tv Jonathan Hansen Young Castro CSPAN August 13, 2019 12:10am-1:17am EDT
he enjoys having us around. i do really believe despite his constant comments about fake news and the media and so forth, i feel he enjoys having us around because it helps drive the message and the news of the day he can do every day and does every day. therefore, having us around allows him to do that. up next a look at jonathan hanson's book about the early life of fidel castro.
hello, everybody. thanks for joining. on behalf of the bookstore i'm pleased to introduce tonight's event with the new look young castro the making of a revolutionary in conversation with the ambassador. before we get started i want to encourage everyone to check out the schedule. for example june 25, ash carter will discuss his new book inside box lessons from a lifetime leadership in the pentagon. and on july 8, charles fishman will present one giant leap that flew us to the moon. after the talk we will time for questions from the audience and we are pleased to have c-span book tv. asking questions please know you will be recorded and please wait a moment for the microphone to come to you before asking your questions. after the q-and-a we will have a signing at the table and we have copies available for purchase in the next room.
your choice to purchase books supports the series and ensures the landmark of independent bookstores, so we thank you for that and also thank you for silencing your cell phone for the remainder of the evening. >> so now i'm pleased to introduce the speaker for the new book young castro. senior lecturer on the social studies and faculty associate at the center for latin american studies at harvard. articles appeared at "the new york times," the post and others and is the author of patriotism debating guantánamo and american history. the latest book is an engaging character study and welcomed additioa welcomedaddition to thf castro and cuba. they called it a skillful volume which is sure to become the standard on the early life. tonight he's joined by the ambassador who served as the first of the u.s. embassy in
havana covering the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the uk and cuba. please join me in welcoming. thank you everybody for coming. i want to give a special thanks. i would like to thank all of you for coming. i don't take it for granted and hope to make it worthwhile for you. finally, i want to thank my friend, the ambassador for agreeing to come here tonight to moderate and ask questions. we were here a couple of nights ago in a monsoon so we should have irone iron out the wrinkley this time.
i want to ask the same favor of you all that i ask the readers and the buck which is to suspend for a moment the image that you have the fidel castro foaming at the mouth to the story that begins northwest maine in the province at the end of the 19th century. it's one whose aspirations, accomplishments and failures make sense in light of the economic conditions that inspired and constrained him. those of you willing to take that leap will learn a few things that may surprise you.
he wasn't a communist ideologue that we think we know. in fact, he was inspired by a pretty ordinary idea of the independent foreign rule dedicated to the well-being of his people. as i've come to refer to it but was stymied by the combination of historical factors including the history of u.s. cuban relations going back centuries, the opposition of entrenched political elites and cuba and the logic of the cold war. these and other historical developments converted at a fairly ordinary idea was to reforidealisticreform and the ug revolutionary. now of course comcast rose personality played a role here. he's the only one calling for the free and independent cuba in the midcentury that he meant it when he said it taking it's not only radicaif notonly radical bo
entrenched left, right and center and outside forces political, economic to pull the strings. you could call it obsession, fixation, call it what you will. castro experienced subservience to the united states like a tattoo on his chest resulting in a remarkably young age to once and for all ran in liberty even at the cost of liberty itself. okay, so what is at stake, why does this history matter? it matters for a lot of reasons and i will give you a couple of them before the turnover. first as a historian, i am committed to the notion that we can get this history right. but it's valuable to do so in and of itself irrespective of its utility. i see this book i as a vindicatn of the historical truth and the
possibility of the archive from the name-calling that passes from the public debate today. this book is my personal appeal in which original sources provide a foundation or public discourse and even judgment. second and more concretely it helps explain not only how he came to be a communist strongman that he became, but also why the u.s. cuban relations remains so stubbornly contracted. it's known in broad strokes in latin america. it greets the u.s. officials that show up in the region lecturing about democracy and the rule of law. it comes to raise the choices in its dealings with venezuela and relies the claim all options are on the table in the standoff.
for the rights and transparency into the private sector expansion in cuba today. i just returned from a short trip to the island where they continued to revisit the revolution and reimagine what it might still become. i can't think of a stronger advocate for the civil and political liberties for certain kinds of private sector activities and for political transparency and the young fidel castro. with that, i will open up to jeff. >> jonathan, thank you very much. it's great to be here. this is a meticulously researched another controversial
figure. i think and correct me if i'm wrong, we could say you've attempted to write it almost from his perspective when he went to law to create right as he actually left it without the benefit of hindsight and i have to told you it's actually very hard to do. but it is worth actually seeing if you can do it. to set the stage, it's important to remind us when castro died on november 25, 2016, then president obama released a statement. i'm going to read an excerpt of it because i think it frames the discussion. he said, quote, we know that this moment is filled with
powerful emotions recalling the ways they alter the course of the wives and families. history will record and judge the impact of this singular figure on the people and the world around him,." so, perhaps he is the first serious contribution to the recording. let me start with a pretty basic one, which is why did the cuban authorities and the castro family grant you access, why now were when you started this would be looking to create a certain legacy or felt america's? helhow did it work wax? >> i have two answers to this and one comes from a
conversation over the last couple of days. the one i would have given you before we started to discuss it is that i think this comes at a good time for them because as i said a short remarks and introductions they are right now revisiting the revolutionary self and reimagining what it might become. some of this is says about the e trump administration pullback on the obama is that it's depriving them the opportunity to make some of their own money and to do it in their own way. and castro himself, as i suggested as a young man might have supported those kind of initiatives. the other thing, there's a lot of convincing that i did in the various archives, simply that i wasn't here to judge him. i wasn't here to treat his life like a prosecutor scourin scoure web to find evidence to convict
that i literally wanted to do it going to re-create his life going forward with an open mind. so for those reasons, they were sympathetic to the project. to the other half of that, i was describing that cubans are kind of revisiting the revolution that they might have liked the idea of having an author like me with a sympathetic mind to take on this life and write a sympathetic history that is it might be good for the legacy to have a book written about him like this. i am not so sure about that because i think that is an anathema that he said he was not the rest of his life after the revolution, the story that he told all of these interviewers
that i was a communist conception. so that's interesting and complicated, but there could be several reasons why they were open to it. >> is there anything in the back obookthat the cuban authorities subjected? >> the fact i'm re-creating the nationalist, there are anecdotes. there are stories from the university life where he was involved in some warfare of the university to be active in the cuban politics of the time and to participate in much of the warfare and even some of the critics acknowledge he was involved in an incident in which someone was shot in the back and there's some evidence that he was the person who did the shooting. and i said in the pictures we may never know what happened in this and that and, but that there are sources that suggest
he might have been the shooter and the cuban authorities didn't like that and said to me that no cuban ever across the entire island would read a book in which castro is accused of shooting somebody in the back. that isn't exactly how i wrote it that is how they read it and it is an example of them not liking what i'm up to. >> let me continue with that because i think we are talking about the same part of the book may be related there's a discussion of his involvement that was part of impartial of the politics and you mentioned specifically that they gloss over it and be i the enemy is exaggerated while ignoring the context but you also want to say many other sources about this but about other things they
changed their stories through the years, they change their accounts committee might admit that they are exaggerating or they have other reasons for doing so. so, how do you check all of this and make sure that you get it right clicks >> like any good journalist or historian would confirm the accounts of the draw so i use books of his critics and sources in favor of him and books and forces that are neutral towards him. when i'm interviewing people, i interview many different sources who knew castro. i try to avoid simple questions that could be answered yes or no like is he a nice person, good person, yes or no because i think that those are all essentially compromised. i try to re-create his life through stories about the things he did and what he was like and what interested him.
the books he read. the sources were explosive or contentious idea that you would do on either side we may never know the truth about this and let you decide from the preponderance of evidence, or i say with a reasonable certainty that this is how the event looked from my perspective. >> for just one more question on the process, did you receive everything that you requested or do you feel that you received what you need to receive t to t? >> i don't doubt that i didn't receive all there is.
the bulk of the evidence of that comes from two or three sources. the second collection is the sources of the archives. the first would be the relationship with whom he had a love affair while in jail. to repeat the sources are remarkable and i had better access to them than any american in a generation or in some cases ever. i was permitted to photograph the entire archive. no one has ever had that right before. i have every single page that is available in the volumes there on my computer. but i don't know that every single piece of evidence in those volumes has been in fact
there are some historians i'm in contact with who go back and say did you see this specific letter and i have to say no. then it's not in any way, stretch or form inherently positive. what surprised you the most in your research? >> several things, but the first i'm trained as an intellectual historian with astounding intellect into the depth of his interest and those include both philosophy and literature and history, but also science and how things are made, then, young fans of castro on the record years later to describe taking him home to his house and am noticing how my father was a
wood worker made certain aspects or this or that so he had a broad mind and also a very curious mind. i have an excerpt i will give you a sense of this this is from a contact i'm not going to read the section on time, but i will read the section that proceeded to give you a piece of his mind. just one moment while i dig this out. i thought i made a mark. >> while you are looking guy you know there are lots of folks who would visit the statement you made about the profound intellect. he's a very controversial figure. >> i would say that i'm not sure
those people know the depth and breadth. he can be extremely stubborn and argumentative and things like that. that isn't what i meant. okay. so, here we go. this is an exchange in his letters and again, he's in prison and writing to this lady with whom he talks a lot about and this is just a short passage about his love for the. the. so this is from chapter eight or nine and the chapter is called the great. period between christmas and new years was hard. they had forgotten and left out. the very elite that he blamed for cuba she felt sad and conflicted forced to put on a good face for people she had
grown weary of. the commonplace they proved a medium of repair and one sunday late january they wrote a letter that opened with a long poem on the value of the book. he nonetheless captured the bitter and the somber hours of prison. brought tit brought to mind they of shakespeare where he compares the multiplication multiplicatis of bread to the multiplication of readers. he reinvented man as a reader with an insatiable appetite for knowledge into the desire for knowledge the ultimate human concern. what was once the province described has now become obligatory allowing cnn's human
cycle composed of all of the profits that the poets and philosophers to shine. >> you trace quite thoroughly his political evolution that only the social evolution would bring about the necessary changes to create what he envisioned as a more just society and another theory is turned to communism definitively came after the success of the other evolution but there's a ta contradiction there because his family is a capitalist success story and gave him the education and opportunities never mind the financial resources to pursue his vision. so, you have a quote in the book that i think is quite
entertaining where he says later on looking back everybody regarded the marriage as a way to save me me cut tranquilized e with these concepts. so, what do you make of that? you have a hard-working very successful father and mother who gave everything to their children and along the way he completely turned his back on it. >> i will try to make this brief. he grew up on a plantation that was 42 miles square and his parents were peasants.
she was closer in age to her children and she was to castro's father. the people on the farm were escrows friends with whom he grew up with were the children of sugarcane workers and that the test gave employment for about three months a year. so, he knew all along that it was very nice to have what he had intthat hehad been at the ss aware many other people didn't and that there was some fundamental inequality in math. i will stop and what you ask a follow-up, but i will just ask a question what does it mean to be a little over a liberal nationalist? wthreewe might say we claimed se
kind of commitment to may be private enterprise may be social democrats. some form of commitment to civil liberties the right to education and democracy and other things coming up we might also claim to the free and independence of other nations in so there's a lot of things going on here and i think you could sort of belief in all of them while fundamentally putting a few aside while you pursue one or the other. my argument in the pockets in the name of sovereignty, he kind of lost his mind about these other things. he put them aside for the time being not knowing of course that thithis resolution was passed because they are not utterly crushed by the united states like guatemala for example. so, --
>> plus five years before his revolution. >> correct. it was particularly illuminating for me use like several passages where he talks about his commitments to the civil and political liberties, freedom of expression, habeas corpus, right to vote in the 1940 constitution as a framework for the future and he took full advantage of all of that in his trial following the assault in the conference iconferences that heo have. he was able to use these rights
we all should have and then of course as you know, he moved later on towards more economic and social rights and those became more important. buagain what do you make of tha? is it authentic, expedient? it is an obvious one because it was news to be quite frankly there was so much of that and so much of his availing himself of these young professionals. >> to be sure, the book tells the story of somebody relying on these rights as a student and young politician in the protest against others that were corrupt
for whatever way. the book tha also discusses howt is interested in the civil liberties yielded slowly to the interest in social liberties he never gave up on the former at this stage of his life but it's the pre- triumph of the revolution thirevolution this b. didn't see him talking more and more about education for everybody, more and more about economic fairness, more and more about access to medical care and the distinction between cities in cuba at this time which are doing quite well especially havana and the areas he knew so well having grown up with in the east. you and i think of these things is together in the new deal and not sure all americans would agree with that, and so did he began, his emphasis changed.
and then there is a third thing he cared deeply about. and that is the sovereign and independent cuba, the rights to the back of her own country and cuba haven't been in charge of its own affairs ever after the spanish-american war, the united states dominated the politics and the economy up until the triumph of the revolution, and we could argue about the aspects of that. so she then again shows and said we are going to focus on this one thing. think of the statement old dissidence is treason. the statue of liberty octobe
october 1886. french and american journalists, politicians, and in exile from the spanish government they wanted to arrest him and throw him in jail. he steps a day and says this. for him who enjoys them of liberty it's difficulnotlibertyk of his anger as the wild beast spirit rises within him as if it were poisoned. so that' that to me is castro ai don't apologize for him, i am not supporting what happened. i'm just describing how in the interest of this thing again,
not my defense, that fact. >> let me follow-up on this notiofollow up on thisnotion ofl nationalism. at one point i guess very early on in the book, you argue that his original platform was stymied by the historical factors. essentially it is the confines of the cold war. as i read that, my immediate reaction was so, where is his responsibility in all of that.
to address that furthered in the book, that was the reaction i initially had as if to say is everything the result of the united states or something else and of course as an american diplomat in cuba, i heard that a lot. how do you unpack that? spinnaker i may respond to this with one more brief excerpt just to reassure you i'm not exonerating castro as i said in that little introduction. he wasn't the only one calling for this tea this cemented whend it and said, he is many things at once. he's intractable, bossy, a love of comfort she describes them as
lonely. he had all these quarks that went with running a country on your own and if i may, i will just read this short excerpt. this is how the preface and is. the strengths of the source of his greatest weaknesses. charismatic and overbearing, courageous and reckless. pragmatic and quixotic he had a killer instinct as those in his line of work always do. capable of affection, he possessed a call this up in ther region of the scale. in the end, he was able to love one thing and one thing only,
not his wife, not his son who recently committed suicide, not even himself. he loved the revolution. at the height of his powers he would have been able to tolerate one person on a day-to-day basis someone whose commitment rifled his own. in defending the revolution he could be simultaneously stoical and self pitying forgiving and vengeful. not all these characteristics are easy to explain. many are hard to defend and this attempts to encounter as many of them as possible. so, though in this presentation i tried to present a coast road that cuts against the grain of what i call the characters of similar stereotypes of him, there's plenty of information and evidence for those depictions. so, the book has the autocratic
streak and all of his friends refer to him sometimes. it's all there if i sort of a few =% of what it's about and introducing. so, my last question deals with u.s. diplomacy in the embassies. i'm sure you've encountered a lot of information about what they were doing. but what struck me maybe midway through the book is that while he was in exile in mexico, so in the early 50s, there was plenty of political commotion, dissidence, all sorts of parties and machinations, and i wondered as a former diplomat, how was the embassy tracking all of
that, were they able to understand and follow what was going on. there was also quite a bit about some u.s. decision much later in the decade. any comments on the actions of the u.s. diplomats and diplomacy in this period? >> in a way that you may be able to appreciate there were a lot of different people over different partfordifferent part. there was a man who was the ambassador in havana who had no experience trying to keep the lid on cuba with increasing violence many people have become alienated from batista. now very close to where castro
was waging this war it was different and there was a portfolio of people with different sympathies trying to keep the beat on what was going on and who was who and among the various groups that were posing him at the time. interestingly, some people picked up on this like he wanted a revolution and i don't know how much you know about the history of the revolution they don't just happen when the guerrilla war hobbles another rv. some in the embassies knew this. they take development and education among the people, all the people, the middle-class people, managers and some of them realize there were groups
that said if you take out the piece that you haven't solved the problem and there were some of the people in the consulate before picking up othat were pid recognizing this and sympathetic but interested in accomplishing this in the mountains and doing their jobs. >> with open it up. any questions? questions about the economics. while you were talking i was bringing up the history and what it said is that the economics were based on relationships with the united states and the united
states was integrally involved in running and buying the products of cuba and in the communist perspective in terms of centralizing economic control, so my question is what role did they play in that and what has been the long-term impact of until today of the economic policies? >> they have been a success i think we would agree. you are the adage of the competence of the end of the book what happens after the revolution but i can say something about che guevara and his brother who were about communists earlwork aboutcommune
castro became a devout communist. the rebels are fighting for a hodgepodge of ideology. castro was just simply struggling to stay alive in the mountains and landed within expeditionary force so it didn't matter what ideology he was. he had some presuppositions and exploited liberalism to wage the ideological warfare. so that's just to say ther say e groups of people in his leadership of the bead and different things. it's a complete mess and communism doesn't work and i'm not here to defend it but i will say is in the territory of cuba for this purpose he governs during the guerrilla warfare,
there were functioning schools and hospitals and according to one of the germans who spent two years with him, there was no evidence of communist ideology so all that i will see it until the revolution there were communists among them until the revolution this wasn't about communism. >> i don't mean to take up a lot of people's time. if there was a period where he was trying to find his way.
you can see that he's looking around for people. it opens up with a passage whereby he asks for books on roosevelt's new deal and advance the things that he accomplished in the new deal and they seem to the things he would like to completion cuba. a couple of months ago the government ran away from him and some others met him, started in washington and came up to philadelphia and new york, you name it, fancy press schools and then he came up to boston and
either wholly instrumental or partly instrumental, but also consistent with a story that i count as agitating just as much of his liberal nationalism and the idea for a fair economy of cuba not necessarily a communist economy. >> it's also worth noting a couple of years after the conference in argentina, i forget exactly two, three, four years which excluded cuba. who else i has a question? >> did anything change for any period of time to change anything? >> great question. succumbing us. as a father i refer to this as a timeout, one you sorely needed. i describe the intellect as
voracious and i don't know but he seems to many people in the lead up to this attack on the barracks and the period between march 21952 into july, 1953 he is moving like crazy. later he was getting the sales together to form the revolution that he had no political platform, nothing organized, no sense of what to do and no real idea of anything until he got to prison and began to read very carefully not only literature but also history, the history of the war tactics and things like that. succumbing he became very agitated.
to sing a song to batista towards the prison that wasn't very flattering so he was in solitary and just read and read and you could see his reading shift from the richer. then the politics and then economics to history to figure out how they did what they did. succumbing to us, it was an immensely disappointing time. he re-created a speech he gave at became history will absolve me where he laid out some of his platforms. so, yes he was originally sentenced for 26 years and ended up serving 26 months so it was a significant amount of time for him to get his act together.
>> [inaudible] they might have been better off today. so the question is ho is has ise not been an embargo like there had been a revolution. that is an interesting question. the store is to make them just as we are trying to do now in iran. counterfactual, i don't really trade, but i am sur sure jeff wd be happy to answer. [laughter] >> this is your book launch. people have debated this for decades. but i think we came to the conclusion in the last administration be embargo outlived its usefulness with the relic of the cold war, and really needed to go in part to unleash the creativity of the cuban people and to bolster a
lot of the commercial and private sector activity and other things that were underway. many people much smarter than i had been debating and will continue to debate that until the end of history i think. who else hav has a question? yes sir. >> some of the earliest came from the federalist you and and ended many of the leaders have been from the spanish war. did they have any contact while he was young castro or it seems to me they were lying low and when he arrived it was like this is our guy. >> that is a great question.
they have very close relationships and ties the communist party. they use the communist party to legitimize his rule into different times and relied on the support of governmental labor unions to legitimize him. so, where was i going with this? castro turned to the communists for instrumental reasons, again maybe as you're suggesting. one of the great failures of the revolutionary war was the failure to develop a strong political party capable of sustaining a victorious guerrilla army. this doomed the revolution of 33
and castro knew it. that and the absence of the rv capable of defending. there were two things, lack of political army and in this case, he was the army said he had that. and he joined as you know the navy militia very quickly. but he needed a political support and saw there were people that often needed him and that this was a marriage of convenience and he put his law. >> with almost unanimous support from all of the union at the beginning they all supported him unconditionally. ..
>> and others were down waiting trying to get support for the revolution. and those who died actually worked very closely with the union to build support and even among the professions and those connections to the astounding ability to make that happen. but let me just say it is a fact that they thought of castro that these attacks were simply ridiculous and selfish.
they really wanted nothing to do with them. so it is true and 55 and 56 after getting out he was visited by one couple and then they kept their hands off until after the revolution. >> i remember but i forget the name but it was a veteran of the spanish suez war and castro basically sold the factory and supported castrol one - - castro wholeheartedly. >> and i actually liked the
guy. [laughter] >> could he bring that over here? every time i see a documentary you see the beautiful cars refurbished. and then after the foreigners we could have used them here. didn't he say there is something here that i could do? doesn't help to pass off the us. >> i'm not sure i understand the premise of the question but you have a bigger take on what that meant.
but i think given the history and castro's knowledge of the history of us cuba relation relations, and the way politics play out at this moment in the cold war, again governance? it was a bipolar world so to say that they were obsessed then that's right. so i don't think there was any way that castro would have. he believed in the id he was infallible. and sovereignty and independence but was not willing to grant that and go against his progressive
program so there is not a way in which he would have made an alliance with the usa. there seems to be the insinuation of the money and i argue in the book by the time he was 25 or so graduating from law school they granted him the keys to their kingdom. but he wasn't going to do it because he believed in what he was espousing of good education for all and fundamental justice and education for all. not just three months per year dominated by outside interest. i don't know if trump could do better to march down and live happily ever after.
>> one of the other issues debated for many years to come. >> the cuban character how much does that have to do with the fact that it still on? i understand the nature non- combative and adaptable. everybody talks about what they are managing to accomplish despite the fact there is almost no economy. do you have a take on that? does that have to do with what's happening today? >> cuban people are awful.
>> i don't know if i would say awful. >> but the spaniards in 1868 after they wore the one - - one the war of independence that battle was all but one but then we show up. >>'s or anything of their character that explains the way things are today? >> it's a difficult question to answer and it's very generalized about the national character. because you risk to stereotypes. in speeches i have made about my experience on the island, i have talked about all the similarities between americans
and cubans and one of those was a very strong national feeling that collided. otherwise they were the last spanish colony in the area to be freed. that could have had an impact americans could've had an extremely dominant role that could have had an impact. they are many factors. so it's really hard. >> young castro with the race
of white supremacy especially in the fifties and the movement going on. >> and then with racial problems and a lot of them for some reason made tensions on castro that the revolution would allow the deep rooted structural resolve meant themselves. so personally what i know of his sense of race relations that he grew up as i described working there and most of them very poor and his friends were
children of haitian and cuban workers. so he himself was very comfortable. you may know right now many in cuba are thriving and that has to with many things like the money that goes back to cuba now is historical. none of them have originated right after the revolution they were unsympathetic many had wealth and succeeded in planting and developing businesses and had successful careers here. but then the return to cuba would return to be very educated. historically. so if i have to pick up that
concept of the bed and breakfast then a lot of those between the questions in the universities are dominated by people like you and me there is racism. it is a problem i have friends that began as interpreters that try to go into the saratoga hotel there are signs that you cannot go in there certainly i could not go in there. so castro as a person was aware of it and was against it but aside from that structurally the race relations are fraught.
>> there is racism in a free country. but i will note that in the government industries i visited on a regular basis, all colors all shapes and sizes with the notion everyone being caucasian was wrong. thirty years ago or 20 years ago the inner circle of government officials in cuba with one or two exceptions but all that has been changing i have to say and there was forced immigration with the revolution and a variety of
other initiatives to try to address this issue but every other country they were not 100 percent successful. >> that remains a lot of work to do. >> so now somebody needs to write a book starting 1959 and going forward. thank you for coming. [applause] >> thank you for coming out tonight. if you're interested to get your book signed please line up to my left please line up to my left