Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary: She Led by Transgression
By Margaret Randall
Duke University Press Books, 2015, 248 pp.
Raúl Castro and Cuba: A Military Story (Studies of the Americas)
By Hal Klepak
Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, 182 pp.
In his new book, Hayden reflects on a lifetime of political struggles for social justice and more participatory forms of democracy. Listen, Yankee!features conversations between Hayden, a lifelong American political activist and co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society (a progressive group active in the 1960s), and Ricardo Alarcón, a longtime confidant of former Cuban President Fidel Castro. Despite the book’s title, the dominant voice in the discussions is Hayden’s. The book lacks a core thesis and a strong sense of narrative direction and does not adequately explain “why Cuba matters.” But it offers insights into the experiences, perspectives, and historical claims of the New Left that emerged during the 1960s in the United States. Hayden fondly recalls his youthful attraction to the Cuban Revolution (even as he rejects its authoritarian elements), finds fresh hope in the left-leaning democratic governments now common throughout Latin America, and applauds U.S. President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba, however overdue. Hayden remains deeply critical of “corporate globalization” and mainstream liberals; he harshly judges the foreign policies of both the Carter and the Clinton administrations, for example. But he eschews pessimism. Rather, he appears ready to pass the baton: “Revolutions have similar phases to the human: the bloody eruption of birth, innocence and idealism . . . the responsibilities of power, then decline and atrophy.” For today’s Cuban youth, “the past is ancient history,” as they seek to turn the page on the revolution and usher in a new era.
But the past is sometimes hard to put away, as Randall’s loving elegy to Haydée Santamaría shows. Santamaría was one of the original cadres of Cuban rebels who, led by Fidel Castro, brazenly attacked the Moncada, a Cuban army garrison, in 1953. She was captured, and vengeful government soldiers sought to break her by presenting her with mangled body parts belonging to her brother and her fiancé, both of whom government authorities had brutally murdered. After the revolution, she founded the Casa de las Américas, a publishing house and cultural institution that became something of a headquarters for left-leaning Latin American intellectuals. Still, her stature within such circles afforded her little peace of mind. Santamaría was abandoned by her husband, the long-serving Cuban minister of culture Armando Hart. In 1980, suffering from chronic depression and what today might be labeled posttraumatic stress disorder, she committed suicide. Her life story demonstrates the heavy costs that prolonged revolutionary struggles can extract even from their apparent victors. A feminist sensibility adds poignancy to Randall’s tender, impressionistic portrait of a self-effacing and melancholic yet much revered Cuban fighter.
Working hard to “update” Cuban socialism, President Raúl Castro apparently does not accept that his revolution has grown old and atrophied, as Hayden implies. There are no major biographies of Raúl, who has spent most of his life in the shadow of his more flamboyant brother. Raúl declined to be interviewed by Klepak, a Canadian military historian, despite Klepak’s evident sympathies for the Cuban Revolution and for the Cuban armed forces that Raúl, as Fidel’s minister of defense, successfully established and nurtured over the course of many decades. A resident of Cuba for many years, Klepak had unusually good access to Raúl’s colleagues and builds his portrait—the best one that exists of the current Cuban president—around their comments. Klepak’s Raúl is a competent manager and a careful, studious planner. He is demanding but fair, a loyal friend, and an affable family man. Klepak examines Raúl’s reputation for ruthlessness but does not dwell on it, accepting the idea that dangerous times have demanded tough decisions. Klepak also provides valuable descriptions of the intertwined structures of the various Cuban security forces, their strategic doctrines and relations to civil society, their expanding roles in the Cuban economy, and the surprising breadth of their cooperation with their counterparts in the U.S. military. As Cuba’s most efficient, prestigious, and wealthy institution, the armed forces will likely play a major role in charting the country’s future.