20 Years of Castro’s Revolution

The Unsuspected Revolution: The Birth and Rise of Castroism

by Mario Llerena
Cornell University Press, 324 pp., $12.50

Diary of the Cuban Revolution Seaver/Viking Press book next fall)

by Carlos Franqui
Reudo Ibérico (Barcelona and Paris) (to be published as a, 583 pp., $18.00
Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro; drawing by David Levine


The writer who tries to face the full reality of Cuba takes a big risk, caught as he is in the crossfire between the eulogizers and the denigrators. If he writes in Spanish, and is associated with the Latin left, he becomes a victim of the sterile logic which classifies all criticism of Cuba as “giving arms to the enemy.” The taboo in the Hispanic world concerning the Cuban revolution is reminiscent of the old left-wing taboo against criticism of the Soviet Union. Among Spanish leftists (including the militant wing of the Communist Party) it is now acceptable to make the sort of criticism of the USSR that André Gide first did in 1936.

The Soviet myth has been demolished, but about Cuba many Spanish socialists and Euro-communists maintain a prudent silence, practicing self-censorship with an apparently untroubled conscience. The German poet and critic Hans Magnus Enzensberger points out that there exists among the left “the firmly rooted habit of people lying, knowing that they are lying.” The same prejudices George Orwell experienced in 1937 for his sober account of the Barcelona uprising during the Spanish Civil War are rampant in the Latin world concerning Cuba. Because of their sharp criticisms, intellectuals such as René Dumont and K.S. Karol have grotesquely been accused of being “paid CIA agents.”

In The Crack-up, F. Scott Fitzgerald observes, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” In judging what one reads on Cuba, this sort of intelligence at work appears to be rare. Most writers emphatically deny some part of Cuban reality. Paradise or concentration camp: such crude judgments falsify the complex and contradictory experience of twenty years of revolutionary government.

Mario Llerena’s personal account, The Unsuspected Revolution, is based on diaries kept at the time of Castro’s movement during the decisive period that began with Castro’s arrival from Mexico on the small ship Granma in December 1956, and ended just before the triumph of the revolution in January 1959. Llerena was one of a group of middle-class intellectuals who were shocked by the corruption, gangsterism, and arbitrariness of Batista’s Cuba and hoped for far-reaching social and political reform under a constitutional and democratic government.

I have been talking about my personal experience, but mine was not an isolated case. Thousands upon thousands like me throughout the island and abroad—professionals, teachers, students, white-collar workers, businessmen, industrialists—had been aroused to indignation by Batista’s destruction of the country’s constitutional system and then had been filled with hope by the prospect of a decent, constructive, democratic revolution such as the one in which Castro appeared to be engaged. These were the people who made Castro a national leader and gave their time, their efforts, their money, and frequently their lives for what they thought to be…

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