Firsthand Account Lays Bare the Cuban Revolution

'Brothers from Time to Time' dispels the myths of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship

Firsthand Account Lays Bare the Cuban Revolution
Cuban Prime Secretary of the Cuban Communist party and President of the State Council Fidel Castro addresses a crowd in the 1970s in Havana. (OFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Fergus Hodgson

A longtime editor found a historic treasure in the 1980s: two brothers who had lived through the Cuban Revolution but on opposite sides. One had joined the U.S. effort, resisted Fidel Castro’s dictatorship, and become a political prisoner. The other had been a devoted Communist Party insider and ideologue.

The two Rivero brothers—Emi and Adolfo—both eventually escaped Cuba, reunited after decades apart, and settled in the United States. Although they passed away in the 2010s, in earlier years they grew close to and bequeathed their story to David Landau, who has preserved the primary history in "Brothers from Time to Time."

Landau's work, some of it written in the first person like a diary, is the most illuminating, up-close-and-personal account of the Cuban Revolution you will find. The elder brother Emi boarded in Landau's Washington, D.C., home, where they collected family letters and put the memories on paper. By conveying both sides of the story with editorial eloquence, "Brothers" is an even-handed examination of what happened and the zeitgeist in Cuba of the 1960s and 1970s.

Not only is "Brothers" a page-turning historical primer, it also pulls back the curtain on and confronts the Robin Hood image of Castro as a patron of the poor. It tells the unvarnished, tragic truth about the revolution through the eyes of earnest men who were there: "Almost everything in the book comes directly from the people who lived the [events] or were eyewitnesses," Landau shared in a podcast interview.

A Revolution for Fidel Castro’s Ego

Perhaps the most striking insights from "Brothers" stem from its close encounters with Castro, since Adolfo interacted with him personally. The reader sees how the revolution served Castro's ego and lust for power more than Marxist ideology—although that was the bait and switch he used to hoodwink his victims and allies. As opposed to an ideologically driven communist, "[Castro was] nothing but an opportunist," Landau explained. "Castro would have used anything to come to power."

Castro's motives became clear when true believers were purged from the Communist Party, which might as well have been the Fidelista Party. That's where members’ loyalty had to be, at least publicly. A hint of skepticism towards Castro's tactics was enough for a man to find himself a political prisoner as a so-called counterrevolutionary.

Such was the fate of Adolfo, who had been a faithful student of and advocate for socialism from the pre-Castro days under the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in the 1950s. However, the revolution had a penchant for eating its own, and apparently he was a conspirator in a traitorous “microfaction.”

Adolfo can count himself lucky, since his brother served almost 20 years as a political prisoner. Emi snuck back by parachuting into Cuba to work as a CIA agent on the ground, and he was close to being executed by the regime, as so many of his peers were.

The Central Planner's Arrogance

Not only did Castro want all loyalty to him, more than to any ideology, he also wanted the economy to serve his whims, going as far as forced relocations of campesinos and topsoil. Although hard to believe, the firsthand accounts in "Brothers" share how Castro was often commenting on the need for products that would supposedly fetch a handsome premium on the world market. He wanted crocodile hides, for example, and thought he knew better than farmers and entrepreneurs what would generate the best returns.
Castro and his sycophantic circle believed they were going to achieve more prosperity than laissez-faire capitalism. What a pathetic joke that proved to be, not that they ever accepted the folly of their ways. The accumulated capital and productive capacity of Cuba depreciated swiftly under the weight of Castro's confiscatory and arbitrary central planning. Cubans still struggle to make $100 per month and rely on rations to survive.
As the outcomes became obvious to all with eyes to see, Cubans en masse tried to flee. The regime’s rhetoric evolved, called for patience, and emphasized the new socialist man—one who serves not himself but the cause. The pigs on top didn't suffer, but that wasn't about to find its way into Granma, the island’s lone newspaper and mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

How the Regime Achieves Continuity

The one product that Castro and his ilk were experts in was regime continuity. Castro died without ever seeing justice, and he had a knack for turning thorny situations to his advantage. Survival for the rulers was the goal, while the concerns of common Cubans were secondary.
For example, as detailed in "Brothers," the Jimmy Carter administration sought common ground and thawed relations with the Cuban regime. When Carter offered across-the-board asylum to escaping Cubans, Castro opened up the prisons and sent not political prisoners but the worst criminals in the 1980 Mariel boatlift of 125,000 exiles. These Cubans were now Carter’s problem.
Further, Castro's elaborate spy network, including Committees for the Defense of the Revolution on every block, fed his paranoia and left dissenters nowhere to hide. Adolfo and Emi, as frank men with a spine, learned the hard way that there were few people they could trust and that idealism was a burden not a crutch under a totalitarian system.

Chipping Away at Popular Myths

The challenge with history is that appealing myths circulate more widely than unappealing facts. There is little one can do to help the unteachable Marxists who keep their heads in the sand and revere Castro as an anti-imperialist hero. Further, those with a grudge against the United States are willing recipients of the regime’s scapegoating.

However, by offering a concise, accessible, entertaining account—with plenty of tearjerker moments—Landau’s "Brothers" chips away at the myths. Adolfo’s and Emi’s story is available for anyone who desires to know the truth about what became Castro's revolution, as are the lessons that apply beyond Cuba. With that knowledge, one need not repeat the mistakes that have cursed Cuba to more than 60 years as an island of misery.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Fergus Hodgson is the founder and executive editor of Latin American intelligence publication Econ Americas. He is also the roving editor of Gold Newsletter and a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.