We must have our man in Havana, you know. Submarines need fuel. Dictators drift together. Big ones draw in the little ones.
The FBI file on Ernest Hemingway reveals that Hemingway organized a private spy network in Cuba during World War II; that the Bureau made unsuccessful attempts to control, mock, and vilify him; that it feared his personal prestige and political power; and that, in a pathetic episode, it tracked him to the Mayo Clinic, just before he died. The file contains 124 pages—fifteen withheld “in the interest of the national defense,” fourteen blacked out except for the salutation, a few almost illegible because of the faded original typescript. It runs from October 8, 1942, to January 25, 1974 (thirteen years after his death), and much of it has to do with the first year of Hemingway’s wartime activities in Cuba. The file is extremely repetitive, and becomes unintentionally funny, particularly when the solemn bureaucrats report the bizarre behavior of the writer.
The characters in this tragicomedy include Hemingway’s friends Spruille Braden (1894-1978), the American ambassador to Cuba; Robert Joyce, the second secretary, coordinator of intelligence activities and liaison with the FBI agents; and Gustavo Durán (1907-1969), who skillfully commanded Loyalist divisions in the battles of Boadilla, Brunete, and Valencia during the Spanish Civil War. The villains are Raymond Leddy, the legal attaché (i.e., FBI agent) in Havana, who helped train men for the Cuban FBI; and General Manuel Benitez, chief of the Cuban police and extortionist on a grand scale, who had previously played Latin lovers in grade-B Hollywood films.
Braden was born in Elkhorn, Montana (Hemingway hunting country), graduated from Yale, married a Chilean, had a successful career as a mining engineer and entrepreneur in South America. He was ambassador to Colombia before assuming the post in Cuba in the spring of 1942. Though often pompous and self-righteous, he was an independent and effective diplomat; strongly anti-communist, he was praised by the historian Hugh Thomas as “an intelligent man, with considerable Latin American experience…a distinctly Radical diplomat, with strong views of social reform. He was regarded by many Cubans as the best ambassador the US ever sent to Havana.”1
In his memoirs, Diplomats and Demagogues, Braden states that there were 300,000 Spaniards in wartime Cuba, of whom 15,000 to 30,000 were “violent Falangists.” Braden claims that he asked Hemingway “to organize an intelligence service that will do a job for a few months until I can get the [additional] FBI men down. These Spaniards have got to be watched.” Beginning in August 1942, Hemingway, according to Braden, “built up an excellent organization and did an A-One job.”2 His work ended with the arrival of the FBI operatives in April 1943.
Both Hemingway and the FBI state, more accurately, that Hemingway first approached Braden and volunteered to investigate the Spanish Falange with the…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.