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WITHOUT FIDEL by Ann Louise Bardach Kirkus Star

WITHOUT FIDEL

A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington

By Ann Louise Bardach

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4165-5150-8
Publisher: Scribner

What will the world be like once Fidel Castro leaves it? Noted Cuba watcher Bardach (Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana, 2002, etc.) considers several scenarios in this excellent study.

The world has had a chance to ponder the problem for many years, from the earliest assassination attempts, courtesy of the CIA, to Fidel’s near-fatal bout of peritonitis in 2006. It is the latter episode with which Bardach opens her book, whose subtitle alludes to an oddly fitting novel by Castro’s friend Gabriel García Márquez. Even though Castro lay on death’s door for weeks, he seemingly proved stronger than death, having adopted a regime that shunned alcohol and tobacco and favored brown rice and tea and having committed himself to outlasting every one of his enemies. Bardach’s early pages are peppered with references to those enemies, not least of them Forbes magazine, which reckoned the legendarily spartan Castro to be among the wealthiest dictators in the world. The author also reckons with Castro’s many successes, which include the self-evident fact that South America now abounds in nations that are left-leaning, friendly to Castro’s communist regime and disinclined to participate in any new version of the Cold War pitting Cuba against the United States. Of course, Castro is no longer in power, formally, having transferred state rule to his brother Raúl—by Bardach’s account, Fidel’s rival—who has inaugurated modest reforms. Less modest are the changes pending under the Obama administration, which, apart from the difficult business of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, appears to be willing to begin the processes of normalizing relations, including allowing travel and the transfer of funds to Cuba. This prospect gives the anti-Castro exile community in Miami—an important node in Bardach’s geography—fits, but even that is changing, as Castro acts out his final days as “Fidel the Wizard, hidden behind the curtain of Cuba’s Oz.”

Will the world be a better place without him? Bardach is evenhanded, but, she concludes, it will surely be different—and with no easy transition in sight.