Hispanic American Historical Review 84.2 (2004) 351-352
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What is the truth about the Cuban Revolution? How was it won? Who won it? Was victory due to luck or to genius? Did Fidel Castro and the 26th of July movement fill a void left by loosely organized opposition groups, or did they face seriously positioned rebel groups with designs on power after president Fulgencio Batista's ouster? Did Fidel Castro cooperate with the Popular Socialist Party (the Cuban communist party) and deceive dissidents and the people at large about his future commitment to Marxist-Leninism, or did he establish a broad-based underground force, especially in cooperation when the urban branch wanted to plan a general strike? Did Castro and the communists remain allies, or did they disagree over the final phase of the guerrilla movement? For 40 years, scholars have attempted to answer these questions, but insufficient access to the necessary documentary evidence has kept their answers incomplete.
Julia Sweig—granted access to the archives of the Cuban Council of State's Office of Historic Affairs, which houses correspondence between the leaders of the 26th of July movement—is finally able to answer these questions. This constitutes the definitive book about negotiations between Castro's guerrilla army, his urban underground, and the peripheral but important rebel groups that together engineered Batista's downfall. Sweig dispels the myths left by the revolutionary leadership in the headiness of triumph and corrects mistakes caused by inadequate source materials.
The first of many clarifications concerns the nuanced origin of Che Guevara's foco theory. Some have argued that Guevara's model—calling for peasant guerrilla insurrection led by Marxist revolutionaries disconnected from urban groups—was politically inspired in order to aggrandize the 26th of July movement and diminish the role of other participants in the struggle against Batista. Sweig's account reveals that tensions between Guevara and urban underground leaders existed long before January 1, 1959, when Batista fled Cuba. During the insurrection, Guevara was entirely cut off from the planning and execution of the April 1958 general strike devised by the urban leaders. Yet Fidel Castro, Armando Hart, Haydee Santamaría, and others cooperated with the urban movement, and they even assumed a subordinate position when they agreed to attack urban targets as a diversionary cover for the striking workers. The strike failed for a number of reasons (including ineffective guerrilla action), which marked the decline of the urban underground and the shift of strategy to all-out guerrilla war. This vindicated Guevara's vision and justified the foco theory. Thus, the foco—which denied the fundamental contributions of the urban underground and other forces—was not simply politically motivated. It was, rather, a strategic detour around what appeared, at the time, to have been costly mistakes in revolutionary planning. After the failure of the general strike, [End Page 351] guerrilla operations took center stage, while general strike action served as support and diversion; the roles of the guerrilla and urban underground had reversed.
A second clarification is that opposition to Batista was a collective affair both inside and outside the 26th of July movement. To date, most believe that Castro was the mastermind behind the rebel forces, but Sweig challenges this view. Operatives like Frank Pais and Armando Hart independently coordinated the Sierra guerrillas and the urban underground. Pais was unassailable in his ability to complete missions and operated without much supervision from Castro. Hart communicated constantly with Castro, but he did make independent decisions and occasionally received reprimands for actions contrary to Castro's design. Operatives abroad made unity pacts with other political parties, which compromised Castro's desire for preeminence after Batista's demise. While Pais was loyal but authoritative in his work, the other leaders were in contact with Castro and responsive to his challenges to their decisions. People were recalled or deployed to...