Ann Louise Bardach Goes to Prison with Fidel

“Rarely has one man been blessed with such an auspicious destiny. Few have been endowed with so many gifts, opportunity and the good will of so many. That he squandered it so makes Cuba’s tragedy all the more wrenching.”

That man, of course, is Miami’s nemesis: Fidel Castro. The woman who wrote such an astute assessment is Ann Louise Bardach, who apeears at the Miami Book Fair on Sunday.

Bardach is a journalist who has covered Cuba for 15 years. She’s also been the target of some Miami residents’ ire over the years – namely, the hard-line Cuban exiles who think Bardach’s writings on Castro have been too soft, too forgiving. Bardach takes it all in stride, however: “At different times, different people in Miami hate me, while others love me. You cannot write about Cuban politics and have people love you all the time.”

Bardach’s Book Fair offering isn’t exactly her own work – it’s called The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro, and it reprints the text of his missives during a two-year incarceration in the mid-fifties -- but it is possibly one of the most revealing books ever published on the dictator. Bardach, who writes the introduction, calls the book her "little work of love."

The letters show a brilliant, obsessive, stubborn man, all things to keep in mind this year as the 81-year-old Castro clings to life, enraging exiles from his deathbed.

Perhaps the most illuminating passage in the book is contained in a message written by Castro to his sister, Lidia. He describes his obsession with obtaining custody of his son, Fidelito, from his ex-wife, Mirta Diaz-Balart:

I do not care one bit if this battle drags on till the end of the world. If they think they can exhaust my patience and, based on this, that I am going to concede -- they are going to find that I am wrapped in Buddhist tranquility and am prepared to reenact the famous Hundred Years War -- and win it! To these private matters, add my reflection on the political panorama -- and it will not be difficult to imagine that I will leave this prison as the man of iron.

--Tamara Lush

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Frank Houston