Latin Americanists who came of age in the 1960s and early 1970s recall vividly journalist Jay Mallin’s many books and articles on Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. invasions of the Dominican Republic and Grenada, and the Soviet penetration into the Caribbean. Mallin’s strident anti-Communism was evident not only in his published works but also in his longtime position as news director of Radio Martí.
Thus this volume bears no ideological surprises, but it does have some historical value, because it is a veritable time capsule from the past. Mallin was an active participant from the outset, visiting Castro in the Sierra Maestra, accompanying him to Havana in 1959, and attending when Castro “betrayed the revolution.” Mallin also participated in the U.S. invasions of the Dominican Republic (1965) and Grenada (1983).
The book is composed of 17 distinct chapters, 14 of which have been published before, either as news reports or as parts of Mallin’s other books. The first two, “Guerrilla Campaign” and “Road to Havana,” are wonderful period pieces, full of the euphoria so ubiquitous in 1958-59 and liberally sprinkled with quotes from the principal players. Mallin also repeats the greatest myth of the Cuban Revolution: “Starting with a tiny, bedraggled, fleeing band of men, in two years’ time [Castro] defeated a professional army far larger and far better equipped than his own guerrillas” (p. 7).
From the third chapter (“Communist Takeover”) on, however, Mallin the romantic becomes Mallin the archenemy of both Castro and creeping Communism in the Caribbean. There are chapters on Raúl Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Dominican crisis, Grenada and Suriname, Angola, Soviet espionage (and its Cuban counterpart, the America Department), and Cuba as a Soviet military outpost “90 Miles from Home.” Unfortunately, there is nothing new here, not even updating, and Lars Schoultz’s National Security and United States Policy Toward Latin America (1987) remains the best account.
Mallin wrote the last four chapters specifically for this volume, thereby raising reader expectations. Chapters 14 and 15 deal rather pedantically with Castro’s repression of the Cuban Communist Party and the 1962 missile crisis. But in chapters 16 and 17 (“Pulling the Plug” and “35 Years and Counting”), Mallin analyzes the collapse of the Soviet Union, its impact on Cuba, Castro’s reaction, and the prognosis for the future of Fidelismo in Cuba, topics almost tailor-made for this decades-long “Cubanologist.” Sadly, however, there is little here either; Carmelo Mesa-Lago’s edited volume Cuba After the Cold War (1993) offers a far more cogent and rational discussion of these difficult subjects.
In this volume, Mallin had a superb opportunity to build on the past and offer a unique and perhaps meaningful scenario for the future; but he did not do so, and the U.S. and Cuban governments, the Cuban American community, and all students of Cuba are the losers for it.