Nevertheless, Grant’s reporting is detailed and enlightening. He puts the leaders and their reigns in their historical context while asking why the movements they fronted worked. The answer, he explains, lies in the leaders who preceded them. First the brutal dictators of the 1960s and 1970s; then the incompetents in charge during the lost decade of the 1980s; and finally the technocrats who failed substantially to reduce the inequality, corruption and violence that had beset their nations for so long. ‘The conditions were ripe for change,’ Grant writes. ‘Quite simply, the past hadn’t worked for most Latin Americans and they yearned for a new kind of politics.’
The BBC Latin American correspondent Will Grant was there too, and he writes about the strange but fitting end to Fidel in his excellent new book, observing that it was “a moment of genuine popular grief combined with the cult of the island’s largest personality”. Within hours of the death announcement, people were able to say their farewells at the monument, though not to Castro’s remains: his ashes were in a safe. “Instead they bowed their heads in deference to a large black-and-white photograph of a youthful Fidel.”
Grant is right to argue that most pink-tide leaders probably entered politics with a genuine desire to improve the lot of their countrymen. But over time, “they became so enchanted by power and its trappings that they struggled to let it go”. This seems a reasonable appraisal of Morales, Lula and Correa. However, Ortega was always an autocrat, whereas Chávez’s despotic trajectory recalls Guevara’s description of Cuba’s turn toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War as “half the fruit of constraint and half the result of choice”.