At 30 years old, Fidel was fighting in the Sierra Maestra, a disgruntled lawyer turned revolutionary who craved Batista’s job. At 32, he had it. He was determined not to let go. Fidel used the Revolution to carry out a personal caudillista coup. “Communist or not, what was being built in Cuba was an old-fashioned personality cult,” wrote Jon Lee Anderson.
Fidel has since outlasted 10 U.S. presidents, each of whom predicted his imminent demise and plotted to hasten it by fair means or foul. He said he would never relinquish power while Washington remains hostile—a condition he has thrived on and worked hard to maintain. Fidel—who knew he could never carry out his revolution in an elective system—is consummately Machiavellian: masking truth to maintain power. Says Guillermo Cabrera Infante, “Fidel’s real genius lies in the arts of deception, and while the world plays bridge by the book, he plays poker, bluffing and holding his cards close to his olive-green chest.” Adds historian Hugh Thomas: “Often the first person he deceived was himself.”
Nonetheless, Fidel genuinely believes that disease, malnutrition, and illiteracy are criminal shames and that a better social order can be created through the perfection of good values. Despite the turn of events, Fidel clings to the thread of his dream: “If I’m told 98 percent of the people no longer believe in the Revolution, I’ll continue to fight. If I’m told I’m the only one who believes in it, I’ll continue.” But he is far from the saint his ardent admirers portray.