Cogent summary of decades of Cuban-American animus, plus speculation about future détente.
When an ailing Fidel Castro handed over the presidency to his younger brother Raúl in February 2008, a U.S. State Department spokesperson dismissed it as “a transfer of authority and power from one dictator to a dictator-lite.” Nor was anyone celebrating in Dade County, Fla., epicenter of the expatriate Cuban community. Washington and the expats shared long-cherished assumptions about Cuba: that Fidel’s death would finally trigger major changes, that Raúl would be unable to remain in power unless he embraced reforms, that a democratic revolution would burst forth from the disgruntled populace, ushering the exiles back in triumph. None of these assumptions have been borne out. Erikson, a senior associate for U.S. policy at Washington think tank Inter-American Dialogue, has traveled frequently to Cuba and is evidently well versed in its history and culture. He skillfully assesses both sides as he chronicles the “war of nerves” between America and Cuba since the Bay of Pigs invasion and President Kennedy’s 1962 embargo, in effect to this day. Subsequent U.S. presidents only hardened this stance, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union threw the island’s economy into a tailspin and removed a principal justification for hostilities. Politicians trolling for votes deferred to exile groups’ insistence that stronger sanctions were needed to bring Castro down. Democrats played that game too, but lost the Cuban-American community’s support after Attorney General Janet Reno facilitated Elián González’s return to Cuba and his father in June 2000, with dire results for Al Gore’s Florida vote count in November. Erikson marvels at Castro’s resiliency, interviews dissenters who loathe his repressive methods but admire his anti-imperialist ideals, explores the political clout of Little Havana in Miami, visits prisoners, comments on propaganda and reports on the curious alliance between Castro and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, providing an invaluable snapshot of a nation poised to ignite on the eve of the revolution’s 50th anniversary.
Terrific background, keen insight and an evenhanded critical distance distinguish Erikson’s fine work.