The Unsuspected Revolution

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Mario Llerena, now an exile from his native Cuba, has written a political memoir which will make fascinating reading for all those interested in studying the origins of the first Communist state in the Western Hemisphere. It is based on the author’s personal involvement and correspondence with Fidel Castro and other figures in the Cuban revolutionary movement. Thus, Llerena uses documentary materials which have hitherto been unavailable to scholars.

In the Introduction, Llerena tells the reader something about his background. Originally intending to be a Presbyterian minister, he was a divinity student at Princeton University from 1943 to 1946. From 1948 to 1952, he was Professor of Spanish at a College in North Carolina. Then the author suddenly heard the news of the military coup of March 10, 1952. The veteran militarist and politician, Fulgencio Batista, had overthrown Cuba’s liberal constitution. It was this event, Llerena recalls, which made him decide to return to Cuba, to do what he could to help restore democracy there.

Upon his return to Cuba, Llerena found work as a contributor to the popular weekly magazines Bohemia and Carteles. The main focus of his life, however, was the movement against the Batista dictatorship. In the first chapter, Llerena recalls in great detail his activity in various small, short-lived anti-Batista groups, painting vivid word portraits of their leaders. Most of their members were middle-class professionals and intellectuals, who had little desire for violence. All of these groups, the author concedes, were completely ineffective politically.

In June of 1955, Llerena first met Fidel Castro. Castro, a young former law student, had won fame through his abortive armed attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953. He had just been released from prison. Castro, the author recalls, then impressed him as a “crude force,” who could, if properly guided, be put to good use. Castro’s fervent advocacy of armed force against Batista did not, however, appeal to Llerena at that time.

It was not until the summer of 1956 that Llerena became seriously involved in Castro’s revolutionary organization, the 26th of July Movement. By then, Batista’s stern repression of student dissidents had seemingly shown the futility of trying to bring about change without violence. Several of Castro’s lieutenants tried to recruit Llerena to write ideological and programmatic literature for the movement. Upon being assured that the aims of the movement were genuinely democratic, the author agreed. In September, 1956, Llerena, while on a trip to Mexico City, had a second meeting with Castro, then living in exile there. This meeting, which confirmed Llerena’s decision to aid Castro’s movement, was the last time the author saw the Cuban leader face to face. It was Castro’s apparent “sincerity,” Llerena recalls, which finally dispelled his last reservations.

On November 25, 1956, Fidel Castro, with eighty-one trusted followers, sailed from Mexico on the yacht Granma. On December 2, they landed on the coast of Oriente, Cuba’s easternmost province. Here, they were discovered by government troops and almost annihilated. Against great odds, however, Castro and about a dozen others managed to take refuge in the rugged Sierra Maestra mountains. Llerena was not part of this group.

Though he never became a guerrilla, Llerena, by his own account, did make many contributions to the cause of the 26th of July Movement. The author tells how, in February, 1957, he helped to spread news in Cuba of New York Times’ correspondent Herbert Matthews’ historic interview with Castro in the Sierra Maestra. We also learn how Llerena helped smuggle American television cameramen into Cuba to do a film story on Castro’s guerrillas. The narrative is fast-paced and exciting.

In June of 1957, Llerena was forced to flee to Mexico in order to escape Batista’s police, who had become aware of the author’s underground activities. In the same month, the young Frank Pais, who was...

(The entire section is 1676 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Best Sellers. XXXVIII, September, 1978, p. 194.

Book Forum. IV, Summer, 1978, p. 270.

Booklist. LXXIV, July 1, 1978, p. 1660.