Facial Hair Friday: Fidel Castro

Famous for his long and bushy beard he grew during his time as a guerrilla rebel fighter, Fidel Castro’s beard became a badge of honor and later a symbol of the triumph of the revolution. Today’s post comes from Callie Belback from the National Archives History Office.

The name Fidel Castro has held infamy in the United States for more than 60 years. Both admired and despised, he has marked his place in both Cuban and global politics. As leader of the Cuban Revolution and later a Communist dictator, Castro is intrinsic to the state of contemporary Cuba and current U.S.-Cuba relations today. 

After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the United States was carefully watching Cuba and Castro, having supported Castro’s predecessor and opponent, Fulgencio Batista. The United States also had many commercial ties to the island, with American companies holding a large stake in the sugar plantations that dotted the land along with other capitalist commercial ventures. Both of these factors increased the United States’ interest in applying a heavy hand to Cuban politics, leading to ventures such as the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. 

On December 1, 1961, almost two years after the end of the Cuban Revolution and eight months after the Bay of Pigs, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conducted a top-secret psychiatric personality study of Fidel Castro. They summarized their findings in a three-page report, including the cover sheet. 

The CIA found that Castro was not “crazy” but was definitely highly neurotic and an unstable personality force. They feared he was vulnerable to certain psychological pressure, exacerbated by his need for recognition, power, and adulation of the masses. They also concluded that Castro had a constant need to rebel and defy authority. They hypothesized that if “significant vulnerable aspects of his personality were consistently attacked by those he now looks to for approval, the result could be personality disorganization and ineffectuality—possibly even clinical emotional illness.” The CIA psychiatrists cited this potential clinical illness as depression or “an increase in suspicion to the point of complete withdrawal from reality.” 

The CIA also surmised that Castro had an extreme narcissistic personality and that his aggressiveness stemmed from his constant insecurity and need to “achieve a special position that is denied him.” 

Interestingly, the CIA writes that a large source of Castro’s ego bolstering came from Che Guevara, his fellow revolutionary, and Raul Castro, his brother. The agency even goes so far as to state that Castro was dependent and submissive to Che Guevara in intellectual matters, and his emotional stability would waiver should Guevara not maintain a steady, positive attitude toward him. 

In a rather denigrating description, the CIA stated that Castro had no real regard for the masses he led and did not trust them to hold elections, preferring to keep the power for himself. However, in the final paragraph, the CIA did declare Castro the “ideal revolutionary leader, agitator, and fomenter of unrest.” The report did not give any suggestions as to how to interact with Castro or engage in diplomatic exchange. 

One day after the report was finalized, Castro made official what most U.S. officials already knew. In a televised address, Castro declared himself a Marxist-Leninist Communist and noted that communism would play a dominant role in Cuban politics. This announcement increased American politicians’ desire, with large support from Cuban exiles residing in Miami, to overthrow the Castro regime. Castro and Cuba continued to be a thorn in the side of the U.S. government for many decades to come, and a touchy topic for aspiring and incumbent politicians around the nation. 

On August 17, 1998, the National Archives made this document available to the public, declassified under the provisions of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. 

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