Commentary Magazine

Cuban Scoop

To the Editor:

I am immodest enough to reclaim my own brainchild. Reviewing Samuel Shapiro’s Invisible Latin America [February], Keith Botsford mentioned, in passing, “Theodore Draper’s thesis on the middle-class origin of the Cuban Revolution. . . .” Allow me to jog memories a little. Draper’s “thesis” was first articulated in Time on December 9, 1957, pp. 43-44. The Time story was based on a long dispatch I had sent from Havana. The story said, in part, “the top leadership of the rebellion is prosperous, conservative and respectable. Of the chief rebel plotters outside the Sierra, four are lawyers, three are physicians, two are financiers, one a millowner. . . each earns more than $20,000 a year. The rebels conspire behind brocade curtains in air-conditioned homes and offices.” Reporting on a meeting of revolutionary plotters, the story quoted my dispatch, “The only proletarians were the help.”

That 1957 story closed rather prophetically. “The conservatives at the top fear that the longer they stay behind their desks while Castro is in the hills getting headlines, the smaller their influence on him will be. . . . Up in the hills, notes one conservative rebel with a mixture of admiration and fear, ‘he (Castro) acts like a king before the Magna Charta, sitting under a tree dispensing justice.’ Castro may become the brilliant liberator his young followers see, or, as one older rebel worried last week, ‘a man on horseback.’”

There was much more, of course, in my 1957 dispatch, including a final paragraph quoting a leading Cuban as saying the time might well come when the U.S. would have to land Marines to deal with Castro. Luckily this and more of the same sort of analysis was not printed. Even the brief, dispassionate analysis that did appear in that 1957 story caused me considerable trouble. When in March 1958 I went to Santiago de Cuba and asked the rebel underground to arrange a trip for me to see and talk with Fidel, my request was received coolly. A stern but nonetheless cute young girl with the nom de guerre of Deborah quizzed me for hours on that 1957 story in Time. It was some time before Deborah decided that the potential benefits of letting me go to the hills to talk with Fidel outweighed the risks. (I was subsequently to discover that Deborah’s name was Vilma Espin, now Vilma Castro.)

Sam Halper
Time Incorporated
New York City

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