An illuminating portrait, by a first-class investigative journalist, of the half-century-long civil war that has divided Cuban against itself.
Drawing on ten years of reporting among south Florida’s exile communities and in Cuba, Bardach (ed., Cuba: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, p. 453) offers an extraordinarily complete view of the personal and political gulf that separates Cubans. Here are all sorts of revelations, few of them comforting. Florida’s Cubans, 95% of them white, disdain their mixed-blood and black island compatriots, in good part on racial grounds, so that, as one Miami talk-radio host remarked, had Elián González been black, “he would have been tossed back into the sea.” Castro (who lobbied hard for the Soviets to launch a nuclear attack on the US), cursed with an elephant’s memory and a deep well of vengeance, has devoted much of his energy to punishing former enemies, like the boyhood rival who served 20 years for having once punched him in the face. (Castro’s friend Gabriel García Márquez was once moved to remark, “I can’t think of a worse loser than Fidel.”) At once pawns and generals in the superpower struggle, Cubans in the US have enjoyed unusual privileges, from the “wet foot/dry foot” policy that “grants any Cuban who makes it to land the right to stay” to perks such as free private-school tuition and special loans from the Small Business Administration. Bardach writes with an awareness of the Big Picture—two of her best moments come in deconstructing the Elián affair and in tracing the influence of Cuban exiles in all branches of the Bush family—but her focus tends to stay on individual actors, from exiled terrorists who dream of assassinating Castro to families whose members, for political reasons, haven’t spoken to each other for 40 or more years. Were Castro to die tomorrow, Bardach suggests, the Cuban civil war would flame up again unabated.
Powerful, evenhanded, thoroughly edifying.