and her husband Joaquin Ordoqui, who had been forced to leave Cuba when the Batista government initiated an anticommunist drive. Perhaps to assuage his guilt or to assure the PSP leaders of his reliability, the young man confessed to her that he had betrayed the martyred students. Garcia Buchaca did not seem disturbed by the news. According to Rodriguez, she told him:"Well, you are going to be more loyal to the party and continue the fight." Similar things had happened in the Chinese Revolution, she said. When Batista left the country, leaving the revolutionaries in charge of the government, Rodriguez was directed by the party to return to Cuba. In Havana, Leitao de Cunha urged Castro to send her young friend to Prague as cultural attache. Friends of the murdered students, however, demanded his arrest. The new regime in Havana was in the throes of organizing itself, and revolutionary courts condemned Batistianos almost daily. Convictions and quick executions were the rule. Though Rodriguez was interrogated at La Caba–a, he was quickly released. Those members of the dictator's police force who might have identified him were already dead. Certain now that he was safe he flew to Prague to take up his scholarship and his post at the embassy.