An African-American journalist travels through Cuba, returning with news that, while the glory days of socialism are gone, Castro and company are very much in charge.
“After forty-four years,” writes Washington Post editor Robinson, “Fidel is still in firm control of Cuba. He faces no serious challenge.” Meantime, the Cuban people make music, dance, and worship ancestral gods brought from Africa and blended with Christian traditions to make a religion quite specific to the island; as Robinson writes, this mixture “allowed the slaves to pray to the orishas in a way that their Spanish overlords not only had to tolerate, but encourage. They probably knew . . . that the slaves who came to the churches to pray so fervently before the statues of the Virgin Mary were in fact praying to a sultry black demigoddess who would help them find their way in affairs of love.” Foreigners—Italians, Canadians, and visitors from other nations not strapped by America’s longstanding prohibition against free travel to Cuba—bring money and ideas, soak up the atmosphere of storied venues like the Tropical Club, and return with CDs, rum, and cigars, but rarely anything more untoward. (Fidel once remarked that if there were to be prostitutes in Cuba, they would be “the healthiest and best-educated prostitutes in the world.”) Those who perforce remain on the island have weathered a long economic crisis brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of its financial support, and, writes Robinson, are now discovering that long-dormant inequalities are returning, since most of the money sent to the island by expatriates comes from whites and goes to whites. What’s to come from all this hardship? Perhaps a peaceful transition to a new government, once Fidel shuffles off the mortal coil; perhaps harder times as doctrinaire Communists vie for leadership.
Indifferently written, but full of sharp observations on modern Cuba—for policymakers and travelers alike.