[Marxism] Castro's prison letters
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 13 07:50:47 MDT 2006
NY Times, August 13, 2006
Portrait of the Maximum Leader as a Young Man
By ANN LOUISE BARDACH
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 familys 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 Agüeros 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.
* * *
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.
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.
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 anyones 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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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