Fidel Castro, by Robert E. Quirk
reviewed by John Clayden
This book is reminiscent of Albert Goldman’s book on John Lennon. Both are written in a similar carping gossipy style.
Fidel Castro didn’t make his bed before entertaining visitors to his room.
He loved guns.
As a child he had spent hours manipulation toy soldiers when he should have been doing his homework.
Quirk has an irritating habit which assumes a novelist’s interior knowledge of the characters whose actions he describes.
For example, in the early days of the revolution, after it had become clear that there was a threat, the US refused them arms, and a munitions ship from Europe exploded at the dock with 100 dead. Castro in a funeral speech said, that although he was not sure, there were reasonable grounds to infer that the US was responsible, since it had been trying to block their arms purchases from abroad.
Subsequently the Cuban Foreign Minister protested at the severe dressing down that his representative received in Washington as a result of the speech and demanded that – “American officials address the Cuban Government with absolute respect… without descending to offensive utterances of a personal character.’’
Quirk adds: “Privately the foreign minister might have deplored the Maximum Leader’s excesses. In public he had no choice but to defend them.”
Precisely what excesses is not made clear. On his own evidence, Castro had plenty of grounds for suspicion. One could forgive or ignore these quirks if the author showed any genuine attempt to evaluate the Cuba created under Castro, rather than delivering one long diatribe.
The book ends just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, at a time of maximum euphoria in the West, with Cuba left exposed and deserted by its former allies, and with Castro “fearfully” watching CNN.
One is left with the suspicion that the book was written to soften up any resistance to the undermining of Cuba’s independence.
There is little attempt at an objective assessment of Castro’s failures and achievements, or rather there is an a- priori assumption that it is all failure.
Gorbachev is quoted as describing Castro as “Stalin without the terror”. Stalin did have the merit of creating institutions which survived after his death. It remains to be seen if this will happen in the case of Castro.
Is there life for the Cuban Revolution beyond Castro? Could the gains it has made survive beyond totalitarianism? If these are the questions that interest you, do not expect to find any answers in this book!
Fidel Castro by Robert E. Quirk is published in New York by WAV. Norton,
This article appeared in May 1994, in Issue 41 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/m-articles-by-topic/