The Radicalization of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra. (Archivo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Montaner, Miami, October 12, 2019 — The Madrid newspaper El País recounted it. Mario Vargas Llosa expressed the opinion, publicly, that perhaps Fidel Castro would not have become radicalized if the CIA, in conspiracy with United Fruit, had not ousted Colonel Jacobo Árbenz in a coup d’etat in 1954.

Fidel Castro, Vargas Llosa reminds us, at that time subscribed to a social democratic program. This happened at the press conference at which our Nobel laureate in literature was presenting his latest novel, Fierce Times, which tells the story of that coup d’etat, in his judgment the starting point of the rebellion of many young people and intellectuals against the United States.

I suppose that, in general, Vargas Llosa’s assessment is true, but I’m not sure that Latin American anti-Yankeeism originates in this episode. The Kremlin was employing enormous resources in stimulating that conduct via the “Congresses for Peace,” in addition to the atmosphere of the Cold War. Árbenz was ousted as a consequence of this episode.

I do not go into the novel’s theme because I have not yet read it. I imagine it will be splendid, like the other 18 published by the author of Conversation in the Cathedral, some more and some less, but all good. The fact that he is 83 years old does not take away merits from the book. It’s the other way around. With time prose improves (except in the case of Carlos Fuentes, who became increasingly illegible year after year).

What we disagree on is the moment at which Fidel Castro radicalized, something that has a certain lateral importance. It was not in June of 1954, the month in which Árbenz renounced the presidency after the aerial bombardments secretly organized by the CIA. It happened somewhat earlier, at the end of the forties, when Fidel was studying law at the University of Havana.

That, at least, is what José Ignacio Rasco (Fidel called him Rasquito), his classmate in high school at Colegio Belén and later at the University, said. For José Ignacio, and he told it to me personally, there wasn’t the least doubt: “He was seduced by Leninist theses; he would recite from memory entire pages of What Is to Be Done?, the essay in which the Russian describes the taking of power.” Even Fidel himself, after insisting that the Government would not be able to escape from his hands, came to say that “he was Marxist-Leninist and always would be.”

But there are other direct witnesses. The lawyer Rolando Amador, classmate, friend of Fidel Castro and first in their class, used to relate it in luxurious detail after leaving Cuba at the beginning of the revolution.

In 1950 Fidel, in order to graduate, asked him to go over some subjects that he was taking for free. Fidel was intelligent and had a great memory, but he had neglected his studies. So the two shut themselves away in a hotel to that end. While they were studying, a delegation arrived from the Popular Socialist Party (PSP), the communist group, consisting of Flavio Bravo and Luis Mas Martín. They came to tell Fidel that he had been accepted in the Party.

There were three kinds of activist in the Party. The “open,” the “companion” who generally “was entering” some other political party or State institution in order to inform and influence, and the one that received training and orders directly from the Soviet intelligence services. Flavio Bravo and Mas Martín were in that third category that Osvaldo Sánchez was directing in the shadows. One cannot forget that the function of the Communist Parties all over the world was to protect and help the USSR. For that reason the Kremlin was financing them.

Fidel was a “companion.” His function was to “enter” into the Orthodox Party, from which he came to be a congressional candidate, a social democratic (and anti-communist) party, as happened with Eduardo Corono and Martha Frayde, and radicalize it from within. The idea that Fidel was too “Fidelist” to submit himself to a partisan discipline ignores the circumstance that Stalin was, before all else, “Stalinist,” and Mao “Maoist,” noted leaders who at the beginning seemed docile, until they were able to show themselves as they were and demonstrate their true caudillismo.

Fidel didn’t become anti-Yankee because of the poor conduct of the United States in Guatemala. He recounted it in a letter to his friend and lover Celia Sánchez written in the Sierra Maestra in 1958: fighting with his gringo neighbors was his destiny. Like in the story of the scorpion: “it was his nature.” He couldn’t avoid it.

Editors’ note: Carlos Alberto Montaner will soon publish his personal memoirs, Sin ir más lejos / Without Going Further, with Debate Publisher.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


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