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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soviets Fed Castro's Ego and Sank His Country

When Fidel Castro passes from the scene, will he be remembered as he portrays himself -- a selfless revolutionary leader who struggled against imperialism and for the good of his people? Or will he be seen as an all-powerful, egocentric leader who used his authority to advance his ambitions to the detriment of his people?

Hitching his country's fate to the Soviet Union was Castro's most consequential mistake. The conventional wisdom is that the administration of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower "pushed" Castro and his young regime into the hands of the Soviets because of its hostile reaction to the Cuban revolution. But this is not borne out by the historical record.

The Eisenhower administration sought to reach some kind of accommodation with Havana between April 1959 and January 1960, only to be shunned by Castro. The conciliatory U.S. approach ended when Soviet First Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Cuba in February 1960 for a 10-day visit.

The 1997 book "One Hell of a Gamble" offers a behind-the-scenes explanation. It shows that beginning in October 1959, Castro, his brother, Raul, and Ernesto "Che" Guevara conspired with Moscow's man in Havana, Alexander Alexeyev, to radicalize the revolution, heighten Cuban anti-American sentiment and exacerbate the rising tensions with Washington. All this was done to justify Cuba's realignment with Moscow, which commenced with Mikoyan's visit.

What prompted Castro's turn to Moscow? It was clearly a calculated move that sought to guarantee the long-term survival of his revolution. But this explanation begs the more basic question of whether Castro was early on a crypto-communist bent on joining the Soviet bloc.

The answer comes from Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, a member of the Cuban Communist Party's political bureau who spoke to me in Havana late at night on Aug. 14, 1967. Rodriguez volunteered that Castro had been neither a communist nor a socialist when he came to power in 1959, and added that "even today, Fidel is not a communist." This was a startling, heretical assertion. What Rodriguez was hinting at was that Castro was really a fidelista -- a radical revolutionary who sought maximum political power through permanent struggle with his enemies, but who lacked a well-formed ideology.

Soviet backing enabled Castro to bask in the limelight on the world stage. In sacrificing his country to advance his ambitions, however, Castro dealt a blow to Cuban society. He has left the island exhausted and with little hope of a better future -- at least as long as he remains on the scene.

Edward Gonzalez, a professor emeritus at UCLA, contributed this comment to the Los Angeles Times.