[Marxism] Castro's prison letters

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 13 07:50:47 MDT 2006

NY Times, August 13, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Portrait of the Maximum Leader as a Young Man

Santa Barbara, Calif.

FIDEL CASTRO appears to have cheated death (yet again) and will celebrate 
his 80th birthday today. Although he has decreed that his birthday 
celebration will take place on Dec. 2 (the 50th anniversary of his return 
to Cuba from exile), he in fact came into the world, weighing 12 pounds, on 
Aug. 13, 1926, at 2 a.m. at his family’s estate at Birán.

In 1952, when Fulgencio Batista seized power through a military coup, Fidel 
Castro declined an invitation to join the regime from Rafael Díaz-Balart, a 
brother of his wife, Mirta, and a minister in the new government. He had 
far grander ambitions.

On July 26, 1953, Mr. Castro and his younger brother Raúl declared war 
against Batista with an audacious assault on the Moncada military garrison 
in Santiago de Cuba. The attack was a disaster, with more than 60 men 
killed, but it made Fidel Castro a household name. He reveled in his 
ensuing trial — declaring famously that “history will absolve me” — and was 
sentenced to 15 years at the Isle of Pines prison. (He served less than two.)

Castro was productive and prolific in prison, reading ceaselessly and 
writing hundreds of letters. Twenty-one of those letters were published in 
Cuba in 1959 in a volume edited by his friend and frequent correspondent, 
Luis Conte Agüero. (Mr. Conte Agüero broke with Castro soon after and fled 
to Miami in 1960.)

The book will be published in the United States in English next year for 
the first time as “The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro.” The excerpts below, 
translated by Mr. Conte Agüero’s son Efraim Conte, are striking in that 
they reveal both the idealistic young revolutionary of 1953 and the 
pitiless dictator he would become over the following half-century.

* * *

The Prisoner

Dec. 12, 1953

To Luis Conte Agüero:

I am going to ask you a favor. Write a Manifesto to the people in 
accordance with the content of this letter. Sign it in my name and take it 
to Mirta. She will try to have it published. . . .

It is decided we shall not have Christmas — not to even drink water on that 
day as a sign of mourning. Make it known, because I believe that in this 
way the objective will be more noble and human. There is no point for 
prisoners like us to aspire to the joys of Christmas. 

Luis, we still have strength to die and fists to fight. Receive, from all 
of us, a strong embrace. 

The Propagandist

Even behind bars, Fidel Castro never lost faith in his cause or in his 
ability to exact revenge on his enemies. In this letter to Melba Hernandez, 
one of two women who took part in the Moncada raid, he depicts himself as 
the heir to the great Cuban nationalist José Martí.

April 17, 1954

To Melba Hernandez:

First, we cannot for a minute abandon propaganda, for it is the soul of our 
struggle. Ours must have its own style and match our circumstances. 

Second, we must coordinate the work between our people here and those 
abroad. To this end, arrange a trip to Mexico as soon as possible. . . . We 
have to consider with extreme care any project of cooperation with others, 
lest they simply try to use our name. “To know how to wait,” Martí said, 
“is the great secret of success.”

Third, maintain a deceptively soft touch and smile with everyone. Follow 
the same strategy that we followed during the trial; defend our points of 
view without raising resentments. There will be enough time later to squash 
all the cockroaches together. Do not lose heart over anything or anyone; 
after all, we did not do so during the most difficult moments.

One last counsel: beware of envy. When someone has glory and prestige as 
you do, the mediocre easily find motives or pretexts to be suspicious. 
Accept help from anyone, but remember, trust no one.
The Strategist

June 19, 1954

To Luis Conte Agüero:

Here I spend my life reading and exercising self-control. I truly feel 
better when I do not read the newspapers; the politicking and 
submissiveness I see everywhere produces in me fits of rage.

If anyone’s patience has been put to the test it is mine; there are times 
when I spend whole hours fighting the desire to explode, declaring myself 
on hunger strike, and not tasting a bite until I am taken out of this cell 
or killed, which would not be the least improbable. I am convinced that 
what they want at all costs is to provoke me, and I ignore their intentions. 

Luis, I think we must organize as soon as possible a firm, systematic and 
growing campaign against this outrageous situation of mine. . . . This is 
psychologically the most favorable moment due to a series of events. 
Minister of Governance has behaved just as he is, a perfect pansy; he has 
acquiesced to all the whims of the military and given himself over to 
shameless enrichment. 

Remember Cato, who always ended his speeches asking for the destruction of 

The Aggrieved Husband

With her spouse incarcerated, Mirta secretly accepted a modest stipend from 
her brother Rafael, the deputy interior minister, through his office. When 
the arrangement became public, Fidel Castro refused to believe it, 
insisting that Ramón Hermida, the interior minister, was trying to blacken 
his name.

July 17, 1954

To Luis Conte Agüero:

This is a machination against me: the basest, most cowardly, most indecent, 
the vilest and intolerable. Mirta is too level-headed to have ever allowed 
herself to be seduced by her family, agreeing to appear in the Government 
employee roster, no matter how hard her economic situation. I am sure she 
has been miserably slandered. 

Only an effeminate like Hermida at the lowest degree of sexual degeneration 
would resort to these methods, of such inconceivable indecency and 
unmanliness. Now I have no doubt that the statement attributed to me about 
being well-treated was his doing.

I do not want to become a murderer when I leave prison. Has a political 
prisoner no honor? Ought a political prisoner be offended in this way? May 
not a prisoner challenge someone to a duel when he leaves prison? Must he 
graze on the bile of infamy in the impotence and despair of confinement? I 
am ready to challenge my own brother-in-law to a duel at any time. It is 
the prestige of my wife and my honor as a revolutionary that is at stake.

The Warrior

Furious at discovering that Mirta had actually received help from her 
family and thus besmirched his honor, Mr. Castro sues for divorce and 
micromanages a scorched earth campaign for sole custody of his son, 
Fidelito, in this letter to his halfsister, Lidia.

November 29, 1954

To Lidia Castro Argota:

It makes me very happy what you tell me about the divorce; above all that 
it will be done strictly following my instructions. About the boy, I remain 
unchanged in my point of view, and at the first opportunity, immediately 
after the filing, will press the court to require his return to Cuba to 
attend school, consistent with my thinking. 

I resist even the thought of my son sleeping for one night under the same 
roof that shelters my most despicable enemies and receive on his innocent 
cheeks the kisses of those miserable Judases. I have endured their 
aggressions with the same strength I will use to demand reparations from 
them; I have suffered the unjustifiable and unforgivable absence of my son 
with the same resolve with which I shall rescue him at any cost. They know 
it, or at least they should know it! I presume they know that to rob me of 
that boy they will have to kill me — and even then. I lose my head when I 
think of these things.

The Politician
In 1954, with public opinion overwhelmingly against the Batista regime, a 
groundswell arose for an amnesty for political prisoners. The United States 
even pressured Batista to adopt an amnesty, but Fidel Castro was only 
interested in one on his terms.

March 1955

To Luis Conte Agüero:

I am not in the least interested in swaying the regime to enact that 
amnesty; this is not at all my concern; what I am interested in is 
demonstrating the falsehood of its positions, the insincerity of its words, 
the base and cowardly maneuver that they are carrying out against men who 
are in prison for opposing it. They have said that they are generous 
because they feel strong, in fact they are vengeful because they feel weak. 

There will be Amnesty when there is peace. With what morale can men who 
have spent the last three years proclaiming that they carried out the coup 
to bring peace to the Republic make such proposals? So there is no peace, 
so the coup did not bring peace. 

“The best proof that there is no dictatorship is that there are no 
political prisoners,” they said for many months; today prison and exile are 
overflowing, therefore they cannot say that we live under a democratic 
constitutional regime.

Ann Louise Bardach, a writer for The Atlantic Monthly, is the author of 
“Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana.”

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