This is a long read, but that’s what the matter requires, and if it’s not done here, it may not get done anywhere — certainly not mainstream media.
In a recent post about the poor response to the Wasp Network movie by film critics — not due to politics but to the movie being a clunker — I neglected to delve into the basis for the film. That was the book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War: The Story of the Cuban Five (2011), authored by the decidedly leftist Brazilian journalist, writer, and politician Fernando Morais (born in 1946).
That book could not have been written by an anti-Castro Cuban, no matter how qualified, because even if published, it would have been dismissed or trashed as far-right rantings (and no politically correct director would have filmed it). Just as importantly, if not more, neither the “Cuban Five” nor the Castro regime to which they belong would ever have cooperated with the author, but would have condemned the book as bunk or worse. Morais did not have such problems, but more on that later.
This was not his first book on Cuba. In 1975, he was allowed to spend 3 months there gathering material for The Island, his portrayal of various aspects of life in Cuba at the time. During his stay, he was granted an interview with Carlos Rafael Rodríguez (then the #3 man in the Castro regime) and even Fidel met him in person, but not for a formal interview (though he promised Morais he’d eventually get one). The book, first published in Brazil in 1976, became a touchstone for the Brazilian left.
Naturally, The Island would have been scrutinized by the Castro people and their leader, who evidently liked it well enough to grant Morais his coveted interview in 1977 for a Brazilian magazine. The two spent some 8 hours together (after Morais was kept in Havana over a month waiting for the call to see Fidel). During that stay in Cuba, he met Castro crony Gabriel García Márquez, who became a close friend and whose endorsement helped him win an election in Brazil (when “Gabo” died, Morais eulogized his “solidarity with the Latin American people and the Cuban Revolution”).
Morais was in Cuba multiple times over the following years. During one visit, Fidel expressed interest in the Brazilian fila dog (a mastiff breed once used to hunt runaway slaves) on account of its large size, and Morais procured a pair for him. In 1980, he was there for a meeting advocating that poor countries refuse to pay foreign debt to rich countries (Fidel’s idea), and then traveled with Fidel in his official plane from Havana to Nicaragua for the first anniversary of the Sandinista triumph. He also got two more interviews with Fidel for magazine publication.
Morais became interested in writing about the Wasp Network in 1998, but could not proceed for years because the matter was deemed too sensitive by the Castro government. In 2005, while in Cuba for the Havana Book Fair, he was offered official cooperation to write about the spies by Ricardo Alarcón, then the #3 man in the Castro regime (though he didn’t start working on the book in earnest till 2008). Incidentally, during that 2005 visit, Morais was at a luncheon with Fidel, where the latter gave him a bottle of aged rum packaged to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Moncada attack (Fidel said he should open it at the birth of his first grandchild).
The book was published in Portuguese (2011), Spanish (~2013) and English (2015), which was the edition available to me. In 2012, upon accepting a prize for the book in Brazil, Morais dedicated the award to the “Cuban Five.” In 2013, he and former Brazilian president Lula visited Cuba and met with Raúl and Fidel Castro at their respective residences, and Morais gave a copy of the book to Fidel in person, seen here (Morais in middle, Lula at right). This was presumably the Spanish edition, published in Havana.
The book has no Preface or Introduction. There is an 8-page Afterword by one of the “Cuban Five,” René González. A List of Interviewees in Cuba and the US gives names only, with no other information. A Bibliography lists book, media, film and internet sources. In a 2-page Acknowledgments section, Morais thanks Ricardo Alarcón and “all the Cuban authorities and officials, both civilian and military, without whose patience and goodwill this book would not exist.” No official US government sources are mentioned as such. He also thanks a list of people whose names are given without other information about them. The book has no index.
Curiously for a work of this nature, and I suppose predictably, the book has neither footnotes nor endnotes for precise documentation of sources and other explanatory data. By contrast, Humberto Fontova’s book on Che Guevara has 14 pages of notes, and Antonio de la Cova’s book on the seminal 1953 Moncada attack has seventy pages of detailed notes.
It should already be evident, but it is clear just from the synoptic blurb on the book’s back cover and its Amazon listing, like practically all the movie reviews, that Morais’s account is favorable to the Castro regime and unfavorable to its Cuban exile opponents. It may be he truly believes the Castro revolution “is positive in the balance of history,” as he said upon Fidel’s death, over which he expressed sadness. It may be he believes his Castro regime sources and what he got from them to be trustworthy, accurate and reliable. It may also be he is a so-called “fellow traveler” or “useful idiot.”
Needless to say, the totalitarian Castro dictatorship, which had a major vested interest in how this story was presented to the world, would never have collaborated with a foreign writer as it did with Morais unless it expected to gain from it and had no reason to be wary of him or to fear a negative outcome. We know the outcome did not disappoint said regime, or it would have made that loud and clear, and then some.
So, all things considered, is it possible to take Morais as an impartial, unbiased and objective investigator telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Of course it is. I never cease to be amazed at what is possible. Plenty of people accept his book as definitive, even incontestable — except “those people” in Miami and elsewhere, but they’re effectively marginal, so who cares? The book and movie on the “Cuban Five” were not made for them, so what if they reject both? The point is that, even after 60 years of totalitarian misery and crime of every sort, things are about the same as in the days of Herbert Matthews of The New York Times.
Lord, deliver us, for nobody else will — surely not our “mother,” let alone our “brothers.”