On Friday November 25th, exactly 60 years since he set forth from Mexico on the yacht Granma, one of the most influential, divisive and long-standing public figures of the last century passed away. This year also marked 10 years since Fidel Castro began to step down from his position as president of Cuba, a country he had led for well over half a century. However, his influence and image still loomed large over his country – and world politics in general – in the intervening years and will continue to do so for years to come.
The University Library has always strongly collected material from and about Cuba, especially since the Revolution – in fact, the earliest book that we hold concerning Fidel Castro dates from 1959, the very year that Castro and his rebels finally ousted Fulgencio Batista from power: Fidel Castro: rebel–liberator or dictator? by Jules Dubois (672:45.c.95.2).
The UL has extensive holdings of Fidel Castro’s own writings and speeches. These include: his famous 1953 speech “La historia me absolverá” in the 1971 collection Cinco documentos (9670.d.567) and his words at the first congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (672:45.d.95.27); a large selection of his speeches in English translation; his writings on external issues such as the US invasion of Grenada (672:82.d.95.7) and a book by Castro on his great influence and inspiration, José Martí (672:45.c.95.170).
However, given the complicated and polarising nature of Castro’s leadership, the library has always aimed also to collect extensive material on Cuban issues from outside the country and its government. These range from personal diatribes such as the great Spanish polymath Fernando Arrabal’s 1984: carta a Fidel Castro (9743.d.1688), to academic studies from other Spanish-speaking countries (La cosecha del patriotismo : Fidel Castro, su grupo político y la emergencia del nacionalismo en la emigración cubana, 1955-1958 / Sergio López Rivero (C210.c.9139); Huracán sobre el caribe : de Fidel a Raúl / Américo Martín (C210.c.9139)), extensive English-language titles and even a biography in Russian (Fidelʹ Kastro : politicheskai︠a︡ biografii︠a︡ / N.S. Leonov, V.A. Borodaev (9003.d.3342)), reflecting the way that country and Cuba’s histories intertwined throughout the 20th Century.
Particularly interesting are the points at which our collections relating to Castro and Cuban history overlap with those dealing with literature – of course, as far as Latin America is concerned, history, politics and literature are inextricably linked. As well as the aforementioned influence of José Martí (also dealt with in José Martí en el ideario de Fidel Castro (C202.c.6696)), Fidel Castro also enjoyed a close friendship with arguably Latin America’s greatest author, Gabriel García Márquez.Their relationship is the subject of Angel Esteban and Stéphanie Panichelli’s Gabo y Fidel : el paisaje de una amistad (672:45.c.200.81) and is reflected in a number of books written by or about Castro that feature forewords or introductions by García Márquez (for example, Mañana será demasiado tarde (C200.c.9590)).
Doubtless, the coming years will see many changes in Cuban life and much more written about the country’s history and its late leader. The University Library will aim to keep abreast of future developments in this small country that, thanks mainly to Fidel Castro, has played a major role on the world stage.