x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Red Heat: Cold War in the warm waters of the Caribbean

A trove for conspiracy theorists, Alex von Tunzelmann examines the US support for dictators in the region and the Soviet-backed revolutionary movements that tried to topple them.

Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean.
Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Caribbean was one of the most contentious theatres of the so-called Cold War. The US, seeing communism where there was none, propped up dictators who claimed unique powers to stem the red tide. The Soviets tried to co-opt the motley of revolutionary movements that sprang up in the shadow of oppression.

"What neither superpower had bargained on was that their puppets would come to life," announces the British author Alex von Tunzelmann at the start of her new history. "The result was tyranny, conspiracy, murder and black magic." Now that's how you hook a reader.

Von Tunzelmann combines brisk narrative with a lively anecdotal style. We hear, for instance, the young Che Guevara, long before his guerrilla period, boasting of underwear so grubby that it could stand up unaided. Fidel Castro, who looks like a pretty decent guy next to François Duvalier and Rafael Trujillo, was apparently scouted by the New York Giants baseball team.

Beneath the colour and voodoo, however, is a sustained hatchet job on US foreign policy, whose annals would seem to offer ample justification for almost any modern conspiracy theory.