A British historian’s page-turning record of the madness seizing the Caribbean at the Cold War’s zenith.
By the 1950s, decades of U.S. interference in Latin American affairs helped account for the installation of three Caribbean dictators: The Dominican’s Rafael Trujillo, Haiti’s “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista were all absolute rulers who oppressed their own people, but in return for millions of aid dollars they reliably protected U.S. military and commercial interests—until they didn’t. Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution spooked the U.S. government, leading three successive presidents to mistake powerful nationalist impulses and widespread anti-Americanism for a robust, regional communist movement. Castro’s success aroused Soviet interest and encouraged Trujillo and Duvalier to exploit American fears and to play the superpowers against each other. Countering perceived threats, some real, most not, the U.S. proceeded down a dizzying path where violence, conspiracy and murder were the order of the day. Von Tunzelmann (Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, 2007) regularly supercharges her sweeping narrative—predictable set pieces include Duvalier’s grotesque reign of terror, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis—with revealing, intimate details about her protagonists: the macho posturing of Khrushchev and JFK, the sybaritic preoccupations of Trujillo and his family, the lurid arts practiced by Papa Doc and his henchman, Clémont Barbot, and the complex relationship among Fidel, his brother Raúl and Che Guevara. She artfully mixes the ambitions, love lives, drug use, grievances, deceptions and miscalculations of these and a host of lesser characters with grand historical themes. The result amounts to a mesmerizing, Conradian tale where the truth is almost too dark to bear.
A remarkably gripping popular history.