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Vida Clandestina: My Life in the Cuban Revolution

Vida Clandestina: My Life in the Cuban Revolution

Enrique Oltuski

ISBN: 978-0-787-96169-5 August 2002 Jossey-Bass 336 Pages


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Vida Clandestina is the first U.S. publication of the dramatic memoir of an important Cuban revolutionary who led a dangerous double life from 1952 to1959. Educated at University of Miami, then a high-ranking manager and engineer for Shell Oil, Enrique Oltuski was also a leader in the urban guerilla 26th of July Movement in Havana and Santa Clara, risking his life to join forces with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and working at the highest level of the Cuban government in the forty-three years since.

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Foreword Eduardo Torres-Cuevas vii

Preface: Why I Wrote This Book xvii

A Brief History of Cuba xxiii

Map of Cuba xxxiii

Before the Plains and the Sierra

ONE Batista’s Coup d’État 3

TWO First Revolutionary Impulses 15

THREE Student in the United States 25

FOUR Journey to Latin America 35

FIVE Attack on the Moncada Barracks 45

SIX Return to Cuba 55

SEVEN Revolutionary Quest 63

EIGHT Joining the 26th of July Movement 75

The Plains

NINE Conspiracy in Havana 89

TEN The Civil Resistance Movement 105

ELEVEN The Fight in Las Villas 121

TWELVE Strike of April 9 139

THIRTEEN The Sierra Assumes Command 155

Photographs 173

The Sierra

FOURTEEN Che in Las Villas 189

FIFTEEN The Sierra Maestra 205

After the Plains and the Sierra

SIXTEEN Batista Flees 229

SEVENTEEN Fidel Marches on Havana 239

EIGHTEEN Government Minister 253

NINETEEN The Revolution Takes Power 267

Epilogue 275

Glossary 290

About the Author 295

About the Translators 296

Index 297

Castro's Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Merchant Marine recounts his role as a secret revolutionary among the middle classes in the cities and plains of 1950s Cuba.
Born the son a well-to-do shoe manufacturer in central Cuba, sent to Miami to study engineering in the early '50s, Oltuski was groomed to be a solid member of Cuba's upper-middle classes. Despite his parents' best efforts and his father's protests that a revolution was no place for Jews, however, Enrique was a revolutionary at heart, dedicated to social justice and the overthrow of military dictator Batista. After his graduation in 1954, Oltuski joined the movement in earnest, first in Miami, where he attempted to secure arms for the struggle, and then in Cuba, where as a traveling executive with Shell Oil he was perfectly placed to spread propaganda, organize strikes, and plant the occasional bomb. The author rose through the ranks to join those who had contact with the revolution's superstars, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Oltuski's less glamorous station was in the plains, where he and his comrades were kept busy ""collecting money, supplying arms and clothing, committing acts of sabotage, executing enemies, producing underground newspapers, recruiting and organizing member of the revolutionary movement."" Through his tale of secret meetings, assignments, commutes, and endless discussions of revolutionary theory, Oltuski is able to elucidate the messy progression of the uprising; woven among the sometimes dry political details are the author's recollections of youthful partying, womanizing, and marriage. We end the story with our man in place as an utterly unqualified buy highly enthusiastic minister of communications; an epilogue noting his current position attests to his political staying power.
A rare and valuable insider's take. (&75,000 as/promo; author tour) (KIRKUS Reviews, July 1, 2002)

How could Enrique Oltuski's well-written memoir of his double life during the Cuban Revolution not be compelling? The son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, his relatives consumed in the Holocaust, the young Oltuski chafes at his comfortable middle-class life in Havana and, still a teenager, burning with nationalist fever, finds himself drawn into the revolutionary conspiracies against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. From the outset, he's living on parallel planes. During a stint at the University of Miami, his public persona has him dating the exotic daughters of the Latin American oligarchy while in his ""underground"" life he's trying to buy arms for the revolution back home.
After college he takes a high-ranking day job with Shell Oil Co. but devotes his real passions to organizing the guerrilla movement in Havana and to collaborating closely with Che Guevara and, of course, Fidel Castro. Right up until the day of the revolution's triumph, neither the police authorities nor even Oltuski's parents know of his secret role as ""Sierra""--a key organizer of the rebellion.
This memoir's greatest strength is in leading the reader deep behind the scenes into the rivalries and alliances that arose between Castro's Rebel Army fighting in the mountains and the often chaotic network of insurgents in the less glamorized urban underground. The factional divisions that would soon after the revolution erupt in blood and betrayal and leave Castro standing alone and unchallenged are all sketched here in their embryonic state. But in those heady days of the late '50s, the cream of Cuban youth was united against a Batista regime that they viewed as a clumsy and repressive extension of the foreign (namely, American) domination of their island nation.
Oltuski's crisp recounting of the dreams and ideals that drove the Fidelista revolt abruptly ends with his being seated as a cabinet minister at age 28 in the first revolutionary government. ""I swung around in the giant chair to look out the large window,"" he writes of his first day in office. ""Life went on, and I thought, 'What the hell do I do now?'""
Least satisfying about this book is that it covers only the period of the revolutionary war. Oltuski went from his position as minister of communications to working five years at the side of Guevara. And he's spent the last 31 years as deputy minister of fisheries, where he continues at age 72.
This begs a second volume of memoirs, one that details how those early passions wound up ossifying into the sort of regime under which he holds the same high post for three decades and the jefe maximo is shooting for a neat half-century alone in power. What stories Oltuski could tell us about compromise, disillusionment and realpolitik!
Today's Cuba, of course, doesn't permit that sort of writing, especially from within its own borders and certainly not from one of its government ministers. In the most inauthentic passage of the book, Oltuski writes: ""People also always ask me what will happen to the Cuban government and society when Fidel dies. The answer is nothing. Nothing will happen...."" Fat chance. (Marc Cooper Is the Author of Pinochet and Me: a Chilean Anti-memoir. Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times)

Now the Cuban deputy minister of fisheries and merchant marine, Oltuski was one of the more elusive members of the Original Cuban guerilla group led by Fidel Castro. A middle-class Jew educated in the United States, he became a leader of the urban underground while continuing to work as an executive of Shell Oil. This autobiographical description of the revolution recounts his double life as a respected member of the Cuban elite while at the same time he was organizing urban resistance in Havana, raising money for the revolution, and even beginning an underground newspaper. The book is an interesting read, with a large number of stories that have never been told. It provides additional insight into this period of Cuban history, which has recently received significant attention with the opening of Cuban archives and the publication of accounts written by the leaders of the revolution. (Library Journal, September 15, 2002)