- Revolution and Its Aftermath in Cuba
How much do we know about Cuba's revolution and its aftermath, during the past nearly half century, as Fidel Castro's era draws to a close? The set of books reviewed here exemplifies both what scholars know about Cuba's domestic circumstances and international relations and how they know it. The books also lay bare what is not very well known about Cuba because it has been so difficult to study it for reasons extraneous to the world of scholarship.
Scholars know a great deal about Fidel Castro's biography. There is a long list of such books, many of which are illuminating and excellent, though some, of course, are tendentious. In this more recent set, Brian Lattell's book builds on this scholarly literature and makes three specific innovations to the genre. First, it is a cobiography of Fidel and Raúl Castro. Although Fidel still receives the bulk of his attention, Latell's is the first sustained biographical account of Raúl Castro as a person and as a high government official in interaction with his brother. His professional assessment of Raúl Castro as a highly effective "chief operating officer" for Cuba is especially valuable and persuasive. Second, the book relies, as others have, on personal interviews and testimony from those who have known Fidel or Raúl at various points in time, all of whom have since become their opponents. Latell includes, however, several prominent defectors from the recent past who shed valuable light on the contemporary approach to governance at the top of Cuba's government and the Communist Party. Thus he covers nearly the entire life span of the Castro brothers, whereas most other biographies tend to reach just into the first half of the 1960s. Third, Latell takes a psychological approach to understanding the Castro brothers' decision-making process, honed by his long and distinguished experience as a veteran Castro watcher at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
There are two limitations to all research on Fidel Castro, not just Latell's. The first is that most of the information that gets closest to addressing the question, "What sort of person is Fidel Castro and what makes him act as he does?" comes from defectors. Much of this information is excellent. Many of these informants have sought to guard against their own biases, in admirable examples of professional reporting. Authors, Latell certainly among them, have taken these potential biases into account. Yet we lack comparably candid, well-informed, and perceptive commentary from a similar set of persons close to the Castro brothers who have never broken from them.
Second, and this is a general problem not limited to biographies of the Castro brothers, scholars have lacked (with very rare exceptions) access to Cuba's secret documentary record that might otherwise greatly enrich what can be gleaned from interviews with others. For example, the best-documented book based on materials from Cuban archives, among other sources, has been Piero Gleijeses's fine history of Cuban engagement in [End...