Herbert Matthews

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For the English agriculturalist and politician, see Herbert Matthews (agriculturalist).

Herbert Lionel Matthews (January 10, 1900 – July 30, 1977) was a reporter and editorialist[1] for The New York Times who grew to notoriety after revealing that Fidel Castro was still alive and living in the Sierra Maestra mountains, though Fulgencio Batista had claimed publicly that he was killed during the 26th of July Movement's landing.

Early life[edit]

Born in New York City, Matthews was a graduate of Columbia University and reported from Europe during the Spanish Civil War before returning to New York. His coverage of that war and later the Cuban political situation were subject to substantial criticism for showing communist sympathies, a charge Matthews rejected for years. He also reported during the Italian conquest of Ethiopia in 1936; and then wrote Eyewitness in Abyssinia: With Marshal Bodoglio's forces to Addis Ababa in 1937.

Cuban Revolution[edit]

"When the world had given us up for dead, the interview with Matthews put the lie to our disappearance."

— Che Guevara, January 1958 [2]

His interview with Castro was negotiated by Ruby Phillips, then the Bureau Chief in Havana. Cuban exile author Teo Babun ("The Cuban Revolution: Years of Promise") mentions in a C-SPAN2/Book TV segment that "Castro 'smuggled' Matthews, in early 1957, into the Sierra Maestra in eastern Cuba" to cover the ongoing and subsequent revolution against Fulgencio Batista. He also said that Che Guevara later commented, "The presence of a foreign (American-preferred) journalist was more important for us than a military victory."

Reflecting conservative displeasure at Matthews' role, the conservative magazine National Review published a caricature of Castro over the caption "I got my job through the New York Times." (The caption was the tagline of contemporary advertisements published by the Times touting its classified ads section.)[3] Matthews has been compared to Stalin apologist Walter Duranty, a fellow journalist on the New York Times staff, by the conservative organization Accuracy in Media.[4]

In July 1959, Matthews denied that Fidel Castro was communist, saying: "This is not a Communist Revolution in any sense of the term. Fidel Castro is not only not a Communist, he is decidedly anti-Communist." [5]

In February 2007, a Reuters report quoted Cuba's state news agency as reporting that Cuba had unveiled a plaque in the Sierra Maestra to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Matthews-Castro interview. In his book The Man Who Invented Fidel, Anthony DePalma describes driving in a four-wheeled vehicle in 2005 trying to retrace Matthews trek to the site of the interview. Finally he found a 16-year-old who said he knew where the site was. After trudging two hours on foot over rugged terrain, dePalma was ready to turn back when the three-foot-high marker was pointed out to him. He writes that the marker had the following words: "In this place, commander-in-chief Fidel Castro Ruz met with the North American journalist Herbert Matthews on February 17, 1957". The marker was erected on the fortieth anniversary of the interview in 1997.[6]


Partial bibliography[edit]

  • Koch, Stephen 2005 The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of Jose Robles. Counterpoint Press, New York ISBN 1-58243-280-5
  • Matthews, Herbert Lionel 1961 The Cuban story. G. Braziller ASIN: B0007DNCMS
  • Matthews, Herbert Lionel 1961 The yoke and the arrows; A report on Spain. G. Braziller; Rev. ed edition ASIN: B0007DFF7I
  • Matthews, Herbert Lionel -1964 Return to Cuba. Stanford U, Institute of Hispanic American & Luso-Brazilian Studies, A Special Issue Of ‘Hispanic American Report’ Stanford, Ca
  • Matthews, Herbert Lionel – 1969 Castro: A Political Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster
  • Matthews, Herbert Lionel – 1969 Cuba. New York: The Macmillan Co. London: Collier-Macmillan
  • Matthews, Herbert Lionel 1969 Fidel Castro. Simon & Schuster, Clarion Book New York
  • Matthews, Herbert Lionel 1973 Half of Spain Died: A Reappraisal of the Spanish Civil War. New York, Scribner, 1973
  • Matthews, Herbert Lionel -1975 Revolution in Cuba: An Essay in Understandings. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons


  • Depalma, Anthony. The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba, and Herbert L. Matthews of The New York Times. New York" PublicAffairs, Perseus Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-58648-332-3/