Jaime Suchlicki’s University Students and Revolution in Cuba, 1920-1968, is an unsuccessful attempt to trace in 120 pages the relationship between the students at the University of Havana and Cuba’s turbulent political history. According to the author, his main theme is to discuss the roots of the 1959 Cuban revolution and the place of the students and the university in this movement before and after Fidel Castro assumed power. While the author’s goal is admirable, he fails to accomplish his stated objective, especially in the period before Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état of 1952. Suchlicki’s main problem here arises from his use of sources. Although his bibliography is excellent, the bulk of his material comes from interviews with Cuban exiles, and his excessive reliance on their information damages the narrative.
As a result, his brief sketch of the University of Havana in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is unclear, and his account of the years from 1933 to 1952 contains factual errors. For example, Suchlicki uses incorrect statistics for the constituent assembly elections of 1939. He is also wrong in saying that as provisional president Ramón Grau San Martín “began negotiations for the abrogation of the Platt Amendment” (p. 37). During Grau’s tenure the United States ambassador, Sumner Welles, refused to deal with him and convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to enforce a policy of nonrecognition toward his regime. Since this policy lasted throughout Grau’s presidency, he never had an opportunity to begin any negotiations to abrogate the Platt Amendment.
While Suchlicki’s account of student participation in Cuban polities prior to 1952 is weak, he does correctly point out that the legacy of the students after the Revolution of 1933 was the institutionalization of urban terror. Using this theme after Batista’s coup of 1952, the author provides an interesting examination of student politics until the dictator’s ouster. He shows the disorganization of Batista’s opposition, the students’ role in the movement, the growing government terrorism, and the opposition’s equally violent response.
After establishing Castro in power, Suchlicki discusses his gradual takeover of the university and its student body. The author’s explanation of Castro’s educational program, especially the Communist indoctrination and scholarship policies, is excellent. Yet even in the post-1952 account, his failure to devote enough space to the pre-Castro educational structure leaves many questions unanswered, and an inadequate conclusion compounds the problem. The author’s analysis of the Castro regime is also distorted by the obvious bias of his interviews with Cuban exiles and of his own personal opinion.
This bias is especially evident in his conclusion. After describing the complete domination of the Castro regime over university and student politics, Suchlicki can still declare that the present regime has failed “to win the minds of Cuba’s youth” (p. 135). If the book proves anything, it demonstrates the difficulty of discussing the complicated relationship between the university, its students, and Cuban politics in a very short space.