Christopher Hitchens

Self-Castrated Beaver



Macmillan 332pp £14.95 order from our bookshop

I once saw the bearded one – el barbudo – and was close enough to touch him. It was at a rally in Santa Clara on 26 July 1968. The murder of Che Guevara was a recent, vivid memory. The Vietnam war, horrifying enough at the time, was to get more ghastly yet. In Angola and Nicaragua, partisan groups were still engaged in what seemed an endless and quixotic battle against the Portugese and American empires. Castro spoke proudly against these and other despotisms. But he also denounced the Soviet Union and its dismal block of coerced allies. He had seized the person of Anibal Escalante, chief Stalinist of Cuba, and arraigned him and his ‘microfaction’ for trial. Escalante, who had been semi-exiled as ambassador to Prague, found himself behind bars fo r his intrigues with Moscow. Was it possible that Cuba was keeping its promise, of equidistance between the superpowers and revolutionary internationalism a Ia Bolivar or Marti?

Almost exactly a month later, l watched the bearded one give yet another very long speech. Czechoslovakia, late home of Escalante, had been invaded. Cuba’s place in the time zone meant that we received the news very early in the morning. It was announced that Fidel would address the masses late that night. In the meantime, the organs of propaganda held to the careful neutrality they had observed between Brezhnev and Dubcek in the unfolding of the crisis. I thus had the unusual and perhaps unique experience of spending a whole day in a Communist state, with only one topic of conversation and no stated party line. Cuban public opinion was unmistakably pro-Czech, and not merely because of the natural sympathy for the small nation. There was no wild applause when the embodiment of the revolution took the stand to announce, in a dull, dogmatic and feebly-argued speech that the Warsaw Pact forces were right. From that day to this there has been no significant, public division between Moscow and Havana. Cultural life in Cuba has also adapted itself to the shape that such an unanimity might suggest.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,
    • 'Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just… ,
    • 'Various dislocations ... emerge, iceberg-like, out of a troubled sea of unconscious motivation and confront Eisenb… ,
    • Today is the first today of the – they've got some excellent events coming up over the next two weeks.… ,