‘Notoriety and popularity’

‘Notoriety and popularity’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, September 20, 2007

The journalist Herbert Matthews’ decision to find and interview the rebel guerrilla leader Fidel Castro in his mountain hideout, at a time when the US-backed military dictator Fulgencio Batista was denying there was serious unrest in Cuba, was courageous and farsighted. Matthews’ 1957 scoop showed up Batista’s spin for what it was. It also alerted Washington to the reality that he could not keep power for long.

Cuba had a turbulent past. La isla siempre fiel (the ever-faithful island) of Spanish imperial folklore had, under the leadership of its landed gentry, united against Spanish rule in the 1860s. The revolt was crushed after a decade of savage repression, but a decline in sugar prices sparked a new uprising in 1895 and plantation owners once again rallied to the cause of independence. The Spanish fought bitterly and established concentration camps (their first appearance anywhere in the world). In the course of three decades of conflict, hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Spaniards died. US entry into the war led to a Spanish defeat in 1898, but the ordeal had seriously weakened the Cuban landowning class, which became incapable of resisting the establishment of a de facto US protectorate with a permanent naval base at Guantánamo. read more