Brothers in Arms: The Cuban Revolution and Mexican Solidarity

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:20 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1D (Colorado Convention Center)
Renata Keller, Boston University
In the early years of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro’s new government received letters of support from fans across Mexico. People from all walks of life wrote to Cuba’s leaders: former presidents, students, workers, and campesinos penned heartfelt missives, political and professional groups sent congratulatory messages, and prisoners typed letters within their cells in Mexico City’s infamous Lecumberri Prison. Religious leaders, Freemasons, and veterans of Mexico and Spain’s earlier revolutionary wars also wrote to the young Cuban barbudos offering advice and encouragement.

This presentation analyzes these messages of friendship and fraternity, which are preserved in the newly-declassified files of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX) in Havana. These letters not only present a vivid testament of the passion that the Cuban Revolution inspired among a wide swath of the Mexican population, but they can also reveal why this event in particular was so important for Mexicans. In addition to praising the Cuban Revolution, the Mexicans who put pen to paper described their own lives and dreams, their fears and disappointments. Thus while these letters were ostensibly about the Cuban Revolution, they in fact reveal more about political culture in 1960s Mexico.

Mexicans’ fan mail to Fidel demonstrates that the Cuban Revolution was an especially powerful event for Mexicans who celebrated—and grieved for—their own revolutionary past. Many of the letter-writers discussed or made references to their country’s history, invoking the heroes of Mexico’s 19th-century independence wars and its 1910 revolution. Some also shared their opinions of the current state of affairs in Mexico, both positive and negative. The letters thus serve as cultural artifacts of a variety of worldviews, revealing how a wide swath of the Mexican population viewed their own history, as well as their current political and social condition in the early 1960s.