In This Review

The Structure of Cuban History: Meanings and Purpose of the Past
The Structure of Cuban History: Meanings and Purpose of the Past
By Louis A. Pérez, Jr.
The University of North Carolina Press, 2013, 368 pp

Pérez, a masterful historian of Cuba, argues that whether Fidel Castro was motivated by heartfelt convictions or political opportunism, the Cuban leader undeniably understood the power of the past to drive contemporary politics. From the outset, Castro associated himself with the images and purposes of Cuba’s national heroes and martyrs, casting himself as the standard-bearer of a hundred years of extraordinarily bloody struggles for national identity and dignity in the face of foreign imperialism -- first Spanish, then American. Overtly hostile U.S. administrations inadvertently strengthened Castro’s nationalist credentials. Inherent in Cubans’ aspirations for sovereignty was an anticipation of improved material conditions; more controversial, however, was Castro’s claim that the logical destiny of Cuban history was a radical social revolution. Today, deprived Cuban youth are less interested in historical slogans than in better living standards, portending a reinterpretation of the past. As Pérez concludes, “A history that had failed to fulfill the promise of its premise [risks] being discarded as irrelevant,” perhaps giving rise to a “counterfactual history, with a host of what-ifs” -- especially the question of what might have been had the United States not tried to subvert the Cuban Revolution, which Pérez refers to as “the noble gesture of 1959.”