The classic Cuban novel Cecilia Valdés was the inspiration behind a zarzuela of the same name. Photo: Yander Zamora

The first time I read “Every word an idea,” the poster of the Concept of Revolution, expressed by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, the first word that struck me was “modesty”. I thought back to a time as long ago as 1955 when, as everyone would agree, Fidel was already considered to be a knowledgeable man. Upon graduating from the Belén school, the lofty praise of the Jesuit priests left no doubt that he was, and would later become even more so.
By 1955, the young lawyer had already given his indisputably rich and eloquent self defense speech known as History Will Absolve Me.
However, the word “modesty” made me think back to a passage from a letter or document, I can’t remember exactly which, Haydée Santamaría gave to me to read in May, 1955. “Read this passage by Fidel, you’re going to like it.” It was just a section that could have been from some document about his plans, a letter to a friend or to Haydée and Melba about their revolutionary plans, which, logically, were of the utmost discretion. I read the passage marked. I was at Melba’s parents’ house on Jovellar Street, where after the two women were released from Guanajay prison, they had set up an office to receive everything sent by Fidel while he was in prison on the Isle of Youth, following the Moncada attack.
I took the piece of paper, which was folded to show just the passage and dated May 19. I read in Fidel’s handwriting:
“I’m obsessed with Cecilia Valdés by Villaverde. It hadn’t interested me for years but now I’m in a hurry to read it. I have lived happy days, enthralled, oblivious to everything, practically transported to the last century, in the pages of this formidable history of Cuba.
“For quite some time now I have wanted to know more about our past, our population, and the people of yesterday. My enthusiasm, interest, and passion in everything I’m reading about helps me. This time I want to talk about the work of the person who superbly painted that period, some aspects of which are still alive in the Cuban mentality, above all in regards to that interesting problem of slavery, because I’m realizing that it is the cause of a great part of the enormous confusion and vacillations which characterized Cuban political thought through 1868.
“When it comes down to it, reading a novel is a method I like because it allows me to take a rest from study while redoubling my interest. I often feel a little tempted to break into the field of fiction; although luckily, history occupies me, and even more so, when it’s in this form, when it’s not just political, economic, socio-cultural history, but the broadest and deepest history you could ask for.
“I commemorated December 7 by reading, full of profound veneration, Maceo’s letters and documents in the volume I have from the Cuban Society of Historic Studies. Days earlier I spent charming moments with Zweig’s biography, indisputably superior to that of Rourke. So that’s how the days go by, quite easily in fact.”
What modesty and interest in history!
Further down, almost at the end of the now historic concept of Revolution according to Fidel, I read: “Fighting for our dreams of justice for Cuba and for the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism.” I was struck by more than just a word, and just like that, I began to recall more of Fidel’s remarks. It was almost like I was hearing him speak, just like I had during the Moncada trial when he referred to revolutionary program led by the July 26 movement, and which would soon become a strategic victory and definitive triumph of the Revolution.
At that time (1953) he said “We also declare that Cuba’s policy in Latin America will be one of close solidarity with the peoples of the continent and those politically persecuted by bloody tyrannies…”
Thus just like Martí, whom Fidel proclaimed as the intellectual author of the Moncada assault, every word, speech, or concept, outlined in brief passages by Fidel, is an eternal expression of his sense of the historic moment.

Note: After the triumph of the Revolution, documents and letters written by Fidel from his cell on the Isle of Youth were published; including that referencing Villaverde’s novel.