Granma International
August 19, 2004

Piero Gleijeses: a truly special Italian


• Professor, researcher and historian, he hopes to continue researching Cuban foreign policy

BY GIOIA MINUTI—Special for Granma International—

THE first time I heard him speak was during the 2nd International Conference of War Correspondents presenting what was going to be his future book on Cuba, the United States and Africa.

The delicate, sympathetic man with a great sense of humor, intelligence and culture impressed everyone. Italian, he resides in Washington D.C., speaks five languages and is married to Setsuko Ono from Japan, well known as a sculptor in Cuba, and the sister of Yoko, making Gleijeses a brother-in-law of the late Beatles singer John Lennon.

Gleijeses was born in Venice in August 1944. His father was a navy officer who, like his mother, was born in the south. Their son grew up in post-war southern Italy, and says today that it was a useful school, given that the experience later helped him to adapt to the Caribbean without difficulty... the poverty and social injustice that he found in the Dominican Republic did not surprise him at all – it was the same in Calabria.

Gleijeses attended the Institute of Higher Studies in Geneva.

“After graduating, I thought about what I wanted to do, because although I was interested in the United States, I also wanted to study other countries in relation to it. I didn’t speak Spanish at that time, but I chose Latin America and did my doctoral thesis on the Dominican Republic, focusing on the 1965 U.S. invasion.

“A John Hopkins University professor helped me to get a scholarship, and from 1968 to 1971, I remained in Washington doing research on the Dominican Republic and traveling to Santo Domingo numerous times.”

Gleijeses is now teaching at that university, which has its main facilities in Baltimore, Maryland.

“At the end of 1975, Cuba seemed like a tropical Bulgaria to me, a friendly country with notable social reforms, but without a very interesting foreign policy, because it followed that of the Soviet Union.”

He read a lot on Africa and traveled to Cuba several times for academic exchanges, while writing a book on the Guatemalan revolution. Afterwards, he decided to study Cuba, although in 1990, he was unaware of Cuba’s participation in Algeria and the Congo, for example.

Gleijeses was invited to Cuba by the ISRI, where the dean, Oscar García, asked him to give lectures on Africa. Rodolfo Puente Ferro was there, and invited him to the Central Committee, where he introduced him to Jorge Risquet.

“I saw Risquet again, who was interested in my book on Guatemala, because he himself had been in that country in 1954 and when Arbenz was overthrown, as part of a mission from the Communist Party of Cuba,” Gleijeses says.

Risquet, who had his doubts, read Piero’s book and when he finished it, wrote asking him to come back to Cuba. The two have since become good friends.

Since then, Gleijeses has written Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, of nearly 1,000 pages in length, with a preface by Risquet. The latter’s “green light” helped very much in publishing the book, he says, which was launched at the 2002 International Book Fair and has been very successful internationally. In South Africa, it was published under a slightly different title: Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Pretoria.

Traveling to Cuba is not very difficult thanks to his Italian passport, and also because he is a member of the executive board of directors of the Wayne Smith Center, which has a collective travel license and “protects” the professors of John Hopkins, conceding to them this freedom of movement, even though the university is a very conservative one.


The usual space for book launches at the Palacio del Segundo Cabo was jam-packed: Ricardo Alarcón, Abel Prieto, Iroel Sánchez – president of the Cuban Book Institute – the white-haired Pablo Armando Fernández – winner of the national literature award – and Percy Alvarado Godoy, who remembers this destroyed revolution from his childhood...

After the launch, Gleijeses and Risquet commented that the close to 500-page volume, which is truly excellent and easy to read in one go, nevertheless  should be analyzed.

In 1952, there were only two democratic countries in Latin America: Guatemala and Costa Rica. An international conspiracy destroyed the dreams of the Guatemalan people. The Guatemalan press, which was no longer free, wrote on August 5, 1954 that “the second battle against communism had been won...”

“Hope Destroyed is a very appropriate title,” commented Jorge Risquet, who was in Guatemala as a very young man. He recounted how at that time it was very difficult to rescue Nicolás Guillén, who was also in that country’s capital; risky maneuvers had to be made in order to do so.

Gleijeses has stated that U.S. policy at that time was not an aberration; rather, it responded to a desired arrogant hegemony over Central America and the Caribbean. Its current position against Cuba and Venezuela is not very different, but these countries present realities that are profoundly different, allowing them to defend their sovereignty.

In November 2003, the Cuban Council of State decorated Gleijeses with the Medal of Friendship at the initiative of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples.

At the end of his book launch Gleijeses autographed hundreds of copies and thanked the Cuban leaders for their help.

“I think that Cuba’s foreign policy is unique and very beautiful: my dream is to continue researching it and to be the bard of an epoch that with all its difficulties is still so interesting and fascinating.