Cuba libre! Rare images reveal a time when revolutionaries Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were ‘young and handsome’ and Havana was a Sin City
- The rare photos chronicle the events of the Cuban Revolution and the figures at the centre of the uprising
- They are included in a new book called Cuba Libre by New York-based travel writer Tony Perrottet
- One shows Fidel and Che together for the very first time, while sharing a Mexico City jail cell in 1956
From secret strip clubs to chain smoking guerrillas nestled deep in the rainforest, these fascinating images capture the atmosphere of Cuba during the 1950s.
Included in a new book called Cuba Libre!, the rare photos help chronicle the events of the Cuban Revolution and the figures at the centre of the uprising including Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and the band of rebel men and women who followed them.
New York-based historian and travel writer Tony Perrottet first visited Cuba 23 years ago and he has since been fascinated by the country’s tumultuous history, spending hours trawling the archives to learn more.
He writes in his tome: ‘Today, thanks to the veil of suspicion and ideology hanging over Cuba, few are aware of just how improvised the revolution was; its leaders were largely forced to make up their own brand of jungle combat and urban resistance as they went along.’
Here MailOnline Travel presents a selection of images included in Perrottet’s book, including one showing Fidel as a teenager at high school playing basketball and an even rarer one of Fidel and Che seen together for the very first time while sharing a Mexico City jail cell in 1956.
Scroll down to take a walk along Cuba’s road to revolution…
Perrottet says young Fidel was an excellent athlete in high school and the American sports of basketball and baseball were his favourites (left). Meanwhile, when the guerrilla war was brewing in the Oriente province of Cuba, the capital Havana continued as one of the great Sin Cities of the west, rivalling Paris in the 1920s and Shanghai in the 1930s, with strip clubs, bars and casinos scattered across the colourful metropolis (right)
From the moment he went to university in Havana, Perrottet says Fidel lived and breathed politics. Above, the budding lawyer makes a rhetorical point at the dinner table, circa 1952
While conducting research, Perrottet came across the first known photograph of Fidel together with the wandering Argentine medic, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Here they are seen sharing a Mexico City jail cell in 1956
This, Perrottet says, is one of the most influential photographs of the Cuban revolution. The author explains: ‘In February, 1957 New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews hiked into the Sierra Maestra to prove that Fidel was alive and well, contrary to the dictator Batista’s claims.’ Above, the journalist talks to Fidel as he lights up a cigar
Fidel shows of his beloved Swiss rifle with telescopic sites to Celia Sánchez (centre), beginning one of history’s great revolutionary partnerships. Cuban revolutionary and politician Haydée Santamaría stands on the left
Fidel and Che in the early ‘nomadic’ days of the guerrilla war, when Perrottet says the ‘harried handful of men were forced to change camp every night’
A photo showing Juan Almeida, a poetry-loving former bricklayer from Havana who rose from the ranks to be one of Fidel’s top commanders, out riding. Perrottet says that his journal reveals the loneliness and tensions of guerrilla life in its early days
Cuban revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos (in helmet) and Fidel say goodbye to two of the teenage American runaways from Guantánamo Bay naval base who joined the guerrillas. Perrottet notes that the third man, Chuck Ryan (in middle), stayed on for several months to fight alongside the Cubans
Perrottet writes in his book that Che had a sentimental side, and could be ‘obsessively fond of animals’. He reveals, when Che was forced one day to order a whining pet puppy be strangled to avoid detection by an army patrol, he was ‘devastated’
Celia Sáchez (left) and Vilma Espín (right) in Paris Match magazine. Perrottet says that the high society beauty Vilma was ‘burned’ in early 1958 and exposed as the top M-26-7 agent in Santiago. The daughter of the top lawyer for the Bacardi rum company, she escaped to join Raúl Castro in the Sierra Cristal, and she went on to marry him
An unidentified female guerrilla sits by a sewing machine. Perrottet says women who joined the macho guerrilla force were often frustrated to be relegated to domestic tasks such as repairing uniforms, cooking, or assisting in the hospital
Perrottet explains that Che started wearing his famous black beret after his moth-eaten patrol cap, rescued from a dead comrade, was lost in the Escambray Mountains. He adds that the Argentine Marxist revolutionary often traveled by mule, as he was prone to debilitating asthma attacks
Che shares a joke with Cuban revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos, who was a member of the 1956 Granma expedition, which launched Fidel Castro’s armed insurgency against the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Perrottet describes Camilo as a ‘charismatic former waiter and fashion store clerk from Havana who was once described as looking more like a rumba dancer than a guerrilla’
Perrottet said of this photograph: ‘American war photographer Dickey Chapelle spent weeks with the guerrillas in December 1958. Here she captures Fidel in repose, dictating one of his endless letters to Celia’
Fidel and Che celebrate victory back in Havana. Perrottet says their unique friendship was ‘one of history’s great revolutionary partnerships’
Cuban photographer Albert Korda took this snapshot of Che during a rally in Havana in 1960. Perrottet reveals that seven years later, a print of the photo was taken by a leftwing Italian businessman, cropped and reproduced to become one of the modern era’s most ubiquitous images
NBC cameraman Wendell Hofman prepares to film on Mount Turquino for Fidel’s prime-time debut (left). This is just one of the fascinating images included Perrottet’s new book (right)
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF FIDEL CASTRO
Fidel Castro gestures during a speech during a demonstration in front of the US Interests Section in Havana, Cuba
Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926, attending Catholic schools before graduating from the University of Havana with a degree in law. Two years later, he ran for election to the Cuban House of Representatives, but the elections were halted by the then dictator Fulgencio Batista.
As a result an enraged Fidel assembled a small force and attacked the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953. It failed and most of his supporters were killed or captured. Fidel was himself captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but he was pardoned after just two years.
It was during his trial that Fidel delivered his famous ‘history will absolve me’ speech. In it he said: ‘I warn you, I am just beginning! If there is in your hearts a vestige of love for your country, love for humanity, love for justice, listen carefully.
‘I know that the regime will try to suppress the truth by all possible means. I know that there will be a conspiracy to bury me in oblivion. But my voice will not be stifled – it will rise from my breast even when I feel most alone, and my heart will give it all the fire that callous cowards deny it.
‘Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.’
Fidel went into exile in Mexico where he trained a group of revolutionaries called the 26th of July Movement. In December 1956, his forces, supported by Che Guevara and others, invaded Cuba from the ship Gramma, but suffered serious losses.
However, the revolutionaries hid in the Sierra Maestra mountains, gaining support among the peasants. Eventually, on January 1 1959, Batista fled the island and Fidel assumed power. Relations with the US declined rapidly. In 1960, Fidel took over the US oil refineries in Cuba and the Americans stopped buying Cuban sugar.
He responded by taking over all US businesses in Cuba, and a furious President Kennedy responded with the CIA-bankrolled Bay of Pigs invasion attempt. Various theories have been put forward for the failure of this operation. One was that Kennedy, at the last minute, mysteriously withdrew essential air support, and another was that the president had gravely under-estimated the scale of support for the Marxist Fidel among the Cuban people.
Fidel feared another US attack, and so when Khruschev offered to place nuclear missiles on the island, he agreed. This brought Kennedy and Khruschev into face-to-face snarling conflict, until Khruschev backed down.
Fidel, who was no more than a pawn in this dangerous international conflict, felt let down by the USSR, which nevertheless continued to prop up the island’s otherwise dire economy. Despite this setback, and later the even more damaging effect of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro’s omnipotence over Cuba remained undisputed.
During his years in power he reputedly amassed a huge fortune, although he fiercely denied it. The US business and financial magazine Forbes in 2005 listed Fidel among the world’s richest people with an estimated net fortune worth 550 million US dollars. Later, the magazine increased the estimates to 906 million US dollars, amid rumours of large cash stashes in Switzerland.
Fidel himself described these reports as ‘lies and slander’ and said they were part of a US smear campaign to discredit him. He vowed: ‘If they can prove I have a bank account abroad with 900 million dollars, with 1 million dollars, 500,000 dollars, 100,000 dollars or 1 dollar in it I will resign.’
Castro shakes hands with Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang in one of the last pictures taken of him before his death, in Havana, Cuba. His brother Raul said on state television that his sibling died on November 25, 2016. He was 90
It was claimed by his supporters that money from state-owned companies was pumped back into the island’s economy and not into Castro’s wallet as was suspected by his enemies. Indeed, Fidel did much to improve education and health services and other social services on the island.
The various assassination attempts were straight from the pages of James Bond. These included an attempt to smuggle a jar of cold cream containing pills into his room, the exploding cigar, a fungal-infected scuba-diving suit and a mafia-style shooting.
Some of these plots were depicted in a documentary entitled 638 Ways To Kill Fidel. He once said in regard to the myriad failed attempts on his life: ‘If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win a gold medal.’
It was in January 2004 that question marks appeared over Fidel’s health, with speculation that he had once had a heart attack, that he had suffered from cancer and that he had neurological problems. None of this speculation was confirmed. In October of that year, he tripped and fell in front of TV cameras following a speech he gave at a rally. He broke a kneecap and fractured his right arm, but was able to recover his ability to walk.
His subsequent illnesses were to transform the strong and strident man of Cuba into a mere physical shadow. But he lost none of his zeal. In April 2016, ahead of his 90th birthday the following August, he gave a speech to the Cuban Communist Party faithful, saying: ‘Soon I’ll be like all the others.
‘The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervour and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without truce to obtain them.’
His brother Raul Fidel, the president of Cuba, announced his death on state television in Cuba. While Fidel was leading Cuba, the United States went through eleven presidents.
BY CHARLIE MOORE
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