Brothers in Arms

Article excerpt

A new biography describes how the Cuban Revolution was ignited by the spark between its two iconic leaders Fidel & Che: A revolutionary friendship By Simon Reid-Henry Sceptre Pounds 20

This gripping double biography describes the full-blooded friendship of two utterly different individuals. Differences can often mean separation. Yet, in the case of these two leaders, they rapidly fused into an unrivalled and irreversible complementarity. Theirs was an unfaltering and instinctive camaraderie, forged by a joint commitment to end what they perceived as the neo-colonialism of economic dependency. This would become their combined revolutionary project and, indeed, the backbone to the Cuban Revolution.

The book begins by tracing the two revolutionaries' respective origins. Fidel Castro was born in Oriente, the impoverished eastern region of Cuba with a vibrant culture immersed in rum, dancing and cockfighting. Yet for all its excitement, the community's crippled and faltering economy made a profound and permanent impression on the young Fidelito. His resulting social conviction, along with an extreme personal ambition and trademark persuasiveness, armed him for "a sort of verbal warfare", a persistent method of attack that would prove instrumental in toppling the Batista regime some years later, in 1959. But not without an indispensable sidekick ...

Ernesto "Che" Guevara's family, though of noble Argentine stock, are described as "uncompromising heretics when it came to the conventions of their class". Che, it seems, took this cultural iconoclasm a step or two further. Whereas his mother "had her hair bobbed like a boy's [and] smoked and crossed her legs in public", Che would travel across Latin America on a moped, fall in with a band of Cuban exiles in Mexico, only to find himself aboard a Cuba- bound boat a year later shouting: "Viva la revolucin!" Wilful? Just a little.

However, such spontaneity is more easily understood in the context of his idealist philosophy. For Che Guevara there was no "foreign" in Latin America. It was with this vision of solidarity that he was able to endure the physical battering he received in his first two years in Cuba. Undeterred by a government ambush on arrival (in which he was shot in the neck and lost 69 of his 82 comrades) Comandante Che would go on to orchestrate a two-year guerilla campaign in the Sierra Maestra, second only to Castro himself.

The intense, often "cloying" experience, as Simon Reid-Henry puts it, in the Cuban mountains only served to further revolutionise the two men, and, indeed, to bring them closer together. …