Rufo López-Fresquet was Minister of the Treasury in Castro’s first revolutionary government, holding office from January 1959 to March 1960. Late in October 1960 he fled Cuba and now lives in Puerto Rico. His memoirs of this period were commissioned by the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford as part of a continuing project designed to collect the impressions and analyses of key Cuban exiles. This background information is important, for if the reader expects to find a work of scholarship here, he will certainly be disappointed. López-Fresquet’s book is an interesting and at times a useful account of one insider’s impressions of Castro and the early months of his rule. But it is neither history nor even a historical document of note. It is a memoir, and as a memoir it must be judged.
Fortunately, because López-Fresquet belongs to the group of exiles who understood the poverty of United States policy in Cuba, the brutality of the Batista regime, and the reasons for Castro’s spectacular early successes, we are spared the ultra-conservative fantasies which sometimes pass for analyses of these phenomena. However, since the author believes himself under attack or about to be attacked by conservatives, he spends entirely too much time justifying his own participation in the Castro government. He evidently feared that those on the right would accuse him of being either a dupe or a traitor.
As a consequence of this defensiveness, we get too little memoir and too much self-congratulation and flogging of dead issues. The author is at his best recounting his experiences in those early and frantic months when he tried to impose some semblance of fiscal order on a treasury bankrupted by Batista and plagued by the caprices of Castro and his lieutenants. The book is much less satisfactory when López-Fresquet plays sociologist, historian, or apologist. The sociology does not add to what others have said; the apologies are not needed; and at times the history is inaccurate. For instance, the author lists Armando Hart, one of the nineteen “founding fathers” of the fundamental law of 1959, as no longer holding high office in Cuba (p. 77). Hart, however, became not only Minister of Education under Castro, but later secretary for organization of the Communist Party. He is currently a member of both the central committee of the party and of the polit-bureau or party “steering committee” and has been for years one of the six or eight most important men in Cuba. Despite such occasional lapses, however, most of the narrative rings true.
In sum, My Fourteen Months with Castro is a useful book. It is not history; it is not sociology; it is not even vintage memoir. But given the paucity of serious writing and trustworthy documentation on the Cuban revolution, we need all the help we can get. And this book, although seriously flawed in some respects, is nevertheless of some help in understanding those critical fourteen months. This is more than can be said for the writings of most other exiles.