from Latin America Studies Program

Inside the Cuban Revolution

Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

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Politics and Government

In her book, Council Senior Fellow Julia Sweig shatters the mythology surrounding the Cuban Revolution in a compelling revisionist history that reconsiders the roles of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and restores to a central position the leadership of the Cuban urban underground, the Llano. The only scholar inside or outside of Cuba allowed access to the complete collection in the Cuban Council of State's Office of Historic Affairs, Sweig illuminates the classified records of the underground operatives in Castro's 26th of July Movement. Her story details the ideological, political, and strategic debates between Castro's mountain-based guerrilla movement and the urban revolutionaries in Havana, Santiago, and other cities.

Sweig debunks two long-standing myths: that the Cuban Revolution was won by a band of guerrillas and peasants, and that domestic politics in Cuba is dead. According to Sweig's review of original documents from Castro's own archives, the revolution was the work of an urban network controlled by middle-class professionals who skillfully cultivated complex alliances with an array of disparate groups. These same skills have allowed Castro to survive—and even thrive—in the decade of global political and economic change since the collapse of his Soviet benefactor. Against all odds, he has forged a coalition of increasingly diverse constituencies at home and abroad. Sweig concludes that the roots of Fidelismo may be broader and deeper than many expect.

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Politics and Government

Reviews and Endorsements

Using original documentary sources from Cuban government archives, Sweig shows how the largely middle-class Cubans in the urban underground laid the groundwork for Castro's Rebel Army victory...Sweig claims that the full history of the revolution has yet to be written, but her book makes an impressive contribution to this effort by painting a new and more realistic picture of the process that produced Castro's Cuba.

Susan Kaufman Purcell, Foreign Affairs

The recent opening of Cuban historical archives to non-Cuban scholars has changed traditionally accepted views of the Cuban revolution of 1959. Using documents housed in the Cuban Council of State's Office of Historic Affairs, Sweig...argues that in its early days the revolution was influenced more by the Cuban middle class and less by Fidel Castor or Che Guevara than historians have suggested...By giving this period context and highlighting its importance, Sweig shows that all the elements of the revolution were in place prior to 1959...[It is] convincingly argued and now backed by documentary evidence. A valuable discussion.

Mark L. Gover, Library Journal

Julia Sweig has written a carefully crafted account of the urban underground campaign against Fulgencio Batista, the dictator toppled from power in 1959. The main interest of the book is that it is primarily based on original interviews and previously inaccessible records of the 26th July Movement—the revolutionary nationalist organization created by Castro.

Financial Times

In a thoughtfully argued and carefully researched book, Sweig...provides what will almost certainly be the standard account of the Cuban insurrection for years to come. Using a wide range of archival records and manuscript sources, including important Cuban materials, Sweig successfully explores the complex and often contradictory relations between the Ilano and the sierra. She pays attention more to similarities than to differences and, by emphasizing collaboration and coordination, provides a coherent and cogent explanation of the astonishing success of Castro's movement. Keenly aware of the larger historical context which gives her tale meaning, Sweig shows how Castro held together the disparate elements of his often-fractious movement while providing considerable insight into his personality and the politics that often divided his followers.

Louis A. Pérez, Los Angeles Times Book Review

After so many books on the Cuban Revolution, it might seem impossible to shed new light on one of the key moments in the twentieth century. Yet Julia Sweig manages to do so in this remarkable tour de force. Using documents only recently made available to her by the Cuban authorities, she challenges several myths about the nature of the Cuban Revolution and in the process provides a nuanced and very readable account of the rise to power of Fidel Castro.

Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Director, Royal Institute of International Affairs

Inside the Cuban Revolution confirms what many had long suspected: the 'official story' of twelve bearded, daring guerrillas bringing down a hideous dictatorship never happened. Without the urban underground there would have been no victory. In this important book, Julia Sweig sets the record straight and raises fundamental questions about revolutionary movements in Latin America since 1959.

Jorge G. Castañeda, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mexico

This book is both compelling and groundbreaking. It seamlessly combines great storytelling, investigative journalism, and first-rate analysis in a work that scholars and policymakers—indeed, anyone interested in Cuba—will find must reading. With Inside the Cuban Revolution Julia Sweig guarantees the world will never look at Cuba or Fidel Castro the same way again.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Chair, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, Committee on Foreign Relations

With meticulous research, presented in a dramatic narrative, Julia Sweig provides the real story behind the Cuban Revolution and Castro's rise to power, showing that his ascendancy was due to far more than the popular conception of a small band of guerrilla fighters toppling a corrupt regime. It is a portrait of Castro as we've never seen him. Inside the Cuban Revolution, which sheds new light on the last time there was a transition of power in Cuba, may very well give us clues to the next one.

Congressman Charles B. Rangel

In this brilliantly researched tour de force, Julia Sweig adds a new dimension to our understanding of the way Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

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