A sympathetic portrait of the younger years of the quixotic Cuban “liberal nationalist.”
Hansen (Latin American History/Harvard Univ.; Guantánamo: An American History, 2011, etc.) underscores Fidel Castro’s (1926-2016) rise in terms of Cuba’s long, frustrating wait for emancipation from foreign powers. “When Cubans thought they had [independence] in their grasp in 1898,” writes the author, “the United States snatched it away, inaugurating six decades of political and economic subservience that haunts Cuba to this day.” Castro always had a larger vision in mind, from growing up the son of a “hardworking, serious, unaffectionate” farmer near Santiago de Cuba to his education next to the Havana elite and his immersion in the violent revolutionary push back of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship. Castro believed that because of his “record of sacrifice” and unswerving dedication to the cause that he alone should be the legitimate leader of the revolutionary struggle. Hansen frames this story of young Castro around the letters the author was granted access to by the aged Naty Revuelta, a like-minded revolutionary who shared a two-year mostly epistolary affair with Castro while he was in prison after the attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba in July 1953. Sharpening his skills as a leader and envisioning a new government for Cuba, Castro needed books; in particular, he asked Revuelta for books on Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Hansen emphasizes that Castro did not head to Cuba from exile in Mexico with his ragged band of revolutionaries in 1956 with the intention of engendering a communist regime—only later, because he was shunned by the U.S., did Castro make his alliance with the Soviet Union. Castro believed fervently that Cuba was ripe for revolution and emancipation, and in the disciplined, restless, and ultimately lucky Castro, the country found its leader at last. While the early period of Castro’s life is not the most exciting, the details in the makeup of the man come together for an engaging, astute character study.
A welcome addition to the literature of Castro and Cuba.