A picture of Hemingway, mere months from suicide, has him leaning drunkenly against a wall separating him precariously from a bullfight, guzzling a bottle. The immediate impression is one of pity toward an old man pathetically trying to recapture days of glory in a setting that once made such days possible.
The same could be said of the photos of Hemingway with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro; one more last hurrah for an old man pining for Spanish Civil War days when he was relatively young and still capable of writing.
Although the Cuban regime then and now, under Fidel’s successor, his brother Raul, promotes a warm relationship between the writer and the Castro government, the relationship was one-sided, and touches the heart all the more since the warmth came solely from Hemingway.
In a mid-80s tour of Communist Cuba, writer Jacobo Timmerman interviewed the rebels that knew Hemingway the year before his suicide, and despite the propaganda, did not view him as a comrade:
“The revolutionaries never viewed Hemingway sympathetically; he had taken little interest in Cuba … or in the fight against Batista or in the bearded guerillas of the Sierra Maestra…. Since Hemingway’s suicide, in 1961, attempts have been made to infer signs of sympathy for Cuba on his part, affinities, a declaration, a gesture. Although it’s never stated explicitly, the tourist gets the impression that Hemingway supported Fidel Castro, that the writer is part of the Revolution. The truth is that … the regime never managed to establish a solid link between Hemingway and Castroism.”
But Hemingway tried. By 1959, depressed, even more suicidal than usual, owing to writer’s block and impotence, Hemingway sought the activities that once staved off such demons: bullfighting and supporting revolutions. When Castro took power in 1959, Hemingway praised him.
And, as with Spanish Communists in the 1930s, Hemingway made excuses for mass executions by leftists. He refused to condem the Castro brothers executing en masse their opponents after hasty show trials in a national stadium.
Even after it was apparent that Castro was moving in a more pro-Soviet direction, Hemingway saw something worthwhile (“precious” as he put it to pro-Castro journalist Herbert Mathews) still in the Cuban Revolution. Hemingway, according to friends, adopted the pro-Soviet tactic of taking the long view of History, and refused to be sidetracked from the big picture by any “temporary” revolutionary excesses.
But even Hemingway began to be troubled by the regime. This dislike of the Castro regime vilifying the United States, praising the Soviets, and forcing Americans to leave the country even led him into the place that would host his suicide: Idaho. A.E Hotchner, his friend who was with him before the fatal shot-gun blast, believed had Castro not castigated his country, Hemingway might have shot himself in Havana.
And that would have been hard for the regime to spin in a positive direction.