In January 1959 the staff at the British Embassy in Havana were adjusting to their new hosts, the Cuban revolutionary government. Though headed by President Urrutia there was little doubt for the Embassy, as it was put in a despatch just over a week into the new era, that Fidel Castro would be ‘for some time to come the real power behind the throne’. In the same despatch appears the following speculation on the Cuban leader:
‘He is undoubtedly a man of enormous energy and great powers of leadership, but he is impulsive and has no experience of government. It remains therefore an open question whether he has the qualities necessary to weld into a coherent whole the discordant elements which have hitherto supported him and to give the country an administration both efficient and democratic.’ (FO 371/139398)
From this point onwards scrutiny of Castro intensified exponentially. For the past couple of years, while he led his guerrilla army in the eastern mountains, the Embassy had been reliant on scraps of information picked up through the grapevine and unreliable press reports for their assessments of him. Now they, like everyone else, had a direct window on the man with whom they were to do business in Cuba.
With events unfolding at a furious pace over the next couple of years and a Cuban government at times hostile to western diplomats, direct access to him in the form of interviews and meetings was hard to come by for the British. Nevertheless, impressions of this ‘exhibitionist’, as the British Ambassador would later identify him, were much easier to gain now that he occupied centre stage, seemingly relishing the limelight and making frequent and relentlessly long public speeches.
The focus of reports on Castro sent back to the Foreign Office from 1959, therefore, expanded to include constant references and detailed critiques of his personal character. His ideological beliefs remained somewhat unclear but analyses of his political character become increasingly laced with anxiety that he may be a communist in sheep’s clothing – a fear felt even more acutely by the Americans (conversations with whom are recorded in much Foreign Office correspondence on Cuba from this time). Continue reading »