After arriving at Castro’s Sierra Maestra headquarters in December 1957, the Spanish journalist Enrique Meneses stayed three months. His nationality and his ability to talk with Castro in his own language might have given him thorough acquaintance with a period of the Cuban guerrilla war about which our knowledge is far from satisfactory. The present book suggests that the author missed his opportunity. Only twenty pages tell of Meneses’ experiences in the Sierra. The rest is a personal interpretation of the Cuban Revolution from its most distant origins to the present days without research and including many factual errors.
A few obvious examples of these are enough. The list of members of the first Revolutionary Cabinet (p. 88) is incomplete; two different persons appear in the same position at the Ministry of Health, and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez is wrongly included in that cabinet. Aníbal Escalante never went to the Sierra (p. 104); Luis Orlando Rodríguez, the director of La Calle, never was a Communist (p. 68), and the “Agrupación Montecristi”—not Organización Monte Cristi as it appears on p. 42—had nothing to do with the Goicuria’s attack.
The brief chapter in which the author recounts his experiences from the Sierra is rather disappointing, although it may reveal a little. Reading this chapter, one has the impression that the most important activities at Castro’s headquarters were endless walks and the distribution of one-hundred-peso notes. In four months only two skirmishes took place. The first one—the so-called “Combate de Pino del Agua”—has been incomparably better described by Guevara in the “Passages of the Revolutionary War.” The account of the second, the attack at Central Estrada Palma, must be read to offset the overabundant literature about the heroic deeds of the guerrillas: “It was the noise that the rebels were relying on.. . . The noise was deafening, and panic broke out in the Batista camp.” Fifty Batistianos were killed, but the author does not indicate the number of casualties suffered by the guerrillas.
It also seems to me that the images of both leaders, Castro and Guevara, given in this book do not fit our present knowledge about them. On one hand, Castro appears not only as restless (we know he is that) but also as erratic, superficial, and little more than a babbler. On the other, Guevara is always intense, thoughtful, purposive, and a born organizer. But the death of Guevara in Bolivia, after making every kind of mistake, and the ability shown by Castro to maintain his power in Cuba facing the most difficult conditions, make such characterizations of both leaders highly doubtful.
Finally, Meneses misses another opportunity to make a meaningful contribution when he briefly mentions the presence of León Ramírez at Castro’s headquarters. Ramírez, a representative elected by Batista’s party—not a “Senator from Manzanillo” as on p. 62—went there with some type of conciliatory mission. But all other circumstances surrounding this visit are obscure, and Meneses does nothing to clarify them. Such negligence, typical of the whole book, prevents the author from giving us some new insights into one of the most overlooked aspects of Castro’s political dexterity at this stage of his career—his capacity to maintain his own channels of communication with all of the principal actors of the national political scene without excluding, of course, the dictator, Batista himself.