The New York Times
December 13, 1997

Carlos Rodriguez, 84, Castro Ally, Leftist Intellectual


Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, a communist intellectual who forged a crucial alliance between Fidel Castro's bearded followers and Cuba's Moscow-line Communists and later served on the Politburo and as deputy president, died Dec. 8 in Havana. He was 84.

Rodriguez suffered from Parkinson's disease and heart ills, Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba's parliamentary president, told Reuters in Havana.

His extraordinary political career spanned nearly seven decades, beginning with his election as mayor at age 20 in Cienfuegos, his birthplace, and his rise to national leadership at 28, in 1942, when he joined President Fulgencio Batista's Cabinet, representing the Communist Party in a wartime alliance.

Rodriguez's return to the political opposition did not at first include an embrace of armed revolution. When Castro launched his struggle in 1953 with an assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago, Rodriguez denounced the attack as immature adventurism. Only in the final months of the Castro insurgency, in 1959, did he endorse the rebels and visit Castro in his stronghold in the Sierra Maestra.

A friendship was forged, and after his victory Castro appointed Rodriguez to a string of top posts. It was not until two months ago, with his health failing, that Rodriguez was dropped from the Politburo.

"Rodriguez is the most sophisticated communist of his generation," the British author Hugh Thomas wrote in his epic 1971 history, "Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom."

Fifteen years later, American journalist Tad Szulc described Rodriguez in similar terms in his book "Fidel: A Critical Portrait."

"Rodriguez, his white goatee and his manner giving him a touch of Old World boulevardier, is by far the most experienced politician in Cuba," Szulc wrote. "A most affable man of considerable learning and sophistication as well as a prolific writer, he has been Fidel's most valuable collaborator, politically and intellectually, since the 1959 victory."

Carlos Rafael Rodriguez was born into a middle-class family in Cienfuegos on May 23, 1913. According to the Cuban news service, Prensa Latina, he received a doctorate in law from the University of Havana. He joined the Communist Party at 24, served as the editor of the party newspaper, Hoy, and after his brief stint in Batista's government spent more than a decade as an opposition leader.

After Castro's victory, Rodriguez served as the head of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, from 1962 to 1965, a period during which some foreign reporters called him Cuba's economic czar. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was one of Cuba's main representatives to the communist bloc.

"The contradictions of Carlos Rafael's personality made him fascinating," Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the Cuban author, said in an interview from his home in London. "On the one hand, he was a Stalinist, and Fidel was his Stalin. But he was a fundamentally decent man, loyal to his friends. He helped me get a passport to leave Cuba in 1965 when party hard-liners were persecuting me. I've always been thankful to him for that."

Rodriguez's main intellectual passion was Marxist economics, said Cabrera, who during the 1950s worked as a movie and music critic for a Havana newspaper. But in 1955, after Cabrera wrote a lengthy magazine essay on jazz trends, Rodriguez arranged a meeting with him to talk about another passion: Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis and the new sounds of American jazz.

"And this at a time when jazz was considered a decadent bourgeois form in the Soviet Union, which Carlos Rafael admired," Cabrera said.

Jorge Dominguez, a Cuba specialist at Harvard University, called him "a tragic figure in many ways."

"He had a vision of socialism that was more tolerant and open than the rigid and often abusive regime built in Cuba," Dominguez said. "He incarnated rationality and quietly dissented from some of Castro's extremist policies, and tried to widen space for artistic expression. But he never broke ranks and never went public and, at least by his silence, participated in some of the terrible things that have happened in Cuba."

During the 1930s, Rodriguez married Edith Garcia Buchaca, a communist leader who was a childhood friend from Cienfuegos. After a divorce, he is thought to have remarried at least twice.

He is survived by two daughters from his first marriage.

After a ceremony Dec. 9 over which Castro presided, Rodriguez was buried at Havana's main Colon cemetery.