26 February 2003

Book Review: Fidel Castro, by Clive Foss, *****


Fidel Castro has led Cuba through success and failures since 1959. Son of a rich landowner, he became a radical revolutionary who attempted to overthrow the government in 1956 with a tiny band of followers. Using propaganda and subversion as much as sudden attacks from his mountain hideout, he gained victory in 1959. He liberated his country from one dictator and the overwhelming influence of the United States, only to turn it into another dictatorship firmly under the control and patronage of the Soviet Union.

The failure of the American attack at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 added to his reputation, while the missile crisis of 1962 put Cuba right at the centre of the Cold War. Later, by sending his army to Africa and supporting guerrilla movements in Latin America, he made Cuba a significant player on the world stage. Despite many attempts to remove him and the economic collapse of the USSR, Castro survived and in 1999, celebrated 40 years of his regime.


This book provides as much information as you could possibly expect in 100 pages. The author writes concisely and keeps his focus on the subject. He is clearly well versed in the history and politics of the region and can draw on his knowledge to set events in their proper context. This book is not just Castro's life, but because he held so much power for such a long time, it is also a concise history of Communist Cuba up to the end of the 1990s.

Another plus of the book is that Foss is able to write with as much objectivity as one can expect in a book about history and politics. Cuba is a subject that is all too often politicized and it is difficult to find detached, neutral point of view analyses. This is it.

Because of its size (excellent for carrying on a trip to Cuba, and perhaps donate it to a Cuban reader) this can not be an exhaustive study. But it is a good introduction to the neofite, and good summary and review for the expert. A bibliography at the end provides suggestions for further reading. Highly recommended.

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