No dictator is a hero to his bodyguard. Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By RONALD RADOSH
Juan Reinaldo Sánchez was drafted into the Cuban Army in 1967 and assigned to the Department of Personal Security, the branch dedicated to protecting Fidel Castro. Starting at the lowest rung, where he was assigned to the blocks where Cuba’s top revolutionary leaders worked, Sánchez quickly rose through the ranks because of his good performance and revolutionary attitude. As a result, he was selected to join an elite group, made up of two divisions of 1,500 handpicked troops, who protected Fidel Castro 24 hours a day. Sánchez certainly stood out: In 1976, he graduated from a new training school for elite security agents where he earned a black belt in karate and became Cuba’s top sniper and best pistol shooter, a status gained from national military competitions.
Eventually chosen to be Castro’s main security guard, Sánchez accompanied Castro everywhere he went, including trips to the Soviet Union, Central and South America, and Western European capitals. As such, he was in the unique position to observe Castro and his actual lifestyle, one 180 degrees from the “socialist” values he preached and supposedly lived. In fact, according to Sánchez, Castro lives like a typical Latin American caudillo: He “transformed and enlarged his father’s [large plantation] property to make Cuba into a single hacienda of eleven million people” in which, as lord and master, he would control the lives of his subjects, virtually the entire Cuban population of poor peasants and urban dwellers.
Fidel Castro has often told Cubans and the world press that he is an exemplary revolutionary leader who works day and night for the revolution and lives as simply as the poorest Cuban, taking only a meager official salary of $38 per month (in American dollars). Sánchez finds this myth “highly comic,” since, in reality, Castro was the CEO of what might be called Cuba Holdings, an entity with sums in the millions, all of it available for Castro’s personal use at a moment’s whim.
Sánchez details how Castro uses this wealth for his personal comfort, a state secret carefully hidden from the people he led until his recent official retirement. For the first time, Sánchez exposes the secret properties Castro owns, giving exact locations, using maps and Google satellite imagery. The leader who preaches the need to sacrifice for the revolution has, in addition to 20 homes throughout the island, a private island called Cayo Piedra, where he and his entourage would go each weekend in June and for the entire month of August. It was, writes Sánchez, a “millionaire’s paradise” where Castro kept his private yacht, Aquarama II, and had his own ecological underwater sanctuary.
Despite Castro having an official photographer, Sánchez notes that no photos were ever allowed to be taken of his vacation paradise. Few, except his immediate family—his wife Dalia and their five children—were allowed to go there. There were a few exceptions, including the explorer Jacques Cousteau; news people such as Barbara Walters of ABC and Ted Turner, whose favorable coverage on CNN Castro appreciated; and Erich Honecker, the leader of East Germany to whom Castro was indebted for his Stasi-trained state security agents.
Among Castro’s other indulgent privileges was his insistence that, whenever he traveled abroad, he had to sleep in his favorite bed from his main Havana residence. Every time he traveled, his aides had the bed taken apart and shipped to Castro’s destination, where it would be put together in his hotel or lodging and ready for use before his arrival. The former guerrilla leader, evidently, was making up for the time he spent sleeping outdoors on the Sierra Maestra, fighting the Batista regime.
Sánchez goes after other stories surrounding the revolution’s history. He contests the myth that, in the 1980s, during the Reagan presidency, “indigenous” revolutions broke out in Central America. Sánchez argues that they were exports by Fidel Castro of his revolution. He reveals the existence of a secret training camp 15 miles east of Havana, where the government trained and directed foreign guerrilla operations all over the world. Recruits came from Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, and Nicaragua, and included Basque separatists, members of the Irish Republican Army, and, of course, soldiers from Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It was here that Carlos the Jackal, Daniel and Humberto Ortega, and Abimael Guzman, leader of Peru’s violent Shining Path, were all trained.
The art of sharing the stage with dread. Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By JOHN CHECK
Vladimir Horowitz and Maria Callas, Ella Fitzgerald and Laurence Olivier, Sarah Bernhardt and Luciano Pavarotti—these transcendent performers communicated a point of view, an inexpressible feel for life. And they did so despite their spells of stage fright.
Old Possum’s formative years. Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By JAMES MATTHEW WILSON
Some years ago, while visiting T. S. Eliot’s native St. Louis, I took in a lecture on Eliot’s poem “Marina,” delivered by the Scottish poet and critic Robert Crawford. Most people will grant that T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) is a difficult poet, but after 20 years of reading him, I find that “Marina” is the only one of his poems I continue to find obscure, even opaque. Crawford interpreted the poem astutely, but what most impressed me was his willingness to set aside certainty of sense in favor of an exceptional richness of sound:
The ushering-out of the Peculiar Institution.Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By RICHARD STRINER
Leonard L. Richards, professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), has given us a compelling and multi-faceted account of how the antislavery movement achieved its definitive triumph in the form of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Metaphorical drama for the 20th century. Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Daša Drndić, a Croatian, has gained respect in her country as a novelist, literary critic, and playwright. After teaching in Canada and completing a master’s degree in communications in the United States, thanks to a Fulbright grant, she now teaches philosophy at the University of Rijeka.
The long reach of a famous circle of Oxford scholars.
Aug 3, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 44 • By MICHAEL NELSON
BOGSAT: according to urbandictionary.com, a “Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around Talking” in “regularly scheduled daily/weekly worthless meetings.”
The Inklings: according to religion scholars Philip and Carol Zaleski, “a small circle of intellectuals” who “from the end of the Great Depression through World War II and into the 1950s . . . gathered on a weekly basis in and around Oxford University to drink, smoke, quip, cavil.”
The soap-operatic succession saga of the Sackvilles. Aug 3, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 44 • By SYDNEY LEACH
When Vita Sackville-West, daughter of the third Lord Sackville, recalled her childhood at the family’s ancestral home, Knole, she described “a person called Henry who from time to time came to the entrance and demanded to see Grandpapa, but was not allowed to.” So recounts Robert Sackville-West, author of The Disinherited and also the current, and seventh, Baron Sackville. Henry, in fact, was Vita’s uncle on her mother’s side.
A cult classic stands the test of time.Aug 3, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 44 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
In 1956, Doubleday published The Dragon in the Sea, the first novel by a California newspaperman named Frank Herbert. Even now, the book seems a little hard to pin down. It was, for the most part, a Cold War thriller about the race to harvest offshore oil—except crammed inside the thriller was a near-future science-fiction tale of fantastic technology. And crammed inside the science fiction was a psychological study of naval officers crammed inside submarines.
Measuring history by the money supply. Aug 3, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 44 • By JAY WEISER
Coined is like Malcolm Gladwell for investment bankers, with intriguing anecdotes to close the quick sale while obscuring the larger picture. Money matters: Over the last half-century, the world economy has swung from high inflation to financial crisis to zero interest rates. But Kabir Sehgal, an investment banker, offers “a multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary portrait of currency through the ages” without much ability to tie it together.
The collision at the corner of Language and Politics.
Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By JAMES BOWMAN
It’s a pity that The Speechwriter will be judged, both for good and ill, in the light of the media sensation created six years ago by Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Famous for not hiking the Appalachian Trail, Sanford is Barton Swaim’s former employer and the principal character—under the less-than-cryptic pseudonym of “the governor”—in this immensely sad yet very funny book.
Love through the lens of Sappho.Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By A.E. STALLINGS
Much of what we think we know about Sappho is apocryphal, conjecture, invented, or wrong, maybe even her name. (Sappho calls herself Psappho.) Yet somehow we feel we know her, that she is speaking directly to us across chasms of time, language, geography, and alphabets. And this is only from one, perhaps two, complete poems and a smattering of fragments from the nine-scroll corpus known in antiquity.
Isamu Noguchi, sculpting at dual purposes.
Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By JAMES GARDNER
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) appeared before the world as a two-form, shape-shifting paradox. One is hard put to say if he was an American sculptor of Japanese extraction, or a Japanese sculptor who happened to spend most of his life in the United States. The short answer, according to Hayden Herrera’s new biography, is that he was American—in fact, very American: Born Isamu Gilmour in Los Angeles, he had an American passport, spoke English as a first language, and often needed an interpreter in Japan.
The death, and rebirth, of its modern state. Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By ANDREW NAGORSKI
In the final days of World War II, Kurt Weill wrote a letter to his wife, Lotte Lenya, who was in New York, from the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. The couple had fled Germany after Hitler had taken power, and Weill was eager for the final collapse of the Third Reich. “This is what we’ve been waiting for, twelve years now,” he noted. “Isn’t it fantastic how unprepared these Nazis were for defeat. . . . I don’t think a nation has ever been defeated more catastrophically. . . . What stupidity! What cowardice! What a ‘master race’!”
The science—and mystery—of the disappearing red knot. Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By CHRISTOPH IRMSCHER
Where I now live, in Bloomington, Indiana, far from any ocean, my year is punctuated by the departure and return of the Canada geese. As the tasks invented by life in middle age accumulate, the rough cries of those geese in the spring and fall—their “ya-honk” of which Walt Whitman spoke—will have to do as my occasional reminder that there’s more to the world than this small college town.
One theologian’s journey from there to here. Jul 20, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 42 • By MARK TOOLEY
Thomas Oden is a Methodist, ecumenist, evangelical, and patristics scholar who was dissuaded from liberal modernism by a Jewish conservative, becoming himself a theological paleo-orthodox and devoting the last half of his life to the reaffirmation of Christian orthodoxy rooted in the early church fathers.