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The dictator of the cows: through genetic engineering, he would eradicate all weeds, produce Camembert better than Normandy's, and create a new bovine species - such were the dreams of Cuba's premier dreamer.

Through genetic engineering, he would eradicate all weeds, produce Camembert better than Normandy's, and create a new bovine species-such were the dreams of Cuba's premier dreamer.

Editor's note: If anyone has earned a literary license to write about the life of Fidel Castro, it is Georgie Anne Geyer. From years of diligent research she has, in the carefully chosen words of William E. Colby, former director of the CIA, turned a revolutionary icon into a human being, carefully distilling his charisma and cunning, his pride and paranoia, and his megalomania and myth."

Geyer traveled to Cuba with her parents for the first time at 15, and immediately fell in love with the country and later all Latin America. A young and unknown Fidel that year, she writes, was violently making his way through the political jungles of the University of Havana. In 1955 Geyer was studying at Mexico City College, and also in Mexico City that year, the budding young revolutionary Fidel was organizing his new movement. In the 1960s Geyer spent several months in Havana and interviewed Castro four times.

From it all, and by following in his wake around the world, this author of seven books and writer of a thrice-weekly column that appears in over 100 newspapers in the United States and Latin American, has dug deeply enough into the life of Fidel Castro to discover what really makes him tick.

Though acknowledging that she neither liked nor disliked the "Guerrilla Prince," as she has titled her book about him, she was puzzled by why every man and woman she knew seemed to be in thrall to him. Thus she began to question the very nature of his tie to and his control over so many people.

"It is the distance, the unknowability, the mystery, the remoteness of the charismatic leader that underlies his emotional control," she writes. In her travels around the world, she became even more impressed and amazed at the scope of his power. Geyer also found that most of the accepted "truths" about him were either wholly or largely untrue.

This obstensibly "public" person, she found, "is really a meticulously secretive and secreted person, a tactical and strategic genius wholly without human principles who guilefully knows how to weave useful myths and spin tales-and, much of the time, even he himself believes them."

The writer adds that since 1959, because of his masterful hold over them, few Cubans have paused to question who "Fidel" really is. Even Cuban diplomats in Washington, D.C. have asked basic questions of this thorough researcher: Was he ever married? Does he have children? Where does he live? You said his father came from Galicia?

"A chill passed over me at that moment," Geyer writes, "for Castro was the man who controlled every waking moment of their lives and they did not have the faintest idea who he really was."

How did Georgie Anne Geyer finally decide what is true about her deliberately elusive and deceptive subject? Having gathered all the facts, information, and interpretation, she carefully compared versions of history and applied common sense and probability."

In the end, she arrived at the conclusion she had had from the beginning: Everything people thought they knew about Fidel they did not know. Everything they did not know was what was important.

Castro told an interviewer in 1986, "No, I will never talk about my personal life, but soon, without my collaboration, everything will be known."

"That is why I wrote the book," the author explains: "I want everything to be known. I want people to say, after they have read it, But of course . . And then, `Oh, my God!'"

The following excerpt from the book might elicit such a response.

The years following Che Guevara's death and Castro's rapprochement with the Russians should have been a period of new succor and security for the Cuban leader. Castro's friend, the Soviet Union, was to an extent re-Stalinizing under Leonid Brezhnev, after the heady years of liberalization under the now deposed Khrushchev. Castro's eternal enemy, the United States, was daily sinking deeper and deeper into the worst period of its modern history, with the Vietnam War growing in horrors and providing a national alienation that was gloriously manipulatable by Castro. But nonetheless, these years were not good for Castro.

At home, the once-tempestuous Cuba was beginning to look more and more like her dour and doughty cousins in the Eastern Bloc. Beautiful and expressive Havana perhaps best reflected the growing shabbiness of Cuba; her sensuously lovely buildings molted like snakes in season, her paint peeled away from lack of care, and her gardens, like her spirits, fell to weeds. For Cubans, historically accustomed to at least the expectation of the American way of life, there remained now nothing but shortage. A well-known chef, Nitza Villapol, who gave recipes on television, would tell her viewers to get the best meat. Then she would go on to say that if one didn't have the specific cut, well, one could use this, or that, or even wheat flour. How to present a major Cuban meat dish without meat, that was the challenge of the magical Cuba that Castro was constructing! But the most dramatic metaphor for Cuba's move behind the Iron Curtain was to be found in the omnipresent oil slick that covered the streets of the cities like a coat of oozing paint. The Russian oil was of such poor quality that it leaked all over in the heat. More and more Cubans were asking themselves how the Cuban Revolution could have been so endlessly fascinating and the Cuban revolutionary state so stultifyingly dull?

Although entirely unrecognized by the outside world, Castro's dreams about the economy of Cuba turned out to be blood brothers of his dreams of world conquest. Building on the ancient Spanish Catholic and Moorish heritage of contempt for money, he talked of demythologizing money, indeed of abolishing it, and even of creating a wondrous "civilization without money." Ideas like this popped up in Castro's mind like mushrooms after the rain. A Camembert better than that of Normandy was to be produced in Cuba. A campaign was launched to eradicate all weeds-a "weed-free Cuba" became the call of the day. Another day, Castro got the idea of planting an entire "cordon" of coffee in a circle of land around Havana. Immediately workers were dispatched as if to still another displaced Bay of Pigs "battle." But the soil there was no good for the delicate coffee plants; within a year, unrelenting nature had destroyed that particular dream of Cuba's premier dreamer.

Oscar Mori, Castro's "impresario" at the treasured Varadero Beach, has vivid memories of his boss during these years.

One time, they were driving out at the very end of the Varadero peninsula, remote and windswept, where "the people" could not go. They were riding along the road when they came upon a cut pine tree. "At this, Castro went crazy," Mori recalled. "He got out and told his guard to give him a machine gun. He was enraged that anyone should cut a pine tree there. I said, `Comandante, this pine tree was cut by the man who is about to install telephones here.' He insulted me. Then he took the gun and shot at the cables. He hit one, and it fell. Then he turned to me and said, `I should kill you.' I said only, `Comandante, I am not to blame for this.'" That was Castro, too, shooting at telephone cables with a machine gun, like a mad Cuban Don Quixote.

The prominent Cuban biology professor Jose Roque Leon recalled that when Castro appeared at a plant, "he would be surrounded by people who were not genuine advisors but executors of his caprices, a choir of resonances. When he would come to the biology laboratory, he would only give orders. He would walk in and look around and say, `The microcopier should not be by the window, it should be in the shade.' And they would move it, even though that was wrong." What did the professors think? "It was as though they wore masks," Leon told me. "They did not speak much in private. You see, Castro does not have to be in agreement with science, science has to be in agreement with him."

Castro was becoming the Cuban version of the Bolsheviks' Trofimo Lysenko, inventing new genes; he was Moses parting the Red Sea; he was the Thai king as rainmaker. He was, according to Rafael del Pino, who became one of his leading air force officers, a man who dreamed "like Snow White," a man who got into his head on any one day "to make students into professors, to build a new airport five miles south of the present one, which already had only three or four flights a day. . ."

But it was cows that truly riveted him, cows that became the fulcrum of his obsession to control every living thing on his island, if not the world; for it was with cattle that his "special plans" were carried to new and truly "undreamed-of" levels of genetic engineering. With his cows, Castro would improve on nature, substituting his planned artificial reproduction for the notably haphazard but still dependable natural process. His intent, as always, was not subsumed in modest dreams; he intended nothing less than to create a new human creature, a new animal that would carry his name to new heights. He had created a revolution against all the odds and beyond any man's dreams; now he would create new life beyond other odds. The whole program became so obsessive that even his close and eerily devoted friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez (whose entire literary life was devoted to writing about the patriarchs and macho caudillos of Latin America) suggested lovingly, making a literary pun on his famous novel, The Autumn of the Patriarch, that he would write a new work about his friend Castro and entitle it El Dictador de las Vacas, or "The Dictator of the Cows."

Cuba would become a center of genetics and Castro the new "father of Genetics." How? By crossing the Cebu and the Holstein cow to create a wholly new bovine, the F-1, which would uniquely provide Cuba with more milk and more meat and dazzle the world. When an English scientist told him that, yes, he could cross Cebu and Holstein and it would work for one generation but that "the second generation will have the worst defects of the father and the

mother," the man was immediately expelled from Cuba. The scientist was right, of course. One cow worked, Castro's Hollywood "star of cows," Ubre Blanca, or "White Udder." She became so famous that, when she died, a distraught Castro stuffed her and placed her in a museum, where future generations could admire her magnificent udders."

In many ways, his cows became more real, and more personal to Castro, than human beings. At the farms, he called the animals by name. ("But, is it good or bad to know the cows by name?" amused and bewildered onlookers like Carlos Alberto Montaner wondered.) Not only the cows but all the farm animals (like the restricted people) had "animal passports" or tiny metal plates identifying what the creature was, where it was purchased, and by whom. Some bulls had air-conditioned stables. When an animal died, there fell upon the farm manager the sad task of going to the police station to report the demise so the animal could be taken off the police lists.

In these years, and into this world of science-as-magic, Castro constantly imported a lineup of foreign scientists who were commanded to be magicians. When the elderly, white-haired French farmer, teacher, and agronomist Andre Voison arrived at the Havana airport, he found the Cuban leader standing at attention. A head of state waiting at the airport "to greet a modest French scientist at two o'clock in the morning!" as the amazed Voison put it. Naty had already visited and charmed the modest Voison in France and had persuaded the specialist in pasture grass to visit Havana. Castro now took over. Voison was cyclonically wooed, glorified, and deified; Castro mounted a massive campaign of "grass indoctrination" for the whole Cuban people, and the sixtyish Voison unwittingly became the single, unrivaled hero of all of Cuba's honored cows.

Dr. Rend Dumont, a highly respected French agronomist and scientist, came to Cuba, looked around, and came again and again, always wanting to believe in Castro's "revolutionary" agriculture, but always and ever disquietedly falling back upon scientific reality. At every turn the unhappy Dumont saw only waste and pseudoscience. Dumont just couldn't figure it out when he was informed that Fidelista economic philosophy meant that "a devotion to the community will be the fundamentalist basis for the creation of wealth." Instead, Dumont saw "mile upon mile of banana plantations where the trees were dying because they had been planted in badly drained soil where the water table was tainted with magnesium salts." But the most telling experiment that Dumont saw was the one in anti-soil erosion in Pinar del Rio. Here Castro sought to build large parallel terraces on contour lines all up the mountain. Dumont finally understood: The experiment was meant not to fight erosion but to go against nature itself, to "dominate the mountain."

In the end, all the hated scientists who failed to recognize the brilliance of the "new genetics" and the "new agriculture" were thrown out, vilified, and excoriated by Castro. Professor Voison was saved, providentially perhaps, although he might have contested the idea, by the grave. He died of a heart attack on December 21 in the same year he had arrived in Cuba (too much excitement, they said). The father of Cuban pasture grass made the front page of Revolucion and was given a state funeral. Castro himself gave the funeral oration.

Castro's stubborn fascination with genetic engineering fared only somewhat better in the field of cancer research. Just as he had taken a fancy to cows and pasture grass, Castro suddenly took an insatiable fancy to the drug interferon. A protein made by most cells of the body, interferon belongs to the first line of defense against viral infections and was thought to have properties that could block the transformation of normal cells to cancer cells. He struck out in all directions to make Cuba a center for interferon research.

Professor Karl Cantell, a specialist on interferon in Helsinki, was sitting in his office in the lovely gray old Finnish city when the Cuban embassy called: Would he please visit Cuba? The Cubans had converted a luxurious villa on the outskirts of Havana into a lab and had built a new research institute. They wanted Professor Cantell to come for its inauguration. "Cuba is a poor country," the slim, professorial young doctor recalled one day in Helsinki, "but when a dictator wants something, everything is possible. I went there, spent some days, met Fidel Castro. When I saw Castro, there was always a photographer with us-even when we were drinking, they were always taking pictures. They had a huge cow institute, and I saw Ubre Blanca there. I think they treated her with interferon because she had a malignancy."

In the end, however, although the scientific work performed by Cuban doctors was valid, they got little international attention for the simple reason that Castro would not allow them to publish in the international scientific journals. His paranoic closure of Cuba was at odds with his dreams of glory.

From Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro by Georgie Anne Geyer. Copyright 1991 by Georgie Anne Geyer. Reprinted by permission of Little Brown and Company (Inc.)
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Title Annotation:excerpt from 'Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro'
Author:Geyer, Georgie Anne
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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