A journalist witnesses social and political changes in post-Castro Cuba.
Sent to Cuba in 2009 as a CNN cameraman and correspondent, Ariosto arrived in Havana naïve about Cuban culture, politics, and history. What he learned during his two-year stint for CNN, and from many subsequent trips, opened his eyes to the reality and prospects of the island nation. Like BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford, whose recent memoir painted a dark portrait of Cuban life, Ariosto offers a penetrating report of a nation struggling with serious challenges. “In Cuba, everything is corrupt,” one young man told the author, explaining his reasons for wanting to emigrate to America. “They sell an image of a certain life to the world. But it’s a lie. There’s cocaine. There’s prostitution. There’s corruption.” With monthly wages at about $25, Ariosto estimates that about 95 percent of the country participates in a “shadow economy,” where “theft is a relative concept” and procuring supplies or repairs depends on knowing “a guy who knew a guy.” The author himself stocked up on necessities such as batteries and toilet paper during a brief trip home. Social problems abound: Despite Fidel Castro’s aim for economic equality, racial discrimination has led to growing impoverishment among Cuba’s black population. News is censored and information strictly controlled: Even as late as 2016, only 37 percent of Cubans could get online, and an hour of Wi-Fi service costs about a third of a month’s salary, spawning “a patchwork of smuggled-in satellite dishes, a ramshackle network of homegrown, file-sharing entrepreneurs,” and a thriving underground market. That spiderwebbed network, though, was hardly clandestine. In Havana, “eyes were everywhere”: closed-circuit cameras, onlookers and informants in the streets, and government employees at CNN who were expected to submit reports about the journalists. Although Barack Obama’s efforts to forge ties to Cuba inspired a “kumbaya moment,” Donald Trump’s policies are dashing hopes, and housing, food, and medicine shortages create a crisis of confidence among a restive population.
A candid firsthand account of an island undergoing a shaky transition.