Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro

The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro
Nation Books, 2007

Review by Ramona Wadi

"With the blood of my dead brothers, I write you  this letter, they are the only motive that inspires me." The opening line of a letter to former comrade Luis Conte Aguero portrays Fidel Castro at his most determined - a call for justice in the wake of the atrocities committed against the captured revolutionaries involved in the Moncada Barracks attack.

The prologue and epilogue to this publication stand in contrast to the content of this book, both written by critics of Fidel's rule. Luis Conte Aguero (to whom Fidel addresses a considerable amount of letters) was a staunch supporter of Fidel, assisting in spreading his revolutionary philosophy. Soon after the revolution, Conte Aguero's views on the future of Cuba differed from those of Fidel and he fled into exile on April 5, 1960. The content of this book however, is Fidel and the revolution - the precise strategic planning that served as the prologue to a revolutionary triumph.

The letters may be read as a narration of patience which evolved from extreme anger at the injustices under the Batista regime as well as from breaches of loyalty towards him - a grave issue with Fidel. The greatest betrayal was Fidel's discovery that his wife Mirta had been on government payroll during his spell in prison. Refusing to believe the story, he urged Mirta to press charges against such defamation, portraying the event as an attack on his honour. When the truth became clear, Mirta started divorce procedures and a custody battle for their son Fidelito ensued, with Fidel declaring to his sister, "If they think they can exhaust my patience and that I am going to concede, they are going to find that I am wrapped in Buddhist tranquility and am prepared to reenact the famous Hundred Years War - and win it!"

With the Moncada barracks attack thwarted, many revolutionaries were killed. Those who managed to escape were later rounded up and subjected to extreme torture - mutilation prior to being murdered by Batista's soldiers, whilst others were forced to dig their own graves. Haydee Santamaria, one of the revolutionaries, was presented with her brother's eyes, gouged out by Eulalio Gonzales. His advice to Melba Hernandez was to act logically and with a certain reserve, instructing patience in the face of possible irrational moments. "There will be enough time later to squash all the cockroaches together." Far from an act of vengeance, Fidel's certainty was the triumph of the revolution even in its initial stages - the evolution from anger to a rational determination which led him to defeat Batista.

Through his correspondence with Conte Aguero, Fidel starts implementing a resistance against Batista in the Cuban people. Eroding fear was necessary for the triumph of the revolution and, starting with those closest to him, Fidel gives instructions as to how they should proceed in accordance with revolutionary philosophy. "Put your sympathies in the service of truth and justice even more, without the fear of reaching sacrifice upon solid foundations." By contrasting honour against tyranny, Fidel captures the sentiment of the Cuban nation.

Quoting Jose Marti above all others, Fidel stresses "No martyr dies in vain, nor is any idea lost in the motion of the waves and the blowing of the winds. They move away or they come closer but the memory remains of having seen them."

1 comment:

maddy said...

Never before published in English, these letters were written when Castro was imprisoned for his failed attack on the Moncada from 1953 to 1955 and reveal a man of spectacular ambition and steely determination.