FIDEL: A CRITICAL PORTRAIT

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9780091726027: FIDEL: A CRITICAL PORTRAIT

Never before has any biographer had such close access to Fidel Castro as did Tad Szulc. The outcome of a long, direct relationship, this riveting portrait reveals astonishing and exclusive information about Cuba, the revolution, and the notorious, larger-than-life leader who has ruled his country with an iron fist for more than forty years. Only Tad Szulc could bring Fidel to such vivid life--the loves and losses of the man, the devious tactics of the conspirator, the triumphs and defeats of the revolutionary leader who challenged an American president and brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. From Jesuit schools to jungle hideouts and the Palace of the Revolution, here is FIDEL...THE UNTOLD STORY

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About the Author:

TAD SZULC is a veteran New York Times correspondent.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter IThe Man

Advancing on his elbows and knees so slowly that his great bulk hardly seemed to move at all, the sweaty man in a torn olive-green uniform, horn-rimmed glasses on his unshaven face, slid carefully into the low canefield until he was entirely covered by a thick layer of leaves. In his right hand, he clutched a telescopic-sight rifle, a Belgian-made .30-'06-caliber weapon, his only and most beloved possession.

The tall rifleman was a thirty-year-old lawyer named Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, Cuba's fiercest apostle ever of a shattering social and political revolution, and now--at high noon on Thursday, December 6, 1956--he faced not only the imminent death of his dreams but his own as well.

Cubans had known Castro for years as a loud and ineffectual plotter, a loser. To the outside world, and notably to the United States next door, he was, at most, just another Caribbean troublemaker of whose existence the Eisenhower administration was not even aware.

Ibis American ignorance reflected the traditional attitude toward Cuba, the nearest thing the United States had to a protectorate in the Western Hemisphere: Washington need not worry about Cuban politics and politicians because its proconsuls in Havana always kept them in line. The idea that within a few years Castro would establish the first Communist state in the Americas would have been dismissed as ridiculous had anyone suggested it in December of 1956.

At that moment, in fact, Fidel Castro and his absurdly small rebel group-which had landed four days earlier on the southern coast of his native Cuban province of Oriente after an almost fatal voyage from Mexico-were completely surrounded by government troops. The exhausted and famished expeditionaries had been totally routed and dispersed the previous afternoon in their first battle ashore.

The notion of surrendering to the soldiers of the dictatorship of President Fulgencio Batista Zaldivar that he and the eighty-one rebels had arrived to overthrow never occurred to Castro, the son of a tough Spaniard. On the contrary, he had the inner certainty of triumph that only visionaries feel when the odds are impossibly and virtually mathematically arrayed against them.

The last time I was in Havana to see Fidel Castro, he was nearing his sixtieth birthday, and I found him philosophizing a bit about life. Among other notions, he believed firmly that it was his natural destiny that well over a quarter-century ago, he had scaled the heights and reached the apex of power.

The subject was part of a broad conversation about history and the human condition one late evening in his office at the Palace of the Revolution, and Castro was perfectly matter-of-fact in acknowledging that some leaders are destined to play crucial roles in the affairs of men, and that, yes, he was a case in point.

He then turned to his favorite historical theme, that such leaders may affect "subjectively" the objective conditions in a country. To Fidel this is an absolutely vital point in the "correct" interpretation of the Cuban revolution inasmuch as he had succeeded in proving wrong the classical theories of the so-called "old" Cuban Communists. These Communists had insisted that a Castro-preached mass revolution in Cuba was impossible because the necessary "objective conditions," as defined by Karl Marx, did not prevail; accordingly, they turned their backs on the Fidelista insurrection until the closing months. Unprecedentedly, the Communists in Cuba were therefore co-opted and captured by Fidel Castro (who did not belong to the party) rather than the other way around. They had placed themselves in a situation where they had no option.

Actually, in the early days the orthodox Communists could take even less Castro's ideological heresy (or, in their view, towering arrogance) of postulating that "a man's personality can become an objective factor" in a changing political situation. Naturally, Fidel always had himself in mind in this context. The traditional Cuban Marxist-Leninists, with their thirty years experience as a Moscow-directed party, with activities confined to theorganization of protest labor strikes or "popular front" alliances with "bour-geois" politicians (including Batista in the 1940s), could not bring them-selves to believe that a single man's personality could, in effect, trigger anational revolution. Only Castro and the most faithful Fidelistas could be-lieve such a thing.

It must be assumed that in 1956, the Cuban Communist party-known formally as the Popular Socialist Party and declared illegal by Batista after the coup on March 10, 1952--took its orders (and opinions) from the Kremlin. The Soviets, however, had evidently learned nothing from the Chinese civil war when Mao Zedong demonstrated that, contrary to Stalinist theory, communism could prevail only if it enjoyed full backing among the peasantry, the control of the cities was not enough.

Castro wasn't proposing a peasant revolution in Cuba, but, as the centerpiece of his strategy, he did envisage guerrilla warfare expanding with peasant support from a mountain nucleus to engulf in time the whole island--a concept the ideology-minded Communists could not absorb. Consequently, the "old" party secretly sent an emissary to Mexico in November 1956 to dissuade him from his publicly announced plans to land in Cuba that year "to be free or martyrs." Communist attitudes toward Castro at that stage and afterward describe an immensely fascinating and complicated relationship, one constituting the political backbone of the Cuban revolution that has never before been fully disclosed.

In a way that neither "old" Cuban Communists nor the United States was able to comprehend at the time--and Moscow and Washington may still not fully understand it even now--Fidel Castro built his revolution primarily on the sentiments of Cuban history. He tapped the deep roots of the mid-nineteenth-century insurrections against Spanish colonialism and its themes of nationalism, radicalism, and social-justice populism. Whatever the timing of his private allegiance to Marxism, Castro waited more than two years after victory to identify himself publicly with socialism;

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