Castro’s revolution, the Bay of Pigs, and the missile crisis have spawned hundreds of books and articles, some of which are informative, imaginative, or challenging, but too many of which are polemical and repetitive. Mario Lazo’s book falls easily into the latter category. By comparison it most clearly resembles the 1962 anti-State Department attack of Earl E. T. Smith, The Fourth Floor: An Account of the Castro Communist Revolution, which blamed the Castro debacle on the proselytizing activities of liberal intellectuals, the lesser bureaucrats of Foggy Bottom’s fourth floor.
Lazo, who managed a Havana law firm for thirty-five years, was born and educated in the United States and served in the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I in France. His Cuban legal office represented major American companies, and he naturally looked with suspicion on the bearded warrior of the Sierra Maestra. (His title, incidentally, was suggested by a statement of Senator William Fulbright in his memorandum of March 1961 to President Kennedy: “The Castro regime is a thorn in the flesh; but it is not a dagger in the heart.” But Lazo, it is only fair to say, was also critical of Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, although he swears that it was never as bad as the “liberal intellectual establishment” in the American press contended. Like Smith, he believes that an unknown Castro was publicized by a sympathetic press in the United States, particularly the New York Times and, of course, Herbert Matthews.
Dagger in the Heart does not end, however, with Castro’s triumphant entry into Havana in January 1959. Lazo remained in his Cuban law practice, trying to adjust to the regime’s laws of nationalization and defending the foreign companies ’ interests. Being suspect to the new government, he was harassed by Castro’s officials, and during the Bay of Pigs invasion he was one of the many Cubans arrested. Convinced that he was to be shot, Lazo gave up all hope until his family managed to procure his release. He still does not know why he was freed. Since April 1961 he has lived in the United States and Spain, warning against the communist menace so close to American shores and writing his account of United States-Cuban relations.
Lazo assigns the major responsibility for the Cuban sore—or wound—to Americans who misjudged Castro or who failed to act decisively to overthrow him. His favorite targets are Herbert Matthews; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who arrogantly condemned the military for the Bay of Pigs as a cover for his own failure as “court historian” (p. 249); Robert McNamara, who was too dovish in the missile crisis; and John F. Kennedy, who demonstrated twice (during the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis) that he lacked the will to finish off Castro’s communist government.
Dagger in the Heart will be read with suspicion by scholars, who cannot accept Lazo’s conclusions about Castro’s rise to power. It will be welcomed, unfortunately, by many others, who, in the aftermath of Castro’s affiliation with the Soviet bloc, have not stopped screaming: “I told you so!”