Family Portrait with Fidel: A Memoir
Carlos Franqui’s memoir breaks the silence that has surrounded the internal workings of the Cuban revolution. Journalists, scholars, and exiles have given us general impressions of Castro’s administration but Franqui is the first to write with the authority of a former member of the inner circle. Franqui was with Castro during his first military adventure, the attempt to liberate Santo Domingo from Trujillo in 1947; he became one of his closest associates after the unsuccessful storming of the Moncada barracks in 1953, and collaborated with him during his Mexican exile and in the Sierra Maestra. As national director of propaganda for Castro’s July 26 movement, Franqui was responsible for the two “voices of the revolution,” Radio Rebelde and the newspaper, Revolución.
Under Franqui’s editorship Revolución was both a quasi-official journal and one critical of the new regime’s abuses. Around the newspaper and its cultural supplement Lunes, edited by Cabrera Infante, Franqui assembled a remarkable group of writers and photographers, most of them now in exile: Heberto Padilla, Reinaido Arenas, Pablo Armando Fernández, Jesse Fernández, Barbeito, Juan Arcocha, Corrales, Korda, Rafael Salas, and Mayito.
Franqui’s Portrait describes the first years of the revolution, from the triumphal descent of the guerrillas into Havana in January 1959, to Franqui’s dismissal from Revolución in 1964. The Spanish text of his book, written in Franqui’s version of the Cuban pie quebrado, or broken meter, reads something like a prose poem. The English translation, perhaps inevitably, sounds much flatter. His memoir evokes both the intoxication of the revolution and the hangover that followed. He describes the utopianism of the leaders, and then their cynicism; the euphoria of the Cubans, and then their confusion. But Franqui’s anecdotes, vignettes, and reflections are something more than a campaign in the struggle of memory against “organized forgetting,” in Milan Kundera’s phrase. His book also has much to say about the current dilemmas of the left, of socialism, and of nonalignment.
In joining Castro’s group, Franqui wanted a politically and economically independent Cuba that could have “relations with the entire world and not just a single part—the United States or the Soviet Union.” He opposed Soviet “nonsocialism” with “its tendency to state monopoly instead of real socialism.” He fought for independent trade unions, an uncensored press; he believed that the Cuban people themselves should make their own history.
No one could question his credentials as a revolutionary. He was the son of a cane cutter who became an underground organizer, a political prisoner under Batista, a founder of the July 26th movement, and a fighter in the mountains. His great failing, from the standpoint of those who came to dominate the revolution, was his intransigent objection to Moscow’s expanding political and cultural influence. But Franqui’s anti-Sovietism had little in common with the anticommunism of many of the counterrevolutionaries of Miami. Franqui and his associates wanted “a radical revolution of an antiimperialist, anticapitalist,…
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