The story of Fidel Castro has few parallels in contemporary history. None of the outstanding Third World leaders of the twentieth-century played such a prominent and restless part on the international stage and none survived as head of state for as long. Over almost 50 years, he was one of the most controversial political figures in the world, and his legacy has yet to be fully evaluated. Some of his most cherished plans were realized and are a model for many Third World countries. Yet despite enormous sacrifices by Cubans, his grand vision remains unfulfilled and its continued pursuit is full of risks.

The fully revised third edition of this respected political biography provides the first full retrospect of Castro's remarkable career right up to his illness and withdrawal from power in February 2008, incorporating analysis of:

  • the renewed crackdown on dissidents in Cuba from the mid 1990s on
  • the major geopolitical reconfiguration of Latin America in the late 1990s, and the new Cuban-Venezuelan relationship under Hugo Chavez
  • the Helms Burton Act and the continuing US embargo
  • The Cuban economy in the first decade of the new millennium

It also revisits earlier events in Castro's career, for instance the various assassination plots against him , the Cuban missile crisis and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the light of documents released by Cuba and the US over the past decade and a half.


After 19 months of convalescence from a serious intestinal problem, during which he temporarily delegated his role as head of state to his brother Raúl, Fidel Castro announced on 18 February 2008 that he would no longer stand as President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The declaration brought to a close his almost 50 years at the helm of the Cuban Revolution.

This new edition is therefore a retrospective analysis of his extraordinary political career. It has been substantially revised to take into account the last 12 years of his role as the head of state as well as the new documents, articles and books on the Cuban revolution that have emerged during that time. The revisions include an epilogue, a new Chapter 10, and an extensive modification of all other chapters from the Prologue to the Bibliographical Essay at the end.

I am indebted once again to Jean Stubbs for her incisive comments on the draft of the last chapter and the epilogue and to Pedro Pérez Sarduy for his useful overview of the evolving political situation in Cuba today; also to my wife Gráinne Palmer for her helpful suggestions as a non-specialist about some of the chapters. None of them bears responsibility for any errors in the text, or for the balance of interpretation.

June 2008 . . .

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