Everyone with an interest in Cuba should read The Taming of Fidel Castro. There is simply no other comprehensive work on the subject that is so well written and entertaining. Ostensibly, the book covers events that took place during 1964-68, but the author has incorporated pertinent information on developments right through 1980.
The thesis of the work, that Castro and the Cuban Revolution have been “sovietized” and “de-radicalized,” is hardly new. Still, the veteran Cuba-watcher is likely to come away from reading this book with fresh information and insights, even on such well-worn topics as the place of the “old Communists” in the revolution, the adventures of Che Guevara, and the story of Cuba’s deteriorating relationship with Israel.
Halperin brings some unusual credentials to his study of Cuba. During World War II, he directed the Latin American division of the Office of Strategic Services. In 1953, he left the United States after the United States Attorney General accused him of belonging to the Communist party and of passing secrets to Soviet agents. In Moscow, he met Che Guevara, who invited him to Cuba; Halperin worked in Havana from 1962 to 1968 as a professor of economic geography and as a consultant to the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Today the author lives in Canada, and says, “Times have changed, and I have changed.”
To judge from his book, Halperin’s personal experiences have not left him unduly bitter toward his country of birth, nor noticeably partial to the countries that afforded him haven. Toward the early Castro’s quest for national independence, Halperin is very sympathetic. He believes that at more than one critical juncture—he emphasizes the summer of 1964—Castro anxiously sought to normalize relations with the United States as the means to creating more freedom of maneuver for Cuba in its dealings with both the Soviets and the North Americans. According to Halperin, Castro indicated that he was willing to sacrifice his support for Latin American revolutionary movements to attain this goal, but his overtures were arrogantly spurned by the United States. Halperin does not, however, go so far as to claim that the same deal is available now, more than ten years later. Indeed, he blames Castro’s “enormous and insatiable hunger for leadership and glory” for Cuba’s current role in Angola and Ethiopia, an involvement that Halperin considers detrimental to Cuba’s long-term interests. Halperin even hints that “normalization,” on the terms it is now available would be more advantageous to the Soviets and Cubans than to the United States, and for this reason, unlikely to come about.
Some readers may find Halperin’s view of the Cuban Revolution too cynical. Plainly he relishes analyzing the Machiavellian subtleties of statecraft. He sternly judges socialism by its performance, not its promises. As a man of many years and much experience, however, perhaps Halperin is more entitled to his views than most.