Skip to content

Response to Review of Revolutionary Cuba Review Article

Mr. Stephen Cushion’s review of my book is uncommon on many grounds. It does not follow the norms of the genre in neither content, nor professionalism, nor temperament. It fails to follow Reviews in History’s guideline that reviewers ‘should aim to summarize the main points of the work under consideration.’ As every history student knows, a review also includes an evaluation of the author’s methodology and sources; as well as some discussion of the book’s thesis. Reviews in History’s guidelines also encourage reviewers to refrain ‘from indulging in personal comment or attacks’. The guidelines also state that ‘reviews should aim to be professional, courteous and temperate’. Lastly, the guidelines require that whenever a reviewer quotes the book under review he or she must include page numbers in parenthesis. Cushion fails to do all of the above.

Cushion purports to review two books, Anthony Kapcia’s Leadership in the Cuban Revolution and mine. Rather than review my book in its entirety, Cushion exclusively focuses upon aspects of political leadership and proceeds to contrast them with what Kapcia writes on the topic. Whoever reads this review will not even know that Revolutionary Cuba: A History is a general, comprehensive history of the Revolution that covers the period 1952–2013, and examines almost every aspect of the revolutionary period, including political developments, international relations, the economy, culture, and the exile experience.

Cushion’s review is intellectually dishonest and resorts to rhetorical strategies commonly used in political propaganda, among them innuendo, personal attacks against the author, including labeling, name-calling, and even attacks on the author’s family. It also resorts to untruth, half-truths, and presenting information out of context. This begins with his introductory paragraph, where he starts with the premise that there is widespread belief that the revolution was the work of Fidel Castro, what he calls the ‘Fidel-centric’ perspective. In the very next sentence, he connects such perspective with CIA assassination attempts against Castro and ‘extreme right-wing terrorists in the Miami exile community’. Then he connects me with his premise: ‘Luis Martínez Fernández is a firm proponent of such “Fidel-centrism”’. I suppose I should be grateful for his clarification that I am not a ‘rabid right winger’. He extends his name-calling tactics to my late father, Celestino Martínez Lindín, to whose memory I dedicated the book. He falsely labeled him an ‘anti-Castro exile’. This is news to me given that in the forty-five years that I knew my father, he never participated in any anti-Castro group nor made public statements reflective of such position.

Curiously, the reviewer embraces the belief that ‘the way the history is recounted depends on the author's personal and political view of the Cuban economic and political system’. This seems to explain his interest in my personal history and political views.

By focusing on the ‘Castro-centric’ perspective that Cushion attributes to my book, and on my use of the term ‘master triangulator’ as a key to understanding the Cuban Revolution, he misrepresents the contents of the book. The notion of Fidel Castro as ‘master triangulator’ is only one of seven threads that run through the length of the book. He failed to mention, let alone discuss, the other six threads: ‘The pendular revolution’, ‘Two Cubas’, ‘the longest ninety miles’, ‘Men on horseback’, ‘the Revolution’s third man’, and ‘the persistent plantation’. These threads are presented and explained in the book’s introduction, alluded to throughout the intervening chapters, and re-visited in the conclusion (pp. 5–11, 280–8).

Other false statements appear in Cushion’s review. For example, he states that there is ‘a long section in [my] book’ on ‘the trauma of leaving Cuba and going into exile.’ While the book is informed by my personal experiences, there is nothing that even approximates ‘a long section’ on my, and my family’s, experience of going into exile. The following is the extent to which I wrote on the subject:

The historical processes that I study here have impacted and continue to impact my life and that of my family in numerous ways. We endured the indignities of state-organized harassment, my father was forced to resign from his job, all of our property – even family photo albums – was confiscated, and we were forced into a painful and prolonged exile, away from everyone and everything we loved and held dear. That said, I hold no bitterness toward the revolution, and whatever biases I may have are no less correctable than those of Castro sympathizers the world over. Besides being a lifelong exile, I am a scholar, and as such, I am bound by the rules of academic honesty and integrity and the moral obligation to seek and tell the truth, regardless of consequences (p. 11).

Moreover, Cushion’s diagnosis of my experience as ‘trauma’ is gratuitous and so is his claim that I have contempt toward Castro.

The reviewer falsely states that I see long-time Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodríguez ‘as Castro's “yes-man”’ (quotation marks by Cushion). While I present Rodríguez as a politician who was willing to accommodate his ideology according to shifting political and geopolitical winds, I never characterized him as a ‘yes man’. I do mention that he once served as minister in Batista’s cabinet and that he was loyal to the Castro brothers (pp. 21, 61, 100).

Cushion falsely charges me with neglecting women in the Revolution’s leadership. He quotes my statements on the family links of Celia Sánchez, Vilma Espín and Haydée Santamaría. Immediately, he uses the word ‘however’ and proceeds to mention and describe these and other women leaders. His use of ‘however’ implies that I failed to provide further information on these women. He also states that only a conspiracy theorist – another gratuitous label – could suggest that Santamaría rose to leadership positions through her marriage to Armando Hart.

It is quite telling that Cushion says that Hart’s ‘origins in the middle-class urban underground without having seen guerrilla military action would not seem to fit him for the inner circle role that he has always played’. He fails to acknowledge, however, that Hart, and other urban underground leaders such as the martyred Frank País, played the most vital roles in the revolutionary struggle that forced Batista out of office. It is well known, and even acknowledged by Castro (pp. 31–2), that urban underground rebels such as Hart, Echevarría, and País faced greater danger than Castro’s highland troops. Echevarría and País, along with several hundred urban fighters, were killed by Batista’s regime. Hart endured imprisonment and most likely torture as well.

Readers can confirm my balanced treatment of Santamaría and other women leaders by reading the book. I discuss Celía Sánchez’s key role in the rebellion as well as her contributions following the triumph of the Revolution (p. 29). I, of course, mention Haydeé Santamaría and Melba Hernández’s participation in the Moncada attacks as well as the creation on an all-female rebel platoon (p. 24). Regarding Vilma Espín, I discuss her leading role in the urban underground as well as her leadership in the Federation of Cuban Women (pp. 62, 140). Cushion fails to mention that I include other women whose lives and contributions are discussed in my book. These are a few examples: women in the rebellion (p. 50); women in opposition to Castro (p. 84); regime’s efforts to incorporate women (p. 101); representation of women in government (pp. 101, 117, 139–40); women in the labor force (p. 118); women in politics (p. 275–6); harsher impact of the Special Period on women (pp. 200–1, 202, 225); Las Damas de Blanco (261, 262, 266); Pastorita Núñez (p. 105); Lourdes Casal (p. 156 ); Yoani Sánchez (pp. 261, 263, 278), etc.

In closing, Cushion’s review is not a review at all. It is sloppy, unprofessional, and intellectually dishonest. It fails to address the manifold subjects treated in my book. To use his own term, it is a ‘Castro-centric’ review.